This job is hard.
I realize pediatric therapy is the sort of career that prompts people to say, “Oh wow, that’s amazing,” or, “How wonderful that you help these children!”
I want to say, “Yes, but it’s HARD.”
So many times it seems like we aren’t allowed to say it out loud. Not even just as therapists; I know parents feel the pressure of a similar gag order. Yes, we both love and appreciate the beauty and strength of these amazing kids with special needs. We fight for them. We frantically piece together new solutions when plans A-Z have all fizzled out. We will shut someone down if they even try to underestimate them. But yeah, I think it’s fair to say it’s also really, really hard.
A parent apologized to me the other day because they missed a session when their child had a meltdown. Like a not-safe-to-drive-in-the-car-full-on-dangerous meltdown. And they felt awful for missing a session. I wanted to put my hands on that parent’s shoulders and say, “No. Don’t. Please don’t feel awful for that moment. In fact, can we just agree that that day sucked for you? You’re allowed to say it. It was terrible.”
I’ve had tears in my eyes from a previous patient pinching me, pulling my hair, or biting me, and I have taken approximately three seconds to suck it up and move on. When I was a student, a patient started violently punching me, and as I awkwardly scurried away, wide eyed and stunned, my supervisor caught my attention. He pointed to the hallway and said, completely deadpan, “Go pull yourself together.” That’s what our job entails. Pull yourself together and get going. There are more people to help.
It’s difficult to be present when the challenges of life get you down. When the losses just keep rolling your way. You are supposed to be a superhero. A therapist. A parent. But also? A human being.
Listen, I’m not against positivity. While I fully embrace my cynicism, I find myself leaning on that positivity all the time. I see the absolute awesomeness of what these parents are doing. I see the relentless effort of the therapists I work with every day. But I also want to face plant on the couch some days and just grumble, “Today, I lost.”
Have you read the letter from Abby Banks entitled “Dear Weary Therapist?” If not, I encourage you to go do it now. It straight up made me cry real you get me tears. It is a blessing to meet a parent that just gets it. A parent that makes you feel like we’re in this journey/struggle/adventure together.
So what gets us through day after day without burning out? Those darn baby steps. Not literally, (Although the phrase totally works if you are a physical therapist.) I mean the little wins. I’m not even talking about reaching a formal goal. I’m talking about a baby step towards reaching a goal. A moment that makes you go, “Yes!” Maybe it’s a moment of eye contact, of purposeful play, of holding the crayon correctly for a few seconds, of imitating a phrase, of controlled movement. A moment of, “Whoa, did you see that?”
Have I teared up because a child purposefully handed me a toy in play instead of chucking it at my face? Maybe. Because I was overly emotional? Sure. But man, I needed that win. That moment that charges your batteries. The moment that makes you think, “Hey, maybe I am making a difference.” Most people claim I’m easily amused in life, but I think I’ve just trained myself to be excited about the tiniest of victories.
I am certain we don’t notice those moments enough. That part of a session that shows us we are on the right track. That the work of dedicated parents and therapists and caregivers and teachers and aides are all making a difference. We are so quick to point out the negatives. The things that still aren’t going right. The behaviors. The frustrations. We get lost in the weeds and forget how far we’ve all come.
But those little wins guys, look for the little wins.