I am a sponge.
Some people are rocks. But I am a sponge.
You can confide in rocks and whatever they do with you at the time of the confidence, it will slide off them soon after and they will carry on with their sturdy, often plodding ways. They are rocks because they are always the same; reliable, predictable, non absorbable. They steady us, hear us and carry on, unperturbed.
Sponges on the other hand, are the opposite. Full of holes, soft, malleable and porous. Whatever you pour in they will hold, their holes filling with your stuff, their shape changing around it, bending, flexible, accommodating. They don’t just hear, they listen, they change and they bend to fit.
As a Sponge, I have a job which requires me to flex and stimulate myself into different shapes to maximise the comfort of those around me. If they need me to be firm, I can be firm ; they need empathy, I can do that ; a bit of challenge and out it comes ; some support or a listening ear, that’s in my repertoire too. Depending on the day of the week, I am expert, novice, teacher, learner, friend, aquaintance, educator, administrator, manager and diagnostician. I could go on. My strength is that l can be almost anything to anyone. And because of that they confide in me. They see me as someone who can listen, empathise or fix, and I consequently end up trying to do all of this and more.
Most of the time I am proud of this skill set, proud that a vast range of people can see me as someone with whom to identify. I find myself trusted with secrets, confided in and placed in a position where I can help others to find a way through their dilemmas, with often a light touch of advice and guidance and a great deal more listening and open questioning.
But it takes its toll.
The part time nature of my work allows me time to switch off from the many difficulties of healthcare : resources spread too thinly, illogical measurements that do more harm than good, and the questionable behaviour of those pushed beyond the limit by all of this. But once in a while, it all gets too much.
The problem with being a sponge is that I soak up everything I touch. The colleague who asks me how she should proceed with work project, the friend who is clearly struggling with her mother’s Ill health, another colleague who is going through a painful divorce, a friend at a career crossroads. I could go on. People encounter all sorts of life issues, and need an ear, and I have taken a few ears myself over the years. But there are several weeks in a year where I crawl into bed on a Friday night and want to block out all the stories, and sorrow and pain and heartache.
This Friday was one of those evenings.
Nothing out of the ordinary had happened in the week. I had taken a friend out for the day whose mother is bed bound and despite protestations to the contrary I could see the friend was really upset by this. Another day I had spent several hours doing the jobs of two other colleagues, which was not strictly in my remit but I wanted to achieve a quick and effective outcome so intervened. The week ended with a day of teaching which was neither onerous nor challenging , but which did require a degree of emotional intelligence to recognise the real issues being presented. I had done one day’s worth of paid work but had worked for twenty hours on a variety of other things which would not be paid, and which, happy as I was to do them, all added up.
So, which are you? Sponge or rock?
If you are a sponge, please take some time and thought to work out how you off load the fluid you are carrying, and find a way to ensure it does not seep into your bones and weight you down. You can’t help anyone if you are full to capacity, and we all need to offload frequently, if only to enjoy the short respite before we start again.
If you are a rock, please spare a thought for the sponges around you. They may not be given the accolades they deserve, and they may be struggling with extra, possibly leaking fluid. They are often the people who relieve you rocks from being “bothered” by the emotional needs of your team and who help you to function with minimal external intervention. Sponges carry some of the lubrication of effective practice, so that others can function unencumbered. And whilst they may be excellent at being there for others, having those skills does not always go hand in hand with knowing what to do when you are saturated by thoughts, words and emotions. A full sponge is arguably heavier then a rock, so let’s give our sponge like colleagues some space to dry out, to unload their weight and return to their usual shape before the next downpour.