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Awe – Daily Prompt

This post is in response to the daily word prompt. I’m in awe of people who end their work day with clear minds, sans the paperwork, the after hour email checking/responding, or the overall emotional work place baggage. There are aspects of my job that I do enjoy, but pressing work demands along with personal and professional expectations make it difficult to leave work at work.

I chose a career in social work because of a deep passion to help others. When I first started out, it was very difficult to not  think about the problems faced by my clients. I was often in awe of either how resilient many were despite their experiences or how tragic some of their lives were.  Sometimes, I would even dream about them. I hated it when that happened, but I couldn’t control it at the time.

Then, there was the paperwork, which was a beast. The seemingly ceaseless progress notes and assessments that had to be entered. Our psychiatrist lamented on more than one occassion that if it wasn’t documented, then it didn’t happen. Talk about pressure. Although I enjoyed working as a clinician and I worked with a great bunch of characters (that often joked that we should video our daily work lives), the work demands were stressful. There are a combination of reasons for burnout and the work environment along with my perfectionism was a great recipe.

I haven’t worked in direct practice in a few years (part of my self-care strategy), but my work demands are even higher. I continue to struggle with leaving work at work, but I have instituted some strategies that seem to help, which I’ll share at the end of this post. I think it simply boils down to boundaries. I’ve sacrificed advanced positions because I don’t want to see burn out again by working incessantly in the evenings and on the weekends and I am by no means a slacker. I do have a family and I choose to have a life. I do struggle with why can’t I have it all, but I haven’t figured all of that out yet…different blog post.  The fact that work advancement in this country means sacrificing a personal life and family is a whole other issue…again, a different blog post.

What I’ve done in recent years to begin the separation from the work day is to call my mom in Chicago on my daily, hour commute home. We talk about her day, she provides news updates, we catch up on family matters, we argue (not kidding), and I even sometimes tell her my work problems (at a very high level – she doesn’t understand what I do plus she’s a worrier). In the process, I’ve gotten to know my mom as a person really well, which I’m proud of. I know her so well that I realized my call window happens to be the same time that she takes her afternoon nap, so I recently started calling her earlier, around lunch time. By the way, she’d never admit to taking naps because she likes to complain that she doesn’t sleep at night.  I still make calls on my way home, but to different people such as my family and friends…anybody else to help me not think about work.  This has become a pretty solid part of my routine.

There are times that I do bring work home, but I have much better booundaries. If I bring work home, I give myself a timeframe to do the work and that’s it. It’s all a learning process. I’m just thankful that I no longer have dreams about clients.

Seed Planter

Yesterday afternoon, I had the pleasure of running into a client I knew from an agency where I used to work. I forgot his name, but recognized him as soon as I drove up. There was a time when I was very good at remembering names and faces, but not so much with the names anymore. On occasion, faces can be a challenge too. As I was getting out of the car to take care of some business, I planned not to say anything unless he initiated it.  This is what we are taught in mental health for the protection of privacy and respect of our clients. And I’ve often seen clients in the community over the years. One time, I made the mistake of initiating a greeting to a client that was the manager at a major retail chain. That was an awkward experience to say the least.  I knew better, but it slipped my mind because I’m generally excited about seeing people that I know while out and about.  Whatever the case, although he returned my greeting, he appeared so uneasy that I vowed not to make that mistake ever again. I would imagine that this is a challenge in very, small cities and we have plenty of small, rural cities/counties in Texas.

I did wonder if he recognized me. It has been 4 years since we’ve seen each other.  What I remember is that he is a very intelligent man with a jovial and good-natured spirit.  He struggled with depression, but I could see that he put in the effort to maintain a positive mindset.  As I entered the building, he called my name and my heart and face smiled. However, I still couldn’t recall his name. It was awkward for a few seconds because the reaction most people have (at least where I live) to seeing someone that you haven’t seen in a while is to hug. Also, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more of a toucher and hugger. We almost motioned to hug, but settled into a handshake. I was in the process of entering the building when he called me from outside, so one person was holding the door open while another was exiting. We held them up for a moment with our greeting, but it was worth it. It was so good to see him because oddly enough, I thought about him recently and here he was in the flesh.

After I took care of business, we caught up for a few minutes.  Not surprisingly, he’s doing well.  He told me his name, without my asking, and I hoped not to forget it again. He said that he still tells people about me and how I was when I worked at the agency.  He spoke highly of a counselor who encouraged him to move on to bigger and better things because he is ready. We exchanged closing words and went on our way. 

After a long, exhausting week of traveling, that meeting made my week. It reminded me of the privilege it has been to work as intimately as I’ve had with people.  Speaking to him in that moment reminded me of what I intended to do when I was a clinician, which was to plant seeds. In meeting people where they are, because not everyone self actualizes before your eyes or while on your caseload, I vowed to plant seeds of hope.  I viewed myself as part of the process of change and wanted them to know that someone (as in me) sincerely cared about their well being.

I no longer work as a practitioner, but this is a reminder that I am still a seed planter.  I want to plant seeds of hope and inspiration in everyone that crosses my path.  This may sound overly ambitious and idealistic to some, but it’s true.

Also, I might not be the loudest in the room, but I do want my absence to be felt when I’m gone and I’ve heard on more than one occassion that I am missed.

Open: Daily Post

I’m one to open myself up to new experiences and often operate outside of my comfort zone. The very act of writing a blog and publicly publishing these posts are testaments of my openness. I welcome all the good that comes with trying new things, but it does not come without fear and vulnerability. In my view, being open is an act of courage.  Opening myself up has been a slow process over the years. Imagine a flower’s metamorphosis from a bulb to a beautiful and vibrant bloom. Openness puts you in position to grow.  This is what I’ve seen in myself.

Living authentically and in accordance with my purpose are what drive me to be open to new things. I was conditioned early on to be afraid of people, my surroundings and the world. It is a struggle and I think it’s important for others to know that fear may be a constant presence.  At this point/age in my life, I most often don’t succumb to fear, but admittedly, there are times that I do. Old habits and old ways of thinking (that no longer serve me) die hard.

For anyone struggling with this, what helps me is to focus on the gains rather than the risks. It doesn’t have to be a new adventure either. It could be a different way of thinking, a different way of being, and a different way of relating. It could be engaging with a different set of people, trying a new food, moving to a different city, going back to school, getting a new job, applying for a promotion, traveling to a foreign country or  doing whatever is daring for you.. Whatever it is, the key is to decide to do something that gets you closer to where you want to be.  Decisions you make will take you closer or further away from the life you want. It’s been the small, daily decisions that have brought me to where I am today and I still have plenty of room to grow.

To be open is liberating. To be open despite fear is courageous.

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How do you know?

So I’m sitting on a plane (lay over), listening to my Zumba fitness playlist (forgot to mention in previous posts that I am also Zumba fitness instructor – that will be a different post), thinking about what it’s been like since I took the plunge and started this blog.

Have you ever wondered how you know you’re doing what you’re meant to do (i.e. living in your purpose)? This has been an important question that I spent a lot of time exploring in my 20’s, but I’m in that place of asking again in my 40’s. I didn’t think I would be here again. I know my purpose is to help people so I went through all the educational channels to become a social worker. However,  I’ve experienced different things from working at different agencies, and I’ve been contemplating how to best use my gifts.  The world is not what my idealistic mind would have it be.  I saw the movie Zootopia again with my family recently and it did a great job of capturing how things can be.

With the exception of this post, (because the plane will be taking off soon), I’ve found myself consumed with writing for hours and I had no idea of how much time had passed. And I was up into the middle of the night writing the other day. Now, that is something.

Understanding – Dailypost

I understand.  I understand what you mean.  How often have you harmlessly said those words when someone was explaining something in an attempt to acknowledge what was said and convey your understanding.  I’ve said those words many times in my personal and professional relationships.  Empathy does allow us to imagine what it must feel like and find some common thread so that we can come to an understanding of whatever is going in that experience.  As a social worker, I have a lot of empathy.  Although I have experienced and seen a lot, how can I profess to really understand what someone is going through when I have not walked in their shoes?  Are those words being used too loosely?  Is it about truly understanding or a need to feel/appear knowledgeable or something else?

In the past, I worked as a mental health professional for years and I was careful about not saying that “I understand” to clients because I did not entirely.  I knew the etiology of certain conditions along with statistical and demographic information, but in terms of what it felt like to be in my office with that specific story, I did not know.  More importantly, I avoided saying “I understand” because I didn’t want to belittle anyone’s experience.  

My goal was to engage so that I could earn trust, which would make our work together less painful and more productive.  The quickest way to losing that trust is to come off as fake by saying things that aren’t totally true.  There were lots of circumstances that led people to my caseload and one common element was that they were involved in the criminal justice system.  And my clients were very sensitive to fakeness.

Even if I could relate to things said like, “I don’t like taking medications” or “I’m having a hard time juggling family, work, and school”, I avoided saying that “I understand”.  There are details that make our stories unique even though they sound similar, and from my experiences, people don’t like you to assume that you know their story.  It’s a turn off.  My favorite thing to say in my authentic way was, “I hear what you are saying “.  It worked for me because it let them know that I was listening without making assumptions. In some cases, I would say, “I can relate”, which I think is different than saying “I understand“.

With a close friend, I might have said that I did understand the reasoning for not liking to take medications, but would I really understand her reason(s)?  That’s the question I will ask myself the next time I think about saying “I understand”.  This will be a challenge in listening, asking follow up questions, and not making assumptions based on my own experiences.

Understanding

 

 

Lessons about Self-Care

May was a month!  We had our family trip planned to Florida for my cousin’s wedding, the weekend of my birthday. The kids were excited, my husband was excited and I was simply excited about May.  I even made a Facebook post early in the month declaring just that, “I’m excited about May”.  Well, the roller coaster ride that was May is behind me, but not so fast. There were some lessons to learn.

My husband’s health started declining soon into the month, evidenced by 2 ER hospital visits, with one culminating into a brain surgery that occurred on, of all days, my birthday.  We didn’t know what was happening at the time it was happening. Although this was serious, some of it was funny even while we went through it.  Out of respect for my husband because he wouldn’t like me sharing his personal business, I won’t go into details.  In addition to physical symptoms, he also had some cognitive problems that were similar to dementia (e.g., confusion/short-term memory loss).

I did my first year, social work, graduate school internship at a nursing home, so this was eerily familiar, except it was happening in my house, to my 50-year-old husband.  It was an episode out of the Twilight Zone.  Long story short, we did not go to Florida.  My daughter cried her eyes out the night we told her we weren’t going because daddy was sick.  My oldest was upset with my daughter for not understanding why we couldn’t go.  Let’s just say that there was drama in the house that night.  I spent the days prior to and after my birthday at the hospital, praying for his recovery.  There was no birthday cake.  He was in pain, confused, and desperate for relief.  As a seasoned social worker, I was outwardly calm, but internally, anxious, confused and exhausted.

Throughout this ordeal, friends, coworkers and family kept reminding me to take care of myself.  Initially, I thought yes, of course.  Sure, I exercise most days of the week, eat well, devote time for prayer and read scriptures first thing in the morning anyway.  After being told to “take care” of myself over and over again, it got to the point that I questioned where I would fit “self-care” in because my husband needed my support, my kids needed me to drop them off/pick them up from school, feed them, and provide reassurance that their dad would be ok. Listen, I had just committed to a weight loss program the week before, yet, I hadn’t exercised in a few days, which was not ideal.

I was facing an unfamiliar role and it seemed to require that I prioritize my family’s needs over my own for a period of time. Although I knew this before and showed my appreciation, I realized how much my husband has contributed to our household.  The reality was that I would be my husband’s caretaker until we got through this thing.  And we didn’t know how long that would be. I was scared about what that meant for me and our family.  The second day home after the surgery, both of our moods were down and I was attempting to describe my feeling and his response was, “It’s hard being the caretaker”.

So what did I do for self-care?  I cut myself some slack.  I was flexible. I was at my husband’s side at the hospital because he needed me.  While there, I read my weight loss materials.  I bought groceries and trusted my son (not without calls & texts) to walk home from school and pop a frozen pizza in the oven.  I accepted help by letting a parent pick up my daughter.  After his release, I accepted meals and visits from my wonderful church family and coworkers.  I asked for prayers from everybody.  I let people encourage and empathize with me.  I told people what was going on.  I allowed myself to be vulnerable, accept help and be loved.  This last piece is huge because I’m the strong one.  I’m SUPER WOMAN…NOT!  I used to think I was and tried to lead others to believe that, but I acknowledge, accept and sometimes embrace my limitations.

I learned  that the foundation of my self-care toolkit is love. The act of loving on myself by being kind, patient and understanding  allows me to love onto others, especially when they really need me.  And this conclusion didn’t come about as perfectly as it sounds.  It was scary, messy and bleak for a bit, but then again, that’s the roller coaster ride called life.