Archive for Counseling and Therapy

Gettin’ Back on Track

Alright, seriously guys. You need to get back on the wagon, because now your laziness is affecting me. I’m skipping posts because I am infected with your lazy. Fix it.

See, I’m doing it. We can muddle through, even when we have nothing to write. Except I kind of do.

I’m looking for a job, at a snail’s pace. I should be going faster, given how much I need any kind of income right now. But I’m stuck. Resigning from that last job shook me more than I thought. Once the dreams about my grandma died down, the dreams about the ranch came back. Horrible dreams where I’m blamed for constant streams of failures I am powerless to prevent. Gee, I wonder where that comes from.

Shows how selfish I am, though. The second I get any kind of closure from the death of a loved one, I go right back to feeling sorry for myself. Not that I’m dealing with that one like a champion, either.

You ever feel like you need to vent, but you don’t know what or how? That’s where I am right now. Trying to piece together the last three months, while moving forward like a healthy human being.

 

Some Kind of Medicine

It’s been two weeks since I left my job, and it still stings. Fiercely, if I’m being honest. Most of my time and mental energy is spent staving off the unhealthy. This is on top of my grandma’s failing health, car trouble, money trouble, and who knows what else. Understandably, I’m a bit overwhelmed right now.

But let it never be said I can’t take my own medicine. I’ve worked with people who were in situations as crappy as the one I’m in now. Crappier, even. I have a new appreciation for what they went through.

There’s something I used to tell my clients who were down, out, and unemployed. Coming back from something big isn’t something that happens. It’s something you do. It’s a habit you create. Right now, the dark thoughts and the listlessness, those are the things I have to fight. Not letting them get a foothold is a habit I’ve used before, and will use again. It’s a bigger job than I thought it would be.

That said, I’m taking a couple weeks, before I start looking for work again. I think I’ve earned that much simplicity. It might be hypocritical, it might be spot-on. I’m not sure.

I’m trying to stay busy, at least in spurts. Dan and I have big things coming out this week. In fact, there are going to be a few announcements this week explaining that better. And it’s going to be something We’re very proud of.

So there’s a silver lining at least. Stay tuned.

-Austin

The Meeting

God, December was a terrible month. So terrible, in fact, it rolled over into January. Here’s the crisis du jour.

Saturday, my boss calls me in to her office. She tells me that I’m not as far along as I should be in my job growth. I’m a headache for some of the other staff. She then tells me she, HR, and I have a meeting on Monday, which is now today. Which is, at press time, a couple hours from now. She wouldn’t tell me what the meeting is about, but she was fairly insistent it wasn’t about being fired.

So, boom. Another bomb dropped on whatever zen I’m trying to cultivate.

At first, I was pretty shook. When anyone is trying their hardest and gets told it’s not good enough, it hurts. And with as much as I struggled with confidence and competence in the past, this opened up some old wounds.

And then I started thinking. I worked my ass off for grad school. I spent time, money, and effort pushing limits past what I thought I could do. Because of that, I can say I am good at what I do. It’s just that what I do isn’t what my job is right now. My job right now is care-taking. I took it because they promised me that after a couple months, I could move into a job where I know I can do good.

I kept at it this long because for all their faults and my headaches, I do care about the kids at the ranch. I want to help them, and I want to learn how to help other kids in their position. The management has made it clear that I can’t do that where I’m at now, and I agree.

Now comes the hard part. I have a ticking clock on getting my license to be a therapist. On top of being told I can’t stand still where I’m at now, despite promises they made when they hired me. So, at this meeting today, I’m going to have a lot to talk about.

Stay tuned, I’ll do an addendum post to tell you how it went.

Obladi, Oblada

Life has a nasty tendency of going on. Louis C.K. wrote that life isn’t something that just happens to you. It’s something that’s always going on around you, something you participate in and witness. That thought helped a lot over the last year, as a lot about my view of the world changed.

I came back to it recently, as my grandma’s condition gets steadily worse.

It’s funny. I don’t believe in an afterlife anymore. I think we’re born, we live, then we die. Poof. That’s it. Once I realized that, my sense of theism just fell away and was gone.

That’s not the funny part.

The funny part is that I can never admit it to people. Especially people who are on their way out, or to people who are just struggling with big life questions. There have been times I’ve just lied about my beliefs because it’s been easier.

The courage to live in line with my beliefs eludes me more often than not. I guess I’m not that different from the faithful in that respect.

I keep playing out a scene in my head. Nana asks me something about dying, and I lie to her about my beliefs because she’s dying, and I’d tell her anything to take some of the fear of that away. Dishonest, but comforting. There are worse things to live with. Might be a talent that makes me a better helper. Instilling hope, you could call it. If there’s no life after death, it’s not like it’ll matter soon, anyway.

I wish I had a better moral for that. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, maybe? More likely that soft lies can be kinder than hard truths.

Nana’s Last Christmas

God, I’ve hit the hat trick for late night updates. It should be a wake-up call. This time though, I have a pretty good excuse.

My grandma has been sick and getting sicker this whole month. Memory trouble. When it started, she was remembering things that didn’t happen. Turns out, a string of tumors in her brain is slowly squeezing the life out of her. The breast cancer, it seems, has had the last laugh.

I didn’t tell anyone. Even the other guys at the blog. When they read this tomorrow, or maybe the day after, it’ll be the first time they hear (surprise!). I always isolate to process. It’s a bad habit of mine. Besides, I reasoned, it’s Dan’s first Christmas with his wife, and he doesn’t need a Debbie Downer eating up all his time and attention. Truth is, I’m afraid telling people will make the whole thing real.

I’ve been numb, more than anything. With the stress of the new job, the 5 stages of grief have been slow in arriving. I might still be in denial. Or maybe the early stages of compassion fatigue are forming a soft pillowy callous around the emotions.

I didn’t know what to get her for Christmas. At the beginning of the month I got her a glass rose. It has a glass butterfly on it. It’s gaudy, it’s kitsch, and she’ll love it. But I usually try to get someone something long-term when I go shopping for presents. That seems selfish now, that her possessions will soon return to me.

She’s in hospice now, on medication that is somewhat successful in bringing down the swelling in her brain. She still comes and goes, from what I hear. My work schedule is keeping me from visiting her. I’ll never forgive myself if it keeps me from seeing her before she goes.

We’re trying to give her one last Christmas at our house. She wanted it at hers, but she isn’t doing well enough to manage all the stairs there. That’s what hurts the most.

I ended up getting her chocolate. The best I could find on short notice. It seemed fitting, like a sugary mandala. Beautiful and temporary. Even someone who can’t remember the name of the gift-giver can remember a gift like chocolate. Even if it’s just for a little while.

-Austin

Grit

I left for work with writer’s block, and I came back exhausted. So I’ll be brief again.

The idea of grit has been on my mind for a while. They mentioned it in grad school, and it has stuck with me since. Not just courage, but aggressive courage. A challenge, a dare to the situation to become more difficult, So that you can rise to it more. Not just perseverance, but worldliness on top of it.

It’s certainly something I’ve needed a lot of since starting my new job.

My heart goes out to these kids. Less so recently, I’ll admit, because mentally ill children are insufferable, and I get paid to suffer them. But still, all of them come from terrible situations, and living at the ranch is more punishment than opportunity. But, sympathy and mercy won’t help them. What they need is accountability, character, and some of that same grit I use.

So I’ll rise to the challenge. Again and again. Until I prove to myself and the world it can be done. Then I teach it to these kids. Maybe then I can start making that difference I set out to make.

-Austin

Upper Management

One of the first things you have to realize is that you can only ever have agency over yourself. No one else in the world is going to do what you want all the time. The trick is to communicate clearly, and work with what the other person gives you.

When I started work, my boss told me that trying to manage individual kids would drive me crazy. Instead, she told me to manage the milieu. In other words, the kids make their own choices, like every other human being. The mark of competency in this job is to steer them in the right direction by using the environment. If someone looks like they’re about to go off? Start putting away the breakables. If someone isn’t listening to staff? Send in one of their friends to talk them down. If they start making better decisions, they get more privileges.

Take for instance what happened a couple days ago. A bunch of the kids wanted to play cops and robbers in the living room. My first instinct was, no, this is a treatment center and I don’t want you to run around here yelling “bang, you’re dead.” But they were all pretty well-behaved that day so I figured as long as I set some ground rules we could see how it goes. So we told them no running, no yelling, and that they were to play with “paintball” guns. Not only did they meet the expectation, they got along for the day and played that game for a good five hours.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I noticed that the game they were playing was basically the wild west equivalent of a trust fall. One kid emerged from cover to say “bang, you’re (paintball) dead”, and then had to trust the other kid to play along. Entire rule systems rose and fell to tighten or loosen this honor system. The kids started to manage themselves, but also started to try and structure the environment just like the staff do. All the while, I could kick back and let them have fun.

I’m learning this job, slowly but surely. It may be a while before I really figure it out, but in the mean time, I’m learning to count the little victories and insights I find. Even if that insight is that there’s a time to let them play cops and robbers in the living room.

-Austin

The Peanut Butter Incident

Like I mentioned earlier, I try not to give out details for confidentiality reasons. So, here’s the HIPAA compliant outline. There was an incident at my place of work from which I gleaned much professional insight. It starts with me being a hard-ass. It ends with peanut butter being thrown at my head.

When I started this job, my supervisor recommended I start off very strict with the children, and then transition to being more lenient once the precedent was set. Good advice. Then one of my coworkers saw me try to put it into practice. He told me “Dude, you’re getting into power struggles with these kids. The other kids see that, and know that they can mess with you.”

So, I learned that there’s a time for being strict and a time for giving them a break.

And then I learned about the peanut butter. It turns out that we try to keep at least a couple jars of the stuff in the building at all times. We don’t deny them food, and kids, as they get older, are hungry all the time. As a compromise, they can request a spoonful of peanut butter at pretty much any time.

The astute reader may already realize that this is a privilege that is easily abused. As a result, I chose to be a hard-ass about this particular rule.

Now, I really wish I could go into details. Needless to say, I didn’t read the situation right, and said no at the wrong time, and got peanut butter thrown at my head. It missed, lucky for me, but it did make a mess.

It’s not important. What’s important is what happened afterward.

The first thing I said (after a few combat breaths) was “You were right. I screwed up.” And all that anger fell away. The kid just wanted someone to hear him/her out, and that string of no’s just built up until it popped, like it would with anyone. And because I admitted I made a mistake, not only did we walk away from this as something we could laugh at, that kid learned a lesson in owning your mistakes that he/she will remember.

The moral is, I’m not perfect. And that’s okay. More than that, because I know that I’m not perfect, it gives me a shot at becoming great at this job. Mental Health is helping other people be more authentic in their lives. We teach people how to be human. And part of that is learning how to be really good humans ourselves.

That day, I learned how to be more human. In so doing, another person learned the same lesson. To me, that’s a victory.

Whiplash

People with thought disorders are like a box of chocolates. There’s always one or two that are filled with that weird half-toothpaste/half-coconut flavor that you never eat.

I remember at my internship, there were always a couple that you never knew what you were going to get. One day I was the scum of the earth, and they swore they would never come back. The next week every word out of my mouth would be a breakthrough. Which is annoying in it’s own way, but at least it’s flattering.

At my new job, the same principle is at work. One day a kid might be a perfect little cherub, the next a downright demon. Sometimes I feel like I’m getting whiplash just watching mood swings.

It’s a chaotic environment, and one that many people can’t handle. This time last year I was doing a whole lot of soul searching to figure out whether or not I was that kind of person. Knowing your limits and choosing to avoid the chaos is all well and good. The sad part is the people causing the chaos can’t really handle it either.

Which is not to say it isn’t worth it. When you do good in mental health, you do real  good.

Here’s how I try to think of it. The behavior isn’t the person, it’s the symptom. The cursing, the yelling, the insults, those are not the extent of the person I’m talking to. Instead, I try to look deeper. To date, I’ve always found something in that depth worth preserving. The trouble is the patience it takes to get there.

This job is hard, I knew that would be the case. Any kid with behaviors bad enough to be removed from the home for any reason is going to be a handful. And now that I’m starting to get a taste of how much of a handful they can be, I need my past experience and my ideals now more than ever. But the strange thing is, I haven’t doubted for a minute that the experience will will be worth it.

Well, okay. Sometimes I doubt it. But that’s part of being human.

Expansions

A week in to my new job and already I’m sure it’ll either be the best thing to ever happen to me, or it’ll kill me.

“Oh yeah, you will have to learn how to physically restrain the kids.”

“Oh yeah, we’ve had cutters.”

“Oh yeah, there have been suicides here.”

“Yeah, I’ve been spit on, kicked, hit in the face.”

And that was just the entrance interview.

Back in grad school, these were all distant, abstract. The worst I had to deal with were clients who didn’t come back. Now, those same clients may cause me, or themselves, serious physical harm.

The question arises- why haven’t I run screaming? I’m not sure I know the answer myself. But I do know that for the first time, I’m a part of something so much bigger than me. Adults can be set in their ways, but helping a kid through their problems might set them up for a much happier life. The inevitable heartbreak might be small price to pay.

You can’t run from the challenges in front of you. Well, you can, but if you start you never stop. The prospect of this work terrifies me, but I can’t let that slow me down. The chance to make a difference with these kids is too big a chance to pass up. And I have to admit, I like the idea of the person I’ll be if I can rise to the challenge.