Archive for Emotions – Page 2

Bird’s Eye View

Birds of New York State

As some of you know, I’m quick to get tunnel vision and freeze up when I’m feeling overwhelmed. With a new job, new city, and new friends, the odds of me getting anxious are pretty high.

So as a small exercise, I’m stepping back from the hurricane of new information to look at the last month from a bird’s eye view. Here goes:

 I survived a month in New York City. I have friends, old and new. I found a job within 30 days of landing. I’ve learned a lot of new information, and I’m retaining most of it. I have events to look forward to, and interesting stories to tell. I have a loving family, and people from all over the country that care about me. I sleep at night, paint every day, and go to the gym a few times a week. I’m healthy, hardworking, and energetic.

To many, this may sound like some sort of humblebrag. But seeing these facts written reminds me that I’m capable of adapting and learning in new situations – that I’m never truly stuck. My life can be better than ever- physically, spiritually, and intellectually. I have no reason to feel trapped or hopeless, as I sometimes do when met with hardships.

I hate to be a Polyanna, but from a bird’s eye view, life is pretty darn good.

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.

Friends till the end

When I was twelve years old, all my best friends in the world lived less than a quarter mile away. Down the block, around the corner, or just over the hill. My favorite people were available and accessible, almost all the time. Friendship was easy.

I’m twice as old now, and friendship is a lot harder.

I have more people I care about, and less time to spend with them. I’ve had some amazing new friendships form in the last decade, and I have fallen in love with them all. But, we all have had school, jobs, cross country moves, and even marriages. And all of those adventures, while fantastic in their own rights, don’t leave much time for playing catch up over coffee.

The hard truth that no one tells you, is that the older you get, the harder it is to make and maintain friendships. I still meet a whole lot of people. But, everyone I meet has a full time job, a serious relationship, or is in the mist of an existential crisis. And all my old friends are going through much the same.

I became friends with Austin when we were seven because we were both walking the same way in our neighborhood. Later that day, he was my best friend.

I met Clark in the hallway of a dormitory. We hung out a few times, lived together for a year, and then became real friends.

My friends live in Montana, Washington, and Bulgaria. And now, after ten months, I have friends in New York. Everyone is just a phone call or text or subway ride away. It’s easier than ever to stay in touch, and yet I feel like my friendships, old and new, are slipping through my fingers.

I would say it’s just been a tough week, but I know better. I’m afraid of losing my friends through apathy and distance. But my biggest fear, is that in twenty years, I won’t have anyone to call.

As our lives provide us with more hardships and obligations, it seems like we give ourselves more excuses not to reach out. But, the more complicated life gets, the more that’s exactly what we need.

I’m going to try to make more time. Because lord knows, if we want to make or keep friends, time is the main ingredient.

-DC

First Impressions

I’ve been at my new job for about a month now, and I’m starting to get a clearer picture of it. I knew it was going to be difficult, but there’s always going to be a difference between the idea and the reality. Here are a few things I’ve noticed.

First, this job is hard. Really hard. Not only do you have to worry about a group of children’s mental health, you also need to keep an eye on their physical health. Trying to teach them to make better decisions on top of making sure they don’t smack each other (or me) around takes a special kind of person. A person that I am aspiring to be, but I’m not there yet.

Living in that in-between space of ideals and competence is incredibly draining.

Next, that the mental health system really is as broken as they tell you it is in school. Everything runs on money, and there’s very little to go around. A sad sign of the times. This can ripple outward in ways nobody can predict. Where I work, I’ve heard that they have trouble hiring. Very few people are willing to do what I do. My guess is it’s a combination of what they ask for and what they pay for. The hiring trouble leads to longer shifts and higher demands for the employees they do have. I’m afraid that one day this will burn out the people that are stepping up, leading to even fewer employees, and so on until the whole thing comes crashing down.

Finally, this job should be mandatory for anyone that considers themselves a helper or a healer. This is it. These are the trenches, and this is where the world needs to be focusing its attention. I can say with a straight face that if I, and everyone like me at this job, had the resources we needed the world would be a much better place. Being in the middle of the stink of trauma and mental illness is exhausting. But it’s right in the middle of it where the most help is needed. More than that, it’s where you can do the most good.

I can only hope I can rise to the challenge.

Gone Viral

It has been a week of warnings for me. Taking away autonomy from children is delicate. It goes against every healthy instinct a human has. But the one warning I did not get is the one I think I needed the most.

Children are reservoirs of disease. I caught a bug from a kid who caught it from another kid, ad infinitum. So, for my sake, I’ll keep it short.

Even from what little I’ve seen so far, there have been times where I’ve gotten glimpses of the sickness that brought those kids to where they are. Most of the time they could pass as normal kids. When they snap, though, and that sickness shines through? It is always shocking.

Maybe that’s why the burnout rate is so high.

I was warned, during a therapeutic holds training, that this job has an effect that few people can predict. In particular, I was warned about dreams that most people get after they start working at YBGR. Though mine have only been fever dreams lately, I can see why it makes sense. Power over others has an effect on people, especially whenever children are involved. Becoming an advocate, and not a prison guard, is going to be crucial.

For now, though, I’m going to finish off this bag of cough drops and take a nap. It’s important to start small.

-Austin

Nerd Herd

Two years ago, around this time, I introduced myself to the people who would become my cohort. My first words to them were, more or less, “Hi, I’m Austin. I am a colossal geek.” I was really saying “I defy you to tell me I don’t belong here” was what I was saying. Luckily, it got big laughs instead.

Back then, I wasn’t sure nerds, geeks, introverts, and other part time social pariahs had a place in the helping professions. I still struggle with the idea sometimes. After all, what difference could one awkward nerd make?

Except, it’s not a problem unique to me, or even to all of nerd-dom. We all struggle with enough-ness, as one of my old teachers called it. I can promise you that every person in the history of creation has wondered whether or not they are enough. It took me a year’s worth of client’s and a life’s worth of self-doubt to teach me that.

But this isn’t about every person ever, this is about me. Am I enough to actually get out there and help others, despite being a bit (a lot) geeky? And the bigger question, does the helper need to figure themselves out before helping others? As I see it, the answer is a resounding “no”.

Wounded healers are still healers, maybe more-so because we at least have some perspective. The truth is that none of us have our act together. Maybe we should celebrate that instead of trying as hard as we do to hide it. So, I’m a nerd, a geek, and at times cringe-worthy. Probably going to keep that up.

Let ye who is without awkward throw the first stone.

-Austin

The Return Voyage

Clark, Dan, and I are back, and one of us married to boot. We’re all tired, emotional, and happier than we’ve been in a long time. Pictures and stories are inbound. Until then, here’s the toast I gave to Dan at the reception. People tell me it was a hit.

 

What can I say about Dan that he has not already told you about himself?

I first met Dan when we were both about eight years old. We lived in the same neighborhood, and one day we happened to be walking the same direction at the same time. We’ve been inseparable since.

I’ve been Dan’s best friend through the highs and the lows. I’ve been a confidant, a cheerleader, and the keeper of several secrets that would utterly destroy Dan if they ever got out.

If anyone wants to know what those are, come see me later, we’ll work something out.

Seriously though, I remember a conversation Dan and I had late last year, I think around November or December. We were talking over the phone, and Courtney came up, as she has in every conversation since. And Dan said to me, “It’s not a matter of if, dude , it’s a matter of when.” And I thought to myself, ‘wow, I’ve never seen Dan this in love,  this serious, or this authentic.’ It was then I knew that those two had something very rare, and very special.

I’ve never seen Dan as happy as I’ve seen him in the last few months. I’m looking forward to seeing the life these two will create together.

I consider Dan family, and am overjoyed to see this family grow.

So, here’s to Dan and Courtney. May the rest of their lives be as special as it is right now.

-Austin

Sharing is Caring

Sharing is hard, especially sharing something you consider irreplaceable.

Yet, as I pack my bags to watch Dan walk down the aisle, I’m realizing that I will soon be sharing something incredibly hard to find – a best friend and a good man.

I’ve known Daniel Crary for over four years, and lived with him for half of those. I’ve lost count of how many nights we stayed up late, lounging around in bath robes, eating quesadillas and granola bars. I could fill several notebooks with the skits, songs, and screenplays we conjured up after splitting a bottle of wine. The laughter we shared (and still share) was my main source of cardio for years. We had many adventures filled with youthful recklessness, where part of us still believed we were invincible.

Then there were the dark times – the snow drifts, the sick days, the heartaches. Our minds, much like our apartment, were cold, messy, and dark. We saw each other at our absolute worst, yet we still made an effort to pull pranks on one another, creating much-needed excuses to laugh.

Where many friendships would have fallen apart, Dan and I grew closer. We took the ugly, messy moments in our lives, and turned them into a mortar that binds us together. For that, I will always be thankful.

Fortunately, Dan and I still have plenty of years ahead of us. He’s marrying an old friend that I’ve always respected – someone who’s quick to jump in with her own stories or adventures. His bride is so radiant, even his darkest times will be full of hope. She’s the one person capable of making Dan feel invincible again.

Thank you so much, Courtney.

So when I move back in with Dan this October, I realize I will no longer be the first person Dan greets when he comes home, or the first person he calls when he gets a night off. I will have to share my best friend’s time, attention, and creativity. Our notebooks filled with ideas will become thinner, and our nightly talks will slowly turn into weekly talks.

As hard as these changes will be, I still can’t wipe this smile off my face.

Congratulations, Daniel Crary, you found someone so cool that I’m willing to share. I’m honored to be a part of your wedding, and I look forward to seeing you this weekend.

Your friend, creative partner, bird, and brother,

- Clark

P.S. Don’t expect the pranks to stop – she’s on my side.

My Best Friend’s Wedding

When your best friend gets married, their world changes. And when your best friend’s world changes, your world changes.

Except, I haven’t really been feeling that pressure.

Here’s the honest truth. My best friend is getting married to a girl I’ve only met twice. Which means, brass tacks, I haven’t made enough of an effort as a friend. Growing up means growing apart from everyone but yourself. Figuring out how to get out of that is one of the biggest challenges of life.

Most of my friends are, or will be, time zones apart. For a while, this was fine. I had grad school to deal with.I was stressed out, so I was largely absent from the people I care about. It got better, so now I have to own up.

It’s time for me to stop putting my life on hold with flimsy excuses.

Even after Dan and Clark go back to New York. Even as I try to get a job and dig myself out of my own debt pit. Even as, on top of all this, I try to realize that work and money don’t matter, so long as I find something real to live for.

Which brings me full circle. Friends and family, which I consider to be the same thing, have to come first. I forgot that for a while.

I’m not dwelling on it, and I’m not blaming anyone. I’m moving forward to my best friend’s wedding, and I’m damn sure going to be there for the rest of his new life beyond.

-Austin

Popping Bubbles

I’m pretty hard on office jobs. I don’t think very highly of them, and that reflects in both my writing and my choice of career. Still, if an office job is something that can make a person happy and let them live a fulfilling life, then why not?

Except, that I wonder how much meaning there can truly be in a life like that.

Here’s what I believe. Every single one of us is going to die some day. Pretty much everyone tries to live forever, no one’s really got the hang of it yet. Paradoxically, its the fear of dying that holds us back.

We don’t take risks because we don’t want to live the rest of our lives with the consequences. So we make the safe choices. We choose the career that doesn’t stretch us too much. We pick the friends that share our views. We only go to the websites that reinforce our beliefs.

In the age of the internet, it has never been easier to trap ourselves in a bubble.

And that is the core of what I believe a nine to five cubicle job can be. A bubble, comfortable and routine, but insulated against the truer, more risky meanings of life.

Look at the top regrets of the dying. Compromise and procrastination are the saboteurs of meaning, yet they are the kings of the business world in the US. I’ll never be able to support myself as an artist or a musician, so I’ll get a desk job. I would love more time with my family, but hey, I gotta put food on the table. I would love to get out more, maybe go on vacation, but I gotta look good to the boss. A thousand little compromises that slowly drain the color out of life.

For some, work life is a coping skill; they manage the chaos of their home life with the routine of a job. It’s not the first time someone replaced a bad coping skill with a different, equally bad coping skill.

Even in the best case scenario; you work a job you enjoy with people you care about doing something you find fulfilling. You’re still stymied in growing as person, because you’re stuck in a routine. Humans can’t thrive in a bubble. We need to grow, to challenge ourselves, and to use our deaths not as something to be afraid of, but as the ticking clock to make the most of the time we have.

Here’s the litmus test I use to figure out whether or not something is meaningful. I keep in mind that someday, I’m going to die. If, on that day, the last thought through my head is about this decision I am making, will I be happy or sad? Look for the reasons under the of action, and see if they will stand the test of time.

I forget who said it, it may have been Scrubs, but the quote “life is a memory before dying” has always stuck with me. We won’t be around forever, and who knows what happens next. Don’t get stuck in bubble. Live a life worth remembering.