Archive for My Life – Page 2

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

Commitment

I wasn’t sure what to write about this morning when I woke up. Well, that’s not entirely true. I knew what I wanted to write about, I was just going to avoid it and half-ass something else.

See, I had gotten a bit of feedback on Saturday. My boss that I wasn’t doing enough to step up at my job. Coworkers didn’t feel like I had their backs. For a place where one of the hazards includes being attacked by mentally ill teenagers bigger than you are, that’s serious criticism.

So I spent the rest of the day feeling sorry for myself. After the pity party, I decided to make a change. Turns out it really can be that simple. See, inside the pity party is the implication that I didn’t think I was able to make any kind of change. Experience has proven that this is not true.

I’ve been volunteering for more. Making sure I’m the first one there in a blowout. Offering to take over and tag out for all manner of thankless jobs and paperwork drudgery. I’m only two days in to manning up, but I think I’m going to be okay.

When I buckled down and committed, it was like a bunch of puzzle pieces in my mind clicked into place. The inaction and the leaving the crises to other people were bad habits left over from when I wasn’t allowed to do much more than shadow. Action and effort suit me much better than anxiety and inertia.

I think the lesson here is in committing to a better way of doing things. Once you really go for it, things start to line up. Dan experienced it when he got back into acting and writing. Clark experienced it when he decided to take the plunge and move to New York. And now I’m experiencing it. If it happens that often it can’t just be coincidence.

So, at the risk of being preachy again, here’s my challenge to anyone reading. You know the right thing to do. Get out there and do it.

-Austin

Priorities

I chipped a tooth last night. I was flossing and a piece of tooth just fell right out of my mouth. I don’t know why.

You know those dreams where teeth fall out? I think it taps into that weird tooth paranoia those dreams create. I’m actually pretty worried about it. Like, more worried about it than most of the new job problems I’ve had over the last couple months.

Looks like I’m more vain than I thought I was. Oh, helping treat mental illness in kids? Pshaw. A small dental problem that can be fixed in an hour? Stop the presses, my life is about this now.

I feel a little guilty. When instinct reveals my priorities, they’re always so selfish and petty. Heck, usually the biggest impact on my day isn’t the strength of my lofty ideals, but what I’m planning on doing when I’m done with my shift. I literally care more about my X-box than improving the lives of children.

I can talk a good game, but I’m as much a monkey as everyone else on this rock. I’m not the person I say I am, I’m just a selfish asshole that puts talk before action. Here’s how I know. All the talk I’ve done about wanting to help people? Clearly not, If a chipped tooth is instantly at the top of my list.

Ir’s a silly rabbit hole to go down, I know, but this is where I’m at as of press time. I want to be a better person, but right now I want my tooth fixed more.

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.

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.

Writing About Writing

It has been getting harder of thinking what to write about these last couple weeks. I try to stay away from the preachy “Let me teach you stuff” posts, because I don’t want to be a holier-than-thou jerk. I’ve gotten away with posts that are, in my opinion, good enough.

The stress of a new job, especially one working with kids, is disrupting. So I  gave myself some leeway. And so did Dan and Clark.

Then there’s the whole confidentiality thing, where I can’t talk about anything specific. Let me give you an example. Say I don’t even use names. Something like, “a kid at that place I work did a thing.” If the parents of that kid stumbles across this and knows the thing I’m talking about? Bam! Sued. So I keep it vague on purpose.

And of course, there’s just pure, old-fashioned laziness. The part of me that only wants to do the bare minimum. Go to work, do my job, go home, go to sleep, repeat. Especially now that I have an income that can let me buy things that cost more than five dollars.

It’s tempting, but it’s no way to live a life. Mediocrity does not leave a legacy.

So if it seems like my posts have gotten a little stale lately, that’s because they have. Phoning it in to get used to a new job is understandable, sure. But like my friends keep trying to tell me, just good enough isn’t good enough.

This is me promising to get back on track, with this post, and hopefully with life, period.

-Austin

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.

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

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.

Juggling

A new blog, a new roommate, a new job, oh, and a new wife: it’s a season of change for old Dan. And while I love change, one or two at once would be nice. Five or more and I begin to remember why I can’t juggle.

I love my life, and all the exciting things that are happening. I’m a happily married man, with a great apartment, and a cool “new” roommate. And on top of all this, I have finally launched my second blog. That’s right, Tales from Two Cities is now live, with new posts coming at you twice a week (with more  content to follow.)

I’m busy, and that’s a good thing.

Until, one thing goes wrong. A new catering company leads to more work, that gives me less time to write. A new roommate means navigating the city with a fresh face, and less time to relax. A new apartment means a great space to live in, and battles with the utilities companies over past balances left by the previous tenants. And a new wife means…Ok, that one’s just awesome.

For every new, exciting thing, more complications arise. I find myself dealing with repairmen, collections agents, cab drivers, and friends like never before. I’m on the phone, emailing, and taking care of things, and through all the new stress, I’m counting myself lucky. I’m only having to deal with these things, because my life is pretty great most days.

I am married! I have a great apartment! And a new blog with a dear friend!

So, in the spirit of that, go check out the first two post at Tales from Two Cities. I think you just might like it.