Chaos and Cold

Well, folks, my very last autumn semester (for the foreseeable future!) is winding down and that means that I have a spare minute to give a quick update before zooming off to finals and, you know, life.

School: I’m halfway through the year, fairly close to the end of the semester. I’ve got just about all my hours for the semester’s practicum and I’m very ready for some semblance of a break. I feel like it’s been all rush all the time and I’m sure break will help a lot on that front. But that also means I’m that much closer to the licensure exam and I’m not sure how I feel about that. It all feels a little “too real” at the moment.

Personal: I’ve got a book coming out in less than a month! That’s pretty cool! I’m knee-deep in NaNo and I’m really just doing my best to make it through that, on top of everything else. I’ll be hosting a giveaway for my book and that’ll keep me busy through finals, I’m sure.

Health: I’ve officially been off soda for almost six months. I have less than one a month now (as an average) and that’s a huge thing for me. My goal in 2020 is to decrease to maybe one in a 6 month period and then 2021 will be my “none at all” year. But we’ll see. I’ve been able to manage my migraines with tart cherry juice and essential oils, along with the occasional medicine but on the whole, I’ve also started taking better care of myself with eating patterns and water consumption and walking.

LFK: It’s a chilly -13*C here in Kansas. Yesterday was the second (third?) snow of the season and overnight it dropped to absolutely chilly. I had to get gas this morning and I absolutely didn’t want to. But I made it out and about and then right back inside. This weekend will be nearly 15*C, which is just about the standard weather for everywhere I’ve ever lived, so at least I’ve got that going for me.

Why all this matters:
For me: Well, because it’s nice to have a bit of a track record to look back on, right?
For you: I’m working on finishing up my final papers and I’m nearly convinced that *maybe* I’ll do an early release of A Book About Life. But ssh! Don’t tell anyone I told you!

We’ll see how this week goes!

M.

Cover Reveal: A Book About Life

It’s time!

I’m so very happy to announce that today is cover reveal day for A Book About Life!

Coming to you December 9, 2019, you have this to look forward to:

*Millennial Protagonist
*LGBTQ Protagonist (She’s ACE!)
*Pride and Prejudice -esq romance subplot
*Character development
*A book that deals with things like: student loan debt, what relationships look like in 2019, how to handle burnout (or not handle!)
*Social workers and hospitals
*vicarious (second-hand) trauma
*Lifelong best friends-who support each other!
*Coffee

So what’s the deal with A Book About Life?

Well, ABAL (which is what I call it) is a snippet of my experiences as a social work student. What it looks like to wake up and have bills due, while dealing with your most horrible day ever. ABAL tells the story of someone who has chosen stability and control over adventure and passion their entire life, and must now decide if they deserve more.

And more seriously, I wanted to explore what all this meant for myself. So I talk about (but not explicitly!) what it’s like to help someone who has experienced domestic abuse and sexual violence. It’s important to note that I didn’t base any character on real people, but on real experiences. So when I describe the way a person looks, it’s purely fictional. But when I describe the emotions in a therapy session, those are real. Same goes for places.

This book is my thought experiment more than anything. I wanted to know what it looked like to deal with your own life while trying to help everyone else deal with theirs. I took my creative liberties where needed and brought my heart into the focus. And now, I’d like to share all that with you!

So, without further delay, the cover for this emotional journey:

Closer to launch, I will be hosting a giveaway, so please be on the lookout for that!

Much love,
M.

I actually believed it.

I’ve been working away as hard as I can, my folks. I work part time, I go to school full time, I also do my clinical internship in an emergency department. And that’s been such a whirlwind adventure for me that 3 days a week I survive on coffee and fruit flavored water and a granola bar. It’s a wild time, but it’s also the first time I’ve actually felt steady.

Which kinda brings us to this super cool thing that happened.

I was working on a patient case and they’d made a comment about someone they know being able to wear a corset and look like a pin-up model. They then looked at me and said something along the lines of “not to make you jealous, life isn’t fair sometimes”. And I immediately responded with “hey, no judgments here”.

And from the outside, it might have looked like I brushed it off, that I wasn’t going to let it bother me and that I was otherwise not going near that subject of conversation.

I’m a big person. My tummy is a fluffy thing that I grew myself. And from the outside looking in, I take up space. It’s not like I’m unaware of this.

But as I drove in to school this morning (and it’s an hour drive-I have a long time to think), I processed what it was that I’d been feeling in that moment. I replayed it in my mind a few times, thought about how I was feeling this morning and realized that I wasn’t offended. I wasn’t embarrassed. I wasn’t any shame or guilt based emotion.

I was relieved.

I’ve spent the better part of 20 years trying to convince myself that I don’t have to look like a movie star to be valid. That skinny and pretty (by society’s standards) are not the price I pay to exist. And for so long, it was going through the motions. Saying things I didn’t believe, laughing things off and then immediately running home to work out or skip dinner or eat nothing but salad for the next three days.

And this time?

This time is different. I’m healthy. I sure do eat salads. And I drink less than a soda a month. I drink over half a gallon of water every day. I’m more active now than I’ve ever been. And I’m still a big person.

But the thing that changed, was me. For the first time in my whole life, I love who I am. I’m not ashamed that I take up more space than other people-because that is not the ruler to measure my self-worth. I am kind, I am hard-working. I am sincere. I love coffee. Those are the things that make me up-not other people’s perceptions.

I’m gonna be honest. I didn’t think I’d ever reach this part. I always assumed that I would lose a bunch of weight and then spend the rest of life keeping it off-like some disease I had to constantly worry about.

But being fat (there, I said it) isn’t the worst life I could lead. I love who I am, as I am. Right now. No qualifiers, no conditions. I’m doing an awesome job, just being me.

And for the very first time, I actually believe that.

Once upon a practicum.

Right. Let’s just dig right in.

I started my clinical year last week and I’m going to be honest with you-I have scarcely felt so overwhelmed. I went to practicum (internship for social work), class and I came away with a to-do list so long that I wasn’t sure I could do it.

I was ready to throw in the towel. And so close to being finished. Why?

I like to feel like I’m set up for success. Newness isn’t so bad. Change isn’t so bad. But when there aren’t clear expectations, I feel that I am not going into a scenario where I am capable of winning, I feel overwhelmed and frustrated. That sets me up for failure, day one.

But that’s not the reason I’m writing. I have no intention of complaining for a whole blog about how life isn’t fair. What I want to do is address the steps I took to remedy the situation.

Anyone can feel overwhelmed. Anyone can feel like they can’t be successful. And that doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough, or that they were wrong to hire you. It means you’re human.

I came to realize that much of my problems could be boiled down into very simple categories: schedule, organization and expectations. From there, the reasons why I was feeling un-successful came to life. I didn’t feel like I had enough time with my schedule to finish all my class work (schedule/expectations). I didn’t feel like I had a good grasp of the layout of the hospital (organization). I didn’t feel like I could pinpoint the needs of each place I was headed for my practicum (organization/expectation). And the list goes on like that.

The answer, oddly enough, was the same for all of them. Self-advocacy.

I took my supervision time and came prepared with a list of questions related to those things. What changes could be made to my schedule to better accommodate my work/school expectations? What resources were available to help me understand the workings of each department I would be going to? How can I better map out where the “important” places are? Who are my question people? Where can I put my things if I need to? Lunch spaces? Things like that.

And then the work began. It is one thing to bring the questions. It is another thing entirely to get the answers that you need. And trust me, I’m non-confrontational so I don’t love demanding answers. But I knew it would help me if I became a little more decisive. And thankfully my field instructor is great and I have access to a delightful amount of social workers who know far more than I do. And we haggled. What would allow me to be useful to my placement, while also being helpful to me?

A phrase I heard a lot over the past year is “closed mouths don’t get fed”. And I don’t know if I agree with it in a literal sense, but if I’d spent my time dealing with things that didn’t make me feel successful, I would not have a successful placement. I would set myself up to fail. Instead, I chose to open my mouth and say you know, this isn’t working for me-can we try a different way?

I feel like this is a great interview question experience. A couple years ago, I might have let the discomfort consume me. But now I am able to take charge of my own experience. I have the tools, I am prepared to lead myself to success.

Because that’s the thing. Your success is on you. You can’t be a passive actor in your own story. If you’re not taking charge, even when that makes you uncomfortable, other people are going to tell you how to live your life. And you’ll miss out, burn out and never find a way to make yourself happy.

So go out there. Advocate for yourself.
Take chances. Make mistakes. And get social worked.

ISO: ARC Reviewers

Hey everyone!

With the release of A Book About Life coming up in just 4 months, I’m putting out feelers for ARC Reviewers.

Interested?

This book is inspired by real events, LGBT protagonist, Jane Austen feel, low-concept (character driven), contains mental health topics and even a HEA (happily ever after). New Adult Fiction, romance subplots.

What I’m looking for in an ARC Reviewer:
-likes to read
-will leave a review (when the book is up for sale) on Amazon/GoodReads/iTunes/etc

Optional things:
-put up a blog post about thoughts (or I’ll come around and we can chat!)

What you’d get:
-PDF version of A Book About Life for FREE!
-This would be sometime around November

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, let’s chat! Inexperience isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I haven’t determined how many ARCs will go out, but I’m thinking about 12 tops, so let me know!

Coming up soon: Cover reveal and dare I say it…GIVEAWAY! (And here you thought November was only good for pie!)

-M

Carry Me Down

This past week I had the discomfort of making space for my grief. It was Semik on Thursday and that’s gonna take a minute to unpack. So let’s dig in, shall we? This story is one that I have never told in its entirety before, and may not ever do so again.

Semik is a Slavic tradition of memorial and rituals for the dead who were taken before their time. Think of it much like the Slavic version of Dia de los Muertos or All Hallows. Add in some ritual fasting and fertility festival and you have yourself one exhausted grad student.

I lost a friend to suicide a year ago this week. On the day of Semik, actually. Which made this year all the more potent. I had to sit with my grief and go through the process. And let me tell you-holding space for your grief is not only exhausting, it’s the only way to go.

Instead of my normally bubbly self, my field instructor mentioned my reserved silence. I told her what was going on and she checked in with me a couple times again after that. I gave my clients all I could and I went to work and survived. I made peace with my pain. I gave myself permission to cry. And that was the only thing I could do.

So why am I talking about it now?

Because I am human. And no matter what exactly that means, grief is a tie that binds. Everyone will experience it in their own time and manner. And being less than a year from my licensure as a LMSW, I know that if I can’t make space for authenticity, I can’t do my job.

So if you’re feeling broken. If you’re feeling overwhelmed. If you’re struggling with your grief, your sadness, your fear. You aren’t alone in these. You are surviving and thriving-whether it looks like it or not.

Grief can come down on you like a wave while you’re drowning in an ocean. It can crush you into nonexistence and bring you to your knees. It will grind you down.

I read once that grief is just love with nowhere to go. I’d add regret to that as well. And guilt.

It was June 13 of last year and I couldn’t sleep. I had tried everything but I couldn’t settle my thoughts. I decided to pull up some guided meditations to “force reset” my brain. I listened to a couple without much luck and then settled on a shamanic drumming meditation. I’d never done one before but figured I had nothing to lose.

In the course of this 30 minute meditation, I felt myself relax and begin drifting. I was coming to the end of the meditation and was somewhere between awake and asleep-that place where you know you’re not quite either but you’re closer to sleep than awake. And as I began preparing for the end of the recording I heard the words “Come find me.”

I ripped the headphones out of my ears and tossed my iPad across the bed. Instead of being in the place of tranquility, as I had been moments before, my heart was racing, my body surging with adrenaline. What had that been? Was it part of the recording? (I went back and checked much later-it wasn’t.) It took ages to fall asleep after that.

The next morning I had a message from a friend asking if I’d heard about a mutual friend. I said I had just talked to her, that we’d been discussing a new student group she wanted to start. He asked if I had checked my email. I said I hadn’t. So I logged in.

And there it was. A death notice. The night before, around the time of my meditation, our mutual friend had died by suicide.

If I could accurately describe the way the world moved from under me, I would. It was like the universe shifted a fraction of an inch and I had stayed still. I became nauseous and despondent.

Come find me.

Had it been her? Did I believe that? What if I did? What did that mean?

In the days coming I became so overwhelmed with the need to protect myself from further destruction that I hid every sharp object. I talked to every friend I had ever had a mental health conversation with. I made preparations for my own safety and sanity. I was terrified that this was something that would come down on me if I didn’t protect myself in every way possible.

And on the morning of her funeral, I couldn’t find it in me to go. I got a text from someone who had promised to be my moral support asking where I was. I said I was running late and would be there soon.

“You weren’t there for her in life, so you might as well be there for her funeral.” I said to myself. I got in the car and sped the whole way there. It was the first Catholic funeral I had ever been to.

I carried that guilt with me for a year. And this week, I passed it into the universe. I made peace with my grief and let go.

Tonight there was a lightning storm where I live. The first I’ve seen since I moved from Ohio.

Do I understand this as a sign? Sure I do. Because that’s who I am -the pagan girl who thrives in the storms, who is called She Who Guides the Water. Do I miss her? Of course I do. The third person in my life taken by suicide. The third too many.

Hold space for your grief. Give it a place to go. Don’t let it consume you.

We are all in this together, folks. Tomorrow is a brighter day. We just have to make it there.

When Life Gives You Citrus

If I said I hadn’t gotten behind in life, I would be lying.

I’m one month away from finishing my generalist practicum-which means from here on out, it’s Chaos City. Client sessions that need terminated, logs to fill out, papers to write, and a book to finalize (I’m in the final stages of edits and I am SO thankful for that!).

As I’m wrapping up my practicum, I was asked to reflect a bit and I wanted to talk through that with you lovely folks.

Stress levels are a funny thing. I always thought of them as something you could just feel. Physical symptoms that let you know about your mental wellbeing. But as I’ve come to understand, stress doesn’t always look like one thing. Sometimes it’s getting to the end of your shift and realizing you’ve had your shoulders clenched for 8 hours. Sometimes it’s being fine all day and then as someone else comes in, you bolt out the door because you need some air. Sometimes it’s the knotted stomach too. But nihilism is a really comforting thing if you think about it. Everything ends eventually. As for coping strategies, well, I’ve outgrown a couple, reintroduced a few and discovered the difference between routine maintenance and self-care. I spend every weekend doing a face mask and meal prepping because it makes me better. That’s routine maintenance. I take breaks in my day and color or take pictures of beautiful things or work magic or do social activities or work out. That’s self-care. I tell my clients that they have to allow themselves to be human. Strong emotions aren’t bad emotions. They are deserving of being felt and acknowledged. If I need to cry, I do so. If I need to scream, I do that too. I keep a journal, I listen to what my body needs. And that is something I’ve never done before, but will continue to do. 

I took a partial shift at one night and in the span of 3 hours, I had to deal with 4 crises. I kept waiting for the moment I could catch my breath but it didn’t come. Each crisis was interrupted by another one. And I kept wondering if I was cut out for that. But at the end of the shift, I couldn’t help but smile because I’d knocked it out of the park. Had I made some mistakes? Absolutely. Did I do my job? Sure did. And that’s when I realized just how much I’d changed. I mean, last year I was just coming out of law school and I had no confidence in myself whatsoever. I thought I was going to ruin people’s lives and that I couldn’t possibly handle things by myself. And here I was, rocking a crisis cycle like an old pro.

I start my clinical year in just 2 months. And I know that’s when I start my specialization (and career goals). I go into it ready (which is SO nice).

Coming up for me this summer:
Finishing my generalist
Finishing Summer Classes
Moving
Family visits
Clinical Orientation
Clinical Year
Finishing my novel edits (and then its time to get hyped!)
Bringing y’all some sweet previews and spoilers for that novel

I’m still here. And great things are coming.