Being Kind to Myself

Since starting this MSW program, I’ve been working on re-framing my thoughts. It’s a skill we work into therapy sessions with clients/patients and it’s a life skill that makes huge differences.

This means that I’ve been working on re-wording things like “life is coming at me” to something like “I’m choosing how I react, how I respond, etc”.

And sometimes it goes well. Some days I can say “this is just a bad day. It’s okay to be upset, but it is a bad situation not a bad life.” and it isn’t a lie.

Other days, it comes out more like “I know that I can survive this, but I’m not feeling confident in my abilities right now. I will survive, but this isn’t ideal.”

This week has been the latter.

The hardest part of being in a practicum setting is finding balance. Personal life and professional life are pulled in a lot of weird directions. If I’m not at my best during practicum (internship) time, I’m doing a disservice to my patients and also my supervisor, school and career field.

But I can’t just walk away from my “real” life the minute I walk into the hospital doors.

This is the basic premise of my novel, A Book About Life. How do you deal with your personal life when other people’s lives directly depend on your ability to be “well-adjusted”?

And I want you to know that it’s freaking hard.

But that’s the thing about “real life”. It’s not something you can neatly pack away in a bubble. Real life is something that you experience all the time-in all capacities. Would it be nice to occasionally be able to close off parts of your baggage and trauma? Sure! But in the long run, it’s healthier to work through your “stuff” as it comes.

I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying you should be grateful it’s happening to you (see what I mean-it just needs re-framed). I’m saying that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and like you’re struggling. Because that’s how you learn to keep going.

Song of the Year

With all the craze about music awards and wrapped playlists, I thought I’d add my contribution to the fray.

For many people, the fun fact of the day is that it’s my birthday. For me, this means that I pick out a song that encompasses the theme of the year going forward. I’ve picked things like What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes for my 25th birthday and 26 by Paramore. This year, the winner came down to 27 by Passenger or 27 by Machine Gun Kelly. I ultimately figured it wasn’t my jam to sing about ‘roaches’ and went with 27 by Passenger.

Why?

I’ve talked with professors a fair deal about where my life is going. I’m set to graduate (Finally!) soon and the idea that my life “begins” is coming up on me. Who I am and what I want to do with my life are major themes. But also, there’s the background feelings of “what have I accomplished?”

That one brought A Book About Life to fruition. And it’s a large portion of the song of my year.

‘Twenty seven years, twenty seven years now
Only thing I know
I know that I don’t know how
To please everybody all of the time,
‘Cause everybody’s always fucking changing their minds
A little bit faded
A little bit jaded
Not gonna stop and I won’t be persuaded
To write words I can’t believe in
To see my face on a video screen’

That’s just part of the lyrics and you can already see how it swings into the “what’s going on with my life” feel.

That’s not to say that I’m struggling right now, or that I’m in a slump. Surprisingly, I’m okay. But with so many major transitions going on this next year, it’s certainly appropriate to ask a lot of reflective questions.

This decade has been a wild ride. I can only imagine that year 28 and the Roarin’ 20s will bring me something completely unexpected as well. I suppose we’ll see!

M

A Book About Life: the Playlist

I figured that with the release of A Book About Life coming up VERY soon, I would do something fun: a writing playlist!

These are the songs I listened to while I was drafting, editing and during the countless hours plotting on Pinterest. And while I loved listening to them, I hope you love the way they influenced my words.

You’re in My Veins-For Our Hero
Nothing Left to Lose-Mat Kearney
My Beast-Smash Into Pieces
Dancing with Tears in My Eyes-Kesha
Poison & Wine-The Civil Wars
Never Too Late-Three Days Grace
I’m Not Alright-Sanctus Real
Build Me Up From Bones-Sarah Jarosz
Find Our Way-My Name is You
Falling Stars-David Archuleta
The River-For the Foxes
Nocturnal-Elle Vee
Walk Me Home-P!nk
Sleep-Citizen
Hey Now-Augustana
Twenty Something-Graham Colton

I wrote A Book About Life because I wanted something real. Something that made me feel like I wasn’t out here in this big world alone. Something that gave me a way to bring sense to what I saw, and to some extent, what I’ve experienced.

There is a lot of heartache in this book. So much of it explores the daily life of a 20-something who doesn’t know who she is yet. She wants to know. She thinks she does. But then what happens when everything she’s convinced herself of comes crashing down?

That’s what I wanted to know. It’s not that I don’t want to read books about magic and adventure-because I adore those books. But the ones that I’ve held onto, the ones that I come back to-are the ones that give me a piece of myself that I thought was missing. A sense of belonging.

A Book About Life looks at the world through Alicia Whittemore’s eyes. She’s in her late twenties, working at a hospital as a social worker-her first “adult” job. She has a girlfriend of several years and a ride-or-die best friend.

There’s love, there’s heartache, and most importantly, there’s real life. I hope you find it as relatable and as honest as I did writing it.

A Book About Life is coming to you very soon, but until then, I hope you have a wonderful holiday (if you celebrate) filled with love and fond memories.

M.

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.