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.

Communication

Past me had a very smart idea, that I think I need to keep coming back to.

I know a bunch of people believe that Mercury Retrograde is a bunch of hooey, and that’s fine. This post is for me. I don’t think of it as a cosmic scapegoat that you can blame when you’re being less than optimal. I view it as light shining through the cracks in your life, in the various aspects that need work.

For me, this has been communication (as is rightly so) but communication with not only other people, but myself as well.

Lately my life has played out like the theme song from FRIENDS:

So no one told you life was gonna be this way.
Your job’s a joke, you’re broke,
Your love life’s DOA.
It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear.
When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month
Or even your year…

I keep circling back tot he negative. The things that don’t work, won’t work, can’t seem to go right. And I think that’s super human to be that way sometimes. You can only see so far into the tunnel and you have to keep trying to move forward even when that’s the last thing you want to do.

I made a decision that has long term consequences this week. I was miserable-the kind that comes from pushing way beyond what you can handle. Every little stressor was getting to me, every moment too much to handle. By the time I’d had my third panic attack of the week, I knew I was in over my head. So I looked at my arm, where my tattoo waits faithfully and I made a choice.

I wish for this.

Image result for i wish for this

It wasn’t something I could say honestly at the time and I promised myself that I would make changes when I couldn’t say it and mean it. So I did. I got out of the crappy situation. I chose my health and happiness over everything else.

Because sometimes self-care feels like the most selfish thing you can do-but you need to do it anyway.

So I’m back to the beginning. I’m ready to try a new path. I know I will be facing a lot of uphill battles, but that’s okay.

Image result for it is possible to commit no mistakes
“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness. That is life.” -Captain Picard, Star Trek The Next Generation

This quote came back into my life recently and I’ve relied on it as much as I have my tattoo. Because this life, it’s not fair. It’s not something that you reach a level of “better” and everything works out, smooth and good. It’s messy. It’s painful. It’s confusing and frustrating and beautiful and glorious. But you only get this one life.

Image result for you only get one life and it's your duty to live

So my challenge to the world, to myself, this week (and beyond) is to find the thing that makes you unhappy: your job, your major, your self-care habits, your wardrobe, whatever it is. And make a change. Yes, it’s scary. It’s hard. It’s brutal sometimes. But this is life. And if you only get one, would you rather spend it miserable or would you rather take chances that makes you happier?

I Suppose it’s That Time

It’s time to discuss the past year. Or more realistically, let’s call this blog the one where I discuss what happened this past year that made me not want to blog anymore. Because it’s a story worth telling. But in order to tell it, we’re going to have to back up. To last year.

Picture it: 2017, the world was growing accustomed to changes, and not all of them good. Little old me was graduating with a bachelors in cultural anthropology and I was headed to law school to complete a dual degree: a JD (law)/MSW (social work masters). That summer I threw myself into every money making scheme I could so that we could afford the move across 1000 (a little less, actually) miles of uncharted wilderness (well, America, really). I said goodbye to the people who had been there, for every hiccup and misstep in my life and trudged out in search of something new, in search of myself.

The first day of law school was postponed for the eclipse (which was overcast, so we didn’t actually get to see it). But surely, this was the sign I was waiting for…right?

2017 Eclipse photo, from Google

Day one: the theme of the day should have been “You will probably want to kill yourself more than once, and we know that. It’s a sign you’re in law school. You’ll probably also develop a severe drinking problem. Also totally expected.” That’s honestly all I remember from the first day. And that should have been a sign in-and-of itself. But I trudged on.

Grades in law school aren’t like undergrad or most other post-bac programs. You aren’t graded on how well you understood the subject, but how well everyone else understood in comparison to you. Therefore, you could get a 98% on a test (you won’t) and normally, you’d see an “A” at the top. But in law school, if everyone else got a 99% or a 100% (they won’t), then you’ve failed the test. [Realistically, the highest score was a 35% and that’s an “A”).

So finals came around and I hit rough patch after rough patch (including taking a test so delirious from a food allergy that I was hallucinating) and grades came back. Talk about a hit to the ego. I took the break to reset from the havoc that was first semester and tried to throw myself into second semester. I did not go out, I did not engage in social activities. I stayed home and studied. I stayed at the school and studied. Every weekend (and I mean EVERY) you would find me, nose in a book, looking for nuggets of knowledge that I needed. I would get to class hours early to do more reading and prepping. And that continued for 16 weeks. I studied for finals 16-18 hours a day. For two weeks.

Stock photo showing person with head on a pile of books.

But by February, just six and a half months after the journey began, I no longer felt like myself. My major complaint (my presenting problem): I felt like a robot. No hobbies, no way to break myself away from the grueling gauntlet that was first year law school. No more being myself. Just torture. And that’s when I kept hoping that I would get hit by a bus. I wasn’t actively suicidal, I just wouldn’t have stopped it from happening. And as much as I knew that that was not okay, I just thought I wasn’t trying hard enough. So when second semester grades came in and I was placed on academic probation (for insufficient grades), the final straw broke.

All that hard work, only to be told “not good enough”. I received the notice on official letterhead that read more like “You should reconsider being a lawyer” than “you need to take these remedial classes”. I told myself that I would start my MSW in the fall and I just needed a break from law school. That was the first week of May.

June 13, I was on Snapchat with a law friend who asked if I’d talked to a 2L (second year) friend in a while. I said I had, and that she was excited about starting an animal law group. He told me to check my email. Sure enough, I had an email from the Dean, telling the school she’d died the night before. And as I read the obituary, I knew what words they weren’t saying. She’d died, but it wasn’t an accidental event.

Quote by Ashly Lorenzana

I wondered if I would be next. I wondered what separated me from her. I wondered if law school was worth it. And ultimately I decided, no. I looked at my tattoo, the compass in my life. I didn’t sign up for four years of pain and torture and hating myself. I kept telling myself that if there was some way I could prove that “it” was worth it, I would stay. But I deserve to be happy, to value life and to wake up to a life I wish for.

I was so nervous about starting a new program (because of my experience with law school) that on the first day, I made an appointment with the on-campus counselor. I was a wreck, a shell of a person. No coping tools worked, I’d burnt through them all trying to just survive. I’d lost my sense of self.

I put off telling my parents until I had made up my mind officially. I’d still harbored a hope that maybe with time, I could be more ambient towards the idea of coming back. But each time I walked into the law school and it made me sick to my stomach. I knew I wasn’t going to ever go back.

And I couldn’t bring myself to write, to be myself until I decided what it was that I even wanted out of life. I had to stop blogging because I didn’t know who I was, figuratively.

I’m starting 2019 clean. I’ve got goals, personal and professional, and I know that I’m still turning into who I will be, but it’s a better life than I would have had before.

The "SMART" method for goals.

In 2019, I’m

-getting to work with undocumented victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, human trafficking and stalking

-publishing my book

-getting to work in the emergency department of a hospital as a student clinical social worker

-taking care of myself, as a complex, multi-faceted human being

-living (and making steps towards) the life I wish for

And I hope, with all I have to hope, that you find the courage to be yourself, to be authentically you. That you make the hard decisions because you know that you’re not giving yourself the ability to grow and thrive. You deserve it. I promise.

New Age, Who Dis?

Good morning, darlings! 

In the event that you’re stopping by for the very first time, welcome! I’m Michelle, the permanently caffeinated administrator here, and I bid you a fond hello. If you’ve been around, my greeting is no less delighted, and I hope you’ve had a wonderful day. 

So. Being at peace with self. 

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Image Description: Mountainous sunrise with the quote from Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: We don’t realize that, somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme self who is eternally at peace. 

Let’s get real with something. We are not living up to our best potentials. We’re letting all of the “stuff” get in the way. Bills, financial emergencies, social expectations, family obligations, external pressure to have benchmarks of success. And they all have their moments of importance. But let me paint you a picture. 

You’re doing a budget and you realize you need to work some extra hours. You pick up some extra shifts but you lose even more sleep. You drink more caffeine to stay awake but you have to spend more on caffeine. And then, just when you think you’ve hit your stride, an emergency! And maybe it’s health related and you can’t work as much. Maybe it’s your car and now you have to get crafty with getting to work. Maybe it’s the sudden realization that you don’t…can’t…continue like this. 

And then you spiral into thinking about all the people you see on social media that look so put together, so focused and driven, so successful. About how you’re nothing like that and you’re barely holding on by the skin of your teeth. About how you don’t feel like anything you do is making a bit of difference. 

That’s what I’m talking about. And I would know, I’m right there with you. 

Yesterday was my birthday. I’m officially closer to 30 than any other ’10’ and it scared me. I don’t have my life together. I’m still in school. I’ve got student loans and bills and I work as much as I can and I’m exhausted. So why don’t I feel like I’m making progress? 

Well, that’s where the following list comes into play: 

  1. Face masks don’t heal broken hearts.
  2. Bath bombs don’t make your problems melt away. 
  3. Treating yourself to a coffee won’t make you invincible. 
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Image Description: Starfish underwater with the caption “Self-care: about more than bubble baths…”

And I’m sure that won’t surprise you. But you know that feeling when you’re having a bad day and you think “I’ll just go home and do a mask, watch some Hallmark Christmas movies and reset.” and then you think you’ll feel better BUT YOU DON’T? No? Just me? Okay then. 

Here’s what I’m saying: If you don’t make peace with yourself, with every flaw, with every part that you’re critical about-including how much you feel like a failure, even if you’re actually doing your best-then you’re not living up to your potential. 

And I’m talking to myself just as much as you. But we need to hold each other accountable. We’ve been giving in to band-aid solutions to major heart surgery. And that needs to stop. Give in. Cry. Rage. Scream. And then head up, buttercup. There’s work to do. 

But please, continue that scheduled maintenance! Do those face masks. Buy those bath bombs and that coffee. Because you need to take care of yourself along the way. Just treat the you on the inside just as kindly as you treat the you on the outside. 

What lesson are you bringing with you into the new year?