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.

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.

A Little Perspective

This week has been hell, folks.

I’m talking the worst, most stressful week of my life. Every day was a new shit show, with another round of “What in the world is going on?”

But in times of great stress and trials, I’ve discovered my corrective nature.

Each day I woke up wondering what other shoe would drop, each night I went to bed defeated.

Until.

I woke up and made fresh coffee, some espresso with creamer and instead of drinking the whole thing down, I poured some into the cup I use for ancestor offerings. I begged for safety and happiness and success.

The next day, I did the same with drip-pot coffee, black. Then hot tea.

I remembered what Brene Brown said in her Netflix special: If you’re in the arena, you’re going to get your ass kicked.

I thought about all the things I learned as an MSW student. All the things I learned about how to deal with crises. About life. And I started putting those to use. Breathing techniques, meditations, anxiety work. I worked the program, my friends. I learned to trust and accept and validate my emotions, without letting them beat me down. I let myself cry, and worked through it. I gave myself room to be.

I went to supervision and reframed my situation. How lucky am I that I have options to stress over. To have the knowledge about what to do. To only experience one week of crisis-as opposed to one lifetime.

And I stopped waiting for the shoes to fall. I stopped expecting the world to crumble around me.

Instead, I gave myself permission to be human. I asked for help, I apologized for slacking in a spiritual way. I hoped for better things. I focused on finding the balance between the negative and positive, the dark and the light. And while I tried to allow myself to thrive, I found I wasn’t as preoccupied with the stressful terrors that plagued my days.

Slowly-and we’re talking snail pace-I reframed my experience to create a more objective picture. I let my reactions be reactions-not reality. I let go. I learned how to exist in the stress, to fight in the arena.

And yes, I got my ass kicked. But sometimes the lesson you need to learn has to come when you have been stripped of all your reservations.

I can’t neglect parts of myself just because I think I know better. Putting coffee out for the ancestors and the spirits in the good times is great, but brushing them off in the bad times is arrogant. Make space and time for your spirituality, your mental well-being. Make space for your emotions. Make space for yourself. You deserve to live your life. And that life may be hard at times. But you can make it through. You have to step back and believe. Then get back in the arena and keep fighting.