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.

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Stop What You’re Doing!

And go drink some water-you look a little dehydrated.

And since you’re here, I hope you’re having a rewarding Monday. I wanted to focus today on a little pesky subject that gets the best of us: burnout.

The newest title that millennials get to add to our giant repertoire is the “burnout generation”. I have to say, as someone who has experienced both being a millennial and burnout, this rings especially true.

So what is burnout?

Well, it’s the way you can go to a job for months or years just fine and then wake up with extreme dread about going in. It’s the way little things didn’t bother you and now they’re all you can think about. It’s wanting to pack up and run away rather than face one more day of your life. It’s that cynical depression that makes you furious that it’s even happening in the first place.

Burnout.

According to psychology, burnout can be traced to helplessness and the feeling of being unable to control your environment. A person experiencing burnout may have problems figuring out what to do with their life, may switch jobs more frequently than is industry standard and may have some major health concerns related to burnout (not just psychological ones). Psychology Today mentions that therapy and meds may just erase the symptoms, instead of dealing with the burnout itself.

Ways to fight it are the same things that have been harped on since the beginning of time: sleep more, workout, eat right, self-care. But what if that only post-pones the feelings of existential dread?

Then you wouldn’t be alone.

There’s a Buzzfeed article that talks about what burnout looks like for millennials in more than just a job capacity. It talks about errand paralysis-putting the same to-do list on your calendar (or bullet journal) week after week because you can’t seem to complete it or the inability to return clothes, to mail packages, to complete basic adulting tasks. In fact, the following quote came from the same article (and consequently hit me like a ton of bricks:

” But these students were convinced that their first job out of college would not only determine their career trajectory, but also their intrinsic value for the rest of their lives. I told one student, whose dozens of internship and fellowship applications yielded no results, that she should move somewhere fun, get any job, and figure out what interests her and what kind of work she doesn’t want to do — a suggestion that prompted wailing. “But what’ll I tell my parents?” she said. “I want a cool job I’m passionate about!” ” –https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/annehelenpetersen/millennials-burnout-generation-debt-work

I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a long article. But it’s also 100% worth the read. Because sometimes it’s nice to know you’re not alone. I’m not saying it’ll get better. I’m saying you don’t have to face it alone.

Experiencing burnout? Drop a comment!

All At Once (The Semester was Over)

I made it.

It’s hard to believe that 116 days ago, I was anxious about not having friends, being in a new state and trying to take on an entirely new career trajectory. I asked myself how I could possibly have thought so many changes was a good idea and before I knew it, it was time to set my morning alarms to get up for my very first day of law school.

Sure, it was orientation-so not entirely my first day, but you have to start somewhere and for me, that somewhere began at the North wing of Washburn Law. I was greeted by smiles and for the first time in the three weeks since I moved here, I thought “huh, maybe I didn’t make such a big mistake after all”.

I told myself that I was going to make at least one friend that day. Turns out, I was being strongly pessimistic. I made three friends that day, and four more before the week was out. I began to release some of that doubt that had done its best to burrow inside my head and tell me I wasn’t good enough. We were asked to give an introduction and people were speaking of their legal experience, where they were from and how excited they were to be there. Seriously. Everyone mentioned being excited. I knew I was only going to get one shot at being authentic so my introduction was a little different.

Hi, my name is Michelle B-B, and as if that weren’t pretentious enough, I also went to THE Ohio State University where my focus was rape culture and mental health. I got here because in a caffeine binge watching Supernatural session, I decided I would Legally Blonde it and apply to law school. And speaking of caffeine, if I don’t have a coffee cup in my hand, it’s probably best that you start running-there’s probably an emergency.

This garnered a few laughs and I figured, well, at least I’ll be memorable.

When classes actually began, so did the panic. Why was I so bad at reading? Why were 10 pages of cases taking me an hour to digest? Was I going to finish the work? Had I made a mistake?

It took a month before I found a rhythm and then BAM-midterms. I held my head high, even though my eyelids drooped. And just when I had readjusted to the learning curve, grades were released. Another stepping stone in the path of doubt. You see, I’d never experienced bell curve grades, where a 36% could be an A and a 99% could be a C. The math made no sense and I had no way of knowing it would be that stressful.

The last week of classes came and went and finals stared me down. Suddenly reading cases didn’t seem so bad. Surely we weren’t done yet! And that’s true. Because in many ways, school was only beginning. I relied on that group of friends and began quizzing each other. Sometimes this would go on for 14+ hours (and I wish that were an exaggeration). This was my week last week. The first final down and I felt invincible.

My birthday was last weekend and that’s when everything went a little off kilter. I spent most of the weekend praying I would stop being sick long enough to study. It was my unlucky fortune to suffer from cross contamination and a bad case of shellfish intolerance. I walked into my second final with a fever high enough to make me delirious, made it half an hour without walking out to throw up and then finished it as best I could. The seeds of doubt were replanted. I finished my last final this afternoon, and thankfully have recovered from my little excursion with death (I probably wouldn’t have died, but I remain unconvinced.)

And that, dear friends, brings us back. 116 days ago, I was an undergrad with questions. Today, I’m a law student with answers. I’m exhausted, I’m proud of myself, and I’m completely convinced that I deserve this break. I’d be a liar if I said I did it alone. I met some fantastic 2 and 3 (and 3.5) L students, other 1L’s, some J sectioners and learned a bit about myself all the while.

My next semester starts in 31 days. And you’ll see me walking confidently in those same North doors, coffee still, very much, in hand.

Why Education Matters

This week has seen some really bizarre things happen in my neck of the woods. (Or maybe they’re only bizarre to me.) Most specifically, is the news from my own university, coming at a time when their decisions (or rather, proposed-and-now-withdrawn decisions) make less sense than they might’ve otherwise.

I have a single “article” for you this time, it’s not particularly triggering, but more just informative.

The Lantern (This is but one of the sources reporting, but I think they did a decent job.)
I’ve already passed all my required English courses, and my entire degree is just about finished-so why does it matter to me?

Because not everyone will need to use quantum physics in their workplace-but EVERYONE will need to use English. The 1100 and 2367 courses (first and second semester English lit/lang courses) are required for EVERY student, and almost all of the upper level courses rely on you having taken them before you can move forward. The thing is, these courses teach you how to communicate at a collegiate level, but also at a professional level. I learned how to do in depth analysis of pop culture, of classic literature and more from these courses.

There are (as I understand it) 28 lecturers in the English department. Removing 18 from the equation means removing each of their sections (usually 3) from the schedule. Each of those classes would have had at least 24 people in them, meaning that AT LEAST 1300 students would not have been able to take prerequisite courses (and therefore would have to delay their anticipated graduation times).

More than that though, is the outrage that comes from this idea in and of itself. the lecturers had contracts through Summer 17. And, in an effort to “save” half a million dollars (roughly 10% of the deficit), the university was going to breach contracts of almost 20 people (all of whom have PhD’s). First, I must express outrage as a self-proclaimed academic. These people deserve the same respect as all the other people (both as human beings on a general level and as PhDs on an academic level). Under Ohio law, higher education educators are not able to unionize (and therefore combat this sort of behavior). But I must also express exceptional amounts of derision for the action itself. I pay my student tuition each semester. I have been part of a movement to get more transparency with how money is spent at our university. I’m going into incredible debt-and I have the right to know what I am gaining because of it. I’m gonna put some math in here.

This is all information I gathered from OSU Statistics. But I’m rounding a bit.

Total Number of Students Enrolled: 65,000

Total Students Out of State: 17,000 (Making in-staters: 48, 000) (roughly 13,000 Grad/Law/Med Students/52k Undergrad)

Tuition Out of State Undergrad: $27K (In-State $10K)

Tuition Out of State Grad: $31K (In-State $13K)

**These numbers do not include mandatory fees like lab fees, participation fees and the like)

The university claims that the total amount of tuition brought in EACH YEAR is almost $900 million. (And we’ll come back to that-trust me.)

The 2016 budget claims that it costs $5.5 BILLION to keep the university running (hospital, university and other connections included) and it brings IN $6.1 BILLION (meaning six hundred million is gained).  Of that $5.5 Billion, $1.4 Billion is spent on salaries. This includes everyone from Janitors to landscapers to professors to the President of our university.

So in total, there are 44,000 (rounded) employees of Ohio State. And if you divide $1.4 billion across them equally, you get almost $32k per year per person-so, not an extreme amount of money, but more than minimum wage, certainly. Obviously though, that’s not how that happens.

A non tenure track professor at OSU makes $5000 per class taught. If we take the three classes per semester from above, that’s roughly $30K per year (yay, math!). But, for it to all balance out, there will obviously be people who make much less and people who make much more. For example, a quick Google search will tell you that the president of the university makes $1Million every year. The Vice President makes a little shy of $400 thousand yearly (and no, neither of them teach). The chair of my department makes a quarter of a million dollars yearly, and that is $50K shy of the Political Science chair, but $50K more than the Psychology chair.

There are 105 Deand/Chairs/Interim Chairs/Vice-People. And if they all made $200K, that’s $21 Million (add in the Pres. and VP to get (rounded) $23 Million). But, as we’ve seen not all of them make that, so the number is obviously off. But anyway, that leaves us with $1.2 Billion to split between everyone. When you take out 13k Student workers (who get Federal funding), 25K staff (who make $10 an hour), there’s a growing disconnect. (And did I mention, Coaches also make multiple millions of dollars at my university??)

 

My point is simple. The Ohio State University is first and foremost a place of education. It would be incumbent, then, for this place of education to RETAIN educators. It is vital to the university to maintain custodial and maintenance people (many of whom I have gotten to know). But I’m questioning the necessity to have so much overhead weight. I didn’t even mention the governing body at the university-or the various councils. If we trimmed off just ONE unnecessary administration position, the money saved would be enough to supply ALL of the English 18 with year long contracts.

I know I’m just a student-and my voice doesn’t ring far-but this is unacceptable. Lecturers have the same degrees, and often times work harder than their tenure track coworkers.

All I’m asking is that instead of running a university like a business (with extremely unnecessary amounts of overhead), maybe we should all be demanding to have the university run as a university.

Just a thought though.

IMADTTO

I’ve mentioned a couple times (I think!) about the project proposal I was working on. If you’ll allow me, I’d like to introduce my project to ya’ll: IMADTTO!

My husband pronounces it “ah-muh-ditto” which makes me chuckle, but I pronounce it “I matter”. (If you say it with a southern accent it’s “I matt-uh” which is how I reached I matter.) Anyway, it’s based off of the story The Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley. I’m pretty sure I’ve shared the story before, but just in case, here’s a picture:

I Made A Difference To That One

I chose the acronym IMADTTO from the very last line. I Made A Difference To That One. This story is one of the ones I’d heard as a child, but the true value didn’t become apparent until I was older, but once I understood, it stuck with me always.

 

IMADTTO is my response to campus sexual assault. It is broken down into four parts: research, outreach, advocacy and education. And in order to execute all of those things, I have submitted my proposal to a newly founded President’s Prize through The Ohio State University. There are two rounds of applications. The first, I have completed-requiring a proposal, resume and application. The second will occur in October and will be the in-person presentation. And then I find out in December what the official verdict is. There will be two winners, who will be employed for 12 months by the university to actually *do* their project. So now that you know why I’ve been working on it, let’s talk about the actual project.

I said there were four parts, and that’s the truth. I’m going to break down those parts, and we can hopefully have some discussions about how they sound to ya’ll! I’m using pretty much quotes from my actual proposal, I’m just condensing it.

Research: A survey will be drafted to determine what students feel have been acceptable measure to prevent and address sexual violence at Ohio State. A portion will address which roads, areas and places students feel that they must exercise extra caution when utilizing. This step will also include data collection by means of determining a comprehensive list of resources available to sexual violence victims both on and off campus.

Outreach:This will encompass both a newsletter and a line of age-appropriate resources which cover body positivity and bodily safety for a broader age range of students.

Advocacy: Small groups of individuals (who wish to participate) come together on a monthly basis to maintain morale and to offer support to the other members of their groups. The members of these groups may offer support in many ways, be it conversational or in more tangible ways such as providing escorts for each other to and from work, making meals for one another on “trigger” days (times in which the well-being of an individual may be compromised because of associated trauma) or even going to a court date with one of the members, if a case was made of their attack.

Education: There are three sub-sections here: high school, collegiate and technological. The high school level involves guest speaking at high schools about body positivity in a question and answer format specifically focused on prevention of sexual violence as well as how to rise above body shaming. The college level will see the addition of an educational module in the required freshman course, using the information gathered from the survey. The technological level will involve a mobile application, as well as an accompanying website with the information from the survey, as well as plans for the outreach section, information about basic self-defense, the list of resources available and other invaluable information.

 

So that’s the basis for my proposal. I’ve been working on some of the specifics, and I have to say, although I’m very excited to have turned in that piece of work, I’m very ready to be able to present it in person, so the review board will see just how much passion I have for this project, and for my future.

So if anyone has any thoughts on my project, or what you think would be an excellent addition, I’m more than willing to consider ideas. I even made my own logo (with the help of a free logo creator!) I know it’s not the catchiest thing in the world, but it’s unique, and it means a lot to me. This logo might just end up on some shirts and stuff. I may do a fundraiser with it, in order to fund some of the untested rape kits in our state.

IMADTTO Logo

(This is my logo. I’m really proud of it.)

The Grey Areas of Going Dark

(I’ve literally JUST submitted this to The Mighty, so we’ll see if it gets accepted. In the mean time, here’s my thoughts on the depressive spectrum of suicidal ideation.)

There’s never once been a time when I have looked myself in the mirror and said the
five words that seem to adhere themselves to a mental illness diagnosis: “I
want to kill myself.” Not when I had my first psychotic break (or my second),
not when I reached the lowest part of my depression. And yet, if you asked me
if I had ever attempted suicide, my answer would be yes. Had I ever thought
about it? Yes again. But not once had I ever thought those five words.

One of the first lessons someone with a mental illness diagnosis learns is that
there are often no black-and-white situations. The line between correct
diagnosis and misdiagnosis isn’t a mile wide, it’s a hair’s width. We learn to
see things on a spectrum, on a scale. And yet, in this most prevalent of litmus
tests for depression, these five words seem to be a yes or no, black or white
area.

I’m here to disagree. Vehemently.

All too often, there isn’t a life versus death attitude that accompanies mental
illness. It’s much more layered, a muddled grey than it is a color dichotomy.
There’s often more desperation and anguish in the expression than the pointed
action of “I want to kill myself.” And what’s worse, the other phrases, which
carry just as much weight and sincerity as that one, aren’t even given a second
glance. They’re completely brushed off and put aside because, after all, everyone feels like that at some point,
right?

 

“I don’t want to live anymore.”

 

This sentence, much like the litmus
tester, is one I’ve never spoken aloud, but I can remember a few times when I mentally
said it to myself in the mirror, the tears running down my cheeks. It was the
point where the depression took over and I’d had enough. What I was really
saying was that I don’t want to live a life where I’m constantly feeling used
up, depressed and frustrated.

 

“I just want to sleep and not wake up.”
Life presents itself with some
fierce challenges sometimes. Fighting a battle against yourself is a long,
tiresome journey of epic proportions. Being able to rest for just a few moments
seems like the most luxurious perfection and it can feel like after years of
fighting yourself, you have earned a permanent reprieve. This is my own
personal indicator of depression, because what I’m really saying is that I’m
tired of constantly fighting a battle that no one even knows I’m in and I need
a break.

 


“I want to cease to be. Like I never existed.”

This phrase often comes close to
“rock bottom” when I’m clinging on to the walls of hope and love with bloody
knuckles, waiting for someone to throw me a metaphorical rope. I feel like the
one to blame for everything that’s wrong. If I were better, different, gone,
life would be better for everyone and everything. What I really mean is that I’m
tired of watching everything fall apart and feeling like it’s all my fault. I
want the pain to cease, not my life.

 


“I just want it all to stop.”

Variations of this one seem to be
spoken to the friends or family who got a little too close when I’m emotionally
vulnerable. I don’t want them to worry about me or involve themselves
unnecessarily, but I want them to understand that I’m in pain. I feel
overwhelmed by life: the things that have happened, will happen and are
happening. What I’m really saying is that I need life to pause without
consequences so I can take a deep breath, pull myself together and invest in
some serious self-care.

 


“I can’t do this anymore.”

This one is the rock bottom, end of the line sentence that creeps up at the worst
moments of my battle with depression. There’s no hidden meaning here, it’s very
much self-explanatory. At my very lowest point, this was
the phrase that played on repeat in my head. At that moment, I couldn’t exist
as I was, I couldn’t live the life I had. My last words on earth would have
been these five, because they were the ones that matched the heartache. I
didn’t want to die, but I could no longer live.

 
In the end, not everyone experiences depression or suicidal tendencies in the same
way. But no matter what you mean or what phrase you use, the implications are
real. Being stuck in the grey areas of suicidal thoughts is no less painful,
and yet it’s much less talked about, making it that much more dangerous. There
isn’t just one way to live, and there isn’t just one way to cry out for help.

Unconventional Letter

Dear Michelle,

Thank you.

Thank you for never giving up. And I know there were times you thought you had to, that there was no other choice. I remember all those nights spent alone, crying in the bathroom, hoping to end your pain with a razor blade. I remember the long days spent not eating, drinking only a cup of coffee in the morning because you felt like you might fall asleep in the middle of calculus if not, then rushing home to see if you’d lost more weight. I remember all of this, but most of all I remember how even though there were times you wanted to, you didn’t choose to die and instead, you chose to live.

Thank you for learning to open up again. After you graduated from high school, you tried to close yourself off, masking your feelings with words like “exhausted”, “the flu” and “allergies”. You kept everyone at arm’s length until you couldn’t take it anymore and you decided to make friends. I know that was hard for you, but I promise it’s paid off.  You’re about to find out that you actually love coffee dates with friends and trying new things.

Thank you for going off meds-even at the disapproval of your then boyfriend. He didn’t know you, you didn’t stay with him, and you really had to choose your own life for your own reasons. I know at that point, you didn’t even understand fully your diagnosis. I’m so proud of you for making your own way. I know in the future you’ll contemplate going back on medicine, and it’ll be hard, but if you don’t want to do something, don’t let the fear of consequences force you to make a decision.

Thank you card

Thank you for walking away from the poisonous relationships you tried so hard to save. You thought that if you just tried harder, loved more deeply, that you could fix them. But they weren’t the ones who needed fixing, and abusive relationships aren’t worth your time. Or effort. I’m so sorry you had to learn that the hard way. But you got past it with some ice cream and art. That was the first time you thought that you might be okay with being alone instead of being with someone who told you that you were always to blame, and that everything he did was to show you that you deserved no one better. You may have been brokenhearted, and it felt like your whole world was dying, but you left. You’re so brave.

Speaking of bravery, there will come a time in your life that you’ll wake up and be paralyzed with the fear of driving. We’ll work through it, and it will be hard for a long time, but please don’t give up. Living in the past, living with the memories of what “could have” happened is only going to hurt us in the long run. Yeah, this is one of those corny “hello, younger me” letters that we swore we’d never write, but I have so many things to thank you for.

Thanks for taking a chance and going out with that boy from high school that you thought was “too short”. You’ll drive each other crazy, but you have a strong marriage, and a lot of really hilarious dating stories that will get you through any disagreements you might have. You even got a dog (he acts more like a cat, and you’ll learn to love him). That boy will learn how to understand your moods, and even help you get through them.

Thank you for working so hard during your mood swings. No one requests to have bipolar disorder, but you’ve done remarkable things with it. You laid the foundation for such great things to happen for your future. But don’t think for a minute that it’s shameful to change your major when you get to college. It’s gonna drive you mad and you’ll feel so completely used up, but you’ll see that the greatest thing is going to happen once you walk through all the open doors. You’ll continue to struggle with food, but honestly, you’re going to love yourself more at the heaviest weight than you ever did when you struggled with your eating disorders. Just don’t go too far in the other direction, okay? Eating too much is bad too. Food isn’t a drug, it’s not meant to protect you from life.

I know that you know life is hard. But thanks for going back into counseling. In hindsight, you probably didn’t have to hide it, because you’re about to become exceptionally vocal about mental health and women’s rights. You aren’t stuck, you aren’t defective, and you most definitely aren’t finished. We have so much work ahead of us, and it’s all thanks to you.

You stuck it out when the world grew dark, when our mind waged wars against us and our heart got so heavy it might burst. You fought each and every day for life to be better, waiting for the day it all meant something. You kept going, even when everything screamed at you to just stop. I know my battles, our battles, don’t end with this little note. We have a whole life to live yet! And I know I didn’t say it then, but I’m saying it now. Thank you, baby girl. Thank you with my whole heart.

You got this, Shells. You don’t need anybody else’s approval, just go for it. You’re about to take your first step in an amazing adventure and you’ll be so surprised where it leads you. I know I am.

The sun will rise again, and so will you.

All my love,

M.