HEALS Scholar

scholar

Yesterday was by far the busiest day of this week for me. It was part of the reason I had trouble sleeping the night before, the worrier in me was wondering how on earth I would fit all the things I needed/wanted to do into one day and still have energy left at the end of the day. In what felt like the 11th hour I was given a huge boost that carried me through to the end though.

My day started by working/finishing an assignment that is due next week. By 11 I had to leave for campus. Once on campus I spent the next 3 hours reading research articles and working on a case study with three colleagues. By the time we finished we all felt a bit fried but we had an event to attend for one of our professors. While at the event the director of the program came over and was catching up with all of us, right before she left she asked me if I had checked my email. I said not since early in the morning. She then suggested that I check it and said, All I’m going to say is congratulations.

That is all I needed to hear! I knew that was her way of letting me know I got the healthcare scholarship/training program. All of my girlfriends from school who I was with congratulated me and I was on cloud nine. That was wonderful news. My friends and I stuck around a little longer to mingle with some classmates and professors then it was time for me to pick up Isaac for his sleepover.

I so excited about this opportunity and cannot wait to see what I will learn from this. I am also excited because acceptance into this program guarantees that my internship will be in healthcare. I had expected it would be anyway but this makes it certain. My understanding is that we will have monthly meetings where we will receive training materials and will discuss matters that pertain to the social workers role in health care. I still cannot believe I am getting to be a part of this amazing program.

On Journaling and Growth

journaling

There is very little that I find more calming than a cup of hot tea and a blank page to write on when my mind will not allow me to sleep. So here I sit, like so many nights before, with my cup of chamomile and my blank page hoping to get whatever it is out so my mind will be still.

I know what keeps me awake this night, it is my to-do list. What a silly thing to be fretting over, don’t you agree? At this late hour there is nothing I can do about the things on my list. They all have a time and a place where they will soon be checked off and tonight laying restless in my bed I knew was neither the time nor the place for any of these items to be addressed. yet there I lay for quite sometime wondering how I can squeeze more than 24 hours out of a day, like so many of us do. Alas I have no answer to my quandary. And with no solution for my lack of time this week for all the things I need to accomplish it is time to stop dwelling and refocus my mind.

This is one of those posts I have been writing in my head for quite sometime.

I have kept a journal of some sort since the 4th grade. When I was 9 I experienced my very first real loss from someone close to me dying. I struggled. My fourth grade teacher and the guidance counselor at school teamed up with my mother and the hospice social worker to help me work through my pain. One of the results of the efforts was my introduction to journaling.

My first journal was for my grandmother whom I lost. I wrote to her. It helped.

Years later I still found myself writing. I journaled, I took creative writing classes, I wrote poetry (badly in my opinion, certainly not one of my strengths). Written word has always felt like a place where I lose and find myself. What I have found though is that it is difficult for me to go back and read old journals, or creative writing submissions or even posts on this blog. Reading the words from your past from your place in, what is technically the present, but to that past version of yourself the future, (I hope that sentence made sense, it feels very clunky to me).. You are sitting in the future with an understanding that whatever you struggled with before turned out OK so you feel foolish for your past worry or you have grown and maybe feel embarrassed by the younger version of yourself and your thoughts. Whatever the case may be.

While I admit I do not love to read old entries in journals for some of the reasons mentioned, here is what I will say, doing so helps me to really recognize and appreciate my growth. Reading old entries in outdated journals has helped me identify patterns in myself that I would maybe not have otherwise seen. Old entries help me realize nothing is as bad as it seems and most importantly that I do not have it all figured out.

The photo I found above speaks to this last point beautifully. I really do feel that as I grow I lose touch with versions of myself that do not fit with who I am now in this moment. I am sure the same will be true a year from now, 5 years from now, and so on.

There have been times in this process where I have given serious consideration to deleting this blog all together because some of these entries no longer feel like an accurate representation of who I am now. I always talk myself out of it though because the very purpose of this blog was to document my journey as a returning student. It all has to stay, all of it is important, it builds on itself, it outline the growth and the struggle and the success.

Even now I know I am about to turn a page into a new chapter and I wonder if my thoughts and feelings and ramblings from the last 6 months and prior will feel relevant a year from now. I don’t know, maybe not. But that is OK, that is the point. I have to just keep telling myself that.

Again I find myself reflecting on my gratitude for this space where I can clear my mind and share my story. When this experience is said and done I will have so much more than photos to account for this time in my life. I will have my words, my thoughts, my feelings. To me it is worth so much more than a photo on special occasions. Having one photo of me volunteering at Hospice will not speak to the experiences, neither will a photo of me from the first day of school and graduation day. What about everyday in between?

I am thinking about who I was three years ago when I started, one year ago when I started the program, and who I will be next year when I graduate. I look forward to meeting that woman, I hope she looks back on this post and every post before it and instead of feeling embarrassment for what I do not know today she feels gratitude for the journey and the growth along the way.

The Interview

Yesterday was my interview for the healthcare stipend program. It went well. If there was any question about my commitment to the field I feel I answered it. Some questions were answered for me as well about what kind of training I would receive while in this program, I am very excited about that aspect.

I do not mean to count my chickens but I feel good about my chances. the only thing that might get in my way that I can think of is my internship. Because my minor is in aging studies, which is a gerontology minor, I have to complete an internship in an agency that works with olde adults. If I am accepted into this program I will have to complete an internship in the field of healthcare. I think it would be easy enough for these to areas to overlap but it really depends on who the school is contracted with right now for internships. Hopefully it is not a problem.

School is otherwise good. I have decided to become a mentor in the BSW program. The mentoring program is an opportunity for incoming juniors to link up with seniors in the program. I like the idea of this program and look forward to the connections that will be made.This week is particularly busy. Between end of the semester projects and papers not to mention various events going on I feel like I barely have time to breathe. We are also in the middle of doing the summer sleepovers with the kids as well. We had Maddie last weekend, this Thursday we will have Isaac.

Our fundraiser and supply drive for a local community school is coming to a close. Our last supply drop off is tomorrow. I look forward to being on the campus and seeing the end result of our work. Their food pantry was nearly empty when we started so I am excited to see how full it is now.

Last week my classmate and I met with the first resident in the other community we are doing research in. Her story was compelling and I appreciate that she was willing to meet with us and share her experiences because I know outsiders are regarded with skepticism and mistrust in this community. I hope our next resident interview will go as well and we will have an opportunity to schedule more.

I am feeling good about the work I am doing at Hospice as well right now. I feel like I have found my groove doing bereavement follow up calls. When I started we were 2 months behind on calls, now we are ahead. I am thankful for this opportunity, it has been a good way for me to practice some of the skills I learn in school as well as just work on connecting with people who have suffered a loss. I have multiple mentors at the bereavement center as well and I am thankful for their guidance and knowledge.

In regards to the work I am doing for myself, it is coming along. Today was my first counseling session and although it was painful at times I know the work I am doing for myself is important, just as important as the work I do for others. It is hard at the beginning but I feel like something really good will come out of this.

I am grateful for my loving support system as I start down this path. One of my friends at school was at the book store recently and saw that Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly was on sale so she when she bought a copy for herself she also picked one up for me. I was so touched. This book, which I have been meaning to read for sometime, could not come at a better time.

As the summer comes to a close I stepped back in amazement about how much emotion and activity I managed to jam into a few short months. It was a good summer, I look forward to the brief break before classes begin again in the fall. I look forward to a little downtime to process and collect myself. I look forward to what comes next as well. The next set of classes, continued work on myself, travel, holidays and anniversaries, and new opportunities to learn and grow.

Building My Support Team

shame

That first little step I took towards owning my story and finally letting go of the power it has over me was a powerful one. I received empathetic, honest feedback that I needed to hear. It was hard because I knew it required me to stop being in denial, to stop hiding and to face my fear head on. That first step left me with a major vulnerability hang over, one of the worst I have ever had. Brene Brown talks about the vulnerability hang over in her talk about shame. It is the feeling after you allow yourself to let your guard down and then you regret it and want to take everything you said back!

I am very familiar with the vulnerability hang over. For me it is the terror and intense feeling of needing to hide once I have shared my story with someone new. It is also the shame that resurfaces and fear of judgement and ridicule.

When Todd and I talked about what it would mean for me to take this first step a suggestion he made was for me to share my story with my brother. Part of the trouble I have with sharing my story is the shame and stigma attached which is why very few people know, that includes even my family.

Todd felt very sure that my brother was safe. Safe for me means someone who will understand, accept me and love me. Brene Brown talks about the importance of being loved not despite your story, but because of it.

Last night my brother and I were talking about difficulties both of us are having with various things. My brother feels stigma about a certain aspect of his life as well and we talked together about how these stigmas make us feel. My brother never asked what part of my life caused me to feel this way so I asked him, “do you know what my stuff is?”

The truth is I don’t know if he knows. I certainly never told him and I cannot imagine he would have found out any other way but I cannot be sure. He said he did not. I asked him if he wanted to know. He said that if I felt comfortable talking about it that he absolutely wanted to know.

We sat together for an hour and talked. I was afraid to tell my brother for a different reason. I was afraid because I am his little sister and I did not want to spoil any idealistic image he might have of me. I did not want to burden him with my story, I did not want him to feel bad for me. While I understand that as I work through this I need the support of others I have trouble asking for it. In this part of my life I have always been an island.

Our talk was healing. This is one more person I love in my corner, one less person I love that I have to hide from. A wall came crashing down last night. He completely supports me and as one of the only members in my family who knows and the only one I actually feel like I can talk to about this he may be one of the most important allies I have.

I do still have a small vulnerability hang over this morning. Even though that was one of the best experiences I have ever had when telling someone my story it is still hard. I still feel shame and a want to hide, it is just less than usual.

Baby steps. The next step is trauma recovery counseling. The few times I have been in counseling I have never allowed this area to be a focus. I did not want to touch it, I down played it’s significance and opted to stay in denial. It is time to make it a focus.

I am nervous about what comes next. I have tried to disconnect myself from this for so long that I know it will be painful to focus on it in counseling. I have my small support team though headed up by my husband and brother. It feels good to have them both in the background cheering me on and offering support in whatever form I might need as I go through with this next step.

It is not easy to truly give way to vulnerability like this. Even talking about it in the shadows like I am doing here is hard. I don’t want to admit the areas in my life where I struggle. I do not want to feel exposed. I have to believe though that doing this will lead me to a healthier place where I can be the most authentic version of myself. A place where I am not crushed under the weight of secrecy and stigma. A place where I am finally able to give and allow myself to receive real love. A place that has no room for shame and where I feel worthy.

My Highlight: A Lesson in Perspective

perspective

Todd calls me everyday around the same time when he is leaving his office to walk to the car. The conversation is pretty routine, “Hey babe, I’m on my way, what’s for dinner, how was your day, what was the highlight?” What was the highlight is my favorite part of the conversation. What went right today? Even if all you have is my ham sandwich at lunch was delicious, it is good to be able to identify a highlight.

Todd’s highlight today was he actually got a good bit of work done, yesterday he was in a bunch of meetings and that is not his favorite. He enjoys the work he does and does not like to be taken away from it.

My highlight today was unexpected.

Last night when I got home from school I felt a bit overwhelmed. I deliberately did not take a lead role on our class project this semester because I knew I did not have the time to take on such a big role. We are running a supply drive for a school in a low income area and there are a lot of working parts and pieces. Last night  was an important class because it was the class where we go over the logistics for our first major supply drop off with the school. Two of the three group leaders did not show up last night. I ended up coordinating the entire thing because I was the only one with enough knowledge of the situation to do so.

Ultimately I want to do what is right for our class and the school we have partnered with but this is a lot to manage on a week where I already have a full schedule.

So today started busy. I had emails to send, phone calls to make, I had make sure everything is in order for this drop off. Once I was finished I had just enough time to make myself presentable for a 2:00 meeting in the community my colleague and I are working in.

It has been a little while since I have given an update about the work my colleague and I are doing in the other community. This is primarily because there has been no information to share. Our paper has been shared with the director, the dean and other local leaders. The next phase of our research started today.

Today we met with the principal at the local elementary school who had been helpful during our first phase. We caught up with him, filled him on how well received our initial research had been and thanked him for the part he played in our success. He asked what this next phase looked like for us and we explained that we would like to speak with  more residents in the community this time around. He responded by saying that if we wanted to talk to people he would take us to meet some people. We thanked him and told him that would be really helpful. Then he said, OK then let’s go. We were surprised and thrilled. We didn’t realize he meant RIGHT NOW. He cleaned out his car, piled us in and drove us around the community.

It was incredible!! We met a family who lives just a few blocks from the school. They were very gracious and agreed to share their contact information so we could schedule a time to come back and meet with them. Next he took us to the housing projects near the school. When we interviewed him for our original paper he spoke at great length about this housing project. He talked about the impact of generational poverty and how close knit the community is. The family we met was very welcoming. They invited us in, we met all their children and talked for a little while. They also shared their contact information with us and invited us to come back and speak with them.

It was a whirlwind of an experience, all of this took place in less than an hour. It was amazing though. This principal is a man of action. He knows his community, he is involved. Everyone we met was so excited to see him, there was hugging and laughing. As we drove through the community men stood around on street corners and residents gathered on front porches, he seemed to know them all. With his window rolled down he would call out to them and they would call out to him. In a community that seems to be very skeptical of anyone viewed as an outsider he has clearly be accepted as one of their own. That is so powerful and I am so thankful to have this man vouch for us. He introduced us as his friends from UCF, they are here to teach social workers how to help. What he was saying is, I trust these people and you can too. I am so grateful for this man. He is so willing to offer his time, energy and help in ever way. He is an everyday hero.

That was my highlight. I woke up this morning grumbling because I had a lot on my plate and it was going to be a busy day. This man took time out of his day to drive us around the community, introduce us to residents and answer our questions. He had been at the school all day and had a doctor appointment when he was done with us but he still took the time. He did the extra and did not complain. He was willing and happy to do it. I needed perspective today and this man helped me with that.

I should never be grumbly about doing a little extra or having a busy day if it means the work I am doing will ultimately help someone else. The coordination I set up allows for the drop off day to run smoothly and for students and residents in need to be provided with goods. What am I grumbling about? It is easy to get caught up in the details and lose sight of the big picture, I think that is where I was when I woke up this morning. I end this day with perspective and a grateful heart.

This is Why I Don’t Do Small Talk

small talk2

Small talk for me is a challenge, this is not my first post about my struggles with it and it surely will not be my last. It is not that I struggle with conversation, I easily fall into exchanges with strangers whom I know very little about. It is frivolous talk that I have trouble with.

I am the person at the grocery that sees someone from high school that I know (but not well) and I make a hard left turn to avoid interaction. It would be one thing if it were a former friend or teacher I liked but recognition that I once knew OF a person without actually knowing them is not enough to warrant a non-conversation that will drain me completely.

I started thinking about this over the weekend because I ran into two people from my past and met a few new people as well. I bumped into an old friend I lost touch with as well as a former school mate from when I was a child. I also met a few relatives I had never met before. I had all kinds of exchanges with people this weekend, they were all very different. Any of them could have fallen into the small talk place that feel so inauthentic to me but most did not. I was reflecting on these exchanges yesterday as I got ready for bed.

I will start on Sunday and work back, I am good news first person when it comes to good news/bad news.

This weekend I had extended family in town, this is family I do not know well, second cousins whom I have never actually met. Todd and I had the opportunity to spend a little time with them earlier in the weekend and I instantly fell in love with my female relative. She is my father’s cousin so she is his age or maybe a little older, I found her to be a kindred spirit.

Sunday my grandmother was having a brunch at her house so the rest of the family could spend time with our visiting relatives. On our way to my grandmother’s house we stopped at a grocery in my home town to pick up a few things as our contribution to the brunch.

I typically do not like to do this, stop at the grocery in town that is. It is for the exact reason I illustrated above, the potential for awkward encounters and forced small talk is too high. My home town has grown significantly since I was a child but my family has lived there for 50 years so it is almost inevitable that I will run into someone.

As we rounded the corner to the produce section I saw an old friend picking out juice with her daughter. Todd and I stopped and talked with her for a while. It was nice. She is married with three children now, still living in town. She got to meet Todd and I told her where we had settled down as well. We exchanged numbers and talked about having dinner sometime in the future to properly catch up. It was nice to see her, I was flooded with a sweet nostalgia.

Todd and I went on to my grandmother’s house and spent time with my second cousins while also meeting my third cousin and her husband who apparently recently moved into town, I had no idea. It was nice to have more time with my second cousin as well as an opportunity to get to know my third cousin (who is my age). We actually spent more time talking with my third cousin’s husband but we discovered he graduated from the same college as Todd in IL and grew up a few towns over from Todd. There is even a strong possibility that he and Todd played baseball against each other in high school because the two schools were rivals I guess. He and Todd had a lot to talk about, they are in similar careers, both very math/science oriented and the obvious connection both being from IL. I also found out through conversation that my third cousin was a social work major in school and now works in healthcare. Her position is a bit different from the work I want to do in healthcare but it was still nice to meet someone with similar ambitions.

I plan to keep in touch with my second cousin now that she has returned to Ohio and Todd and I plan to invite my third cousin and her husband out for dinner in the near future.

While Todd and I are both introverts all of these interactions with new people and an old friend I had not seen in years were fine because they were meaningful. There were connections made and things to talk about, it was not forced or awkward.My experience Friday was very different however.

On Friday a family member, who Todd and I are not close with, was getting married. We attended the wedding more out of obligation than interest in doing so. That very fact felt inauthentic to both of us. For me it was more in support for my grandmother. My grandmother’s 90 year old sister (who I had not seen since I was 9), as well as her niece and nephew all traveled down for the wedding. This was a time to come together as family for my grandmother, so we did.

I ended up being glad we went because I sat with my second cousin at the wedding and had wonderful conversation with her, this is where our connection began to bloom.

A downside to this wedding is that my relative getting married is my age and went to school with my brother and I. There were people from school at this wedding who neither my brother nor myself had interest in interacting with. I thought I might get through the entire wedding without issue when it was toward the end of the evening and I had not had to engage with anyone I did not want to. That is when it happened though.

Todd left our table for a moment and as soon as he left his chair someone else was occupying it. It was a man I went to grade school with. I knew him when I was five, I don’t think (to the very best of my recollection) that we ever had another class together after first grade. My point is I really do not know him and it has been 25+ years since I have seen him. When he sat down I was engaged in conversation with my second cousin so he started up a conversation with my brother who had been sitting on the other side of Todd. My brother was in school with this person’s sister so although he did not really know this man there was a very flimsy connection to his family.

As my conversation with my second cousin came to a close I knew I was not going to be able to avoid speaking with this person, it seemed as though he was waiting to speak with me. For the life of me I could not figure out why, what do we have to talk about? I turned in his direction and he started asking how I was and about my life, I answered his questions and responded with similar niceties, asking very topical questions about his life. The conversation was relatively brief, there really was not much to say. When dead air took over the conversation rather than making his departure, which would have been appropriate, he made a tasteless comment and caught me off guard.

To give further context to this interaction, I was not dreading speaking with him simply because I felt we had nothing to talk about, although yes that was part of it. The other part is that he had been over the top obnoxious from the moment the wedding started. He is apparently  extroverted and very attention seeking. His behavior, in my opinion, had been garish while sober but as the night went on and he continued drinking it crossed over into disruptive and inappropriate.

So while my initial reluctance to engage with him came from wanting to avoid a superficial conversation, his drunken state heightened my feelings of discomfort with his presence and his insistence to “catch up”.

I was grateful my brother was sitting on the other side of him because when the man took the conversation from, in my eyes, unnecessary to incredibly inappropriate I was at a loss. Up to that point I had been polite but for me polite stops when you make me uncomfortable.

I was caught between saying exactly what needed to be said in this moment and concern for the repercussions. Thankfully before I had the opportunity to finish processing what had just been said my brother stepped in.

As a rule I am not one who needs saving, I am perfectly capable of handling things on my own but I will say in this instance I was thankful for help. My brother was eloquent and dealt with the person appropriately.

This is certainly an extreme example of why I am typically unwilling to do small talk. I have been in similar situations without them resulting in the train wreck this interaction became. Generally speaking though small talk like this is painful, not train wreck painful usually, more like fender bender painful. It isn’t that I harbor any feelings of disdain for those who I am conducting small talk with, this is not an issue of ill-will usually. I have always had trouble explaining what it is about small talk that I dislike so much because it has less to do with people and more to do with the actual act, then I found this quote and I really identified with it.

small talk

Yeah, it’s like that.

I am happy to sit in silence. I do not feel the need to fill a silent void with chatter, I actually prefer not to in some cases. The silence is where I get my energy. I guess I like to be selective of who I share my energy with because some people and some interactions help build my energy and then certain people and interactions can steal it right away from me. I do my best to be polite when engaged in small talk, but if I have a choice between small talk with someone and a sharp left turn to avoid it I am going to make that sharp left turn.