I Have Found My People

A year and a half ago I remember sitting in my therapists office asking Where are my people? It was in reference to a specific aspect of my story we were talking about which I will not disclose here because of the stigma attached. I share this piece though because I know I am not the only person that feels this way due to stigma.

This past weekend was a big weekend for me in many ways. First was the women’s march, which I already shared some about. That was certainly a moment for me that answered that question. I rounded that corner downtown and felt my soul sing, Oh here they are.

Attending that rally and being physically and energetically part of this piece of history was so important for me, not just as a woman and a feminist, but as a survivor, as someone in recovery from a lifetime of trauma that is uniquely female, and as a possible future mother to a daughter.

We went back and forth that day about whether or not to go. Our introversion almost talked us out of it because the crowd was going to be so large and that is a nightmare for us. I knew though, deep down in my gut, that I would not be right with myself if I did not do this. I did not just want to be there, I needed it for my own personal healing. As my husband and I talked about it after we left one of things we discussed was how this is something we will be able to tell our children one day we did. We were part of history and before they were even born we were thinking of them.

The next day I woke up early. I was set with nerves because I had plans to go to a spiritual service with a friend from school. I felt good about the spiritual community I found for us to visit but the idea of entering any kind of religious/spiritual building and attending a service made me feel torn between wanting to cry and vomit.

I am taking a spirituality in social work class this semester. I decided on this class because of my own personal need for growth in this area and because I want to be a well rounded therapist who is able to discuss all aspects of a person’s identity with them when working together.

If you have been following my writing for a while then you know I have only started walking down my path towards spiritual awakening in the last year or two. Before that I identified as atheist, and before that I was suffering under the burden of Catholicism being forced down my throat by my well-meaning family.

My friend from class, who come to find out is also a recovering Catholic, felt as terrified about this task as I did. One of this assignments from this class is to attend a religious/spiritual service that is outside of your own religion and then report about what you learned.

Well in a way this assignment is easy for the two f us, because when you do not believe in anything specific all the doors are open as far as where you can go to learn about something new. The part that made it difficult and a bit terrifying is that both of us have the same aversion to religion/church as a result of the heavy handed judgement we experienced at the hands of the Catholic church growing up.

So in order for us to feel safe to do this assignment I did research, a lot of research. After a week of lots of digging I found something that not only did not feel icky but actually sounded kind of good, Unitarian Universalists. The website spoke of their commitment to inclusion, and social action, and love, and community.. They have seven principles that are directly in line with the social work code of ethics that we practice by. When I saw that I thought, this is a church for social workers!

So plans were made and Sunday morning at 9:30 am my girlfriend met me at my house and we set off together in my SUV to go see about a church. We got there early and sat in the car for 15 minutes working up the courage to go in, we were scared, both of us. We finally decided it was time to make the leap and we both got out of the car. We started walking towards the building and an older woman with short silver hair walked by us wearing a I Stand With Planned Parenthood shirt. She welcomed us as she walked by. My friend and I looked at each other after she passed and agreed that that was a good sign. I have that exact same shirt but I would have never dreamed of wearing it to a church service! That was pretty cool.

We walked in the front doors which were wide open letting the fresh air in and we were greeted by two more women. They gave us name tags and we explained that we were social work grad students from the University that were here to visit and observe a service. They were over the moon to hear this! Something that happened immediately after introducing ourselves that my friend really appreciated is that one of the women explained that one of the leaders of their group is a retired psychologist and this woman is also a retired LMHC.

My friend appreciated this woman saying this because it proved to my friend that this woman understood what we do. So many people still think that social workers are all DCF case workers who remove children. The field is so vast and this woman identified us as mental health professionals which was nice.

She walked us into their facility explained a little but about the service so we knew what to expect and then offered to give us a tour after and talk a bit more if we were willing to hang around, we willingly agreed and thanked her for her gracious hospitality.

The service started, we sat in the last row trying to be inconspicuous, it didn’t work. It is a small group (not too small but much smaller than the hundreds that we are accustomed to at a Catholic mass) and it is clearly tight knit so new comers stick out. The thing is though, that was okay. We stuck out but we did not feel like outsiders at any point. Everyone was so welcoming and accepting, it was a wonderful feeling.

The service started with the lighting of a candle by a child and only got better from there. This group does not worship a specific deity, they do not follow any specific religious scriptures. All faiths and belief systems are welcome. They do not pretend to have any answers, it is more about asking questions and bringing in multiple perspectives and philosophizing together. There is no right, or wrong, or good, or bad. It is all GRAY.

I was home. For the second day in a raw after years and years of searching.. I had found my people.

The woman who gave us a tour after shared that she too was a recovering Catholic, and she agreed that she was called to this group of people because for the first time in her life she felt safe to experience her spirituality her own way without losing that sense of connectedness and community. Everything about this service spoke to me. I am not going to go into further detail because this post is long enough, if you are still reading send me your address and I will mail you a sticker of appreciation.

I could not edit this down though because it was too important. The last 6 months, starting at soul camp and my monumental shift that took place there, have brought so much clarity to an area of my life that for so long has left me feeling lost and alone. I have found connection in ways I never thought possible. This past weekend was a huge jump forward in my work and my healing and I am profoundly grateful.

My friend and I were so excited and comforted after our experience with this group that we have decided to go back next Sunday. We want to go a few times together still just she and I before we bring both of our significant others in to check it out. I think because of our past experiences with organized anything in terms of religion/spirituality we are afraid and hugely skeptical of anything that feels remotely related to a church. We need to make sure this feels right on all levels before we make any decisions.

It is hard not to get ahead of myself though and keep from jumping in with a both feet. They have a social action committee that plans activism opportunities for the group.. I mean, how do more social workers not know about this?

“We Should All Be Feminists.”

These are the words my professor uttered a few semesters ago after a classmate stated, Well I don’t personally identify as feminist.

I don’t know if my professor meant we as social workers, or we as women, or we as liberal minded individuals, or we as in every single person ever (I personally lean towards the last option). And I know that professors “should” remain objective but I sure am glad she said it! I know I am not alone either.A lot of my friends in the class breathed a visible sigh of relief when the professor spoke up.

Every time I hear someone, specifically women, renounce feminism I feel myself hold my breath. Suddenly I don’t feel safe because if you are telling me that you do not identify as a feminist it makes me wonder if there is an aspect of equality that does not speak to you? And if that is the case then yeah, back to what I said, I kinda don’t feel completely safe around you.

This exchange led to a really awesome conversation. This professor is a huge feminist and very open about it. We discussed why some people do not choose to identify as feminist, some people in class spoke up to share their reasons.

The reasons ranged from: I don’t know enough about it, to my dad would kill me, to but I don’t hate men, to feminism is not inclusive, to I am not political, to I just don’t believe in it, to feminists are always so angry and I am not an angry person, to I’m not much of an activist.

My professor and some of the rest of us helped illuminate the discussion by explaining some misconceptions and answering questions.

So I wanted to share a little bit of the discussion for anyone else that may still think feminism is a dirty word.. Let’s brush some of that dirt off.

  1. Feminism is not about hating men. That is a totally different thing called misandry. Some Feminists may personally identify as misandrists but that is like some may identify as lesbian or Christian or Latina or male. You can be all of these things and be feminist but they are not the same. So to be clear: Misandry = dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against men. Feminism = the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. NOT THE SAME THING.
  2. Feminism is all inclusive. Malala Yousafzai defined feminism as a synonym for equality and I personally agree with that definition. Now, this misconception is a fair one, but I would like to clear it up all the same. There are different branches of the feminist tree and some are less inclusive. For example, radical feminism has a history of discriminating against trans folks. Some radical feminists do not believe that trans folks belong in the movement. That is not the feeling of the majority however and feminism as it exists currently is very clear about its commitment to intersectionality and inclusion. Feminism has multiple branches, Liberal, Social, Radical, Womanism.. etc.. If you would be more comfortable getting super specific then I recommend doing the research and pick which one feels right to you. Or define it for yourself, that is a totally acceptable alternative as well.
  3. “I’m not political/ I am not an activist”. Cool, me either, but I am still a feminist. There are no rules to being a feminist, you get to define it for yourself. Let me repeat: THERE ARE NO RULES, YOU DEFINE WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU. I would not typically attend a protest personally because that it not usually the energy I want to put out into the world, that does not make me care any less about equality and women’s rights. I am also not super political. I think our political system is a joke and have very little faith in our elected officials. That does not make me any less a feminist.
  4. Not all feminists are angry. That is like saying all social workers work for DCF (my social work friends will get why that is such a cringe worthy statement), or all Christians are anti-gay, or all white people are racist. Those are pretty heavy accusations to make and THEY ARE NOT TRUE. Sure, some feminists are angry, and they have a right to be, consider what we are talking about here; protecting the rights of a group of people who have historically had their rights infringed upon based on their sex/gender. We have a right to be angry. And yes, some feminists bring that masculine energy into the movement, especially at protests. That does not mean all feminists are angry. Personally my brand of feminism comes from more of a earth-mother- nurturing place and I lead with a much more feminine energy. Again, there are no rules, you get to define it. Feminism belongs to you, and to me, and to everyone. We make the decisions about what it means to us. And I would like to make the statement one more time before moving on that there is nothing wrong with being angry. To focus on the emotion in a negative light like that serves to minimize the experience of the individual. People have the right to be angry, we all have the right to feel our feelings. There is nothing wrong or bad about that.
  5. My family/friends/significant other/social circle/kid/employer/grocer/dog/bus driver wouldn’t understand. THAT IS OKAY. This is not for THEM, it is FOR YOU. The things we believe in BELONG TO US. They are personal, they are sacred. No one is required to understand them and WE DO NOT OWE ANYONE AN EXPLANATION.

I am going to end my list there and address the last reason separately, I just don’t believe in it. To me that is a cop-out. That is shutting down the conversation because for some reason you are scared. It is like when I used to identify as atheist because I knew if I said that when someone tried to talk to me about spirituality the conversation would die and I wanted it to die because spirituality was a scary place for me for a long time. My question is WHY? What stops you from believing it? What is holding you back? What are you unsure of?

If you do not believe in equal rights then say that, say I do not believe in equal rights that way we know where you stand. But to say I don’t believe in feminism without a reason is just putting the movement back and that is not doing gender minorities any favors I can tell you that. Saying I don’t believe in feminism is like saying I don’t believe that Black Lives Matter. Saying I don’t identify with the feminist movement is like saying I don’t identify with the civil rights movement, or the LGBTQ+ movement, or any other social justice movement.

Understand this: Being feminist is not about being better than anyone else, it is not about excluding anyone, it is not about hating anyone. It is about equality and the very fact that feminism is still considered a bad/dirty/scary/negative word to some people proves that the patriarchy is alive and well.

Now more than ever it is IMPERATIVE that you stand up for what you believe. That you openly identify with those beliefs. WE NEED YOUR HELP. If nothing else, please do me this favor, do the movement this favor.. If you can’t get past the label for whatever your reason maybe 1. Please reconsider and 2. Please do not renounce feminism. We are trying to change the world and make it safe for all people, every time you renounce us you are setting back time. Please,please, please if you can’t get past the label at least find it in your heart to be our ally. And as our ally please do not do or say anything that would negatively impact the positive work we are striving towards.

If my passionate advocating has not convinced you, give me one last chance: here are a bunch or celebrity feminists who get it, maybe they will change your mind. I mean who doesn’t love Will Smith?

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www.hdnicewallpapers.com
http://www.hdnicewallpapers.com

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Coming Out

power

We just got back from the Women’s Rally downtown. It was incredible. We heard the music and crowd while we were still walking a block away towards the event, when we turned the corner and I saw the scene laid out before me I began to cry. It was like coming home.

It was so beautiful. There were families, and every different kind of person you could possibly imagine. I saw fellow social workers, and some of my professors, and even our PCP walked by us with cat ears on! It was so great to see so many people I personally know but also just the turn out in general. The messages people were carrying on the signs they made were love, pure love. Some were also sad, sad because of the truth they hold. I cried behind my sun glasses for the first ten minutes while we were there, I was so overcome by the energy of it all and what it meant to me personally as someone who has very real reasons to be afraid right now. I am sure I was not the only person who felt so moved.

We walked around and took it all in and then planted ourselves so we could listen to the speakers. The first speaker spoke of the importance of coming out and how the rest of the world could learn a thing or two from our LGTBQ+ brothers and sisters about coming out. She talked about the importance of coming out everyday; in the grocery when we see someone treated poorly, at our jobs when we are afraid to speak out against something we know isn’t right, in our families, in our relationships, in public, everywhere. We have to come out as the people we actually are and have the courage to be seen. She talked about coming out as feminists, and as allies, and in all these other ways. We have to be willing to come out and been seen as the people we actually are and then live in that power of wholeness and authenticity everyday. It is a big ask, I know this because as much as I was inspired by her words I was also afraid.

I was afraid for the same reason we are all afraid; how will this change my life? will being my true self negatively impact my life/work/relationships? what if _____ isn’t/aren’t okay with it?
An extra fear for me that has always kept me small is fear of my safety. It is a fear I know I share with many. Coming out means allowing those who hate us without even knowing us to see us. In the closet we are safe, those who claim to hate us can’t see us. Coming out means taking an enormous risk. For some of us the stakes are higher than just will this person stop being my friend? or will this family member disown me?
For some of us it is will someone try to hurt me?

I was inspired though in spite of my fear. And just being in the presence of all these amazing, open minded, loving people made my light feel all the way turned up.

I agree that we need to come out, it is the only way to accomplish real progress. We have to step out of our fear and into our greatness.

When I think about my own coming out I know I am still operating from a place of fear, but I am working on it, and maybe one day I will find that courage to turn my light all the way up.

The Future is FEMALE

feminist

I was in my office yesterday furiously knocking out a pile of documentation when a counselor who works in another department stopped by to say Hi. We were catching up for a bit and he asked me if I was going to the Women’s Rally downtown Saturday.

The what? I hadn’t heard about it. He gave me the details and a link to the website, which I will share at the bottom of this post in case any of my local friends who follow my blog would like to attend, and I checked it out.

It is essentially a feminist rally, it will be my first and I am so excited.

There will be speakers covering a variety of important topics, I am the most excited about the representative from Planned Parenthood. I was walking through the main area of my internship earlier this week and caught a snippet of an interview she was giving on the news. I am really impressed by this woman and am looking forward to hearing her speak in person.

So tomorrow morning hubs and I will get up, maybe stop by the vegan donut shop because Yum, and head downtown to support women’s rights.

Women’s Rally Link

Martyrdom is Manipulation

Martyrdom: a display of feigned or exaggerated suffering to obtain sympathy or admiration.

Martyrdom is a form of manipulation.

Parents use it to guilt their children into doing what they want. I gave birth to you! After all we have done for you! Enter the martyr.

It is a used in relationships. I would do anything for you and you can’t bring yourself to do this one thing for me! 

It is used in religion as a way to shame followers into submission. He died for your sins.

It is used at work as a means to increase productivity without incentive. Look at Sue she works 10 hour days and weekends and never comes in late, why can’t you be more like Sue?

Manipulation at its simplest is about control. It is about getting needs met. It usually refers to negative, underhanded ways of getting needs met, but at the core that is what manipulation is.

Martyrdom is an exaggerated form of manipulation that uses guilt trips, and shaming, and extremes, and generalizations to get these needs met or exert control.

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In my life I have personally been the victim of this kind of manipulation and I have used this kind of manipulation in past relationships. I am not proud of that fact of course but it is true and I am at a place now where I can show that piece of myself love.

This form of manipulation is very triggering for me none the less. It reminds me of times I have been hurt and times I have hurt others. Neither are memories I like to go back to.

Martyrdom is a thing in social work. It is not only a thing, I feel that it is glorified. I feel it used against us as a way to keep us down. To keep accepting low pay, and high case loads, and long hours, etc. etc. These things become expected and we become the martyrs.

Part of what took place in supervision the other day was manipulation. We listened to a long story of martyrdom and were told that we were not as good because we were not doing it this way.

I was triggered for two reasons mainly, for a moment it took me back to the absolute worst employment experience of my entire life.

I worked for a company for 5+ years that was completely toxic because I loved the work and the population. I finally left after my papa died. That is when I realized I had totally lost sight of what was important in life. The night he died he was surrounded by his family. I was not there. I had worked a 12+ hour day and was too tired to make the drive to hospice. He was stable, I would go to him first thing in the morning. He did not make it to the morning.

Following his death I took no time off to grieve. I was in charge, I could not take time off. I thought my job was the most important thing. I realized after experiencing prolonged complicated grief that I had that all wrong. It took me a long time to forgive myself for the time I lost at the end with him. He was more important. I don’t even work there anymore. How could I have ever thought that work, no matter how noble the work I was doing, was more important than the people I love?

The other part of the trigger for me has to do with my mother. Growing up and even into my twenties my mother used martyrdom, shame, and guilt to control me and get her way. It took years for me to recognize it for what it was. It was not until I recognized it in myself that I was able to see it in our relationship. She no longer has that power over me but the pain is still there. It takes a while to heal that kind of wound, especially when you are trying to learn to love and forgive yourself at the same time.

Social work is a primarily female field. Guess which gender struggles the most with work-life balance in general? Guess which gender is the most over-worked and underpaid? I think it is sad that we do not see this as the feminist issue that it is. It is true that many of us, myself included, do not enter this field for the money but that does not mean that what we do is not valuable and I do believe that we should be advocating for ourselves here. It is not just social work either. I feel the same way about teachers. It is another field that is heavily populated with female workers and is very demanding and treated in a similar way.

As women we are programmed by society to feel shame for wanting to be heard and seen and to have a place at the table. How are we supposed to break the glass ceiling if some of us do not even see how we are being manipulated and controlled by those who would rather keep it in place?

Martyrdom is manipulation. I will not believe anyone who tries to convince me I am not worthy of being seen, and heard, and that I have a place at the table. I will not be a martyr, I will be an advocate for myself and minorities like me who are being manipulated into believing we deserve less.

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Shine a Light

This morning hubs and I woke early. Truth be told I don’t think I was ever fully asleep. I went to bed earlyish last night because I realized with the direction the vote was going in there would be a good chance I would not sleep at all if I heard the results before bed. This measure to protect myself from bad news and attempt to get a sound nights rest was somewhat futile unfortunately.

So we woke up this morning with the anticipation of two children on Christmas morning only this was not a joyous anticipation.. It was the anticipation of two children who knew they would not be receiving gifts this Christmas but hoped against hope that by some miracle Santa had come and delivered presents to their home. I am sad to report that Santa did not visit America this election season. There were no overnight miracles just the sad sinking in of our new reality. A reality that many of us, myself and hubs included, are not ready to see.

You want to see what forcing an idealist to come to terms with reality looks like? I started my day in tears. I cried for myself, I cried for my future children, I cried for every single person in my country and in the world who has even more reason to mourn today than I do. I have certain amount of privilege that will insulate me from any havoc this new reality may wreak, I know many who have far more reason than I to cry this morning.

So I gave myself space this morning to have my reaction. My hubs had his as well and we supported one another through it. There were a lot of unanswerable questions. There was a lot of reassuring. There were lots and lots of hugs and snuggles.

The truth is I didn’t really want to get out of bed. It was hard to find the motivation. I wanted to stay in that negative frame of mind and dwell.. Then I was scrolling through the mournful reactions of my friends on social media I saw something that reminded me of my truth..

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My whole perspective changed in that moment and I remembered who I am and what my life purpose is. I am a badass idealist who sees what can be not what is. I am a light in dark places and sometimes “the real world” can be a very dark scary place. Yes, I got dropped kicked in the face by reality this morning and yes for a moment I felt shattered. What the outcome of the election has showed me though is right now my light is needed.

There is a reason there has been so much negative energy brewing lately and a lot of us, again myself included, thought that after election day that energy would finally clear.. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. That doesn’t change me or my life mission though. I could not feel stronger in my resolve as an idealist in this moment.

Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi, Bernie Sanders, John Lennon, Rosa Parks.. All of the heroes of the world who stood up for something bigger than themselves were idealists! They saw beyond what was to what could be. They believed in the goodness of the human spirit and what the world is capable of through love. They shined their lights so bright the world could not ignore them.

So today take your moment. Mourn, or celebrate if this is not a sad occasion for you, or get angry.. Do whatever you need to do for you then go out and be a light for others. Show our brothers and sisters your humanness, your ability to love, and to meet negative energy with pure kindness and compassion. Be example. Shine so bright that it is lights up the dark and blinds those whose lights are turned down.

While I was in the shower thinking about all of this and meditating on my truth and my own mission in life I started singing. Without realizing it at first I was singing a song from my childhood.. When I was little, 6 or 7 I think, Disney came out with Polly. It it a favorite movie from my childhood, it bestowed on me valuable lessons. My gift to anyone reading this is this song from the movie… Now go out and shine your light today. Be the reason someone does not lose hope today. Help remind the world what love feels like. It is time we turn up our light.

The Double Standard

therapy

Last summer when I started my journey back into myself through therapy one of the last questions I asked my therapist before hiring her was, are you currently in therapy? Her answer to that question had a huge weight on my decision to work with her or not. Her answer was yes.

During one of our first sessions the topic of therapists in therapy came up. I believe that if a person wants to do therapeutic counseling as a career they should either be seeing a therapist at the same time or have seen one in the past (I prefer the former though personally). The bottom line is we all have emotional work to do and I think some therapists try to ignore that fact. They try to put themselves in higher position than their clients, they are the expert, they do not need help themselves. I call that denial.

My therapist during this session I referenced was saying how she was impressed that I asked about her being in therapy when we first talked. She said that when people in her personal life come to her for advice about choosing a therapist that is the very question she tells them to ask. She says that she would never see a therapist who is not doing their own work, I agree.

Even in the program right now, so many of us are in therapy doing our own work and you can almost pick out those who are not. You can feel the difference.

The thing that has always been baffling to me is the double standard that exists in this field as well as many other helping professions about seeking out therapy. There is something kind of shamey about it, like this feeling of, you have no business being a therapist because you are just as screwed up as the people you are wanting to help. News flash: WE ARE ALL SCREWED UP. Get off your high horse, no one makes it through life with out emotional bruising, and scarring, and worse. That IS the human condition. I want a therapist who is not in denial and who is making them self a priority, we all need to be modeling that behavior for our clients.

Side note: this rant has classist undertones and I know it. There are many clinicians and aspiring future clinicians who are not in an economic position that allows them to spend the money on their own therapy. I am not trying to shame anyone here, I am just saying that for me this piece is important. Really important. And some clinicians who can afford it still do not do it because of the double standard.

So let’s get back to that double standard for a moment.. How is it that a person can go through all the energy of becoming a therapist and not actually believe in therapy themselves? I want to be a therapist but I do not believe in going to therapy. OR worse:.I think therapists who go to therapy are broken in some way and should not be practicing.

I am putting a lot of words in a lot people’s mouths right now, I see that. I making broad generalizations about attitudes felt towards clinicians who are in therapy themselves. Let’s be real, there is a whole middle area. In that middle area there are therapists who do not go to therapy but think no less of those who do. There are therapists in therapy that judge other therapists for doing exactly what they are doing themselves. This, like everything, exists on a spectrum. (If there is only one thing you ever take away from my blog it will be the idea of the gray area).

My truth is though that I have experienced some weird energy around my admission to being in therapy. I am not at all in any way in the closet about being in therapy. It is the best gift I have ever given myself and I refuse to feel shame about this amazing thing that is changing my life and helping me in a way I have never ever been helped before. Still, when someone says, Hey can you get together this day at this time to go over this project, and I say Sorry I have therapy at that time, I can do this time. I have definitely seen the other person squirm. And when in class we talk about self-care and I share that this is part of how I do self-care the class go silent like I just admitted I am a leper or something.

It is time for this to be normalized, for it not only to be acceptable but expected and encouraged. Some of my professors have straight up told me that when they were in college they had to go therapy, it was expected of them because counter transference is real and you need to work your stuff out before you go out and try to work with vulnerable populations, especially if the work you want to do is therapeutic in nature.

What I can tell you is that sense being in therapy and being so open about it I have noticed a shift at school. For example, the class where I disclosed that therapy is part of my self-care – the next week two more students disclosed the same thing – the week after, three more shared they were in therapy as well. In these classes we are there to learn from our professors but we are also there to support each other while we are on this last leg of our schooling. I am glad that we as a cohort are able to be more open with each other, and in turn decrease the stigma around asking for help.

There is so much stigma around mental health issues, how is that going to change if the clinicians who should be advocating for their clients are partially responsible creating that stigma. If we are judging our colleagues for seeking out help we are feeding the flame of stigma around mental health issues, because our colleagues are clients as well. If we cannot advocate for ourselves, for our colleagues, how can we do it for our clients?

On an airplane they tell you before take off that in case of emergency put on your own oxygen mask before helping your neighbor with theirs. That is all this is. Trauma, and conflict, and family issues, and relationship issues, and mental health issues are all part of the human experience. So we, as clinicians, need to be modeling the behavior for our clients. We need to be putting on our masks before we try to help them with theirs. AND we need to stop doing it in the shadows. My openness about being in therapy is one small step I take in my commitment to break down the stigma around mental health and seeking out help in general.

A Case for Personal Therapy in Counselor Education

Unconditional Positive Regard

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This is a concept we talk a lot about at school. It is part of the commitment we make to doing this work,treating our clients with unconditional positive regard. For me this, like so many aspects of social work, goes beyond my clients. It is a goal to strive for in life, treating others with unconditional positive regard. I’ll let you in on a secret though, it is not possible. It is not possible to treat every single person you meet and interact with in life with unconditional positive regard, not without completely abandoning yourself, and then you would not have succeeded anyway because unconditional positive regard starts inside.

So we start with our clients and then try to extend that concept out into the world as far as we can understanding that sometimes we feel other ways about people which is okay, that is when we make sure to turn unconditional positive regard inward to take care of ourselves in that moment.

I was thinking about unconditional positive regard on my drive home today because of a conversation myself and a fellow intern had during a break.

Today was a day for deep conversations in the intern office. Next week we start taking on our own cases so today was a lot about prepping. We cleaned the office and organized it the way we wanted. We went through all the different work books and tagged the worksheets we will want to use with clients, we did a few more trainings on the computer, and in between we chatted. We talked about religion and spirituality, turns out this intern and myself share a common thread in that we were both raised in Catholicism and walked away from it as soon as we were confirmed. We talked about some of classes. We talked about the importance of doing your own work (through therapy or in other ways) in order to be an effective clinician. We also talked about some of our fears, specifically as they pertain to certain populations.

In school we are taught that you have to be open to all different populations, different spiritual backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, ages, cultures, races, etc.. For some people this idea is difficult for them from the very beginning, others do not think it will be a problem for them at all (me using my “I” voice I kind of wonder how honest they are being with themselves), many fall somewhere in the middle. I am one of the ones who falls somewhere in the middle.

What got my colleague and I on the topic of this particular fear/concern is a story I was sharing with her about a podcast I was listening to over the summer. Trigger warning I am going to talk about pedophilia on a superficial level.

I was listening to a podcast wherein someone who self-identified as a pedophile who had never acted on his thoughts shared his difficulty when seeking out a therapist to help him with his condition. He was young, maybe 20, and he had been having these thought since around the time he started high school if I remember correctly. He talked about the shame he felt, and he knew it was wrong but that he did not feel like he could control the thoughts. Not too long after it started (the thoughts) he went to his mother and told her that he needed to meet with a therapist, he did not disclose why just that it was very important. His mother scheduled him to meet with a therapist. Upon the initial meeting and after listening to his story and why he was seeking out help the therapist quickly told him that they would not be able to help him but they would refer him to a therapist that could. The therapist also told the client’s mother without his permission which I understood and at the same time my heart ached for the client because this deeply impacted their relationship. His story went on to tell how therapist after therapist turned him away, I am sorry I cannot help. Referral after referral was made, help started seem further and further out of reach. Feelings of shame and isolation grew, not even those trained to help could help him, who could?

I am sorry to say I do not remember how this story ended. I do not remember if he ever found the help he needed, I hope he did.

After sharing this story my colleague and I talked more about whether or not we felt this client would have been a problem for us. Would we have helped or referred him on? We then talked about other populations that are severely stigmatized and where we stand in those cases.

Then we talked about compassion. This is where the unconditional positive regard comes in. When we think about pedophilia a clear line is drawn between victim and perpetrator. One is shown sympathy, the other is demonized. I am NOT at all in any way trying to downplay or dismiss the experience of the victim in these situations, we (my colleague and I) did agree that there was still compassion to be had for this person who shared his story and others like him though.

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There is compassion to be had with all people. What I was thinking about specifically on my car ride home is how society creates stigma through fear; and what I may be doing in my own life to further stigmatize those already facing severe stigma and shame. What it came back to for me is something I say a lot and that is words matter.

Last summer I stopped using the word crazy as a filler word in casual conversation. Now instead of saying we are having crazy weather I say what I actually mean, it sure has been raining a lot. Crazy is a loaded word for a lot of people, myself included, it may be should not thrown around so casually without thought about impact to others. Another good example is replacing committed suicide with died from suicide. Committed has a negative criminal connotation that stigmatizes the bereaved. I took a training on this in the spring and have since been mindful of this.

One that really stuck out for me on my drive though was the term narcissism. If you go far enough back in this blog you will find I am guilty of throwing that word around casually  with deliberate intent to judge others.  Typically I would be using it to refer to society’s social media habits. Here is the thing though, this is a diagnosis that is already SUPER stigmatized, it carries a lot of weight. What does it say about me as a future clinician and my commitment to unconditional positive regard when I do this? Individuals who are on that spectrum are worthy of compassion and unconditional positive regard as well.

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We are all capable of causing pain and harm, we are all also worthy of compassion. I am willing to bet that there will be times over the course of my career where I struggle with a specific client for one reason or another. I may even have to refer a client to another clinician. I will always be mindful of my commitment to unconditional positive regard though and mindful of what it means to practice it both professionally and as a human being.

Standing Up for What You Believe In

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Saturday a presidential candidate who has been garnering much media attention will be holding a rally locally and the venue chosen just happened to be my university. I personally find this to be unfortunate because much of what I have heard from him sounds xenophobic, sexist, racist, and generally hateful fear mongering. With that being said, it appears there are plenty of people who do not share my view of him that plan to attend this event in support of the candidate. Such is their right.

One of my colleagues in the program shared a link to a peaceful protest that is being organized on campus Saturday against the candidate and in one day more 2,ooo people expressed and interest in going, myself included.

When my colleague first shared the link I was kind of excited by the proposition of a peaceful protest where I could stand with like minded people against all of these things I feel so strongly against. Throughout the course of the day though as the movement gained popularity I started to feel the idea of peaceful protest was beginning to devolve into something that felt too close to what I wanted to stand up against. I am hoping I am wrong about this but either way what I was seeing posted on the page was enough to make up my mind for me.

I understand the frustration that so many people are feeling, I feel it too but historically meeting hate with hate has never solved anything. There is nothing peaceful about some of what I am seeing being proposed and while I am sure the actions of a few are not representative of the many who truly do want to hold a peaceful protest, I started thinking there has to be another way to stand up for what I believe in a way that feels right to me.

Next Saturday Todd and I are attending a Bernie event downtown so we have decided that we will donate to his campaign while there and see how we can possibly get more involved locally with a candidate we do support rather than one we do not.

I fully support my friends and family who plan to attend the protest, I hope they are able to stand up for love and acceptance both peacefully and safely. I look forward to hearing all about it after and for myself I will put my energy into what feels right for me.

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Moms Deserve MORE!

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This post is so much bigger than me, I am not even sure it is wise for me to weigh in on the topic. This is one of those times I feel it is important to set up the disclaimer what I am about to write are strictly my own opinions.

Yesterday we were at my parent’s house and Todd was watching John Oliver’s show on HBO while my parents and I were playing scrabble. We were listening to the show while we played. John Oliver was talking about how behind the times our country is in terms of maternity benefits for mothers and this started a conversation.

John Oliver highlighted a story of a woman who had one month for maternity leave but then went into premature labor. Because her baby was born early it had to stay in the hospital for a period of time before being able to go home. The mother was then left with an agonizing decision to either take her maternity leave at present to be with her baby while it is in the NICU knowing that she could use up her leave before the baby ever comes home or wait to take her maternity leave until her baby is released from the hospital. She chose the latter which meant she had her baby on a Wednesday and returned to work the next Monday. The mother explained the guilt she felt leaving her baby, only being able to visit in the evenings after work and how difficult it was for her to focus at work because of the whole ordeal. Motherhood is made out to be this wondrous time in a woman’s life but for this woman, the start of motherhood at least, sounded devastating. That’s not right.

When the story was over I looked around and realized my parents and I had stopped playing scrabble a while ago. All three of us were glued to the TV. Todd made a comment about how messed up the story was and this prompted me to share my friend’s story.

My friend works for the same hospital I used to work for. I enjoyed working for that company more than any other company I have ever worked for. They take great care of their employees, their is a clear standard of professionalism and in my experience people cared about the work they did. There were a few issues though and one of the big ones related to the terrible benefits. You can barely call them benefits really. When a person has to pay for having Christmas off out of their own vacation time it is not much of a benefit. I get that there are some companies that don’t offer paid holidays but those companies are usually upfront about that and say, Hey by the way we don’t pay for holidays or Hey you have to work on Christmas. This company would have you believe they pay for holidays, Um no, the employee does.

The way it works is sick time, vacation time, maternity leave, holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years.. all of them), personal time, all come out of the same pot. Time off is time off no matter how you use it. Of course like most companies though you only get so much time off in a year so you better hope you don’t fall ill too much in a year or you may not get to take that summer vacation or worse you may not get paid for the Christmas holiday even though the office is closed and you cannot work that day anyway. A few other important points to understand,

1. PTO (paid time off) does not roll over year to year with this company so you have to use or lose it.
2. You are not given PTO at the beginning of each new year, you have to earn it. – When I first heard this I actually thought it was fair, you get like 1 hour of PTO for every X amount of hours you work. – Where you get screwed though is at the beginning of the new year. For example January 1, a holiday in most countries, the office is closed but you do not get paid for this holiday because it is the beginning of a new year and you have not worked enough hours to have any PTO. Not to mention what if you want to take vacation at the beginning of the year? You haven’t worked enough to have vacation time. And you better hope you don’t get sick in the first few months of the year because you don’t have sick time saved up yet either. Pretty messed up right?

Back to my friend’s story. She made the colossal mistake of having a baby towards the beginning of the year. I mean what was she thinking, right? This is poor planning on her part, no reason the company should accommodate her in anyway. She had some PTO saved up but not much. She had a choice, take a very brief leave of absence for maternity leave and get paid, or take a longer maternity leave (approx 2-3 months) and go unpaid for a period of time. She chose to take a longer maternity leave. My friend was fortunate to even have an option because her significant other made enough money to support them while she did not have income.

Here are just a few of the factors that influenced her decision:

1. She had no real help with her baby after it was born. Most of the people in her support system work so she was almost solely responsible for taking care of the baby, which is probably the experience of a lot of women.

2. Once she went back to work she knew her baby had to go into a paid daycare. This meant:

A. That it would cost her and her significant other more for her to be working because of the cost of daycare so it made more since for her to be home longer and save that money. To be clear, even though she wasn’t working it still saved them some money because day care is so expensive.
B. She would have to hand her infant over to a paid care giver (who is not family) for the majority of the day while she was at work 5 days a week. She was in no rush to do that either. Talk about guilt.

3. She was breast feeding. Pumping while at work was not an option for her because of the kind of job she has.

So she got a few months to breast feed regularly, save some money even though she had none coming in and bond with her new born before she had to turn it over to strangers essentially and go back to work. I swear it about killed her. But hey, at least she got that time off right? Some women don’t get that. If that is the upside to this whole situation then WTF? Seriously.

So, here is the real kicker though. My friend is insured through her employer, the hospital. Her insurance covers her, her other child who was a toddler at the time and her infant. A certain portion of her pay check is held out each pay period and that pays for her health, dental etc. Because she was not making a paycheck for a period of time when she did finally return to work she actually owed her employer money! The hospital was nice enough to let her use her health insurance to take her new born to the necessary doctors appointments etc even though at the time she technically was not getting paid but when she returned to work this left her in a deficit and she did not receive a pay check for the first few pay periods until her employer was paid back for the health insurance she had used.

These were her options if she wanted to have more than a few weeks for maternity leave. And again she was fortunate to even have options, some women would not have an option to not receive a pay check and would have to go right back to work. I ask again, how can you really call this way of doing things a benefit? My friend certainly did not benefit from the company PTO program. Maybe it is better than nothing but better than nothing does not necessarily constitute being called a benefit. Not in my eyes at least.

I’ve shared my concerns about this companies benefits with Todd before because even with all this being said I have considered them an option for future employment. I am fortunate enough to be covered under Todd’s insurance which means I won’t have to use the hospital’s insurance but there is no getting away from the awful PTO “benefits”. We agreed if I do find myself working for this company in the future while pregnant we will do what is right for our family, like my friend did.

So after John Oliver finished up the story about the woman with the baby in NICU he went into another story that illustrated our lack of compassion for new mothers/parents. Ironically the next story had to with major league baseball, wasn’t I just calling out sexism in that organization a post or two ago?

Apparently the MLB has a paid paternity leave that gives a new father 3 days off after the arrival of a new baby/child. (notice I said arrival of a baby/child, not all families receive babies/children by going to the hospital and giving birth. Some adopt. I just think it is important to keep this kind of thing in mind when talking about maternity/paternity leave and the rights of new parents.)

Now before I continue I want to be clear that I have done zero research into this story, I am parroting what I heard on John Oliver’s show and I could be dealing with some misinformation. What I will say is this, my opinions are based on the story I heard and could stand to change if I came across further information that disputes any part of the story.

As I was explaining, apparently the MLB gives 3 days of PTO to new fathers as their form of paternity leave. As John Oilver reports it though very few baseball players actually use their paternity leave. In this case though a player did choose to use his paternity leave benefit to be home with his wife and new born and this caused him to miss two games at the beginning of the season. As a result of this decision he received some major back lash. People were angry with him for his decision, which in my opinion is offensive enough, but in one case an announcer or sportscaster ( I have know idea what this man’s actual title was, I just know he was someone with a voice in the industry) actually suggested that the player’s wife should have scheduled a c-section and given birth before the season started.

Um ma’am, your medical condition interferes with our baseball game, could you maybe surgically rip your baby from the womb a week early even though there is no medical reason to do so that way your husband can play with us?

So I guess baseball is more important than the integrity of human life? No, no, it’s totally cool.. Put mother and infant at risk through a completely unnecessary surgery so the boys can play their game. Once again people of society some how think they have a right to tell a woman what to do with her own body. Yeah, that NEVER gets old.

I know I went all angry feminist on this post but this is something to feel angry about. It is ridiculous to me that this is so many women’s lived reality in a country that prides itself on being a world leader.

For more information about our total failure in terms of paid maternity leave compare to other nations check out this ARTICLE . The graph will blow your mind. Get it together America, you are embarrassing yourself.

Past the Point of Exhaustion

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I have spent the last few days working on the paper that reports on my groups findings from the field work we did in a local community. Between the time spent in front of the computer screen, discussing various aspects of the work with group members and controlling my emotions as I try to remain objective in my synopsis, I am EXHAUSTED.

This is the most worthwhile project I have ever been lucky enough to take part in but it is also the most intense. It has not been easy reporting on the level of marginalization and oppression experienced by this community. I have had to take multiple breaks to regain focus and expend some of the tension I am internalizing as a write.

I am glad to almost be finished with this project. I look forward to reporting on it with my group members in front of the class next week. What I look forward to most is what we plan to do with this information though. The project ends after the group presentation next week but a few of us have decided to take next steps and try to get this information into the hands of people who may be able to impact a change. Our professor is supporting us in this venture and it will probably be something I spend some time on over the summer.

This kind of macro work is new for me so this has been an amazing learning experience. This semester, as challenging as it was at times, was my best yet. I am starting to see who I am as a social worker and that is very exciting.

I look forward to the summer semester and opportunities to build on what has turned out to be a very solid foundation.