Oh My Aching Heart

Today was not a great day for humanity. I sat in on a TIC training that turned into an open forum for the floor staff to bash the therapeutic staff, AND air grievances about how the clients are lazy, bad, and destined for prison. There was also a 45 minute segment devoted to rants about transgender individuals as well as other gender and sexual minorities.

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My heart left severely bruised. I am not going to go on a feminist/social work rant about diversity, acceptance, compassion, and inclusion because I need to set a boundary on this. If I absorb the toxic energy that was spewed all over us at the training today I will burn out before this semester is up. This stuff does not belong to me. My truth is my truth, theirs belongs to them. All I can do is my part within my role and hope that it is enough to counter balance whatever toxic messages my client may be receiving in other areas.

After the training a story was shared with me that also hurt my heart. It was about one person’s divisive behavior and the pain it had caused. There is a post I have been holding that I want to share so badly that is related to this, but this is the one time since I started this blog that I feel truly unsafe doing so. I will write this truth at some point in the future, for now it will have to wait.

Finally I got home and was having a mindless moment on social media when I saw that a friend from the program was being bullied over a political post she wrote. What is worse is that apparently the bullies were her actual family. Let me say that again in case you missed it, Her family was bullying her on social media. I messaged her with a short word of not committal encouragement just in case she needed to see a bit of good in humanity today like I did. Apparently it was the right move. In her response to those degrading and patronizing her she was open and respectful, this seemed to inflame the situation though rather than temper it. It was like they were mad she wasn’t reacting and meeting them in their place of aggression. She and I had a short conversation about living in our truth and the joy that comes with belonging wholly to yourself without that need for approval from others, including family.. I think it was what we both needed. I am glad we were able to show up for each other and ourselves like this.

There is a lot of really bad scary energy moving around out there right now and people are feeding on it like a feral cat over a rodent. It is frightening but that is just it.. All of this negativity is rooted in fear. So all I can do is wake up each day and do my part to meet it with love.

So here is where I am at.. For the staff that struggled in the training today: I was able to take a perspective about what they were saying that helped me understand where they were coming from. It is in part culture, it is generational, it is tradition, it is pain, and it is fear. It also probably much more, but for now that is where I am stopping and I can have compassion in all of those places. I can have compassion, understanding, and appreciation for cultural differences and for generational differences. I can have understanding and make space for a person’s beliefs and for tradition. And I can absolutely have deep compassion for pain and fear.

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For the divisiveness that led to the emotional pain of another. Again, I think this was in large part cultural. There is a piece of me that earnestly believes the divisive individual is not being deliberately malicious or hurtful, I think that is a cultural barrier present. There are other things at play here as well but part of my truth in this moment is that this individual and this situation was sent as a test from the universe to make sure we(who are involved and impacted) are doing our own work.. Our soul work. So I thank this person for what they are bringing me personally and I know the person on the receiving end of the pain will rise up to meet her lesson in this as well because that is the kind of person she is.

Finally my friend who was verbally and emotionally assaulted by her family. I send you light and love tonight dear soul. I know how hard it is to step into your truth possibly at the cost of family. Your journey is not for them though, it is for you. You are right, you have NOTHING to apologize for, and I applaud you for figuring out in your twenties what took me 30+ years to recognize.

My wish for all those I wrote about tonight is that we are able to all move forward on our path living unapologetically in our truth. My your soul find peace, may your mind rest, may your weary heart feel comfort. It is the best of times and the worst of times, just as times usually are. Tomorrow in a new chance for amazing things, I am grateful for that truth and the opportunity to live in it.

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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.

I Love Myself Most When

This post is inspired by this photo: i love myself most when

Today I attended a workshop where we had an opportunity to make art. I thought I had washed all the oil pastels from my hands before I left to come home but as I drove through downtown with one hand out the window trying to catch the wind I noticed the blue still smudged on my thumb and finger tips. I thought to myself I love seeing the remnants of my creations left over on my body. Whether it be paint on my knee or elbow, or oil pastel on my hands. Sometimes I almost hate to wash up after a day of creation. I love looking down and for a moment being taken back to the joy I felt while creating.

While I was stopped at a red light I snapped this photo as a representation of this feeling. This feeling of being absolutely in love with myself in a moment. I started thinking of other times I feel this way which led to me compiling a list..

I Love Myself Most When..

I love myself most when I snatch that last glance in the mirror before I walk out into the world for the day. In a glance I feel grounded, loved, secure, and confident. I have taken care of myself at home and now I am ready to be apart of the humming buzz of the outside world.

I love myself most when I am completely engulfed in a project at home. I am in the trance of creation or productivity and I feel full and abundant.

I love myself most when I accomplished something that felt insurmountable at the beginning. I conquered the feeling of intimidation and smallness and made something my heart is proud of.

I love myself most when I am able to speak my truth from the heart. It is when I feel the most connected to myself in the outside world and I find it is often where I find the deepest connections with others as well.

I love myself most when I give myself time. It is a gift I give of myself to others and it is a gift I deserve as well.

I love myself most when I can feel in my body and my soul that I am doing exactly what I need to take care of myself. I feel in tune to my own needs and am showing myself unconditional love by doing my part to make sure those needs are met.

 

Now as I was writing this post in my head this evening I knew it was important for me not only to show love to the pieces of myself that I find easy to love but also to the pieces of myself that I may have a more problematic relationship with. Regardless of my current relationship with the different aspects of my being they all deserve love so I also complied a list of:

I Will Show Myself Love When..

I will show myself love when I break something.

I will show myself love when I get upset with someone I love.

I will show myself love when I make a mess.

I will show myself love when I am procrastinating.

I will show myself love when I cancel plans with a friend.

I will show myself love when I am scared.

I will show myself love when I need to ask someone for help.

I will show myself love when I feel self-doubt.

I will show myself love in moments of weakness.

I will show myself love when one of my plants die.

I will show myself love when I am feeling petty.

I will show myself love when I am having trouble showing love to others.

 

I am worthy of love and that starts right here from within. I thought this would be a challenging post to write because I was worried about it feeling self-absorbed to write out all these reasons why I am in love with myself. It was not challenging though and that is because I know that loving myself is not shameful or wrong or selfish or narcissistic. Loving myself is vital. It is everything.

So I challenge you to step back from this after reading it and finish that sentence for yourself, I love myself most when… Then follow it with I will show myself love when.. Then bask in the awesome glow of your open heart that is beating in that moment just for you. That moment is not selfish, it is everything.

Getting Under the Outer Layer

armor

There is someone I have been having trouble getting to know because I feel like their armor is a bit too thick. I get it. I used to put on a thick outer layer to keep people out too, sometimes I still do, we all do. My armor might look like rigid professionalism, an outgoing social extrovert, or the perfect family member. Whatever I have to show up as in a given situation in order to be accepted.

None of these portrayals are technically misrepresentations of myself, I am professional, I can be social, and I care about my family. They are, however, exaggerations of the truth. I am not the perfect anything for starters, I am professional but I am also a human being, and while I can be social I can also be socially awkward or completely anti-social.

So, I have been trying to get to know someone who leads with a level of professionalism and formal manner that exceeds what is necessary when we are engaging so it has been hard to see the person underneath. I have been okay with this because I understand it and I keep hoping that if I show up as myself maybe they will start to feel comfortable enough let down their guard a bit as well.

Today we had a break through. It came when we realized that we are both human and do not always have the perfect thing to say. Something bizarre happened today that left both of us scratching our heads and that is where we found common ground, among the head scratching.

I guess there was just enough vulnerability in the space where we were both a little lost to allow genuine connection in, sometimes that is all it takes.

 

Turning Another Page

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Six months ago I wrote this post about journaling and growth. When I was thinking about how to begin this entry it was the first thing that came to mind. I feel like everyday I am learning more about myself, about my relationships, the world, humanity.. I have been actively taking steps to make positive changes for a while now and I do not think that is something I will ever stop doing. Keeping an open record on this blog of my thoughts and feelings at times feels … I’m actually not sure how I want to finish that sentence.

Well as I open this back up and start what feels like another new chapter I wanted to reflect on the post above as a way to give myself permission to make mistakes and show up as my authentic self in this moment.

What I can tell you about the last six months:

There was a lot of traveling. South FL, North GA mountains (my favorite vacation thus far), Washington D.C. for an NASW conference and second honeymoon, and IL for Christmas.

I was sick a lot. I was sick pretty much the entire month of October and into the beginning of November. Then in December I got the flu the day after Christmas. Todd and I both got the flu while in IL actually and it prompted a bit of a life style change for us upon coming home.

Todd and I have gone almost full vegetarian. I think after being sick so much last year it just made us realize we need to be taking better care of ourselves. We still eat meat but only chicken or fish once or twice a week at dinner. I stopped taking in all dairy at the beginning of the year and my body has felt much better since making that transition. I also stopped eating red meat and processed meat as well as most processed food in general. I have had more energy and felt less run down since making these adjustments.

Last month I started my internship with the hospital I used to work at. I am so grateful for my placement, it is so relevant to my areas of interest in healthcare and I caught on very quick (not to mention I have a wonderful supervisor). By the third week I was flying solo and I have been ever since. I love the opportunities for engagement with the patients and their caregivers. I really feel like I have to say again just how overwhelmingly grateful I am.

I am in my last semester of classes. I graduate this May. The amount of joy I have in being able to say that in a whole other post in and of itself.

Todd and I bought a new car, a family sized SUV. No plans to expand until after grad school but we are starting to talk and prepare. In the interim Lucy is loving all the extra room when she goes on car rides.

The last part of this update surrounds my on going therapy. I have a separate hard copy journal I keep for therapy purposes, this blog will not act as a place for me to process what comes up during sessions. What I will say though is that the space I have given myself to address past trauma is probably the best thing I have ever done for myself. I think it is important to say that out loud like this because there is so much stigma around seeking out professional help, especially in the field I am going into. We want others to come to us for help but are unable to ask for it ourselves? That doesn’t feel right to me and I am not ashamed of the work I am doing so there is no reason to hide. My greatest lesson so far has been self-compassion and while everyone talks about the idea of self-compassion and it looks good on paper what I have personally learned is that actually getting to that place of self-empathy takes work. I am getting there, I love myself and my story in a way I never knew possible.

So going forward I have some more calamity Jill stories to share, including one in which I almost lost a finger nail (ouch!), I will share a bit more about our vacations last fall, I have lots of gratitude to share around different aspects of my life, as well as thoughts and insights as they come to me.

 

 

 

Getting to Know the Real Atticus: AKA Loving my Father and all of his Imperfections

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If you have read To Kill a Mocking Bird you are familiar with the beloved character, Atticus Finch. My father has always been my Atticus, strong, fair minded, intelligent, and supportive. If you have read the recently published Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee you are now familiar with how Atticus’s character lets down not only his daughter, who narrates the story, but all of America by not living up to the impossible ideal we set for him. I am not proud of this but I will admit there have been times in my life that I have felt let down by my father as well.

It is for the same reason Scout’s character felt let down in the second book. When we are children we idolize certain adults and as we age we start to realize that these adults are human beings not super heroes, and they are flawed like the rest of us. Reconciling these flaws when they reveal themselves is difficult, suddenly this person is not exactly who or what you thought they were and in that moment you feel like everything has been tipped upside down. A girlfriend recently explained how she experienced this on more than one occasion growing up when she discovered things about her mother’s former life.

When I talk about the former life of our parents I mean who they were before we came along and demanded their sole identity be Mom or Dad to us. For me this occurred for the first time when I learned that before my parents had my brother my father used to smoke cigarettes. Now other members of my family smoke so this is no great taboo, I even smoked briefly when I was in my late teens, but my father, never. I perceived this as a flaw and my father, my very own Atticus could have no flaws. I laughed it off with him when I found out, it came up in a light conversation but I was surprised and if I am being honest it shifted my view of him ever so slightly.

As time went on and I aged from teen to young adult to full blown grown up I began to see my father more as the man he is rather than just my Atticus. And although our relationship has changed now that I see my father as a human being with flaws and vulnerabilities I know this place is better, it is more real, and it allows me to love him more wholly than I ever had before. I am reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly right now and when she discusses the shame experience of men one man expresses that the women in his life, his wife and daughters, would rather see him die on his white horse than catch him as he falls off. That statement hit me like a punch to the gut. How many men feel this way? Probably more than I want to know. And why? Because of the messages society and the ones they love send them. I would much rather see my father as the man he actually is and love him in that place than hold him to an impossible standard and watch him crumple under the weight of my expectations.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately as I shift each night between reading Go Set a Watchman and Daring Greatly. I read about the shame Scout and Atticus experience in the novel and understand it more fully as I read Brene Brown’s research surrounding vulnerability and shame. I am able to apply all of this to my own life and understand on a deeper level the pressure put upon men in our society. Pressure to never show a weakness, pressure to provide, to be successful, to be strong and never show emotion. I know growing up I put this pressure on my father. The first time he showed true vulnerable emotion to me I was scared by it just as Brene Brown says women usually are. Her research is helping me to not only better understand my own shame and struggle with vulnerability but the struggle those around me might be facing as well. Her research helps me to approach my own struggles as well as the struggles of others with a deeper level of awareness and empathy.

My father is still my Atticus but no longer Atticus the ideal from the first book, Atticus the human being with flaws from the second and I think I am able to love him better now because I understand this.

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My Ally not my Enemy: A Story about Finding Common Ground

common ground

I was speaking with a classmate recently about an assignment and without him realizing it he said something that made me feel very uncomfortable. It was not with malintent and I knew that immediately but it did not change the way I felt when it happened.

I had a choice to make here, as we so often do when presented with these kinds of microagressions in life, either speak up or let it slide. This is rarely an easy decision to make because by choosing to say something the situation could become even more uncomfortable based on how you address what happened and how the other person reacts to what you say. The other option doesn’t seem much better though. By not saying something this person may never know that this behavior is something that makes people uncomfortable and will continue to do it. In this case it didn’t take much thought, I knew I had to say something.

So having made the decision to speak up I had another decision to make, one that is equally as important as the first. In bringing up this transgression do I call my classmate out or call them in? I read an article a while back that helped me understand how to navigate these very situations in a compassionate but assertive manner and knowing when to call people out versus calling them in is a very big part of having a successful outcome.

In this case I chose to call my classmate in. The cringe worthy act that took place was my classmate calling me sweetheart while thanking me for something. Some people may not give much thought to this pet name, they may not have flinched at all but I did.

First of all I do not know this classmate that well, we are not friends or have any kind of personal relationship. Him saying this was not coming from a place of familiarity. Second, that’s not my name. My name is Jill. I am willing to bet he would not call my brother who is in the program sweetheart, please do not think it is okay to do it to me then. Although I am sure it was coming from a place of good intentions to me it feels condescending and unprofessional. Plus I worried that if I did not saying something it would set a precedent. What if in future exchanges he continues to call me sweet heart? Better to put a stop to it now to avoid negative feelings going forward.

This scene from the movie Tootsie outlines what I am talking about perfectly:

(Dorothy’s boss, Ron, just referred to her as tootsie.)

Dorothy Michaels: Ron? I have a name it’s Dorothy. It’s not Tootsie or Toots or Sweetie or Honey or Doll.

Ron Carlisle: Oh, Christ.

Dorothy Michaels: No, just Dorothy. Alan’s always Alan, Tom’s always Tom and John’s always John. I have a name too. It’s Dorothy, capital D-O-R-O-T-H-Y.

So back to how I handled the situation in the moment.. He calls me sweetheart while thanking me for my help and I say oh you’re welcome I am glad I was able to help, before I go can I share something with you real quick? He gave me an affirmative response of some sort so I continued to say, I am sure you did not mean anything by it but in the interest of keeping things professional I prefer to be called Jill please.

You never really know how someone is going to react when you have to call them in/out so I prepared myself for anything in terms of how he would respond. At least I thought I did until he managed to surprise me anyway. He apologized to which I said thank you and that it was okay. Then he shared that recently his professor told him the same thing. I was confused at first, did he really call a professor sweet heart? I responded by simply saying, Oh really. He went on to explain that he was doing a role play with a female student in front of the class, he was the social worker and the female student was the client. During the role play he called the client sweet heart. Apparently the instructor stopped the role play for a moment to discuss why that is not okay.

He and I talked for a few more minutes about why some women feel uncomfortable when this kind of thing happens. What I learned from him is he was raised thinking that this type of behavior was chivalrous. He definitely seemed to have some knight-in-shining-white-armor ideals going on. My perception, based on a lot of what he shared about his upbringing, is that he seems to think women are delicate and need saving. I was actually pretty surprised, I would not have known any of this based on my previous interactions with him. He certainly seems pro-equality across the board, and I still think he is, there is just this other side that kind of conflicts. I took everything he shared in stride, a person doesn’t know what they don’t know. However, I took the opportunity to explain that what he was talking about could very well be interpreted as oppressive and sexist and the reasons why.

The conversation went well. I definitely feel that we both learned something from the each other. I think he has a much better handle on why sweet heart is not appropriate now. I think calling him in was the right choice. I did not shame him for his statements, I did not make assumptions about him like he should know better, I approached him as an ally that just made a misstep.

That was my biggest take away when I read that article about how to approach these types of interactions. Regardless of if you decide to call someone out or call them in, treat them as an ally who made a mistake. It is a lot easier to approach the situation objectively with compassion for the other person if you see them as someone who is on your side instead of as enemy.

The book I finished recently on dichotomous and hierarchical thinking touched on this as well. If we stop labeling everything (including people) as “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong” or (any other type of binary where there are only two options instead of a spectrum) then we will find it much easier to find common ground.

My classmate was not a bad person, this was not an issue of right and wrong. My experiences, thoughts and reality are no more or less real or important than his. My experiences are different from his, my thoughts are different, my reality is different. Different does not equate to bad, it does not equate to wrong. I think this is where people get stuck.

It would be very easy for me to have gotten angry with him when he called me sweet heart because he lives in a place of privilege where he is less likely to have to earn respect, it is given based solely on his gender. I could have schooled him on how he doesn’t understand my struggle as a woman and lectured him endlessly about his privilege. But what would that kind of tirade gotten us? Would we have found common ground? Would he have had this break through about his place of privilege and what his words mean to those of us who don’t live in that place? No, I don’t think so.

As our program faces what seems to be an uphill battle in the area of cultural competency I am thankful for common ground. I am thankful for conversations that come from a place of respect and a want to understand experiences that are different from our own. I am thankful for moments that prove we all have potential for growth. I am thankful.