Mama Always Said…

A 12-year-old identified one of my greatest flaws Saturday in one question: Why does your face turn red when you don’t know something? Ironically, I was deemed a “veteran” staff member by some of my colleagues that same day. I had a sassy, head-bobbing moment in the office where I informed incoming staff that one particular client could not do anything fun until a writing assignment was completed. I don’t even remember if the consequence was for disrespect or for failing to follow directions. That’s okay because it got worse on Monday.

I found out that one of my “triggers” is clients inciting others who are struggling. It was my first freakout and my first car ride home spent crying hysterically. There was honestly no time to process and validate my emotions at all during my eight hour shift Monday so once I was exhausted and finished with an incredibly emotional shift, I was emotional. So currently, I’m wondering whether that type of breakdown is normal or mandatory in this type of work. If I didn’t emotionally respond to a child laughing at another child who wanted to die, would I be right for this type of work? The key in the future will be stopping that process at the emotional level rather than acting upon what I feel so strongly.

Fortunately, my week turned around today. I came in early for a meeting with Liz Ferro of Girls with Sole. My mom always tells me that “no education is ever wasted” and that “everything happens for a reason.” Lately, I’ve been doubting my master’s degree. I’ve been feeling as if it’s only gotten me full spinning classes during daytime hours (which I guess filling a 10AM spinning class is an accomplishment, even if “filling” means 11 patrons). Now I have the opportunity to do something about which I’ve been passionate about from the commencement of my master’s degree: advocating for the physical wellness and, in turn, affecting all aspects of wellness of a population that may otherwise never have experienced the satisfaction that follows a bout of exercise. Even more exciting to me are the long-term benefits, the possibilities, that these girls will have from simply participating: self esteem increases, reduced or eliminated dependence on drugs, alcohol, and self-harm, and prolonged lives.

What Is It That I Do?

A story on the local news just got me all sorts of riled up. A truly sad story about a client in residential treatment was portrayed in a biased fashion. I’ve worked in residential treatment since mid-November, which is not nearly long enough to make me an “expert” by any means, but enough to have some significant experiences. I’m on my weekend right now (thank goodness) because this week alone, I have been bitten, cleaned up vomit, had a Styrofoam cup of feces inches from my face, a cup of urine poured on me, blood on my hands, and one emergency room visit.

My dad has been initiating conversations with me circumventing the question, “Is what you’re doing a positive thing?” Hopefully that’s what he’s meaning to say rather than, “Is what you’re doing actually harming kids more than they’ve already been harmed?” I hung out with the client with whom I experienced my first crisis when I was shadowing. The client was in a terrible place emotionally and told me about plans after discharge. For the record, this kid has arrived fairly recently and discharge does not seem to be in the near future. After assuring me that the spork the client was holding could be used as a weapon to kill me, I initiated a conversation about life after treatment. It started off optimistic – apologizing to those people who had been wronged by the client’s actions, but ended with the client completing suicide.

Why the scattered random stories and list of crap that’s happened this week? I’ve been genuinely wondering if this type of treatment works. It’s easier to see what isn’t working, but with my little experience, it’s tough to determine what solutions to present, so I’ve been discouraged. Biased sources in the media discouraged me even more tonight. I can assure anyone who reads this that almost all the staff members I have encountered have the best intentions. As we joke, we’re definitely not in it for the money. Personally, I’m in it because I’ve connected with some of the clients, I’ve stopped people from self-harming in the moment, I’ve instilled new ideas and possibilities in multiple clients. Even if they don’t have the courage to permanently change their ways or choose a new path, just by being a trusted adult, I can give them options. It seems that many of the clients reach their lowest points not when they are admitted into residential treatment, but while they are there, learning all sorts of new skills from other clients. Pulling someone out of that spiral, even temporarily, has been fulfilling, even in light of the bites, the blood, the urine, the broken windows and lights, and the verbal abuse.

So what it is that I do for a living? I go to work with a disgusting amount of positivity and maintain ridiculously high levels of optimism, even when I am personally struggling. This next one is nerdy, but I grade myself daily on how helpful I have been in moving clients toward assimilating back into society and on what skills I have refined within them and on what kind of support I was able to be. This work is selfless and to indicate otherwise on a news channel is offensive.