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.

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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.

My Grandma Said I Should Write a Book

It would be like the “Ghetto Hikes” website, but not nearly as funny. There isn’t much kids can say about the environment when their surroundings consist of ugly blue walls and a couple windows. I have genuinely enjoyed work since I’ve been there with the exception of two days. After I thought about it, the days that feel like work are typically the days that I feel as if I’m not making an impact or that I’ve been causing harm.

I had a rough chain of events this week. A lot of the clients go home for Christmas and then return to the facility once their pass has ended. They must be thoroughly checked in so that they cannot bring anything in they’re not supposed to. I checked in a client along with the help of a supervisor from another unit. Despite these precautions, the client brought in a razor blade and used it to inflict self-harm. That night I was able to use my first aid training and earned some overtime sitting in the ER until 3:30AM. We checked the client in again when we returned from the hospital. The next shift I worked two days later, I was responsible for failing to immediately notice the client using scissors to remove the stitches… Rough days.

Working has given me more motivation and conviction to apply for clinical mental health programs – maybe “motivation” is a strong word. I’m working on figuring out how to manage my time with a full-time job that actually enables me to have daylight hours to accomplish something. So far that has been sleep, spinning, running, and miscellaneous lounging. My solution is to start making to-do lists for each day with a day of flexibility. I never know when I’ll be up until 4:30AM…

I Work for a Living!

I have been a functional working member of society for nearly two weeks now. It may be the best feeling in the world, which I attribute solely to the nature of the work. The first day I shadowed, I was cussed out, confused, and completely lost. My building is an H-shape that houses three different units (I think) and classrooms and group therapy rooms and visiting rooms for each of the units (I think). Maybe there aren’t classrooms for the critical care unit.

Either way, I am in the middle of a four-day break in my schedule, which I will not have again for a very long time until I take time off. After the way my first couple of days went, I am shocked that I miss the clients, not kids, already. The last day I worked I had the opportunity to sit with a client who had been upset and had recently been self-harming. After ten minutes with the client, she gave me the instrument with which she was self-harming and her disposition was completely changed. One of the most difficult things I have encountered at work so far has been convincing some of the clients that I genuinely do see good in them. Many of them are intelligent beyond belief and creative to the extent that I feel more cultured from listening to the explanations of their art and expression. And it takes¬†so much¬†work to get them to believe that’s what I see even just for a minute!

I expressed my first real moral dilemma about the job with a client. He simply wanted a question answered regarding his status and privileges that he was applying to earn. However, the supervisor was involved with averting a crisis at the time, so the client waited and waited and waited and began getting impatient. My issue with residential treatment is that crises need to be managed often and those clients who are experiencing growth cannot be acknowledged as much as they ought to be. There just isn’t the manpower. However, I did manage to play a few games of Uno with the client and talk Harry Potter with him, so I feel I did what I could to be positively reinforcing.

Anyway, long story short, I love it.

In other news, I’m subbing in a spinning class tomorrow. I’m thinking it will be pretty full – it’ll be right after Thanksgiving and I do believe I have some friends coming to the class. So now I’m a little anxious; I have yet to teach people I know personally. They have the means to tease me for my cheesiness and sport psychology background. But I know they won’t because they’re wonderful!

What’s Next?

Tomorrow I start my new job. I suspect it will be eight hours hanging out in a room while I become oriented to policies and schedules and insurance and whatever other vital company information I need to know. Tuesday is the first day I’ll be shadowing in my unit. I have a unit. When I think of having a unit, it makes me feel like my job matters. Ironically, this morning my mom and I were watching an episode of “Law & Order” in which the bad guys were doctors working in a residential treatment center for kids with autism. They were completely sold that their treatment was ethical and that it resulted in the reduction of symptoms for the kids and was therefore in their best interest. In short, there is a lot of danger in having conviction in something without periodically engaging in genuine reflection on the matter. So I’ll be keeping this in mind as I start something new.

Speaking of new things, the reason I wanted to write this tonight was because I’m uncertain whether or not my most prominent thoughts about my future are currently helpful or unhelpful. Before I even received the job, I was planning. When I go on long runs with my friend Kim, a lot of our time is spent discussing what aspects of my planning are debilitating to me in the moment. I think the most questionable thought is about school – my deadline for myself is to be in a program by the fall of 2015. This seems like an infinite amount of time for me. I’ll have an opportunity to explore career paths where I’ll be working as well as elsewhere and figure out the best degree to pursue to get there.

I do this “what’s next” business in running too. I had intentions of running the Turkey Trot before I even ran the Cleveland Half-Marathon in May. I already suspect my next race after this 5-mile run will be the Chili Bowl 5K. I have an excel spreadsheet of mileage and workouts I wish to accomplish weeks in advance. Working at a daycare and being sick three times in two months has made a schedule tough to follow, but I’m happy to report I successfully finished ten yesterday morning.

I want to make some spinning workouts and read more. I’m on a reading kick right now. But I just really want to pose the question: What is the difference between constructive and destructive planning?