Saturday, June 17, 2017

I saw Wonder Woman-

-and I need to talk about her.

I'd like to start by putting aside issues that have already been mentioned and talked about elsewhere: Gal Gadot the person being problematic, the influence of the patriarchy, lack of diversity, and the fact that the super serious male character was named Steve (it just DOES NOT sound cool when Steve is dying and Wonder Woman is yelling STTEEVVEEE! I feel like I'm watching a sandwich commercial or something).

What matters for me is that I started crying during the very first fight scene (involving men, not the practice scenes) when strong, fierce women start yelling and flying through the air and protecting themselves. 

I didn't understand the obsession with superheros until I watched Jessica Jones on Netflix. Then I saw the female reboot of Ghostbusters, and now Wonder Woman, and I really, really get it.

Representation matters.

As a cis woman, I grew up in a society that both subtly and forcefully told me I'm weak and lesser and overly emotional. Like so many others, my consent was violated, I was made to feel small, and I internalized and pushed down traumatic events until they became physical pain. And all around me, I saw women "needing" to be rescued by men; women portrayed as week and helpless. Strong women were always a surprise or funny.

When I see women who can fight back, who can save themselves, protect themselves, I feel better. I feel like I could do the same.

Once, in therapy, I was talking about how anxiety was making it difficult to sleep. My therapist asked me to imagine people standing outside of my house, protecting me. All of them were women: Olivia Benson, Xena, Jessica Jones. I'm glad that I had them to imagine, because when I imagined men standing around the outside of my house, my anxiety grew.

Tonight, I can add Wonder Woman to the list of role model heros who help me feel safe.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Save this link and send it to me when I'm burned out, okay?

I told someone today that becoming a therapist is one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life because my job is now constantly helping me to become a better person.

I didn't go in to it for that reason. In fact, I almost didn't even go into it at all. I went to get a Masters Degree in Social Work because I felt like I was about to become stuck and unhappy with the jobs that I could obtain with only a Bachelors. I spent 2/3 of my time in grad school insisting that I would find something else to do with my degree that didn't involve so much sitting in one spot making eye contact with people all day.

Then I had a dream, woke up, and changed my mind. I'm not kidding. I dreamt one night that I had successfully completed a therapy session and in the dream I was happy and excited. I woke up craving a therapy job the same way I craved moving to Tucson from New York when I was 22 or living abroad for a couple of months: it just had to be done.

What a weird reason to make a career choice. It's like I had some wiser alternative Emily living inside me who already knew that the things I fear usually end up being the things that change my life for the better (kind of like my experience with women...I'll tell you about that later). 

I love sitting in an office all day making eye contact with people, and in a way, I can't fully describe why. I know what's happening, but I'd be violating confidentiality if I fully explained all of the incredible things that happen between those four walls every day. What I can say is that I've become a better listener, more empathetic, more content, and less judgmental. I've had the privilege of interacting with people who I might never have met in my own day to day social goings ons. I actually see change happening, both in others and in me, as I'm constantly nudged farther and farther out of an ever growing comfort zone. 

The things that scare me continue to be the things that change me for the better. I've faced men, stern parents, yelling, complete silence, trauma, people asking for my "professional opinion", boundary crossers, gory descriptions of medical problems, not knowing the answer, and so much more. And I'm only two years and 590 hours in. What an adventure!

And what a privilege. What a privilege that people trust me enough to allow me in. What a privilege that I had the support and therapy and finances of my own to get to this point, and to be able to utilize it. What a privilege that, even in the midst of a chaotic work environment, that I'm able to feel this way, and that there are people reading this and NOT rolling their eyes. 

Even if someday I do get burned out or I decide to make a career change, I'm grateful for the experience I had up until now, for as long as it lasts. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Dog Poetry

NaPoWriMo 2017 #21

Sometimes,
Dogs need to express themselves,
Too.

Sometimes,
They can only do this
Through their anal glands.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Far From Home

NaPorWriMo 2017 #21

A human carrying a thick suitcase,
Always around like a shadow
Under the direct Tucson sun
Black and yellow under blue skies:
This is the shape of chronic loyalty.

Spread on a spectrum between two coasts
To where I finally found a method
For unpacking the baggage,
The endless boulders and mud
Once thought to be precious gems;

They're now less heavy and ambivalent
So I can make my own home
Over all that confusing scaffolding.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Abomination

NaPoWriMo 2017 #20

To this pulsating heart,
This putrid gut,
This misshapen soul,
Laid bare to screams
And pointed fingers
on lit torches:
Thank you for your exposure
For being the mirror
And bearing the screams.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Thing That Did Not Kill Me

NaPoWriMo 2017 #19

It held on as a blinding tumor
Clouding my right eye for two years
Before I ran off to the desert
In search of healing.

When they removed the tumor
What I saw stopped my heart:
A flash, all at once, all of it,
I understood the gift
Of being half blind.

I'm thankful for the fake re-death
Induced by merciful drugs
By angels holding bed pans-
I'm grateful for gradual re-awakening
In this starched white hospital bed.







History Repeating

NaPoWriMo #18

It's hard to learn from the past
When we store it so far below the surface,
Denying that it happened.

Here lies the predictability:
Land mines hidden once every mile
Detonated by our slow plodding forward,
Hand over hand bloody cartwheels in the air
So that when we land, stand up, 
Facing a different direction,
It's over. Behind us, out of sight,
We forget where to dig 
To protect the people who follow us. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Therapy

NaPoWriMo 2017 #17

My entire life had been a school for therapists:
A secret school, the teachers hiding,
Leaving notes and tests and homework
In painful places, stacks of textbooks creating
Scaffolding for office buildings
Where I'd one day sit on the other side of the couch
Not comfortable, but familiar.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Gaslight

NaPoWriMo #16

May the lies they tell
Be a light that guides you
Toward the truth;
Where our outstretched arms
Are waiting, ready to hold steady
While your skin knits together
Over a lifetime of burns.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Minimalism

NaPoWriMo #15

When Maslow's Hierarchy becomes a circle.
After we've strived and strived for basic needs
Full and satisfied the next rung
Is so far away so we push and push
Trying to reach the top
By aiming for where we've come from.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Recovery

NaPoWriMo 2017 #14

The brain is bigger than it looks on paper.
Sometimes, in order to survive,
It buries events in its farthest reaches:
In the eyes, the shoulders, the stomach, the womb.
Cleared of mud, the mind pushes forward,
Living a differently life entirely
Than the ones remembered in its outskirts,
Until the body gets tired of remembering
And the crisis explodes from the depths:
Blinding hot lava, ash, rocks,
Like being thrown into a brick wall.
When the mind heals, it finally has room to care
For the traumas it once left behind.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Exercise

NaPoWriMo 2017 #13

Unreleased, ideas build up under the skin,
As lactic acid, slowing muscles.
You can see them start to crawl,
Making skin move, hot feet under a red surface
Toward narrow pulsing tunnels
Echoing as they spill out mechanically.
Others slow drip into reflective puddles on the floor
Wasted, swept away; we prefer
Thicker skin and measured notes.
We prefer them hidden between leaves
And under mattresses, neatly and quickly
Finished.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Unfinished

NaPoWriMo 2017 #12

I am always
In the middle
Of Something.

This is how
I know I am
Still alive.

Women

NaPoWriMo 2017 #11

This is common but somehow still unknown:
Pain so much a part of the body that it
Becomes an extra organ,
Another thing to care for with tired limbs
While looking for instructions in pages on pages
Of experimental notes with no obvious patterns.

This is the way I am now.

I've joined the many without wanting or meaning to.
Suddenly the lifelong waiting room scenes make sense;
I'm starting to see clearly through the fog
What only my body can remember.
I'm crawling along with the crowd on sore fingertips and knees
Calling for answers with hoarse voices.

This is the way I am now.

We will keep showing up in hospital gowns
Demanding to be taken seriously;
Using our burning bones to light the way
With scars and rashes and graying hair
All of our evidence marked as exhibits,
We know there are answers you haven't yet tried hard enough to find.

This is the way I am now.



Friday, April 14, 2017

Ekphrasis

NaPoWrIMo 2017 #10

All I have left is the painting:
A life sized, black and white rectangle, a mirror.
I always start on the right side,
Where it's flat and easy to navigate
And the face is half hidden in shadows.
Here it's a photograph, half-heartedly embellished
And mass produced, easy to collect and counterfeit.
When boredom sets in I move toward the light;
The face grows into glowing mountains,
Inspirational and idyllic with tears and hidden rainbows.
Every time I adjust the light
A sense of peace rises wider over the landscape.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pastiche

NaPoWriMo 2017 #9

I am many pieces, like magazine cutouts 
Of the best parts of models' faces, 
Reassembled into something new.
I am layers glued to blank paper
Thick and crackling, edges loose.

This never ends. With every issue
I grow larger, more modern, 
More complicated and interesting.
Sometimes ripping and peeling back,
Searching for the best combination. 


Monday, April 10, 2017

Chronic

NaPoWriMo 2017 #8

I am light headed fog
Where only this moment exists
Absent of memories.
I swim in sweat,
Grind smiles in my teeth,
Search in a desert parch tongue.
I am a fragile jaw,
A stiff steel neck,
Shoulders holding rocks.
My ribs stick out, burning,
My stomach, hollow,
Holding what I feel.
Four brittle limbs clutch
Cracking fingers, flimsy ankles,
Weak knees where I've lost control.
This pelvis jerks like a dance
I shudder, spin, smile,
Try to make it charming.

Here I am.
Why does it matter
If this sounds real to you?

Sadness

NaPoWriMo 2017 #7

In session I say,
"This, too, is good; let it out.
All sadness has its place.
It can lift weight and brig new life."

In my own sadness
I am too heavy to speak.
It digs, deep, unexplainable,
Grand and breathtaking, all- consuming,
I forget how to move.

Lost and Found

NaPoWriMo 2017 #6

We leave behind toothbrushes in each other's homes
Like a promise of good health and good love
That we forget when we argue.
Suddenly, pummeled by warm bathtub waves,
Salty, a cure, it's done.

We keep finding one another
Washed up on beach shores, abandoned,
Mistaken for a lost shirt, scooped up
And replaced. You never looked at me
As deeply as this cat does;
This, too, shall pass.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Sustain

NaPoWriMo 2017 #5

You, Mirror, bring moments of sustainability:
In clarity, fog wiped away,
Bold outlines, sweet accurate reflection-
I float and am recharged
Opened, unfolded;
In your echo I am real.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Travel

NaPoWriMo 2017 #4

I try to use borders as a mask:
To hide, to forget, to be new and humble;
Through dark colors, facial expressions, and ordering food;
I want to forget my own history, start over,
Pretend I can't be found.

Yet there I am: in sweat, in poetry,
In dogs wearing sweaters, in selfies
In human contact, in laughter,
Borders become hollow.
We are red strings attached by thumbtacks;
We share fingerprints and knowing glances.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Allergens

NaPoWriMo 2017 #3

In Tucson we are all allergic.
They say Snowbirds bring foreign pollen
And all this new growth makes
Our eyes water and our noses bleed.
Every time I feel the prick of shots
Designed to build up new immunity
I remember that more than pollen clings to our skin;
That in moving across the country
We bring our homes with us, too.
We can never prevent cross contamination.
Sniffling and itching, old injuries
Will always rise to the surface.
And no matter how many times we bore through
Skin to let the stimulants in
We can't seem to make enough holes to let the irritants out.

Costa Rica, abril 2017

NaPoWriMo 2

Entre dos culturas hay palabras
Smiles and hand gestures and
Some kind of communication
Under a thick layer of fog.
Te entiendo pero no te comprendo-
I hear you but I don't know what you're saying.
Entre dos culturas hay similitudes:
Children giggle and families love their pets and
Homes are opened to guests with steaming plates of food.
But when I take off my glass
I see misperceptions rising like hot steam.
Estudi, estudio, estudiƩ, estudiƩ, estudiaba, he estado estudiando!
And still, I don't know who you are
Or how to explain you.

Memories

NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 1

My memories were buried in my body:
Some in my stomach, filling my intestines;
Shoved deep in muscles, creating heavy limbs;
Replacing bone marrow and weakening ribs.
I carried every moment with me
Until I found where x-shaped scars marked entrance points
And began to move dirt with stiff fingers.
Here, in blood mixed with earth mixed with death,
A slow excavation began-
Sorting helpful from unhelpful,
Explanations from enemies,
Stepping stones from brittle rocks;
Clearing passages to a second life,
Line with only recollections that serve to light the way.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Too Much Self in Self-Care

I recently asked for feedback on Facebook from my peers in the behavioral and mental health fields regarding self-care. Self-care is quite a buzzword for us. We attend trainings, take classes, make charts, and read article after article about remembering to treat ourselves, find time for ourselves, eat chocolate for ourselves, etc. etc. So we have plenty of information about HOW to perform self-care. I wanted to know if it works.

Some of my friends and co-workers responded that the typical exercise, nights off, and massages work for them (I know, I think they're lying, too!) But there was also a plethora of "eh, kind ofs"; people who said they're still working on it, and even a couple of hospitalizations (yes, more than one!) In my own experience, I'm surrounded by people who are tired, worn out, and stressed. Personally, I don't find massages, manicures, and hot baths to be enough. I feel like the current zeitgeist in self-care is putting too much emphasis on the self and not enough emphasis on our surroundings.

We are already doing so much! Sometimes taking time out to drink tea and paint my nails begins to feel more like an obligation, and one that won't really accomplish anything in the long run. After my nails dry, there will still be trauma, large caseloads, constant changes, and meager budgets, and I still feel tired.

I've tried to start doing things that really feel like they're accomplishing something, making a bigger difference, and possibly changing some of the things that cause me stress in the first place. I know I can't completely change the field of social work so that it's not stressful, but I can take action so that I'm not shouldering so much of the stress.

So here's my list:

  • Doing absolutely nothing. In a field that expects so much, in a country that values production, in a home where I keep trying to bring Pintrest to life, flopping on the couch for a couple of hours and raising my middle finger to responding, cleaning and creating feels FANTASTIC.
  • Setting boundaries both at work and in personal relationships. This includes
  • Saying no! to extra tasks at work, clients who "need" you after hours, having a perfectly clean house, letting your relatives stay with you for two weeks...
  • Saying yes! It's okay to go out and do things before all of your notes are finished, before your house is vacuumed or before you've purchased groceries for the week.
  • Eating frozen foods. I am so. tired. of hearing about how I should eat for optimum health. Over the past year and a half and three different doctors I've been told about all of the things I should be watching out for (soy, dairy, grains, sugar, chemicals that I can't pronounce, preservatives) and all of the things I should be eating instead (turmuric, vitamins, probiotics, mushrooms, things that are dark in color) and at a certain point I decided that it was less stressful to have some pain rather than have to spend so much time obsessing over food. I now keep some Daiya frozen pizzas and some peanut butter and jelly on hand at all times for those days when I just need to not think.
  • Therapy I can not stress this enough for my fellow social workers and therapists. We need it, too.
  • Humor "Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious." No one knows who actually said that, but they were right. I try to laugh as much as possible, even about the tough stuff.
  • Speaking Up I often come across the sentiment that the world (and this career field) has always been "like this" and there isn't much we can do to change it so we should just accept it. That feels disempowering to me, so I say something. I believe in change. When I can, I'm going to tell you what's not working and try for something different. 
  • Standing Up for myself and for others. This is hard and often makes other people mad. But doing it is like giving myself a huge hug. 
  • Moving More Slowly I'm trying to stop rushing. Even if I'm late. 
What do you think? I'd enjoy having more of a conversation about this!


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Are You There, Anger? It's Me, Emily

Memories aren't always reliable, so maybe I'm exaggerating, but I remember being angry and not really knowing why for most of my childhood. I think my fourth grade teacher once called me "sour grapes" and I have photographic evidence that, when my group of friends in middle school decided to dress up as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, there was no question among us that I would go as Grumpy.

As a young adult I got tired of this reputation and tried to swing to the other extreme of letting go of all anger and empathizing with those who I felt had hurt me. Unfortunately, I didn't quite make it to letting go of the anger and instead only managed to turn it inward for a while.

Now, at the ripe old age of 31, I'm finally trying to find the balance; the place between assertive, constructive anger and turning the other cheek so many times that I am flipped inside out.

I've talked about this a lot in my own therapy, and I am still confused. That dude hollered at me from his truck- I have a right to raise both middle fingers, yell, and then stew about it for the rest of the day, right? My co-worker crossed my boundaries again- I get to assertively tell him to leave and then tell his supervisor, right? This for-profit corporation made decisions that make my job harder and might be unethical- this is when I speak up and tell people why they're wrong over and over again for weeks, right? I'm totally being the assertive adult I've always wanted to be and I'm not overdoing it at all, right?

In order to complicate things a bit further, I decided to jump back into Social Work School and become a Therapist. Now I have an Empathy Problem. I know too much. I can find a reason behind most of the things I experience that bother me. (No one taught them that that's not okay, he's anxious and wants help, it might actually work out pretty well for our clients, I'm reacting because this triggered something in me and if I take time to process it I will feel fine.)

I am an adult, and I still feel very confused sometimes about when and how to be angry and assertive in a way that is productive and healthy and prevents me from becoming a doormat or an ogre.

How do YOU decide?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Definitions, Politics, and Social Work

With the exponential increase in political discussions that have risen around me recently, I've noticed something that is making many it hard (at least for me, personally) to reach common ground and sometimes even respect with the people I've engaged with: many of us seem to have very different definitions for the same ideas. This has happened most often with open-mindedness vs. close-mindedness, , and love vs. hate. 

Recently, (but not for the first time) a certified Internet Troll told me I was being close-minded because I wouldn't entertain various racist alternative factoids that he shared with me. I realize that I also found him to be close-minded. I don't know how much research or thought he has put into the ideas he adheres to, but he was as stubbornly stuck to his as I am to mine.

I know we aren't talking about things like whether or not pizza flavored macaroni and cheese is delicious, and that lives are endangered because of the ideas that we had the privilege to argue about.  As I write this, I'm realizing that I don't actually care much whether I'm perceived as open-minded or closed, but it's something that keeps coming up. How should I handle it?

The same happens with love vs. hate. This has been especially clear to me as I've gradually become more open about being queer over the past decade. To some, a "love the sinner, hate the sin" mentality is Christ-like and loving. To me, it is a clear judgment and reeks of conditional love rather than unconditional. 

When the Women's March happened a few weeks ago, many marched with signs that said "Love Trumps Hate" while some who did not march called the rallies themselves hateful. 

How do you, personally, handle these types of arguments? I generally tend to avoid them because they don't feel productive. Are they? Is there a better way to go about advocating for myself and for marginalized populations? 

I wonder if the answer to those questions would be more clear if I were not a social worker. I take my career choice very seriously; it makes up a generous portion of my identity. As a result, I feel that I'm faced with some things: my strongly held beliefs about human rights and social justice, using my privilege and my role to be an advocate for people with a wide variety of needs, my belief that everyone has the right to self-determination, and my desire to help people through providing therapy. The second two sometimes clash with the first two, and sometimes personal and professional bleed into one another in confusing ways.

How do you handle this?