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?