I’ll admit it, I dropped the ball. My intention was to document the entirety of my grad school experience. Yet here I am, 6 weeks from graduating, just now realizing that’s it’s been damn near 2 years since my last entry. I started my practicum position in the summer of 2016, as a community-based clinician at the same agency I’ve been working with for several years. A wonderful supervisor and amazing clients made my journey so enjoyable that I extended my 1 year practicum contract for another 6 months. However, the fact that the work was fulfilling didn’t make it in any way easy. It was demanding work; DMH paperwork never seems to have an end, and working with the foster care population requires some seriously thick skin. It didn’t help that I had accepted the challenge of close to a full-time caseload of clients. Clinicians putting in full 40-hour weeks had an average of 15 clients – I maintained a steady 12 for the majority of my practicum, while trying to squeeze in school responsibilities wherever I could. I had NO spare time, and my self-care was the first thing to be thrown out the window. So I was extremely susceptible to the heart wrenching stories of each of my clients on a daily basis. I don’t think anyone can fully prepare for the toll that these narratives can take if you’re not taking care of yourself.
I ended my practicum in January of 2018. I put my whole heart into my client’s cases, doing everything I could to advocate for their needs. I went to homes, community clubs, and schools – following kids from city to city, one placement after the next. At times, I was the closest thing to stability and an attachment figure a child had. At times, I had to be the one to break devastating news to a child. Several times, I came home crying to my husband about how things shouldn’t be the way that they are. My experiences both inspired the heck out of me and broke parts of me. Month after month my inner light faded, until I was running on the last wisps of smoke from the burned out flame.
For a full month after practicum, I was so deflated that I could not muster the energy to do anything other than read. I got lost in book after book, following one fantasy to the next, desperately trying to escape the aversion to reality that I was suffering. Fortunately, my last few classes of the program have required little time or attention, so I’ve had the luxury of time to waste. After a while, I felt so sick of myself for lack of productive behavior that I threw myself back into my old, comforting love of yoga. I completed a full 30-day challenge and jumped right into another after that. Yoga, paired with meditation and some crafty house projects, have helped me out of the fog of burnout. I’m finally starting to feel more like myself, motivated to figure out my next steps. I figured now was as good a time as any to go back and reflect on the last couple of years. If I can learn from my previous challenges, perhaps I can make my next go at being a clinician a bit easier. Here’s to showing up for ourselves everyday, and continuously taking steps towards our dreams.
This gives me hope 💕 Rigid perfectionism and anxiety don’t always mix well. At times they keep me from fully enjoying my graduate school experience, but my dreams are finally within reach. I’ll gladly swallow the bitter with the sweet if it keeps helping me progress to the finish line.
Life has been difficult lately. On paper, the work and school schedule that I have is manageable. It leaves little room for a social life, but it works. What I didn’t anticipate when I committed to the schedule was a reemergence of OCD symptoms. When you throw a panic attack into the mix, and some everyday generalized anxiety while you’re at it, the workload becomes damn near impossible. For this reason, I’ve been struggling to maintain the light within me.
My work environment is the root of the issue. My office is known as the recreation department, which holds all the arts & crafts supplies, movies, games, beauty supplies, sports equipment, & misc. items the girls could ever dream of. What all that means to me is a whole lot of clutter. While I did my best to organize it in one full work day, I barely made a dent. Being in there makes me feel tense; in a constant state of discomfort. I’ve tried to just suck it up and not look behind me, where most of the clutter is, to no avail. Although the generalized anxiety escalated to panic attacks, I was afraid to open up to my supervisor about it. I felt as if I was asking for too much. Yet, I was at the point where something had to give. The anxiety followed me from the office to everywhere else, causing my quality of life to take a serious hit.
I wrote a letter of resignation during my desperation for an escape route, then pondered the option of turning it in for a week. It didn’t sit right with me, I felt like a coward. Yes I was setting my expectations for myself very high, but how would I ever conquer anxiety if I chose to run away from it? It finally dawned on me that maybe there could be a middle ground. I was preparing to run without even giving this agency, that had been so good to me thus far, a chance to work with me. I decided it was time to open up to my supervisor. I explained my symptoms to her and the source, along with a few suggestions of what I thought might help me (part-time hours and either a new office or a laptop to work elsewhere when symptoms worsened). To my surprise, she was more than willing to work with me. She thanked me for going to her rather than simply quitting under the pressure; she understood how difficult that was for me. My part-time schedule was mapped out and agreed upon. Finally, she’ll be speaking with the HR Director to try to work out the office situation. They’re going to try to get me out of there altogether, but the laptop will be the backup solution.
What a relief it’s been already. I am so appreciative of my supervisor’s willingness to accommodate my needs. Furthermore, I’ve learned a valuable lesson; asking for help shouldn’t be a shame inducing action. People might surprise you and extend a helping hand. As this photo depicts, “Life is so very difficult. How can we be anything but kind?”
Here’s to Saturday night! The ONE night of the week I can let loose, because I don’t have any obligations the next day. Enjoy it while it lasts 💕🍷
Goodness gracious it’s been a hectic month! It’s only been 1 month since I started working again, but it feels as if it’s been much longer. Not necessarily in a bad way, it’s just that so much has happened! Starting work again has been exhausting/thrilling/inspiring. I’ve told you all about the exhaustion, and a bit about the thrill of diving back into a field I love. My journey hit an inspirational point when I discovered that our new Head of Mental Health Services is a 3rd waver! He’s a LMFT, and currently in a Buddhist Seminary graduate program! How perfectly this happened to fall into place; at the same time that I’m looking for a practicum site, a 3rd wave supervisor happens to start working at my agency! I’ve already talked to him about the possibility of completing my hours at our agency, and he confirmed that he plans on reestablishing the student trainee program. I’m crossing my fingers, hoping that it happens in time for me to start accruing hours next fall.
School is a bit more challenging this semester than it was last. There’s a lot of memorization in Law & Ethics, and I’m pretty sure I’ve diagnosed myself with about 6 different disorders thanks to Psychopathology. Then there’s Concepts of Family Therapy; we had to create a genogram and write a paper about our family histories and dynamics, and thank goodness I started a month in advance. I spent the first 2 weeks crying as a I wrote, because my family’s history of abuse and trauma just had to be mourned. There’s something so profound about seeing it all depicted on a genogram. Family patterns become unignorable; demanding awareness, proper grievance and more importantly change.
Finally, my home life has been bitter-sweet. I spend so little time at home now, which unfortunately means so little time with my husband. However, our hectic schedules have sort of forced us to cherish every moment that we do get together. We spend our time talking about our upcoming plans to buy a home; letting our imaginations soothe away any lingering fatigue. Once again, he’s proven to be my rock during the most trying times. I’m hoping that the summer brings us some ease. We’ll be moving into our own place and I’ll have a bit of a break from school. For now, I have to keep reminding myself to breathe through the chaos.
At 6AM, this moved me. Today I am resilient.
It’s my second week of juggling work on top of grad school, and it’s already been a somewhat difficult adjustment. That feeling of not having enough time to accomplish it all hit me almost immediately. Looking at my weekly planner can be a bit daunting. There’s a rainbow of scheduled activities on each page; black for work, pink for class/assignments, blue for scheduled appointments/the gym, purple for special events, green for birthdays. Not to mention the things that don’t make it into the planner like household chores, my commute, meal prepping etc. There’s very little time in between it all to unwind. My mind has to be focused with few breaks from approximately 6am to about 10pm every night. It overwhelmed me for the first time last night. Tuesdays are my longest days, with 8 hours of work followed by another 3 of class. Halfway through class I could barely hold my head up anymore. It was then that we started talking about anxiety disorders & OCD related disorders. Those who have experienced these illnesses, like me, know that thinking about the symptoms can sometimes spark a sense of fear that we will experience them again. Normally, I can discuss both disorders or my experiences with them and be just fine, but because I was so tired my defenses were weak. Talking about Panic Disorder was tough enough, but when we started talking about Hoarding Disorder our professor decided to play a video clip of the show Hoarders (something I’ve tried to avoid like the plague, because I knew it would negatively effect me). As soon as I got a look at the client’s house I was horrified. Suddenly waves of anxiety started washing over me, I could have cried right there.
Today I don’t work, but even on my days off I set my alarm for 7am so that I have plenty of time to go to the gym and tackle some school work before class in the evening. I woke up feeling exhausted, and defeated by the thought of dragging myself to the gym in that state. I originally scheduled my gym sessions for mental health purposes rather than physical health. Today, I just didn’t believe that the gym would be beneficial for me mentally. What I needed was a bit more rest and something that would stimulate my mind gently (yoga, meditation and writing). I made the best decision by deciding to be gentle with myself. I could have told myself to suck it up and dragged myself to the gym. I could have also been too easy on myself by sleeping the entire morning away. However, I was able to realize that my unwillingness to go to the gym wasn’t about my usual laziness, but rather a genuine need to unwind in a way that included more than just sleep. I’m rather proud of my attunement to myself this morning, it gives me hope in my ability to continue down this busy path.
Now that I’ve had some time to unwind from the stressors of school left behind, I have begun to analyze my performance throughout the semester. Since hindsight is 20/20, my goal is to figure out whether I could have done anything more efficiently and apply that knowledge to the upcoming semester. Here are 5 things that I found extremely important and will be keeping in mind in the spring:
- Procrastination is like masturbation; at first it feels good, but in the end you’re only screwing yourself. This one seems fairly obvious, but you’d be surprised how many times I sat trough a procrastination conversation with a fellow student this last semester. So many people feel as if they can only work adequately with an impending deadline, but the reality is you CAN train yourself to break that unhealthy habit. I avoided procrastination by creating a simple Word document with assignment and reading due dates for each class organized on a week by week basis. Having all my responsibilities displayed neatly on one sheet was wonderful for my action planning process. As I completed assignments, I’d simply highlight it on my sheet and move forward to the next one. If ever I fell behind, I’d prioritize my work by focusing on the assignments for the specific week that we were in & work my way backward to unhighlighted items from previous weeks when I found some spare time. That way I wouldn’t continue to fall further behind, and would be able to participate in class discussions as needed.
- Evernote (or a similar app) should be your best friend. In grad school your topic of focus should be narrowed, which means that the books you read for one course, can also apply to others. It’s because of this that it is important to save time by taking notes on anything and everything that you read! To make them easily accessible, keep notes in your Evernote app and organize them with tags or by creating separate notebooks for each book. When it comes time to write a paper and references are needed, you can refer back to your notes rather than try to remember what book you got an idea from and search for the info by hand (which you can’t do if you rented the book). To avoid plagiarism I would read a chapter in a book, set it aside and try to summarize the key points in my own words, then open the book back up and add specific quotes to my notes along with page numbers so that I could cite properly in the future. It takes a little longer to do things this way, but it saves sooo much time in the long run if you don’t have to keep searching for new references!
- Self-care is as vital as completing readings and assignments – especially as a Marriage and Family Therapy student! It’s no secret that grad school is tough and can weigh down on even the most resilient student; even more so for the students that are learning how to professionally tackle issues that aren’t even their own. I’m lucky enough to be studying at a university that emphasizes the importance of self-care. So when I went through that bought of depression half way through the semester, I knew that the only way to ensure that my work would not be negatively affected was to take care of myself first. It felt wrong to blow off a reading assignment so that I could go for a run or meditate for longer than usual. However, if I didn’t take the time to do those things, I would have continued to spiral downward and the quality of my work would have followed suit. Taking the time to clear my mind helped me stay focused and more importantly, interested in what I was learning. Nothing makes grad school more daunting than a lack of interest for the material being covered. Likewise, an inability to solve my own issues would make me horribly unqualified to help other individuals.
- Learn to lean on your cohort. The beautiful thing about a cohort, is that they can have a wonderful, normalizing effect. It’s typical for most grad students to start the program with a bit of imposter syndrome. Then you start getting to know your peers and realize that they have insecurities of their own. They too, are only human; but humans with foreign perspectives and intriguing ideas that will fuse with your own and ultimately enable you to grow. Bounce ideas off of these people, ask all the questions you can think of. They are bright individuals with vastly different backgrounds who are now on a similar path to your own, and these relationships will prove to be invaluable in your professional future. More importantly, they’re invaluable NOW; when you’re being bombarded with heaps of new information and consistently challenged to reach new levels of understanding. They too are facing these stimuli and, as aforementioned, can normalize the experience.
- I’m pretty damn resilient! This semester truly challenged me. Leaving work to start grad school is a major stressor in and of itself. I jumped into the new experience at the exact same time that I was also moving out of my parent’s house for the first time and finalizing my wedding plans. 1 month before starting my MFT program I moved in with my fiance. 2 weeks into the program I got married and went on my honeymoon. While it was a blissful getaway, I returned to an intimidating amount of work to catch up on. Then I decided it was time to wean off of my medication, which caused a new wave of difficulties. For a few weeks I was incredibly overwhelmed, kicking myself in the butt for biting off more than I could chew. Yet, I stuck to the check lists that brought me a bit of sanity, and forced myself to find comfort in meditation practices and similar healthy habits. I’m proud to have not only survived the semester, but earned straight A’s while I was at it! Take stock of your own strengths, when things become strained you should know what to cling to and be aware of your ability to make it though the most trying occurrences.
I just finished my last assignment for finals week, & winter break has officially begun! That little penguin up there, was me running off campus today to celebrate 🙂
In all seriousness though, this is the first time in my academic career that I can say I’m sad to see the semester come to an end. That’s partially because I’m genuinely fascinated with the topics we’ve covered in my courses, and mostly because I truly believe that I am exactly where I need to be right now. UWest has provided me the opportunity to pursue my dream career, while enabling me to nurture my spirituality along-side incredible, like-minded individuals. In just 3 months I feel like I’ve grown exponentially. What a wonderful feeling, to feel like you belong.
In my enthusiastic state, I’ve already created a list of productive ways to utilize all the free time I’ll have over break. I’ve got a few books I want to read to give me a leg-up next semester, a prospective agency that I’d like to start volunteering at, and a couple of honey-do’s that have begun piling up at home. Also, I’m looking forward to having the time to dabble in photography again and share some of the tips, tricks and things I didn’t have time for mid-semester. Cheers to a lovely break, for all the other students finishing up their semesters!