Saturday, September 20, 2008

Riding the rollercoaster...

What a week and as is life this one has certainly had its ups and downs.

I requested a change at my current job from children to adults. I had many reasons for this but my primary concern was my desire to work "normal" hours. (Normal being 8-5, Monday through Friday.) I spent the majority of my clinical work with adults so I figured case management should be piece of cake. Anyway, this week marked the second week in my "new" position and while I am fairly comfortable in my capabilities I was not fully prepared to work with a caseload that is mostly homeless. This fact I was not prepared for at all.

I know that most people think the homeless are a drain on society or faking or an eye sore. Some ignorantly think that they are lazy or brought the situation on themselves. Sometimes I myself had similar fleeting thoughts but listening day in and day out and reading charts I realized that most of my clients are far too complicated to even fit into one of the above generalizations. To I laugh myself silly and put up my wall, Tuesday it all came down. I found myself preparing dinner trying to have a conversation with my husband when it hit me like a ton of bricks. Through sobs and tears I uttered "I don't think I can do this job." Seven days in and I am falling a part.

The overwhelming reality of my job situation was unsettling, mixed with exhaustion and worry about my own life I reached my emotional capacity and thus everything spilled over as Marcus held me. I listen to people's deepest, darkest secrets, their heart breaks and disappointments, the loss of family, jobs, home and dreams. I hear sadness and depression, frustration and anger and anything good although this is usually few and far between. I see people, or at least a side of them that anyone else outside my office walls may never see or even come close to guessing. The scariest thing of all is the realization that the only thing that separates me from my clients is an education, a paycheck, private insurance and a close and reliable support network of family and friends.

I cannot change what it is. I can't even fix it. All I can do is offer support, link to external agencies and refer when possible. Basically, I am sitting in a chair with my hands tied behind my back. In order for this to get better, for my clients to really change like they want to, it would take an act of God and our entire society realizing just how serious the mental health crisis is. My clients are more than just homeless people sleeping under a bridge. They are mothers, fathers, grandparents, sisters, brothers, skilled workers, hard laborers. They are not always the best looking or fabulously smelling and not all of them want to get better. But, most of them do. Most of them want to work, to live, to regain what was tragically and uncontrollably (in some instances) taken away. Sadly, regardless of my efforts they are trapped in a cycle that does not lead to success. The mental health system as it currently stands encourages client dependence on mental health agencies so that we can bill and collect and keep our doors open. The truth is my clients will never be more than what they are now unless we, society, recognize and change what we are doing wrong.

Pretty big realization for a Tuesday. I slept for ten hours that night. Ten hours to put myself back together and prepare for the last three days of the week. So, as I have done for the previous week and a half, I resumed my incessant email checking waiting for the email that would in some way change my life. And it came, on Thursday no less. I got a text from a friend telling me to check my email. I was of course already in the car and the one day that I needed someone to be by a computer, nobody answered their phones!! Finally reaching Kenneth (one of my brothers) I begged him to please please please check my email. And he did, and he told me I failed. My heart dropped, and I felt my hands start to shake and again the tears were coming. Just then he told me, "just kidding, you passed." I wanted to kill him. Instead I laughed and cried and got made fun of and tried the rest of the way home to call anyone and everyone that I thought would care to tell them I passed. I am walking on December 13, 2008 and my life can now move forward. And what did I get? NOBODY answered their dang phones!!!! Thank God for text messaging!

I was high Thursday and Friday. I mean giddy, smiling, not a care in the world high! While the excitement is still there, life as I know it must resume and I can't float through the rest of this year. I still have to buckle down and resume studying for my licensing exam. In the mean time, I am on a mission to reach out and try to make even the smallest change in the world around me.

A client told me last week that his diagnosis changed his life and took away things that "normal" people could do, he felt cheated. He must remain heavily medicated for schizophrenia lest he spend the rest of his life in a state hospital. He has never had a relationship, never dated or kissed or been in love. He lives on a fixed income, below poverty level with a heavily sedated roommate and he admits that that is how will live out his life. This client has inspired me. God knows I am not in the match making business but I am in the business of giving hope. A little hope goes a long way and I myself will hold on to that too as I need it to get me through each day. Not just so I can do this job, but so that I can live life and raise my kids. All on the hope that things will get better, even on a small scale, they just have to.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Measuring Up

I hold myself to very high standards which, being a perfectionist, is not uncommon. Today was a monumental day for me. Five hours and 200 questions were to determine my fate as to whether or not I would be graduating in December. My 3.89 GPA means nothing, my papers and tapes and hours mean nothing. If I can't pass this exam it's over, at least until January.

Now I can admit that I could have studied more; I could have studied harder. Being me I know I can always do better. But it would seem that no matter what I did today was not meant to be my day. I started having panic attacks this week. I couldn't sleep last night which means as of right now I have been up for about 36 hours. I didn't care about the SAT or the GRE. Those were just gate keepers, tests meant to weed out low performing individuals from undergraduate and graduate coursework. But this test is my CPCE, administered by the National Board of Counselor Certification. This test is the most important academic challenge I have faced to date.

I bombed it. Most of us that took it today feel confident that we failed. Nothing I studied was right. The wording was off and hard to navigate. My specialty section actually included diagnoses from the DSM IV that I chose not to memorize because I constantly use my DSM IV as a reference. What was the point in spending fifty dollars on a book just to leave it on a shelf. What kind of test actually expects one to memorize hundreds of pages of diagnoses and symptoms?!?

I let myself down. I know that I am in the right career field and that I am meant to do this. I know I am competent and capable. I am finally feeling confident in my abilities and skills and then BAM! I let myself down. I quite possibly let down my family as I may have to wait yet another semester to finally walk across that stupid stage and get the diploma that I have earned. Stupid test. At this point I am holding on to little hope that based on the entire group's performance our mean scores will be computed and as long as my score falls within +/- 1.25 standard deviation I still have a chance. Maybe not a big chance but at this point I will actually settle for less than the best and take what I can get.