Waiting for Mundane

It’s been a pretty wild few months with work.  Which is a challenge because at the beginning of each of the last 2 years, all I wanted to do was settle into my work so that I could focus on the areas of my life outside of work.  

So almost exactly 5 months ago, I was laid off.  It shocked me so deeply even though in retrospect I really should’ve seen it coming.  Because it felt like such a blow, even with the promise that we would most likely be hired back soon, I went immediately into job search survival mode and had 2 decent offers within a week.  My old agency didn’t communicate with us for a week and a half, which left me a lot of time to think.  So when they offered my my job back with a salary almost restored back to pre-cut levels… I did a very difficult thing and said no.  I took one of the other offers and have been there since.  

My current job is called ARMHS work – Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services.  My clients are SPMI (Severe and Persistent Mental Illness), typically receiving government assistance and having a shit ton of people involved in their care plan, and I go to their homes or meet them in the community for our sessions.  The purpose of ARMHS is to restore lost function to people whose mental illness symptoms have caused a significant impairment in multiple areas of functioning (accessing supportive services, social, interpersonal, gaining and maintaining home and finances, self-care, transportation, etc.).  This is the typical work of a person in my area who has graduated with a Masters degree and is still logging the required hours for licensure.  It can pay somewhere between crap and shit, much of your paperwork time is unpaid, and you’re driving all over the city.  At first I thought it would be a great financial move because the hourly rate was much higher than my pay cut rate at the old agency.  However, if clients cancel or don’t show up, you don’t get paid.  And my gas budget has about quadrupled from where I was previously.  So it can be hit and miss, and as with any work with people – it takes time to build your solid client base.  

Things have been plugging along for the past few months.  If I want to keep up my own self-care and go to the gym and eat right, it’s a process to prepare to get out the door in the morning.  I pack my work clothes, a portable breakfast, lunch, and snacks, map out my routes, bring up any forms I may need, and try to hustle out the door somewhere between 6:30 and 7am.  It’s exactly as stressful as it sounds.

Another thing about having a Masters but not yet being licensed is that you have to be supervised by a licensed professional approved by your licensing board.  Since I graduated, I have been lucky enough to have a board approved supervisor at each of my jobs.  Last month, my supervisor gave notice and the replacement is not a board approved supervisor for me.  New expense:  $240-400/mo.  With how exhausting it is to drive all over the city and surrounding suburbs for a living, coupled with the hustle it takes to keep your client load up, added to increased expenses in a budget that was already strained following depleting my savings over the past year to survive on a pay cut only to be laid off… I recently realized this job just wasn’t gonna work out.  And I’m exhausted.  

So.  It’s job search time again.  

My plan was to come on this vacation and when I return go into high intensity job search mode.  However, some interesting opportunities have come up.  I’ve been talking with my friends about them and the contrast is just odd.  For the past couple of months I’ve felt so trapped and like I have to accept this crappy place in my career for the next 9 months or so until I’m licensed.  But realizing that it’s only 9 months away has helped me to begin to dream and wake up and look forward.  I just need to get through this time, and then things will break wide open for me in terms of the variety of positions I’ll be eligible for, along with a significant increase in pay.  Halleloo!  So in looking toward the future and figuring out where I want to go after this first hurdle of licensure is reached, I have a couple of options to consider even before I search for something new to tide me over.  

At my current company, they’re trying to build their mental health program, which is only a year old.  The new supervisor is actually really great, I like her and respect her, and she is showing me that she sees and values me and my work.  She would like to add a location for outpatient therapy, and in trying to keep me, she wants me to be the first therapist to start seeing clients there.  Once licensed, she wants me to become the Clinical Director for that location and help it to grow, get it off the ground.  However, this option, even the outpatient therapy position, has no firm start date (estimated 4 months out) and I would need to continue doing ARMHS work and transition into therapy as clients build.  This is a long term plan.  

The second interesting option has to do with my old agency, which was swallowed up by the meganonprofit, and rebirthed as a new culturally specific agency.  When all employees were laid off, not many accepted their positions back when offered.  The mental health team especially took a huge hit.  I have been in touch with several old coworkers and have regularly asked for updates on how things are going and whether things have stabilized.  Recently, people have reached out asking what I would need to come back and encouraging me to apply.  Just before I left on my trip, I got a call gauging my interest on coming back and working part time in school-based therapy, part time outpatient.  I said I was definitely interested and would like to have an interview when I returned from vacation.  The opportunity to do therapy immediately while being full time and salaried after these past 5 months is looking better and better.  But I also want to know about the opportunity for growth once I’m licensed.  I’m hearing that there are good options at the new agency and with the meganonprofit, but it all remains to be seen. 

The 2 options are definitely interesting, and I can still do some other general job searching.  It forces me to look at my priorities for today and my path for the future.  I’m thinking about how to present myself confidently and being clear about my strengths, talents, and goals.  I need to learn about and practice negotiating salary.  And I need to have my focus clearly on myself and my needs – I have never been very assertive in interviews and negotiations, and often get caught up in what and who I’m leaving behind.  In addition, I can’t ignore that I still have hard feelings with the old agency about the way things went down, and I have no idea whether I should trust what’s being promised at my current company…  

But I’m excited for the opportunity in this next decision to put myself first and get the best deal I can.  It doesn’t have to be a permanent or even long-term choice, just the best choice for me right now in this point in my life.  Change is coming.  I have to accept that and understand that now is not my time to relax into the mundane, stable work life of my dreams.  I’ve got to push a little further.  Plus, who am I kidding, mundane is not my calling!  

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other people’s muck

i spent some time with my family a couple of weeks ago, talking to my sister about some relationship issues she was having. then my mom joined the conversation. mom had solicited my advice on helping my sister, and it turned into somewhat of a family discussion on mental health. in the process of this i was trying to explain to my sister about therapy and the value of talking to someone outside of the family about the effects of growing up in our family. using myself as an example, i talked to her about what i came to believe about myself growing up with mom, and how i thought i was a horrible and incompetent person for a long time. my mom was shocked by this information. in her memory, everyone loved me and showered praise on me for my goodness, intelligence, and talent. it’s complicated.

we talked for a while, my mom ended up apologizing to me, really for the first time, about my experience as a kid. she doesn’t remember a lot of what i remember, but she acknowledges she was partying a lot and caught up in her own life. after a while, my mom and sister fell back into their own unhealthy communication patterns and it started to get ugly so i excused myself to go home.

still. as i walked down the hall out of their apartment building, i noticed a shift in myself. in the past if things had ended in ugliness, i knew i was going to take a break from them for a couple weeks. i just don’t like getting caught up in other people’s muck. i’d rather be safe at home in my own little apartment. definitely an element of self-protection because conflict has made me so anxious in the past. but on this night, i felt different. i knew i would check in with both of them the next day. i think that being willing to be close to people, go through their dysfunction, bad behavior, and acting out along with all the positive, happy times… that’s part of being in someone’s life. i see that i’m making progress on accepting and walking toward all of what it means to connect. even though parts were ugly, i walked out feeling warm. and to be honest a lot of it is my mom making the unbelievable step (given her tendency toward a self-centered point of view) of taking responsibility. so it’s not just about me – she took a step forward and i met her. it feels good!

this year i’m very happy to celebrate my mom. in my adulthood, our relationship has been a little strained, i’ve kept my distance. but over the past year, we’ve grown closer. i acknowledge her for who she is, and i’m thankful for many things about her. as i grow and she grows and our relationship grows, i let go of past hurts and can appreciate her more. it’s a good feeling.

Me and Mom

life goes on

i’ve had an incredible week at work.  yesterday was kinda tough, to fully capture my strong feelings i should’ve written this a day or so earlier, but… what can you do.

i truly feel that my work has a component of holiness.  i’m a therapist and i’m lucky enough to share in people’s process from hurt to healing, darkness into light.  i have individual clients and do group work with people in treatment for chemical dependency.  i’ll mention that chemical dependency is very intertwined with social services and the legal system where i live, so many people are either court ordered or are there because it’s a stepping stone into other services.  i have mixed feelings about this.  obviously when you’re not there for the purpose intended, or you’re being forced to be there, you may not reap the benefits intended.  but, you may get something unexpected.  and that goes along with what i believe about my profession.

in group this week, one of the men asked me if i take my work home with me, the things i hear, the sadness.  i told him i’m not a robot and i think about my clients a lot outside of work.  but i also don’t see myself as a savior.  i didn’t get into this field to save the world.  i came to give whatever help i can – to provide conversation pieces, to be a second pair of eyes, to build perspective.  i’m a gifted listener, that’s kind of what my talent boils down to.  with that, i built on skills about what to clinically listen for, verbalizing helpful support and pointed questions.  some people will take what i bring and run with it, others won’t.  i can’t be connected to the outcome (though i notice change and rejoice in it).  i choose to focus on the growth, hope, and beauty of people, even in periods of brokenness.

this week at my agency, we’re implementing some new groups and re-vamping our programs.  it was terrifying and exhilerating to try new content and methods.  i’ve really taken a leadership and ownership role on this project and the benefits are amazing.  i feel so good!  a colleage came in to say hi and said i was glowing, she could see it on my face.  i told her what i had been working on in group, and she said, “you’re stretching.  doesn’t it feel nice to be brave and stretch and grow?”  it really does.  in addition, each individual session i have had so far this week has had this holy element, too.  we’re connecting.  i’m asking the right questions and my clients are having this wonderful insight, and i can see them growing, too.  to be with people as they experience growth and insight is the most humbling, exciting, heartfelt feeling.  i really love my work.

finishing school in the summer and moving straight into intensive caretaking and grief, i’ve been halfway checked out of my work for a while.  granted, this is the only kind of work i would’ve wanted to have been doing this year.  it had to be meaningful and helpful for it to make any sense with what i’ve gone through this year.  diving head first into grief over the past couple of months has made returning to work manageable somehow.  i’ll never get over the deaths of my aunt and grandma.  i still burst into tears unexpectedly and i’ve got so much more to process.  but really feeling the grief allows for me to set it aside and get present with my work and my life.  i’m determined to move forward.

my last conversation with Barb has haunted me and stuck with me, it always will.  i’ll save the details for another time, but the gist was her encouragement for me to leave the dead behind and to go LIVE.  in her last weeks she also pointed out how we liked the same things – art and psychology.  my decision to go into therapy had little to do with my aunt.  but during these times when i feel the holiness of the work now, i feel a part of her in it with me.