Only, it is.

But, it's not.

This is about community, but in my weird rambling way that you all are very used to, it's going to take me a bit to get there.

(Disclaimer:  I understand all of the criticisms about football and I respect those opinions.  This is going somewhere different, though.)

Shoes and I moved to Rural (RURAL) E Washington this year.  Most of you know that.  Our rural E WA town happens to have a major PAC12 University in it.  Random, right?  Our town's regular, non student population is about 30,000 (but the county's population is just over 40,000).  This is, as I've said before, a company town.  (Editor's update:  Shoes firmly believes that the year round, non student population is only about 7,000.  I can't find this data anywhere, but Shoes is rarely ever incorrect about these things.)

Shoes grew up here, did his undergrad here, has always wanted to come back here. 

Well, we're definitely here. 

Shoes grew up watching Cougar Football.  As in, season ticket holder with his father since Shoes was in the 3rd grade.  I made him miss the first home game in something like 15 years last year when I asked him to go to a wedding with me in the Vineyard Town.  I don't think I've been forgiven yet for that. 

When Shoes was in law school in Seattle, he came home for every home game.  When he worked in the Vineyard Town, he made every home game.  When I moved to Portland, he did not come to see me on home game weekends.  During my school breaks, I went with Shoes and his father to home games when possible. I'm not a veteran Cougar Football Fan.  But, I have been going as I've been able to for 4 years now, and I went to all but one home game (and we went to one in Las Vegas!) this year. 

Shoes loves Cougar Football. 
Many WSU students and alumni love Cougar Football.
But in the past several years, Cougar Football has brought nothing but heartbreak.
You who follow the PAC12 know this.
They've turned "Coug" into a verb.  A derogatory verb.  As in, "They're going to Coug it."  (That does not mean things are going to go well.)
The school even adopted a new slogan a year or so ago:  Undefeated Fan.  (Because the team, well ...)

WSU hired a fancy new coach this year at the tune of 2.2mil a year.  (Don't start.  You'll be preaching to the choir.)  At the beginning of the year, Cougar Fans were hopeful.  Waiting.  Anticipatory. 

The season did not go well.
Defeat set in.

And then there was the Apple Cup.

Most state universities have this, I think -- some type of rivalry game between major universities.  Apple Cup (because Washington grows Apples, right?) is WSU and UW (and please don't get them mixed up because blood may be drawn ...). The last time WSU won was in 2008.  I wasn't even dating Shoes then.  We went this year, of course.  We always go.  Even when it's in Seattle, we go.  We weren't expecting much.  It hasn't been a good season.  Shoes has been saying things he doesn't at all mean (things like, "I'm done with Cougar Football.  This is BS.")  ESPN scheduled the game the day after Thanksgiving in a town where students LEAVE for the holiday.  We were also expecting a low turn out.

And this is what happened.  Fast forward to about 12:47.

Apple Cup 2012, WSU over UW, 31-28 in OT

(I tried to embed.  It was disabled.  Humor me, though, it's important to the real point of this post, which I promise ... I'm getting to ...)

I've posted about this many, many times, but the one thing I've always missed in my life is the experience of having a home town.  A tribe.  A tradition.  Something  I  belong to.  When Furney scored that winning field goal, something electric fried the entire stadium.  Well.  The Coug Fans anyway.  The UW Marching Band stood there with their clarinets hanging from their fingertips and their mouths open, stone silent. Who could blame them?  It was a surprise to all of us.  Shoes (who is slow to show emotion) was literally jumping up and down with his hands on my shoulders shouting and complete strangers were hugging.

This is something they belong to.  They shared in ownership of the experience of the entire season, and then shared in the experience of the win.

I've been having a hard time in this little town.  And again, I've spent lots of time in rural communities, so it's not just that's it's small.  Although it was just a football game (and in the big picture, it is, in fact, just a football game), it spoke to something that has been running through me for a long time.  The need to settle down.  The need to develop roots. The need to share in something and belong to something.

Coug Fans, I think, know this.  (And let me just say that whomever shoved UW player Sefarian-Jenkins does not represent the mindset of the fan base.)  They belong to the each other.  They belong to the University.  They belong to the team.

Are there more important things in life than football?  Sure.
Are there more important things in life than finding your own tribe?  Maybe.
Are there more important things in life than sharing in life with others?   World peace?

I'm not a Coug.  But I do find myself settling into this shared experience and connecting with others.  Maybe this company town has something for me, after all.  Maybe here, which in many ways tops the list of odd places I've lived, is where I'll start to settle down.  Maybe this is the start.

Isn't that a novel idea.
... is almost.

Almost.  3 more things (as of today, which might change by tomorrow!) to get together and then we'll be ready to "get the docs signed."

I have never lived in a house that my family owned.  I don't yet know what it means to be tied to a town in such a fundamental way and it will be the closing on a year I'm still struggling to understand.

Blessed be.
And that's certainly not because I'm not thankful for anything.
I've really loved reading the everyday (and not so everyday) blessings that you've enjoyed (and I have enjoyed through you).

This Thanksgiving, there's a few things I find myself being deeply grateful for ... right now ... this year brings a host of blessings, but let's save those for the end of the year post ...

So, right now ...

...the opportunity to humbly partner with my clients as they develop new narratives
...the absolute courage of said clients

Also ...

...raucous laughter
...winter air
...Rosie galloping in the snow mochas from Thomas Hammer
...text pictures of my sassy Goddaughter, Rebekah
...the smell of Rosemary (don't know, just love it)

Above all else ...

...a God who loves humanity more deeply than I will ever figure out
...a partner who is more deeply fantastic and wholly good than I could have ever asked for
...this life.

(ellipses don't work here.)  This Thanksgiving, I am also reminded that I am placed in a position of privilege -- privilege awarded to me due to absolute no merit or hard work of my own.  What I'm thankful for is fundamentally shaped by this privilege because my experience as a human being is shaped by this privilege.  This privilege is a slippery slope, and I am thankful for the daily opportunity to deeply examine it and, in any way I can, to use it as an ally.  I am grateful for those in my life who are not at all afraid to call out this privilege.  I am grateful for that discomfort.  I am grateful for the opportunity to realize how much I do not know.  I am humbly grateful for the learning.

Tongue in cheek ...

I am grateful that the Cougar Football Season is over and that my wonderful Shoes will be returned to a place of non dispair.  Please join with me in praying for Coug Fans the nation over.  May they know a season of less heartbreak next year.

Be blessed.  Enjoy your families this holiday (those blood and those you have chosen).  May we move forward in the rest of the year truly remembering how grateful we are today and not lose sight of that in the upcoming weeks.

... it's ok to enter your name.  It won't bring down your computer, I promise.

I just finished the last of our wedding Thank You cards.
Just in time to get our Holiday Cards out.
I realized I never posted some of the images I had meant to.  I also never posted the details of the DIY projects I meant to.  I'm going to go ahead and let that go.  It was a super busy time - the week before the wedding I was actually out of town, attending a state training on how to involuntarily detain people on a 72 hour psychiatric hold.  I got into town the night of the rehearsal dinner. 
It was a whirlwind of a few days, but, in the end, I  married Shoes.
Now we're living daily life.
It couldn't be sweeter.




Underwriting department.

Oh man.

Stuff gets real now ...
I live in an extremely rural area where my options for employment, especially without a social work license, are extremely limited.  I wanted to work for Community Outpatient Mental Health (a Medicaid Vendor), and there are just two agencies within a one hour commute.  One agency wasn't hiring.  The other, a miracle!, was.

I'm not sure if this post will be helpful (what kind of "n" is one interview?), but to graduating MSW students, here's a little of what you can expect in the job interview process (at least for a mental health agency!  I'm not so sure this will be helpful if you're interviewing for community building positions ...)

1.  I interviewed with the clinical supervisor, the HR director and the Executive Director.  I only had one interview, but I hear from my friends who have entered the field that completing two interviews is common.

2.  Be pleasant to the front office staff when you arrive.  Seriously.  This is not a group of people with whom you want to start off on the wrong foot.

3.  Know your therapeutic approach.  My own therapeutic approach is rooted in social constructivism / narrative therapy; however, the agency I work with is a cognitive behavioral therapy clinic.  I researched this beforehand and, thus, it wasn't a surprise. I was able to speak to when I found CBT most helpful.  However, the agency is also open to creative work with clients (an excellent thing in days of limited resources and funding!), so I felt free and confident in explaining when and how I use narrative therapy.

4.  Be able to speak to an ethical dilemma you've faced in the field, and more specifically, how you addressed it.  What was your decision making process?  Who did you consult?  Whose interests were you taking to heart?

5.  Be able to address a DSM dx.   I mean, really address it.  It depends on the agency, I suppose, but I was given free reign to choose a dx, speak to the criteria and explain when I might diagnose a person appropriately.  This means knowing the criteria fairly well (no worries if you don't know it exactly, remember, the DSM is only supposed to be a tool for the clinician and it's impossible to memorize it!), being able to speak to how functioning would be impaired, and being able to speak to differential dx.  Here's the bottom line:  Do you know how to use the DSM?

6.  Know your values.  What's most important to you?  When I was asked to tell a little bit about myself, I confidently spoke to my belief in the change process and my investment in anti-oppressive practice.  As a social worker, I felt this was imperative to commit to early in my days as a therapist.

7.  Know how comfortable you are with ambiguity.  That might sound a little odd, but I was given several hypothetical situations in which there clearly was no "right answer".  I knew I hit the nail on the head when I wrapped up my response with, "There's not always going to be a clear cut answer, but you do the best you can do with the information you have at the time.  You commit yourself to the client and doing good work, and in the end, the power you yield over any given situation is somewhat limited."  Smiles and furious scribbles all along.  We can't control the outcome.  We can only contribute our best to the process.

8.  This one isn't actually mine, but I have several friends who have completed interviews in which they were puzzled over the seeming simplicity of the interview questions and wondered if they had responded fully.  I remember when I used to ask fairly basic questions to potential Guardian Ad Litems; I wanted to see their response style.  I wanted to get a feel for their ability to use common sense.  If it seems too easy, take a deep breath.  Don't get arrogant or over confident, but rest in your abilities.  You're letting your interviewers know who you and what your style is.  Be comfortable that that's more than enough.

If you have any questions, please feel free to comment here.  If you have any ideas to contribute, please feel free to comment here, too!  And please know that I'm so grateful to be able to call you a colleague in working to the empowerment of others.  Be blessed!
Appraisal! Progress!
Into everything.  Only 5 months old, but she just crashes everywhere.  She also licks the walls for no apparent reason.  We're concerned.

Photo update of the dog who has become a family member:

She is terrible at helping me change the sheets on the bed.  So lazy.

The look she gives us from the couch while we're eating at the table.
She does not support my self care plan of once weekly yoga.
She does not move from the mat.
She steals dryer sheets.
And underwear.
And socks.
It is quite embarassing.
She's been known to jump in the shower with you.
And get a requisite shot of warm air after.
Because, you see, she stinks when she's wet.
She stares intently at boxes that come in the mail.
Because she's already figured out that with packages come packaging ...
We took away her ability to have puppies.
(Shoes almost didn't go through with dropping her off at the vet...)
So pitiful in her cone.
At the park near our (I dearly hope) soon to be house, she loves playing with Shoes with this ...thing. 
She knows how to sit, wait, lie down and shake hands.
She does not know how to not rip up paper like she's possessed.
She prefers Shoes.
That's ok with me ... that means Shoes gets to handle her when she gets a little insecure and needy.
She's naughty beyond all belief.
And then she lies down next to you on the couch and falls asleep on you.
I'd like to give her away.
But instead, we'll keep her.

As I deal with the inevitable semi shock of leaving my nurtured, protected cocoon of graduate school (where we talked about empowerment, micro aggressions, and anti oppressive practice) and entering the work force of crisis mental health in a very rural area (where examining our values is all too often replaced with "we just received another call from the ER, we have 2 other workers out on crisis, who's got this?"), I find myself struggling with the classic symptoms of overworked social workers everywhere:

Feeling overwhelmed
Waking up at 3, wondering if I turned paperwork in
Failing to keep a work/life balance (and not being the most popular professional in the room when I bring that up)
Feeling resentful that my time is never really my own
Letting my other interests lie dormant

It's different for everybody.

Self care is a strange topic in the helping profession, I think. We know that we need to care for ourselves as we respond to the critical needs of others. We know we need to at least try to pretend to prevent burnout. So we throw around ideas like "take a warm, relaxing bath" or "read a good book" or "exercise at least 3 times a week."


I know very few workers who actually do these type of things.

My own personal belief is that most of the workers I know are female and have also taken the responsibility of caring for their partners and children as well. They'd love to take a bath.

There's no time.

(That paragraph was astoundingly gender normative. I apologize and acknowledge that families are complex and varied. And I would like to applaud my dear MSW friend, B., and her husband, The Mr., for what seems to be a beautiful blending of responsibility sharing and mutual support in their family).

I've no doubt that things like baths and walks and reading books help some people. Truthfully, though? As I start to address my own needs as I continue to respond to dear souls near suicide (as that's now the limited scope of our crisis mental health agency), "taking a bath" just doesn't even feel close enough to what my soul needs.

My soul is a hungry, thirsty little creature that needs much more than that.

We talked about this in grad school. I had an advanced practice instructor who believed, absolutely, we should get enough sleep and eat good food and take care of our bodies. And she didn't believe it was enough.

Because here's the problem, dear hearts: when you work with people for so many hours during the day, and then sometimes visit the ER again at 2:00 am if it's your on call night, the emotions and metaphors you start to have and identify with aren't full of peace, love, and unicorns tooting glittery, anti oppressive rainbows.

I'm tired. I'm frustrated. I don't know if this person's situation will change. I'm upset with the police / nurses / docs. I'm scared I don't know what to do right now. I can't be a part of this dysfunctional social service system anymore.

But we're professionals who are continually trying to advocate for humanity, right? So how can we possibly admit that sometimes we have human emotions and that sometimes we are just so over everything. All of it.

This advanced practice instructor I had believes this is where the heart of self care is. We must know what we're feeling. We have to take time to check in with ourselves so that we're not completely overwhelmed later. We have to know that we're feeling exhausted, infuriated, grieved ... And instead of warring with ourselves (you're a terrible social worker who should never feel irritated; your co workers never do; keep it together, genius), we need to be gentle with ourselves and meet these feelings with compassion.

It's like this: if a child we loved came to us with a serious problem, our hearts would be moved with compassion and we would immediately respond, most likely, without judgment because we would just want her to feel better. We would join with her and nurture her and soothe her.

We are deserving of that same compassion.  We need to truly know what it means to accept whatever we've got going on in that moment (for better or worse) as what we've got going on in that moment.  If we don't know that for ourselves, we will, dear hearts, have a very difficult time modeling that for our clients.  I like myself needs to be more than a pop psychology phrase.  I like myself is more I understand what I'm going through right now and I meet that need with compassion.

I think Susie (the instructor) is right.  I think this is the heart of self care.

Here's what else helps me for self care.  This is my frosting:

1. I remember my faith roots.  I am a progressive, left, social worker.  I am a Christian.   For me, these two things do not compete.  (If you have questions about this, please let me know.  I'm happy to expand and engage in dialogue about this.)  On my way into work, I spend time in prayer. 

2. I also meet with a meditation / walking meditation group. Sometimes my days go from 4:00am to 9:00pm (from the commute to work, to making dinner and taking care of the dog at night) and I don't always have time for a daily practice. That's ok. That's where I am right now. So I meet with a group on Sundays. This is an hour and a half of clearing my brain and breathing. Sometimes I spend time in formal prayer during this time, too. A little unorthodox, but I have to do what works for me.

3.  Remembering to communicate well with my husband and to voice my feelings / needs.  Sometimes, at the end of the day, I am so very tired of talking about emotions.  I'm exhausted, but I still have needs.  Taking a deep breath, and honoring and speaking to my needs actually honors him:  he's not a mind reader.  The more open communication we have, the more I am fulfilled in  my marriage.

4.  Vinyasa Yoga.  I have chronic shoulder pain that is exacerbated by stress.  I usually only have time to do this once or twice a week.  That's ok.

5.  I take time on Sunday evenings and plan my week.  A look at the planner, especially as we're trying to buy this house!,  helps me focus on what the week will look like (as much as I can.  Crisis work is crisis work.).  I also use this time to plan our menus for the week.  This helps a TON with not eating out at night.  Additionally, because I commute an hour each way to my job, it helps me think about what food I want to be eating for lunch (and therefore avoid fast food) and what snacks I want to put in my crisis bag.  This is a little tricky; fruit and veggies are perishable and mashable (and oh, man, is that gross when that happens).  I like nuts.  Power bars.  Bottles of water.  Sometimes I'll cut up veggies and put them in a Ziplock bag; I just don't always remember to eat them.

These things help.  But, as I've mentioned, it's the frosting.  The heart of self care is taking care of the center of us.

Sometimes this blog gets quite a few readers, but few commenters.  That is perfectly ok.  I've kept this blog for six years with commenters coming and going.  But if you, who are involved in social service, are reading, and you do have a moment to share, what do you do to take care of yourself?  How do you know when you've forgotten to?  How can we honor each other and support each other in doing this?
... When you have a community outpatient mental health clinic that's been slammed with crisis?

A bunch of harried therapists, closed office doors and rushed comings and goings. The need is great, my friends.

To cope, I'm in denial and writing this post. Later, though, I will hug my husband and my dog and write emails to dear friends.

Here's a pic of Rosie in her Yoda Halloween costume. Why? Because this is my moment of self care and she makes me smile.