I don't know if you know this about me, but I come from a military family.  My father was career military and my hometown was "Any Military Base Anywhere."  We lived in Europe until I was 9.  Both of my grandfathers served, my uncles served, my cousins served, my sister served and is now in the Reserves....

It's an interesting thing:  to be able to hold a deep river of gratitude for those who choose to serve the country, and to balance that with an equally deep river of heartbreak around how shattering war is, how damaging it is to countries and human beings, and how much is spent on this country's military budget.  It's an interesting thing:  to deeply honor and truly respect the choices of your family members, and to zip it when we're all of having holiday dinners because we wouldn't want to have that discussion again, now, would we?

(I secretly do want to have that conversation, but, you know ... I wasn't always a trouble maker.  In fact, when I was a kid, I talked so little in class that one of my elementary schools sent me to speech therapy.  They were convinced that the reason I wasn't talking was because I was having trouble actually forming words.  I wasn't.  "Speech Therapy" didn't last long.  I don't have that problem anymore.)

Despite any deeply held political beliefs I have, this is still true:

In all of the US Conflicts,  more than 1,319,729 soldiers have lost their lives.  That, to me, is an absolutely staggering number.  (Of course, some of those conflicts included conflicts (including US military / American Indian conflict) that I just cannot support by any stretch of the imagination.)   I honor the loss of life and the millions of family members who have been affected by that loss.

Today is Memorial Day.  We honor those who lost their lives in combat.

Today is Memorial Day.  I also remember that a generation of Russians lost their lives in WWII.  I also remember that between 112,789 and 123,419 Iraqi civilians (civilians) have lost their lives in the most recent conflict.  I also remember the millions upon millions of Native Americans who were killed by foreign settlers.  I could go on.  And on.  And on.

Memorial Day is not simple for me.  It is not a 10% discount at Taco Time for veterans.  It is not American flags flying on Main Street.  It is not Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA."  It is a sticky situation, a terrible middle ground, where many of my own truths run headlong into each other.  I'm remembering.  I'm troubled.

And I'm hopeful, because, darn it.  That's part of who I am as well.

Am I really going to end this post by a quote by Fred Rogers?

I am, my friends.

“When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.” 
 Fred Rogers

And our night away was perfect and lovely and warm. Unseasonably warm.  We played the resort's golf course, and while I normally just tee off and putt, I played several holes all the way through.

I am a terrible golfer.  Really.  Just terrible.  But I love it.  Every time I get to that ball, it feels like a brand new opportunity.  (To biff it, usually, but still a new opportunity).  We were so very lucky that the other two in the foursome were regular rural PNW guys who wanted to drink beer and have fun.

That meant they were able to cheer my very small successes and not be super serious about this expensive round of golf at the resort.

Now "vacation" (do you count one night away as vacation?)  is over.  And I'm at training in the city for the new job, missing Shoes and Rosie.

This new job is doing intense in home family therapy for families who are at immediate (read:  IMMEDIATE) risk of having their children placed in foster care.  It's either do this therapy or the kids will be removed. So we're back to child protection, and honestly, and please read my heart here as I am not, of course, saying I am ok with child abuse / neglect, it feels very much like my career "home".  I have worked with child protective services as a professional for years.  Years.

I think this is what I know.

I always wondered when therapists talked about their "specialty" areas (grief and loss, eating disorders, geriatric counseling, etc) how they got there.  I don't think it's that far fetched to say that one of my specialties is becoming working with families who have experienced trauma.

We're at this training and we're talking about referrals and engagement and motivation and hope and optimism and change and how the data shows that 90% of the families who make it to the end of the program stay together.

Hard to argue with those kind of numbers, right?

And I'm feeling all stirred up again, like this experience is speaking to the heart of who I am as a social worker.

Up with families. ;)

... it hits like a hurricane.  We'll call this one hurricane Christina (only because Christina begins with a C and this is the 3rd metaphor hurricane of this year for Shoes and I.  Christina is also the name of one of the therapists I grew closest to while I was at Community Outpatient Mental Health; Christina the person is not the same as Christina the hurricane.  I just spent a solid 3 minutes explaining that to you, when it doesn't matter at all, because none of you have met Christina the person.  But, there it is.)

I went to Day 1 of training at new Social Work Agency and it was lovely.  I left town at a decent hour. I was home at 5:00.  Shoes and I visited and had dinner.  The people at Social Work Agency are talented, top notch therapists and social workers who are also extremely empathetic.  They told me I could take Friday off since I'll be out all next week at training.  It was calm, and peaceful and healthy.  Not all days will be like that, I know.

I am a social worker, after all.  Sometimes it just gets crazy.  Like, crazy.  O, the stories I could tell, of fights and cops and emergency rooms.

But I digress.

I went to bed last night and couldn't wake up this morning.  As in, begged Shoes to take Rose downstairs to her Puppy Palace (we keep her in our unfinished basement during the day - it's huge) so I could keep sleeping.   And I slept and slept and slept.

Sometimes when you get out of a situation that's not the right fit for you, you see things with more clarity.  Sometimes you see how unhealthy things really were.  That's the spot I'm in.  And I'm a little freaked out by it.  Sometimes when you're in the middle of trying to work and survive and live, you let a lot of things go, because you just have to.  You have to to be able to make a living and try to serve the needs of high risk clients who deserve your absolute best.

I still don't know how to talk about the bad place I was in with this other job.  Not in a way that I would be proud of or comfortable with.  I'm sitting here staring at my exit interview packet thinking how in the world am I going to answer these questions when I know it doesn't matter and my feedback (which has always been gentle and empathetic and constructive) will be taken personally.  How can I fill this out when I know that at least 4 other therapists, in the last 12 months, have tried to share the same feedback .. and there have been very few efforts to address what's there.

You know what was good about the old agency?

The therapists I grew close to.  There are a handful I trust implicitly, and was always so grateful to see their faces at the Emergency Room as we supported each other in detainments that lasted hours and hours and hours.  We've hung out.  We've met spouses.  Our dogs have made friends with each other.

It was one of the therapists that quit earlier this year that told the new Social Work Agency that would be crazy not to hire me.  We're now working together as satellite therapists in our Very Rural County.  I don't have to miss her; she's right here.  But I am so very grateful for the people who are still holding it down at the Old Agency.  And I'm looking forward to camping trips and summer bbqs and deck parties with them.  When you're dealing with untenable situations, there are few things that are more dear to your heart than colleagues who drop everything to  back you up.

Oh, the things I continue to learn in my 35th year of life.

I don't feel as tired this afternoon, but the feeling of being wiped out still lingers a little.  The weather is gorgeous, and I'm about to take Rose over to Shoes' mother's house to hang out with her and her new Terrier puppy, Maggie.  Rose is having "Grandma's weekend" while Shoes and I go up North to the mountains for a night away on a crystal clear mountain lake.  I feel different already.  I feel like a human.  I feel like I still want to do social work.

Self care, dear hearts.  Self care.
I've majorly violated my one big New Years' Resolution for this year, which was to live 12 months with no major life changes.  In this case, though, I think a major life change was needed for my health (see previous post) and the health of my family.  (A husband and a dog is a family.)

I've resigned from my job as a child and family therapist with the community outpatient mental health clinic.  Hearing Shoes say (over and over and over and over), "We can sell the house, babe.  We'll move back to Portland.  It will be ok." made me realize how much sadness and grief and stress this job was bringing into my home.

It hit me really hard about a month ago when Shoes said quietly, "You can't go on like this.  This depression is eating you alive."

Depression?  Well.  Not really.  I mean, sad and stressed out and trying to rely on God's promises, but I know that I didn't match the clinical criteria for depression.  You gotta watch how you label mental health around a therapist. But the fact that Shoes was experiencing my situation as depression was a bit of a shake up.   I have more to say about the job I'm resigning from, but I'm looking for a graceful, diplomatic way to own my truth and not slander the agency.  And I will probably wait until I've fully left to write that post.

Before I resigned, though, I accepted an employment offer from a parent agency in a town a couple hours away who was looking to expand services in my county.  So.  I am still a child and family therapist.  Now, I am a child and family therapist who will be providing intense, in home therapy to families who are either:  1) At imminent risk of losing their children to Child Welfare; or 2) Having their children returned to them out of foster care.  This is gloves off kind of stuff.  The kind of therapy that happens as a last chance resort to try to keep families together.

I'm going from one intense agency to another, I know.  Here's the thing though.  With the new agency, my maximum caseload is 2.  2 families.  Now, each family gets 10 hours of in home therapy a week, but I will never be assigned more than 2 families.  And paperwork is written into my work agreement.  And here's the thing that my heart is the most grateful for:

I will be working from home.  I will not be away from the house 12-14 hours a day.  The implications this has for Shoes and I is huge. We might actually have space to start thinking about human children.  We'll see.

I have 3 more client days at the clinic.  This has been tough.  Due to the very high turnover at the clinic, I am the 3rd or 4th therapist these kids and families have had in the last 12 months.  These families are upset, and understandably so.  It has taken all of my professional energy and clinical skills to be able to hold their disappointment, irritation, frustration, fury ... and grief and loss ... while experiencing my own.  I have never ascribed to the school of thought that I, as a therapist, should be a blank slate.  Especially not when working with kids and families with a history of trauma and attachment issues.  (No worries, I'm not letting myself fall apart.  It's been several days of lots of emotion, though.)  It's also been incredibly difficult to professionally, yet with empathy, respond to statements such as, "That agency must be a really terrible place to work if they can't keep any of their therapists"; or; "I don't know where you're going after this, but it has to be better than (my agency)."  (That last one was from a professional I respect and admire.)

I've been working almost every day, many hours a day.  My last day with the current agency is Wednesday, and on Thursday and Friday, I'll drive up to the parent agency for initial training.

If anything, the past 9 months has taught me how important the health of the agency is in social work / social services.  That's obvious, right?  Maybe, but it's really difficult to assess that in an interview.  I know to ask more questions early on now.  I know to ask for what I need.  I know to ask, "What makes a person a good fit for this agency?".  Maybe I won't always get straight answers, but I can only do what I can do.

It's beautiful outside right now.  I went into the agency this morning and worked on cleaning up client files.  And then Rosie and I went to the dog park.  It's time to start putting this behind me.  It's time to start remembering why I wanted to become a therapist.

Oh, social work.