I don’t FEEL tardy…

Last week, I had a policy brief due for one of my classes. Earlier in the semester, we were asked to find a piece of legislation introduced within the last year, something relevant to the field of social work (whether it benefits or goes against the nature of), and to plan on using that for the class’s assignments. We started off with a lit review which, in hindsight, was a HUGE blessing (in deep disguise, as I was up til 6am writing it) because it provided most of the research relevant to the legislation and our argument for or against it.

So, the policy brief was essentially something written to offer up a summary of the main issues surrounding the policy, provide statistics and other relevant information, and then ultimately give some recommendations, either to strengthen or change the policy, or to offer up wholesale approval (or condemnation). I probably gave my topic away with one of my previous posts on here.

Anyway, the point of all that is to say: At some point while I was digging through reports and statistics and research and writing and editing and crafting the brief, I sat back for a minute and thought, “Whoa! I feel… smart. Huh.”

It was notable for two reasons. One, I almost for a second or two started thinking I *might* be interested in politics enough to warrant future policy briefs and engagement at the macro level. That would have never, ever occurred to me before, and I’m not entirely sure it’s accurate, but it was there, regardless. And two, it just drove home to me how out of touch I am with my abilities and talents and whatever else I possess. Like, I always knew my sister and brother were smart and competent people; their achievements are out there for all to see, and it’s obvious they’re no dummies. But then, they did well in school growing up, did well in college and graduate studies or whatever, they have really good jobs that require you to be really damn smart… they’re achievers.

I, on the other hand, prided myself on failing through high school as hard as humanly possible, and never challenged myself at all in that respect. I think I just gave up at some point, and felt like I could never measure up to my siblings, so why bother trying? Instead, I went the “creative” route through life, and it’s only now that I’m even beginning to really tap into what I’m capable of.

It’s weird.

And yet, even when I do well, I just assume that I’m doing as well as everyone else, or that the teacher is an easy grader and I can’t trust their opinions because if I’m getting 100’s then everyone else must be, too, and it can’t REALLY be this easy (which usually means I then assume I failed an assignment or did it completely wrong until I get the grade back), and and and… yeah. What a crummy way to think of yourself. I mean, I think it’s good to have some kind of sense of what you’re capable of and what you’re good at and especially what you enjoy doing regardless of whether you’re good at it or not, but to have an underlying messaging system of “you’re not that smart and you’re probably messing it up and there’s no way you’re earning these grades or the reputation of being smart and people are just being polite when they say you’re smart or funny or a good writer or ________” – it’s messed up.

More importantly, it’s incorrect.

So I’m glad, in a way, to be so caught off guard by feelings of competence and smarts, because that means I need (and want) to do more to challenge myself, both academically and also emotionally. I may never get completely rid of that pre-programmed internal naysayer commentary, but I can certainly tell it where to go, and then drown it out with the positive messaging I get from EVERYWHERE ELSE.

Go team!

Rage Against the Machine (YOUR BELIEFS ARE NONE OF MY BUSINESS).

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is Social Work and Social Welfare Policy, wherein we learn about policy analysis. As a (future) social worker, or even as a person simply interested in social justice, it’s important to stay informed and to get involved, whether at the local, state, or national level – anytime there’s something going on that threatens the rights (or lives) of a marginalized population, or threatens the freedoms and equity afforded and deserved by everyone who lives in this country.

Admittedly, up until now I’ve done a bang-up job of avoiding policy and involvement in politics, even as a passing interest, because it all felt way too overwhelming and depressing. Powerless, even. But the wrong people benefit when that’s the position you take – by doing nothing, you’re taking a position, y’all.

So for this class, we had to find a policy that’s been introduced (and/or passed) within the last year that goes against the spirit of social work, and then most of our assignments are centered around that policy and analysis thereof. After perusing the TN General Assembly site (and getting REAL frustrated that someone like Mae Beavers was ever elected into office – keep your hands off my uterus, lady!), I found a policy recently introduced into legislation that does, in fact, go against the very spirit, nature, and ethical code of social work.

Well, to be fair, there were several that fit the bill, but this one made me angry, and I learned that it’s just been passed by the state Senate. SB1556 / HB1840, as introduced, “declares that no person providing counseling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the counselor or therapist.” In other words, these bills will allow for a therapist or mental health professional to actively discriminate and deny services to anyone they deem objectionable, based on the religious beliefs held by the service provider.

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all, let’s start with the definition of “belief.” A belief is not the truth. A belief, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing; something believed; especially: a tenet or body of tenets held by a group; conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence.” To take it a step further, Dictionary.com defines a belief as confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof.”  

A belief is not a truth. Just because you believe in something, that does not automatically make it true, real, valid, or worthy of infliction on anyone else – much less EVERYONE else. What you believe is your business. What you believe has NOTHING TO DO WITH ME. Yes, our country was founded in part to protect religious freedoms, affording every single person who lives here the right to practice the religion of his or her choice. That said, when your religious beliefs render certain peoples or populations “less than” or “wrong”, then your beliefs are going to butt up against all of the other rights afforded those people.

We cannot be considered a country of freedom and equality when your beliefs-that-are-not-truths deem certain people or populations unequal.

Every mental health profession, whether psychiatry, psychology, counseling, or social work, has a code of ethics to which the practitioners agree, and those codes include some variation on the same theme: we seek to help ALL people, in whatever capacity we can. If we find that we are limited in our scope of knowledge, it’s reasonable to refer to other practitioners, but the expectation is that we will always seek to expand our knowledge base in order to help MORE people. And it is on us to set our biases and personal beliefs aside in order to help as many people as possible. Mental health professionals are not religious advisors, and clients seeking help navigating life issues or public services or treating mental health diagnoses are not looking for the provider to inflict religious beliefs on them.

Again: what you believe is not an actual truth. Your beliefs exist to guide YOUR life, not the lives of others.

So, let’s assume the primary driving force behind this legislation is to allow mental health professionals to deny service to the LGBTQI community because they disagree with their lifestyle choices. (It’s a pretty safe assumption, taking the bigger picture into account.) And let’s say that a client comes to you, experiencing difficulty with his or her relationship with someone of the same sex/gender. Let’s say your religious beliefs tell you this person is bad, wrong, going to hell, etc. because they’re in a relationship with someone of the same sex/gender.

That set of beliefs needs to get set aside, because it has nothing to do with anything. The sex or gender of a person and his/her partner has nothing to do with the bigger picture of human connection between two people. The client is not coming to you to ask you what you think of their relationship choices or sex/gender preferences, nor are they asking you whether you think it’s right or wrong. The sex/gender of person you’re treating and his/her partner have nothing to do with the service you’re providing, nor do the private parts and where they fit.

By providing services to that person, you’re not condemning nor condoning anything; you’re helping that person navigate, recover, and move forward. That’s all.

You can still practice your beliefs in your own personal life. You can still choose not to pursue a same-sex relationship because 1) you’re not attracted to people of the same sex, or 2) you are, but you believe it’s wrong and so you’re denying yourself the possibility at true comfort and happiness with someone because of what your beliefs tell you (ahem). What someone else does, and with whom, should pose no threat to what you believe and how you comport yourself accordingly. Unless, of course, the cognitive dissonance becomes too much to bear when you realize what you believe – those beliefs you hold so strongly to that you cannot and will not budge – flies in the face of what looks, feels, and sounds like a better way to live your life.

It’s my understanding that Jesus was all for loving everyone, helping everyone, being good to and compassionate towards EVERYONE. If your beliefs are rendering you incapable of setting yourself aside and humbling yourself enough to serve others no matter what, then maybe you should reconsider either your beliefs, or your chosen line of work. And maybe the government should be in the business of protecting ALL people, instead of allowing for the discrimination of some based on the religious beliefs of some others.

Strike that! Reverse it. Thank you.

My family has a few Thanksgiving traditions, one of which is that we go around the table and name one thing for which we’re grateful. The catch: it can’t be anything easy or obvious, so no saying things like family, friends, or health. This year, everyone had great things to say, but my personal favorite was this: my niece expressed her gratitude for having it in her to recognize drama and toxic behavior, and then having the accompanying willingness (and wisdom!) to simply detach and remove herself from the toxic/dramatic person or situation.

Honestly. She’s 15, and already way smarter that a lot of adults I know (myself included).

Along with being in constant awe of that kid, her gratitude item got me thinking. And if you know me at all, then you know, 1) I pretty much exist on brain/thinking overdrive, and 2) anything pertaining to gratitude is my jam. If there’s a way to find the bright/positive side, I’ll find it; if there’s a way to view things from a grateful perspective, I’ll get there. Uh, eventually. It’s what keeps me (mostly) sane, tolerable to others, and living a much fuller, happier life than in years past.

Anyway. I realized that while there are plenty of obvious things for which to be grateful, there are also a whole lot of ways I’ve been finding the bright side lately. The good to counteract the bad, I suppose. Although… “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” per our dear old William Shakespeare. Whatever the case, here’s a partial list of specifics:

  • I’m grateful to be so busy at the new job that I hardly have time to eat lunch; I still get out of there by 4pm, and actually feel like I’ve been useful;
  • Related: I’m grateful to be so revved by the new gig that I’m having crazy dreams and restless nights, because that tells me all the overload is getting processed and that I’m being challenged;
  • Also related: I’m grateful for making mistakes, because it means I’m doing and trying and failing but getting right back up and trying again – also, learning how to forgive myself my fallibility (that’s a tough one) and being okay with getting right-sized;
  • Making mistakes also means I can offer up understanding and compassion when other people are going through the new person struggle, too;
  • I’m grateful for all the terrible messages on dating sites, because they make the good ones stand out all the more, and also help bring my interests and intentions into way sharper focus;
  • I’m grateful for the folks who don’t reach out or make an effort, because in the midst of feeling lonely or “apart from,” it helps me prioritize the ones who do reach out, and who DO make an effort – and it reminds me to make that effort, too;
  • I’m grateful for not having cable, because it means I end up watching Criminal Minds reruns and hearing new songs that hit just the right spot (like this one, which is a longtime favorite, or this new one from tonight – his voice reminds me a little bit of Antony & the Johnsons, so here’s one of my favorites there, too); and
  • I’m grateful for not being able to do everything myself, because it means asking for help, and that means letting people in.

I’m currently working on being grateful for that stupid B+ I got in one of my classes because I misunderstood the grading scale, overestimated the power of the extra credit, and despite having good reason, skipped two assignments that were only worth 5 points each but were 10% of my grade. Lesson learned, and this here’s fuel for the A-only fire for next semester.

In the meantime… I’m grateful for a month off. And aaaaaaalllllllll this perspective I’ve got. ❤

All the News That’s Fit to Print

Tomorrow marks the first day of my last week with the Ronald McDonald House. The last 2+ years have flown by and a lot has happened during that time, both at work and in my own life; it’s interesting to have it all combined in perspective like that, since I anticipate great change in all things and ways with the start of the new job.

I can definitely say I’ve grown and learned a lot as a result of working at RMH; my biggest lesson was reinforcing my need/desire to live in and appreciate the present moment, especially when you don’t know how many more you might get. I’ll miss having little kids come in my office to hang out or play or talk or dig through the drawers or “help.” But for many, many reasons, it’s time for me to move on to the next opportunity. My new position is with a non-profit that provides treatment services for women impacted by drug/alcohol addiction, mental illness, trauma and/or incarceration, and for just as many reasons, it feels like the next right thing. I’m excited about that.

Mom had major back surgery on Thursday morning, and is recovering pretty nicely. Two fusions and decompressive lumbar laminectomy to relieve some of the nerve pinching, done by the head of the spine department (I think there’s such a thing?) at Vanderbilt, so she was/is in good hands. She’ll be moving to rehab tomorrow, staying for two weeks, and we’ll bust her out for Thanksgiving, I’m sure. We’re all optimistic for a much better quality of life after this, and in the meantime, I’m clocking a lot of hours hanging out at the hospital.

Last weekend was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had, five days spent in Portland, OR. I have a separate post about that, complete with photos for posterity’s sake.

School continues to go well, and I’ve got about 2-3 weeks left of my first semester, I think? Something like that. I am hoping that with all the other life changes going on, I’ll be less exhausted during the week and more inclined to spread the love when it comes to school work (rather than cramming it all in to the weekend). I keep thinking about dipping my toe back into the dating pool, but I think I’ll wait til after the holidays. My time is real precious and limited at the moment (especially with the realization that I need to get on the ball with making my cards again this year…erf). I suppose it’s enough to know, for now, that I’m willing to consider it, and we’ll see what the new year brings.