I went to graduate school, and all I got was a new passion….

At the end of this week, I meet a long-held goal; I graduate with a Masters in Social Work.  The dream has not revolved around the degree as much as the fact that the degree allows me to work in the mental health field.  That is the dream–to work with people who have mental health issues with hopes that I may play a small role as they find lasting help and relief.

I know from personal experience how debilitating and just shitty it is to have a mental illness (mine was depression); I know from personal experience that mental health professionals can also provide enormous help. I believe passionately in what I am getting ready to do!  And aren’t those awesome words to be typing?

I haven’t blogged much while in school, because there has been a lot going on, a lot of what I have been exposed to has been confidential, and I have required a lot of self-reflection and time to process what I have learned.  But here are some of the most important take-aways that I have from the last two years:

  1. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.  And dignity and kindness are not the same thing.

I used to think that I needed to be kind to everyone.  I still choose kindness over many options, but treating people with dignity, i.e. to treat them as if they are worthy, as if they matter, as if they are due respect, is much more powerful.


Source:  http://www.caritas.org.au/learn/catholic-social-teaching/dignity-of-the-human-person

You can be kind to someone, but with a condescending air (“Oh, homeless man, aren’t you thankful that there are people who are willing to give you new shoes?”).

Treating someone with dignity means recognizing that a person is an individual, with a brain, capable of making decisions, and capable of surviving to this point in his/her life (“Mr. Man who is currently without a home, we have some resources available for you, including shoes.  Does that interest you?”)

2. Racism exists.  It is all around, it happens everyday.  It is perpetrated by white people who are happy to tell you that they believe they are better than people of color;  and it is perpetrated by white people who do not believe that they are better than people of color.  In this country, racism is institutionalized, systematized, and often personalized.

I have realized that I have said, thought and acted in ways that could be defined as racist in my past.  My guess is I will do so again in the future.  Yet, I have no intent in my heart to do so.  My goal now is to be an ally to people of color, to open my eyes and recognize when access and opportunities are limited based on skin color, or when choices and options are restricted for the same reason.  Then I must speak up for change, protest where there is wrong, and use my voice to demand action.  And as mentioned in #1 above, everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity, and where I do not see that happening, I have to speak up.

Want to understand racism a little better, especially from a white person’s viewpoint?  Read White Privilege:  Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh.

3.  I am blessed.  I feel it everyday as I work with clients.  I have or had so many advantages or privileges that many people do or did not have, including loving and supportive family, consistent and nourishing food, stable housing, and no exposure to persistent violence.  These are things that many people take for granted as givens, but others are in desperate need for them.


Source:  https://onsizzle.com/t/blessed

But I have also learned over the last two years that the majority of people feel blessed.  I have found this to be an amazing and wonderful discovery.

I have met people in what I would describe as just horrific situations — staggering poverty, legal trouble, chronic illness, intense family conflict — and so often they will talk about how lucky they are in spite of their situation.  “At least I have my kids/my husband/my grandchildren/my God,” they’ll say.  “I have had such a good life, and this is a rough spot,” they’ll tell me.  I will leave someone’s house feeling uplifted because their attitude is joyous.

4. Our Baby Boomers have now all officially entered the age of retirement.  Our second (next to millennials) largest population is 65+.  For the next 30 or so years, America will have to face some huge decisions as by 2040, just over 1/5 of the US population will be 65+.  Healthcare costs, retirement and employee replacement needs, medical research needs (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other older-age onset diseases), assisted living facilities, Hospice and Palliative care, depression and mental health needs (elderly white men commit suicide at the highest rate than any other population), sex education needs (STDs are growing faster in nursing homes and assisted living facilities than any other institutions), legal needs, etc., will all need expanding and funding.  In a current environment and culture where the elderly are not highly valued or esteemed.

I have a personal stake in this because I will hit 65 in less than 20 years (just before that 2040 mark), so yes, I want to know if my elected representatives, my doctors, people on the street, etc., are going to give a shit what happens to my aging self.  Have I spent the first 40+ years working hard so that my last 40 years can be spent being ignored?  I hope not.  I hope not for my sake and for all seniors.  Seniors are AWESOME, and they deserve a lot of respect (and dignity!) for living, surviving and thriving all those decades.


Source:  http://www.businessinsider.com/senior-citizens-living-their-golden-years-2015-10/#you-dont-have-to-be-in-your-twenties-to-be-a-yogi-retirees-in-sun-city-arizona-participate-in-a-yoga-class-4

5.  I like me.  I had stopped liking myself until I went back to school.  My last job almost killed me.  Not literally, but almost literally.  I felt emotionally abused; no project was ever good enough, praise could only be delivered sandwiched between “areas of opportunity”, constant restructuring meant constant anxiety about job security, opaque-ness was the culture, and sexism was tolerated.

I was convinced that I was stupid and unqualified for most any position.  I was almost convinced that I was unqualified to be a good person.

What the last two years have taught me is that none of that crappy, self-defeating thinking was true.  I am not stupid.  I have a lot of good qualities.  I am not only as good as my last PowerPoint; I am worthwhile regardless of my last PowerPoint, my last tax return, my last grade, my last mistake.

As Katy Perry would say:

Now I’m floating like a butterfly
Stinging like a bee I earned my stripes
I went from zero, to my own hero

Roar (2013)

6.  Social workers are cool.  Just watch these to see the proof.

I end this with another quote by my one of my heroines, Beyonce:

I break chains all by myself
Won’t let my freedom rot in hell
Hey! I’ma keep running
Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves

Freedom (2016)

My Improvement Goal

Today’s blog finishes a week’s worth of reflections.  Day 7…

How would you like to improve yourself and your life next year? Is there a piece of advice or counsel you received in the past year that could guide you?

I would like to be able to better express myself.  I think much.  I feel much.  I often do not say much.  Out loud.  Especially about topics that get me fired up.

I rehearse and craft passionate speeches in my mind.  I write brilliant letters to the editor in my mind.  I stun and mesmerize others with my arguments and  well-delivered supporting facts in my mind.

In reality, I do not deliver any of these things.  Especially about topics that get me fired up. Like social injustice.  Like racism, sexism, zenophobia, or any type of discrimination.  Like poverty.  Like mental health.  Like marital fidelity.  Like the current presidential race, or gubernatorial race.  Like animal cruelty.

I would like to say the amazing things that are in my head.  I may not ever be able to.  My contributions may have to be quiet contributions:  voting, volunteering, educating myself, educating others when possible, donating, demanding exemplar behavior from myself.

And maybe one day, I’ll have my own Elizabeth Cady Stanton/Eleanor Roosevelt/Susan B. Anthony/Hillary Clinton/Michelle Obama moment.  Until then, read this blog.  Regardless of my feelings about other policy and issues, I have to speak out about Trump’s sexism.  I have been a victim of sexism and sexist acts, and I am concerned about a leader that seemingly does not recognize that trait in himself, and thus would not recognize it in others or in policies and programs.

Open Letter to Donald Trump from Some Angry Women

Day 6: More Than Half Way There

Here it is:  Day 6 of Reflection.

Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?

I hope to accomplish three things by this time next year:  graduation with my Masters in Social Work (MSW), employment in a job that allows me to do clinical social work, and receiving my LCSW-A (i.e. licensure as an apprentice).  If I can accomplish these three things, then I will have justified leaving my 20 year career in corporate retail to do something different.  I will have completed the necessary steps to start the new career that feels like the career that will be fulfilling and engrossing for the next 20 years of my working life.

I realize that I may not be able to achieve all three right away.  It can be difficult to find a job that allows LCSW-As to perform clinical work.  There are a lot of graduates looking for jobs.  I am confident that I can graduate, and I am confident that I can get my LCSW-A.  Fingers crossed about the hiring situation next spring and summer.

And fingers crossed that I continue to learn in my last year how to be a good clinical social worker.

Is It Shameful That I Can’t Think of an Example?

Day 5 of reflecting as part of the Jewish New Year.

Today’s question:

Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year? How has this experience affected you? “Spiritual” can be broadly defined to include secular spiritual experiences: artistic, cultural, and so forth.

I cannot say that I had any particular spiritual experiences this past year.  But I had a lot of inner soul-searching as I encountered client situations that were unlike anything to which I had ever been exposed.  I had look within myself to understand what I truly value, what my “red lines” are, and what my biases (often implicit) are.

I also started watching Shameless on Netflix, which is definitely a secular experience.

The World

Today’s question is a good one.

Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?

Wow….so many world and national events have impacted me this year.  The Presidential election.  The Syrian refugee crisis.  The terrorist attacks in Paris.  The police shooting of an African-American man in my back yard city of Charlotte.  The 15th anniversary of 9/11. The war in Syria and its humanitarian tragedies.  The death of Prince.  The HB2 bill in North Carolina.  The mass shootings in Orlando.

My list is long, and unfortunately, in rereading it, I can’t find one thing on this list that impacted me in a good way.  These events all brought me sorrow, or frustration, or anger, or grief.  Or a mixture of all these emotions at once.  The world, for many people, is not a welcoming place.  It is often a scary place, and I think that a lot of us are experiencing a lot of uncertainty these days.

I have been really touched by the war in Syria.  Years of civil war — I cannot imagine what it is like to live in a country that is at war with itself.  I cannot imagine what it must be like to live in constant, persistent fear.  And as tales of “barbarianism” are released, I cannot imagine what it must be like to witness and experience such trauma.  No food, no water, no medical supplies.  No shelter, no protection, no government providing security, no guarantee for any basic needs.  And people stay because it is their home.  What if the US turned into such a battleground?  I imagine that a lot of Americans wouldn’t even think of leaving, because this is America, this is where they were born, this is where they belong.  And many Syrians feel the same about their land, so they stay.

And those that leave?  Millions are fleeing, looking for a new home.  Yet, countries around the world are questioning if they should help them.  Our country is questioning if we should help them.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the ordinary people of Syria.  Most of us are born from people who wandered, or fled, or were captured and displaced somewhere in our history.  We should be able to see ourselves in their plight.

This Makes Me Proud…

It’s the second day of reflection before Yom Kippur, and that means answering the 2nd question.  How would you answer this?

Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year? Alternatively, is there something you’re especially proud of from this past year?

I am really proud of myself for going back to school and completing the first year of the Masters of Social Work program.  It took several years for me to find the courage to quit my job and pursue a new career, and I believe that it has been the best decision.

It has not been easy.  I have always been good at school work.  I do not suffer from test anxiety, so school has come easy for me in the past.  My goal when starting school this time was to enjoy the experience and learn as much as possible — grades and performance would be last on the list of my priorities.  I have been able to stick to this goal and philosophy of school.

What has been hard has been the immersion into social work.  Social work is about social justice; it is about enhancing the life of others.  In the preamble to our code of ethics, our mission reads “The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty.”  Since I have been in school, I have been exposed to so many cases where people are lacking basic human needs, like shelter and food, and I have met and worked with so many vulnerable and oppressed individuals, like those with mental illnesses, the homeless, the elderly, minorities, and those in abusive situations.

That is what has been hard.  I have been blessed in my life with a loving and giving family and friend support system, food and shelter, access to education, a family environment that encouraged education and encouraged me to be successful, good medical care, etc., etc.  The exposure to those who have only a few or none of these is eye-opening and heart-hurting.

And I have asked myself several times if I have the emotional stability to be in this profession.

This is why it has been hard.

But I love it and am proud to be pursuing this career.


10 Days of Reflection

Two years ago, I participated in the ten days of reflection that precede Yom Kippur (My Jewish Experiment Day 1).   I did not participate last year, but want to take these days to reflect now.

So, here goes:

Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired?

My divorce became final this year.  Even though we have lived completely separate lives for over two years, and have had almost no contact since the day that I moved out, actually getting divorced and getting my maiden name back felt liberating.  Especially getting my maiden name back.  Until your name has unpleasant connotations, you don’t realize how often you hear it or say it on a normal basis.  Picking up a prescription at the pharmacy?  Give your last name.  Going to the bank?  “Welcome, Mrs. Elder.”  Signing a credit card slip.  Signing his last name.

Hello Name Tag Sticker on White

Hello Name Tag Sticker on White [url=http://www.istockphoto.com/file_search.php?action=file&lightboxID=4096051][img]http://www.erichood.net/bizpeep.jpg[/img][/url]

When you are trying to leave a marriage behind, his name keeps popping up on your way to the new you.

Until I got that final divorce decree.  Which changes absolutely nothing about how I have been living during the last two years, or my finances, or anything.  Except that now I can get my precious name back.  And I am grateful.

I’m Getting a Little Preachy

Listening to the news and scrolling through Facebook, I hear this name and see this face everywhere.  Kim Davis…  Lots being said about Kim Davis.

I feel wrong for being glad and for feeling a sense of vindication because she was jailed today for contempt of court.  Why wrong?  Taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune is something that I strive to avoid.

But I have to own those emotions — there should be consequences for her actions, and I am pleased that she is facing some.  I have been disturbed by her refusal to issue marriage licenses to gay people, claiming that it goes against her Christian religion.

My reasons for feeling this way are manifold:

  1. A sense of unfairness — the rest of us have to follow the laws.  Why should she be exempted?
  2. Discrimination — homosexuals now have the legal right to get married in all 50 states.  Whether you agree or disagree with homosexuality, homosexuals have the same rights as non-homosexuals.  Discrimination against any group, especially in ensuring the same legal rights as the majority, is just plain prejudicial, unethical, and wrong.
  3. Use of religion — ARGH!  Herein lies my biggest frustration.

I have seen comments and articles that argue that since this is her job, she should just do her job.  I agree, up to a point.  Everyone should have the ability to question their own actions on a job, and to be able to refuse to do something if it is unethical or illegal.  Following orders blindly is questionable behavior, as well, but in this case, issuing marriage licenses IS legal.  She, however, is choosing to do what is illegal and unethical — discriminating.

But the use of religion as her validation for her actions irritates and scares me.  I am a Christian, but I don’t want this to be the example of my faith.  And it has nothing to do with my feelings about homosexuality.  It has everything to do with the judging and unloving attitude that she is exhibiting.

I believe that my God charged me with loving my neighbor.  He didn’t call me to His side by asking that I determine what is right or wrong.  He doesn’t ask me to judge those around me and determine their worthiness.  (And for not doing so, I am forever grateful.  What a huge burden and responsibility to judge others — I would not want to determine someone’s character based on the imperfect knowledge that I have about that person.  I have, at best, a 50/50 chance of getting it right, but in reality, very little hope of knowing that person’s heart and head.  Judging is best left to an all-knowing God.)

God doesn’t ask me to determine what sins are worse than others and rank people based on the “hierarchy” of their sins.  He doesn’t ask me to treat certain groups of people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status or behavior and actions, with less dignity or respect or love.  He doesn’t ask me to treat anyone as less than any other person.

He asks me to LOVE.  Love my neighbor.  Love my enemy.  Between those two ends of the spectrum, I think the message is clear — love all.

I do not feel like Kim Davis is exhibiting a loving heart.  And there are PLENTY of other examples like this one that are of someone who calls themselves a Christian acting without a loving heart.  She is not alone in her behavior.

But I am scared that people view actions like these as “how a Christian acts.”  I am scared that people will view Christians who judge, persecute, and marginalize those who do not “act like we think they should” as reflections of Christianity and God.  I am scared that people will turn away from God if these are the examples of living in the faith.  And why wouldn’t they?

These are the reasons why I have a problem with Kim Davis’s actions (and yes, I know I am judging…ironic, huh?).  She is not a reflection of me just because we share the same God and Jesus.  This is why I was secretly excited to see her experience some punishment.  (Again, I wish that I didn’t feel that way — you know, All Judgy Judgerson.)

I need to remind myself and pray that her future actions aren’t based on avoiding punishment, but on loving those around her.  In a perfect world, she would go back to work and not discriminate when doing her job, not because she faces punishment, but because she found that love for all those around her.  Wouldn’t that be a great example of what God urges us to do?

2014 Limerick

I’m so glad to see the end of this year. I have not had the best year, but I have high hopes for 2015.

To celebrate the New Year, I have written a limerick:

Two thousand fourteen is through

It was a shitty year, tis true

Lies and betrayals

Hospitals and ails

Bye bitch year, so long to you

Here’s wishing everyone a fabulous 2015.  Don’t drink and drive.  Tonight or the other 364 days of the year.  And, as always, don’t run with scissors.  This year or any year.  That advice never gets old.