Friday, March 30, 2007

Social workers are nicer than psychologists

I've been getting tons of positive reinforcement from the faculty at my current school, and it's in such diametric opposition to the feedback I got at The Bad Place.

Yesterday morning I met with my academic adviser to go over my schedule for second year. I had already registered for summer classes and was deciding which electives I wanted -- there were two group therapy classes, and I couldn't for the life of me tell the difference between them. They had different titles, but the descriptions didn't seem all that dissimilar.

I had made a careful list of all the required courses, as well as the electives I was interested in. I wanted to be sure that I'd fulfill all my requirements and take the electives I was most interested in. I'd already met with another professor, who teaches a course that's limited to ten students from another field of study within social work, to see what my chances were of being able to take or audit that class. And I was considering taking a graduate psychology course from the university's affiliated psych department.

I told her about all this, and my adviser, to put it bluntly, was blown away by my fastidious and thorough preparations and my initiative in seeking out and meeting with the other professor. She was impressed with my master's from another program. She told me I was way ahead of the rest of my class in planning my future studies and my initial professional goals.

Then I had Foundations of Social Work Practice, and every time I made a contribution to the discussion -- EVERY TIME -- Professor Fun said, "That's a good example.... Great example.... That's an EXCELLENT example.... That's a really good example."

I don't think she said that about what every student contributed. At times I worried that I was contributing too much, or saying things that weren't exactly relevant, but she applauded everything I said.

Their respect and admiration were in such contrast to the contempt that met me at The Bad Place. Those professors thought I was inappropriate, out of control, angry. They disparaged what I said in class. They said other students resented when I spoke up in class.

I'm starting to understand why my professors are so proud to be social workers. And I'm having an easier and easier time coming to terms with becoming a social worker rather than a psychologist. The social worker who was my individual therapist/case manager after my suicide attempt was a wonderful therapist -- great listener, amazing insights, terrific support. I'm still sad that I won't be Dr. Survivor, at least not yet, but the positive reinforcement I'm getting from all of my professors is so precious to me.
Copyright (c) 2007 "Ayelet Survivor"

Monday, March 26, 2007

$12,250

That's how much I spent on healthcare in 2006.

I've been putting off doing my taxes as long as I could. I didn't want to face that number. It's almost half what I earned and received as unemployment compensation.

And the grand total of my refund? $2,029.

I could have done so many things with $12,250. I could have traveled around the world. Gotten full-body liposuction to get rid of the depression weight gain. Bought a diamond tennis bracelet and earrings to match. Hell, I could have bought a car, although I wouldn't want one in Manhattan.

No wonder I'm broke.
Copyright (c) 2007 "Ayelet Survivor"

Touchy, touchy

Some dating websites let you see who's visited your profile. Last week I saw another visit from a 26-year-old. I've gotten many expressions of interest from much-younger guys, usually without any good coming of it, but this guy seemed very mature and VERY cute. Except for... his unibrow.

Silly me, I decided to contact him about it:

It's totally none of my business, but you're so cute, I think you should get your eyebrows done. Why not be perfect?

Ayelet

I don't know what I was thinking. Why would I expect him to react positively to such a rude suggestion? He wrote back:

1) You're right, it's none of your business.
2) Only G-d is perfect.
3) Those who judge me by my eyebrows are not people I want to spend my time around.

Oh-kay. Chastened, I wrote back:

I'm very sorry if I offended you.
Copyright (c) 2007 "Ayelet Survivor"

Social work is all about... marketing

My supervisor is in a closed-door meeting with the shelter's childcare staff, who have been playing favorites among the residents' children. I wish I could attend, because it's supposed to get really ugly (think Jerry Springer), but the shelter director doesn't want me to see any dirty laundry. So I'm stuck with time on my hands, although it's been a busy day; I did my second psychosocial evaluation of a new resident, and I finalized the new groups schedule I produced for distribution (to residents, with a memo from the director, and to staff) and inclusion in the chart system. It will also be posted all over the residence.

Residents are obligated to participate in DV support group, house meeting, independent living skills classes, housing workshop, and several other programs, or shelter funding will be cut. Many residents haven't been going to groups -- in fact, several were unaware of some of the groups that are offered, such as poetry and art therapy.

The group schedule was out of date and unattractive. I re-formatted it, jazzed it up with the heading, "Gotta Go To Groups!" Under the groups listing is the question, "What are all these groups and why do I have to go to them?" Following is a paragraph explaining each of the groups' purposes and that it's important to attend: "Groups offer you the tools to make the most of your stay at the residence and to build an independent life for yourself and your children."

So I'm making up for lost time at my internship. I wasn't expecting them to use my version as the official chart version (a copy is included in the chart with the resident's signature, showing that she received it and acknowledged that she needs to attend groups). I kind of felt I was functioning more as a writer/editor than a social worker, but hey -- using my schedule in the charts makes my work all the more official. Go me!!!
Copyright (c) 2007 "Ayelet Survivor"

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ayelet the actress

Today in Foundations of Social Work Practice I participated in a long role-play therapy session. Actually, two sessions. I was a lesbian alcoholic; the first session was with me and the substance abuse counselor, the second with me, my girlfriend, and the counselor.

And I killed. I was amazing, if I do say so myself. I nailed all the typical addict evasions, denials, and externalization of blame. I created a compelling backstory, including my troubled relationship with my girlfriend, my stressful work environment, my acting out on the weekends -- dancing and flirting with other women because my girlfriend didn't like to dance and thought I made a spectacle of myself. All those L Word episodes sure came in handy. I nailed the eloquent nonverbal communication and body language. And I made everyone, including the teacher, Professor Fun, die laughing. One of the students said that she would have liked to have my character as a friend, because she sounded so fun.

I used to write plays, back in my twenties. I had great dialog and character development, but terrible plots. So they never amounted to anything. But as a writer, it's easy for me to create a character and add in tons of convincing detail.

Good as I was, however, the "counselor" was better. She was amazing. I hit her with all kinds of crazy stuff, and she never faltered, flinched, or fumbled. She asked all the right questions. She managed the direction of the session. And when my "girlfriend" and I were sniping at each other, she brought us back on track and calmed us down.

I honestly don't think I could have done as well as she did. And I can't help but be afraid that while I was good at pretending to be a screwed-up client, I won't be able to handle being a competent therapist -- I won't be able to stay as calm, focused, and directive.
Copyright (c) 2007 "Ayelet Survivor"

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hitting the fan

Nonprofit institutions and academia are prone to vicious power struggles; since the pie is so small, kavod is disproportionately important. So I'm very concerned that the associate director of the shelter doesn't like my supervisor, the social work supervisor, who is on the verge of quitting. If she leaves, I don't know what will happen to me. She and I worked on several projects together, but I won't be able to see them through if she leaves.

This is especially frustrating since I both feel her pain -- between you and me and the wall, the associate director is one heckuva beeyotch, who doesn't know anything about social work, antagonizes the residents, and feels threatened by my supervisor's superiority in knowledge, experience, and gracious manner -- and I'm frustrated that just as I've started hitting my stride, things might come to an end. AGAIN. I remind you that this is my THIRD internship attempt. So I'm very annoyed.

I encouraged her to speak to the clinical director of the agency, which oversees our shelter, two other shelters, and a bunch of methadone clinics. I met with the clinical director before starting my internship, and she was very eager to have me start there -- she has her MSW from my school. I hope she'll tell the ASSociate director to lay off my supervisor.
Copyright (c) 2007 "Ayelet Survivor"

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Dream decoded

Leave it to Dr. Roda to find coherent meaning in miniature sharks biting my legs.

The "new family" is the staff of the domestic violence shelter where I'm interning. The "new mother" is probably my supervisor, who is a very sweet lady. And the sharks are... my clients. It's like I'm afraid they'll suck the life out of me.

Made a lot of sense. I had a meeting with one of the shelter residents, who's had a really tough life. I didn't really know what to tell her -- I felt like I was flying blind and faking it. Even though I've been through years of therapy, it's not as easy as it looks. I didn't know how to respond to some of the things she told me.

But after a while I was able to remember what a classmate of mine told me -- that the first conversation is more one-sided, and the therapist needs to listen more than talk. So I let her talk.

Also, part of my work at the shelter will be teaching by example -- encouraging them to get an education and work on developing a career. Conveniently for me, this resident wants to be a social worker, so I pretty much know what she needs to do and how she needs to do it.
Copyright (c) 2007 "Ayelet Survivor"

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Weirdest dream ever

I dreamed that I was part of a family that put sharks and eels on my legs so they could bite me.

I can't explain it very well. But I clearly remember going to a place -- an aquarium in Australia? -- with a big tank of water. They were choosing the sharks/eels to bite me. My mother (? I think she was blond, unlike my real mother) tapped on the glass to make the animal open its mouth aggressively. It moved sharply, like a lunging snake. I remember the hissing sound as the creature snapped its mouth open. Which I obviously couldn't "really" have heard, since it was underwater. It was small, about as big as my forearm, and it was all gaping jaw and sharp teeth. Lots of teeth.

Then I was lying down, and the creatures were applied to my calves and feet, and they bit me. And I lay there for a long time, wondering when they were going to take them off of me. Everyone left, and I lay there alone in the dark.

Serotonin is responsible for consciousness as well as mood, and people who take SSRI or SNRI antidepressants often notice vivid dreams. When I took Effexor, an SNRI, my mood was great, but I had anxiety dreams every night; several nights I woke up with tears on my pillow. But Cymbalta and Remeron, the SNRIs I'm now taking, haven't had consistent effects on my dreams. Just the occasional doozy, like this one.
Copyright (c) 2007 "Ayelet Survivor"

Saturday, March 10, 2007

My two brains

When I'm not depressed, my brain is like a sponge. I've got a phenomenal memory, and I can think flexibly and originally. That's why I've always been a good student.

When I'm depressed, my brain is like glass. If I try to read or study, the information doesn't get absorbed -- it slides right off. It feels like, if I think too hard, everything will shatter. It's a horrible anxiety and paralysis.

That's how I felt this past Thursday. I don't know why. Tuesday I started my internship. Wednesday I went to classes and did some research for a term paper, downloading articles on the effects of witnessing domestic violence on children. Came home, relaxed, and woke up the next morning paralyzed. I couldn't read. I couldn't write my reading log for Foundations of Social Work Practice, my favorite class because it's most like psychology. I couldn't write a stupid little 2-page brief about my term paper for another class. I had to e-mail both professors and tell them I was sick.

I don't know why things hit me so horribly Thursday morning. Friday morning I felt awful as well, but went in to my internship and managed to get through the day. Next week is spring break, and because I started my internship so late, I will go the DV shelter every day. I hope, I hope, I hope my brain won't turn to glass.

Kay Redfield Jamison, a famous psychologist who has bipolar disorder, has written about feeling alienated from her brain at times. In her case, it was because her lithium dosages were too high, and they blunted her thoughts and senses. But when I'm depressed I feel that same sense of loss. It's terrifying when you can't think and concentrate; it makes going to work or school an exercise in deception. Trying to pretend everything's normal, trying to talk with other people and not show your rage and despair. It's a hard act to carry on, and I've had to do it so many times. I'm so tired of it.
Copyright (c) 2007 "Ayelet Survivor"

Monday, March 05, 2007

I'm still here

I haven't felt much like posting, but I thought I should let everyone know that I'm in a slightly better frame of mind than I was when I last posted.

I still haven't been going to shul or meals on Shabbos, nor did I hear megilla on Purim. I'm a bad Jew when I'm moderately depressed. I did go to a small Purim seuda at Alona and Adir's. The highlight of the day, of course, was their daughter Batya's first poop in the potty (set in a place of honor in the middle of the living room). It is such a privilege to be that close a part of a child's life.

Today I went to a placement fair -- representatives from all the agencies that offer second-year social work student internships, sitting in a big room with lots of candy. Kind of like a trade show for internships, as if the best candy would hook in the most students. Didn't seem to be working that way -- some were even offering pens and keychains but not getting much foot traffic. (The poor guy representing the hospice, where social work interns would help terminally ill patients ease their way into the next world, was very lonely.) I felt a little guilty for taking a piece of Laffy Taffy from an agency that's based in Nassau County -- I'm not taking the LIRR to my next internship -- but I really love Laffy Taffy, so I got over it.

One opportunity sounded like so much fun -- working with pet owners at a super high-tech veterinary hospital. You approach the apprehensive owner in the waiting room, admire their feline or canine companion, and help them through the process of healing their pet or grieving a loss. Sometimes you take the healthy animals to nursing homes for pet therapy with the residents. Basically, you get to play with cats and dogs all day.

It was tempting. Pet therapy has been proven to lower blood pressure, and I'll bet it helps depression. Unfortunately, I'm allergic to cats.
Copyright (c) 2007 "Ayelet Survivor"