Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Unanswered prayers

It's hard to be happy for people who effortlessly get something you've been trying so hard to achieve. I went through two cycles of Western Wall prayers, and I'm just as single as I ever was. So when I got another email from them, saying that someone's frail baby was now thriving, thanks to their prayers, I am sorry to say I wasn't delighted to read it. I wrote back:

After two prayer cycles and no discernible effects, I think you better take me off your email list. I'm not in the mood to read about people whose prayers are apparently more worthy than mine.

Of course they couldn't let that go unanswered:

G-d-forbid that they are more worthy than yours. You are not the only person who is still waiting........... unfortunately......... Hashem desires the prayers of the righteous.

Every moment of suffering in this world represents immense pleasure in the world to come. Not that one would ever want suffering, but to know that all is not for nothing and that all is to your credit is important.

When a person goes to the next world and his/her place is decided.. on one side of the scale is put their averas, on the other side, their mitzvot as well as any suffering.

Hashem should bless you.

Yeah -- that and $2.00 will get me a ride on the subway. After giving them $180, I think they should daven for me until I get married.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

For once, I don't feel like banging my head against a wall

I've been taking a research course all semester, and I haven't learned a thing. I already have a master's degree; I've been writing research papers and doing research projects for years. So when the professor asked us to write down an impromptu evaluation of the course, I didn't hold back.

This course is a waste of time and money. I haven't learned anything. I know the material already. It's an exercise in futility.

I figured, it's anonymous -- I have nothing to lose by being honest. To my surprise, the prof agreed. He sent us all an email saying (in part):

One student clearly indicated that she or he does not want to be taking a research course. Judging from the contents of this student's note I do not think this student should be taking this course. I am asking this student to contact me so that I can attempt to make other arrangements for this student.

Wow. So he and I sat down and sketched out a project for me to work on instead of the class material. And my fellow students -- who also find the class boring, redundant, and pointless but don't have my credentials to get out of it -- applauded my advocacy. I almost forgot I was fat.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Monday, October 29, 2007

Street of mangled dogs

It's near school. Last week, walking toward home, I saw an especially jiggly black lab holding a tennis ball in its mouth. Closer to the beast, I saw that its gait was jiggly because it lacks its right front leg. It was a happy dog -- lolloped along, looking back from time to time at its owner. Takes so little to make a dog happy -- a walk, a few rounds of fetch.

I forgot about the three-legged dog until I saw the one-eyed beagle today. Fur was growing over the socket where late reposed the missing eye. It wasn't as jouncingly jubilant as the lab, but it seemed pretty content.

Sometimes I feel like a three-legged dog. But my attitude is never that good. Right now I'm grumpy as all get-out and woefully unsatisfied. It's hard to be grateful for my life. I know I should be, but I'm having trouble ramping up the gratitude.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Paranoia and resolve

Early this morning I sat down with Professor Fun to review my options. She agreed that it would be a good idea to wait until I've passed my first semester of fieldwork, and proven I'm working at a second-year level. I told her about the concerns several readers have expressed -- namely, the damage Dean Evillene could wreak upon me if I complained about how the internship department bungled my case.

"Dean Evillene can't fail you if your supervisor passes you," said Professor Fun. "She can't keep you from graduating if your fieldwork is good. You said Melanie and your agency are happy with your work so far."

"They are," I said. "It's hard to believe, sometimes. My last supervisor was extremely critical of me. Every supervision session was a list of everything I did wrong. It was so stressful."

Professor Fun nodded grimly. "That's the wrong kind of supervision. Where were you again?" I told her. "I have some other students who are placed there -- and they're not happy."

"I feel their pain," I said. "But Dean Evillene is one of the most powerful social workers in New York City. If I complain about her department, maybe it would come back to haunt me when I try to get a job."

Professor Fun pondered that. "Ayelet, do you know there are local agencies that don't take social work interns from this school?"

"Is it because of the dean?"

"I'm pretty sure that not everyone in New York City loves her."

"My parents are worried about me," I told Professor Fun. "They think I'm still reeling from what happened to me at The Bad Place. They think I need therapy, not recourse."

"I'm a mother," said Professor Fun. "I would never advise you to do something that would bring you more harm than good. Dealing with this matter sounds very important to you, Ayelet. I can't tell you what to do, but you could go through the school's formal grievance process."

"I'm a little afraid of trusting this school," I said. "I'd almost rather go straight to the university administration -- like I am with the Miss Thing thing."

"I don't blame you for being wary. But these are two separate matters," said Professor Fun, "although they're related. I definitely encourage you to proceed with reporting the bias incident to the university. But I think you could try to negotiate with the internship department about getting rid of those 200 hours you supposedly owe. We can check with the Council on Social Work Education to see what the fieldwork requirements are for you to receive your degree. I'm pretty sure the school has you in field longer than necessary. When did they tell you that you owed those hours?"

"In August, right before I was supposed to stop working -- two weeks after everyone else finished," I said. "They expected me to work five days a week straight through August."

Professor Fun huffed in indignant sympathy. "If the internship department refuses to negotiate, you can file a formal grievance. I'll help you."

It was in this mode -- slightly suspicious and tense, although tremendously bolstered by Professor Fun's support -- that I went back to Professor Worried's clinical practice class. I wanted to let the class know that I was fine, and when the prof entered I suggested that I make a public service announcement.

"Not before I do," she said curtly.

Uh-oh. Did I do something wrong? What did I do wrong? I was so unsettled that I misunderstood what she said. I thought she said that she was concerned about what happened last week, expected professional behavior from all of us, and would be speaking to some of us after class.

I panicked. I thought I was going to get yelled at for being such an uncannily good role-player. I got so wound up I couldn't really pay attention to what she was saying. It was a horrible adult version of "Just you wait until your father gets home!" I was so tense that when the professor pretended to be a spider crawling on my hand (I was sitting next to her, and we were discussing anxiety hierarchies) I jumped a mile. (I do hate spiders, but I don't always fall out of my chair when someone brushes my hand.)

Jerry, who is very intuitive to people's moods and states of mind, noticed that I was horribly tense about something, so when we split into duos to construct anxiety hierarchies he asked me to join him and we went off.

"What's the matter, Ayelet?" he asked.

"She's going to yell at me for being unprofessional," I twittered.

"No, she's not. She was talking about Norma," he said.

"Really?"

"Did you notice where she was looking?" he asked.

"No -- I was looking down. I was afraid to look at her."

"She was looking straight at Norma. Remember how after she was done talking, Norma asked a homework question and intimated that a lot of people were confused, and Prof. Worried said, 'You have to ask for yourself, Norma, not the other students.'"

"Oh," I said.

And he was right. Prof. Worried wasn't mad at me. At all. But I was so overwrought that I barely made it through the rest of class. I ran across town to have lunch with Boaz and Bella, a friend visiting from out of town, and recounted the events to them. They agreed with Jerry. Still, I was exhausted -- I felt like I'd watched Schindler's List.

Melanie has also been very supportive. She thinks the experience I'm getting by standing up to the school is priceless advocacy practice that most students won't get before graduation. And I'm inclined to think she's right. The agency is happy with my work because I do good work. I will complete this internship assignment -- and, if my clients have anything to say about it, I will then come straight to work for the agency ;) [Too bad they're not the ones making the hiring decisions.]

I need to go through with this advocacy because I can. I had no recourse at The Bad Place. I have it now, and to ignore it and seek solace in therapy would not help. I am proceeding on solid ground, I have support and backing, and I need to feel like I can take care of myself and stand up for myself. The world is full of injustice, but that doesn't mean I have to tolerate all the unjust things people do to me. I am proceeding cautiously but with determination, and -- moreover -- with the encouragement of social workers I respect and trust.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Monday, October 22, 2007

Perspective

I spoke to one of my professors today about my predicament. She had some very good advice, and we worked out a plan:

1. Wait until the end of the first semester, when the internship evaluations are in (I'm fairly confident Melanie will be satisfied with my work) and the internship department grants me a passing grade.

2. Write a letter to Dean Evillene, saying that according to my evaluation my work is clearly at an appropriate second-year level, and I would like to cancel last year's 200 work-hour deficit, which I incurred through circumstances beyond my control (and, indeed, was blocked from preventing). Stress that five weeks of unpaid work is a significant financial loss. Emphasize that my medical condition necessitates medication, which means I need health insurance and must seek full-time employment to commence as soon as possible after graduation, since many employers do not cover employees until they have worked a minimum number of days, ranging from 30 to 90.

3. State that I hope we can resolve this matter through these means. Await her reply at her earliest convenience.

I'm still going to talk to the Vice Provost's Office. But I think it can't hurt to give the internship department one more chance to make things right, and it's important to pass my first semester. Speaking with the Vice Provost's staff doesn't obligate me to proceed against either Miss Thing or the internship department. It just informs me of my options.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Sunday, October 21, 2007

How NOT to get a date with Ayelet

A person who is too old for me, with whom I have corresponded online anyway (not, I thought, in a romantic sense but just to give him a chance to talk about some issues he's dealing with), just sent me this message:

The clocks ticking; give a guy a chance

I did not need to read that.

That's disgusting, to play the "biological clock" card. You're a jerk.

I should know better -- nothing to be gained by corresponding with these jerks:

That’s a little rough! Maybe I was talking about mine; maybe I was talking about yours. I know one thing you are feeling the pressure, and your response was nothing more than steam blowing off the release valve. Loosen up; I might not be a jerk

How utterly meretricious.

You were not talking about your biological clock. Why would that induce me to go out with you -- because I took pity on you? You're trying to play on what you think might be my insecurities, and that's manipulative and disgusting. The "pressure" I feel is the refusal of men to date women their own age, which is why too many older men are bothering me and too many men my age are overlooking me. You are definitely a jerk, as are so many older men. Maybe there's a reason you never found anyone who wanted to marry you.

And it just keeps getting better; he wrote:

You need a wakeup call, so here is the (Air-Horn). You don’t fight wars for the country you live in. You aren’t expected to out earn, and have a higher social status then the women you marry. We live with this set of demands. Read that as thing we actually have to do. All you have to do is take care of your bodies and be a symbiot to your mate rather than a parasite. Most women in this generation have never even pondered that idea. Wake up; I am giving it my best to marry a Jewish Woman. I schlep myself all the way to New York to do the right thing, and get hit in the face with nothing but attitude. There is a reason why Jewish men marry none Jewish woman. Keep it up… I have other easier choices, but I keep making the hard one. Why haven’t you produces a family yet? To picky, can’t find a man with enough money. If you are past thirty, and physically fit; what is wrong?

Why do men think that complaining how Jewish women are so unreasonable is going to make us want to date them?

I haven't met a man with whom I felt sufficient love and respect to start a family. And your rudeness and ridiculously outdated attitude confirm that you're not that man. (One of the reason I don't like dating older men is that we don't share enough similar opinions and outlooks to be compatible.) I am not a "symbiote"; I am a PARTNER.

If all you're looking for is a woman in perfect shape, and not concerned about personality compatibility, no wonder you haven't found her! I've heard enough more than enough complaints from Jewish men that Jewish women are too difficult to please. Having tried very hard to please a number of Jewish men, I'd say it's not a gender issue. And don't accuse me of being too picky without knowing anything about any of the men I've dated.

You're not asleep -- you're in a coma. Have you tried to date even one woman over 40, maybe one with kids, since you got to NYC? I'd suspect you'd have lots more success. However, I'm really not interested in hearing back from you.

What the hell is wrong with men? Why can't they date women their age? Men my age are telling me I'm too "old" for them. I'm so fed up with it.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I love it when I'm right

My good friend Celeste confirmed my (and Jerry's) suspicions. I cc'd her on my response to Prof. Worried and the deans, and she wrote me:

It actually wasn’t clear that you were acting. After you left, a few people wondered whether you were or weren’t. One person thought that you weren’t, but said if you were, the class didn’t handle it well, and hoped that it would’ve handled it better. Another person was very certain that you were, and talked about how it was very important for our prof to be in that class. She said that whenever a mindfulness session is led, the facilitator must be very well trained. In general, we can’t assume that just because we’re doing something in the classroom, somebody might not have a reaction to it.

[Note to my readers: Utter poppycock. People don't just dissociate because they're doing mindfulness exercises.]

That sounds like a very good substance abuse treatment class you had. Great experience! The kind of thing that would really help with your education.

[Celeste, like many of us, is frustrated by the lack of actual clinical training we're getting in our clinical practice class. It's clear the teacher is a seasoned clinician, but she tends to tell rather than show. Which doesn't really give you therapeutic chops, so to speak.]

I knew Celeste's natural delicacy would make her reluctant to name names, but I begged:

Please tell me who was "very certain."

I am going to make a public service announcement next class, to let people know I was ACTING. Honestly -- if I hadn't been, how would I have recovered so soon? People don't just dissociate one minute and then calm right down.

She caved:

Norma was quite certain. She said she’d had some experience while facilitating some sessions, and she said that you had a definite look about you. I didn’t actually notice a look. It seemed that she was the only one who fully felt that you weren’t acting. However, that’s probably a good idea to discuss that in class next week.

[A little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing. Or, as in Norma's case, a strong propensity to believe in your own omniscience.]

Perhaps when you said you were exaggerating, it may have seemed that you did slightly (?) dissociate but were able to recover quickly. I think maybe 4 or 5 of us were still in the room while this discussion was happening. It was clear to me that none of us really knew what dissociation really looks like. I’d like to know. I’ve never actually seen someone dissociate.

Let's make snake bites out of lemons:

I knew it! (So did Jerry.) Norma is such an idiot. Next week I will apologize and maybe ask the prof to talk a little bit about what real dissociation looks like. And I'll apologize, and say that I don't have borderline personality disorder -- I only suffer from a narcissistic desire to control class discussion, and I will seek help for it.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

She gets me

Had lunch with Claudia -- actually, she had lunch and I had coffee. (Prosciutto looks really, really good.) I showed her last year's midterm from social welfare policy, which she faced this afternoon.

It was so amazing to be able to talk with her about living with this disease, being locked up in the hospital (even when you're glad to be there, it's nice to be able to go outside once in a while, just for some fresh air), terminal insomnia -- to know she understands everything I'm feeling. I can't say I do exactly the same for her, because I don't have borderline personality disorder (no matter what my silly classmates think). But it's good support for both of us.

Claudia's a very quiet, low-key person -- at least, she appears to be, the few times I've seen her. It's hard to believe that she has borderline and bipolar. But toward the end of lunch, she started getting more and more nervous about the exam. She got very quiet and looked away from me, then... she wasn't there. Her gaze focused on the distance. I wasn't sure if she was dissociating, or self-soothing.

I let her be and just sat quietly. It's important to be comfortable with silences; that gives other people the chance to think and process. I'm not so good and sitting with silences, so I decided to practice.

She came back to herself, and we paid the bill and walked back to school. We commiserated about the urge to shop when you're bipolar, and the corresponding inability to shop when you're depressed.

"Duane Reade is like Disneyworld when you're manic," I said. "You want one of everything. When I was depressed, I used to go to the drugstore to buy toothpaste and look at all the boxes stacked on the shelves. I thought of how someone spent hours stacking the toothpaste, and I didn't deserve to have someone go to all that effort for me. So I couldn't buy toothpaste and I got gum disease!" She laughed. We laughed.

After lunch and dealing with Prof. Worried's email, I found Jerry in the hall to tell him the ridiculous story. Claudia came out from the midterm, a little pale, and quiet as usual.

"Want to go for ice cream?" I asked. I thought it might buck her up; she wasn't thrilled with her performance.

She considered for a moment. "Sure," she said. We spoke, and we were quiet, for about half an hour, getting and consuming the ice cream.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

I was ACTING, people!

Last night in my substance abuse treatment class, we all roleplayed a very disruptive support group for addicts and alcoholics. I pretended to be a brilliant neurologist hooked on painkillers and a person with borderline personality disorder, a heroin addiction, and a tendency to cut myself. The professor applauded me at the end of class. "Bravo, Ayelet -- very ham!" (Guess he doesn't know I keep kosher.)

Today in my clinical practice class two classmates were assigned to teach self-soothing skills (it's part of the manualized treatment of borderline personality disorder, and honestly, I'd rather learn it from the professor, but she wasn't in class today). We were supposed to fill out evaluation forms on the student presenters, and one of the categories was rating their ability to encourage and manage discussion in the group.

To make sure there was some discussion for them to manage, I asked one student an annoying question to see how she'd handle its impact. The other, my pal Jerry, I tried to flummox by telling him that the exercise he taught us made me feel empty and disconnected from myself -- i.e., instead of soothing me, it made me dissociate. Which is not something we want to induce in persons with borderline personality disorder.

Jerry knew I was kidding. I told the class I was kidding -- exaggerating. One of my classmates took me seriously, and I got this email from the professor:

Dear Ayelet,

At least one of your colleagues was concerned about you following the skills training portion of class today. The T.A., who led the class today in my absence, contacted me immediately after class. It was not her assessment that you were distressed after class by the content or how your response to the exercise was handled, but given your classmates' concern, I wanted to contact you as soon as possible. Could you please respond to this email and let me know what occurred? I have cc'd the dean of the school and of academic affairs on this as well; please respond to all.

Yiii-ii-ikes! I shot back, as quickly as I could:

Dear Prof. Worried:

I was acting!!! I'm so sorry if I disconcerted anyone. I was trying to challenge Jerry, who was teaching the self-soothing skill from the distress tolerance module, and kick up some discussion. I happened not to like his choice of self-soothing exercise, but I was *completely* exaggerating the effect it was having on me. I have never cut myself nor ever wanted to.

I hope you assure my classmate that I was absolutely fine, just acting to make the presentation more real -- if that makes sense? I was just in a role play last night for my alcohol/substance abuse treatment class, and I played a similar character in a recovery group we were simulating. The professor gave me a round of applause and thanked me for making things tougher on the student who was trying to moderate the group. I guess I was still kind of in "role-play" mode.

I apologize for obliging you to expend your valuable time on this matter -- Ayelet

I can't imagine who would be stupid enough to think that I meant what I was intimating... yes I can. There's an incredibly annoying woman in the class. Norma. Middle-aged, very pushy, talks as if she's the greatest expert on everything, which is highly annoying to us real experts. I'll probably never know who it was, but I'm inclined to think it was her. (So does Jerry -- he thinks she's got borderline.) Then again, I'm inclined to dislike her, so I might not be guessing entirely objectively.

Gevalt. Fortunately, I calmed Prof. Worried right down:

I am glad. Thank you for your reply. Will look forward to seeing you in class next week.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Do I dare disturb the universe?

Really getting tired of this terminal insomnia. It's been every day this week. I know I've been lying around too much on the weekends; I've also got some muscle aches, which a doctor of mine once told me could be due to decreased circulation from inactivity. I'm going to try to walk a bit today, since I only have one class and then coffee with Claudia, the bipolar/borderline student I met at the panel discussion I organized.

I met with the Executive Director for Diversity, Human Rights and Social Justice at school yesterday. I wanted to tell her about the harassment and biased speech Miss Thing inflicted on me and how the internship department totally botched both that situation, my second-year internship interview, and placing me in a new internship to finish out my first year. Also how Dean Evillene was rude, hostile, dismissive, and a very bad social worker, and how I'm supposedly in hock for 200 fieldwork hours because they wouldn't let me take the internships I was offered.

Dr. ED-DHRSJ was extremely sympathetic and supportive. I fumbled through my statement of outrages, and she listened and completely condemned everything. Including what happened with the internship department. I tried not to cry, but couldn't entirely hold in the tears, especially when talking about how awful Dean Evillene was.

"Did you feel revictimized?" asked Dr. ED-DHRSJ. That's an incredibly leading question. But it hit home. I could feel my face crumple and I started crying harder. Which answered her question.

I've gotten some good validation from other students around my experiences -- they were uniformly shocked at how Dean Evillene treated me, and many of them had outrageous internship experiences of their own, so they could sympathize. Professor Fun has also always supported me, and was happy to hear I was going to see Dr. ED-DHRSJ.

Now it's time to decide what I want this action to accomplish.

1. Some kind of inquiry and formal censure of Miss Thing and the agency she works for. Dr. ED-DHRSJ asked me if the school is going to send that agency any more students, and I said I didn't think so. She thought the internship director might have told the agency they would no longer send students to an agency that allowed a social worker to use anti-Semitic language; if that's the case and the agency didn't censure or even reprimand Miss Thing, the agency should be censured as well.

2. I want the extra 200 hours I'm supposed to work to go away. I love my internship, but I don't want to spend more than a month after graduation not getting paid and not having health insurance -- especially since the internship department let me languish for weeks even though I had two perfectly valid options to finish my first year and could have started the day after I left the DV shelter. I hope the university can throw some weight around to accomplish that.

It's not important to me to get an apology from Dean Evillene -- if I never have to see anyone from the internship department ever again, it will be much too soon. But as a classmate of mine put it, "Ayelet, you should totally call the internship department on what they did, because no other student should have to go through what you did."

She's right. I am not being vindictive. I am standing up for my rights, and letting people know that anti-Semitism and revictimization are not acceptable. Social workers are supposed to be advocates. As Hillel said, "Im ain ani li mi li?" If I do not act for myself, who will act for me?
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Monday, October 15, 2007

I dreamed my supervisor was a psychoanalyst

Actually, it's not a dream. Melanie has started analysis training, so her approach to my work with clients is always on two levels -- manifest and latent. It's very interesting, but I wonder what's going to happen when I start using CBT with some of the clients.

Also: the cravings for cake and frosting are HUGE. It's so frustrating. Even when I'm not hungry -- even when I'm full, I'm stuffed, I'm sated -- I've got an intense craving to buy a cake and plow into it with a tablespoon, or bolt down a dozen doughnuts with gooey cream filling. I haven't -- I'm trying to binge on fruit or low-fat popcorn, or eat a bowl of sugary cereal, which is at least low in fat -- but it's really, really hard.

I'm not sure why I'm so anxious -- maybe because I'm finally in a place where they want to let me practice, and so I actually have to perform. I'm just trying to be proud of not diving into an entire cake. It's hard, especially since my weight's crept up to the heavier end of the spectrum.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Saturday, October 13, 2007

They like me. They really, really like me.

I'm not used to this.

Yesterday both the office manager and program director asked me if I was enjoying the internship so far and were really happy to know that I'm really happy with the variety of challenges this job presents -- group work, individual work, psychotherapy, concrete case management tasks. The day before, the program director and I again co-led one of the groups. After, I approached her hesitantly to ask how she thought it went -- I had sort of inspired one of the group members to ramble past a discussion point, and the group is based on a set curriculum, and I felt like I'd derailed things -- and she said, mildly surprised, "I thought it went really well -- didn't you?"

She then asked if I knew how to enter group progress notes in the client management software system. A progress note is a record you make of every encounter with a client, which goes in their file; a group note simultaneously places a note about how the group went in the files of all clients who participated. "I know why you want me to co-facilitate this group -- you're tired of doing the notes!" I joked. She demurred, laughing, insisting that I brought other good things to group sessions.

Then I made a slightly inappropriate joke during team meeting, stupidly, and at supervision the next day I was paralyzed with fear, waiting for Melanie to bring it up. Instead, she discussed something else entirely and said, "Well, that's all that I have -- what did you want to talk about?"

I'm not used to such a lack of criticism. My last supervisor, at the DV service agency, was always plenty critical of my work, even though my clients blew me off so often, there wasn't much of it. The Bad Place, The Other Bad Place, and Dean Evillene also shook my confidence. But Melanie told me that she's giving me less direction than she would give a first-year student, and that even when I mess up (such as by asking a person who has paranoid schizophrenia too many questions), clients are forgiving. So, apparently, is Melanie. She thinks I can do this job.

I also discovered that talking to clients can be a very effective cure for whatever bad mood you're in. Not simply because they've suffered more than I have -- it just takes you out of yourself. Thursday morning I went to visit a really cool rehabilitation center for one of my classes, and also to see if their unique techniques could benefit our clients. There was no direct train route from the center to my internship, and the trains were running weird -- being taken out of service, or running express several stops beyond mine. It took forever to get to the internship, and I was stressed, anxious, and upset when I finally got there. Not that they're watching the clock as far as my work is concerned -- it was just such a waste of time, and I had things to do.

But when I got in, two clients were sitting in the group room. I went in to say hi, and ended up chatting with them for about 20 minutes. One of them, a large, dignified Jamaican man who's in the groups I co-facilitate, told me I should work full-time at this agency, telling me I am cheerful and caring. The other, a frail African-American woman, was probably just happy to talk to a staff member who wasn't slightly tired of listening to her long litany of ailments, which include sleep problems and smoking. I commiserated and told her I'd look into a few holistic treatments, which seemed to make her very happy.

And the funny thing was -- so was I. I felt happy that we'd made a good connection and that even though I hadn't had any real concrete solutions to offer yet, I'd helped make her feel a little better. In 15 minutes, my mood completely changed.

I was in a good mood on Friday, especially after I didn't get criticized in supervision as I'd feared. But by the end of the day I was exhausted -- and didn't want to see or talk to anyone. Partly because I'd been working with a client Melanie says is very exhausting, but also because I'd been "on" every day this week. I came home and crashed, and didn't stir outside all Shabbos. And I was anxious -- Entenmann-finishing anxious. I was craving cakes with creamy icing, doughnuts, pies; good thing it was Shabbos and I couldn't go buy anything, and I don't keep it in the house. But it was difficult.

I hope work + school get a little less exhausting, and that my anxiety abates somewhat. But it's wonderful (and so unexpected) that people are so happy I'm there and happy with my work. It's starting to restore my confidence in myself.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Week in review

Terminal insomnia again -- but since I haven't posted in a while, I'll try to convey something about what's been happening.

Simchat Torah. It was fine. I didn't do a ton of mingling, but I did get out of the apartment and spend time with friends.

Fight! I got into a very heated discussion with another student during my Health Care Policy class. We were doing an exercise mimicking Oregon's process of determining which mental illnesses were most severe and therefore Medicaid-reimbursible. We were supposed to list the top five from a list that included schizophrenia, bipolar and unipolar depression, Tourette's Syndrome, panic and anxiety disorders, etc. The criteria, which were not in order of importance, were:

1. Risk of death without treatment
2. Impact of lack of treatment on individual economic security
3. Impact of lack of treatment on quality of life.

This student is a bossy German woman, Frau Know-it-all, who's interning at The Other Bad Place. She's got the snotty European disdain for America, which ticks me off, and she's just too forthright about her opinions. So am I, of course, but I agree with most of my opinions.

So she was in my discussion group, and we were fighting about whether to rank schizophrenia or bipolar first. Frau Know-it-all kept saying, "I'm at The Other Bad Place, and we see a lot of bipolars, they have a high suicide risk and they're more often successful (i.e., actually die); they should be first." Whereas I (and most of the other students in the group) thought that schizophrenia was more economically and emotionally disabling and made for a much poorer quality of life.

Another student in our group pointed out that with treatment, most people with bipolar can live very productive lives and manage on their own. "There are probably a bunch of people at this school with bipolar disorder, and you'd never know." Frau Know-it-all dismissed that notion. She kept pushing and interrupting and insisting she was right. I pointed out that many people with schizophrenia also attempt suicide, and she just kept saying, "Not as many as bipolars." She fixated on suicide and ignored quality of life, and also kept insisting that 1, 2, and 3 were in order of importance, even after the professor said they weren't.

I finally got fed up with her interruptions and snapped, "Let me speak!" She said, snidely, "I think you get enough time to talk in this class." At which point I shut down. It was out of control.

When the professor asked the groups to list our top 5 illnesses in order, Frau Know-it-all said nastily, "Oh, I think Ayelet should speak for the group." I didn't.

I guess three things were really operating here. First, I didn't like the way Frau Know-it-all thought she knew everything about bipolar, and the way she talked about people with the illness. Second, I'm still annoyed and hurt by what happened at The Other Bad Place, and I definitely don't consider them experts on anything. Third, sometimes I fear that I speak up too much in class, and this was painful to hear. Even though the professor and most of my fellow students don't seem to have a problem, having her poke me square in the center of this uncertainty was uncomfortable.

Jerry and I talked about it later. He told me not to worry about how she perceived me, which was nice to hear, and that the point of grad school is to bring debate and questions and outside knowledge into the classroom.

He also told me I'm pretty, which I wasn't really expecting. After we dismissed Frau Know-it-all, he told me that he thinks my depression and hypomania are under control but not my anxiety, which was an interesting perspective. I told him that part of it has to do with my continuously frustrating dating experiences, where I'm being rejected right and left. He said, "I'm going to tell you what I tell my daughter: Guys are intimidated by two kinds of women. Smart women and pretty women."

Pretty? Moi? "I guess I don't feel so pretty since I've gained all this weight," I hedged.

"Scrawny women look better with clothes on, but men of the world," he opined, "know that women like you look better with your clothes off." That was some unexpected reinforcement. I don't know how many frum men are of the world, but it was really great to hear that he thought I was pretty. I often feel so old, chunky, and dowdy next to all the dewy, slim 20somethings at school. So his opinion was a boost to my ego.

A light for the blind. In the lab I was situated near the computers that are designated for visually impaired students, as is one of my classmates, Jessie; she comes to classes with her adorable black lab guide dog. I was talking to a friend, and Jessie said to me, "Oh -- you're in one of my classes, I know your voice. Could you help me with something?"

I was delighted to help her -- and felt vindicated for every time I spoke up in class. If I weren't so in love with the sound of my own voice, she wouldn't have recognized it. Smoke that, Frau Know-it-all.

Jessie's very nice. I felt kind of bad for not introducing myself to her sooner -- having visual problems doesn't just make it harder for you to get around, it hinders you from interacting with people. She talked about getting on the elevator and asking them to push 3, only to hear, "Jessie, we're all in class with you!"

"How are you supposed to know that?" I asked her. "Are you supposed to recognize them by smell?"

Panel discussion. Did not go as well as I'd hoped. Three presenters: a certified peer, a family psychoeducation expert, and a faculty member. There weren't many students, even though I had my professors send the flyer out to all of their classes. One of the people I developed the idea with said she'd post flyers, but her coverage wasn't that extensive. There were more attendees from another social work school, who had heard about it from the faculty member. It was disappointing; publicity/PR is just not my m├ętier.

The certified peer presented a lot of important information but he tended to ramble, and he went way over time; I found myself wishing I'd helped him outline his ideas for conciseness, although when I would have managed to do that, I have no idea. He and I are supposed to work on some big advocacy projects; I'm going to have to really try to focus him, because otherwise he won't make the right kind of impact.

Fortunately, the faculty member, Professor Supportive, was glad I'd organized the event and proud of me. That felt good. The peer had asked her to write him a letter praising his performance, and she wants me to sign it, too, since I organized the discussion. That was really nice.

Also, I met another student, Claudia, at the end of the discussion, after most of attendees had left. She was talking to the family psychoed. expert about her experiences with bipolar and borderline personality disorder. It was amazing to meet another student/consumer! I told her that I have bipolar, even though the professor, who didn't know, was standing there. (The family psychoed. expert knows me well.) It felt so liberating to disclose, even on such a limited basis, and the professor was absolutely terrific, incredibly supportive. Claudia and I are going to have coffee next week and chat about her policy midterm and our overdoses/comas.

So the school has at least three students (Joan, Claudia, and me) who are diagnosed with severe mental disorders and taking psychoactive medications. I wonder how many of us there really are.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The other shoe

Yesterday I was sitting in a staff meeting, excruciatingly anxious. Knot in my stomach, just waiting for someone to tell me what I had done wrong.

And it hit me: I haven't done anything wrong, and they're not going to tell me I've done anything wrong. But I'm so used to hearing that I've done everything wrong -- from the evil psychologists at The Bad Place, Dean Evillene, Miss Thing, Ms. Fascist at The Other Bad Place -- that I've got mild PTSD. Even though my professors and my fellow students adore me, I'm still convinced that all I can do is screw up and alienate people. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop -- and there is no other shoe.

Or as Dr. R put it this morning, "You are sensitized." He's seen real PTSD, of course, and doesn't think I quite qualify for the diagnosis. I told him that after I sat in on one of the therapy groups and the program director, who runs the group, thanked me for my contributions, I said to Melanie, "You should find out if she meant I really made a good contribution or if she was just being polite." She looked at me strangely and said, gently, "I think she meant it."

Dr. R said, "You have to be careful. Because this could seem paranoid." I hate it when he's that right and says it so concisely.

But: I woke up this morning feeling great. Showered, got dressed, no problem. Went to see Dr. R, had a good session. Because I'm finally in a place where they're not going to arbitrarily tell me how horrible I am.

I had an interesting conversation with two fellow students in a class we find boring, redundant, and pointless. (I won't go into why, but everyone I've talked to about this class finds it boring, redundant, and pointless.) We've been working closely together on the boring, redundant, pointless assignment, and she's found me very helpful. She's not Jewish, is seriously dating a Jewish guy, and is thinking about converting -- with my rabbi. The best part is, she independently rejected the Christian doctrine of damnation for all who do not accept JC as their personal savior before she thought about becoming Jewish.

Is it weird to think, "So that's why I had to take this boring, redundant, and pointless class -- because maybe she'll need just a tiny bit of support and kiruv, and I can supply that?" I'm already planning to take her to Ruchama's for Shabbos lunch and playing with the kids. And we discussed Hebrew names -- she's leaning toward Ruth and/or Rachel.

The afternoon was busy; I tried to do some homework, then had to run to the university medical center to get a referral so I can continue seeing Dr. R. They weighed me -- yikes! -- and took my blood pressure, which was higher than usual, although not high. (I walked seven blocks very quickly to get there, and my pulse was pretty normal, and my temperature low, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been.)

But then I had to sit through another Health Care Policy class. And that class makes me very anxious. Because I've been struggling with health insurance for about 15 years. Paying COBRA fees. Paying too much out of pocket. Being denied coverage I was promised when I signed up. I think about my health insurance at least 10 times a month, and sitting through two hours of class on the same topic was very stressful.

I survived, somehow. I always do.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"