Portraits From Social Work – Part 2: Paul

Even since I lost my last job doing social work with high risk, low income adults out in the community, I have missed the clients I used to see everyday. While I’m not sure if these people ever knew it themselves, the time I spent with them was much more meaningful to me than just trying to get a paycheck. This was the first time in my life that I was really able to get to know some interesting characters and bond with people older than me, with totally different and unique life experiences. Even though I was supposed to keep a professional distance, I simply couldn’t help holding a space for each of my clients in my heart. I believe these people are interesting to learn about in general, but I am also writing about them today to ensure that I can keep them with me even if they eventually fade from my memory. (I obviously won’t use their real names for confidentiality reasons.)

Part 2: Paul

Where do I even start with describing this man? Paul was a gruff 60-year-old man (although he looked much older) with a skeletally thin frame, long peppery grey hair, a handlebar mustache, one hand and one leg. The leg he lost a long time ago in an accident when he used to ride a motorcycle. The hand, well that’s a mystery to all of us. When I first met Paul, his left hand was curled into a permanent fist. The way Paul tells it, he woke up in the middle of the night a few years ago feeling as though his forearm, wrist, and hand were on fire. He traced a ghostly, zigzagging, white scar on his skin to show me the path the “flames” took. His hand clenched shut and hasn’t opened since. We went to many doctors and specialists, but none of them had a definitive answer. Their best guest seemed to be that it has something to do with his excessive drinking, and I’m inclined to believe it. Paul, however, would never take complications from years of drinking as an answer to any of his health problems, of which he had many.

Paul was one of the most sever alcoholics I’ve even known. He was never a violent or angry drunk. He never caused any problems that I knew of except for himself. Paul’s favorite drink was vodka. And he drank about a pint of it a day, despite only receiving around $700 a month from social security. There were a few instances where he ran out of money at the end of the month and actually had to be hospitalized due to DTs or alcohol withdrawal. Once he even called me to his hospital room to ask me to bring him vodka and cigarettes. (I felt bad for him so I actually did agree to bring cigarettes, knowing he wouldn’t be able to smoke them anyway. The nurse promptly took them away.) He actually reminded me a bit of Frank Gallagher from Shameless, although Paul was a bit more irritable.

Paul was definitely a character. In addition to drinking and smoking cigarettes, he also loved to smoke weed. He even had a marijuana leaf on his wallet. As soon as medical marijuana became legal in the state he demanded a prescription from every doctor we went to. Of course he didn’t get it, even though he was eligible. The system was not yet ready to dispense actual medical cards, and there were no dispensaries even if they could have. There was no telling Paul that though. He was hard-headed to put it mildly. He was often angry and impatient, but honestly, could you blame him? His life was a constant battle with pain and poverty.

In the end, Paul’s life was evenly split between drinking in front of the TV and traveling all over the state for medical appointments. When I last saw him, I knew his time was limited. He was bleeding internally. It was clearly caused by his drinking. Still he refused to stop. I’m honestly not sure if it would have made a difference at that point anyway. As I sat down to write about him today, I decided to check the local obituaries. I held my breath, hoping I’d find nothing. Instead I discovered that Paul passed away in the summer of 2019. The obituary listed so many surviving family members, children and siblings. I new he had family, but seeing just how much and how close by they lived really broke my heart. They had all left him in the hands of the state to whither in darkness and die alone. I’m sure Paul wasn’t the best father or brother, but he certainly wasn’t deserving of that sentence. At least he got to spend his final days in the warm, sunny atmosphere of summer. That was one thing we both shared, an infatuation with summer, and a deep hatred of winter.

I wish I could have been there for him in the end. Or that I had at least gotten the chance to say goodbye, the chance to tell him that he was truly my friend, not just my client. Sure, he gave me a lot of anxiety over the years by giving this people pleaser so many unethical requests, but I am thankful for the time we spent together. Despite all his flaws, he was a good man. It saddens me deeply to know he’s gone. At least I know his pain has finally ceased. I hope he has found peace. The next time I drink vodka, I’ll pour some out for him.

11 best vodkas | The Independent | The Independent

Portraits From Social Work – Part 1: David

Even since I lost my last job doing social work with high risk, low income adults out in the community, I have missed the clients I used to see everyday. While I’m not sure if these people ever knew it themselves, the time I spent with them was much more meaningful to me than just trying to get a paycheck. This was the first time in my life that I was really able to get to know some interesting characters and bond with people older than me, with totally different and unique life experiences. Even though I was supposed to keep a professional distance, I simply couldn’t help holding a space for each of my clients in my heart. I believe these people are interesting to learn about in general, but I am also writing about them today to ensure that I can keep them with me even if they eventually fade from my memory. (I obviously won’t use their real names for confidentiality reasons.)

Part 1: David

David was my all time favorite client. I still dream of him often, and I wonder how he is doing on nearly a daily basis. I liked to describe him as my schizophrenic, satanist client. Usually people are shocked to discover that this was the client I became closest to. However, schizophrenia has fascinated me since youth and although I was afraid at first, I was eager to finally get to know a real person with this disorder.

Far from being the violent psychopath that most people picture when I say he’s a satanist suffering from schizophrenia, David was one of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve met. Even though he was in his early 50s, he still had an almost childlike quality about him. He inspired in me a motherly instinct. I recall once even looking up if you are allowed to adopt someone older than you on a whim with him in mind. I also recall discussing with David what kind of pet he might like if he got one. I was expecting a snake or tarantula or something along those lines. I wish I could have hugged him when instead he said he’d always wanted a rabbit. If David had a spirit animal it would definitely have been a rabbit.

One of the many things I learned from David is that Satanists do not believe in a literal Satan. It’s more of a reactionary stance taken against Christianity. It is spitting in the face of these churches, while acknowledging the community that comes with religion is valuable and worthwhile. Satanists are just atheists, and David was so happy that I was an atheist too. Unfortunately most of the people he had encountered in life (including his therapist) were religious nut jobs. His adoptive mother had been Catholic I believe and seemed to have hated him for abandoning his faith. He told me about a few occasions in his youth when she had discovered his Satanic stockpile and threw it all away. (Jokes on her. The house is his now and the walls are covered with pentagrams painted in red.)

David lived all alone in his house. He had no family left to speak of besides a brother that lived in another state and rarely communicated with him. He had no transportation either, besides me. So with nothing to fill his days, David lost himself in books. He loved to read. He lent me lots of his Satanist books along with a few of his favorites by Stephen King. It made me so happy to be able to discuss the contents with him after I was finished.

It truly breaks my heart to know that I will most likely never see or speak to this man again. I never even got to tell him goodbye. Part of me still wished I could write him a letter and at least explain the circumstances of my leaving. However, I have no right to do so. It would be unethical of me to reach out to any of my past clients now that I am not their case worker anymore, no matter how much I may want to do so. I just hope that somehow he knows that the bond we shared was real and it meant a lot to me.

I am happy about all I was able to do for David, primarily being a genuine friend to a lonely, isolated man, but also getting him a laptop and internet access to make him a little less isolated. I also know that I could have done much more. I wish that I had made more of an effort to address his hoarding behaviors. His house was an absolute mess, filled with bits of paper, receipts, scattered DVDs and books, and random garbage. I also wish that I would have fought to get him a different therapist at my work. The one he has been seeing for years was not doing him any favors. In fact, I would go so far as to say he was exacerbating his mental illness, by acting as though his schizophrenic hallucinations may have actually been revelations from God. No joke, he was that bad. Nothing they discussed in his sessions could be considered therapy by even the loosest of definitions. It bordered on criminal.

David had a lot of issues that he struggled with every day. He would tell me about his hallucinations of vengeful angels and violent demons. How the fear of a Hell he didn’t even believe in would sometimes make him try to get back into religion. He was sexually and physically abused as a young child. He was also abandoned and excluded by his peers and eventually even his family growing up. He was so terribly bullied at his school that he once brought a knife to protect himself and was subsequently expelled for it. David also seems to believe that he is a terrible, evil, irredeemable person even though that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Unlike a lot of my clients, David never tried to take advantage of me. He was always extremely polite and considerate. He once got bedbugs and would put his clothes in the dryer on high right before I came to get him to ensure that he wouldn’t transfer any to me. Even though I always said yes, he would still ask me every time before using snuff in my car. He would prefer to suffer in silence rather than inconvenience anyone. Despite all that he had to deal with, he never complained or made himself out to be a victim. He is a truly beautiful, gentle soul. I miss him so much, and I hope that he is doing alright and that he knows I cherish the times we spent together.

Satanism - Founders, Philosophies & Branches - HISTORY

How to Help Even When It Hurts

Vegan activism is something I deeply admire. Not only because of the time and effort it takes, but because of the pain one must endure to keep fighting this hopeless battle. In the early years of my veganism, I had never felt more energized to fight for a cause. The urgency, the immensity, the horror of it all was always with me. The only thing that shielded me from the grief I harbored for these precious animals, was the white hot rage I felt toward the people who refused to look at them. I wanted to scream. I wanted to stop the world. I wanted to save these animals more than I wanted to live. If I could have sacrificed myself to do so, I would have. And most likely, still would if given the choice.

Within a few years, I was hopeless and burnt out. I simply couldn’t bear to continue being confronted with the selfishness, the ignorance, the self righteousness of humanity. Although I felt monstrous for doing so, I largely gave up. I laid down the torch I had been carrying for these animals. It felt like I, myself, had been on fire. My soul was that torch and it had all but been extinguished. I had to turn away, despite the shame I felt for doing so.

Of course I didn’t stop being vegan. Nothing could make me go back to being a willing participant and sponsor of the animal agriculture industry. I simply couldn’t see the point in trying to convince anyone else to join me, or even acknowledge the atrocities being committed everyday. To constantly be thinking about the horrendous conditions billions of animals are currently trapped in was destroying me, which would have been okay if it was actually making a difference.

Since then, I’ve started to think of different ways that I might contribute to the animal rights movement. It came to me today as I sat in court with a family torn apart by child abuse. I really felt like I was making a difference, that I was a part of helping these amazing kids. But what exactly had I done to help fight child abuse? I certainly wasn’t participating in protests, writing articles, lobbying the government, or hunting down pedophiles. No, I get to be on the other end of the issue completely. Rather than fighting against the monsters hurting these children, I fight for the children themselves. I get to be there for them through the process. I get to offer loving kindness and support to people who, sometimes, have never experienced that before.

Realizing this inspired me to try again to add my voice to the vegan community. Instead of focusing on shining a light on the unimaginable conditions these animals face, why not shine a light on the joys of living as a vegan? By now I’ve realized that someone isn’t going to go vegan because of facts and data. You can’t force someone to make the connection, no matter how hard you try. All that I can do is support the people who are ready to make that change, the people standing on the edge, afraid to jump. I can offer advice. I can share all I’ve learned through my own experiences. I can help guide them on their journey.

I don’t believe that the world will ever go vegan. Perhaps if we had more time, but unfortunately we simply do not. What I do believe is that each individual animal matters enough to keep fighting anyway. If I can help even one person to become vegan, thousands of lives will be spared. It is estimated that the average person will kill and eat 7,000 animals during their lifetime. If I can save even one of those animals from suffering, all of my efforts will have been worth it. So from now on, I am going to try harder to keep up with this blog’s original purpose. I’m going to be posting more content to help people go and stay vegan.

Bittersweet Transitions

Today is the last day I will have the pleasure to work with someone I’ve come to consider a dear friend. She is a therapist and leaving to go into private practice. From the moment I began this job, I was excited and inspired by the fact that someone only a few years older than me was already such an impressive figure in the mental health field. She is one of the best therapists (and probably people in general) that I’ve ever known. It is a delight to watch her work with the kids we meet and to learn from her interactions with them and their parents. I am definitely a much better person for having known her.

She lives quite nearby to another friend of mine, on the same street actually. Yet we’ve never really spent time together outside of work. I am desperately hoping that we manage to stay friends after we no longer work together. I’ve had that hope many times in the past. However, it has always been an unsuccessful aspiration. So while I still intend to try to stay close, I am not getting my hopes up. Rather I am just going to focus on enjoying this final day at work with her. I would like to snag a card while I’m out later to write all of these warm sentiments down for her. It’s always embarrassing and uncomfortable for me to be vulnerable and express how much someone means to me, but it’s definitely well worth the discomfort.

As I reflect on the time we’ve had together and how sad I was the day she told us she would be leaving, another thought occurred to me. That was the same day that Nate told me he had gotten the job six hours away from me. Up until that point, I had been having an exceptionally good day. Then I ended up crying all the way home. I felt like I was losing everything, my work family and my new boyfriend.

Reflecting on that day now makes my heart feel so full. I can’t believe how far Nate and I have come from that day I thought would mark the end for us. I am so grateful to have so many amazing people in my life. I am so grateful that Nate cared for me enough even that early on to commit to a long distance relationship with me. I am so grateful that our love has grown and flourished even despite the hundreds of miles between us.

Even though today is a bittersweet one, overall I am still happy. It is useless to despair over the fluctuations and changes that come in life. We can never predict what moments we will look back on and cherish, what small events may end up being pivotal moments in our lives. Today I am going to focus on being grateful for all I have, knowing that it was never owed to me, knowing that it may disappear at any time, and being all the more joyful because of that impermanency. Transitions can be painful, but they are also beautiful. They are opportunities to reflect and take stock of all that we have to be thankful for. And I have so, so much.

conflict-related stress: A hug a day will keep negative emotions and stress  away - The Economic Times

Two Faced

I haven’t heard this term used as much as I did when I was in high school, so in case you haven’t heard it before, I’ll explain what it means. Someone who is “two-faced” acts differently depending on who they’re around, more or less. This is usually seen as more than the normal differences we all show depending on the context we’re in. It has a negative connotation. You are friendly to someone, then talk badly about them behind their back.

For me this never made much sense. I would rather someone who didn’t like me, still be nice to me in general. They’re free to say whatever they want when I’m not around. Doesn’t hurt me if I can’t hear it. It always seemed more considerate to me to air your grievances out of earshot. Why hurt someone unnecessarily when you’re venting? We all need to complain about one another now and then, even when we generally get along.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this morning. I went to my company’s other office earlier to help out. As usual, once I’m back in my office, I regret the things I said there. It’s not that it was anything particularly harsh or cruel. I just have some small points of irritation with a coworker at my office. Don’t get me wrong, I love this man. He’s incredible and I even think of him as a father figure sometimes. His small bothersome qualities are far outweighed by his amazing ones. However, it’s still nice to vent sometimes to people who understand. In my mind, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I still feel guilty. I’m horrified to think that he would find out about and feel hurt by anything that I may have said. That certainly was never my intention.

Another aspect to this is my tendency to people please. If other people are complaining about someone, I’m apt to join in with whatever my issues with that person are. However, I would rarely ever care enough about these things to address them with the actual person. I hate confrontation, and I will happily go along with the way someone likes to do things even if I find it tedious or tiresome. I’m too afraid to do anything besides agree with whoever I’m speaking with at the time.

This people-pleasing, anxiety ridden nature of mine is usually my excuse when faced with these types of situations. Yet I worry that’s just a copout. I can’t just cry, “anxiety” whenever I do things that aren’t socially acceptable. Am I just trying to avoid being held accountable for my actions? Is this the way other “two-faced” people feel on the inside? Or do they actually have malicious intentions? Does it even matter when all others see are the actions we take? Then again, maybe I’m just over analyzing as usual.

ArtStation - Two Faced, Deniz Aygün

Trauma

Emotional and Psychological Trauma - HelpGuide.org

Working at a child advocacy center, I have learned a lot about trauma. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) isn’t just something that war veterans have, it’s something that can result from many different situations. A lot of the children I work with end up having PTSD as a result of the abuse they have experienced. You might have PTSD from childhood trauma, a car crash, an abusive relationship, the sudden loss of a loved one, or any number of different scenarios. I’ve also learned that what defines “trauma” is different for everyone. Two people may experience the same thing and react completely differently. There are tons of things that factor into trauma.

It seems like trauma and PTSD are popular topics in the media today. I hear it mentioned all the time in the various videos and podcasts I listen to. The reason I want to talk about it today is because I caught myself feeling guilty about not having experienced any serious trauma in my life. Let me explain. I’ve always kind of considered myself a mess. I feel incapacitated by anxiety and neuroticism most of the time. However, I have heard so many stories of people that have gone through so much more than I could even imagine that seem to be coping with life better than I am. It makes me feel ashamed of myself, quite frankly.

It almost feels like I don’t deserve any compassion or sympathy for the issues I am struggling with from myself or anyone else. I often joke with my coworkers that the kids we meet are still higher functioning than I am, even though I’ve had such an easy life so far. I genuinely can’t understand it. Combing through my memories trying to find some kind of event to explain my poor mental health only makes me feel worse as I realize that I’ve not even had many minor forms of trauma in my life.

When I caught myself feeling guilty the other day, I tried to imagine what I would say to myself if I were a good friend. (We should all be our own good friends anyway, right?) I would have told that friend that they don’t need to justify or explain why they feel the ways they feel. It’s their experience and that’s enough to make it valid. This isn’t the trauma Olympics. Not all people who have anxiety or depression or any other mental illness have to have had a traumatic life experience. That’s why the DSM distinguishes between PTSD and other anxiety disorders, for instance. Not every mental illness has to be trigged by a particular life event. Not all traumatic life events have to lead to mental illness.

I often fall into that familiar trap of black and white thinking. Just because other people have it worse, doesn’t mean that my suffering doesn’t matter or that I’m not allowed to experience it. We each have our own shit to deal with. There is no need to compare ourselves to others in any way, let alone when it comes to mental illness. It’s not as if I choose to feel this way. Just like others didn’t choose to experience traumatic events or the aftermath that comes with them. You should never feel ashamed of something that is out of your control.

I would never want anyone to feel ashamed for not being able to “justify” their mental illness. That’s like being ashamed of having cancer because you never smoked and lived a healthy lifestyle. It makes no sense at all. In fact, even someone that does smoke cigarettes, resulting in lung cancer, still deserves compassion and sympathy. Despite all of my psychology education and social work experience, I can’t seem to let go of these nonsensical perspectives when it comes to myself. Even though I know mental illness is just as real and valid as physical illness, I can’t seem to shake the idea that it’s somehow my fault that I manage it so poorly. Even when I really am trying my best.

It’s amazing to me how much easier it is to offer love and understanding to others, while it feels impossible to extend the same kindness to myself. So this post is for all the other people like me out there, beating themselves up over things they can’t control. If you are unable to say it to yourself, I’m here to say it for you. No matter what you’re going through, no matter what you’ve gone through, no matter who you are, or what you’ve done, YOU deserve love. YOU deserve compassion. YOU deserve happiness. YOU are enough. YOU are worthy. Don’t forget it.

Sierra Boggess Quote: “You are enough. You are so enough, it is  unbelievable how enough you

The Importance of Play

One of the things working with children has taught me, is just how important it is to make time for play. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Play is an essential part of leading a happy and fulfilling life. It seems like once we reach a certain age we think we are “too old” to be “wasting time” on such frivolous affairs. We can often even be mocked or looked down upon by those in our peer group or older generations for not “growing up” or “learning to act our age.” For some reason, as a society, it seems like we find unpleasant, but necessary tasks to be more worthy of our time than tasks that actually bring us enjoyment or pleasure. The irony is, when we are doing mundane “adult” things, it is ultimately to preserve and ensure our future happiness. So if happiness is the goal no matter what we’re doing, why always put it off in some distant future if we are capable of having simple pleasures right now as well?

I think one of the reasons a lot of adults tend to enjoy spending time with children even if they are not their own, is because they remind us how delightful it can be to play and pretend. Even just watching them do so can have a calming, pleasant effect on us. We are sometimes able to live vicariously through these children. As a child, I loved to play with little figurines and have pretend adventures and scenarios with them. Some days I would fill up the sink and they would have a “pool” day. Or we would go outside and they would go hiking or camping in the weeds. I’d collect small flowers and berries for them. These were some of the happiest times in my life. Back then, time didn’t matter. It hardly seemed to exist. I didn’t ask myself why I was doing the things I did. It didn’t matter. I was happy. Wasn’t that reason enough? Things seemed so much simpler back then.

I distinctly remember one day begging my mother to play with me. She did her best, but was mostly just watching me. I asked her why she wasn’t doing anything. She told me that she couldn’t remember what she was supposed to do. She had actually forgotten how to play. I vividly remember the confusion and disbelief I felt at the time. How can you not know how to play? It made no sense, but I felt sorry for her. It seemed impossible that I could ever forget something like that. Yet here I am over a decade later with no idea how I occupied so much time with my make believe. It breaks my heart each time I sit down with the kids I work with at a doll house and struggle to come up with anything to do. I want to weep for that inner child that has become all but lost to me.

I’ve learned that play is something that takes practice. Thankfully I am surrounded by children every day that can help me with that practice. Just the other day a little 5-year-old boy and I played robbers together. He had us talk in deep, gravely voices as we planned our heist. Then we ran around the waiting room, laughing maniacally as we clutched our fake money. It was a great time. Even though it’s hard to have such boundless, imaginary play as an adult, I have still been trying to implement more creativity and structured play into my days. Playing for me now mostly includes casual video gaming and art.

Even though I acknowledge that this play is worthwhile, it is still hard for me to justify the time I spend on it (even though it isn’t much.) I am constantly giving myself chores to do before I feel alright allowing myself time to just enjoy and have fun. Unfortunately, by the time I reach the evening hours I’ve set aside for it, I am too exhausted, stressed, and listless to really even enjoy my playtime. Another problem I run into is getting too serious about whatever it is I’m doing. When I began drawing (and even writing) everyday, my only goal was to schedule time for myself to explore my creativity and just have fun. But now that these things have become a habit, I have been feeling a lot of pressure surrounding these activities. It has started to feel more like work than play.

With so many gamers now available to watch online, even my casual video games have started to feel like a burden rather than a joy. I can’t help watching others play and then comparing my progress in the game to theirs. I feel rushed, inadequate, unhappy with where I am. Even though I know it’s utterly ridiculous, I can’t seem to help feeling this way. Often times this feeling is so strong that I give up on the game all together. I hope that by continuing to challenge these feelings I will be able to overcome them little by little. I hope I will be able to transform this playtime into something similar to meditation. Rather than focus on how my art compares to other’s or how far behind I may be in a virtual world, I will keep working to focus on my breath, on the pleasure I feel in the moment.

Living in a society so focused on production and outcomes, it can be hard to find the value in simple experiences. What once were things I looked forward to have started to become things I feel anxious about. I feel pressured to make each drawing better than the last. I criticize myself for not being creative enough or improving fast enough or consistently enough. I feel like what I write is just rambling nonsense no one cares about. That my art isn’t worth showing anyone. But even if those things were true, it wouldn’t matter! I must keep repeating to myself that the point isn’t the final product, it’s the pleasure of the process. What I create or work on doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t even have to be good. As long as I’ve enjoyed the time I spent working on it, that is all that matters.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Money Maker

I’ve been drawing something every single day for around a year now. It has been a great habit to start. It helps me spend some time being playful and creative each day. The only issue I’ve encountered at this point is running out of ideas. Well, that and the ever-increasing stack of drawings I’ve started accumulating. In an attempt to think of some interesting drawing ideas, I came up with the idea to start doing drawings for the children I work with. A few people had suggested that I make a collection of my sketches into an adult coloring book. While this was a great idea, given that I don’t ever like to color my art, I didn’t feel much inspired to do so. After thinking on it for awhile, I decided I would feel more passionately about putting it together if it were a coloring book full of positive affirmations for children and teens.

One day early on in my career when I still felt very awkward about waiting with the children while my coworkers spoke with their parents, I decided to make a drawing for a little girl while she was busy playing. Even though I was too anxious to go join her or carry on a conversation, I didn’t want it to appear that I was cold or disinterested. So I did what I could, in my own socially awkward, anxious way. I drew a picture of a cute Japanese-style dragon with cherry blossoms around it. I added a banner that said: You deserve to be happy. Before she left I crouched down by her side and gave her the picture. I told her that I drew it especially for her while she was playing. I told her what it said and that I wanted her to always remember that and believe that it’s true. Even though it took a lot for me to build up the courage to do that, it was all worth it when I saw how happy it made her. She was so eager to show her mom. I can still hear her precious mousey voice saying, “Look mommy, she made this for me!”

Just thinking about that day makes me tear up. That experience is what inspired me to make more drawings with positive affirmations for kids. The first few I drew made me so happy and excited. I couldn’t wait to show my coworkers and see what they thought about the idea. I already knew they liked my art, but I really underestimated how much they would love this new endeavor. They immediately started talking about copyrights and publishing, selling them to therapists and other child advocacy centers, all the potential money there was to be made. They urged me not to do anything with them until I put legal protections in place. I was excited and flattered and more than a little embarrassed. I never know how to respond to praise or compliments. Soon those feelings began to fade, though. They were replaced by hesitation, regret, anxiety, and fear.

I went from making a new coloring page every day to once a week, to not at all. It feels as if all the passion behind this idea has drained out of me. Now whenever I think about it I become lost in a fog of copyright law, fees, plagiarism, business plans, and marketing. I had only been waiting for my coworkers’ approval before happily handing them over to each kid that came in. Now it seemed like a much longer wait was ahead of me before I could start giving them away. All I had been thinking about was being useful to my advocacy center, to the children I see every day. I was excited about how this gift would impact them, if the words on the page would some day make a lasting impact on their hearts and minds. However, dollar signs were first and foremost for everyone else.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that my friends at work thought so highly of my art that they want me to protect it and make a profit from it. I’m sure they have no idea how this business advice left me feeling deflated and frustrated instead of proud. I never wanted to make any money off of this idea. My only desire was to make children happy, to introduce them to the power of intention, self-talk, and positive thinking. Now I feel pressured to secure my claim to these images before sharing them with the world. I feel pressured to come up with a way to profit from this work. I feel as though it would be stupid of me not to do these things. That others would think me stupid for not doing these things.

It reminds me of a study I read about once. One group of children was told to do a fun activity, then rate their enjoyment afterwards. Another group was told to do the very same fun activity, but with the added bonus that they would be paid afterwards. This group surprisingly rated their enjoyment much lower than the first, non-paid group. You see once money becomes a motivator, it becomes work rather than play. When you shift your focus from intrinsic motivation to extrinsic, a task becomes much less fulfilling. Making art to positively impact the lives of children, means a lot to me. Making art to make money, leaves me feeling empty.

It all comes down to caring too much about what other people think of my actions and decisions in the end. No one is forcing me to guard these drawings and add price tags. I am free to give them away whenever I see fit. The only thing holding me back is the opinions other people may have about that. But I’ve got to trust myself and hold on to the passion that led me to start this project in the first place. This was never about money or even what other adults would think about it. This is about helping children. This is about making small, vulnerable humans feel happy and loved. That is what motivates me. That is what sparks joy in my heart.

Children

It is crazy how much can change within you in only a year. When I first began working at a child advocacy center, I really didn’t like children very much. I know it sounds awful, but it’s true. I didn’t dislike them. I just hadn’t had hardly any experience with them in my personal life, let alone at work. I have no idea why I was even hired to be honest. My social anxiety has always been extra overwhelming when it comes to children. I had never learned what I was supposed to do or say around them. I had no idea what to expect or how to respond.

Learning how to talk to and behave around children is just another one of the many reasons I am inexpressibly grateful for this job. Now that I have been able to spend so much time with children, it turns out that I actually love them. They are so much better than adult humans. So innocent and loving. So eager to please. So eager to learn and to understand. They are truly amazing little creatures. There is a unique joy that comes from gaining the trust of a child, to be offered a tiny hand or hug. Even though we aren’t supposed to be touching one another right now because of the pandemic, who could deny such a blessed gift?

Part of me began to worry when I realized I actually love children now. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it on my blog before, but when I was 22 or 23 I had my tubes tied. I never had the desire to have children, and was always terrified at the idea of accidentally getting pregnant and having to have an abortion. Or even worse, not being able to get an abortion. I am still so grateful that I found a caring doctor that was willing to respect my wishes and my right to make decisions about my own body. Never once did she talk down to me or try to tell me I’d change my mind some day. And I’m relieved to be able to say I haven’t.

I don’t think I’ll ever come to regret that decision. I still firmly believe that human being in general are a plague upon this planet. I would never add more fuel to that fire. Besides, I could never allow myself to bring a child into this world knowing I’d have to watch them die when the earth becomes uninhabitable in a few decades. I still think I am too selfish and impatient to be the kind of mother I would want to be. I’m still more than happy just having my fur children. Besides even if I ever wanted a child of my own, I would never be brave enough to go through pregnancy and childbirth. That whole process still seems horrific to me. I see no difference between an adopted child and one that has my DNA. I’d happily be a foster parent or adopt a child if the urge ever struck me to bring a child into my life.

For now I feel like I am exactly where I need to be. Being a child advocate is the perfect job for me in so many ways. Apparently a lot of people that don’t want to have children of their own end up working with children instead. I think it’s a perfect compromise for the nurturing, motherly instinct I have as a woman. I am still able to have children in my life without having them in my home. I have a place to help them learn and grow and thrive, while also still having my privacy and personal space at home.

I finally understand that deeply fulfilling feeling of being a positive influence in the life of a child. It is such a magical thing to see the world through their eyes, to see how much your words and actions mean to them. I can see now why so many people are able to have limitless hope in humanity. These little beings are capable of becoming anything. They have so much potential to do good in this world. They are so full of curiosity and love. If only there were more people around them to teach them how to hold onto that love as they grow older. The children of this world are definitely capable of learning, sadly the adults are not competent enough to teach them.

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Priorities

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I feel I may have revealed a bit too much of myself to my coworkers this morning. When I get nervous, or in this case, excited, talking to people I’ll often say things without thinking. I went to college with someone we used to work with, although neither of us ever really acknowledged it. I mentioned that I thought this other woman probably disliked me because she was an overachiever in college, going to fundraisers, very active in all of our psychology clubs, etc. I, on the other hand, was somewhat of a slacker. I did the bear minimum that was required of me. I was a member of Psi Chi, but basically only so I could put it on my resume, I never went to meetings or anything. I didn’t even go to my own induction ceremony. I blame that one on social anxiety though.

Everyone seemed to get a kick out of hearing about my college memories, but I immediately began to regret being so honest. I’m often afraid that my coworkers will get irritated with me for being lazy or a slacker. Now I feel like I’ve given them even more proof of my poor character, more proof that they’re right to think that. I don’t really picture myself as lazy though. I guess I’d describe it more as selfish. Maybe that’s even worse, now that I think about it.

The thing is, I get a lot done everyday. I have dozens of tasks that I diligently complete day in and day out. The problem is that none of these things really matter to anyone but me. The rest of the world could care less if I study Spanish or workout and do yoga for hours or read. These are all personal endeavors. Ideally they are things that are about self-improvement. But in what ways am I really trying to improve myself? To who’s benefit? It’s probably time for me to reevaluate my priorities.

Since I entered the working world, my mindset has always been me against them. The working poor, against the corporate machine. Even though I must partake in this system to survive, to play the game, it always felt like an act of rebellion to do as little as I could get away with doing. If I was going to be paid nothing, I was going to do as close to nothing as possible. Spiteful, yes, but in my mind it only felt fair. If I didn’t matter to the place I worked, then they didn’t matter to me. This is a mantra that for so many years I burned into my heart and mind. Always playing the part of the petulant child.

I never expected to find myself working for a place that I do genuinely care about. A place that also seems to genuinely care about me. I work with such incredible people. I don’t want to let them down. I love my job. I love what I do. I believe in what we do. I want to be helpful. I want to prove that I am worthy of having a place here. But no matter how many times I resolve to do better, I always find myself falling back into old patterns. Shirking my responsibilities just because I can, because it’s even easier to do here where no one is breathing down my neck, micromanaging my every step. Everything in me, everything about who I’ve been, keeps tempting me to take advantage of that. It’s nearly irresistible.

I am tired of feeling guilty. I am tired of feeling like I am letting everyone down. I am tired of feeling like I am taking advantage of an organization that is truly a benefit to this world. I really want to go above and beyond what is asked of me here. I have a lot of ideas too. I know I am smart. I know I could really make a positive impact for this organization, for the kids we see here everyday. I could really help them. I’ve just always been afraid of showing my full potential. Any other job would take advantage of that. I’ve seen it happen to my mother and my sister. I’m also afraid that I won’t be able to live up to the standard I set for myself. I’m afraid I’ll crack under the pressure of always doing my best. When no one expects anything of you, there is no pressure, it’s easy to impress when/if you need to.

After working here for a year and a half though, I think I finally feel safe enough to show my true colors, to really contribute as much as I can. Self-improvement may once have looked like only inner work, but now I think it looks like giving back, sharing my intelligence and creativity with those that will be able to benefit from it, to be an asset to my friends and coworkers, to finally utilize this freedom and agency at work to be all I can be. I know I can do this. I want to do this. I’m going to enjoy doing this.

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