My Year in Review

2015 has been a big year for me, probably the biggest of my young life. I’m not normally one to expound on what I’ve achieved, although I’m going to make an exception and have a closer look at someone of the big changes in my life this year.

 

  • I attained my black belt in the system of Wu-wei Dao, taught by the Academy of Traditional Fighting Arts. I feel like I’ve always been a black belt, that I’ve tried to act like one since the first time I ever stepped into a training hall, and I think I’m growing into it every day. I still have a lot of work to do on facing my fears and being willing to push myself, and I’m sure all of that will come in the New Year.
  • I got my first full-time job as a social worker. Man, after all the shame of having a degree that I wasn’t using and enjoying the freedom of working casually, I finally knuckled down to a 9-5, Mon-Fri social work job. It wasn’t without its problems, though it lead me to where I am now, and that’s not so bad at all because:
  • I won an award for Employee of the Year, despite only being with the organisation since January, and despite senior workers and managers being nominated with me. I guess I am pretty good at this work, though it’s still a little hard for me to accept that.
  • I moved out of my parent’s house. I probably stayed too long, being mothered and having everything done for me. When I first got that full-time job I moved out as soon as I could, and the freedom was well worth the cost of the rent. I did a lot of learning about what sort of disciplined lifestyle I enjoyed, and also its hollowness. I lived by myself and only for myself (despite having two housemates – I barely saw them because I kept myself so busy), and while I enjoyed it immensely, I’ve also learned not to be so self-centred.
  • Getting a place with Bethwyn has really helped with that. It has been so, so special having a space to shape however we’ve wanted. I loved buying our own washing machine, and filling the cupboard with our own mugs. I’ve loved setting up the study and sharing a bed every night. I’ve loved all the time I’ve spent with Beth, all the kisses goodbye in the morning and all the cuddles welcome home in the evenings. I’ve never felt so homely about anywhere in the world, and I am so grateful for this den of comfort.
  • Getting a cat! Holy crap guys, meet Peppermint Silvermane!11037013_10156411565550220_2416657079313269018_n
    I guess I haven’t really mentioned her because she’s not on my mind that often any more. She mostly ignores me and spends much of the day hiding. Well, that’s a tad unfair: she’s about 50-50 now in terms of bolting when I approach, and she’s spending more time wandering around and less time under the bed. So far she is not the cuddly lapcat I was hoping for, though when we first got her from Cat Haven (via Petbarn) I got the sense that it would take her a while to open up and that when she did it would be so worth the wait. I still have that sense, though I’m a little impatient for it!
  • I participated in my school’s 30th Anniversary (see my teacher’s blog post about it here) and am really proud of how polished my performances were. It was a wonderful motivator to train hard, and I hope everyone who came enjoyed it!
  • I also performed a simple Japanese tea ceremony (ryakubon) at Melville Matsuri festival! I shook like a leaf, and I might have rushed it, but it was tremendous fun learning a new set of skills in an elegant and highly structured art. Just my cup of tea.
  • I crafted my own set of Ascended Gear in Guild Wars 2. It looks hideous, and the stat increase is negligible, but by jove I did it. During the Heart of Thorns release, as well, which basically doubled the price of the components. I’ve almost finished crafting my ascended longbow next.

I feel like I’m missing some big’uns, and I guess that’ll have to do for now. It’s certainly been a big year in terms of life-style changes. Next year holds the wedding, the honeymoon and a new mental health project I’m part of leading back towards full-time working hours. It’s going to be another big year I’m sure, though I’ll take it one breath at a time. Thanks for your support this year everybody. Here’s to 2015.

Advertisements

A Hard Task-master

Over the past year I’ve put on ten kilos, and lately it’s increasingly frustrated me that my pants are tighter and that I’ve got a bit of a belly going on. I still love my body (this big ol’ bag of meat and juice), and I’m still quite fit (though not quite fit enough for black-belt standards in my school – my max rep is now 45 pushups and a few crunches short), though I’m frustrated that I’m moving further away from the body I’d like to have for my wedding. I think mainly my problem is that I keep eating when there’s food in front of me, even when I’m not hungry. It’s a fine line I’m treading and I don’t want to dip into unhealthily depriving myself of food, though I definitely need more discipline around how much and what I eat.

 

Yesterday I used this pent up frustration to go for a run, the first in many months, in attempt to slim down and to regain some sense of control over my weight. I pushed myself pretty hard, doing some long sprints mixed in with my half hour of straight jogging. Then, pouring sweat, fingers tingling, I ran back home and did three sets of 20 push-ups. Staggering and stumbling now, I climbed the stairs to the bathroom and sat on the bathroom floor while I had a cold shower. I barely had the strength to wash myself, and by the time I was semi-dry and in the bedroom I collapsed and couldn’t get off the floor no matter how determined I was. It was about an hour of lying in the cool dark room (which made me miss Christmas dinner with my family) before I was able to stay upright again, and a few hours later before I felt better. I had given myself heat exhaustion, I think.

 

I push my self much harder than other people push me. I’m scared of pain, and I often avoid it when exercising. When things start to get too hard, I make excuses so that if I fail, it’s because of an injury or because I’m tired or because my fitness is a little low. I also push myself through the pain, to make myself do things that are hard and unpleasant just to prove to myself that I’m stronger than my fear. In this way when I start to flag, I push myself harder, I make myself do more. In a way, I punish myself for being scared and then I absolutely dominate my fear to show it how much stronger I am, how incredibly powerful my will is. Sometimes this allows me to achieve great things (like getting my black belt), and sometimes it causes me to push myself so hard I throw up and shake so much I can’t stand.

 

It’s amazing to me that I still have so little idea of what my limits are, when it’s good to push and when it’s important to back off. Since the last time I gave myself heat exhaustion in 2012, it seems that I haven’t really learned all that much and that my stubbornness is just destructive. Still, I’m taking this as a learning opportunity to get to know myself better. The lessons I learned from yesterday include not doing endurance running in the middle of a very hot day, slowing down when my fingers start to tingle (does anyone know why this happens?) and to stay well-hydrated during exercise. Now to fuel my determination into a healthy way of growing myself rather than beating myself down.

My 2001 Diary

After reading Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (an excellent and highly recommended read), I started going through my childhood diaries as part of the process of de-cluttering and letting go. I decided that I’d summarise each year of my life and then get rid of the diary itself, because I’m not that person any more, and I don’t think it’s particularly useful to hang on to a meticulously recorded list of things I did every day when I was 10-years-old. Rather, here are the parts of my diary which I think are interesting or insightful or just darn cute enough to preserve.

 

  • I treated my diary like a person, the imaginary little sister, the best friend or the girlfriend that I always wished I had. I went through a couple of different names for her: “Dear Diary/Sarah/Jessica/Ivy”.
  • I was a seriously hardcore gamer. I played games every single day, mainly Pokémon, Super Smash Bros., Perfect Dark, Mario Party and Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings. I would play these for 3-10 hours a day, depending on whether I had to go to school. I can see now why I feel an urge to game if I haven’t played anything in a couple of days.
  • When Pokémon 2000 came out, I watched it every day for weeks. This is, undoubtedly, what led my brother and I to create an elaborate ritual where we would burn coloured candles outside representing the legendary birds in order to honour our collectible Mew card, which we buried in a waterproof box.
  • I re-read Harry Potter several times over, and created my first ever email account: Hermione4eva@hotmail.com.
  • I could jump down 8 steps.
  • My brother and I were really big on a made-up language called Gobbledegook or Gobbledegik. It was just a bizarre code, where words like “Age of Empires” would become “Ludderudgy Lumpy”.
  • My relationship with Eugene was one of admiration, hurt and betrayal. He was so clever, and so controlling.
  • Everything was very dramatic. I had a lot of arch enemies and a lot of people who I would have died for, and not much in between.
  • I had friends who were trees, my favourite of which was named Sapo. I wrote about the time I tried to heal him by stuffing a hole in his trunk with these weird little onions that grew in our school.
  • I tentatively started exploring my sexuality, and I was very embarrassed about it. I didn’t record any details, but I was very conflicted about whether it was sinful or not.
  • It was the first year we had a computer, I think, and I started using internet terms like “lol”.
  • I founded the Dark Knites, a spy club which was really quite poor at espionage.
  • Apart from gaming, if there was one thing I was obsessed with as a 10-year-old it was keeping strict records of who among my friends liked whom. Most of my diary was addressed to my crush, Jessica, and I spent months agonising over whether my love for her was true, and whether she loved me. The final verdict is that we dated for 10 minutes, exchanged “secrets” (which I’ve long forgotten), and then Jessica expressed that she no longer felt the same way about me. (I have since come to learn that she was just humouring me, but when it got serious she let me down gently.)

Ahh the heady days of youth.

The Employee of the Year Who Nearly Became a Librarian

I started writing a long blog post about my first year of working in mental health, my first “real job” as a social worker, and I decided to scrap it all. Why? Because it was full of old hurts and old pain, bitterness that I’m having trouble letting go of. Suffice it to say, I didn’t start the year well. The first team I joined didn’t seem suited to me – I barely got any support, I was told that I wasn’t good at working with people, and there was nothing I could do about it – it was just “something about me”. When my case load had been reduced so much that I was barely working with any clients, management shifted me to another team. After two days there, management was advised that I wasn’t suited for the new team either. I was told that I was going to fail my three-month probation and was offered another job in a residential site, and after long consideration, I took the offer to resign instead.

 

It was an impressionable time in my life. I’d worked so hard to get my first job as a social worker, only to discover that I didn’t have enough street smarts and that I couldn’t work with people (either staff or clients). My confidence and self esteem were at rock bottom, and I genuinely believed in my heart of hearts that I was not suited to social work. I resigned myself to studying librarianship and avoiding people for the rest of my life.

 

As fate would have it, I ran into a manager the week after while I was doing some paperwork at head office. He said that a team member needed sudden leave and that I could fill in for her for two months if I wanted it. Between the shame of seeing all my former colleagues again after I’d said goodbye and my imminent impecuniosity, I took the job.

 

The new team was different in all the ways I needed. I liked all of my colleagues, and they all seemed to like me. My team leader put a heavy emphasis on supportive supervision, making time to check in with me every day, and she put my wellbeing as the highest priority. I got on well with the consumers I was supporting and found I could really sink my teeth into the work, focussing on their mental health recovery rather than just surviving day-to-day. I made a lot of friends at the office and started teaching tai chi as one of the daily mindfulness sessions the organisation held. Every week people would be kind to me, they would tell me they appreciated me and that I was doing a good job.

 

My colleague (whom I was replacing) elected to retire, and I was joyfully accepted as a permanent member of the team. In addition to this, I started working an extra day per week with another team, although I found this difficult and after a few months withdrew from this position. As fate would have it, I was offered a position to join a new project lead by two international mental health wizards, even though I didn’t apply for the job. I was told by several staff members that I was perfect for the team, and after they interviewed me they asked me to join them anyway because they believed that I had something special to contribute.

 

Along the way I won an award for encouraging new employees, a framed certificate and a cash prize. A few months later, to my great surprise, I was selected as the Employee of the Year over 15 other people, some of which were managers, and certainly all of which who had worked with the organisation for longer than me. Even now, four days later, I’m still trying to wrap my head around what happened. All of this has been very confusing to me, and I’m struggling to accept the narrative that maybe I’m not bad at working with people, that maybe I’m not a bad social worker. This final award, which has never been given to a staff member on the ground level before, is a compelling piece of evidence for an alternate narrative to the one I have been in for so long. So here is my tentative exploration into widening it.

 

Reasons I’m a good social worker:

  • I excelled at university.
  • Robyn, my mentor, said she’d draw on my story to inspire her for many years to come.
  • My supervisors on placement said they were proud of me and that I’d make an excellent counsellor.
  • I am regularly told by colleagues within and without of my team that they appreciate me.
  • I was headhunted to be part of this new exciting project because someone saw something more valuable in me than in the people who had applied for the job.
  • I am smart. I am thoughtful. I am curious. I constantly want to learn and improve my knowledge and practice, and I am always willing to grow. I have been told on several occasions that these traits are well-suited to social work, and that my colleagues and friends are glad I’ve chosen to spend my time and energy in this field.
  • I am humble, respectful and do not have a big ego. I always seek to learn from others, and I am largely open to admitting my mistakes so that I can learn from them. I’ve been told that people feel the difference.
  • I am friendly. I am kind. I see the best in people, and practice from a place of unconditional positive regard. I have been told on numerous occasions that I’m “so natural” when meeting new people and helping them feel comfortable.
  • I am genuine. I am real. I do not put much emphasis on masks and wearing different hats and trying to control others through my assumed power as a professional.
  • I have been told by consumers that I brighten their lives and that I give them hope when it has been difficult for them.
  • I use my knowledge of social work theory in a meaningful way.
  • I have a strong desire to help people.
  • I am compassionate, and this has been called my greatest strength. When I ask someone how they are, I care about the answer.
  • I won the Encouragement Award for new employees.
  • I won Employee of the Year, over managers and other staff who have worked hard this year and done great things.
  • I was told by my fellow students and some staff at university that I would make a great social worker some day. I was told that I naturally embody social work values, a willingness to share my experiences honestly and the ability to understand and empathise with others.
  • I am sensitive. I am gentle. I help create an environment of safety and trust. I have been told that I help ground people.
  • I am quite good at facilitating groups, even when complex discussions are going on. I am very inclusive in group discussions.
  • I have been told by friends, and the mother of a consumer that I am suited for this kind of work. That “the world needs people like [me]”, and that I am”wasted” working in retail.
  • I am quirky, different and unique. Some people are drawn to this, and it allows me to work in ways that other people might not have considered.
  • I have been told that I work hard, and that people appreciate and notice it.

 

This list has been the product of over an hour – I had to go through “My Little Book of Big Praise” to find more evidence to support it. I think it would be far easier for me to list all the reasons I thought I was bad at social work, though I’m going to make a deliberate step away from that narrative. From now on, I will strive to believe that I am good at social work and mental health recovery. It’s a foreign thought for the moment, but I will work to push through the doubt, using this list evidence.