Oregon Trail

Location: Oregon, United States

Friday, January 22, 2010

Spirituality and Social Work

The place where I work is called "Luke-Dorf", which sounds like a really stupid name, especially when people screw it up and call it Luke-Dork. But the name was chosen to represent Healing (Luke, the writer in the Bible, was known as a physician or healer) and Community (Dorf - German for village). So the intent is that we engender a Healing Community. I am ALL OVER THAT. But it is sometimes difficult to walk this out when people are mandated through the courts, breaking rules of the treatment center, and treating one another like idiots. In short, when we get caught up in the daily grind.

Yesterday, we had a training by Dr. Phil Shapiro, a psychiatrist in the area who has also pursued integrating spirituality into mental health practice. It was really encouraging, as there have been studies done that prove that people with a strong spiritual base are able to handle pain more effectively than those who don't. I have been in conversation with a couple other people in the agency and we have been grappling with how to promote the idea of a healing community in each of our programs. I hope that we can actually take what this training had to offer and incorporate it into our work. I hope that there are enough people interested in ongoing conversation about integrating spirituality into our work that we can have a work/study group about it. There were a bunch of us in school that got together regularly to kick around these ideas and psychoanalytic theories and it was a great way to stretch the mind, grow, get outside perspective, and support one another. I miss that.

Also work related: Some of you may have already heard this, but I will be moving into the Program Manager position effective March 1st. This is a daunting and wonderful opportunity, and I am both thrilled and terrified. This week we informed our clients of the change and it has been funny to watch people's reaction, which went something like this:

Current Program Manager (CPM): We want to let you know about a change that will be happening in the near future. I will be moving out of state soon and will need to step down from my position as of March 1st.
Clients: Oh crap!
Clients: Wait! Who will lead us when you're gone?
CPM: Well, that's the other thing I'd like to announce. Lydia will be moving into my role.
Clients: How cool! (Applause and general sense of relief.)
Clients: Wait! Who will counsel us?
CPM: We don't know yet, but we will let you know when we have decided.
Clients: Wow. That's a lot of changes...

I have summarized this as the "Oh crap/How cool" response and I've noticed that it cycles from fear to hope and back around. Funny, that's kindof how I feel about it, too...

Thursday, January 14, 2010


The other day, we went for a walk at a local nature park with all the kids and a friend of Thomas'. William was not in the mood, so he walked apart from the group as we cavorted down the trails. We've been watching Monty Python skits on the internet or through Netflix lately, and have picked up some strange habits. As we went down a long sloping path, Stephen "cantered" down the way, clopping imaginary coconuts and chattering on with a British accent. We all followed suit, clattering along with our "coconuts" and calming our "steeds". Then we approached a bridge and Thomas began walking across as though he were from the "Ministry of Silly Walks". Link:
On the way back, there were several uphill climbs, which we decided must be done backwards. This is when people started passing us going the other way. Suddenly, I felt torn between being William and staying in the moment of fun (I stuck with the fun, but preferred not to be identified and therefore did not make eye contact.) Paul felt the need to explain our strange behavior. I'm just glad they didn't see us on the bridge. But I can't get over the novelty and fun of a nature walk with four teenage boys, acting particularly goofy, and generally having a great time. We may be one of the strangest families out there, but we love each other and we sure do have fun.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Grieving/Celebrating part 2

Well, speaking of grieving, here's another one for you: We found out this week that Stephen also has Crohn's. That's two out of three of our kids. Crohn's is essentially an abnormal immune response in the intestines. If you really want to know more, here's a link: http://www.ccfa.org/info/about/crohns . The good news is that Stephen is not nearly as sick as William was at the point of diagnosis, so we can forego some of the nasty meds like steroids and some with potential cancer causing side effects. Once he is stabilized, we will just have to wait and see how the disease progresses. It may stay relatively mild, or wax and wane, or grow steadily worse. Like I said in the last entry, we grieve and we celebrate, sometimes all at once.

I had a few more celebrations this week at work. One person got housing, just in the NICK of time, another is approved for benefits, another is getting coming through a long spell of depression and learning from the experience, another is a new man due to a simple medication. These are HUGE WONDERFUL THINGS in my line of work. I also had a major breakthrough with one of my clients. We have been working together now for about two years. He left this summer for a while, but right before he left, he had agreed that maybe some medicine would be a good idea. When he came back and wanted to enter our program again, he was told that things would have to be different and that he would have to take medication. Suddenly, he was not in favor of trying medication at all. He was about to be terminated from the program due to this issue, as it is considered non-compliance. At the same time, I got a letter from a friend of his saying he totally appreciated the work we've been doing with this guy and the positive change has been significant. At that point, I'm all like "We are NOT losing this guy!" So I pass on the kudos and advocate for more time while I figure out how to remove the barriers to my program manager and she says, "Take me out of the equation. Tell him I realize that having me be a part of this decision is getting in the way of things and I trust you to make the right decision." Psych! I approached the fellow on my way out the door that night and told him the scoop, saying, "Just think about this and we can talk about it more tomorrow." He responds, "Well, I'm just afraid of going back to jail if I decide the meds aren't good for me." "That's the whole point. You and I will work together to figure it out." "Well then, let's do it. There's no problem." I nearly died on the spot - we've been working on this for HOURS over the last week and within five minutes it's settled? How cool! Which reminds me, I need to thank my program manager. Good move.

The Christmas tree is still up - sure is pretty, but it's getting to be like an overdressed belle after an all night gala event and now she's at the diner drinking coffee but she should just go home and take off all her jewels and go to bed. Maybe tomorrow.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Happy New Year!

Part of my New Year's resolution this year is to begin blogging again. I find it a wonderful way to sort things in my mind, attempt to make sense of the senseless, and put things into perspective. In short, it's good self care for me.

I need to focus more on self care this year. Work has become increasingly complex and demanding. I continue to love my clientele, and find each individual challenging, complex and ultimately rewarding. Each of them demonstrates on a daily basis the courage it takes to walk this life with a mental illness, often stemming from trauma, exacerbated by poverty, and misunderstood by family members. I realize how fragile each of us are, and grieve for "my people" as they walk through life and try to make sense out of it.

And grieving is hard work. I am constantly thankful for my education, and the time we spent working on closure, endings, and grieving in general. I would never have dreamed that grieving would be something I wanted to master, but this is indeed the case. It is necessary in the work that I do and, I'm finding, in life itself. We can't escape it, so we might as well do it with grace.

You may be thinking this is not a very "Happy New Year" posting. I beg to differ! Grieving is really a beautiful thing. If we have nothing to grieve, we have had no connection to life and love. To grieve means we have things we care about and can therefore be thankful for. I am thankful for this life and all that is in it! May you also find life abundantly satisfying this year!