the things that stay

In about two weeks, I start up another round of grad classes.  I should graduate in August–unless I bomb my governance class!  I feel like I’ve been in grad school an impossibly long time.  Probably because–well–I have.  I finished one grad program only to go to this one without any break at all.  Life happened, as it does, and going to school with everything else got complicated–often.  And then, I ran out of financial aid (unexpectedly–because someone had misinformed me about loan limits).  Just a few courses shy of graduating.  I was prepared to pay out of pocket for my future degrees, but not this one.  So, I took time off to re-evaluate and figure crap out.

I really value education.  In fact, education may have saved my life a time or two.  It’s given me things no one can ever take away.  But it’s also been my place where I could figure things out.  So, I made a lot of what I used to call blunders along the way.  In retrospect, I would have been smarter about how I pursued my education.  I wouldn’t have used school as career counseling.

But, too often, you don’t know what’s right until you try it.  And school is pretty much the safest place for that.  You can skin your knee, and it’s no big deal.

I’ve finished a lot of things that didn’t feel right to me.  Mostly because I thought–if I didn’t keep going–I’d fail.  I used to have a really hard time failing.  And then, I started doing it all the time.  I learned to take breaks when I needed them instead of crashing into walls.

When I started this latest degree, I really wanted to start my own nonprofit.  I wanted to learn as much as I could and network with people who could help get me started.  My program has been great, but being a working adult, I’ve done it all online–which makes networking less realistic.  I have greatly expanded my knowledge, but somewhere along the way, I realized I was repeating some pretty dangerous patterns for myself.  I still want to develop my idea–but I’m not sure nonprofit is the way to go.  I’m more inclined to think it’s better suited as a social enterprise.  And perhaps, my other ideas about work tie into all of that.  I wouldn’t have known any of that without this degree.

I decided to finish those last few courses because I have the means to do so; I’ve worked hard to do this; and I probably will use this knowledge someday.  It’s a lot of work and money, though.  It tries my patience, often, but I know it’s the right thing.  Do I need to finish by August?  That part–I dunno.  Probably, I do.  I’d like to take a few months off before applying to MSW schools.

My goals seem bigger now.  I would say dreams, but dreams are aspirations.  I’m setting these things in motion, right now.

I hope, by next fall, to be in an MSW program–studying Macro Social Work.  Or–to put it more simply–the ways people interact with institutions.  This degree in nonprofit management actually dovetails pretty nicely.  Macro Social Work is about social change…figuring out why major problems exist and working to revolutionize it.  Where Counseling and Clinical Social Work are about revolutionizing the lives of individual patients, Macro Social Work is about tearing down the walls that keep people stuck in shitty systems that no longer serve them.  It’s about empowerment, and for a long damn time, that’s what I’ve been chasing–for myself and for others.

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I came to the conclusion that clinical social work and nonprofit management may not be the best fit for me–just as teaching wasn’t the best fit for me–because it recreates my self-destructive patterns in a co-dependent way.  Simply put, while I’d be amazing at all of the above, I’m just not strong enough yet.  I haven’t figured out boundaries.  I am still struggling hard-core with things and need to have a healthy daily practice in place for myself before I can offer anything to anyone else.  I think I will eventually work in clinical practice, and I will eventually start a nonprofit or consult with them.  But I need to heal first.

I feel like macro is a better option because it still allows me to indulge my inner helper, but in more of a way that acknowledges this is long-haul work and that there is not fixing to be had.  That the only fix is empowering others and understanding root causes.

I say that all of these things are goals–not dreams–because I am working on them.  I haven’t applied to grad school yet, but I’ve taken the dreaded exams.  And I’m doing the work on myself to get to a place where I’m healthy emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  I know most programs make you do that anyway, but I’ve wanted to do this for a while.  And I have the means to do it, so every week, I spend an hour doing the work.  And when I’m not doing the work with a therapist, I find other ways to do it.  I’m a bit of a junkie when it comes to personal development, and I’m a better person for it.

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I started seeing a new therapist back in January.  We share a philosophy about healing, and she has worked pretty extensively with people with my history.  She recently diagnosed me with PTSD.  I also seem to have some anxiety and occasional bursts of OCD related to PTSD triggers.

Some people get PTSD from going to war or being raped.  I got mine from growing up.

That doesn’t mean I had this horrific childhood.  Aspects of my childhood left definite scars, for sure.  But I never had support, and so, I coped in ways that led to this diagnosis.

I was pretty sure I had this–and often even joked about it with friends–but it’s just comforting to know what’s happened to me has a name.  That I’m not abnormal–that the way I dealt with things was exactly the way healthy people do cope with things–and there’s nothing wrong with me.

In fact, I made a lot of healthy choices all by myself–not knowing anything about psychology–that helped me heal tremendously.  But I do need support to fix this.  I can’t do it alone.  I didn’t get here alone.

So, my work for the next several weeks will be focused on cleaning out the toxic waste from my body and my spirit-things that, often, don’t even belong to me.  Getting rid of all the dysfunctional crap that doesn’t serve me and replacing it with healthy strategies for coping.  Tackling the big pillars that hold all of it up.

It’s terrifying and exciting.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I know the rest of my life doesn’t have to be defined by the past.  I get to decide how this story ends.

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