Sunday, March 1, 2015

Revisiting Vulnerability on a New Stage

My first day of school picture...the excitement
was equally matched by fear and anxiety
  So, I realized that it has been far too long since I have posted anything, and I helped get myself inspired by reading over the things I have put out there.  This tends to be my pattern when I am getting ready to write in my journal, and given the nature of what I have published on here over the past couple of years, it's not surprising that I would do the same with my blog.  I am amazed at how raw and honest I have been with those of you that follow along and read this.  Some of you I know and spoke with on a regular basis through everything, while others I have not seen in years...maybe there are even a few who I have never met.  And yet, I wrote about things that are sometimes stigmatized, and often times are kept hidden.  It is strange to look back on after such a long absence, maybe because I have stepped away from this practice of public vulnerability. Not to say that I have stopped being vulnerable.  I am still working on it every day, and I have spent the last year learning to vulnerable in a relationship again.  I think the step back from public vulnerability has more to do with jumping in to an incredibly overwhelming first year of my professional career.  Being a school counselor, and being brand new, makes me question what I put out there.  I am grateful to work in a district that I do not live it, but even that distance does not get rid of this sense that I am always under investigation.  And I am very aware that this blog is open to any and all who happen to stumble across it.  So, I question how vulnerable I can be while still being trusted as a professional.  Which I find to be incredibly ironic, seeing as I strive to help kids open up and I preach the strengths of vulnerability.

   Sometime around December, the superintendent of my district tasked the counselors with spearheading a Mental Health Awareness initiative in all of the schools for the month of February.  The focus was on erasing stigma around mental health and educating students and staff on signs to look out for within themselves and those around them.  Our main message was that stigma can only be addressed by allowing ourselves to talk about mental health.  Yet, part way through the month I found myself overwhelmed by stress from my job, and feeling my own mental health faltering.  And during a month spent on telling others to talk about it, I felt ashamed that I couldn't pull it together perform at unreasonable standards I had set for myself.  When there is so much stigma surrounding mental health, mental illness, or really anything suggesting that we are less than perfect...I can't blame others for wanting to stay quiet.  I guess I hope that my willingness to lay it all on the table will help others feel a little more comfortable.So, this is my attempt to talk about it again.

One crazy adventure and more to come
   I will work on writing on here more often.  I forgot how healing it was in a past, and I am grateful to those who have followed along with words of encouragement.  I am not sure what this blog will look like, besides the crazy adventures I find myself in, I also hope to talk about my journey in learning who I am as a school counselor.  Don't worry, I will throw in some stories from the students I work with for comic relief.  Like the time when one of the 5th grade boys pulled a "that's what she said" joke and I had to give him my teacher glare while I silently laughed inside.  Or the other time when a high school student blamed me for ruining her senior year because I wouldn't change the classes that she had requested to be in last year...wait that happened twice. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Master Syd's Adventures in Coparenting

Well, I did it.  I survived grad school and earned my M.Ed. in School Counseling.  You may now call me Master Syd.  Or not.  But doing say may help me feel that it is real.  I had planned to write this whole entry on what I learned, on how I made it through, and on how relieved I turns out that the end was just as stressful as every other part of the experience.  I learned that I can do things that seem impossible, and that I still procrastinate.  I came out on the other end with amazing friends that I will have for a lifetime because only a select few can understand the battles of enduring a graduate program in counseling.  I am grateful for the every tear, perhaps a little more grateful for the laughter, and am still having a hard time believing that it is really truly over.  Maybe it will kick in when I start my first job this fall at an elementary school and a high school.  I swear, I am a glutton for punishment. 

Which is why this summer I have taken up the challenge of urban homesteading and coparenting in Butte, Montana.  You may be wondering how and why it is that I find myself in these positions.  Didn't I get enough adventure in spending a summer on a fishing scow last year?  Sure I did!  And what I have learned of myself the past couple of years is that I love the challenge of trying something new and going beyond the familiar.  So, last November, when my cousin, Regan, called me up to tell me she was missing family, pregnant with her second child, and this kiddo was due in the summer...I figured why not fill my summer with some family time in Montana.  Things became a little more real when she called me up a few months later to tell me that her husband was heading to Ohio in May to help them transition to a new home in the fall.  I would now be jumping into the role of fill-in parent.  Regan gave me an out.  I took the same stance as I did last summer with Alaska.  Game on!

So, now my days consist of waking up to the face of a smiling toddler who greets me with, "Oh, hey, Cousin Sydney!"  Before I can drink my coffee, I am off adventuring in the backyard, searching for things to fix, or playing baseball with a stick and a pine cone.  The time that I usually spend doing everything I can to find something to do away from my home is now filled with searching for any and every possible activity to do within and around the homestead that my cousin and her husband have created.  In an effort to keep a very pregnant Regan from going into labor before Zack gets here on Thursday, I have dubbed the role of Master Syd, Keeper of the Chickens.  My laundry duties are filled with dirty cloth diapers and soiled sheets, and my biggest battles have become getting clothes on wiggly two-year old, overcoming the fears of the splash park, brushing the teeth of a toddler monster, and the dreaded bedtime.  After Regan and I take turns reminding Keoki that it is indeed time to sleep and we are still here, I find myself taking part in the conversations parents have over, "how can we make that better next time?"

Perhaps the most important conversation at this point is, "what do you need from me when you start going into labor?"  And the answer depends on whether or not Zack is here.  If Baby Jackie decides to come join us before Thursday, there is a strong chance I will be given the opportunity to witness a birth.  On top of the role of coparent, I may also be given the role of birth partner, which both excites and terrifies me.  It is an honor to know that Regan trusts me enough for this role.  She handed me a book (The Birth Partner) to look over for some light summer reading.  And reading the book, while shedding light on the birthing process, outlined the responsibilities that go along with being a birth partner.  I will be utilizing my newly acquired counseling skills to navigate the birthing plan, and hoping that I do not have to go into battle with a nurse or doctor who tries to stray from my cousin's wishes.

I have jumped into this adventure with both feet and am rewarded with beautiful Montana scenery, moments of laughter, toddler cuddle time, and a stronger connection to family.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Accepting Loneliness

I have this friend who wrote me a letter a couple of months ago.  The first one was on Wonder Woman stationary.  The next, on beautiful resume paper.  Both were reminders of the friends I have made over the past 12 months and the ones who have stuck with me through the years.  Not just new people to go meet up for coffee every so often, but those who I can just sit with.  They are there and I feel blessed to have them.  And yet...every so often I am hit with a wave of loneliness.  This is probably a normal experience for those who find themselves living the single life.  Maybe it is normal for people who are living life at all.  The challenge is finding out what to do with this loneliness.

The extrovert in me wants to run into the nearest crowd of people.  To reach out to the friends I can sit with.  To find an adventure, or run, or do anything but be with my loneliness.  Because I have taught myself that this feeling is wrong.  That feeling alone means I am alone.  I have spent so much of my life trying to be around others because this world tells us to look out  for those who are solitary beings.  We see that person and think they are abandoned, unattended, or deserted.  And it is so easy to believe these words.  I find myself sitting in my loneliness and formulating a list of those who have abandoned me.  I let this list expand until I am spinning with the reasons they have left.  So...I take this feeling of loneliness and I run from it. 

But what would happen if I sat with it? 

I took a mindfulness class last winter and our homework was to do a body scan at least once a week.  I found excuse after excuse to avoid the assignment until my sense of responsibility kicked in and I laid down in the dark to follow the direction of the narrator.  And as I lay there, focusing on my breath, following it through different parts of my body, I began to understand what I was afraid of.  I was running from everything I had been holding in.  I feared facing my pain, loneliness, and grief.  Because mindfulness asks you to not only acknowledge what you are feeling, but accept it and let it go.  How was I going to accept that pain in my chest?  How was I going to accept it and then let it go?  By giving it space to exist.

I spend my time running from loneliness because I fear the "truths" that will pop up in that quiet time.  I have faced that crippling heart-wrenching pain often enough to know its ability to bring me to my knees.  Yet, I have learned that without the space to exist, this beast only grows stronger.  I am fighting to accept the fears I have in order to set them free.  I may miss the physical presence of others, I may wish I had a someone besides my cat to snuggle up to at night, I may yearn for that open and honest conversation...and that is all ok.  I am learning to take my loneliness and sit with it.  I am reading letters from friends and remembering that just because I feel alone, it does not mean that I am alone.

So, I leave you with this video that another friend shared with me this morning.  It opened me up enough to remembers my fears which were saying they needed some time to sit with me.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Adventures in Fear

I have come face to face with a lot of fear throughout my life, but only in the last few months have I recognized what that fear can do for me.  I faced my fears when I accepted the job in Alaska, sang in front of friends, or learned to lead climb.  I faced fears I didn't know existed when I dealt with heartbreak. I have solo camped in bear country, battled depression, jumped into glacial rivers, and fight hard everyday to be my true self.  Sometimes I come out on the other side with scares and bruises, exhausted from losing sleep or pushing my limits, and tears can be a common occurrence.

What have I learned?  I do not want to do or not do something because I'm afraid.  By letting fear take over I miss out on amazing experiences.  If I had listened to my fears, I would have missed out on amazing connections and a beautifully ass-kicking experience in Alaska.  I would be stuck behind self-proclaimed limits because the other side was risky and unknown...and staying put seemed more comfortable.  There is fear of making mistakes and losing what you have.  But mistakes are only mistakes if you don't learn from them, and there can be so much more to lose by staying still or hiding.  By risking a fall with lead climbing, I gained confidence in my skills.  By sleeping fitfully in bear country, I awoke to a beautiful landscape and a day of hiking.  Through breaking my body down in Alaska, I gained a community that feels like another home.  And through being myself I find friends that not only accept me, but challenge me to continue facing other fears in my life. 

My current fear?  Remaining true to myself through the stress of school and the new identity of a counseling intern.

But I'm ready, because this past year has taught me what to do with that fear.  Accept it...and face it.  As one of the speakers for Tedx WWU puts its: Face Everything And Recover.  Because fear is not there to knock you down, it is there as a challenge, an invitation to the other side.  Fear is the sign that growth, connection, and recovery are waiting for you.  You just need to accept the challenge to get there. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Music Feeds a Scow Girl's Soul

We take our job very seriously
Well,  I have written about one way in which I learned to power through a nice long day of pushing, grading, and icing fish...but I failed to speak of another very important energy source.  As necessary as food and calories are to physically making it through a day, music became fuel to break mental barriers and stagnant points during the long days.  Throwing thousands of fish into an ice tote becomes a little more bearable when you have something to sing along to.  Hell, it even becomes fun when you realize how ridiculous you would look to anyone else as you belt out the lyrics to Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, Blink-182, Beastie Boys, Florence and the Machine, or Michael Jackson.  The '90s became our favorite era as the music gave us a chance to laugh at ourselves, while gangster rap was just ironic when blasting from the speakers of a fish house in a small cove in Southeast Alaska.  In each instance I was reminded at how easy it is to smile in the craziest and most exhausting of circumstances.  While elbow deep in dead fish, with slime in my hair and scales on my face, on four hours of sleep, and looking at another 12 hours of work...I was happy to have music to sing to and three other girls who were singing with me. 

The location of our dance parties
And when singing wasn't enough (and sometimes it just doesn't cut it), I liked to utilize what my friend has aptly dubbed an Emergency Dance Party.  These are important for several reasons, but most notably for their ability to relieve any tension.  Especially within a group.  Especially in a fish house.  When we were exhausted, angry, stressed, hungry, and ready to just throw in the was time to bust a move.  Get the blood flowing and forget what was bothering you.  Which is pretty easy to do when you see someone flailing around in fish gear.  My pride and joy was the night I danced out of my gear with Michael Jackson's "Bad" at the end of a 16 hour work day.  All the stress of the day was made up for by  the fact that I could still dance, smile, and laugh with a group of girls who suffered and danced right alongside me.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How to Fuel an 18 Hour Day of Fish Throwing

Begin by waking up in a hurry to meet the boat pulling up downstairs. Shove whatever food you can find into your mouth before you start pitching fish. This is usually a granola bar, peanut butter and bread, or a bowl of cereal. The food is more important as a base to get the all important Vitamin I (ibuprofen) because your entire body hurts from the past month of working in a fish house. Coffee is the next most important step. No matter how many fish the boat downstairs has, someone must always stay behind to provide caffeine to wake us all up from our 5 hours of sleep. Meals throughout the rest of the day vary from elaborate dishes of fish put together by or loving manager, Celeste...or they are replaced by whatever snacks you can grab every 30 minutes. Sometimes a handful of peanuts, wheat thins, or ritz crackers. Sometimes anything with sugar. Lots of sugar. Candy bars, baked goods, chocolate. So much sugar. I'm a little worried about going through withdrawal when I leave. But, for now, its quick energy and great for late nights and no time. When more calories are needed we fuel up with microwave cheese burgers and burritos. I even learned that Costco makes lasagna that can be microwaved (something discovered when we ran out of propane for the stove).

There are times when I wish I could take better care of my body, but when working for 15 to 18 hours, there's no time to make a nice salad...much less a sandwich. I have learned to love peanut butter more than I thought possible and accepted my constant craving of sugar. I have come to accept anything that will allow me to push my body to crazy limits.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Scow Girl

I would like to start by saying that there is no average day in the life if a scow girl (a fact I have finally learned after almost 3 weeks and countless questions). I have already written about the days of  waiting. These usually begin with waking up casually when my body tells me to. I enjoy those mornings, but struggle with the cabin fever and I tend not to be the most patient person. Especially when it involves waiting until 10:30pm, when we are allowed to scrub and close down shop. Lately I have taken to watching our resident bear comb the beach (the very close beach). Today, I named him Paddington.

And then there are those other days...

They tend to begin by waking up to my roomies/coworkers/buddies stomping around because there's a boat outside. This causes a panicked rush to put on some fish clothes and hop downstairs and greet fishermen who have been up far longer than I have. Someone is given the all important task of brewing coffee while the other two shove food in their faces and start pitching fish. I am given three choices for jobs: pusher, grader, and icer. As pusher I slide fish up the tray to the grader, who tells me what type of salmon they are looking for. Generally this is small Coho, meaning anything below seven pounds. I'm proud of my new ability to recognize the difference and am accurate within a half pound. I actually get kind of excited about this job because I get to rush around and take on other tasks as well. Graders are next in line, weighing the fish that come down the line and passing them onto the icer, who is given the all important job of throwing fish in totes, chopping ice, and icing the bellies of so many fish. Some of which are poisonous and pokey. This role tends to be competing with the pusher and grader in a hectic race to keep the tray clean. all of this for 18 hours.  And then remember that it will never be that smooth because nothing here is normal. Generators break down, you run out of propane (which heats your water, allows you to cook, and do laundry), there is an ice shortage, people get sick...or the line on your hoist comes dangerously close to breaking. At several points throughout the day you utilize what my friend has aptly named an Emergency Dance Party and bust a move to the playlist you have been listening to for the last 19 days because the satellite radio doesn't work. These dance parties are made all the more special when covered in fish scales, sweat, fish blood, your blood, and slime. Best dance club ever!

At the end of the day, when you don't care that you just splashed yourself in the face with bleach water, you patiently wait for fishermen and deck hands to finish using the shower so you can scrub clean and feel refreshed until it all starts again in 5 hours.