I have been searching for the words to write a post since the tragic events at the Marathon bombings last week. It was a terrifying week to live in the city of Boston that left many of us shaken, scared, and confused. I personally had a difficult time discussing the events, and chose to avoid the media and conversations until the day of the lock down.
On last Thursday night, before the bombing suspects’ pictures were released, I had the chance to spend time with my dear friend Nicole that attends MSPP with me. We were having a girls’ night, catching up and frosting cakes. We first talked about everything else we could think of, and then lastly turned over to the subject of the marathon. I guess finally having a fellow psychology student there was what I needed to open up about it. I told Nicole how I needed to spend time away from my boyfriend because he was constantly glued to his computer, checking a live blog feed, a police blotter, and two news stations all at the same time. For me, this was just too much to take in, and I became defensive and frustrated. Then Nicole asked me if that was just how Jay needed to process everything.
“Oh… right…” I thought to myself, “processing…”. As psychology students, we talk a lot about how our clients process things, (how people actively understand and cope with new information). I have helped many of my clients process events in their lives that were difficult for them to understand. However, as I was living through this terrible nightmare, I was having difficulty remembering that we all understand and cope differently. Earlier in the week, I felt numb and detached, and was aggravated by those that wanted to drown themselves in news of the bombings. I did not want to see photos, or hear names of the victims, or even read stories of heroism on that day. I felt as if it didn’t really happen, and by not discussing it, I thought I could wish it to be nothing but the nightmare it seemed like.
Then Nicole said that magical word: process. I realized that this was not selfishness or heartlessness on my part, and that my boyfriend was not a sadistic man with attentional difficulties. We were just processing the events differently. As the events of late Thursday night into all of Friday unfolded, I became increasingly glued to the television. For the first time since the marathon, I wanted to watch the news and follow the events. I sat on my couch with a cup of coffee for hours and hours, listening to the surreal chaos coming out of my tv. After a few hours, however, it all became too much for me to handle, and I needed something else to keep myself sane. I pulled out a jigsaw puzzle, and somehow the simplicity of putting the pieces together made me calm, and helped me process the events of the week.
As I returned to my field site this week, I was surprised to find that none of my clients brought up last week’s events. They processed it very differently than I did. Just like my housemates, my peers, my professors, and my family. Trauma affects everyone differently. Try to keep that in mind and have a little respect for other people’s styles the next time you notice someone reacting differently than you are. It’s not easy, but it’s so important.
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of appointments, interviews, and dramatic events that have melted away the month of April at an alarming rate. I vividly remember looking forward to April vacation, and am startled to find it has already come and gone. Finals are upon me, the end of year wrap up classes mingled with final assessments that have, this year, taken on the form of tests. Study sessions take up my usually free nights, and I am watching it all happen through “graduation goggles”.
This in itself is ironic: we are not actually graduating this year. We had a ceremony in October to commemorate our conferral of Master’s degrees, and next year will graduate the CAGS program. But this year, the one without any major academic milestone, feels like the true ending to what we think of as our graduate program at MSPP. Our full class schedule is over, this week being the final time we will all spend 12+ hours together drinking coffee and collaborating within the MSPP building. Next year we will be busy with our own lives, in our own full time placements, and see each other about once per month for a practicum seminar.
The eerie thought is that this means we are “done” learning- no more classes on various modalities of assessment, on the development of pathologies, on prevention. No professors handing out packets of information, of materials, of experiences. We will truly begin to learn by doing, to immerse ourselves in a 40 hour work week and practice being a school psychologist.
Then reality steps in, and reminds me that nobody- least of all mental health professionals- are ever done learning. But the classroom will have to change. There may never again be a lecture with a powerpoint and exam, but will rather take the form of self-directed study. Articles read, shared, and discussed with colleagues. Continuing Education seminars to attend and learn from. Peer supervision to expand our zones of proximal development.
It will be sad to move away from the traditional education model, to move away from my cohort and venture out on my own, individualized path of professional development. I happen to be pursuing the PsyD, and so may have a bit more time to enjoy the leadership of my professors. But I anticipate some change nevertheless.
There is an oft-heard metaphor in mental health work that I particularly like: providers should remember that they have to put on their own mask before assisting others. That is to say that professionals who work in mental health must make sure to care for themselves emotionally in order to be whole and well enough to support clients.
In the past few days, most in Boston have the felt the intense swing of emotions that emerged following the marathon; fear, relief, anxiety, compassion, furor, hope. At MSPP (and our practicum sites) we have received many emails urging us to express these feelings, to find time for soothing events, to turn off the news, and to seek opportunities for healing. The (as-of-yet-unresolved) problem is how to fit in this important self-care work as we study for final exams, return to our practicum sites in wounded communities, polish our portfolios, and reestablish a daily routine. For me, writing is one way for me to begin the process (see earlier post) – but there is a long way to go. I am still feeling raw. Where IS my oxygen mask??
Happy Tuesday, everyone.
Today is a beautiful spring day in Rochester, NY and it’s a day to be productive. My husband and I are going to run some errands and then we’re coming right home so I can get down to business on my paper for the week. This is the final week of my current class and we have a final paper due on Sunday, but my big brother is getting married on Saturday! Things are going to be crazy starting Friday, so I’m going to get my paper finished before the pandemonium begins.
Life is happening so quickly lately. After this week, we have 3 classes left in my grad program and then I’m done. I will have my Master’s degree in my hand after 11 months of hard work and a whole lot of sacrifice. This move is coming up quickly too. My last day of work is tomorrow, I’ll have 4 weeks to devote to my field project, Capstone paper, and packing, and then we hit the road. With school, moving, and spending time with loved ones before we go, it’s a crazy life these days. A crazy life in the best way.
Yesterday I gave my Capstone presentation to my (thankfully) very small class and with just a few hiccups and 45 minutes of remembering to take in oxygen, it’s over!! While there still remain 2 very important assignments before I can officially jump for joy, the largest obstacle to my diploma has been conquered. If my classmates didn’t know anything about resilience in American Latino youth before, they sure do now!
Maybe I should hold on to the giant sigh of relief for a little longer but I’m starting to feel bittersweet. If my Capstone presentation is done, that means my graduate career is almost done, too. That means no more classes and certainly no more assignments soon enough. This is when I need to remind myself, “I can do this. I can go out there, find a job and start building the life I want for myself.” Somewhere between now and June 2nd, I’m sure that pure excitement will take over and the memories of pre-Capstone knots in the tummy will be long gone.
Neil Diamond at Fenway. xoxo.
So the end result of that crazy job search is Dallas, Texas. I got offered a job working for a company that manages residence halls at colleges across the nation and it just so happens that they wanted me to work at the University of Texas at Dallas! Iaccepted that job on the first day of April and now I’m going to start my career in Richardson, Texas, with my husband by my side.
I’m elated. As you guys know, my Master’s degree [that I'll complete in August] is in Higher Education, focusing on Student Affairs. I’m passionate about Residence Life and I think that it’s something I’m going to be really good at. This is a really good move to get my foot in the door and I cannot wait to start my career.
In Boston, it’s difficult to get anywhere: the green line takes forever; we have some of the world’s most atrocious drivers; our streets are insanely disorganized; parking is pretty difficult, and once you find a spot, you’d better have enough quarters for the one-quarter-for-twelve-minutes-of-parking rate; there are so many one-way streets you start to wonder if it’s a conspiracy; heck, three words: THE BIG DIG. It takes a lot of expletive-yelling, GPS-ing, searching for quarters in couch cushions and between car seats, asking for directions, paying parking tickets, standing pressed against strangers on crowded Ts… to finally get to your destination.
But… we find a way to get through: we celebrate the fact that the T is the oldest subway system in the US; chit-chat with fellow passengers; sip on our Dunkin Donuts coffees; intellectualize the disorganization of the roads by explaining that they were built over cow tracks; laugh and say, “Oh Boston.” In the end, we – doctors, waiters, teachers, finance workers, bartenders, students, nurses, baristas, construction workers – get to where we need to be and once there, we WORK IT.
And once a year, on Patriots Day, the same streets that drive us a little mad become the venue for the Boston Marathon, the happiest event of the year here. The streets shut down to all vehicles so that we can take time out of our busy, hectic lives to come together to celebrate Boston and each other.
Yet despite the utter joy of the occasion, a grave tragedy occurred at this year’s Marathon Monday, resulting in the loss of three lives and hundreds of injuries. The joyous cheering transformed into a crescendo of screams and sirens and noises from helicopters. The people of Boston went from a state of celebration to one of mourning, of pain.
Now lemme tell ya: this is BOSTON, for crying out loud. As someone who has been in Boston for ten years and whose family is from Somerville, I know that Bostonians are some of the most epically no-nonsense, tough, loyal sonofaguns (heck, the lullabies they sing to their toddlers are about Carl Yastrzemski and “trotting to Lynn”). We may not say “poor baby” and there may be some road blocks and road bumps and dead ends and one-way streets along the way, but we won’t stop getting through: picking each other up off the ground, holding onto each other, asking for and giving direction, sipping our Dunkin’ Donuts coffees, chit-chatting with our fellow “passengers,” celebrating our city, finding a way. With grit, personality, perseverance, a sense of give-and-take, and maybe a little humor, we’ll get to where we need to be… as we always do.
And when we get there, we’ll keep on workin’ it… stronger than ever.
Almost exactly ten years ago I embarked on an ambitious academic project to interview feminist female poets from Guatemala. Given the country’s fractured and violent past, and its extremes of wealth and opportunity, I expected that many of the women originally became authors in an attempt to shift gendered attitudes and push for social change.
I was wrong. Instead, I learned that many of the women wrote as a form of liberating self-expression, and as a way to preserve a sense of self in a world innately stacked against them. Although their work was shaped by a larger social and political context, most of the women I interviewed wrote for themselves above all else. At the time, as an idealistic study abroad student, I could not understand why authors would not use their words intentionally as a vehicle for social change. In the past decade, my understanding of the purpose and nature of writing shifted, as I too turned to written expression in understanding personal transformations brought on by travel, loss, time, and growth.
The horrific events at Monday’s marathon have sparked rage, sorrow, despair, and even pride throughout Boston. I am unsure how to process the violence that has marred my city’s streets, other than through writing – much as the women I had interviewed years ago made sense of themselves in a society reeling from civil war.
I was, like so many around the globe, shocked and shaken by Monday’s terrifying turn of events. I was also particularly incredulous on Tuesday at how quickly people returned to work, running errands, walking their dogs, caring for their children. How could things appear so normal given the carnage wrought not 24 hours before? Talking to loved ones and neighbors, I learned that that this apparent normality was in fact masking the fear, anxiety, and sadness so many felt in reaction to Monday’s damaging event. As a city, we are rattled. Despite calls for Boston to stand strong and show pride, the truth is that underneath this facade lies a barrage of difficult emotions. We may be physically present at work or school, but so soon after bombs exploded on city streets, we are not emotionally whole or healed. We are in shock, moving towards a long process of grief and loss.
Many of the children we work with in schools will have their own small worlds shattered – not on a global scale or at the hand of unknown terrorists, but by divorce, unexpected illness, death in the family, or a loved one’s incarceration. As school psychologists, we will have to help our school communities in understanding that while these children may be physically present at school, deep emotional fissures may prevent them from achieving academically. We will be called upon to support these students and their families, and to find ways for these students to express the difficult emotions they wrestle with as a result. These forms of self-expression may include writing, like the poets that I interviewed, or may take another form such as art, music, or community work. While we cannot erase the traumas they experienced, we can help them cope with the emotions that result. Likewise, the battered City of Boston is beginning to pick up the pieces and move forward in grief and acceptance – and we are beginning to sort through the wrenching emotions that the bombings have evoked.
With the countdown to moving coming up quick (5 weeks!), I’m starting to get down to business on my Field Project. You can read about it here and here, but a quick summary is that I’m working on bettering the Residence Life department at an area community college.
Thankfully, most of this project, I can complete remotely. I’ve met with the Residence Life staff at the school, talked to some RA’s, and have meetings twice a month with my advisor, but everything else, I work on at home. This can mean my current home in Rochester or my future home down south.
I have a lot of the research done. I know what MCC is doing well and what they could be doing to serve their students better. Now is the time for me to just sit down and start working on a new plan. You guys know how hard it is for me to focus, though. I’m finishing up my job here next week and then I’ll have a full month before we move to pack up our apartment and get a huge portion of my project done.
This is where you guys come in: I need tips on working from home. I need to set up a system to make sure that I get the most out of my days and maybe even get my hours completed by the time we move. I’ve heard that making a daily schedule helps. A routine may make it easy for me to focus on certain things at certain times and knowing that I have to get something accomplished before noon may help me get started in the morning. But maybe that’s not the perfect answer. Do you guys have any other ideas? How do you stay productive when working from home? Does anyone want to volunteer to be my productivity manager and yell at me anytime I get distracted?