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Back to School!

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It’s official: I’m going back to school next year to pursue a Master’s Degree in Social Work. Now, whenever I tell people this, they tend to assume that I’ll be working in child protective services. So, if you’re unfamiliar with  the degree, I’ll give you some information about social work and explain how it relates to what I do here on this blog as well.

Social work can be defined as work done by trained individuals with the goal of aiding and empowering those in need. Lots of different occupations can be considered social work; for instance:

  • positions in nonprofit management
  • individuals in hospitals who develop plans of care
  • government workers who see if individuals qualify for assistance
  • counselors
  • people who work in politics and advocate for individuals’ rights

Social work also encompasses a wide variety of fields, including education, healthcare, mental health, economics, politics, urban development, and more. So, you can imagine it’s a broad degree that is applicable to a lot of areas.

What exactly will I be doing, and how does it relate to The Enchanted Outlook? Well, I’m pursuing a clinical track, and my goal is to become a licensed counselor. There are several different degrees which lead to clinical licensure, including social work, counseling, and psychology; one reason that I chose the social work track, besides the broadness of the field, was because it takes a slightly different perspective. Instead of a primary focus of adapting an individual to their environment, as some other counseling degrees would, a social worker also takes into account sociological factors and aims to help adapt environment to the individual.

For instance, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) counseling a client who had been raped might connect their client with legal resources. An LCSW counseling a client who was disabled and out of work might take some steps to assist that client in finding appropriate employment. LCSWs are frequently found in public and nonprofit settings, but counsel in the private sector as well. While there are a lot of overlaps between this and other forms of counseling, I really liked the sociological perspective that social work provides, especially with where my country is at the present, and the opportunity to advocate for individuals and groups that it gives.

My intent is to have a very balanced approach to my counseling, though, which brings me back to this blog. In The Enchanted Outlook, I talk a lot about cognitive reframing, which is about changing the way we perceive things and viewing them in a more helpful way. This is a technique which I intend to bring into my counseling. I hope that all of my future clients will be able to walk away from their sessions seeing life in a bit more “magical” way. I also intend to share counseling tips and tricks regarding cognitive reframing here, so I hope that having this advanced degree will enrich my blogging and be helpful to you all as well.

I will have two years of school, and then two to three years of post-graduate field work, before obtaining licensure, so this will be a long and arduous journey, but I’m so excited to get started this fall! I am apologizing in advance for inconsistent blogging that is sure to come once I’m in the thick of it, but hopefully the quality of my information obtained through my education will compensate for lack of quantity of posts. That’s it; I hope this wasn’t too boring and that it clarified some things for you. Thanks for stopping by!

“Is This Normal?” (Wellness Spells Series)

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When I used to work for a mental health nonprofit, I would get asked a question from time to time. It went something like this: “I do this strange behavior and I’m worried that I may be mentally ill. Is this behavior normal?”

Now, not being a licensed clinician, I couldn’t give medical advice, and I would tell them so and refer them to a clinician, but I would also ask them how the behavior made them feel. There was a reason I asked that particular question, though, and I will explain why.

There are many different definitions of “abnormal.” One is, quite simply, not adhering to the norm. So, these would be the behaviors at the far end of a bell curve, so to speak. The problem with this definition of “abnormal” is that it isn’t inherently bad. A person with high intelligence would be abnormal. A person who has unusually good well-being would be abnormal. A person who has very high emotional intelligence would be abnormal. In fact, many notable public figures would be abnormal in some way or another, whether through their creativity, their wittiness, or their strength of character. So you see, simply not adhering to the “norm” is not a bad thing at all, psychologically speaking. To compound the confusion with this, what is considered “the norm” varies across cultures anyway.

A second definition of “abnormal,” the one that is often used as part of a mental illness diagnosis, is that which is maladaptive; i.e. more harmful than helpful. These behaviors can cause harm or distress to self or others. If a behavior or thought pattern is causing a person distress, preventing them from being able to live a full life, preventing them from being able to form healthy relationships, or putting others at risk, then that behavior or thought pattern may be something that needs to be addressed by a mental health professional. Just as there is no reason to live with a physical illness that is impairing our ability to thrive if we can help it, we do not need to limit ourselves by ignoring the symptoms of a potential mental illness, either.

So, it’s always good to double-check with a licensed clinician if you think you may have a mental health condition, but it can help to ask yourself how the behavior or thought pattern makes you feel. Is it causing you distress? Is it preventing you from being able to hold down a job or concentrate in class? Are you worried about hurting yourself or others?** Is it interfering with your relationships? Then it is something you want to see a licensed professional about.

By all means, get a professional opinion if you have a behavior or thought that is concerning you. But, consider that it’s okay to be quirky, or eccentric, or to think outside the box. To me, that’s what having an Enchanted Outlook is all about. If we all thought exactly the same, what a boring world that would be! Our differences in perspective and thought are what make us human. And remember: it’s possible to be both “abnormal” and have excellent mental well-being.

So, I intended to make another wellness spell to go with this one, but I sat here for maybe twenty minutes because I was concerned about the ethics of summing this one up TOO concisely. So- feel free to make your own wellness spell if you would like. Something to do with accepting yourself. But also taking care of yourself. And seeking a second opinion if needed. But being okay with having your own unique perspective. Unless that perspective is bothering you. Or hurting someone else. And ultimately knowing that it’s important to do the safest thing.

Oh goodness. Maybe this should just be a nonverbal spell. Anyway, remember to practice self-love and take care of you.

**If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or others, please call 911 or your equivalent emergency services, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK or the online crisis chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/Both services are free, confidential, and available 24/7.

I Was Blamed for Having Depression

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It’s Christmas time and my husband and I are eating Pho. We are having an interesting debate: What level of crisis allows the off-topic discussion of politics on a non-political blog, and how much or how often?

We agreed that one in twenty posts sounded fair for the time being. So this is my ONE, and I will make it count.

I was diagnosed with depression my freshman year in college. I was grieving from the loss of my mother, aunt, and grandmother, who had all passed away when I was in high school. My dog had been hit by a car and my boyfriend and I had broken up a few weeks prior to my first counseling appointment. I was also having family issues and was struggling with the changes of a new school, new friends, and harder classes. I wasn’t sleeping or eating, I was physically ill, and I had lost 30 pounds in less than two months.

Instead of empathizing with me, my therapist told me after maybe two sessions that I needed to re-frame my thinking; “Sometimes things just aren’t as bad as you think they are,” she said. She then gave me a sheet of paper outlining all the different ways a person can think irrationally.

Now, if you have read my blog, you know I am a big fan of optimism and cognitive re-framing. And no offense to the wonderfully effective cognitive behavioral therapy, (or therapists in general, because in my time working in the field I have known far, far more lovely ones than bad ones) but I didn’t take her particular approach very well for my particular situation.

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Me at the beginning of my recovery from depression; I weighed less than 90 pounds.
This was my first experience with victim blaming, but it wasn’t my last. I realized that yes, depression can be accompanied by irrational thinking, but it was easier for her to think I was depressed as a result of thinking irrationally than to realize that a bunch of losses in close succession might hurt, and that, more importantly, such unfortunate events could happen to anyone, even her. I must have done something wrong. Otherwise, the world wouldn’t be fair.

Despite that unfortunate speed-bump, I recovered quickly on the basic combination of another counselor and medication. I found new meaning in helping others in need. I thought I had put that part of my life behind me.

That was, until I graduated college and applied for health insurance. I received a piece of paper that said that the insurance company could not accept anyone who had been diagnosed with depression within the past five years. I was confused. To a 23 year old, 19 seemed like a lifetime ago. I was healthy and had been healthy for nearly four years. I had already been dropped from my family’s plan, I was living completely independently, the recession had recently hit and I was lucky to even have a part-time job without benefits. I didn’t have many options.

But more than that, the darkest, most painful part of my life was reduced to a simple risk factor. Despite knowing how insurance worked, when I stared at that piece of paper, it felt like I was being punished for something that happened to me that I had no control over. I was angry. This was wrong. But it was also perfectly normal. And I heard that voice again, saying, “Sometimes things just aren’t as bad as you think they are.”

I went on to work in the mental health field at the time when mental health funding for my state had just been cut in half. This had a wonderful trickle-down effect of impairing not only the public mental health centers, but also local nonprofits who saw less grant money and more desperate clients who had been denied treatment by other centers that could no longer accept them. All those extra people ultimately ended up in the emergency rooms, so the state didn’t save any money, and yet when anyone complained, the general attitude from the state politicians was, “Things aren’t as bad as you think they are.”

There have been many, many things happening in the world lately that I have been very upset about, but the recent healthcare bill in the United States hit a nerve. To be clear: I value empathy and compassion above all else. I used to believe that anything could be talked out. That with the right caring, the right understanding, learning enough about how the world works, learning about the people who think differently than me, finding middle ground, then consensus could be reached. And yeah, I DO value conservative values like building up families, financial stability, spiritual growth, and being proud of my country. And I AM concerned about the thinning of the middle class, the national debt, and healthcare costs for Americans. I DO care very much and I DO want to work with people. After all, it’s my job to learn to work with people and listen to what they are going through.

Lately, the assumptions people make are that I am NOT that type of person. I have been called brainwashed, ignorant, accused of not trying, of being hormonal, irrational, too young to understand, and repeatedly talked over with an eye-roll, all because I draw the line at victim blaming, blatant hatred, admitted elitism, willing closed-mindedness, and misogyny committed with a smile. I WANT to be a person who reaches a consensus. I WANT to be a person who reaches out to learn about someone else’s point of view. I WANT to be diplomatic, kind, and empathetic. I WANT to learn and grow and change my mind and not be partisan or polarized in my views.

And heck, I WANT to have a blog where I talk about how finding life’s magic leads to happiness all day instead of talking about this.

But if I am forced to choose between putting my foot down or being complicit in letting people be stomped down, discriminated against, silenced, blamed for their depression, chronic illness, pregnancy, and treatment resulting from rape, and allowed to die, well, I will choose to be the kind of person who puts my foot down.

And if you are bothered by that, that says a whole lot more about you than it does about me.

Because YES, things ARE as bad as I think they are.

 

 

 

Optimism Do’s and Don’ts

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The Original Phoenix wrote a wonderful post recently called 4 Ways Positive Thinking Helps Me that got my wheels turning, particularly since she mentioned some articles that were critical of positive thinking. I had seen some similar anti-optimism articles circulating lately and have been wanting to address both sides of the coin. When I worked as a suicide prevention instructor, I had given a lot of thought to when and in what ways optimism is helpful and when it is not so helpful. I decided to compile a little guideline to optimism from what I had learned through work and also through personal research.

1.Do practice gratitude.

Studies have shown that practicing gratitude has a very positive effect on mental health along with tons of other benefits. I like to think of what I am grateful for when I wake up in the morning. It puts my stresses in perspective.

2. Don’t ignore your own feelings.

In America where I live, there can be this kind of expectation of optimism that sometimes makes it hard to NOT look on the bright side. Think about it: what’s the standard answer to the question, “How are you?” Do people really want to hear any answer other than “good?” But denying our own feelings isn’t helpful. We can be honest with our own feelings and still hope for a positive outcome in difficult times.

3. Do find the silver lining.

When bad things happen to us, it’s very easy to focus on what else could go wrong. I am guilty of this as well. While being prepared for the worst isn’t a bad thing, I do like to take a moment to ask myself, “what could go right?” What opportunities could come from a bad situation? What can be learned? How can this experience lead to growth?

4. Don’t be blindly optimistic when the consequences are high.

There are many times when it pays to be optimistic. When the consequences of failure are high, it doesn’t pay to be optimistic.* In other words, go into that job interview optimistic; what’s the worst that can happen? But don’t start up that full passenger jet plane with the check engine light on and hope for the best. Blind optimism in risky situations is not a good thing.

5. Do make optimism intentional.

It’s easy to fall into a rut of our traditional thinking and forget to be optimistic; I’ve certainly been there. That’s why I try to make time for optimism. Optimism can help  with ability to cope with stress, our social support, our health, our career, our longevity, and more* so there are a number of reasons why it pays to be a little optimistic besides just “feeling good.”

6. Don’t forget to wallow now and again.

Is there anything more cathartic than a good cry? When I was little and I would cry, my mom would read me the Owl at Home story about “Tearwater Tea.” Owl wants to make his favorite tea, so he thinks of sad things like broken chairs and forgotten spoons until he has filled up a teapot with his tears. As silly as it is, it’s a reminder that a good cry once in a while is important. Just make sure that wallowing is a place you visit on occasion, and not a place you live full-time.

7. Do defend your own personal boundaries.

Don’t let others tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel. You are feeling miserable today? Feel miserable. Feeling optimistic? Feel optimistic. Exploring our own emotions is a very personal journey and shouldn’t be invalidated by others. It’s okay to feel what you need to feel. Even this post; if you’re not feeling it today, it’s okay to say, “no thanks” and come back to it another time.

8. Don’t force optimism on others.

On the flip side, it isn’t helpful to force our feelings on others when they come to us for help. Truly listening involves accepting how someone else is feeling with no strings attatched. I have found that when we listen in a non-directive way, it is easier for people to talk through their own feelings and to find a solution that works best for them. Often this process leaves people feeling much more optimistic in the end than if we try to force them to feel how we feel about a situation.

I hope this has been a helpful guide to optimism. And speaking of gratitude, thanks to The Original Phoenix for the inspiration. Be sure to check out her blog for posts about mental health, college life, and the power of human potential.

Source: Positive Psychology: Theory, Research and Applications, by Kate Hefferon and Ilona Boniwell

Creatures and Happiness: Dragons

img_1152In anticipation of the premier of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I am excited to reveal my new series, Creatures and Happiness, where I will examine the symbolism of magical creatures and what they can teach us about our own wellbeing. First up: Dragons!

I love dragons and could talk all day about the different things they symbolize. Today I will talk about one of their less-thought-of attributes: the attainment of wisdom. Dragons are often portrayed as particularly cunning. They love riddles and tricks. They are also, of course, very dangerous. To meet with a dragon is a great risk, but it is also an opportunity. Defeating a dragon takes a lot of courage and a lot of brainpower. In short, it is a chance to find one’s inner strength and see the full extent of what a person is made of.

The dragon, thus, can be seen as a trial. On the other side of that trial is a stronger, wiser person: the kind of person who has had the courage to face their greatest fears. To best a dragon is to grow as an individual into a stronger self, to shed one’s old skin, so to speak, and step into a new self.

Is there a dragon in your life that you have been avoiding because it is scary or involves taking a risk? Think of it this way: the stronger, wiser “you” is waiting on the other side of that dragon. And let’s face it: that person is pretty awesome. So, perhaps this is the week to strap on your sword and get to it. Your dragon awaits, as does the hero you will become by facing it.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Fantasy: Dragons

 

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