Tag Archive | self-care

The Donut

I have twenty-nine days left in this Assessment Processes course I am taking. It is a core course and a prerequisite for my practicum. And it is brutal.

In that 29 days, I have three assignments due, which will comprise 75% of my course mark in total. The first of these three is due in just eight days. It is worth 30%. And it has been (so far) the most difficult because it requires me to analyze the real-life results of personality and aptitude testing, integrate those results into a cohesive description, and synthesize recommendations on someone’s suitability for graduate school. That someone is me.

mri-2813914_640 from Pixabay

I found this picture of an MRI “donut” on Pixabay!  Free!  Check them out at www.pixabay.com

The process reminds me of an experience I had about 11 years ago. I had injured my left shoulder, and I was scheduled for an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan. This diagnostic procedure required me to be inserted into this tube that looked like a giant doughnut (or donut, depending on where you are from). I had to take off everything metal, put on this johnny shirt, lie on the table, and stay completely still in spite of the noise they told me not to pay attention to. The noise was LOUD! They offered me earphones to play music and drown out the sound, but nothing would drown out that sound.  Buzzzzzz, click-click-click, buzzzzzzz, … it was not what I would call pleasant. I turned down their offer of the headphones.

However, the strongest sensation from that experience was not the sound. It was that the donut was so narrow and I was so … not narrow. They had to put me into it head-first, and I was in there down to my elbows. I felt like the last pickle wedged into the pickle jar! And I knew that I had to lie perfectly still so the imaging equipment could get a good picture of the inside of my shoulder (which it did).  I found myself humming songs I liked to pass the time. Each song would take five minutes, so it was a way to mark the time for me – so that kept me from panicking.  The feeling of not being able to move – of not having the option to even twitch – and the pressure of the sides of that apparatus on both shoulders and arms was quite unnerving.

But it needed to be done. I was confident that this procedure was necessary to show my specialist what was wrong with my shoulder. (I had a torn labrum, by the way, and it needed surgery – which was entirely successful.)  Was my time in the donut pleasant? No, not really. It was just something that I had to endure to get to the place where I needed to be. And I did. I endured it, and it ended, and it served its purpose.

Just like this course. Not pleasant, to be sure. Necessary, yes. Difficult, most definitely! But I am enduring it. It will end. And it will have served its purpose (when I pass the course) in being the last prerequisite for my practicum.

I am fortunate to have had the support of my employer and my doctor in taking some time off so as to devote more time to this course, which I believe I said (in my previous post) is three times the work / reading / assignment time of any other course in this program so far. But it has to be done. All I have to do is to submit to the procedure and commit to it. I am sure it will involve some singing to calm my fears and to pass the time.

And in 29 days, I will be able to get out of this donut.

I think I had better go now, and get this next assignment done.

♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫

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The Back Stretch

My practicum is set; my Learning Plan is approved, and wheels are in motion for me to take regular time off as well as to tele-work, in order to allow me to do my practicum hours in a different province. I have located and put a damage deposit on my apartment, and plans are in place to sign my lease and start moving in.

But one core course stands between me and my practicum, and it is by far the absolute hardest one so far, requiring nearly three times the amount of work as other courses. Since the schoolwork takes up so much time, and I have a full-time job, I was increasingly dreading going to work, much as I like what I do. I was not sleeping, not looking after my psychological / social needs, and I was slipping farther and farther down the slope toward burnout.

horse-1911382_640 on Pixabay

I got this photo at www.pixabay.com – free!

In horse racing, there is a point known as the “far stretch” – wherein horse and rider get into a “zone” where everything else fades away and all that matters is getting through the fatigue and the distractions to finish the race, and finish it well. I had been too distracted, and I was more tired than I had ever been; I was on the back stretch and it was time to set aside everything else and go forward.

So I did two things. I called my Employee Assistance Program and asked for a counsellor, and then I went to see my doctor to talk to him about my exhaustion. When he questioned me and heard everything that was on my plate, he told me that I had all the signs of depression and that I was headed for burnout. He gave me a note to be excused from work for a few weeks – which I accepted gratefully.

Since that time, I have been sleeping a bit better, and have had more time to devote to my school work, which is a great source of relief for me. I can lay aside my distractions of having ‘not enough hours in the day’ and just focus on finishing my course.  Not all of my symptoms are gone; in fact, I still have difficulty concentrating, still catch myself sighing, still feel overwhelmed (although not as much), and I have to really work at motivating myself. But the severity of the most troubling symptoms has reduced.

I think I will finish this course; coming around the far turn, I was not sure I would make it. But I think that I’m catching my second wind – and with a little help from my prof (I’ve asked for a short extension on my upcoming assignment deadline) I think I will be able to make it to the finish line.

And then, I will be able to cool down and prepare for the next race.

In the Dark

The last few weeks has been fraught with frenetic activity: getting a vehicle, looking for an apartment out of province, applying for a criminal background check (a requirement of my practicum site), getting fingerprinted, viewing an apartment, paying a damage deposit on it, and planning to pick up the key in a couple of weeks. There are less than three months until I start my practicum placement, and it seems that there are periods of time like the one I have described above, and then there are those times when it seems like time seems to stand still, it is moving so slowly.

Meanwhile, I get requests for information that I cannot yet give. What are my hours going to be at work when I start this thing? Well, I am not sure, because I don’t know my hours at the practicum site. So I wrote an email to my practicum supervisor and am awaiting her reply to see if we can’t hammer out my hours. Part of me isn’t even sure that this internship is real – in those moments of self-doubt, I wonder if I dreamed the whole thing or if things (for some reason) might not work out. The moments are fleeting but … no less distressing for being brief.

In the dark, both literally and figuratively, is a hard place to be. I don’t like not knowing what to expect; it is quite stressful for me. And when I don’t know what is ahead, I tend to become preoccupied, which wakes me in the wee hours of the morning with obscure, random thoughts. The other morning, I woke up at 5:00 a.m. thinking, “Where am I going to put my garbage cans in the apartment?” Sighhhh.

candle-2631921_640 from Pixabay

I got this pic at Pixabay.com – check them out! Free!

So the only thing I can think to do, where the dark of uncertainty encroaches in, is to light a candle. Remember that the time might seem long, but it truly won’t be long until I am in the midst of the light of day and doing what I have been training to do for years. Really.

Things will fall into place. The night will end. The day will come. And in the meantime, I keep my candle lit… the candle of hope, the candle of perseverance, the candle of assurance that I didn’t dream this, that this is really happening, that I really will be able to do my practicum.

And with the candle lit, I can concentrate on the little details I need to take care of: homework, paperwork, and the family activities and (self-imposed or not) obligations that make life interesting, if not frantic. I can (try to) sleep. I can prioritize. I can breathe. I can survive. And when the time comes, I can shine.

Just like my candle, I can make a difference to someone else’s darkness.

 

 

Baby Steps

Now that my immediate future seems to be working in a certain direction, in the sense that I know where, when, and how I will be doing my practicum (Sept 2018 to April 2019), the other areas in my life, which have been clamoring for attention, are finally getting some.  In the last couple of weeks, I have gone to the doctor, gotten referrals for massage and for custom-made orthotics, and have gone to a few appointments (two for massage for my aching back, and one for a fitting for custom-made insoles for my aching feet).

My physical limitations have been hampering my usual self-care options. Walking – which was great to reduce stress – has not been possible due to my feet, and doing stationery biking on a recumbent bike to stretch my feet has not been possible due to my sacro-iliac joint being compressed and therefore compromised. I am a non-swimmer so that is out (who would have the time to take lessons or go to aquacize classes anyway?) I can practice mindful breathing, but that does not help my physical problems get any better – and I am unable to do yoga because of other physical limitations.

So those factors were like walls closing in on me, and that was behind my decision to finally get something done about my back.  My massage therapist told me that walking was the best way to treat my sacro-iliac issues. Which led me to want to look after those feet of mine. At least then I could walk to help my back and my stress levels. At the moment, though, every step is painful.

shoes-2383144_640 from Pixabay

I got this pic on Pixabay.com!

When I went to get fitted for orthotics, my orthotist got me to walk in my bare feet while she took a video of my lower legs and feet in motion. (That hurt!) When I got back, she showed me how the arches of my feet flattened out when I walked, a side-effect of my overly flexible joints. She told me that I needed a certain type of shoe (brand name and model number as well!) and that the sheoesI was wearing were not good for my feet; even though they were quite comfortable, they were not supporting my arches at all. She took a mold of each of my feet, and showed me how high my arches are and compared that shape to how they looked when I bore my own weight – the difference was dramatic. She told me never to walk in bare feet – that if I got up in the middle of the night, to use slippers – and insisted that such footwear had to have arch supports.

My orthotics will be ready for pickup on June 22. In the meantime, I have gotten a pair of Berkenstock sandals (special sandals moulded to the contours of the normal foot) to slip on my feet for when I need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night … and also for the summertime, so I don’t have to wear what essentially look like sneakers all the time. And I got the walking shoes she said I needed, and have been wearing some fairly good arch-support insoles in them. The insoles are not ideal, but over-the-counter ones never will be. Once I get my orthotics, those will go into the shoes instead of the ones I am using now. And I may need to go back there to have them adjusted in the weeks that follow – a free service built into the process of customizing my appliances to fit me.

As for whether I feel any improvement yet, it is too soon to tell; as I said, my custom-made orthotics won’t be ready for nearly four weeks. My heel’s “fat pad” (the cushion-y pad on the bottom of the heel) is thinned out, which – my orthotist told me – happens to post-menopausal women!) so walking is still painful but in a different pattern than before due to my foot being held in a slightly better position and more supported around the edge of the heel.

Part of me feels like I am learning to walk all over again. My weight feels like it is bearing down farther back on my foot, and more to the outside edge.  I am taking short steps while my heel pads take time to stop feeling so bruised from the plantar fasciitis (which is the name of the condition I have: basically it means a chronic inflammation of the connecting tissues between the muscles of the bottom of the foot).

So why am I talking so much about this? Well, I have been thinking a great deal about self-care of late. And it occurred to me that practicing self-care when one is not used to it, is like having put up with that foot pain for so long that you think it’s normal – only it’s not – and then deciding that you are tired of it hurting. Then you decide to take whatever steps are necessary, even if they are baby steps – to correct the problem. And it’s hard. And it takes time and effort. And you wonder if it is even doing any good.

But it is. You have to take baby steps because to do any more would hamper your efforts, at least for now. But in doing so, you learn that it is okay to give yourself permission to go through that process and it is okay to spend the extra time it takes to start feeling better. It becomes a priority because it needs to be a priority. How in the world can I be a good counselor to someone else if I myself am stretched to the max?

To that end, today I set aside my homework and stretched out on a gravity chair and got some sun – just a few minutes. Vitamin D, yes I know – and also the sun has this amazing power to energize me, and spending time in sunshine in the fresh air, listening to the birds singing and feeling the breeze while the sun’s heat soaks into my aching body, allows me to immerse my spirit in positivity, in strength, and in an atmosphere of caring.

They may be baby steps. But they are steps nonetheless. 🙂

Full Circle

As I write this, I’m enjoying a grande half-caff, chestnut-praline latte. My first order ever from Starbucks!! What has that got to do with anything in this post? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Well, just that I’m enjoying being able to take care of myself.

I’ve taken the last four months off from my grad program to recharge my batteries and get a renewed zest for my life. And I must say that aside from the first month thinking, “What am I going to DO with all this free time?” I soon found some projects that I’d been meaning to accomplish – crocheting for Christmas presents, for one – and have been busily doing that, plus tending to my family’s needs. (I might save that for a later post.)

Today, I have 31days of freedom left, 31 days to do what I like when I like (aside from my job, that is.) And in the last week, so much has happened that has both floored and elated me that I am still reeling from it all.

You see, my oldest daughter has been trying to do some upgrading of her GED so she can go to university. A week or so ago, she sat with someone in the Registrar’s office of the local university and realized that she could “ladder in” to the program she wants to take by taking a couple of courses as an unclassified student and then taking some upgrading courses they have available for people to prepare for degrees in the sciences and mathematics. She wants to get a Bachelor of Science with a major in Kinesiology. A perfect fit!!

What’s more, she can start in January 2018. So she starts her university class(es) on January 3, and I resume my program on January 10. So weird! So wonderful!

There’s more. She is physically disabled and she has PTSD as well as other psychological disorders, so she went to see Student Services yesterday with photocopies of her diagnoses from her medical file, taking her dad along for moral support while I was at work. By the end of that appointment, she had forms for student loans, a signed agreement to provide ergonomic seating, a note-taker if she needs one, a computer with voice-recognition software if she needs it, a disabled parking pass, and much, much more – all in the space of that one appointment. Essentially, that one hour alleviated every single fear she had about going back to school: absences due to sickness, inability to take notes due to her fibromyalgia, etc. What a relief to know that they have that (and more) covered!

A Water Drop Splash by Mister GC at freedigitalphotos.net

Photo “A Water Drop Splash” by Mister GC at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Monday, she sits down with her contact in the Registrar’s office and hammers out the course(s) she will be taking. Everyone has been so respectful and accommodating to her – and she has felt so comfortable with these people that she has taken the lead in the conversations rather than letting one of us be her mouthpiece, as she has typically done with people in authority (especially doctors). Words can’t express how proud I am of her, how far she has come, and how she has faced her monsters and is starting to move forward with her life.

I know that she will blossom in the academic environment.  There is no doubt in my mind she will excel.

What’s more, there is a possibility that I will be doing my practicum on campus in September 2018… Is that surreal or what?  So, if she wants to, we can have our lunches together at the cafeteria. 🙂

But – back to January 2018. I will be taking a Family Therapy course and I am looking forward (not dreading) the return to the academic routine – a testimony to my need for a break and to the fact that I have now recharged my own personal resources to the point where I can dive in to my studies again! Once I get into classes again (online of course), I will be able to contact the fellow with whom I’ve been corresponding about the September practicum.  At the same time, I’ve been in conversations with Labour Relations at my job to see whether I can take an 11-month leave of absence so that I can not only do my practicum but also take my culminating course afterward, which will require a lot of hours a week to complete.

Yes, there is a lot happening, even though nothing is happening. I feel like I’m starting all over again (hence the title, Full Circle) but this time, with my feet under me and a clear path ahead. Plus, while I’m doing the most important part of my own learning (the practicum) my daughter will be embarking on her academic journey too, in that she will be able to launch herself into her chosen program around that time – another circle just starting.

Exciting stuff. I can’t wait to see what’s ahead. 😀

Solar Powered

It has been almost two months since I finished my Group Counselling course.  I managed to facilitate my mock group session (see last post) and do well in the course; I maintained my 4.0 GPA. 😀

And now I get to do something that I have not done for what seems like a very long time – I get to take a few months off.  I have already registered for my January 2018 course, but until Christmas, there are no courses that I need which are currently being offered. So … for the first time in four years, I get to take a break!

That’s good, because I was starting to feel kind of draggy. You know, like WALL*E when his battery was low in the Disney Pixar flick from 2008. I was pretty much spent at the end of a day: I fell into bed and awoke tired, and life was into a routine of work, eat, homework and sleep with no room for looking after me or spending time with friends.

Since beginning this term with no schoolwork, I have been able to do things I had put on hold for a while. I have put in the occasional bit of overtime at work, and spent more time cooking / baking and crocheting, activities which have been on hiatus for a while. I also have more time for blogging – which I love doing! And fairly soon, I will be able to get back into a bit more physical activity, which I got away from after my surgery in January of this year.

And yes, I have spent more time in the sun this past summer, beginning back in July when I was in Calgary, and continuing all summer long here. What a treat to feel that warm sun and drink in the beauty of the birds and the flowers from the safety of our deck! Winter lasts such a short time where I live, so I really have made a deliberate effort to enjoy those simple pleasures.

I have had the opportunity to reflect on my scholastic journey and plan for the upcoming months. In less than a year, if all goes as planned, I will have started my counselling practicum at a local counselling centre – I haven’t finalized which one yet – and will hopefully be able to focus solely on that instead of dividing my time between that and my job.

With a start, I realized that there is less school in front of me than behind me. Counting my practicum (which spans 2 terms so it counts as 2 courses), I have five courses ahead of me (one per term, starting in January.) And there are seven behind me.

Wow.

Somehow the thought of what lies ahead doesn’t fill me with as much trepidation as it once did. I feel more prepared, more confident than I was a year ago. Part of that had to do with last term, because I was taking that Group Counselling course right alongside people who had already done their practicum! That was a big shot in the arm for me.

Sun In The Sky by graur razvan ionut at freedigitalphotos.net

Photo “Sun In The Sky” from the kind courtesy of graur razvan ionut at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Another stress reducer is the fact that there are a couple of places that have expressed an interest in having me be an “intern” or practicum student next fall. I am in touch with them and have been educating them on the requirements of my school for practicum sites, as well as the number of hours I will need to put in. I am pleased to say that there are places that welcome students… so I am starting to look forward to rolling up my sleeves when the time comes. 🙂

My family has been so supportive right from the beginning. They have taken up the slack, learned to cook simple meals, done housework, and freed me to pursue my schoolwork unhindered. What a great clan!

My team leader at work has been another source of support. She has opened up my eyes to the possibilities for me should I decide to return to my workplace and postpone my retirement for another few years. She has my back and is advocating for my needs with senior management. I could not ask for a better professional in my corner.

Friends and extended family have been following my progress with interest. My brother tells me almost every time we talk that he is so proud of me, that he tells people that his sister is “studying to be a psychologist” … a term which I have told him is not accurate (it’s actually a psychotherapist), but it is nice to feel that sense of pride he feels spilling over onto me. I have colleagues at work who ask me how my studies are going. At fifty-seven years of age, it has taken me quite a while to figure out what I want to be when I grow up… but this… this feels right.

I am starting to feel that not only is this break from school a solar-powered break for me, but so is the schooling itself. I am charging my batteries and preparing to enter my second lease on life, so to speak.

It feels good. 😀

Not knowing

There has been a recurring theme in my graduate studies in counselling. I keep coming back to what my professor called a “not knowing stance” when I was at Summer Institute in 2016. Every course I take, every experience I have in this program, keeps circling me back to this one inescapable truth, a certainty that bases itself in not being certain … of anything.

When counselling, when researching, even when faced with an ethical dilemma, it all boils down to this: I don’t know.  I might think, or believe, or even suspect, but I don’t know.  I am not the expert; I am not even AN expert!  Guess who is?  The client!! The client is the expert in the room, the expert in whatever situation or problem brought them into counselling.

I am learning to take that stance, to not have my mind made up, to be curious and compassionate, to gather more information, to encourage the other person to fully be who they are and feel safe in doing so.  Does this mean that I have chosen a theoretical orientation, as psychology graduate students have been expected to do for generations? Absolutely not!  Even regarding theory, I am on the proverbial fence.  I can see good in almost all therapeutic approaches, and I think that each of them would work best in different situations for different types of people with different backgrounds.  One person might need to explore their family-of-origin dynamics, delve into their childhood issues to uncover something in them that affects today’s functioning.  Others might find more help in a short-term solution-focused approach to a specific problem. Many people respond to identifying and countering their negative thoughts with positive ones.  Still others could be looking for a way to relieve stress in the moment and would respond to a mindfulness-based thrust.

“Man Lying on Chaise Lounge” courtesy of Ambro at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Regardless of where I end up on that spectrum, or whether I just take an eclectic approach, I know one thing: I don’t know.  Not knowing has become something of a pattern, a habit, a rhythm of life for me. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be qualified to be a counsellor.  In fact, it might mean that I’m better qualified than I ever thought possible.  Not knowing will force me to ask questions, really listen to the answers, and then ask more questions. It will help me to understand my clients’ experience from their own perspective.  I won’t assume that I know about someone’s life just because it might look like they belong to this or that group; instead, I will ask them to help me understand how it is from their point of view.

This not knowing mentality has so many applications, not just in counselling but also in relationships, work, and family.  When people understand that I am not prejudging them, when they know that they are safe with me, they will feel more free to open up and share their experience.  It feels good to be with someone who accepts you unconditionally, and who creates that atmosphere of caring and respect.  I want to become that someone.

In my last post, I spoke about health issues from pre-cancer in my uterus, in addition to my brother’s colon cancer.  I am happy to report that they got all of my brother’s colon cancer, literally saving his life, and I underwent a hysterectomy in early January, saving mine.  I feel very grateful, and even more so now that my winter term is done and I got a great mark on Professional Ethics.  I have plans to practice a fair bit of self-care over the next couple of weeks, and I hope to squeeze in a visit to see my brother and my mother; it will be the first time since his surgery.

There’s a lot that is up in the air of late.  I’ve been acting as a team lead at work since October, and the employer has been conducting interviews to fill that role on a permanent basis.  So, I’m waiting for the results of that, at the same time as I am reaching almost the half-way point of my degree.  I decided to slow down my degree so that I could do my practicum in September of 2018, so I am hoping to be a little less stressed than I would have been going full bore.  And even making all these plans, I still don’t know what will happen.  All I can do is take each day as it comes, do the best I can, and keep asking questions.