Decisions

We make both conscious and unconscious decisions every minute of every day leading to positive and negatives outcomes, shaped by knowledge, experience and emotions. I have been guilty of making very rash decisions based upon my emotions with mixed results.

When I talk about decisions I am not talking about the micro decisions we make on a daily basis such as; what to wear or what to eat. Although these may impact upon our lives on a superficial level, I am talking about the decisions that have far ranging consequences upon self and wider society.

On Saturday I attended a charity night on behalf of a service user who took their own life. I had interacted with them but not undertaken any direct work with them. I was aware of the challenges in their life but I didn’t fully understand the complexities of these issues.

The night was full of friends and family all coming together to celebrate a life lived. For me this highlighted the degree to which the decisions we make can affect a vast number of people, leaving those behind with an array of unanswered questions. Some may say that it was a selfish thing to do especially when leaving children to grow up without a parent. However there was a multitude of complex issues that influenced this persons decision.

What must it feel like to be in that very moment when you are hurting so much you cannot envisage it ever going away nor it ever changing, these are powerful thoughts that take the most extreme outcome.

I have in the past been in some dark places where these thoughts of not being around have crossed my mind, not strongly enough to act on them and probably more to do with curiously than anything else. In my life I have made decisions just because I wanted to know the outcome, which have not not always been in my best interests. I have many more important decisions to make in the near future. I am bad at making decisions, due to not wanting to hold myself accountable for the outcomes.

Having to make these decisions is not a process that I find easy nor is it a process that happens quickly. I have come to understand that decisions made in response to my own emotions have for me at least been negative. I have learned to adjust my decision making to take into account the risk vs gain, along with accepting responsibly for the outcome.

“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.”                           – Flora Whittemore –

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Critical Self

I can be very critical of myself, I can find the negatives and rarely the positives. On the occasions that I find positives I quickly follow it up with a negative. I can even provide a negative after a negative.

I was asked yesterday “what are you good at?” Like many others the initial thoughts were negative, the critical self rearing its head beneath the blanket. It took me a good while to identify what I am good at. First I regurgitated what others had told me, but did i really believe it? I was then asked,

“What do you think you are good at?”

After a period of staring blankly at the wall I could only muster one thing.

“I am good at building and sustaining empathetic relationships.”

“What else?” was the reply.

That was it, my mind was a complete blank. Although I provided a very good example I was expected to provide more, of which I could not.

Identifying our strengths is not an easy task, especially when the critical self has been around for as long as we can remember. Thoughts that are reinforced when things go wrong or we feel like we have failed, even though we hold no control over this. These thoughts can even be reinforced by others, telling us that we are not worth it, nor do we deserve it. However the power we give to the critical thoughts is vast and very destructive. We can blame ourselves and feel comfort in the knowledge that we expected it to all go wrong in the first instance.

The critical self is degrading, humiliating and leaves us feeling weak, powerless, angry and sad. These emotions lead us to behave in ways which are not rational, negative and unsatisfying.

I have treated myself worse than I would treat others, however the relationship with ourselves is probably of more importance.

I regularly ask the service users I work with to tell me one strength they possess. The process is exactly the same. Staring with the staring at the wall, and the first words highlighting what they are not so good at. Immediately I am able to determine a strength of theirs, and support them in identifying it.

So why is it so difficult for myself?

Looking deep within you is not an easy process, it’s not something that comes natural to me, although it is becoming easier. Maybe a part of me still holds on to the past and thinks that it does not deserve to be good at anything. Or perhaps the relationship with myself is not strong enough, thus I am unable to admit I am actually good enough and have strengths that show this.

Only once do we emancipate ourselves from the critical self are we able to be at peace and accept our flaws and identify our strengths. But more importantly accept that we are worth it, that we do deserve it and we are not defined by our thoughts alone.

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” -Buddha – 

Past, Present, Future.

The Past dictates who we are in the present, the present dictates who we become in the future.

For so long I lived in the past, allowing it to decide how I live in the present. I have had no contact with my birth mum since.. I can’t remember,  but it has to be about 19/20 years. I made peace with this in my teenage years so it wouldn’t affect my future (one of the wisest choices I made then).

Don’t get me wrong, along the way I have fallen backwards. I was angry, angry at myself and angry at the world. I wasn’t fearful of what the future would be like if I continued make these negative life choices. This all changed in my early 20’s when I began to see through the haze.

I remember standing in the police cell and hearing that door slam again while the shouting, moaning and banging from the other cells remained constant. I remember the white walls looking at the writings of those who have passed before me. Looking at that same stone toilet, that same stone excuse for a bedframe and the blue plastic covered bit of foam trying to pass as a mattress. The only thing protecting you from the cold was the clothes on your back and the thin blue itchy blanket I had to request.

I put my arms out and span around, believe me there is not much room. Not space a human should be confined it. Definitely not an environment I felt comfortable with. The people that really mattered in my life would frown upon it, this did not matter to me. In your teens there’s a kudos that comes with being involved in the criminal justice system, its all a bit of a joke. But who had I ever really impressed? I certainly wasn’t impressing anyone now. The only person getting hurt was me, damaging my present and my future.

I don’t know what it was about standing in the cell this time, but it was a pivotal moment where I reflected upon my life. I said to myself never again, what sort of life is this? I don’t want this life, it’s not for me. I am becoming what people expected me to become, I don’t belong here and I can’t imagine spending years of my life like this, it is a dismal existence.

This is the past that has no place in my present or future. It’s easy to find all the negatives of the past but the positives can be just as powerful. However I can’t recollect many positives from the past. Being excluded from school at 15, gaining a criminal record, In and out of work and being in unhealthy toxic relationships. In a way these themselves are positives, in that I had to experience what I didn’t want, in order to find what I did want.

Its was not easy leaving the past behind and It had broken me. Sitting at the side of the road in tears at 4 o’clock in the morning causing harm to myself. I did not feel as though I existed. These were very difficult times to experience, in that moment I felt that things would not change for the better. It took a while for me to realise that it would but I had to say to myself I am not a victim and I will overcome. I had to take full responsibility for my life and the responsibility for who I would become. When you come out of the other side, you feel so powerful nothing can strike you down again. Of course I have taken a few steps back since (as everyone does in life) but nothing as far as I had previously.

The past physically has no control over me, however emotionally the past is still tapping me on the shoulder and whispering in my ear. The fear of disappointment, the fear not being good enough, and fear of not being deserving of the future are all trying to stop me from living in the present. So what impact does this have on the future? Well I know where I have been and what I have been through (some my own doing) to know where I don’t want to be. This allows me to live in the present while being a huge motivator for the future.

Over time I have come to learn to live in the ‘here and now’, to stop thinking about what the future will look like, right now is the only constant. It’s the only moment guaranteed to me.

“Shoot for the moon and if you miss, you will still be among the stars”                – Les Brown –

Wear Sunscreen

Wear Sunscreen

By Mary Schmich.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blind side you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.

Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

Moving on and Letting Go.

“All the art in living lies in the fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”       – Havelock Ellis – 

We all encounter change in our lives, whether it is jobs, homes, money or relationships, (even clothes!) Change is scary!

For things to change we also have to let go of what was. Not being able let go because we are comfortable and things are familiar can debilitate us in finding out something new.

I am currently in a process of change, things that I have known for so long and grew comfortable with are crux’s that just seem to linger. Knowing the direction and the subsequent security and safety of my life for the past five years, has led me to become complacent.

I have reached a time in my life where I am being forced to make decisions, decisions about where I live, what job I do and who I may or may not leave behind in the process. Decisions have never been easy for me, I am fearful of  the outcome and fearful that I had a hand in it if it all goes wrong (change has not always been positive for me). Thus if I let others make decisions for me then I am resolved of all responsibility and also have someone or something to blame.

Today I sat in group and a service user showed me (indirectly) the errors of my ways. Dont get me wrong, these past five years have mostly been positive but a fear of the unknown and the accompanying negative thoughts are still holding me back.

Focusing on the fact that change can be positive has empowered me to realise that change creates opportunities for growth, to find contentment and overall happiness.

I identify myself fortunate to not have attachments that are difficult to break. However this makes the decision process burdensome as the opportunities are endless, and the fear of the unknown starts to take over.

When we are holding onto these current relationships, we are really holding onto attachments, the things that are familiar and comforting. We do not allow ourselves to feel fear, to feel vulnerable or any sort of discomfort. We disengage from these emotions as they are not comfortable, and which we seldom want to feel.

How you envisage the unknown lies within you. Its takes a huge amount of strength and self – awareness to determine that it is not all doom and gloom. Change is healthy, change is positive, change is a challenge but more importantly, can be so much fun if you allow it. Just let it be.

Do not be afraid to let go, do not be afraid to change. You don’t have to change who you are. Just what you become.

The amount of happiness that you have depends on the amount of freedom that you have in your heart.” – Thich Nhat Hanh – 

Mum and Dad, or……

I have no recollection of ever calling someone Mum or Dad, I am fine with that. To some this may seem like an alien concept.

Some people may use those titles referring to the humans that brought  us into this world. Others may apply the terms to people who fulfilled certain roles in our lives. Roles that created the people we are today.

I continue to have these people in my life, known as foster parents.

Foster parents open up their homes and their hearts sharing their family life with you, showing you that you are someone who deserves to be wanted and loved. This was an extremely difficult concept to grasp. For people like me, we push and pull these positive relationships until they break, which happened on a number of occasions. This hurt. The emotions that came with this relationship breakdown were a source of comfort but also difficult to cope with. It reinforced the ideas I had created of not being worthy being wanted and being loved. These are some of the great things that we can do for one another.

Today marks the passing of one of these extraordinary people. Someone who withheld judgement when they picked you up after you fell down, dusted you off and pushed you back out there, just so you could become a better person. Someone who taught; Sincerity, Integrity, Gratitude, Humility, Empathy, Honesty, Generosity, Humility, but most important for me; Compassion. Traits that have made me who I am today, leading me on the path I am currently walking. Traits that make a person great.

I never had the courage to tell this person how much of an impact they had, and continue to have on my life. Not many days go by when I don’t think about how stupid it was that I could never managed this (I guess I just wasn’t ready).

Thank you.

Heres to all the selfless people who open their hearts and invite you in to share their lives.   All so you can become a better person.

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same” – Flavia Weedn –  

The road less travelled…

“Finding your passion isnt just about careers and money. Its about finding your authentic self. The one you’ve buried beneath other peoples needs.” – Kristin Hannah –

For too long I have buried my authentic self, this last month has been a very difficult journey of self discovery and let me tell you, it hurts! Coming to the realisation of who you really are and what you can be is not easy, the challenges are plentiful.

Throughout my life I have chosen my own paths, and walked them alone. Some have been smooth and some rough, some winding and some straight. However they have all provided an abundance of obstacles. Some cause you to take a few steps back and others knock you to the floor, each one become more difficult and taking longer to get up from. How we get up and move past these obstacles creates who we become.

I have walked many paths with no direction or purpose, constructing my own reality of the world around me. Building defenses which has only served in restricting me both emotionally and physically. These defenses push you through a process of thinking that slowly eats away at you, leading to emotions that I unhealthy ignored.

What is happening now is that these defenses are being broken, and I am having to recognise the emotional responses. This is allowing me to see my authentic self and creates a new you. This is a scary process!

This is currently a path that I am not walking alone, asking people to walk parts of it with you is not something that I find easy. Yet highly beneficial.

Along these paths some people just pass you by and some people walk with you longer than others. Some are a step ahead, some are a step behind, some are alongside you.

In one way or another they all leave their mark in your life, some positive and some negative. I thought that time and distance was important, but what I have come to realise is that how long people walk with you is irrelevant, what matters is that they walked with you at all.

“The people who are meant to be in your life will always gravitate back towards you,   no matter how far they wander.” – Anon –

It has been a long road!

So, for far too long I have been contemplating writing about my journey from spending 18 years under the care of the local authority to becoming a qualified social worker. Now in no way would I state that is has been an easy journey. Far from it, I have felt debilitating emotional pain, I have self harmed, used various substances to cope (none of them work by the way) and thought about what it would be like not to go through it anymore.

What I have learnt about myself in the last 5/6 years has been emotionally and physically demanding not to forget draining. Which Included a huge amount of self doubt along the way.

Why did I decide to become a social worker?

Over half my life has been dictated to me by social workers. Who could do the job better than someone with that deep level of personal understanding?

Social workers get a tough press, easy targets when things go wrong. I quite like the negativity surrounding the job, it feels like I am on the losing side (in a weird way I like that, it takes some of the pressure away).

Social work seems like the logical progression – from service user to social worker, the profession is all I know. I was born into it and I will die in it?

I am a people person who wants to ‘help’ people. To empower and support them through life’s difficulties. I want to create and be part of a society that is equal and free from oppression!

In fact it is none of these reasons! (actually the last one is a huge part of the reason)

I have cursed it every time I have sat down to write an essay. Spending countless hours in the library pouring over journal articles and surrounded by so many books I could build a small castle. Reading the same things over and over again on how I should ‘be’. Disagreeing with this theory and that model, struggling to understand the purpose of it all.  Throughout the years I have ‘found myself’, well as much as I can in the circumstances. I can recognise a change in myself, although demons from the past still surface.  This is when things become difficult, it affects my practice, my work, motivation and saps all the clear logical thinking.

That is why I choose to become a social worker.

I knew it would be challenging, I knew I would be tested and most of all, I knew this was something I wouldnt give up on! Don’t get me wrong, I am at this very moment in a mind frame of sabotage and self doubt. This can be extremely difficult to get out from, it is extremely difficult to take the positives and see just how far your life had progressed. All the affirmation in the world doesn’t help.

So you see, that is why I decided to become a social worker. I have fought back from the tough times, I have overcome every wall that has been placed in front of me, I have conquered and I will continue to conquer! I have, and continue to surpass everything that people thought I would become. I have smashed through the adversity barrier, I have beaten the statistics, I have thrown off the blanket that people like me carry their whole lives. I have used the pain to push me to greatness.

Will I be society’s vision of a social worker? I dont know. What I do know is, I will be an inspiration to the next generation.