16 November 2007

So, How Was Your Day, Honey?

I had a two-hour, promising meeting today. With people who are not currently my employer. And that's about all I want to say about that.

Except for one statement: during the discussion, I found myself really distilling all of the peripheral information and goals and bladdyblah to this: the difference between being intellectually engaged and being emotionally engaged is a huge. effing. difference. And I do not lack for emotional engagement in my personal life, making my true "life's work" out of being a wife, mother, friend, sister, and daughter. And I'm feeling today that it's possible that what I truly need out of a vocation is intellectual and creative engagement. I miss that. There is enough emotional activity in my life to fill a bucket.

I have lost 30+ patients this year. All of my patients will die of this disease, but not before it steals their ability to move, to speak, to breathe. And all the while their cognitive abilities will not be affected, trapping a healthy mind in a completely paralyzed body. There is no question, no cause, and no cure.

It gets to you.

When I left my post in the mental health field, my anxiety went through the roof-- anxiety about the person standing next to me in line at the gas station going ape shit, anxiety about unpredictable, violent behavior. Because I saw my fair share of that, but couldn't really process it until I left that environment, as a protection to myself. I don't regret those six or so years because I learned more than I can explain, but I also know it's taken me about 4 years to come down from it.

I wonder how this current job is affecting me beneath my own protective distance.

I also believe that I have been led here for a reason, and I don't mean that in an "I've been led to make a difference" kind of way. I mean that in an "I'm here to be prepared for something" kind of way. Quite possibly to prepare myself for the deaths of people I love-- I am 31 years old and still have all 4 living grandparents, albeit barely. What I have learned about grief and dying is more than valuable to me.

And one other statement (and then enough with the statements): when I was writing for a living, I left because the job changed, not because my interest changed. When my vocational landscape shifts (I move two states away, my employer morphs into a completely different company while I'm on maternity leave), I run right back to social work. Because I'm good at it, it comes easily. I have history in this field (I started in mental health case management with the SPMI* population before I'd even graduated college**). I like to speak in social-worky terms, I selfishly like to know what's best for everybody because I can never decide what's best for my own damn self, and I like to know that I'm doing "good works," as my grandmother would say, and I wonder how much of that pleasure lies in the knowing and how much in the actual doing. There are big, meaty questions to ask myself, and they're not new ones.

I also question what is best for my family-- I thought that my working part time was the right thing for us, so I could have more time with Bird, but living paycheck-to-paycheck (and sometimes not even that) isn't good for us either. I have no idea how to even weigh possibilities on this one-- I believe there are opportunities to earn more where I am, but it's all very, very muddy with the change in leadership.

There is no conclusion here. I also know that for me, the company I keep makes all the difference, and eight hours a day is a big chunk of time.

Stay Tuned.

*Serious and Persistent Mental Illness
** With a degree in English, concentration in creative writing/ poetry, minor in Italian Language, no less. The majority of my working life would be the definition of "accidental career."

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