Thursday, September 19, 2013

Don't Feel The Burnout

I keep fish. They are my pets. They stare at me when it's their dinner time. They like low light and hiding places. I change their water regularly and they are fed fish flakes. The fish like hiding around this cute little plant. They also like being able to dig in the sand. People tell me I'm a good pet fish owner. I just tell them I pick fish that are hard to kill.

There are several things that make it easy to get burned out when you're in the mental health field. Lengthy education (My Master's program requires 60 credit hours, which of course is a drop in the bucket compared to doctoral programs or medical school/residency), long hours, more education (CEU's and trainings on specific therapies), business expenses, funding cuts from The Powers That Be, managed care, and well, people. Working with people is tough, especially if you like them.

What makes mental health work especially rough is that it's hard to escape. The media is filled with frequently inaccurate portrayals of interventions and people with x, y, and z issues. Read The New York Times, and there will be some criticism of the DSM or something about a newly approved medication or the latest person who fell through the mental health system cracks and killed someone as the result. You might have a friend who wants you to diagnose their ex with something because "He clearly is a sociopath." Flip through a magazine while waiting to get your hair cut and voilĂ , there is an ad for Pristiq.  


I've heard mental health workers say, "What do I do about burnout?" Well, you make time to do something that has nothing to do with mental health (other than your own). I've experienced The Burnout, both in work and in school. It made me an extremely unpleasant person and ineffective worker. I had to learn that time set aside wasn't just the movie I watched or going to a yoga class. It was a mental space, and it's not a space that is easily maintained.

Part of my mental space is taken up by those fish I mentioned. The fish were purchased from a breeder in Oregon, who sent them to me by second day UPS Air - my daughter likes to talk about "the fish we got in the mail." Their "grandparents" were (legally) caught out of Africa's Lake Malawi by the breeder. They can live up to 10 years, and they were three months old when they joined the household. The little plant is supposed to flower underwater when it gets bigger. So yes, I make it a point to keep my fish alive and no, not all aquarium fish come from Petco.

It seems to work. I guess some of my mental space needs to be occupied by something that isn't human.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Life's Instruction Manual

Congratulations. You are now eighteen years old and possess this text, Life's Instruction Manual. Some of this information will be review, but some you have never heard before. The table of contents is below. You have until 12:00 AM to have the book memorized. 

Table of Contents
(In No Order of Importance, Since You are Required to Remember Everything by Tomorrow Anyway)

Chapter 1: Paying the Bills
  1. Viable Employment Options: Money Laundering, Drug Trafficking, Stripping, and Porn are Not Included. 
  2. Job Searching.
    1. How to Not Act Like a Jerk at a Job Interview.
    2. Fast Food: You Often Get an Employee Meal.
    3. The Temp Agency: Friend or Foe?
    4. Putting Out a Shingle: Sorry, Business Skills Are Not Included In This Guide.
  3. Where to Store the Cash.
    1. The Advantages and Disadvantages of The Bank of Your Mattress.
    2. A Real Bank vs. a Credit Union.
    3. Cash, Check, Charge, or Debit.
      1. Don't Overdraw. Just Don't. 
  4. Pay Your Bills On Time. 
  5. Taxes.
    1. Saving Money on Filing. 
  6. Cars: Drains Bank Accounts, Usually Necessary in America.
Chapter 2: Minimizing Disease
  1. Exercise: You Can Do It In Your Apartment. 
    1. Yoga, Weight Lifting, and Ironmans: Only Good if You Know What You're Doing.
  2. Diet: Ramen Noodles Will Not Sustain You for Long Periods of Time.
  3. The Doctor:
    1. Free Clinics, University Laboratories, Your First Aid Kit, and the ER: The Providers for Medicaid Recipients and the Uninsured.
    2. Ice Packs and Heating Pads: Literally the Most Useful Tools in Pain Management.
    3. Making the Most of Your Five Minute Physical.
    4. Mental Health: Yes, Brains Hurt, Too.
    5. Alternative/Complimentary Medicine: Eh, Whatever Works.
I could keep going with a table of contents for a how-to on basic living, but that would take too long and would probably bore everyone who will view this blog entry. But you see where I'm going.

I still remember the first few days after my daughter's birth. Newborns don't know much of anything, but the most striking thing was that she didn't even know how to eat. Of course she had the instinct of, "Hey, this smells like something I should put in my mouth", but she didn't know the most effective way of eating or how her crying resulted in food. Someone who is a few minutes old doesn't know that crying is supposed to get a response - the cry is out of confusion or pain. Babies learn to use crying to communicate as time goes on.

People don't come out knowing anything, but they learn over the years by instruction from adults and imitation of what they see. There is a set of rules that kids are taught, often through mowing lawns or babysitting in return of money, setting aside time for homework, and being prompted to say please and thank you. Discipline, work ethic, and etiquette are the result. The basics.

Here's the problem: some babies aren't fed when they cry. There might not be money to give to a kid for an allowance or in return for chores. A school system might ostracize a kid because they aren't the right race or don't learn the right way or simply the teachers are underpaid and burned out and they don't have the means to be the educators they hoped to be. Not all kids learns "the basics." No one is handed a book called Life's Instruction Manual. We get what we get growing up, and then it's trial and error in adulthood.

We all have the responsibility to take care of ourselves physically and emotionally. But what happens when all of our knowledge of the world is rooted in abuse, poverty, and prejudice? We would need a modified frame of reference. Unfortunately, society isn't exactly set up to help with that.