A world of transitions: a personal recollection

Transitions are moments in time where change occurs, where adaptation is required, and growth necessary.

The word “transition” definitely sums up my life these past five months. Transitions have occurred in at least three realms of my life: personally , academically, and occupationally.

Personally, these five months have been the most difficult and rewarding period of my life. The difficulty stems from witnessing my grandfather’s death in March due to pancreatic cancer. The grieving and loss my family endured, and continue to experience, have not left our hearts. The emptiness we feel will remain to be with us as we recall heartwarming memories of him, and wish for his presence as we move on to experience major life events. On the other hand, the rewarding moments center around moving from Los Angeles back to Northern California and beginning my career as a social worker. In addition to the eight hour move, I have also experienced and revisited joy in the special relationships that remain close to my heart.

I believe in order for someone to know what happiness and joy feels like, one must know sadness and grief.

Academically, I graduated with my masters. Completing my masters degree was not solely reliant upon writing 24 page papers or attend class. The achievement of earning my degree also involved developing lifelong friendships, searching for the person I wanted to become, and learning how to remove myself from negative relationships.

Occupationally, I experienced the ideal outcome of the job searching process: I accepted a job offer at an amazing non-profit agency as a wraparound social worker. The process and preparation that it took for me to receive this job offer began in November 2013. I utilized LinkedIn (professional version of Facebook), spoke with colleagues and mentors to learn how they approached and managed the job searching process, joined seven job search engines (i.e. Monster, Career Builder, and more), and made numerous versions of my resume and cover letter. I also researched organizations and agencies I was interested in working for in Northern California. As I believe, my preparation met opportunity perfectly: I received an invitation for my first, and then my second, interview. In April 2014, I happily accepted my position. Before May 2014, I was an intern who wanted to be challenged clinically in order to provide the best care possible to the adults I interacted with weekly. Now, I have the ability to continue touching lives of families and witnessing their unrelentless resiliency.

Below are my three tips for surviving the transitions in life:

1) Plan for what you can control, let go of what you can’t control.. while remaining flexible and open to change. 

This step has been a challenging one for even myself to understand sometimes.

No matter how much I may plan for or anticipate an event, reality may be something entirely different. I’ve recently realized that creating a plan typically looks like a guideline of what I want to do, in order to allow myself flexibility. The flexibility that I allow in my plan allows life to occur. For instance, we can NOT control the people in our lives, we can (sometimes) NOT control the timeline of events, and we can NOT fast forward our personal growth, regardless of how much we want something to happen immediately. While you ‘wait’, please provide yourself with the allowance to enjoy life, take a break, practice self-care, and have some fun.

I have also found that having a positive perspective about change is helpful in living through a life transition or in making a big decision. I am not saying to ignore the “negative”. What I mean is to reframe an unprefered situation into one that highlights opportunity for growth and learning. For instance, my move back to Northern California was part of my plan. However, I was anxious for the new chapter of my life. After I acknowledged feeling anxious and a bit scared, I remembered that moving back to Northern California would allow me to be closer to my family and live in a new city.

2) Remain aware of your priorities and goals.

In addition, take deep breaths… alot. Remaining mindful of your priorities (whether they be family or graduation) will provide you with motivation to continue pursuing your goals even when the transitions become overwhelming.

3) Draw upon others’ experiences and mistakes. Learn from them.

Connect or reconnect with someone you trust that has survived a similar transition and inquire about how they prepared, made decisions about their action steps. Utilizing the people in your life or even finding new mentors can assist in easing any anxiety you may experience. Also, it is wonderful to learn from others’ mistakes because then you can save yourself time and energy from making the same mistake.

All in all, life can be crazy, overwhelming, but also fun and memorable. As a mentor told me, “allow yourself to walk through the fire because after you walk through [the fire], you will be a stronger person”.

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Mental illness impacts the family system, too!

A diagnosis of a biological ailment, such as cancer or diabetes, is easier for a family to understand in comparison to a mental health diagnosis.

 

           My parent’s diagnosis of depression was not clearly explained to my sibling or me. I did not understand that it was the dark depths of my parent’s depressive episodes that kept them in bed—not that they didn’t love me. I did not understand there was no dinner some nights because the depression suppressed my parent’s appetite—not because they didn’t want to feed me. I didn’t know that when my parent had a migraine, it was because of the depressive symptoms—not because I was talking too much. I also did not realize that when my parent felt ill, and therefore missed a day or two of work, that those missed work days would enhance the financial stress my parent, and thus I, would experience once the following paycheck arrived in the mail.

 

I was not alone in these experiences.

 

          A mental illness affects 1 in four American families. This statistic makes sense once we take into consideration that 1 in 17 American adults have a mental illness diagnosis, such as depression, an anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Many more people may be undiagnosed, for a number of reasons. These statistics include fathers, mothers, grandparents, sons, daughters, and siblings.

 

These statistics do not include the very children who are both directly and indirectly impacted emotionally, psychologically, and sometimes physically within the family.

 

          As an adolescent, I associated my parent’s behavior with how much they loved me. If I had knowledge about what depression was and how it would be affecting my parent at a younger age, the information would have enhanced my understanding of the illness and increased my compassion for my parent. Being able to identify my parent’s depressive symptoms in my adolescent years would have allowed me to differentiate between the parent I truly loved from the depression I began to despise.

 

 Mental illness also impacts families on a broader scope regarding how the family interacts with systems such as employment and pharmacology, to name a few.

 

           The days my parent didn’t go to work, due to not having the energy or ability to get out of bed, prevented the paychecks from being the same amount as their fellow employee. A smaller paycheck meant less money for food, school supplies, and the requirement to decide paying the mortgage or the electric bill. Although the smaller paychecks allowed my sibling and I to spend more time with our grandparents, I soon began to rely on them for meals and laundry soap.

 

          The smaller paychecks also impacted my parent’s interactions with the pharmaceutical business. After paying the necessary bills and buying groceries, some times there was no money available to purchase their antidepressant medication. The missed days from work also increased my parent’s stress level. The consistent high stress levels my parent experienced also negatively impacted their physical health; a high release of cortisol over time decreases an individual’s immune system efficiency. Hence, my parent would also become physically sick and miss more days from work. This cycle could not last forever. 

 

          Mental illness, such as depression, also impacts the relationships within the family. As I nurtured a level of understanding and a compassion for my parent, I witnessed the dismantling of some relationships within the immediate family. The relationships suffered from a lack of knowledge in combination with combating communication styles.

 

As I attempted to demonstrate, mental illness, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, impacts the family. Even though matters within my family are not perfect, I am glad to say that they have improved over time and from an immense amount of understanding from all members involved.

 

          Mental illness affects each family differently and similarly. Each family is different because each family is its own entity. The similarity is in the process; the process in which families adapt to change and challenges by building resiliency. The ways an individual comes to accept a diagnosis (physical or psychological) does not end with the individual.

 

Rather, the process continues with the family. The individual does not progress towards recovery alone; the family moves towards recovery together, as one.

 

A diagnosis is not an end-all; it is an opportunity for the family to grow.

 

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Strength: What is it exactly?

I’m not talking about strength in the physical sense, like when someone lifts 300 pounds. The kind of strength I’m questioning is internal strength.

What is internal strength? How are we able to identify it? Does an individual, or group of people, gain this type of strength through experiences? And if so, what kinds of events or situations does a person have to experience in order to have achieved internal strength? Or can this type of strength be purchased through material goods?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. But what I do know is that, I see internal strength everywhere. Internal strength can exist in anyone regardless of age, sex, race, or class. I see an immense amount of internal strength when a person admits their mistakes and when someone has survived long-term struggles like oppression, trauma, pain, and heartache. Internal strength, in my opinion, is when a person asks for help and guidance. I identify internal strength when I see a person take a leap of faith into the unknown, such as when the leap is motivated by a desire to follow their dreams or to listen to their heart.

 I witness internal strength the most is when I look into my mother’s eyes.

Internal strength is a mysterious thing. This intangible entity is typically not self-prescribed. The people who truly have this internal strength, 9 times out of 10, wouldn’t say they do. Internal strength is a characteristic that others use to describe another.

I can say my mother has this internal strength; but she wouldn’t agree.

My answers to the questions I asked in the beginning of this entry are simple:
                    Internal strength is when an individual overcomes any and all obstacles without losing sight of who they are and without losing hope for what the future holds. I am able to identify internal strength when I see it because I was somehow socialized to believe that this internal strength does not exist in everyone; it comes from a special combination of events, circumstances, and amount of growth. Internal strength, in my opinion, cannot be bought.

Resiliency is the demonstration of internal strength.