I am a list maker and goal setter. Perhaps not always so good at finishing , but I do have lofty goals and big plans. My best friend used to make fun of me for making detailed “To DO” lists complete with the estimated time it would take to complete each task and at exactly what time it would be when I was finished. Each task had a box to check as it was completed. He would find these lists around the house with the first item or two checked off, and I’d be curled up on the couch happily reading a book. I think it was a coping skill through the years for not having a good sense of how long it would take to do things, how much I could accomplish in a given amount of time, and keeping myself on task. I have a strong idea of what I want and a tough time staying on the path to get it.
Having started a new job about 2 months ago, I find myself enjoying it immensely for a variety of reasons. A) I like the people I work with. B) I like the agency and its mission. C) I like the clients, I am slowly getting to meet them face to face but I have a deep respect for the fact that each of them, in their own way, is trying to manage the symptoms of a mental illness in one way or another. Whether is means trying to drag yourself out of the house in the face of depression, learning self-care to minimize the impact of bi-polar disorder, overcoming substance abuse, childhood trauma, or psychosis it still takes an amazing amount of energy and focus to work on these things. And if the person is coming to The Center, seeing a psychiatrist, taking meds, participating in group or individual therapy, and getting support in daily life through case management then they are, in fact, working and struggling to manage a problem that is getting in the way of their ultimate happiness. Granted, some people put more effort into the process than others, some get to this point through their own means or as a result of circumstance. For most people it is a combination of these things.
No one wakes up one day and decides to become mentally ill, in fact it is hard to recognize, label, and treat for professionals, even harder still for an individual to recognize not only the problems they are facing but also to see the potential solutions. That is our role as case-managers of one type or another, to help someone take an active role in the process of getting better. A case manager helps the person with things like applying for public assistance, getting out of the house, accessing resources, cultivating successful relationships and support systems, and getting needs met in whatever way is feasible and acceptable for that individual.
I’ve been a case-manager for a long , long time, and in any location, agency, or population, one thing is constant: the job description changes every single day. Rather than having a routine set of tasks and duties, one must determine the course of each interaction with a client or professional with nothing but a few state mandated rules and a huge overriding principle of doing good work on behalf of others, in a manner that is helpful, effective, tough, empathetic, or kind at any given moment. It’s all about helping people to set goals and then encouraging them to stay on the path that will help them attain those goals. It really doesn’t matter who the person is or what their particular challenges are, what matters that you are attempting to support them in taking steps toward making their lives feel right to them.
This is not so different from how I feel on a daily basis in trying to create a life that feels right for me. For us. Grace is, of course, the biggest factor in our daily happiness and future plans. I am amazingly content here in Hooterville. Grace has Gomie and Gopa nearby and we see them most every day. They are as supportive as they can be about helping out with Grace and with finances and all the little icky details of daily life. It’s nice to have backup if I need it in getting Grace to and from school in Great Bend, being able to work late if I have late meetings, and being able to get out of the house once in a while to do something with other grown-ups. It’s working out… it’s not perfect, I still wish I had more time with Grace and then the evenings when I do want to leave for an hour or two would not be quite so traumatic for her. That could be a stage, as well…but she’s really clingy to me and doesn’t want to leave me much more of the time than I recall say…6 months ago. The ironic part is that she wants to be with me all of the time but doesn’t often remember what “No!” means, has selective hearing, and wants what she wants when she wants it, by any means necessary.
I hear a lot of people who commute back and forth to work say that they use that time for “me” time, or to unwind. I chose to take Grace to school in Great Bend each day so that we could talk and sing and play I-Spy on the drive there and back, giving us a couple of hours together each day that we otherwise would be missing if she were here in Hooterville all day. I forgot, however, that this would result in very little “me time” in the car, where I do love to listen to music not sung by Laurie Berkner, National Public Radio podcasts, and books on tape. Ah well… eventually we will strike the balance that feels right for both of us. We replaced the melted portable DVD player so that will allow some extra entertainment for Grace in the car for part of the drive. My goal is to make each drive about half interaction time and half entertainment time. We’ll see how that works out. I have lofty goals sometimes.
Another goal is to keep our house nice so that we can enjoy the space we are paying for as well as have people over. I just wish I had more than 2 friends. They are pretty entertaining friends, so that is a good thing. Unfortunately I don’t have as much in common with a lot of the people here that I knew years ago… we have led very different lives for the past 24 years. In the meanwhile, I’m staying open-minded and I am hoping that, as I’ve found to be true in most situations, we have more in common than not. This weekend is the town’s annual Octoberfest, and I am looking forward to the festivities. Several friends from Lawrence are coming in to town to partake in the fun, so I get a double bonus of seeing lots of people here in town and spending time with some of my best friends from Lawrence as well.
I’m working from home today organizing a medical assistance system for my job as well as syncing all of my calendars and making sure that I have dates and times scheduled for October in order to make sure I “make productivity”… basically I am working on doing at least 100 hours of billable activities in the month, and that’s harder than it sounds. In my job, as in life, there are a million little details that I can get bogged down in that actually don’t mean much to the daily well being of my clients. Or myself. Or my daughter. These details may help make life run smoother… a more effective system of managing a portion of my job, a clean house, clean car, clean kid, paid bills. I need these things to be organized and systematic in order to get to the big things: the stuff that really matters to me. At work that means doing concrete things that will make someone’s day a little brighter, easier, or saner. At home that means doing things that are good for Grace, good for my well-being, and which lead to a better life for us both.
I’m off to a 3-day conference today in Wichita for mental health professionals across the state. I’m looking forward to learning more about specific areas of this field. I’m excited to eat at some nice restaurants with my co-workers and to get to know them better. I’m happy that I don’t have to worry about my kid as she will be well taken care of by Gomie and Gopa, and frankly, I’m looking forward to the break in routine. A few days of minimal driving, grown-up conversation, and interesting information seems like a vacation to me right now. Getting paid to do it is just a bonus. In other news our cat is still missing, presumably consumed by a hungry coyote seeking sustenance in town due to the drought. The dirt is flying around here with the farmers plowing fields, the sunflowers are endless, the sand hills and prairie grasses are lovely shades of autumn, and the trees are on the verge of turning. The sky is so blue it makes my eyes water and my nose itch. So okay, everything may not be perfect, but the big stuff is good enough right now and I think we are on the right path or at least close to it.