Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Is it me?: Interpreting or misinterpreting weird gender stuff at work

So as you may or may not know, I am a predoctoral intern in psychology.  This means that me--and by default, all of my colleagues--are roughly 3 months away from graduating with our doctoral degrees in clinical psychology.  This means that in three short months, me--and by default, my colleagues--will be clinical psychologists.

Now, I'm a little embedded in the field, but my general impression is that when most people think of clinical psychologists, they first think "somebody who works with crazy people," and then think of people who listen to other people's problems, right?  Generally, people seem to assume that psychologists are good listeners, caring, people you help you work out your problems, etc.  Lots of people go to see psychologists, and they seem to assume that those professionals are going to listen to them, be nonjudgmental, and be accepting of their emotions. 

Given, I can only assume all of these things because I've been in the psychology world for so long, I don't really know anymore.  My family all just seems to assume that psychologists are crazy because Dr.Silberman, the psychologist who used to live across from my grandmother, retrieved his newspaper every morning, in the nude, for 30-some-odd years.  I am unsure of his listening abilities as the family folklore never made it past the naked newspaper retrieval.  Lots of other people--particularly tipsy men in bars and men who are hitting on me--seem to confuse psychologist with psychic.  In fact, the number one thing response I get (again, particularly from males) when I tell them "what I do," is "'re a psychologist?  So, like, what am I thinking right now?  Are you reading my mind?"  Regardless of how I respond, this typically leads to some version (ranging from the clif notes to the epic saga) of their life story.  Seems that the "good listener" trope extends to psychologist-psychics as well.

That said, I'll be honest: I did spend a good amount of time in my first year of grad school learning how to listen.  We've got all sorts of fancy psychology names for it, and there are 20-bagillion theories about it, but basically what you learn is how to listen and respond to people in a way that is empathic, and meaningful, and leads to deeper work and healing, or crisis management, or understanding, or whatever it is you might be needing to do at that moment.  All programs are different, but in their core, we all learn the same things.  In particular, in that first year, we learn how to work with people and how to listen.

Historically, of course, psychology was overwhelmingly male.  Today, the field of clinical psychology (i.e. I'm not talking about the world of research right now), is primarily female.  Even just in my program, I could look back at the wall of class composites from the beginning of the program and watch the progression from all white, all male cohorts, to the primarily female cohorts (with more ethnic and racial diversity) that we have today.  In my intern cohort, which consists of individuals from programs all over the US, there is an overwhelming number of females to very few males (28:2 or something like that). 

Funny thing is, in my clinic (working with kids with severe behaviors), I work primarily with male therapists.  In fact, among the 4 primary therapists right now, I am the only woman in the bunch.  I appreciate this on several levels: (1) these guys are not as catty as girls I have worked with in the past, nor as competitive, and I needed that sort of environment; (2) when all 5'4 me is working with a kid who is severely aggressive, 5'9, and 275lbs, I want a guy who is 6 feet tall to come in and help me manage him before my OTHER wrist gets broken.  Particularly when the kid has swiped the glasses off my face, the lens popped out, and I can't see a damn thing.  Is there some gender "stuff" going on for me there?  Probably.  But there are just some situations I am put in that I can't physically manage, and I need somebody who can.  I prefer to avoid getting decapitated at work whenever possible.

But, I digress.  There was a situation that arose a few weeks ago at work that has been on my mind.  It bugged me at the time, and I feel like there is some weird gender role/steretype-y/sexism-y sort of stuff going on in it, but I'm having a difficult time putting my finger on it.  I could just be thinking about it too much, and you can tell me if you think I'm way off base.  But this is how it went:

Every couple weeks, we have a kid come into clinic for a 3-week intensive treatment.  They come every day, 5 hours a day, and are often from out-of-town.  These are kids that their local professionals have given up on, and they come see us as a last resort, more often than not.  Given that we need to see all of our regular clients while seeing these clients for 3-weeks, we work in teams of 2 primary therapists and, even then, occasionally, one of the other therapists will need to fill in.

So my colleagues, "Joe" and "Tom," had the last intensive case that came through.  The client came to us from another state, mom was here with her by herself, and mom was under a lot of stress.  I worked with her one day for 2 hours when both Joe and Tom had other obligations.  She was nice, we got a lot done, her kid bit me a couple times, and both of our lives moved on.  We smiled and said hello in the hallway when we saw one another, and talked briefly in the bathroom while washing our hands, and that was about it.  In other words, we did not have a special and magic bond above and beyond what you would expect if you worked with someone for 2 hours.

Then one day, when Joe and Tom were working with kiddo and her mom, mom was having a bad day.  She was frustrated, and stressed, and exhausted, from what I heard from across the hall.  I supposed that Joe and Tom handled it like the psychologists they almost are.  I assumed that they used those skills we all learned in school, and that they would be comfortable handling such a situation.

After lunch, I was sitting in my office, and heard a lot of screaming that sounded like kiddo.  I went out to the lobby and, sure enough, kiddo was having some severe behaviors, Joe was restraining her, mom was trying to clean up their lunch, and everybody clearly needed help.  So I helped restrain kiddo, helped Joe get her up safely to a treatment room, helped clean up the spilled lunch, and then went back to make sure everybody was okay and I could go back to my desk.  This is all pretty typical--when you work with kids like this, this is just how life goes.  Even if it isn't your client, if the kid is having behaviors and assistance is needed, you help.  No problems there.

So I went to Joe, just to ask him if everything was okay.  "Could you do me a favor?" he asked. 

"Sure," I said, figuring he wanted me to make a phone call to a supervisor, or get a paper from his desk.

"Can you go talk to mom?  You know, she's been working with this all-male team all week, and she's really emotional today, and I really think she needs a woman to talk to."  Tom popped his head around the corner.

"Yeah, mom's really crying and just having a really bad day, and I really think it would be best if a woman talked to her.  She's been working with us guys, I really think it would be best if you could talk to her, woman-to-woman."

"About what?" I asked, unsure if, you know, maybe mom's ovaries had exploded since I saw her last, and the guys felt this delicate issue would be best handled by someone whose body also contains ovaries.

"Just tell her that kiddo is calming down, and reassure her that the treatment really is working, and just listen to her.  I think she really needs somebody to listen to her.  She's really emotional, and just really stressed," Tom said.

"Yeah," Joe said.  "Plus, you're really good with parents.  She needs you right now."

And, the truth is, working with parents--particularly parents in crisis--IS my thing.  Parent training, noncompliant parents, parents who hate their kids, parents who can't accept their kids disability, parents who hate my guts...I can do messy family dynamics and am comfortable with crying/pissed off/in distress parents. 

So I went, and I talked with mom.  Mom was definitely confused about why I was talking with her rather than those on her treatment team, but I dropped mom off to Tom and Joe a much calmer person who was ready to re-engage with her kid.

Afterwards, Tom and Joe thanked me profusely: "Mom just really needed a woman to talk to.  She really needed somebody who could listen to her and get what she was saying, and she was she just really needed a woman to be with her."

At first, I felt rather flattered.  Wow, I thought, for the first time, somebody is seeking me out for my particular expertise.  This feels good! 

As I continued to think about it, though, it felt less and less like I was being sought out for my expertise or skill, and more and more like I was being sought out because I was a female who could handle another female crying.  I don't call that "expertise."  Being able to sit with a mother who is crying because her kid just bit/kicked/hit/headbutted her for 30 minutes in the lobby is called being able to do your job.  Mom didn't need a woman to listen to her.  She needed a person to listen to her--a person who knew her child and saw her behaviors and witnessed the tantrum.  She needed to cry about it and say that she was exhausted and felt hopeless.  She needed a psychologist to use his or her listening skills and therapeutic skills and help her through the wave of despair until she landed on the other side.  I mean, I've had fathers I worked with who were pissed off and ready to go beat somebody up, but I didn't go get a male colleague because I thought he would better be able to understand male anger, or better able to relate to dad.  I talked through it, and I listened, and I used the skills I learned to get to the other side.

Are there times when a female therapist, or a male therapist, is warranted?  Absolutely, and I don't want to diminish that.  But, if Joe and Tom wanted my expertise working with parents, would they have been able to come to me and say, "hey, this mom is in crisis and you're good with parents in crisis.  Would you mind talking with mom?"  If so, cool.  If not--is that what they were saying, but couldn't?  Why did it became a gender thing?  Was this an issue where Joe and Tom thought: "we can't admit we're not good at crises like this, but AutoD is, so we'll ask her to come help and tell her it's because both her and mom have vaginas"?  If so, that's not so cool, and I wish I had called them out on it. 

Or, was this an issue of Tom and Joe being uncomfortable with mom being emotional, so they wanted to pass the work of "dealing" with a crying woman on to another woman, rather than working through it themselves?  If so, and they truly felt incompetent in helping mom, I will still help, because I won't make anyone do anything they feel incompetent in doing when a patient is at stake.  However, if that IS the case...I suggest they get comfortable with it quick, because in this line of work, emotions are an everybody thing, and not just for women to deal with anymore.  And, as the psychic that I am, I foresee a whole lot more emotional/crying individuals on their client load in the future.

What do you think?  Am I misinterpreting?  Over-thinking?  How would you have handled it?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The vulnerable side of AutoD

I TOLD you I wouldn't make it.  I tried.  Sort of.  I mean, seriously.  I gave it the best half-hearted effort I had.  That's actually saying more than you think it is.

Yup...this is about where I'm at.
I have to be honest, though: I haven't been honest here.  This probably isn't really a big surprise, seeing as I haven't actually been posting a whole heck of a lot and, really, the problem is that I haven't been completely honest with myself.  Or even a little bit honest with myself.  It's probably no surprise to you that, when you can't own and recognize your truth, writing is difficult.  It's also probably no surprise to you that, when the truth is that you are struggling just to get out of bed in the morning, it's difficult to find things worth writing about.  It's not that things aren't happening.  My days are full of random crazy stories I would love to one day laugh about, or cry about, or share and tell you.  I would love to be able to story it all, from the big things to the small things, and write it or poem it or create it into something that connects us with my words.  But I can't.  I just can't.  It's not because of lack of desire or interest or attempts, either.  I have sat at the page and tried to make the words come, and they won't, mainly because I silence them before they hit the page.  After so many of those attempts, it's better not to even try and to instead push myself into other such lofty endeavors as sleeping.  Or spacing out.  Or trying to figure out my life, or making myself wash dishes, or convincing myself it would be a good idea to paint my nails. 

The important things--the things I want to (need to?) write about are not appropriate for me to write about here.  So I don't write about them at all because, seriously, if I'm not going to write for YOU, what makes you think I'm going to write for ME?

Part of me really wants to try and put a positive spin on all of this for you.  I want to say something like, "I know that growth is almost always painful, and so I know that once this growth spurt has passed, I will be writing and living and smiling again."  I want to say things like "It's all just going to be okay," because that's what I do, and that's what I've always done, and that's what's comfortable for me.  It's okay.  It's not bad.  I'm fine.  I can keep smiling.  Nobody worry because Superwoman here has it all under control.  Except for the fact that I don't, because I can't.  It's taking me a long time to realize that it's okay that I don't have it all perfect and controlled and wrapped in a smile.  I know it's okay--nobody could, really--but that's not how it feels, and even if nobody could have it all perfect and controlled and smiley, I still want to exhaust myself trying because I'm used to being the exception.  I've almost always been an exception, or convinced myself that I was.  But now...well right now, with this, I am decidedly not the exception and can't even pretend to be.  With this, I need to struggle just like everybody else.  And that's just not okay by me, even when I have no choice. 

The hardest thing, though - the thing that's the hardest to acknowledge and write about --the thing that most prevents me from writing--is difficult to put into words.  Words are how I understand things, and if I can't write it, I'm probably confused by it.  As close as I can come to naming it, though, the hardest thing is this: from the time I was a kid, I have always felt a connection with some sort of higher power.  Sometimes I called it God, sometimes it was more of a god-lower-case-g, sometimes it was Nature or a universal loving spirit, but it has always--always--been there.  I connect most strongly and easily to it when I am in nature: it's a peace, and a coming home in my soul that connects me to myself and my world and makes me feel whole and loved and supported.  When I write, I reach that place.  I feel connected to myself and to my world, and I am at peace in myself with my words and my heart.  When I make music, when I have a really good conversation, when I meditate, when I am quiet--these are the times I felt I knew God.  I needed these times.  No matter what was happening, these times connected me to myself and to something bigger than me that left me comforted and protected.  It reminded me that there is something more--something larger than myself that could support me in the rare moment that I could not support myself.  When I was really desperate, I would go outside at night and look up at the stars and talk to my grandmother--which always brings me to tears--and the stars and the dark and the night air and the tears and connection I felt to my grandmother would bring me home to that universal loving spirit--to the god that held me.

But that support--that comfort and "something larger" and protection--it feels like it's gone.  I sit to write, and I write and write and write and never get to the point of peace, never feel held or supported or whole or loved.  So why should I bother?  I try to meditate, or be in nature, or talk to my grandmother, and it all feels empty so I've given up trying.  The place inside me that would be filled feels frozen with a fear and anxiety I can't name and I don't know if god has abandoned me, or is angry at me, or disappointed in me, or if he/she was never even there to begin with.  The only thing I've learned is that I never fully appreciated how much my belief in my god did for me until it was gone.  And I have no idea what to do to get it back.  I want it--need it, even--but it all feels ridiculous at the same time.  How can you want something you don't even believe exists anymore?

I have no idea how to end this.  It's all unanswered questions and loose ends, and I still have this intense desire to tell you I'm fine, I'll figure it all out, you don't need to worry, I'm strong, it's just a momentary difficult stage I will work through in no time.  But if I told you that, I would be lying.  Or rather, I don't know if I would be lying or not because I don't have the answer to any of those questions and I don't feel confident enough to say with any assurance that I will figure it out. 

These are the things I know for sure: I don't do vulnerability well.  Life will continue moving forward.  The world will continue turning.  The sun will rise in the morning, like it or not, and I will have to get up to greet it.  I will get up to greet it.  And so I'll begin another day.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What will YOU do?

I am finding myself short on words tonight. 

If you've read this blog at all, or if you know me, you know I have a thing about people telling their stories and having their stories heard.  I came across this blog post tonight on BlogHer.  For me (and, I'm assuming for you, too), it's a difficult and painful story to read.  For me, though (and in my mind, for everyone), it's important to read it and witness that this shit is REAL and it's happening everywhere from kindergarten to graduate school to the work place.  It's important to read it and sit and think about what YOU are going to do to make things different.  Because you know someone who has dealt with this, or something similar.  Or maybe you dealt with it yourself.  What are you going to do about it--for you?  For Gaby?  For all of the other women, or men, or children like you and your friends and your children or your future children?

Poetry readings, followed by menopause and angel wings (aka, the story of my afternoon)

After the monumental failure of yesterday, I desperately needed something to help me get my butt back in gear.  I've been avoiding going to meaning to go to a poetry event in the city that happens once a month on Sundays.  They consist of an open mic, followed by one or two featured local poets reading their work.  I have had a long-term goal of wanting to go somewhere and read my work in front of people, purely because it scares the crap out of me.  No, seriously, the thought of sharing my writing with folks--particularly reading it out loud--is enough to send me into a panic attack.  There are lots of a couple fears I have that I am totally okay with.  Tarantulas, for example.  I see no need for me to go out and expose myself to a tarantula (although, I did see one at the Fairie Festival and nearly jumped out of my skin).

As a kid, I was always pretty shy, but up until age 12 or so, public speaking didn't really bother me.  I won the poetry/short story contest in my home town until they discontinued the contest, and I always had to read what I had written at the summer festival when I got the certificate or whatever it was I won (I seriously don't remember now...that's funny).  I also did the public speaking competition for 4-H for several years (and yes, I won that one, too, until I quit 4-H because I hated it and thought it was a waste of time).  I'm not entirely sure why I won that one.  Looking back, I'm not entirely sure that "Mother and Son" by Langston Hughes was all that meaningful coming out of a 10-year-olds mouth...although they may have been impressed that I could remember all of "Father William" by Lewis Carroll.  Who knows.

So anyway, for a long time, I was totally fine with public speaking and reading my writing.  I was in a couple plays, but it really wasn't my thing.  It was fun, but I'm certainly not a born actress.  I am not sure what changed, or when it changed, but by the time I got to college, I hated public speaking.  Maybe it was starting college at age 14 and trying (unsuccessfully) to sneak by unnoticed in my writing classes.  I have no idea.  All I know, is that by the time I was actually in real college at 17, I would get physically sick before giving presentations.  I had an extremely difficult time speaking in class.  Luckily (though I wouldn't have admitted this at the time), I went to a college and was in a department that was big on presentations.  I gave many of them and, by the time I graduated, I could handle giving academic presentations and contributing to class discussions on occasion.  I had to push myself, and I hated it with a passion, but I could do it.

I was writing relatively regularly at this point, but I only shared it with very few people.  Most of my writing from this time period has never been read by anyone else.  At this point, it's going to stay that way.  If you had asked me to read something I had written (something not academic) in front of others, I would have laughed in your face.  There was no way in hell that was ever going to happen.  In grad school, I lightened up a bit with all this, and had to do presentations all the freaking time, so I can talk academic-speak in front of people with no problem.  I share some of my writing here.  But reading my work aloud, in front of other actual living people is terrifying.  It feels like handing them a piece of my soul and just hoping they'll take care of it.  Part of me always expects nobody to "get it," or to tell me it's a shitty poem, or to laugh at it, or...I don't actually know why it's so nerve-wracking or what it is I expect people to do.  It's just really freaking scary.

It's even worse when other people are reading.  If it's just me, and there is nobody to compare me to, it's a tiny bit easier.  But when there are others, they are automatically about 500 times better than me in my mind, just because they're not me.  I don't even need to hear what they're going to read.  They could read total utter crap, and I'm still going to think they rocked it. 

So at any rate, I've mostly dealt with this insecurity by not dealing with it.  But today, I decided to tackle it.  So I did.  I went to that damn poetry reading--alone--and I signed up for the open mic, and I read a poem.  And the world did not cave in.  No tomatoes were thrown.  All my words came out in English and fully formed.  I didn't forget any words, and no dead poet rose from his grave to kill me for the abomination of reading a shitty poem out loud.

And, as if that wasn't fantastic enough, people actually really liked it!  And they told me so.  I went between two men, neither of which I heard because I was completely overwhelmed and self-absorbed immediately prior to and following my turn.  However, I came out of myself long enough to hear the man who followed me say, "I have to go after THAT!?!  Who wants to follow THAT!?!"  Everybody laughed and my face turned red.  I felt bad, even though I didn't really want to.  Maybe I should have read a different poem, I thought briefly.  How I wish I could think things like, "sucks to be you, buddy!" in those moments instead.  I'm pretty sure I'd be a completely different person, if that was the case, but damn...I think that would feel good. 

Afterwards, I was approached by several  people--including one of the featured poet people--who all wanted to know where I was published (nowhere), where else I read (nowhere), how long I have been performing (I haven't), and if I had a card (I don't).  Because the story of my life is that everybody from the clerk at the grocery store to the janitor at work to the man next to me on the metro wants to tell me their life story, a woman came and was very sweet to me about my poem, and then proceeded to tell me about her menopause symptoms, her bitter divorce, and her mother's death.  She said she could tell that I was quiet, like her (like who!?!), and that "sometimes quiet people have the most to say, when you stop to listen."  I believe that with all of my heart and always have.  In the remainder of this 5 minute conversation (we covered a lot of ground in a very short time), she told me that, while she was listening to my poem, she got a mental image of a picture she had seen once.  In this picture, there was a woman who looked like me who was looking into the mirror.  The actual woman had a big pair of angel wings--but she couldn't see those wings in the mirror.  "We never see who we truly are," she told me, before walking away.

I'm still not entirely sure what to make of this.  Crazy lady?  Or is there a message I'm supposed to get take from it?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Question marks and periods

I found this snippet of conversation randomly when looking for a file the other day.  I don't remember this conversation occurring, but I know it was with a 3rd grader with autism that I worked with several years ago.  It still makes me smile. 
           "Alissa, do you know what a question mark looks like?”


            “Can you draw one for me?”  I handed her a pencil and she made one correctly.

            “Awesome, Alissa.  You use question marks at the end of a question.  A question is when you are asking something, like "what's your name?' or 'is this your hat?'  Do you know what a question is?”

            “Yep-uh,” she said, after a pause.

            “So if I said, 'Alissa, do you like apples?' is that a question?”

            No response.

            “Listen: 'do you like apples?'"

            “Do you like apples?” Alissa said softly.

            “'Do you like apples?' is a question because I’m asking you, and I need you to answer me.  If it needs an answer, it's a question.  Your homework today is to put a question mark at the end of the questions, and a period at the end of the sentences.  Okay?”

            “Okay,” Alissa said, taking the pencil I offered her.  We did a few more examples, and then I asked her to complete the questions on the homework sheet. 

            About fifteen minutes later, she was finished and only about half of them were correct.  It was obvious she didn’t understand, so I explained it again, and asked her a few questions.

            “Alissa, what does this say?”

            “Does the man have the hat?” Alissa read.

            “Does that need a question mark or a period?”

            “A period,” Alissa said.

            “Think again.  Is it asking something?”


“Yes it is, it’s asking if the man has the hat.  So if it’s asking, it’s a question.  What do you put at the end of questions?”

“A period.”

“No Alissa.  What goes at the end of a question?”

“A question mark,” Alissa said, happily.

“Hooray, awesome Alissa, that’s right!  What about number four?  Read number 4.”

            “The cat is in the chair.”

            “Is that a question?”


            “Look again.”

            “I mean no.”

            “No, it’s not, so what do you put at the end?”

            “A period.”    

            “That’s right Alissa, great!  Now read number 6.”

            “Do you have a cat?” she read.

            “Is that a que…”

            “Question mark,” she said, putting a question mark at the end of the sentence.

            “Alissa, that’s right!  Awesome!  That’s so great!  Do you understand?”


            “Why did you put a question mark at the end of that sentence?”

            “Because I like question marks,” she said, smiling.

Friday, May 4, 2012

We'll just call this "Day 3 and 3/4"

I told you I would fail!  Day 3 of NaBloPoMo = total fail.  However!  I am going to do several things to make up for this failure because I am obsessive about never failing anything I ever set out to do I have a perfectly legitimate reason why a post just didn't happen last night.  And I'm also writing two posts tonight so it will LOOK like this is a post from day three, even if I'm writing all about how it's not.  I'm not a cheater, and I'm honest to a fault...but if I say I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it, dammit!  And you better not try to stop me along the way. 

So if you will remember, on day 2 of NaBloPoMo, I wrote about my Y-Axis Crises.  I got a good chunk of the presentation done on Wednesday at work, and then a little more done at home.  Unfortunately, I had to do most of it at work because I needed my client's chart to write the presentation, and access to the network at work access his graphs and data.  On Thursdays, I typically have a meeting from 8:30 - 9, a client from 9:30-11:30, a client from 12- 2, and the remainder of the day free.  "This will be fine," thought I in my ridiculous naïveté, "I'll just spend 2-5 finishing up the presentation."

So in to work I go Thursday morning, look at the schedule, and realize a colleague was sick and I was put in the 2:30-4:30 slot to cover for her client.  Brilliant.  I went to morning meeting, came down to my desk and had a phone call.  I called the person back and spent 9-9:25 on the phone, at which point I cut them off and ran to the second floor to prep for my 9:30.  I was in session until 11:30, at which point I realized I was starving as I had not eaten breakfast.  I let that client go, and was stopped in the hallway on my way down to my desk by a supervisor and then 2 colleagues who needed my help.  I stopped, helped, ran down to my desk, dropped off my stuff and ran to the bathroom.  I then looked at the clock, realized it was 11:55, and ran upstairs, lunchless, to  my 12:00.  12:00 appointment was a mess and a half, complete with a disrobing child and a 45 minute tantrum.  At 2, I headed down to my office and put my lunch in the microwave.  As I sat down, waiting the 2 minutes for my lunch to heat up, the phone rang.  It was the special educator I have been attempting to contact for 2 weeks.  And, it turned out, she really liked to talk.  I sat at my desk, attempting to sound cool calm and collected while gathering all the necessary data and listening to my lonely lunch beep in the microwave.  At 2:18, I started getting frantic text messages on my phone, my pager went off, and I got an email all at the same time.  My next client was taking his pants off and screaming in the lobby.  I then heard my name over the intercom broadcast across the hospital (first and hopefully last time THAT happens), telling me to report to the lobby immediately.  I hurriedly but politely get the teacher off of the phone and dash out of the office to the lobby where I find a half-naked adolescent boy lying on the floor screaming.  My colleague pops out of the elevator at the same time and we transport him up the elevator to the session room.  By then it's 2:30 and time to start session, so in I go, dreaming about my lonely lunch in the cold microwave.  By 3:30 I was desperate and asked a friend to take data for me while I ran and grabbed a granola bar from my desk.  I sat in my chair for 2 minutes before hopping back up and going back into session.  I finished up at 4:30 by transporting a- this time- fully clothed child to his car.  I retrieved my lonely lunch from the microwave and promptly spaced out at my desk for a good 15 minutes while I ate and attempted to recover.

So I guess you could say that put me back a tad time-wise.  Never fear!  In times like these, I have a Super Power Focusing Machine I can use to focus with unusual intensity.  And I did.  For about an hour, I focused hard-core and whipped those graphs into shape.  I left no data label unentered, no Y-axis mislabeled.  I was an Excel Goddess.

...and then, as inevitably happens, the engine on my Super Power Focusing Machine fizzled out and died like my dad's riding lawn mower did every time he mowed the lawn.  It started out fine, then made a couple weird noises, coughed a couple times, and slowly sounded like it was being drawn and quartered until it stopped and fizzled out completely, followed by a loud POP you learned to wait for.  By 7:15, I had popped.  I emailed the presentation to myself to finish at home, packed it all up, caught the shuttle, sat in traffic due to an accident in the city, and finally made it home by 8:35. 

But wait!  My day doesn't end there.  Nope.  I could have come home and written a complaining, whining blog post, much like this one, if it ended there.  But instead, I came home, took the dog for a walk, ate dinner, let the dog out again, and pulled out the presentation to rearrange it, add two slides, check it over, and finish it up before writing.  An hour and a half later, I was done.  I was happy.  And I wasn't even tired!  I hit Control+S one more time for good measure and closed out powerpoint to email it to myself again and save it to my flash drive.

As soon as I hit that damn little X, I realized what I had done and scared the crap out of the dog by yelling, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooo!"

I had opened the powerpoint from my email, but never actually saved it anywhere.  All the times I hit Control+S, I wasn't actually saving it some place permanent.  I was saving it in the no-mans land in which opened but unsaved documents exist.  And when I closed it out, the hour and a half of work it was gone forever. 

In spite of the fact that I knew it was gone, I spent 30 minutes searching for it, hoping it would turn up in some obscure corner of my computer.  Useless.  So I re-opened my email, opened that original attachment--SAVED IT!--and spent another hour re-doing what I had just done.

One would think 3 years of college + almost 5 years of grad school would have taught me to save my work in multiple places.  One could also reasonably assume that this education taught me how to not hate Excel, and how to quickly and efficiently deal with Y-Axis crises. 

But no.  I went into psychology to work with people.  People have wrong buttons I can push, but I can tell when I'm pushing them and we can work through the wrong button mishap.  Computers?  One wrong button and it's all over.  People don't retain all the information I give them, but they also aren't hardwired to do so.  Computers are.  Any button I push it's supposed to remember, and I KNOW the information is in there.  It has to be.  It just won't let me know where. People are human--they can't read my mind, so they don't always do what I want them to do, but we work through it.  Computers on the other hand are supposed to fix themselves and do exactly what I want when I want, regardless of whether or not I push the right buttons.  Because...well because that's just how it's supposed to be.  And even a doctoral degree is never going to convince me otherwise.

So, by the time I took the dog out, took a shower, packed my lunch, and brushed my teeth, it was 1:30 AM, I was not on speaking terms with my laptop, and NaBloPoMo was the LAST thing on my mind. 
(PS - The presentation was today at 12, the powerpoint was finished, and I'm pretty sure I rocked it!  I hit all the major criteria: speak and have fully formed English words others can hear come from your mouth; display pretty graphs and pretend you know what they mean; use big words; remain standing and keep breathing throughout.  Yep yep...I call that a success). 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Y-Axis Crises

It's day two of NaBloPoMo...and I have a presentation to write for Friday.  It should have been an easy throw together sort of deal, except for the fact that that's not how things work out for me.  Instead, I've spent a really long time fixing what should have been done by someone else months ago and remembering how much I hate Excel.

So because I need to write this presentation, I had to waste 2.5 hours on data labels, phase lines, formulas, over-extended X-axes, behavior rates per minute versus percent of opportunity on the y-axis, and graphs with and without baseline data.  Looking for a fun way to spend your Wednesday night?  This, my friends, is it.

In the middle of the percent of opportunity vs. rates per minute crisis, I decided to take a break.  "You need to write something tonight," I told myself.  "You can't fail NaBloPoMo on day 2.  That's just totally lame."  So I opened up my documents folder to find something I had written that could pass for tonight.  It's totally legit to recycle old writing when you're having a crisis on at least 4 different Y axes, right?

Upon opening my documents, however, I pretty much gave up hope.  It's all organized into folders and nice and neat, just like I like it.  I had a choice of such fun options as: "Dissertation" and "Research" and "Psychopharmacology" and "Work."  Sometimes I write fun little notes about something that happened at work and they end up in my work folder, so I opened that up, realizing I was getting desperate.  In this folder are hand-outs on three-step guided compliance, time-out protocols, and a particularly fun document labeled "Private Parts Touching Rules" followed by "Private Time Story" and "Private Areas Social Story."  It's much more fun to write social stories about masturbation than it is to spend 2 hours on data labels, believe me. 

"I have nothing exciting to write about," I thought, closing the "Work" folder.  "The only things I write now are progress notes, initial evaluations and discharge summaries.  And masturbation social stories.  That's not exciting at all.  I have nothing exciting to write about.  Nothing ever happens.  My life is consumed by Y-axis crises."

That was when I remembered several important things:

1.       I work in a job where I say things such as, "No, the rose stays with Jesus.  Put rose on Jesus.  Buddy, we can't take things that don't belong to us, give the rose back to Jesus.  Put the rose on Jesus' feet like this.  Thanks for giving the rose back to Jesus, bud."  And things like: "my friend, we both know Tom Cruise isn't out in the hallway.  No, Tom Cruise does NOT want to talk to me. No bud, the Easter Bunny isn't here and he didn't give you that money. Now hand me the money that is in your sock."  And, "Listen kiddo, I'll give you a high five or tickles, but popping out your veins is not available."  And, "Time to work.  First work, then look like Cousin It."  This fact alone makes my life interesting.

2.       The past 3 days have been one continuous Sneaky Hate Spiral.  It makes writing difficult and data label crises nearly unbearable.

3.       I can't remember the third important thing I thought of and I need to get back to data label phase line y-axis hell.

One of these days, I'll write something interesting.  Once I get out of the sneaky hate spiral, and once the presentation is written and the graphs look semi-presentable.  Because right now, it looks like somebody vomited data points, data labels, and phase lines alllllllll over my graph with the incorrect Y-axis and the over-extended X-axis.  And the mislabeled/incorrectly idenified Y-axis with the wrong scale.  And the missing baseline data.
Frankly, "vomit" isn't a good look for a graph.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

That was easy...

So apparently I was in a fantastic, ambitious, conquer-the-world sort of mood this weekend.  I was on top of things.  I had it all together.  Sunday, I was chilling out, basking in my momentary "having-it-all-togetherness," when I suddenly decided that I was going to act on my promise to "write more."

You know, when I work with my clients and they tell me about something they want to accomplish, I have them set very specific and concrete goals.  "You want to socialize more?  How about going out with a friend once this week."  "You want to exercise more?  This week, go to the gym twice instead of once."  We take it slow.  We make concrete plans and we stick to them.  Sometimes.  If we're lucky.

But when I decide I want to do something, "concrete" and "specific" disappears.  Hence the promise to "write more."  What "more" means I'm never sure and I am careful to never define.  I know better than to box myself in like that.  Because I don't define "more," I have left myself able to go through a several month period of not writing, then writing something once and saying "THAT WAS MORE!" because once is more than never.  Once I've written something, I can tell myself that I AM writing more for...oh...a good 3 weeks, because writing one time during THIS 3 week period was more than I wrote in the LAST 3 week period, and because I'm lazy avoidant good at fooling myself like that.   

The thing is, though,  I feel better when I am writing, and I know that.  Even if I write nothing but inane drivel that would bore an earthworm, I just feel better when I write.  Writing for me is like having a kid that looks just like me that follows me everywhere.  You know the kid that people look between kid and parent and say "there's no denying he/she's yours"?  That's how Writing and I are.  There's no denying we need to be together.  Right now, though, Writing is much less like a cute little kid that wants to be just like mom, and much more like the angsty teenager that stays in her bedroom blaring loud, angsty music, wearing black clothes and eyeliner and piercing her lip and her eyebrow and lord only knows what else while refusing to be seen in public with me because...well just because.  And honestly, that's fine, because if she's going to act like that, I don't much want to be seen in public with her either, even if she's mine and we belong together. 

So back to this weekend.  I was bopping along with my happy self on Sunday when I decided that I was going to "write more" for real, and that I was going to hold myself accountable.  Yep yep.   I took my unusually motivated self over to the BlogHer website and signed up for May's NaBloPoMo, which means, for those unfamiliar, that I am going to write a blog post every day for the month of May.  So there is my "concrete and specific" plan (so much for taking it slow).  I will write 31 blog posts in 31 days.  My inner behavioral psychologist is happy with this plan.  My Writer just turns up the music in her iPod and practices her best blank "I don't give a crap" stare.  The rest of me thinks I must just be one taco short of the combination plate.

I'll be honest: I don't expect to be successful with this plan.  There is going to be a day or two (or nine or ten) when I don't post.  It's going to happen.  But I'm going to try anyway, because as it was, I wasn't moving anywhere, was feeling generally stuck, and this is motivation.  And I need to practice failing anyway.  It'll be good for me.  (It's okay, sometimes I laugh at the things I tell myself, too).

So if I fail...don't laugh.  If I write boring posts of no substance and have nothing to say...tell me I had a really winning title.  If I write posts that make no sense in which I'm clearly falling asleep, or posts in which I become Grumpy McGrumperson, or posts in which I do nothing but complain...know that someday I will have something interesting and insightful and funny and deep to say and check back after a couple months.  Or shoot me a prompt in the comments as an attempt to save your bleeding eyes.

You know, I've never done this before, but it would seem I'm on a roll.   After all, I wrote this today, which would indicate that I'm writing more.  And isn't that the goal? 

Mission accomplished...for at least another 24 hours.