From Aug 29th to Sept 16, I will have been on the schedule at my job, every single day. Now, I get one shift off per week, which is nice, but I'm literally on the schedule, working, every day. I just get off Sunday's in the morning and don't have to return until Monday night. We're short staffed and I can handle it and I'm okay with it. It's not a forever thing. It's just a lot and it's starting to wear me down.
Life doesn't stop when I'm working all the time, but because the majority of my awake time is when the rest of the world is sleeping- and that time is devoted to working- I find myself feeling left out of the world. I miss my kids, my husband, and the general waking humanity.
I can't complain too much, we're short handed and I don't mind giving to my job because I love it. We needed these shifts covered, and so here I am. I'm also damn good at it. I do a lot more than just taking care of people and I enjoy all its parts. Lately, it's just been a bit more all consuming than I would prefer. Heh. We call work in L'Arche "sharing life" because we are designed to live in mutuality. You then have to find the balance of sharing life and building relationships, while working in an agency care facility providing care that gets oversight by the state. At times, these things blend together seamlessly, other times they are differing philosophies and you are the staff caught in the middle.
I'm trying to really utilize my time away. Last Sunday and I got to spend time with my brother and see a friend and that was refreshing and revitalizing. However, I then turn around and head right back to work and it can be a little daunting. I work with a great team, all of us are pulling together and working hard. People sometimes forget that direct care isn't just doing personal care for someone, giving their meds, or making their food. We also deal when clients struggle or have difficult emotions and we bear all the brunt of that. You take all the brunt of that and have to be professionally distant. You have to be professionally distant when someone is screaming in your face and professionally distant when a person is telling you they love you and you have balance all of that with living in mutuality and sharing life and relationships for the benefit of your clients.
You do all of that and then sometimes, not all clients stay with you. Clients can change homes or agencies for all kinds of reasons but when you get attached to someone, even while remaining professionally distant (because while you are their friend and care-giver, you aren't their peer because you are required to provide help and safety) you internally grieve when they are gone. You can't grieve outwardly because when you share life in the home, you still can't bring in your emotional life. You have to put forward the needs of those you serve and so your feelings are for at home. I haven't found myself with a lot of "at home" time and then I see myself just stuffing things down. Then in the morning I go to get 3 plates when I need 2 and my heart lurches for a second. However, because my job is to be the care-giver, I push that aside and continue on.
That doesn't lend well to internal balance- hence that lopsided seesaw. I'm grateful for this blog, I write when I can, then I can schedule things to go live later. I keep my writings on here, because I can access them wherever, like a cloud. (Weebly saves all my drafts).
Jean Vanier is my model for sharing life. He began the L'Arche federation that my agency is a part of. He discusses the challenges that arise when sharing life becomes hard and he does so with such empathy. I find his works edifying to my personal life and my L'Arche life, most especially when I find them coinciding so much. I have joked, as I have been a part of this community for 7 years now, that I'm "a lifer" that I'll be a part of this community through the rest of my life. I do hope so, though I do have eventual other employment goals. When you enter L'Arche it can change and transform you heavily.
I've been thinking so much about who I was, where I was, and what I was capable of when I began my journey here 7 years ago as a 19 year old who knew nothing and thought she knew too much. I have always been fairly articulate and computer literate. Those skills showed early on. I did not however, always have the skills that come with sharing life with others, like other staff, and managing that those relational balances. I also did not always have balance in my own life and my own insecurities often came through, even though I could be competent.
It's strange to look back on. I still have similar personality quirks, I still talk a lot, but my understanding of clients, my willingness to put forth more effort, and my ability to handle stressful situations has changed a lot. Especially in the last year I've seen some growth in myself in how I perform and handle change, even the last month. I don't think I was ever *bad* at my job, but I had been more easily overwhelmed.
Then, in my personal life, hard things happened, and then in my work life, hard things happened and then they happened at the same time. Trial by fire, I'm here going, "yeah okay, bring it on." What's the next thing I need to do. This didn't kill me, this didn't make me fall apart, so I guess I can handle whatever dares to come next.
It is strange, I have certainly had other points of growth within the 7 years I have been a part of this community, certainly. However, other changes were more gradual. I'd be concerned for myself if I didn't have positive and real growth between 19 and 26. A few years ago, to have deal with things in my personal life and work life that are high stress like this, I would have managed but internally would be melting. I would be leaning on others, calling for emotional support, and my ability to perform would be affected.
That isn't to say I'm perfect and that isn't to say in the past I haven't handled things, but my ability to find peace within my head would have been a huge struggle. I'm finding peace within my head no matter how deep the waters are for the first time, consistently. I've had those moments, just never on a consistent basis when I feel the walls of stress closing in and it's finally consistent.
I attribute this to 1) the first thing I did a month ago was change my meds and request an increase. Hey-oh, I have crappy brain chemistry and I can't fix that. I take them faithfully and they don't turn off my ability to feel, they just keep me from living and drowning in the negative. This is something that I haven't always had. 2) I am trying to work on my relationship with God and address the things within myself that hinder me. (See blog below on cycle of pride and self-loathing). 3) Some of the relationships I leaned on in the past aren't there and that's okay. I'm finding good inner voices where I had looked for outside ones. 4) I refocused on the relationships that were closest to me and those ones are really really good.
Life and L'Arche life, it's funny how my employment has become so much more than a job. It's been a huge part of my identity and who I am. I am a member of this community and so is my family. My husband is a member of this community, my Mom knows my Core Members and was close to not only the founder of our agency but visited Troli (in France) and the community of Jean Vanier. I have a lot of ties here, I have put a lot of roots here and invested heavily in my relationships here. Relationships with staff and with clients (Core Members) have transformed so much of my life.
There's a staff member and friend, his name is Eric, (he might kill me for saying this), but I look at him as the "Jean Vanier" of L'Arche Clinton. We don't work much in the same houses so we don't get a lot of time to share life together these days, however he has talked with me a lot over the years. He's been someone who has listened when something inspires me and shares his wisdom with me. He's also been a person who I have shared my struggles with me and my frustrations. He's also given a great deal of his time, effort, and self to our community. He's been with L'Arche through thick and thin for over *cough, I won't say how many but many cough* years. (He still looks like a pretty young guy). He reminds me why we stick with it when we go through the hills and valleys of direct care and how we balance agency life and L'Arche life. He has an incredible spirit of giving that inspires me a lot. When I think of who I'd like to be, it's like Eric Plaut.
We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog: (I promise he's not my boss, nor does he impact my performance reviews so please know my praise is genuine. On that thought though: Jon Kuiper, you're the best, you're so amazing, I think you're the best supervisor that ever lived. I work super-de-duper hard for you! Look at all my growth and aren't you just the best; most generous supervisor that ever walked the earth. Won't you be so glad for me (*Cough come performance review time cough*,) since you're just the greatest and most competent Coordinator that ever lived!)
We now return to your regularly scheduled blog:
So, after writing it all out. Part of me still feels a bit lopsided, because I miss my family and my kids and I'm used to being a big part of their lives and having better balance with them. I'm also grateful that I can sit here and say "yeah okay, that's hard, but temporary, and we'll get through it". Knowing they also have good supports around them when I need to work more. Knowing that i'm still accomplishing things even when it's hard.
Since May I've lost 20 pounds and I have made it to nearly 35,000 words in my novel. That's something I've never done before. I keep chipping away at that first draft!!! I have started so many writing projects that aside from this blog, I have never kept on. This blog taught me that I can keep on it and here I am, keeping going.
I'm juggling a lot and I'm trying to keep all those pins in the air.
Onward into the breech.
Keep. Moving. Forward.