Friday, November 25, 2011

White Ribbon Day: Violence against women, disabilities and where to begin

I’m taking a break from writing about a client for a final to writing about a client for my blog. So, it’s kind of like I’m not procrastinating, right?

This is what social work school does to me...
turns me into a 5 year old blonde boy.
Anyway, this paper I am writing which is basically a quick overview of the client and then a discussion of different theories and interventions is depressing me. I’m writing about an African-American woman, around 40 years old, who has become one of my favorite clients (shh, don’t tell). We’ll call her Darla. She is completely blind and was born blind. Because of her disability, her parents neglected her. Her parents left her in her crib sometimes for days. It’s a miracle she survived past infancy.

Because of this neglect, Darla was developmentally delayed and is extremely quiet. She’ll speak ever so often in groups, and it makes me so happy when she does. However, Darla has been severely taken advantage of in his life. The neglectful parents aside, she was frequently molested and beaten in her foster homes. She didn’t know how to tell anyone. She probably didn’t even know it was wrong.

On Twitter earlier today, S.E. Smith posted an article about the increased risk of violence faced by women with disabilities. I am fairly certain that almost every woman in our program has experienced violence and sexual violence. I know for a fact they have all faced emotional violence. They’ve been taken advantage of because of their vulnerabilities. The article posted said some research suggests that nine out of ten developmentally disabled women will experience a sexual assault, and it is universally agreed that most will have to face unwanted sexual contact eventually.

I’ve written previously about rape culture in our society. This kind of abuse and neglect is particularly difficult for me to process because Darla and other clients are so vulnerable. They will always have to depend on people. And most of them, at least in my agency, still have the ability to trust. I am amazed at how Darla, while silent, is so expressive. When we listen to music in group, she is often the first one up dancing. She loves dancing.

Also known as "White Ribbon Day"
Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. I appreciate the sentiment and all of the hard work behind it, but I am still so angry that we only have one day a year designated for this. Darla, however, is an anchor for me. It’s inspiring to know that someone so beautiful can be born from such ugliness.

I am kind of annoyed with how I’ve been writing about things that are upsetting and leaving the post closed on a negative note. I am a person of action; what are some things we can do now to make the world safer for women and for Darla?

Clarisse Thorn for wrote some great suggestions. I suggest you check out her list, as it encompasses everything I have and then some.
Chris Brown

  • Speak up if you have the voice. It’s not easy. Maggie Kuhn put it best when she said, “Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind—even if your voice shakes.”
  • A spade is a spade, rape is rape and assault is assault. It doesn’t matter if the rape occurred while the person was making one of your favorite movies, or exposing Bank of America for the crooks that they are, or writing your favorite pop song.
  • Recognize sexist images. Challenge them.
  • Engage people in discussions about rape culture. Do not fear being “uppity.”
  • Practice radical self-care. Fighting toxic rape culture is a part of that of course, but you cannot be an instrument of change if you allow yourself to burn out.
  • And finally, if you can, offer supportive, healing, caring touch. This sounds bizarre, but Darla cannot get enough touch. I know some folks consider touching clients inappropriate, but a hand on the shoulder or a grip of the hand can go a long way. Of course, with consent. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How social work has made me bah humbug-y about Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving. It's a holiday that is near and dear to my heart in terms of the memories I have surrounding it--and I think any opportunity to reflect on what we are thankful for is valuable. From a social justice stand point, Thanksgiving is, well, complicated.

Today at my placement, we discussed facts about Thanksgiving. The facts were generally simple, and honestly, no different than what is taught in most schools. Pilgrims came to Plymouth Rock, made friends with some Natives, and they had a potluck, right? Everything was copacetic. 

One client (we'll call him Ken) is prone to angry outbursts. Most of the time they are completely unprovoked, but it was interesting what he spoke up about today in group. Ken was really upset about some of the facts being shared. He spoke about Thanksgiving as a holiday that celebrates the slaughter of an entire people. This upset some other members of the group who haven't learned anything about Thanksgiving beyond the folklore we tend to pass around as truth in schools and in our families. It got other clients riled up in agreement with him. 

It's also become very clear to me while speaking with clients about their weekend plans how difficult Thanksgiving can be for the chronically poor and mentally ill. Many of these folks are alienated from family. When we go around the room to talk about what we're thankful for, some people can't think of one thing. I don't think Ken's outburst was unprovoked this time around. I am thankful that he spoke his mind. I admire that. 

Another issue I have with Thanksgiving? I'm working in retail these days part-time at a popular store that sells personal care items. I say care loosely because most of the lotions in the store are made of the nastiest chemicals you can imagine and will probably ruin your skin or cause cancer in the long run--but I digress. My schedule on Black Friday is from midnight to 6 am. We open at midnight. Who in the hell needs to buy some vanilla scented lotion at midnight? Absolutely no one. Thanksgiving these days is less about sharing a meal as a way to build community than it is about consuming. Consuming the food, and consuming the sales the next day. The intuitive eater in me looks around and sees people enjoying their food, but not really enjoying their food. We don't savor so much as eat until we feel like we could burst. 

We are so thankful for this Pinot Grigio
While doing a little research on the history of Thanksgiving, I found an article that really brought the point home about Thanksgiving for me. The article is titled Thanksgiving: A Native American View. Let's face it; the Pilgrims were no survivalists. The Native folks saved the white folks' asses, and continued to save their asses, even when Native people were being killed and their land was being destroyed. And thus, the Pilgrims lived. Thus, we have a great White nation, and thus we have a great Capitalist society that means buying stupid candles at 3am is something that is really, really important to some people, and we are so lucky to have that privilege. 

Many Native Americans have lost their lives, their families and their land so that I can sit here, on my comfy mattress in Queens, surrounded by pillows, drinking fresh water, etc. etc. etc. and write this article. I am not so sure celebrating my privilege is exactly how I want to to look at the holiday, but isn't that what it is? Being thankful for privilege? Who am I thanking for this privilege if it's come at the expense of oppressing others? 

So, what is it that all of these random points about how Thanksgiving should suck have to do with one another? Well, nothing. It's just a list of reasons why it's difficult for me to appreciate Thanksgiving these days. Truth be told, I really do love holidays and celebrations, and I think they're important and valuable to everyone. I will probably have plenty of fun tomorrow. And I hope y'all do too, but I also hope that everyone is not only thankful for what they have, but understands how what they have shapes their lives and impacts others.

Sorry for being a Debbie downer, y'all. I'll do my best to be more uplifting about Christmas maybe New Years. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

On Occupy Wall Street's general strike and social work

Today is a call for a General Strike in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. I've seen flyers all around campus at NYU, and folks all over Facebook are posting about it. I, however, will not be in attendance.

Thing is, I am in solidarity with the movement. I find the movement inspiring, and I've participated in their marches and all that. And there's been a couple of calls for general strikes over the past year or so while I've been in social work school, and these calls usually fall on days where I'm at my placement. It has made me realize that working with the "poor and needy"* doesn't really allow for the freedom to go on strike since they can't go on strike from being "poor and needy."

Unfortunately, it's the people I serve at my placement who I believe are most profoundly affected by our income gap and are experiencing the brunt of the cutting of services in preference to not taxing the rich. As long as I work in social work, I don't think I can ever walk away from the work I do with my clients in the name of solidarity or organizing because, for better or for worse, they rely on me.

I feel a sense of guilt over this. Participating in a movement that fights this toxic system we're living in is in effect advocating for these clients. It's something I'm passionate about. I wonder though if I can flip that way of thinking around. Is working with these clients fighting this toxic system? Is advocating for them on a daily basis, empowering them, supporting them, a part of the same fabric as the Occupy Wall Street movement?

I'd like to think so. So while I won't be in attendance at any marches today, and while I will be working all day, I am still participating in the General Strike. I encourage all of you to join.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Work hard, party harder

Lately, I've been getting up at, what feels like to me, the ass crack of dawn (pardon my French). Yesterday I had class (on a Saturday! my BFF made a joke about it, "What, do social workers consider all days equal or something?"). Today I have training for my part-time, terrible, depressing, seasonal retail job.

I've also been spending my weekend evenings out with friends, being social, and even imbibing a bit. This makes waking up at a decent hour like 7am today or 8am yesterday seem like a huge effort. And admittedly, I probably shouldn't be out so late (5am on Friday night, 2:30am last night). It's just difficult to find the right balance--I don't get a straight up 9 to 5 schedule (or even a straight up 2 to 11 schedule). Things are unpredictable and it's hard to plan for a good time out if I want to conserve sleep. 

And I know how important sleep is. In fact, I am struggling getting these very words out this morning, and I'm sure someone is going to read this and assume I am drunk, because I am questioning that possibility myself right now. It's just something I've felt okay about sacrificing the past couple of days in exchange for fun. I can't wait for the days when I don't have to choose. Those days do eventually show up, right? Right?

This is just one example of how crappy my notes from class were yesterday. Pretty sure I was falling asleep as I was trying to write them. I tried to pull the whole "face-away-from-professor-and-pretend-you're-looking-down-at-your-notes-when-your-eyes-are-closed-but-then-your-whole-body-jolts-when-you-actually-fall-asleep-making-it-obvious-that-you-were-sleeping" thing. If you actually know what hypoprolacti...mema? means, please advise.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Penn State protests: Who are the real victims?

One of the primary reasons I decided to go into social work was to find an outlet for my unwavering, sometimes inappropriate empathy. I have the ability to empathize with the “worst” of individuals—I won’t make a list of who, but there’s something about people doing terrible things that pulls at my heartstrings. How did they get to that point? How much hurt must they be experiencing to want to hurt others so badly?

But sometimes my empathy is tested. This tends to happen most often when you throw privilege into the mix. Enter Penn State and the protests against the firing of Joe Paterno. Deadspin posted aslideshow of the “bros” long faces, highlighting that these kids are taking this seriously. Try as I might, I cannot take them seriously in return. A quick look through of the slideshow features, as a friend pointed out, primarily cis gendered white men. I’m assuming, and this is certainly an assumption, most of them are heterosexual. This is the battle they choose to fight. Nevermind the fact that there is actual Occupy Penn State action being organized, these kids decided the best thing to do was to protest against the justified firing of someone who turned a blind eye to children being abused.

I’m not saying that Paterno is the worst human being alive. I think Paterno was, however, acting to his own self-interest and to the interest of the Penn State community (or at least, the reputation or what he considered the interest of the Penn State community). However, it is my belief that fighting against child abuse and potentially preventing more children from abuse is worth some tarnishment to your reputation—a tarnishment that would have been much lighter than what he has to face now.

It’s also important to consider how this scandal would affect the survivors of Sandusky. Survivors of sexual assault often turn blame inward. Seeing the media portrayal of a school so upset over the firing of Paterno could potentially negatively affect these survivors. I can only imagine what would be going through their head—if only I hadn’t been there for Sandusky to abuse me, perhaps this trouble wouldn’t be happening. I hope, rather, that they are able to see what is happening as an example of why they are not at fault. The exposure of Sandusky and Paterno’s tight knit hold on the Penn State administration and the fact that there are several survivors may help the survivors conceptualize the severity of the situation and how out of their own control it really was.

But I can only hope. And as angry as I am at the Penn State protestors, I think it’s taking attention away from who the real victims are in this situation. It’s not these bro dawgs who are sad about losing their football coach. It’s the people who were severely and maliciously abused by Sandusky. There's some reasonable students at Penn State, fortunately, as seen in videos posted by Colorlines. I hope that while I can’t find empathy for them, that those protestors can find empathy for the survivors. 

New beginnings

So I've returned from my unplanned, longer than expected hiatus. Self-care right? I have this thing, and I think it's common amongst us social workers, where I make way more work for myself than there minimally has to be. In addition to graduate school and a 21 hour a week placement, I am working part time and also doing some heavy duty community organizing around fat issues. My middle name should be burn out.

Here's a small run down on things that I am working on that I hope to keep on a regular schedule of sharing with the blog-o-sphere:

  •  I've started a new club at NYU Silver, called Body Positive Silver. I've been connected to so many awesome students at Silver who are interested in changing body culture and tackling weight bias. I feel blessed, and honored to know these amazing ladies. 
    • We are working on SO MANY awesome campaigns. We hope to develop curriculum for both faculty and students on body politics, fat and social work.
  • The New School, where one of my colleagues Sarah Lewin is doing her placement this year, is doing some seriously radical work through a group called Changing Body Culture. I attended a Body Positive two day workshop which BLEW MY MIND and changed my life and completely shifted how I look at myself and food. I am not even exaggerating. As someone who suffers from depression, I have seen a marked changed in how I react to situations after this workshop. The Body Positive is one of my most favorite organizations, and I want to be Connie and Elizabeth when I grow up. 
    • For those of you in NYC, there will be a Body Positive four hour training Saturday, November 19 for free. Contact changingbodyculture (at) for more details and to RSVP. 
Ugh, there's so much I'm missing, but so much is going on. I've been busy presenting workshops for NYU students and I also presented at the amazing RISE Conference this year which was a huge honor (pics of that coming soon). I wish I were independently wealthy so I could just travel around the country and do this stuff full time! I love it. 

More entries coming soon. I definitely want to comment on Occupy Wall Street and the Penn State happenings.

Also! It recently came to my attention that named me their top blog about social work! I am so giddy and grateful. Check out their article to find other awesome blogs about social work.

Best Blog Badge

Monday, May 2, 2011

MLK Jr.'s wisdom still rings true

Stacy Bias posted this as a status update on Facebook, via a friend of her's:
‎"Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
~Martin Luther King Jr
So true. And now, to write papers...

Edit: Turns out part of this quote was not accurately what MLK Jr. said, so I removed the parts that were not his words exactly ("I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy."). The internet is a weird place sometimes. (source)

The war on empathy: Reflections on Bin Laden's death

Believe me, I have plenty of other things I could be writing right now. Finals, for one. I could be writing about groups I've run, counter-transference, cognitive behavioral therapy, attachment theory. And I've made an honest effort today, but it's hard for me to shake what is going on in the world out of my mind.

It's times like this that convince me that this empathic streak is a curse rather than a blessing. Why do I feel mournful rather than jubilant over the death of someone who represents the deaths of thousands and a fearful paradigm shift in our country?

Death is death is death is death is death. It's never positive. It's never a victory. Osama Bin Laden dying does not bring any closure for me any more than it brings home any troops from overseas. Bin Laden is just another dead body in the war on terror.

And that's what upsets me so much. The man wasn't considered a threat anymore, and his body is simply a symbol of revenge. I understand and appreciate and honor that many people do probably feel closure or safer after this event, but I find our collective response troubling.

Pamela Gerloff put it best in her Huffington Post piece titled The Psychology of Revenge: Why We Should Stop Celebrating Osama Bin Laden's Death.
"Celebrating" the killing of any member of our species -- for example, by chanting "USA! USA!" and singing "The Star Spangled Banner" outside the White House or jubilantly demonstrating in the streets -- is a violation of human dignity. Regardless of the perceived degree of "good" or "evil" in any of us, we are all, each of us, human. To celebrate the killing of a life, any life, is a failure to honor life's inherent sanctity.

Plenty of people will argue that Osama bin Laden did not respect the sanctity of others' lives. But I say, "So what?" What makes us human is our ability to choose our own behavior. More specifically, it is our capacity to return good for evil, love for hate, dignity for indignity. While some consider Osama bin Laden to have been the personification of evil, he was nonetheless a human being.

Here's where it gets further complicated for me: I don't see how celebrating his death in this manner is doing anything except contributing to the same culture and mindset that led Bin Laden and all other nationalistic mass-murderers to do what they have done and will continue to do.

Until we can, as a society, learn how to become sobered by these experiences and learn how to respect all life, and thus respect all deaths with equal sanctity, these cycles of violence will continue. We will find ourselves in the very same position we are today, and it's not a healthy one. We are not a better people with Osama Bin Laden dead, and the events of 9/11 are not undone. We can, however, prevent these kinds of attacks in the future from happening again (which I feel would be the real honor and the real way those who have fallen can rest in peace) by fostering a world where any and all violence (government ordered or not) is mourned and all human life is dignified.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I am a graduate student. I must be because I am so very lonely.

Well, I'm finishing up my first semester, so things on this blog are certainly slow. If you miss me that much, check out my interview with Persephone Magazine.

In the meantime, tap into your empathy by watching these Xtranormal vids about social work school.

This one points out a lot of the major flaws of social work education. I have to say though, I don't really think the job market is all THAT bad for MSWs. Is it? Maybe I am just showin' my NYU privilege here.

This is the greatest thing I've ever seen.
"Communities are organized groups that have been dynamically grouped into group-oriented communities."
"...You seem to be under a lot of stress. Should I be worried about you?"
"Systems theory."

Thursday, March 31, 2011

An army of one.

I've realized that I am a person who says some unpopular things.

I haven't always been this person. Growing up, I always took this "don't rock the boat" kind of attitude. I think it's been a natural progression in growing up for me though. My brother used to tease me about being contrary, but really, I think I am just way more of a radical than I thought.

What's also important to note about me is that I am an INFJ, emphasis on the I. I'm an introvert. You people exhaust me. Yet somehow I live for people. Funny how we work that way.

So as an introvert, I've had a few experiences over the past couple of weeks that have been naturally very difficult for me. First was the experience at the Endangered Species Summit. That was super hard for me to do. I received an overwhelming response, which was great, but I know not everyone in that room was a fan of what I said.

Secondly, I ran a workshop this past Monday at NYU Silver's common day for second year students. Common day is supposed to be a chance for students to learn things about social justice they wouldn't necessarily have the chance to in the classroom. I did a presentation on fat bias, titled "Fat is a Social Work Issue." I thought it went well.

I also received an overwhelming response. Several people came up to me and talked to me about how excited they were someone was talking about this issue, that throughout their entire graduate school experience the topic was never brought up. But I have heard from one of my mentors that some students were not happy with what I said. In fact, they are quite angry with what I said. But no one said anything at the presentation. No one spoke up. I wasn't given the chance to start a real dialogue.

And I know not everyone is willing to be that person who says unpopular things. And speaking out against my presentation would have probably been unpopular in that room. But me, being me, would have loved it. I would have welcomed it. I feel like that is where real work gets done, right in the nitty gritty of disagreeing. Maybe it's the contrarian in me.

I'm just sort of bummed about it. My mentor encouraged them to contact me, but so far no one has, and I can't blame them. I also can't blame myself. The presentation wasn't perfect, but it's my first time, and hell, I'm a first year social work student.

Anyway. I think I am just experiencing some burn out. And to some degree, I do feel a little bit alone in my endeavor. Fortunately, I met some fellow social work students who feel passionately about this cause, and I plan to reach out to them. Sometimes being a leader means you are the only one, but one is the loneliest number, right?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More reflections on the Endangered Species Summit

A lot of people reacted to what I said on the summit and to my blog post. I have spoken to people at WTCI, and I know that my thoughts and words were well-received and welcomed, and I don't take that lightly. I know that through personal correspondence with Courtney Martin that the needs of all women is an issue the organizers take seriously.

I want to make it clear that what I wrote was a reflection on only one panel. The entire conference, while not perfect, was well worth my time. I was especially pleased to see Deb Burgard's panel on medicalization and globalization, and I'm a huge fan of Michael Kimmel, so that was a lot of fun. And the event really opened up a lot of doors for me. I definitely met a lot of really rad women, and as far as networking goes, I've never been to a more successful function.

I think the concept is brilliant. I think having that platform is so valuable. I appreciate that I was given a space to voice my opinion. I just hope we can figure out a way to open that up to everyone. I had one commenter tell me that I missed the point of the conference entirely, but I think I didn't. I think the point is to get the dialogue going. We can't sit peacefully anymore. Feminism has problems to hash out and we need a space to do it. I need to feel safe enough to call people out when I think they might be committing an injustice, and I need people to do the same for me. None of us are perfect. Solidarity, right?

It was also a huge learning experience to me. I'm pretty new to the world of feminism outside of a women's studies classroom or between the pages the latest Seal Press publication, so I can really chalk up the whole experience to naivety. I thought most of us had this whole intersectionality thing down. I realize now that there is a lot to learn. I realize there is a lot to teach as well.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Breaking Down "Breaking Boundaries"

The Endangered Species Women Summit isn't the only conference I've gone to lately. Here's a blog post my colleague Katie and I wrote together, featured on the NYU Silver School of Social Work Student Affairs' blog.

Read it here!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Who is really Endangered?


So where do I begin? I spent my evening at the Endangered Species Summit, which describes itself as "An international summit to challenge the toxic culture that teaches girls and women to hate their bodies." Sounds like something I can definitely get behind, right? It wasn't that simple.

Courtney Martin and the women at the Women's Therapy Centre Institute have created a terrific space. They really have. But the first panel didn't sit well with me, at all. It was titled "Real Talk: Body Image Advocacy Across Sectors." It featured the one and only Susie Orbach, author of Fat is a Feminist Issue, Emme, supermodel turned host of exploitive reality tv series More to Love, Wendy Naugel, executive editor of Glamour Magazine, Katrin Eismann, digital imaging expert and Chareah Jackson, associate editor at Heart & Soul. The moderator was Jessica Weiner, author of Life Doesn't Begin Five Pounds From Now and Dove's Gobal Ambassador for Self-Esteem.

The conversation mainly focused on how us women, as consumers, could shift the paradigm. Now, I'll be honest--I was critical from the start. I personally believe the root of our problem is in consumerism as a culture, but that's a whole 'nother conversation. I let it go (kinda sorta), and I listened to what they had to say. And what did I hear? A whole lot of the same ol' shit.

And I say that with caring behind it. I really do. I don't think these women were coming from a bad place. However, the concept of "consumer power" only applies to a very minute number of women. Weiner began the panel by putting forth the idea that we need to use our power in numbers to effect change and shifted from that concept to the idea of utilizing our consumer power. What that idea forgets is the fact that while we make up the majority of the population, we have access to a disproportionate amount of wealth. Who has the money? White men. And the few women who have money? They are by and large white. And regardless of what Oprah's theme music would tell you, she is not every woman.

After frantically writing notes back and forth with my partner-in-crime Katie, I decided to go up during the Q&A and address the issue. Before I spoke, however, a kick ass woman decided to call out the Glamour executive editor on her hypocracy. She pointed out the fact that the latest issue of Glamour (which she had in her hands! classic) only had a few women of color, featured a large number of pages dedicated to body shaming and diet talk, and how most of the models are a size four and under. SERIOUSLY. Ms. Naugle pretty much denied all responsibility. She said it was up to the consumers to write to advertisers, and how she doesn't even look at advertisements before they go out. The audience member demanded a date, and she refused to give one. I know she means well, but as far as I am concerned, until she starts walking the walk, she is part of the problem.

And then it was my turn. I was nervous as hell. I started by thanking the brave woman who went before me, and I pointed out the fact that not every woman has this consumer power. Some women are, believe it or not, poor. In fact, most women are. Based on the reaction, I knew I had the audience's support. I, being me, couldn't keep myself composed. I broke into tears because I was one, terrified, and two, really concerned about what was happening in front of me. Emme suggested that just spending "ONE DOLLAR" would help. I said to her "That is really easy for you to say." Weiner, the moderator, engaged me further. She suggested that woman write letters when they can't spend money. First of all, that implies that women even conceptualize themselves as having body image as an issue. Based on my experience, most are too concerned with figuring out how to get dinner on the table to think about their body image in an introspective manner. Second of all, I was standing in front of her. I could have written advertisers a letter, but I thought being there in person would be, oh, I don't know, more effective.

Also, this wasn't my point. I wasn't trying to discredit the work the women on the panel were doing, but the fact that every woman up there refused to own up to their privilege and instead put the onus back onto poor women was super disheartening. I struggled with pointing it out, but did it not seem completely fucked up that there was ONE woman of color on the panel?

It was like I was placed in a time machine. I felt like I was in the 1980s and I was speaking to a group of second-wave feminists who didn't understand the idea that some women don't deal with sexism exclusively. And how a black woman or a Native woman or an Asian woman or a Latina experiences sexism is different than a white woman. ESPECIALLY a white, former-supermodel. For the first time in my life, I have such a bigger respect for the womanist movement. Courtney Martin, in her opening statements, said this is the beginning of real action in the movement. If we're having this same conversation right now, I don't know if that's true. And if it is? This is not the movement I signed up for.

Plenty of women came up to me after the fact and thanked me for speaking up. I know I wasn't the only one thinking what I was thinking. All I want is for those women up on that panel to think a little more broadly. Me fitting my ass into an Oscar De La Renta dress is not going to change things for very long. Broadening the scope of the male gaze will only get us so far. We need to address all issues that contribute to our body image problems, including our consumerist, racist, ableist, sizist, sexist, hetero-normative culture.

To put it succinctly: THE MASTER'S TOOLS WILL NEVER DISMANTLE THE MASTER'S HOUSE. Thank you, Audre Lorde.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

When the social worker has mental illness.

One post in the entire month of February? I know, right?! The truth is, I've been pretty checked out of everything. I tell most people that what I'm in right now is a "funk"; more accurately, I'm in the midst of a depressive episode.

I've suffered from major depressive disorder most of my life, sprinkled with bits of generalized anxiety and post-traumatic stress. I've been in and out of therapy for what feels like forever, and up until about a year ago, I could have sworn the stuff would never work for me. Fortunately I am in treatment, and I have a rad therapist. Which brings me to wonder, why in the hell did I decide to be a therapist?

At NYU, we had a presentation that kicked off our professional development day, and a few of the speakers touched on the topic of secondary trauma. It got me thinking a lot about how I've been processing stress. My placement aside, I've been experiencing a lot of loss in my personal life. That coupled with the stories I have to hear and process at work--it's a lot for me to handle being only 5 months into this gig. It makes perfect sense too, because as studies have shown, listening to traumatic stories will cause trauma for the listener--or secondary trauma.

For the month of February, I really disconnected from a lot of this social work stuff. It's not to say I've been up to nothing--more on that later. I really need a chance to recharge my batteries, to get myself up and running again post-burn out. This whole situation though has me wondering--if I am struggling this month during grad school, what is my career going to be like? How can I possibly hold down a job? How can I ethically allow my patients to count on me when I could at any moment spiral into another depressive episode and need to take this time to recharge? Recharging and time away from things is absolutely vital for my depression. How do I prepare my clients for this without causing doubt in their minds about quality of treatment or going a little deep in the self-disclosure wing?

Sometimes I wonder, maybe I shouldn't be a social worker.

But the reality is, there isn't much else I can do. First, I would be doing social worky type of work regardless of whether or not I was a social worker. At least this way I can get paid for it. Secondly, what field besides social work is going to be as accommodating to mental illness? Can you see me walking up to an investment banker boss and saying "Yo boss, I have this disability that you can't see, and I swear I'm not lazy, but I really need some time off to get my shit together." Oh hell no! I'd be fired on the spot. I won't even get into right now about how being fat complicates my depression in so many ways. In the health advocacy and social work scene, my disability, while sometimes misunderstood, is still respected. Most everywhere I've dealt with this has been willing to work something out. So I guess, really, I'm in the best possible spot.

That doesn't mean I am going to stop thinking about these issues. Dealing with your own mental health issues as a social worker I think is a really unique thing. I am really fascinated about how to best approach this with client relationships. Do any of you have experience with this sort of thing? How did you approach it? If you don't have experience with this necessarily, how do you approach needing to temporarily break a client relationship, due to health issues or a death in the family or anything that will cause you to be away for some time? How do you do that without damaging the relationship?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

HR3: A lil weekend activism.

Hey everyone. I'm taking a short break from packing (moving, ugh) to write this blog post and make a couple phone calls.

Do you have a couple minutes? Sady Doyle recently published a list of Dems. who support HR3. If you're not sure what HR3 is, here's a nice primer from Mother Jones.

I'd appreciate it if y'all could take a second and contact one or two of them and tell them that this is not okay. HR3 is not about saving tax payers money (fyi, 191 abortions were paid for by Medicaid in 2006... we're talking fractions of pennies compared to the debt we're in [source]).

According to this bill, most rape survivors weren't "really" raped, and they will be denied coverage for abortion from their own PRIVATE insurance. So, tax payers won't be saving money AND the government is regulating private insurance. WTF, GOP (and the dems on the list, too!)?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A quick expression of glee.


I love the internet.

I received some really awesome responses to my call to action. Y'all are beautiful. I'm looking forward to working with everyone.

I am considering starting a Google or Yahoo group. I am wondering about names though. Social Workers Against Size Discrimination? The Size Diversity Social Work Coalition? Social Work Size Action Initiative (or Network...ooh)?

Do you have an awesome name suggestion? I really love the kind you can some how verbalize instead of having to say each letter individually. I think names are important because I think it will really set the tone for the group. For example--size acceptance vs. fat acceptance vs. size diversity (the last one being a fav. of mine).

Anyway, suggest away. Names can always be changed down the line as the group dynamics begin to unfold.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A call to action.

Hey! All you fat-friendly, size diversity-supporting, amazing social workers! Get at me.

I want to create a collective. I'm not sure what it's going to look like yet, but I think it's needed. There are reasons I fell in love with social work: its dedication to social justice, teaching about privilege, eradicating and confronting all the-isms in the world that most people would rather sweep under the rug. There's just one -ism social work has avoided: sizeism.

Fortunately, social work is a profession where I think the people in power are willing to listen. But first, we need something to say and we need people to say it.

If you are interested in organizing with me, email me at fatsocialworker (at) gmail dot com. Why can't social work schools teach about size? Why can't we talk about Health at Every Size as being THE ethical way to approach working with *all* clients? NASW has begun to speak on obesity issues. They recognize the "multifaceted" nature of "obesity"--why not recognize the ethical way of viewing obesity, the one that honors self-determination?

Lessons in loss

The pretty much new blog has been kind of quiet. That's to be expected, considering I'm a grad student who has a penchant for biting off more than I can chew :D

It's also been a rough month for me, both personally and professionally. My placement has to be one of the most difficult internships imaginable (besides perhaps working in a hospice). I'm placed in a domestic violence shelter. It's a short term, emergency shelter. Clients have about 135 days to stay there before they're sent back to the homeless processing center in NYC to be placed in yet another shelter. My first batch of clients are beginning to terminate right now, and I'm feeling all kinds of conflicted about that.

There's one client in particular that is difficult. She's in her early-40s, with an adorable daughter. She's relentlessly positive when most others would be breaking down, and she's a devoted mother, always putting her precocious 3 year old above all else. She's discharging today. And she's not really sure where she's going. She's undocumented. That means she can't get documented employment, and thus is not qualified for the only housing program worth pursing. She gets something like $18 in public assistance. She's in the middle of a custody battle with a man who threw her down two flights of stairs, with a man who brought her here from her home country where she had a rewarding career, with a degree that is no good here, when she didn't speak a word of English (oh, did I mention she's amazingly intelligent? Taught herself English in only a few years, and she speaks beautifully).

To say there's a lot of counter-transference going on in this case would be a gross understatement. During my time as her counselor, she has transformed into a mother figure. For someone like her, I think this was very beneficial because she is a nurturer and her self-esteem is rooted in feeling like she is a good nurturer. Her daughter also reminds me a lot of myself at that age. The dynamic of our relationship, however, brings up a lot of my issues with my mother. She reminds me of what could have been if x, y and z didn't happen. It's shown me that I haven't grieved over the loss of my mother-daughter relationship. My mother isn't dead, or anything. I don't mean to give that impression. She's just unable to provide guidance and comfort for me, because she can't even provide it for herself. I haven't come to terms with this, and I think this client made me feel comforted.

I was a very parentified child. My mother was in an abusive relationship. She was always so fragile, and I was her protector. The client's daughter feels the same way about her mother. She once drew a picture of two people: a really tall person and a really short person. She identified the really tall person as herself. The short person was her mother. When asked why, she said it's because she needs to protect her mommy from the monster. I can't say I didn't feel the same way about the client during our relationship. We once spent an extraordinarily long day together in court, and I remember looking over at her. She had her head between her hands, and she looked so worn, so exhausted. Underneath her strong exterior, she really was struggling with everything. I recognized immediately how I felt at that moment, and it was exactly how I would feel when I would find my mom crying over the stove, in her room, where ever. I wanted to save her.

I think this termination has been harder on me than on her. I want to keep in touch, but I can't. I want to help her after she leaves, but I can't. I want to hand her a green card, but, yeah, I can't.

Losing this client and the few others who will be gone by the week's end hurts. I am queen of abandonment issues, plus I have a 1 o'clock appointment to euthanize my sick cat today. I'm ready for 2012 already.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

On self-care, health and body privilege

riots not diets recently reblogged a post that read like this:

I think that what's being said here touches on some interesting points, but I still think it misses the mark to a degree. First, you're right--it's no one's business what you do with your body. But I don't actually think as a society we value "taking care of yourself." When people say "taking care of yourself," what they're really saying is "Please change yourself so that I am less uncomfortable with how you are." Those two are not synonymous. I'd argue that as a society we do not encourage people to take care of themselves enough.

Taking care of yourself, or self-care, does not necessarily mean dieting or exercising to lose weight or to get healthier or to change your different body (whether differently abled or fat or too skinny or whatever). Self-care might mean reminding yourself that these messages that society sends you are absolute B.S. Self-care might mean relaxing or taking a bath (not for hygienic reasons, but because it feels good). Self-care means valuing yourself in spite of the fact that society says you aren't worthy. If you don't perform self-care, you will (and I say this from my own personal reflections) experience burn-out and depression. Some people can and do experience ill-health because they do not take care of themselves. I have been there. Self-care has and will help me in the future.

If you don't take care of yourself, how can you have patience and kindness for very long? That's just what I don't get. It's a lesson that I continue to learn more and more every day, and it's not something that is not exclusive only to people with body privilege or monetary privilege or any other kind of privilege (except, perhaps, mental health privilege). Be kind to yourself first in the way you know how, in a way that is comfortable for you, in a way that is right for you and your health as is.

Oh, and just one thing to add... Being disabled? It doesn't mean someone is unhealthy. It's an easy assumption to make, but its just that: an assumption.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

ATTN NYC Social Workers: Workshop on Racial Microaggressions

I attended what I presume to be the mini-version of this workshop at the RISE Conference a few months ago. It was definitely enlightening. I can't compare it to the other very popular anti-racism workshop (Undoing Racism) because I haven't taken it, but the men who orchestrated this workshop were excellent teachers. I look forward to it, and I love supporting RISE with everything they do if I can.

Here's some info:

Kick off the New Year with some anti-racist practice with the RISE community!

Racial Microaggressions: Real Pain, Invisible Scars
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Downtown Brooklyn
Learn about racial microaggressions. Discuss how they impact you and your work. Practice confronting them. Build your community of radical allies.

After the success of the Racial Microaggressions workshop at the 2010 RISE conference, we are back with an extended version! This day-long workshop will:

* Explore how people of color experience and white people perpetuate racial microaggressions in personal and professional settings
* Address how people and communities of color have been conditioned to engage in racial microaggressions toward one another
* Examine the role of media, language, and societal/institutional norms in encouraging racial microaggressions
* Practice tools for interrupting racial microaggressions when they happen

When: Saturday, January 29, 2011.

Where: Long Island University, Downtown Brooklyn Campus. (More location details to come!)

Time: 9:00 am- 4:00 pm

Cost: No Cost- $15. Please pay at the level you can afford. All of our funds go entirely into operating expenses. Lunch will be provided.

Check out the details on our website or register online now! Space is very limited. Sliding scale based on ability to pay: $0-$15

This will be an experiential workshop for people with a foundational understanding of systemic/institutional racism. In order to have a rich conversation we are committed to recruiting a racially diverse group of participants. Please check out our workshop guidelines here for more information about the day.

Happy New Year from RISE!

RISE Organizing Committee
Organizing Collective
RISE: Social Work to End Oppression

Monday, January 3, 2011

Clients and weight loss. How is the HAES approach appropriate for social work?

I was going to reply to some comments left on the last article, but the reply became so long, I thought an entire post would be appropriate.

Here's the scenario: A client comes in and wants to lose weight. Simple enough, right? Except for the fact that the client wants your help in losing weight. The client's goal is to lose weight and is looking to you for support. How do you give that in the case that you do not believe in diets and you fundamentally believe the client would be putting themselves in harm's way by going on a diet?

I wanted to make this post in order to brainstorm up strategies for dealing with this situation. Here's a few scenarios. Please comment your own ideas, or if you have an objections/improvements to what I am posting here. Please only comment suggestions if you believe in the Health at Every Size (HAES) philosophy. Learn more about HAES here at the Association for Size Diversity and Health's page on HAES Science and also with this excellent PDF by Dr. Jon Robison, PhD, MS.

Strategy #1: Support them fully on their diet quest.
The NASW Code of Ethics states: "Social workers respect and promote the right of clients to self­determination and assist clients in their efforts to identify and clarify their goals." One way of interpreting this means we give referrals to weight loss clinics, and provide them with any tools they need to lose weight. We word the goal as "weight loss."

Strategy #2: Discuss and explore thoughts on weight loss and body image
I think this needs to happen regardless of what strategy one decides to take. Why does this person want to lose weight? What is it that they expect to happen if the weight loss goal is achieved? Many people who are trying to lose weight are actually wanting to improve other parts of their life, such as romantic love, friendships, family relations, employment, or overall satisfaction in life. It is important that the client have realistic expectations about what would result in weight loss. Weight loss is not a magic wand.

Strategy #3: Assist the client in reworking the goal to something more obtainable
De Jong and Miller wrote in an article about the solution-focused approach that best practice is starting with small, concrete goals. Rather than listing weight loss as a goal or focusing on that, begin with a smaller goal such as learning how to cook a healthy meal or finding an enjoyable, affordable exercise routine. I think this will help reinforce healthy habits or help the client find joy in facilitating health into their lives.

Strategy #4: Explain what may happen if the client goes on a diet
Is it unethical to tell the client that diets typically don't work? Would it be promoting one's own agenda too much to say, "Look, I am more than willing to support you on your weight loss goal. But first, let's talk about how weight loss actually works." Granted, we are not nutritionists. But it's not like this information isn't out there, confirmed in peer-reviewed articles that we've all read (or should read... maybe I will post some recommendations in the next blog post). I don't think the purpose here should be to discourage the client at all! I think it should be giving the client the same information we have so that they can make an informed decision and so that we are providing the best tools for them to enact their self-determination.

Strategy #5: Make HAES referrals
This won't be easy in most places. HAES professionals are not always easy to come by. ASDAH can help, but if you don't live in NYC like me, but rather somewhere like Iowa, you may not have as many referrals. I would suggest though that there are HAES professionals out there that don't even know they are HAES professionals. Let's pick up our phones and directly talk to nutritionists and therapists who specialize in dealing with food issues. I think we'd be surprised how many professionals would a take a HAES approach with a client without even calling it that. Referring to a nutritionist and a therapist (if you are not one yourself) who specializes in these concepts is supporting the client in his/her goals. I think this is putting them in better hands than a referral to Weight Watchers would be. Referrals to YMCAs for exercise are always a good idea for clients, weight loss goal or not, IMHO.

So I'm dying to know what you all think! Would you use these strategies or try something else? Am I saying something completely unethical or am I being too conservative in my strategies?

De Jong, P. & Miller, S. (1995). How to interview for clients strengths. Social Work 40(6), 729-736. Available for download here.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The New Year's ReVolution

As I grow older, it's sort of hilarious how laughable New Year's Resolutions have become in my life. They are always, without fail, body related somehow. I think it's that time of year that we all resolve to become more in control of our lives, as if the New Year is some kind of Saturn Return and that our goals *must* be accomplished within a certain amount of time, or else we are unsuccessful and doomed to repeat our failures indefinitely. And honestly, if dieting is your New Year's Resoultion? Yeah, that's probably what's gonna happen.

The last time I made a weight-loss related New Year's Resolution was in 2008-2007. I wasn't "dieting"--no, I was a good fattie and I was going to make better *LIFESTYLE CHOICES*. I was going to eat fresh fruits and vegetables and go to the gym more often, because that was surely going to help me shed 60 lbs. Getting my thyroid medicated? Oh, that wasn't a priority at all. I was going to look like a Fitness Mag cover model by 2009, and my life was going to be oh so much better. My relationship wouldn't be in the crapper anymore, and I would have a better grip on what I was doing in life, all because of a good ol' NYR to LOSE WEIGHT.

It didn't work. I stuck with it for awhile. And honestly, I do still use a lot of the habits I learned, such as eating more whole grain foods and getting more fiber in my diet. But I think I maybe lost 5 lbs and my boyfriend and I broke up by year's end, and it still took me a whole year to figure out what I was doing (you know, without dieting, and the answer to that question changes every day). All in all, everything turned out okay though. But you know what I won't get back? All of that time spent anguishing over calories. All that time standing in front of a mirror pinching my belly fat and imagining it melting right off. That never happened, and I actually gained weight.

I feel better than ever; I eat what I want when I want, and the only times I don't feel healthy is when I don't do that. I've considered myself interested in fat acceptance for years now, but I think it was my last New Year's Resolution ever in 2008-2009 to stop torturing myself over my weight and to enjoy it that I actually FINALLY stuck to a resolution. Resolving to no longer resolve hatred towards my body was the best decision I ever made.

It's not to say resolutions are bad. But why do we frame them the way we do? Why are we always fixing something bad about ourselves, instead of resolving to continue to nourish what is already amazing about ourselves? I currently am a case manager at a domestic violence shelter. I think about what my biggest gripes are with how the system works--it's so punitive. It's so focused on what clients are NOT doing instead of celebrating the amazing things they accomplish every day (um, duh, they left an abusive relationship!!!). I am so unabashedly confidident in my clients and positive. I always frame goals in a way that they are obtainable and positive.

This is where the idea of weight loss and social work intersect. As I close out, I ask, if we as social workers are to present obtainable goals for our clients, can we recommend weight loss? Should a social worker ever recommend weight loss (especially considering by and large we are not medical experts)? What damage could be done by a social worker recommending weight loss to a client?