Welcome Autumn

Welcome Autumn

In Wisconsin, sometimes we don’t get much of a Fall. Winter and Summer are the big seasons here, and even Summer pales in comparison to our Winter.

If you’re in Wisconsin, you’ve heard all the jokes. Our Winter is 6 months long. Snow in April is not a surprise. I’m dreaming of a white Halloween. Spring is “mud season.”

But when we do get Autumn, it’s glorious.

This year we’ve been treated with several bright, chilly, vibrant Autumn days. And it’s already November!

Family

They tell me it’s a lot of work, maybe more than I can handle. They tell me it’s hard to balance school and life and work as it is, let alone with a kid. But other people do it. I see other people do it. I know I have a family. Not my blood relatives (except my little brother–he’s the only member of my biological family I talk to)–I have friends so close I consider them part of my family. But I want someone to come home to, who can come home to me. Someone I can love and take care of. Someone I can give a name to. Someone I can spend my days with. Someone I take take places and explore with. Someone I can teach about the world. I want that family. I want to raise someone, someone who’s mine.
Why can’t I go for that–just because I want to? Do I need a better reason than that?

Picture This

Imagine you’re in elementary school. You take fraying textbooks out of a locker that won’t lock; it’s been broken since before the kids in your class can remember because no one has the time or money to fix it. You walk into a classroom with no window, dimly lit by dusty, dying light bulbs.

You and your classmates take your seats. There’s no one at the head of the classroom. You wait on bated breath. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes go by, and you realize you don’t have a teacher today.

Maybe you take out your books and read anyway, hoping you’re still following the lesson. Maybe you meander the halls to see if another classroom will take you today. Maybe you just go home.

You find out the next day that your teacher left to teach at another school. You wonder if they followed all those white kids who moved to the school that’s farther away but is said to have cleaner classrooms and newer books.

Your new teacher is a lot older. They don’t know what’s in these textbooks so you spend some time catching them up on the material. Sometimes they just talk about what they used to teach a long time ago, before you were even in kindergarten.

Eventually you get another new teacher. This one is younger. They seem surprised that there are only a few white kids in your classroom. When the kid next to you throws a paper wad at one of the kids in front, the teacher looks at them but doesn’t do or say anything.

You have a hard time listening because you’re tired; the babies cried half the night, and even though he tried to be quiet, dad still woke you up when he came back from work around two in the morning. At one point you fall asleep in class. Your new teacher wakes you and up scolds you in front of everyone. When you get home your mom is on the phone with the teacher. You hear your mom try to explain that she’s not a bad parent, she’s just having a hard time keeping things together right now. You remember her telling you how she’d dropped out of high school after she kept being suspended for being “disruptive.” Even though the white kids could have been doing exactly the same thing. She was always the one who got called out for it. Just like you.

You go to the table to start doing the math homework your new teacher gave you. You’re not sure really what it is, because you haven’t done this kind of math in your class yet. You chew your pencil and you wonder if you’re going to be like your mom. If school keeps being like this, maybe it would be better if you just stayed home and helped take care of the family.

Musings of a Childcare Teacher on a Gloomy October Day

Musings of a Childcare Teacher on a Gloomy October Day
Sometimes I just get really bummed out, and I wonder why I even like kids when I get angry at them so often.
But on Monday I went into a school for the first time this year and met girls who’d never seen me before, one of them asked for a hug after hanging out with me for maybe three minutes.
And today I went into another school with a class of third graders I’ve never worked with, and after our 30-minute session of introductions and Q&A, two of the girls hugged me on the way out. One of them reassured me that she still liked me even though I had a hard time pronouncing her name, and the other one stayed to chat with me until I had to go.
Another one asked me if I liked getting pictures and cards from students because she knew not everyone liked that.
And I’m sitting here like…I get to work with some really sweet kids. And I get to do some really, really cool stuff.
Like–I don’t want to brag–but I developed some pretty awesome programs and I have a lot of people telling me that what I do is amazing.
And I keep doing it, no matter how frustrating and exhausting it is. Because I can be having just a horrible shitty week and sometimes all it takes is a five-year-old holding my hand on the way back from school or one of the kids proudly showing me their “invention” or telling me a funny story or about their favorite book and suddenly I feel okay again.
And sometimes it doesn’t matter who I work with, or whether or not I like them, because these kids are the ones I’m working for. Not my supervisor, not my CEO. My job is making these kids’ days.
And they know–no matter how many times I take them aside for a “talk,” no matter how many times I show my anger, I’m always going to come back to them with a smile and a listening ear.
I’m not going to be my mom. I never, ever give a kid the cold shoulder. No matter how angry I might be. I might yell at them for throwing rocks in the street, but if they come up to me two minutes later with a picture or a story, I’m going to listen and smile just like I would with anyone else who hadn’t made that bad choice.
I can’t punish every choice for the rest of the day because of the one bad one they made. Then there’s no consistency. Why would they bother making good choices again if they know they’re going to get the same reaction from a teacher that ignores them because they were “bad”?
I work hours and hours and hours to make programs and activities and events that will make these kids smile. I can’t let some bad choices or bad days or bad feelings ruin that.

One Long Year

Hello everybody, it’s bee a long year. I know it hasn’t been a year since I posted–but it’s been a year since I’ve posted regularly.

It’s also been over a year since I’ve self-harmed, which I consistently fist-bump myself for. It’s a great feeling. It’s the longest I’ve gone without a relapse since I started back in…I can’t remember when. Dudes, I haven’t even pinched myself or pulled my own hair out. I’m pretty proud of myself.

It’s been over a year since I got my job. I’ve successfully survived two summers at this place. Summers are insane. It’s the only time of year the school-age program is more full than the early childhood program. Since I run school-age, I am on my toes constantly. I planned an entire summer full of over 40 activities–field trips, STEAM workshops, dance lessons, theater and improv games, yoga, guest artists, trips to local businesses, and other stuff I can’t even pull up right now.

I was easily at work 10-12 hours a day at least twice a week running everything. For my first summer as a supervisor, not shadowing, it went pretty well. The kids had a blast and the teachers seemed to, almost as much.

Now summer’s winding down and I”m preparing to be a student again. I’m finally enrolled at UWM’s online Cultural Foundations of Community Engagement and Education program. In May I had to go through the process all over again to prove my residency. Last fall, they were going to charge me out-of-state tuition unless I filed an appeal or delayed my enrollment for a year. I didn’t have the time or energy for an appeal, so here I am. Classes start next week. It’s a Master’s program, but I’m part-time, so I’m not sure how intense it will be.

I’m hoping less intense than this summer. I tried to take an accelerated summer class, but ti didn’t work out. I was reading close to a thousand pages a week along with writing several discussion posts and reflection pieces. My final paper proposal was turned down a week and a half before the class ended. I dropped the class. It’s not because I didn’t think I could do what I needed to do–I knew I could. What I couldn’t stand was the idea of me turning in a sub-par paper, skimping on my readings, and half-assing reflection papers simply because I didn’t have time to put in more effort. I knew I could get so much more out of this course if I had more time. So I’m taking it this fall instead and planning to get the most out of it.

Oh, and I’m having nightmares about the upcoming school year as it affects the kids at work. Fun stuff!

I’m taking photos for a wedding in a couple weekends. It’ll be my first legit gig, and I’m pumped. I want to get some more practice in if I can. I also kind of want to start my own photography business. Some friends are encouraging me too. I take really good pictures and my camera is awesome. I think I’ll give it a try.

Stay tuned. I have a lot to say, just haven’t had much time to write it.

Peace out.

Three Rides

Three Rides

My family has no knowledge of the three rides I’ve taken in police cars.

In the span of less than one year, I was a passenger in three different police cars, all for the same reason: I was in crisis.

The first time, I was pacing around campus, overwhelmed over a variety of things. My thoughts were overwhelming me and becoming dark. Most of my friends were gone for the summer, including my roommate; I couldn’t find a job, my relationship with my parents was on the fritz, my financial aid for the next year was not confirmed. There was not much to keep me occupied or make me feel useful, and a lot to make me upset.

As I was wandering around looking distressed, I bumped into a friend, who said I didn’t look well. I admitted how I was feeling, and he suggested I go see a counselor.

Campus had free counseling services. I’d been seeing one for going on two years at that point. She happened to be on maternity leave at the time. (By some twist of fate, it happened that my supervisor, my counselor, and my psychiatrist all had overlapping maternity leaves that year.)

It was summer, so it was easy for me to get an appointment within the hour. I described my situation and my feelings—my damaged relationships, my feelings of uselessness, depression, self-loathing. As soon as I hinted at suicidal ideation, the counselor insisted I take a police car ride to the Crisis Center.

I didn’t have a choice in the matter.

The Public Safety officer that picked me up was nice enough. But niceness doesn’t cover the awkwardness of getting patted down and asked if I was carrying any weapons and confirming that the scars all over me were from self-harm.

It didn’t help that as I was lead into the car, one of my former co-workers was smoking in the parking lot and saw the whole thing.

The cop chatted pleasantly. I didn’t have much to say. The seat in the back was plastic, making it impossible to get comfortable or brace myself for stops and turns, and there was a grate between me and the driver. It was the first time, but not the last, that I felt like my mental illnesses made me a criminal.

I’d never been to Crisis before. The questions the intake survey asked were invasive. I knew it was all there to help me, but I felt extremely exposed and uncomfortable. The front desk staff hid behind mirrored panels that I realized much later were probably two-way. No one looked anyone in the face and there was a stifling, terrified silence. It took maybe half an hour for me to be seen to.

I cried like I had at my first counseling appointment, but this counsellor was nowhere near as good as the one I had on campus. She seemed idealistic and bent on fixing me. My exasperation at her unhelpful, amateur methods chipped away at my panic and distress, and I realized I was probably better off back on campus. I let her help me make a safety plan, which involved me calling campus housing and talking to my least-favorite supervisor (I used to work for housing, so a lot of the people I called that night were old supervisors). She apparently had no idea what a safety plan was.

I called the friend who’d seen me earlier, and he agreed to let me stay the night at his place.

The counsellor drove me back to campus in her personal car. We talked about tattoos. It was awkward in its own right; the counselor had suddenly become an acquaintance letting me borrow a seat in her car.

I had my documented emotional support animal living with me at the time. I couldn’t leave her alone over night per campus policy. But I also wasn’t allowed to move her to another person’s apartment. Given I was in a crisis situation and we were making plans in an attempt to preserve my life, I figured we could make an exception. No one I called could confirm it, and it basically ended with my favorite supervisor saying he would neither approve nor disapprove of my bringing the cat with me. The next day I got a tart email from the head of housing saying I should have had someone come over to my place instead of illegally transporting my cat.

Obviously she’d never been in a panic-induced haze.

My cat and I spent the night at my friend’s place. Crisis called him to check in, and he reported I was fine. Being surrounded by him and his roommates, all of whom were my friends, was comforting. I calmed enough to sleep. My cat slept with me. They fed me breakfast, and when the 24 hours were over, they ensured I made it safely back to my place.

I lay on the couch texting my roommate, who was out of town at the time. That was why I couldn’t stay at my place. There would have been no one there, and the group I stayed with didn’t want to uproot and move when it was just easier for us to have me come over, cat or no cat.

My roommate and friends continued to check in on me, but as it got darker, I started panicking again. I wasn’t sure what else to do, so I asked my older brother to stay over that night.

He begrudgingly agreed, spending most of the evening texting other people, and leaving that morning without much of a goodbye.

**

My second ride was the worst. I was making serious plans to kill myself, and it was terrifying. My friends knew something was up. I was not myself for days. Each night my plan was to either go to the Crisis Center or die. For several in a row, I was too exhausted from my own distress to do either one. But any time someone asked, I couldn’t answer. I told them I didn’t know what was wrong. I didn’t want them to worry. I didn’t want them to freak out. I didn’t want them to care.

When, several days into this, I bumped into a friend and an advisor, I must have looked especially upset, because they both immediately stopped talking and asked me what was wrong.

My roommate immediately offered, even joining me for part of the counselling conversation. I was seriously in danger that time and they had me committed to the treatment center.

Of course, I had to ride a police car to get there.

And this time, I didn’t just feel like a criminal, I was treated like one.

I was a danger to myself. They put me in handcuffs and the officer held my arm as he led me to the car. I will never forget the feeling. The weight of the cuffs on my hands. The pinch of the clasp. The ways I tried to maneuver my body to avoid the pain of the plastic seat pushing the cuffs against my wrists and back.

I never want to feel that again.

**

The next ride was almost comical. It occurred the following spring, a month before graduation, when several things cumulated into a nervous breakdown and a fierce desire to self-harm.

Before things got too dark, I felt myself in danger again and took the bus to Crisis. I had the presence of mind to pack an overnight bag. I took the wrong bus, got off at the wrong center, and used Google Maps to walk to the right one. I read my homework assignment as I waited for the counsellor to come get me. I calmly explained my fears and my desire to go somewhere where others could keep me safe and I would be separated from the responsibilities and anxieties that were eating me alive.

I got into the voluntary wing of the treatment center, which was a lot less scary than the involuntary side. My counsellor and I agreed that this was a smart thing to do. He was impressed that I’d brought everything I needed for an overnight stay.

Everything—except, of course, my anxiety/depression medication.

Well damn. “They won’t let you in without your meds.”

I offered to take the bus back to campus, grab my meds, and then bus myself to the treatment center. He told me they couldn’t let me do that. Despite the fact that I was asking to be committed, they couldn’t afford the liability of me going off by myself and changing my mind to take matters into my own hands.

It made sense, but I was beyond irritated at having to ride in a police car again.

They drove me back to campus to pick up my meds. The whole drive there, I worried that my roommate would be in the apartment when I walked in with a police officer. I’d hid under the bed earlier that day to avoid her when she got home and I was in the midst of my breakdown. We were going through a rough patch at the time. The last thing I wanted was for her to find out I was back at Crisis by seeing me with a police escort.

Another officer was hanging out outside my apartment. “What a coincidence,” I said, and they seemed a little embarrassed to admit he’d been called to help with me. For pete’s sake. As if one large armed man wasn’t enough to take on a tiny person like me.

My roommate was not there, but one of my neighbors did a double take when she saw me walk in flanked by the officers. I grabbed my meds and we went back into the car to drive to the treatment center.

I wasn’t treated like a criminal this time, going in voluntarily, but that didn’t cushion the harshness of the plastic seat I slouched in on the way over.

**

My hope is that I will not have to ride in a police car again. I don’t know what life will throw my way. I haven’t been suicidal in a while, and I haven’t self-harmed since I moved in to my new place. I use that as a marker, as a goalpost for this year. Soon I can say it’s been a year, and it’s that thought that keeps me from buying razors.

I’m still depressed. I’m still anxious. I still panic. I still have thoughts that I’d be better off dead. I still shudder when I feel my keloids, flinch when I see my scars, and I still panic and sometimes scream when someone cuts or gets cut onscreen.

These things are not going away and probably won’t for a while. Maybe ever. But if my goal for this year is to not take any more rides in a police car—I’m 83 days in so far, and counting.