Friday, September 17, 2010

Nothing to Hide

For one of my classes, we had to post on the class discussion board about what brought us to social work, what brought us to NYU specifically, and why now. After a few days of having the assignment open, none of my classmates had posted, so I posted a brief paragraph about what brought me to where I am. After reading my classmates' posts though, I began to feel guilty for not sharing as much as they did. And I began to think about why.

Although I was always interested in psychology, I decided early on that it would be too suspicious a career field. I assumed that people would think that I was only in the field to heal myself, and that I was too unstable to study psychology. I wasn't so afraid of strangers' assumptions as I was of my friends' and family's. By the time I had started college, I'd flip-flopped through various psychiatric diagnoses, been to more than 10 different therapists, and tried ten or so different medications. Those who knew this, I thought, would definitely look down on me for choosing to study psychology, and would believe that I was incompetent and uncapable.

Those beliefs had to come from somewhere. Why did I believe that they would think these things? Did I subconsciously believe that I wasn't stable enough to go into this career field? Would I judge someone else from a similar background and believe that they were only in it to "fix" them? Where did I get the message that people who've struggled shouldn't help others through their struggles?

I don't really know the answers to those questions, but going away to college was life-changing for me. Within a matter of days, I had grown tremendously, and after sitting through one session of a calculus class for my math and special education major, I decided that this was my life and I had to live it for me. I navigated the system (and thanked the heavens that I went to a small college with accessible administrators), and successfully change my major to psychology. I was brave enough to tell my parents, even though I was expecting to hear, "But you always wanted to be a teacher" or even, "Do you think this is okay, given your own psychiatric history?" They seemed to welcome my first life-altering adult decision.

Once a psychology major, I often said that I didn't really know what I wanted to do. But I knew. I wanted to be a therapist. The funny thing was, at that point in time, I didn't believe that therapy would ever help me. I was a firm believer that most psychopathology was biological, and medication was the only cure. Still, I knew that talking helps. It helps people without psychiatric disorders, and it can also help people who are suffering. I didn't necessarily believe that it was curative, but I believed that it would help people get through the day. And then, I thought, I can guide them to see a good psychiatrist and get them onto the right medications.

Did I tell my family and friends this? No. I told them that I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, and that I was so glad that psychology majors have so many different graduate and career options. I decided that I could be pretty honest with my professors, though, since they didn't know anything about my past. So with some guidance, I decided that I was interested in clinical psychology. To be honest, the graduate school admission standards were intimidating and I didn't think I'd ever get in. As I learned more, I also began to feel that I didn't want to dedicate such a large chunk of my life to research. A PsyD was sounding pretty good, but then I learned about social work.

Social work had a little "something else." It had a two-year field experience, instead of the one-year internship in the PsyD and even PhD programs. It had endless career options, in case I really was choosing to be a therapist based on a desire to solve my own problems. Most importantly, it had these morals underneath it. Social work wasn't about research papers and new treatments. It's about understanding people, helping them to use their own strengths to grow, and the inherent belief that every person is of equally great worth and deserves success, in whatever form success may take in their life.

On the surface, social work was my quick, two-year path to becoming a therapist. In fact, if life had gone according to plan, I'd be a therapist right now, at some agency. I would have graduated 16 months ago and would have a great supervisor, and be working toward an LCSW.

Something that I didn't realize, however, is that life does not always go according to plan. In my past, it seemed to always go the way I wanted it to. I guess you could call me pretty lucky.

Life started to take some turns that I wasn't expecting. In response, I relapsed into my eating disorder. I went into treatment. I recovered. I started therapy, I started school part-time. I worked full-time. I interned part-time. I quickly got overwhelmed. I had more panic attacks than I could handle. I went into the hospital. I quit my job. I dropped out of school for the semester. I left my internship. I started babysitting. I started fresh that January with classes, and then in September with another internship. I began to make headway toward graduation.
And all the while, I healed. And healed, and healed, and healed. I continue to grow and change, through therapy and through my life. And with all this growth, I deserve to be open about why I want to be a social worker.

I was born sensitive, reactive. Maybe my amygdala is bigger than average, if you want to cite the temperament studies. Physically and emotionally. My sensitivity caused my to cry a lot as a child, to have severe anxiety, to have difficulty feeling comfortable. However, by adolescence, I began to realize that my sensitivity was not only a negative thing. I was also sensitive to the needs of others, and I was a very skilled listener. I was a natural giver and helper and caretaker. I suppressed most of these traits in childhood, and presented as anxious, hypersensitive, and difficult to console. Once I began to slowly let my sensitivity take a more positive route, I knew that I had a gift. I am often complimented on my patience. On my empowering advice. On my empathy and compassion. I let these gifts guide me towards a career in social work.

Sure, maybe having my own problems sparked an interest in psychology and led the way for a while, but it's much deeper than that. My own problems allowed me to grow and develop, to enter therapy and heal, and to become someone truly capable of helping. If I want to understand and help myself, I go to therapy. And when I become a therapist, I will continue to go to my own therapy. I also want to understand and help others, to use my gifts in a positive way. For that reason, I am going to be a therapist.