Not So Divine Revelations

Over the weekend I had a kind of personal and academic break through, though I’m a little worried for what it means for my thesis timeline-wise.

This weekend was an unveiling of the driving force behind why trauma informed care is such a soapbox issue for me – something I have hidden from myself for a while now. Like most of us when we discover our “why” beneath the surface of our passions, it often hinges on things that hurt.

The rough working title of my thesis is “Failure to Care” with a back up title/subtitle “The Power of Proper Tools”. My big revelation this weekend was how not having the proper tools to care for others has been one of the biggest failures of my life. And it may seem like that would be a depressing thought, but it was a massive relief when it came to me.

A Digression into the Personal

I am about to digress into some religious and personal talk, much of which is revealing the past me. If you would like to skip over it, please scroll to the end of the white boxed text. I will include the more technical side of my thesis plan after this section.

Just for some extra context to what I am about to share – I am what Paul refers to in 1 Timothy 1:19 as one who has a “shipwrecked faith.” What Paul fails to mention though is that even when one is desperately clinging to a piece of broken ship, drifting aimlessly in the vast ocean, there is God – just not in the same way I was taught to believe growing up.

In the Christian world there is a lot of talk about what “gifts” a person has and how this gift should be used to serve the “body of Christ” (i.e. the church):

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” Romans 12:4-8 (NIV)

My whole life, my “gift” was that of service, or at least that is the one I most identified with. I didn’t want to be a “prophet” or a leader or a teacher, I just wanted to be a conduit for the love of Jesus and for that love to be what helped heal others. My worth became inseparable from my ability to “help” and “love” others. Only when I was “helping” did I feel worthy.

As I sailed out into the seas of doubt around faith in my 20’s, and more specifically left the institution of Evangelicalism, I still maintained the old habits of giving endlessly to only be left empty, the result being I would hurt both others and myself. I did discover some tools along the way (yay boundaries), but I didn’t fully understand the connection between my unhealthy “helping” and my lack of tools until I started to work at the mental health organization I was at before I came to Jersey.

It was here that I saw that proper tools of care are your life source, and when you don’t have them, THAT is when burnout will grab you and drag you deep into the pit of hell. It doesn’t matter how much you “care,” if you aren’t caring skillfully, you will hurt more than you will help. I was lacking the proper tools I needed to care in sustainable and proper ways and it resulted in more harm than help.

This brings me to equity centered trauma informed care.

So many of the service professions – whether is it is counseling, medicine, teaching, or, yes, financial aid – draw people who want to make a difference in other people’s lives; these are usually people with the gift of service. But what is often missing in these professions is the proper tools and training for how to properly care and serve others; “proper” meaning that which maintains your sanity and actually helps the person you are serving. Setting proper boundaries, understanding the forces at play in society, being able to connect with the human that is behind the person before you – these are all desperately needed tools of care, but they are too often missing and can lead to harm.

SO – my long windedness for this thesis blog will end with a first draft outline of my thesis. The tentative plan is to create a series of short essays that use my idea of combining different styles of writing to draw out the tension of calloused care, lofty policy, and practical human experience.

The first section will always start with a reconstruction of the mental health notes I had to write in my old job for each of my appointments. These were always emotionless and relayed the bare facts of complex, human situations (i.e. callous care). This will be followed with a discussion of the academic and policy related issues, so this would be more like an informative article to give context (i.e. lofty policy). Lastly, I will end the section with an essay that draws on a related piece of my journey of “failing to care” (i.e. human situations). All of this should culminate in a project that shows how my journey brought me to my academic claim that equity centered trauma informed care is a model that needs to be integrated into all higher education institutions, with a special focus on financial aid to offer a specific example of how this would function/why it is important.

[One more note that is specifically directed to Dr. Zamora; I know that part of this “revelation” was no doubt inspired directly by reading some of the work you and Dr. Bali are doing on care, and so I expect I will need to discuss this further to make sure I am giving proper credit where it is due when it comes to these ideas. My ideas are built on the work of many, and I want to pay my dues to as many as I can.]

Thesis Outline:

  1. Reconstructed Mental Health Chart Note
    1. Why FA?
      1. All of higher education needs equity centered trauma informed care, but FA offers a unique lens to explore the way that a department that is often see as more “policy” based and technical is one of the most in need of something like equity centered trauma informed care.
        1. Movie Star Ranch
          1. If anything from my childhood captures this idea of toxic care, it is the idea I had for a ranch for movie stars to come to in order to recoup from their stress. My “care” was the treatment.
  2. Reconstructed Mental Health Chart Note
    1. Policies and their Shadows
      1. What are some examples of FA policies that state one thing but have dark implications or applications?
        1. Driving Decisions
          1. I made a decision one day when I was driving home after talking to my grandmother that I would go into psychology and counseling because I wanted to help people like her and I.
  3. Reconstructed Mental Health Chart Note
    1. But There are Tools for This…Right?
      1. What is the training and education that is given to FA professionals around dealing with the human behind the student?
        1. Everybody’s Everything
          1. Most of the time, I rode on my ability to pour myself into peoples’ issues and to break off pieces of myself to try to plug up their holes.
  4. Reconstructed Mental Health Chart Note
    1. A Model Model
      1. What might work – Equity Centered Trauma Informed Care/Practice
        1. My proposal is to adapt Alex Shevrin Venet’s model to HE, and FA specifically.
          1. Caring Badly Professionally
            1. Moving into a career where I lacked the skills I needed to care adequately, I learned how to care poorly and how this impacted others in a high stakes environment.
  5. Reconstructed Mental Health Chart Note
    1. The Times, ARE they a-Changin’?
      1. How does change come about and what policies do we need in place to bring it about?
      1. Heavy, heavy influence of CRT, Lorde, Kendi, Dr. Zamora
        1. Learning to Care
          1. At this point in my life I am having to contend with the level of hurt that has come from caring badly and how to care well without falling back into bad habits or becoming numb.

Diana (calm/hopeful/relieved)

In my other course this semester, we spent a minute talking about what people’s pronouns are.  And while I think this is a useful and caring thing to do, I also think some attention should be paid to what people’s adjectives are.  How they are feeling, what emotions they are currently experiencing. I think asking people to define not only their pronouns, but their adjectives, gives so much more insight into how a person is, more so than who a person is.

This week, my adjectives are calm/hopeful/relieved.

This week’s activities really helped me to calm down and focus on what I actually need to accomplish.  Something that bubbled up to the surface for me was that I am actually hopeful about this project, despite the anxieties and obstacles I’m facing.  One of those main obstacles is the anxiety of being “spread too thin,” and it’s one that I struggle with not only academically, but in my daily life as a working mom, and now a caregiver to my father, who’s experiencing some serious health issues.  (Sort of the inspiration for a big piece of my thesis project.). But having that hope, along with a concrete roadmap of where I should be going, and what I should be doing, is really helpful.  Like I’ve said before, I can handle anything, as long as I know what it is; it’s the unknown that I feel I can’t prepare for.  

And I’m also hopeful about my project because it’s something I actually care about.  (This week, I could really feel the emotion, not only in myself, because I wear me emotions on my sleeve, but also in the emotions of some of my classmates.) It’s a personal project for me, to help me deal with that very same unknown.   And that’s where I think a major direction of my Thesis Proposal is going to go: into the unknown. (And now that song from Frozen is stuck in my head!)  But honestly, there isn’t very much on my genre (speculative memoir) and I think that will actually serve nicely as the “gap” I’m identifying, and that hopefully, my research will fill.  I was very nervous that what I was doing was somehow not “novel” enough, but I believe, aside from the story, that forging a path into a new-ish genre fits that bill.  And, again, the reason for my choosing this project is to help work through past trauma, as well as to prepare for anticipated trauma, and have a solid plan for what will happen when what seems inevitable finally comes to pass. 

I’m also very relieved at the format of the Literature Review, and I think it will help me add credibility to the piece I’m working on.  Another piece to my research, for this thesis project, as well as for informing what I’m currently experiencing in my family, with regards to my father, is to learn more about some of the things that are ailing him, so that we can deal with it.  In this case, my research for this class will closely mirror some of the research I’ve already been doing, but in a much more formal way.  (Although, thankfully, somewhat less formal than the research I did for Dr. Nelson’s class!)  I really appreciate, though, how my journey as a writer is sort of a sidecar to my journey as a person, following the same curves and bumps, the same path, in parallel.  

The Smoke is Clearing

After our last class, I have a much clearer picture of what I need to do and where I am headed. Dr. Zamora said to just work on my memoir vignettes and see what themes emerge, and from these themes, the research will flow. No need to worry about a research question. I think the lack of a precise question was what was bothering me all along and now knowing that I shouldn’t even think about that at this time is really letting my ideas flow. I feel as though a massive weight has been lifted from me. 

I am my own worst enemy at times. My all or nothing attitude is hindering my creativity and causing all kinds of anxiety. I just need to let go and not get stuck on technical matters or worry about what I think Dr. Zamora is looking for or how much more creative and sophisticated everyone else’s projects are compared to mine. And boy are they awesome! I tell my kids not to compare themselves to others, but I find myself doing that all the time. I’ve really got to practice  what I preach. 

I don’t need to have this thesis completely planned out before I start. Over-planning and micromanaging are the story of my life. I can’t help it though. I have a finance background, 3 kids, and a house that constantly needs repairs. I don’t want to treat this thesis as another obligation or just something I just have to get through. I want this endeavor to be meaningful. I understand now that it is a process that will unfold slowly, and I will try my best to allow it to take me to new and interesting places. I’m hoping for a serendipitous experience as well as a creative and academic one.  

A few days ago, I read a NYTimes article about how Chinese male immigrants were treated during the gold rush out west. It was very sad but interesting. I want my research to shed light on how different immigrant groups were received in this country. Of course, there is a wealth of information and research out there for anyone interested in really knowing about the immigrant experience, but most of those stories and articles tell a sad tale. My research will spotlight many of the struggles Chinese immigrants faced when they first arrived in America, and our ongoing struggles as well, but in my memoirs, I would like to show the changing times and slow acceptance of a vibrant culture.