Synchronicity: Understanding Trauma

9 Apr

I always find it interesting when I recognize a common theme running through different areas of my life and I like this idea of synchronicity. Lately, I have been thinking/reading/listening to a lot about the effects of trauma.

In the field, I have been learning about The Sanctuary Model, a model to help practitioners acknowledge the effects trauma and respond in a trauma-informed manner. Having previously worked directly with young people who are currently in foster care or have recently left the foster care system, this makes perfect sense. In order to help someone make progress, we need to be aware of how previous trauma affects them and provide supports that help them address it – not just pretend that it doesn’t exist. It has been a real joy to realize there are folks doing this work in a way that truly responds to the need of the youth or child.

At the same time that I was reading Malcom Gladwell’s most recent book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. I thoroughly enjoy Gladwell’s books and think he is a gifted storyteller and engaging writer.

This particular book attempts to explain why something that seems like a disadvantage might actually allow individuals to become more successful. There was a point in reading that I realized he was describing a situation I might see in the child welfare system. Gladwell writes about a doctor who had a traumatic childhood – family living in poverty, father committed suicide, caretaker was sent away, an emotionally disengaged mother, abusive stepfather. However, as an adult, he was able to push forward scientific research in treating leukemia and lead to a new way of treating the disease. What he did was nothing short of incredible, and Gladwell says that is partially because he grew up so outside the norms of society. He was comfortable taking risks that would cause him to be ostracized because he had felt that way all his life.

“But the question of what any of us would wish on our children is the wrong question, isn’t it? The right question is whether we as a society need people who have emerged from some kind of trauma – and the answer is that we plainly do. This is not a pleasant fact to contemplate.” – David and Goliath, p. 161

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25 Mar


It’s been a little quiet around this bowl of oranges. To be honest – something about blogging is still a little scary for me. I’m going to keep playing around with ideas and formats and just pushing myself to be a little more brave.

In the meantime – a perfectly timed quote from Be Social Change.

Part II: Why I Love Morning Runs

2 Mar

Part I here

One of my favorite things in The Distraction Addiction, a book about mindful use of technology, was not high-tech at all. The author, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, discusses how valuable (and productive) it can be to take a walk when you feel stuck on a project. Last week, I saw this article on the Harvard Business Review blog that had a similar message.

When I look back on times when I was both very busy and very stressed, I was pushing through challenges – working diligently, but not reflectively. When I felt overwhelmed by how much there was to do, I put in more time and tried to cram as much as I could into one day. I felt mentally fried and at the end of those projects I saw that I could have caught some of my mistakes earlier on, had I paused.

In my life, my morning runs are where I am able to think more reflectively. Running gives me time to do something physical, spend time outside, and provides space to just think. This is where I daydream about the future, practice tough conversations, and think about things that have been nagging at me. I never start with a plan of what I want to tackle, but the issues that I am concerned about make their way to the forefront of my mind as my run continues. Again, when I am busy or stressed, I am tempted to skip this part of my routine, telling myself, “getting the extra sleep or extra time sending emails will make me feel better.” That is never true. Even a short morning run helps me start the day clear-headed and more at peace.

This has made me realize I get far more benefits from running than I originally thought. I am also curious to hear what others do – what helps you think creatively or tackle challenges on big projects?

Part I: The Distraction Addiction

20 Feb

As I have mentioned before, I am very interested in looking at our relationship with technology and ways that it both increases and decreases our happiness. I was thrilled to come across this book, The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul (the subtitle was too good to leave off).

At first I was nervous this book would be too much about life hacks – you know, apps to download that will organize your to-do list by color, etc. Luckily it was MUCH better than that. The author uses so many interesting examples, such as Buddhist monks, philosophers, and Watson and Crick to explore the idea of contemplative computing.

He starts with some of the pretty grim statistics, such as “computer users spend and average of 43 minutes every day…or 11 days a year – waiting for computers to start up, shut down, load software, open files, connect to the internet” (p. 9). Or another study that found that “a majority of workers have only three to fifteen minutes of uninterrupted working time in a day, and they spend at least an hour a day…dealing with distractions and then getting back on task” (p. 11). I mean, is it any wonder that some days I head home and feel like I did 37 different things, but didn’t finish anything. Being pulled in so many directions is exhausting.

Reading this book made me very aware of my own habits with technology, particularly at work. I notice that, as he described, that I hold my breath while waiting for my email to load, feeling anxious about what could be ahead. I notice when I am stressed by something that I am working on, I turn on my phone and check my email or Twitter, in an effort to distract myself from the discomfort of the task in front of me. The statistic above made me more conscious of how frequently I am interrupted (and interrupt others) throughout the day. These are things that I would love to change. To quote my favorite cartoon psychiatrist, Lucy, “as they say on TV, the mere fact that you realize you need help indicates you’re not too far gone.”

So now that I realize all this – what is the answer? I will save that for my next post!

(Side note: as I was struggling to sum up and close out this post, I thought of something I wanted to look at online from earlier in the day. No sooner did I open a new tab to realize that I was doing the exact thing that I am writing about avoiding. The things we do without even thinking about it!).

Real Talk

8 Feb

Last week I attended a panel on teens in foster care. I think this post beautifully tackles the good, the bad, and the ugly of the event.

However, this was my first time hearing Cris Beam speak and I was fully taken by her engaging public speaking style. I appreciated her ability to be honest about some of the ridiculous things that happened when her daughter first came into her life. She was real about her struggles but also about her joy. Her authenticity made the subject seem completely new, even though I had already read her book.

I studied social work for basically 5 years (BSW and MSW) and I always struggled with the fact that so much of the work required professional judgement based on the situation and other factors. All the gray areas of relationships with clients drove me crazy (there is some irony to me that I ever got into this field, but that’s a question for another day). I have been working with young people in my current position for over a year and at times, I still struggle with how much of myself to share with them. There are certain situations when it is pretty clear to me, but in general, I err on the side of overly professional. While this sometimes serves me well, it can come off as standoffish and unrelatable. I recently had a young man call with questions about a program. After I explained my answer, I asked, “does that make sense?” He said, “I think I understand what you said, but you said it like a lawyer.” I know that is not a compliment. In my effort to make sure he had no misconceptions, I left him feeling like we were entering a legal contract, rather than having a conversation.

Hearing Cris Beam speak reminded me to be real and cut through some of the obscurity that separates us. To talk to everyone – youth, caseworkers, executive directors – about the work without relying on overly vague jargon. To approach what I do with a clear sense of my position but a willingness to listen to others. And of course, to be able to laugh at the ridiculous situations in which we find ourselves, because sometimes that is all you can do.

Real Youth Voice

6 Feb

Here is the question that I am grappling with – how do we help youth share their voices in a way that serves them, rather than the adults encouraging them to do so?

Maybe part of the problem is that youth voice is not fully integrated into any aspect of child welfare work. So when anyone makes a concerted effort to included it, it comes off as that – a very serious effort to do something different. When I attend panels where youth are asked to share their stories, sometimes the questions are so leading or the adults are working to push a certain agenda, it is uncomfortable. I am often tasked with asking young people to participate in a myriad of speaking opportunities, so this is an issue that hits me very personally.

There is a fine line that we walk when we ask youth to share their story. Done well, it can be incredibly empowering and give the young person the opportunity to connect with others in a whole new way. Done poorly, it is far more damaging. It can creates another disappointment that the youth must grapple with and can sever a previously trusting relationship.

When I listen to my intuition, I know what feels right and what doesn’t. The problems arise when the outside pressures are too loud for me to listen to myself. The thing is this: my values are what got me into this work and are what guide my work. My belief in the power of change within the system and the expertise of youth.

In this situation, you can’t take a shortcut in building a relationship. The trust has to be established before you can ask a young person to share, particularly in a more public setting. Adults need to work on the timeframe of the youth, not the other way around. Stories have power in both ways – to build you up or bring you down.

My Fear of Technology REVISITED

1 Feb

After this post last week and finally joining Twitter, I was thinking more about what it is about technology that feels both scary and exhilarating for me. And I realized that I got it wrong. My fear of all this was more based on the exposure that comes with putting myself and my ideas out into the world.

When I finally shared this blog link with friends and colleagues and joined Twitter, I realized that theoretically, anyone could see the posts and links that I chose to share. And while that seems obvious (isn’t that the point of posting something online?) it also brought up many personal fears around vulnerability. What if I receive negative comments? What if I write something that is important to me and I feel rejected?

Unfortunately, vulnerability is not something you work through in a weekend and come out with a pithy response by Monday morning. But I have been doing some internal work to really examine this. In a bit of serendipity, I re-watched this TED Talk last weekend. I connected with it years ago when I first saw it, but watching Brene Brown again made me realize that this fear of being vulnerable is so important to challenge. The bottom line for me is, if I believe that my thoughts and ideas matter and I believe that social change can come from connecting with like-minded individuals, then I have to push forward. Even more importantly, if I want to experience personal and professional growth, I have to put myself in situations that involve sharing my thoughts and ideas, even if that is uncomfortable.

All of this does seem like a lot to place on social media, but sometimes self-realization comes in surprising places.

I will end with a quote from Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly. “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”