Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Auld Lang Syne 2014

Yes, it's the final day of 2014 and that generally requires some type of personal reflection of "the year that was"; however, I received a Christmas letter from a colleague and friend that really pared down the "review process" of reflection. I am going to attempt to complete my final entry of 2014 using the "thumbs up/thumbs down" process that she used in her Christmas letter. I thought it was genius to make something that can become SO complicated into some SO simple.
So, here are my personal "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" moments of 2014. I'll review the year month by month so as not to group all of the "thumbs up" stuff together and then lump all of the "thumbs down" stuff together because life is always a mixture of both.

01-04-14: Mark & I attended the "Dobbs Family Reunion" which is an annual event that reminds me of my connection to my Native American relatives. Although no one knew it at the time, this was the last reunion my cousin Shorty Dobbs would attend.

01-05-14: The Packers lose to the 49ers 23-20 in a play off game. Hopes of another trip to the Super Bowl are dashed.

01-06-14, 01-07-14, 01-28-14: Public schools are closed due to the significant sub-zero temperatures. This never happened when I was in school. We walked uphill in both directions to make it to school because schools didn't close due to freezing temperatures. We were lucky if recess was held indoors in these types of low temperatures.

01-23-14: My parents celebrate their 43rd wedding anniversary.  That's a long time to spend with another person. Go Rog & Shirl!

02-06-14: I have a phone interview with a sort of "outward bound" camp for at-risk adolescents located in Hawaii.  Unfortunately I would have to add a thumbs-down image because the phone interview never amounted to the in-person interview which would have been held in Hawaii, all expenses paid by the organization.

02-14-14 - 02-16-14: I spent the weekend at my sister's house with her family to facilitate a Pre-Marriage Workshop on 02-15-14 in Eau Claire. I got to spend time with my nieces, my sister and her common-law husband (if Wisconsin recognized such a relationship, which it does not) as well as their puppy Pearl and the "Dynamic Duo" her two cats, Snicks and Doobs.

02-22-14: My parents and I travel to Eau Claire to celebrate my sister's 40th birthday at a local golf clubhouse which had really awesome cupcakes instead of a cake. I bought my sister another charm to add to her bracelet from Tiffany's and her friends were going insane when they saw that "little blue box" on the gift table, expecting it to be an engagement ring from her boyfriend. I guess they would add a thumbs-down because it wasn't an engagement ring, but she seemed happy enough with the charm.
This same weekend Mark flew out to Denver to attend the wedding of his younger brother Bob to a wonderful woman, Irene.

03-03-14: My mom turns 65 (hello Medicare!) and Apollo turns 4!

04-05-14: We celebrated my mom's 65th birthday without her because she wasn't feeling well, but we had a great time!

04-25-14: Dad retires after 37 years at JJ Keller & Associates. He was hired in the summer of 1976 (before Chad was even born) as an Accounting Supervisor and retired as the Vice-President of Finance/CFO. I took my dad out for lunch on his final day of work and just as we sat down at the table, he handed me a dog-eared file folder and said, "I found this when cleaning out my desk today and thought you might want it." The folder contained every college report card, Dean's List acknowledgment, graduation and Dean's List announcements from the Post Crescent, and transcripts from my undergrad and graduate school programs. After paying for our lunch, when I got back to my office, I looked through the folder and began crying because my dad had been keeping track of my academic career since 1991, twenty years of accomplishments which is a gift I never expected to receive - and those are the best gifts to receive.

05-14-14: I celebrate my 43rd birthday and my second cousin Sammy celebrates his 5th birthday. It's so cool to share a birthday with a family member!

05-24-14 - 05-26-14: Memorial Day Weekend which in the Krause family translates to "grave-hopping"! We (my two maternal aunts, my sister, Ben & the girls, my three female maternal cousins, and myself) go to the cemeteries where our much loved ancestors are buried and clean off their graves and place summer flowers near their headstones in tribute to their lives; we truly celebrate them in memory. Once these tasks are completed, we stop at a local bar in Red River and then go out to eat in Shawano. We've been doing this for well over a decade and the group members have changed over the years; my Grandma Krause no longer goes along because all of the walking is too difficult for her; my great-aunt Shirley no longer attends because she's in a long term care facility due to Alzheimer's disease; and my great aunt Kootchie had passed on. The absolute BEST part of the weekend is when Grandma Krause fries eggs in a cast iron skillet in the bacon grease that she cooked up moments earlier. We all call it the "heart attack breakfast" but it's the BEST part of summer and something I look forward to every year.

06-01-14: Brayden's 5th birthday party: Our grandson Brayden turned 5 on 05-24-14 and we all celebrated at a birthday party on June 1st at a local park.

06-08-14 - 06-11-14: I attended a three-day training in Eau Claire and stayed at my sister and her family's house. The training was intense, but spending time with the girls & Pearl (the dog) and the Dynamic Duo (the cats) was awesome! This is me getting some lovin's from Pearl.

06-27-14 - 06-29-14: One of my best friends in the world whom I've known since junior high gets married to a really amazing guy on 06-28-14. The ceremony was beautiful, the dinner was amazing and the reception music totally rocked!

This is a photo of me & Mark at the wedding. I had complete strangers taking my picture because of my fascinator!

07-08-14: I had finally grown my hair long enough to donate to Locks of Love. The following photos are the before and after. I donated 13" of hair and my stylist cut off an additional 12" to style it!


08-01-14: Dad participates in an Old Glory Honor Flight as a Vietnam veteran on the final Friday of EAA. It was an amazing experience for him and for me & Mark who were there to greet him when he arrived home and finally got the welcome home he deserved 40+ years ago.
Dad returns from his Honor Flight to Washington D.C.

09-02-14: I begin working at Rawhide two days a week through a contracted position with LSS. In a very short time I realize I love working with the staff and the residents who become my clients.

09-30-14: Mark & I celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary.

11-27-14: Thanksgiving wasn't so great this year as no one came to eat the feast I had prepared. This is the dessert they missed out on!

12-27-14: We celebrate Christmas at Mom & Dad's after I'd been sick with an upper respiratory "thing" from 12-22 through 12-26.

 The Porath family Christmas photo 12-27-14.

So that brings me to today, December 31, 2014. By totaling the thumbs-up and the thumbs-down, it's easy to see that despite the challenges and setbacks of 2014, the majority of events fall into the thumbs-up category. I guess, actually I know, you can't really complain about that!

Happy New Year's to you and yours. May the best of 2014 be the worst of 2015! I say, "BRING IT!" :-)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Gratitude, Christmas, and How it all Fits Together

For me, the last three or four Christmases or so have been "hit or miss", i.e., I didn't always know what I was walking into when we arrived at my parents' house. If memory serves me, last year it was me and my husband who were "on the outs" with my unpredictable mother and we spent very little time with my parents over the Christmas holiday. That meant not spending time with my sister, her long term boyfriend and his two daughters, whom I consider my nieces regardless if Jan and Ben ever get married or not.
The year before it was my sister who was "on the outs" with our mother and they (Jan, Ben and the girls) spent very little time in Appleton over the Christmas holiday.
This year it was somewhat of a toss-up. My sister hasn't really had much communication with our mom since a few weeks before Mother's Day when we were all specifically told via voice mail, "I'm done with you all and I know you're all done with me."
I admit that contact with my parents has significantly decreased since receiving that message loud and clear. When none of us (me and my siblings) went over to their house for Mother's Day (because, remember, a couple of weeks prior we were instructed that our mother was "done with us") she took this as a personal affront and left another series of angry voice messages about how we were ignoring her. This anger held over until Father's Day a month later when I called and spoke with my dad about when we should stop by to give him his Father's Day gift. During that phone call I could hear my mom yelling in the background that if we didn't see her on Mother's Day, we were NOT invited to their home for Father's Day. My very stoic father was in tears as he told me that we'll get together at some other time for Father's Day. Needless to say, this didn't do much to improve how I felt about my mom.
Despite all of this family discord, either my brother or my dad have picked up Apollo on weekdays and dropped him back off at our house so he doesn't spend his days alone while Mark and I are at work. Next to his leash I've left gifts, envelopes of photos, and Thanksgiving left-overs that my mom (my guess) wouldn't come over to receive, but we've received food in Tupperware containers in return and the containers of food we've sent over to them returned washed, cleaned and apparently appreciated, or at least eaten, in return.
This brings me to this Christmas, 2014. I was sick with a very nasty cold (likely picked up by the petri-dish kids I work with) on Monday afternoon, 12-22-14 until today, 12-26-14, when I finally stopped taking Dayquil every 4 hours and a hefty dose of NyQuil before bedtime. I missed celebrating Christmas at my Grandma Krause's house on Christmas Eve because the last thing on earth my grandma needs is any exposure to communicable diseases.
My sister, Ben and the girls arrived at my parents' house sometime today between noon and 1pm. Despite calling and texting, I wasn't given any additional information about "dropping by" today which I had planned on. However, if my sister and her family needed time to repair their relationship with our mother, I say, "Amen, Hallelujah, take all the time you need." Mark, Apollo and I are scheduled to arrive at my parents' tomorrow around 10:30am to "celebrate" Christmas and exchange gifts. As I haven't received any negative reports from Camp-Porath so far, I'm looking forward to going there tomorrow. We'll exchange gifts, take pictures, eat a lot of food and (with A LOT of hope) enjoy our time together. Time will tell.
Gratitude plays into this complicated scenario as a place where I can retreat to, remembering and honoring the true meaning of this season for me. On my Facebook page I posted the portion of the book of Mark from the New Testament that describes the birth of Jesus, which is one of my favorite Biblical passages. It reminds us that the Christ child, laying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, was born in the most humble of circumstances, despite being the Savior of all Christians. His life would be one of sacrifice and forgiveness: something all of us, especially me, needs to remember at this time of year.
Can I forgive my mother for her unpredictable, "crazy" behavior? What are the benefits for me of doing so? Perhaps it's not my benefits that I should focus on, but rather the forgiveness that Jesus exhibited to all that encountered him, regardless of their "worthiness" of His forgiveness. Because, in the end, if we believe, we are all worthy of His forgiveness. For that, I am extremely grateful this year.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Irony of Thanksgiving

First, let me state that I'm using the term "irony" in the sense that we, as a society, seem to take one day out of each year to focus on gratitude and what we're thankful for, when it's really something we should at least consider on a daily basis. This may or may not actually be the definition of "irony". However, at this point during the day, I really don't care if I'm using the word improperly. Granted, for the other 364 days of the year I am a grammar snob, but today I am cutting myself some slack. I hope you are generous enough to do the same.
Do I have people, events, relationships, food, shelter, finances and a career to be thankful for? Of course I do. Do I daily acknowledge gratitude for all of them? Of course I don't, and I'm willing to bet that most of you reading this don't either.
That's the irony of Thanksgiving. Why do we wait until the fourth Thursday in November to acknowledge all that we've been blessed with? I have no idea who established that the fourth Thursday of November be designated as "Thanksgiving Day" and I'm really not interested in that bit of trivia. Having lived in Boston for two years, having visited Plymouth Rock and having been raised on the fairy tale that "the first Thanksgiving" was all about the Pilgrims and the Indians coming together to celebrate the fact that the English settlers somehow miraculously survived a year in this foreign land, that Native Americans survived the diseases that the British brought with them, and apparently there was enough food to feed both groups of people, I wonder how that is related to the way we currently celebrate Thanksgiving.
Today I made a turkey, mashed potatoes, andouille sausage & corn bread stuffing, green bean casserole, lemon and parsley artichoke hearts and a chocolate and peppermint layer cake. Outside of the turkey and maybe the potatoes, my contemporary meal displays little resemblance to what was likely served in Plymouth, MA several hundred years ago. Last year I made fry bread, a traditional Native American food which my great-grandmother (who was Native American, as am I, although I am a much more diluted version of such) called "hounds ears." They did not turn out well. Actually, they were pretty nasty compared the fry bread I've previously eaten. But I made a feeble attempt to represent at least something related to the Native Americans who lived in Wisconsin and Massachusetts before the landing of Christopher Columbus, the Mayflower and those who settled Chesapeake Bay in 1620.
Why am I so cynical this Thanksgiving? I'm not entirely sure, although I'm fairly certain it has something to do with the fact that I made the above mentioned meal and no one showed up for dinner at 1pm on Broad Street today. Due to illness, lack of communication and a plain old disagreement, I started baking this meal on Wednesday and began the bulk of the cooking this morning at 7am, as always, by myself. Which is not something I mind; good grief another person in my kitchen would drive me insane "trying to help me" which is my understanding of how most chefs feel toward unsolicited "help" on major cooking days. So basically I've got a shit-load of food that no one's going to eat.
As I'm writing this I'm watching "Lizzie Borden Took an Ax" on the Lifetime Network. I don't even want to get into what Freud would think of that, but rest assured I'm in no way homicidal. I'm just a little disappointed and a lot disillusioned about what Thanksgiving is all about this year.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

It's Not Simply Teenage Wasteland

Life goes on whether we are ready for what it brings or not. I have been pleasantly surprised by the turns in my career path as of late. Let me catch you up:
During the spring semester of the 2013-2014 school year I was involved in the PATH in-school counseling program at three different schools: two area high schools and one middle school. Due to changes outside of my control, I am now spending Mondays and Thursdays at one local high school and another agency is providing services at the other high school and the middle school. No matter how often it happens, it's always a bit heartbreaking for me to say goodbye to clients and entrust their care to someone else. My ability to connect with kids on a truly empathic, non-judgemental level is something I pride myself on. Trust me, I'm the most surprised out of anyone on the planet that I apparently have the skills and ability to create these relationships. Since I was 12 years old I knew that I didn't want to have children of my own and when I started grad school, the population that I thought I'd have the most difficulty working with (because they scared the pants off of me) was children and adolescents. But here I am, spending four days of my work week working with children and adolescents.
My Mondays and Thursdays are spent at a local high school and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays I am at a boys' ranch outside of New London - I'm hoping you can catch on to what I'm referring to without having to spell it out because I don't feel comfortable revealing that information in a blatant way. Let's just say that Bart & Cherrie Starr are very involved in this organization. You're with me now, right?
I work with the boys who are residents on the ranch, some of which are placed there by the DJC (Department of Juvenile Corrections), their county social workers and others are "private placements" which means they are there because their parent(s) have decided this is the place that can provide them with the educational and behavioral changes they need to lead successful lives.
I love these boys the same way I love my high school kids - and I do refer to them all as "my kids". I want to do whatever it takes to teach them how to make healthy, effective decisions. I want to be someone they can trust to be there for them. I want them to know that I'm not going to desert them when they get into trouble or make a mistake. I want them to know that my concern and compassion is not conditional on what they do in school, with their friends, or have done before I met them. I have never met a teen-ager who shirks unconditional compassion for them; too often they receive that message at home or at school and that's not what my role in their lives is meant to be. I am here for them no matter what, through thick and thin, no matter what the over-used analogy might be. I am here for them.
I relish in every achievement "my kids" make, whether that is a higher ACT score than their last one, taking a healthy risk and trying something new at school, completing homework on time, getting into college, not losing points for poor behavior at the ranch, getting a rank promotion, or trusting in a horse to help them work through trust issues.
These are my kids and I wouldn't trade being a part of their lives for the world.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Final Bell

There's a bit of history I should share before getting into the guts of this post:

During my first grad school counseling class, Intro to Counseling & Human Development, the instructor asked the class to write a paper about a client population we would be most uncomfortable working with and what we were going to do to deal with that barrier because in all likelihood, we would, at some point, work with that very population.

My answer was, "kids/children/teen-agers." My rationale was that I didn't have any kids of my own, I didn't spend a lot of time around kids, and I didn't have a lot of current knowledge about what their "deal" was; i.e. what music they listened to, what slang they spoke, what they did in their free time. My instructor (full disclosure: she is now my Director at work) wrote on my paper, "Get over it. You'll work with them some day." Actually, kids scared the crap out of me and I wasn't confident that I knew how to relate to them in any meaningful way.

Despite my belief in the CCR song, "Someday Never Comes", she was right. My "some day" started on December 2, 2013 when I began working four full days each week in two area high schools and one area middle school (which was called junior high when I was in those grades and I still catch myself referring to it as such.)

This week is full of finals and senior trips and field trips at local schools as graduation is in two days, June 5th, so my time in these schools during the actual school year ended last Friday, May 30th. I spent a little more than a semester working with kids ranging in age from 13 to 18. No one was more surprised than I was when I realized I love working with this population.

When I was a teen-ager, I took the most innocuous slight as a potentially life-destroying event. Whatever those slights were, they are nothing compared to what the kids I work with face today. It's no longer a world of "teen-age waste land" in the same sense that The Who sang about 45 years ago. Some of my clients are homeless; they spend time sleeping on the couches of various friends' houses. Many of them take food home from their school on Fridays to insure there is something for them to eat over the weekend. Several of them get "new" clothes and shoes from Clothes Closets available to them at school. Some of them get hospitalized over the course of the school year due to unmanageable depression, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide. A number of them are self-injurious - they cut themselves to feel some sort of relief from the severe depths of depression they experience every day. Some are the targets of heinous and cruel cyber-bullying. A few of them spend their weekends in "lock up" at a local jail due to truancy or other legal charges they've accumulated. A few of them have come to school intoxicated because alcohol is the only coping mechanism readily available to them to numb the stress, sadness, frustration and anger they feel due to a parent or parents who place way too much responsibility on them to care for younger siblings, achieve straight As, try out and make "the team" for whatever co-curricular activity, whether it's sports, theatre, debate, DECA or any other of the myriad of available options. I talk to kids who cry over getting an ACT score of 24. I talk to kids who cry because of an unplanned pregnancy. I talk to kids who've had a parent die yet the school expectations go on. I talk to kids who are amazing, bright, talented, "labeled", funny, make some bad decisions and face the consequences. I talk to kids who survive and despite all the "waste land" they experience, they THRIVE.

My part in that is very small. I've always told clients that they do the hard work, I'm just there to offer them some guidance along the way. In that Intro class, the instructor stated something that was repeated throughout my graduate school training: Counselors are not responsible for their clients failures nor their successes. I know that's true, but when I see one of "my kids", as I now refer to them, succeed, it makes my heart tingle just a little bit more. And when I'm the one they come to, to cry about their struggles, that too makes my heart tingle, because if I'm not there, who would be?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday...

Oye. So on Wednesday, which happens to be a full moon and I find that incredibly cool for some reason, I turn 43 years old. I've never been embarrassed to tell people how old I am. Today, I actually had a student say she thought I was in my late-20s. After I resisted the urge to get up and kiss her on the forehead, I had to remember that she was 16 years old and maybe when I was that age, I too would have been "liberal" in my calculation of someone's age. Although, when I think about it, I've always been HORRIBLE at estimating things: inches of snow, outside temperatures, height, weight, and yes, ages too.
So, what did I learn in my 42nd year? What were the highs, what were the lows? What did I waste too much time and energy on and what should I have paid more attention to? What did I celebrate? What did I discover?
The most defining factor of the past year has been my employment status. As most of you know, it was about one year ago that I was preparing to start my "dream job" at the Wisconsin Resource Center on May 20, 2013.  That dream quickly turned into a nightmare. Overall, I was certainly qualified for the job but what really made the difference in their decision to hire me were my references. One in particular from the brother of the Medical Director at Winnebago Mental Health Institution, who was my internship supervisor and has always been an advocate for me. He knew how much I wanted that job and he laid it on thick while talking with the Clinical Director of the WRC. He didn't lie about my skills or tell them I possessed some magical power that would make me "the perfect candidate" for the position, but he definitely "pushed my ego" while talking to the Clinical Director, of that I'm sure. I will always be indebted to him for doing that, because without that extra "umph" I think they may have gone with another applicant. And this job, at this location, with this population was what I concentrated my Research and Evaluation final project around. I was quite vocal in my dissatisfaction with my current job: not enough hours in a week to see all of the clients I was expected to see, not enough hours to complete all the necessary paperwork; I just really wanted a 40 hour work week instead of a 32 hour work week, but I had been repeatedly told that the possibility of that happening "wasn't in the budget this year" so how long could I remain in what felt like a very restrictive environment?
May 17, 2013 was my last day as the Older Adult Counselor at The Thompson Community Center, which has been one of, if not the best work environment I've ever had the privilege to be apart of. That group was solid. At my "going away lunch" several of my coworkers got up and sang a song about my love of the Packers, my tradition of decorating every one's doors for Halloween and organizing a Halloween lunch for the staff, in costume of course. Each year it got bigger and better and that just made my heart swell with excitement as a bunch of adults got to act a bit more childlike for an hour or two.  When we lose contact with that "child within", I'm convinced we begin to take things too seriously, and what better time of year than Halloween to rediscover the child in us all! We trick-or-treated from office door to office door, showed off our stylish, hip costumes and came together to break bread and enjoy a meal together...something that doesn't happen nearly as often as it should, regardless of the employer or agency or holiday.
After such a grand send-off, I loaded down the trunk of my car with all of the appropriate text books I had lugged into my office in the summer of 2011, training worksheets, handouts related to various conditions that had proved helpful in my work with this population, graduation photos, vacation photos, pictures of my nieces and grandson, of my parents and siblings, even a photo of my dog and cat that I thought for sure would find an honored place on my new desk as a state employee.
"You can't always get what you want/ No, you can't always get what you want/But if  you try sometime you just might find /You get what you  need"
I wanted my "dream job": Going to work every day with a sense of hope that would inspire the inmates I worked with to have hope. To be willing to work hard, uncover the deep-seated motivations for what they had done to get themselves here and to process those feelings, challenge those motivations; to prove them wrong, to accept that they were men who could have meaning and purpose in their lives, despite their current circumstances. I used the "blossom where you're planted" metaphor often with inmates. "You may not be in the best soil and frequently people will forget to water you, but you have to cultivate than inner sense of meaning and purpose to get what you need from this place each day; just enough to carry you through to the next day, and then we'll see what that day brings."
I was an employee for approximately 22 days before that theory smacked me in the face like a cold, wet trout.
Anyone who knows me, essentially knows this story so I won't bore you all by retelling it.
Bottom line: Sometimes you don't know what you want until you know what you don't want.
"Take me in, into your darkest hour/And I'll never desert you/I'll stand by you"
Per what has twistedly become part of the "norm" of my life, my husband once again went into detox and AODA treatment for alcoholism this year. It was kind of weird, but when he wanted to go into treatment in July, I told him he had to wait until August when my state benefits started and treatment would be much less expensive for us. If I think about this decision in terms of him needing a kidney transplant and me telling him to "wait it out until our insurance is better" that would be incredibly cruel, and think what you will, that's exactly what I told him. Again, anyone who knows me, essentially knows this story too, so I won't bore you all by retelling it.
The differences this time were that he went to residential treatment for a month about 4 hours north of home, then went to a sober living residence for men in northern Illinois, about another 4 hour drive from home, just in the opposite direction. Having talked with the director of the Illinois residence several times, she assured me that "we get into the guts of it here" which is exactly what I thought was needed to get my husband "over the hump" of the mountain he keeps sliding back from. What no one really knew is the depth of the trauma he needed to work through. I don't think Mark was even aware of what would come pouring out of that rusty bucket once he tipped it over. Within days of leaving WRC, he called me and asked me to come pick him up; that he couldn't make any more progress there and he'd gone as far as they could handle. I basically told him to "fucking buck up camper, this is treatment, these are the issues that continually drive you to turn to alcohol so you don't feel what you need to feel in order to heal." In a way I was right: he needed to walk through this trauma and feel all of the unbelievably shitty feelings that go with it and stop running from it, stop hiding from it in the bottom of a beer can or vodka bottle. What I was wrong about was my impression that the sober living residence was equipped to help him through this journey. Two days after his call asking me to pick him up, the director called and told me Mark was at their local hospital due to suicidal ideation, that the level of care he needed to deal with his trauma was more than they could provide and that his belongings were packed and someone needed to pick him up from the hospital then pick up his stuff from their residence. I told her I would leave ASAP and I drove to Illinois and picked him up, then we drove to get his stuff. I was angry, resentful, disappointed, heartbroken, catastrophizing, sad, hurt, confused...I was feeling every negative and angry emotion you can list.
To make a long story short (as they say) Mark's been sober since August 6, 2013. When he got home he started seeing a therapist who specializes in trauma treatment. He's changed in radical ways that three years ago I could only dream of occurring. His change has spurred my own change; we relate to each other in such healthier ways now.  We're certainly not perfect and we both frequently resort to those behaviors that had become "our norm" and "comfortable" for us, but when one of us calls the other out and makes a small step toward the other, we're making progress. We're both changing and growing. It takes incredible courage to approach someone in a different way, when the "old way worked so well" for our dysfunction (another over-used term, I know). We kept dancing the same old, familiar dance and when nothing changes, nothing changes. Now we're changing.
Bottom line: Expect the unexpected. Believe when every instinct tells you not to. Don't give up before the miracle happens.
"Well, it seems like so long ago/But it really ain't you know/I started out a crazy kid/Miracle I made it through the things I did/The things I did..."
On March 25, 2014 the state of Wisconsin granted me full licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor. I had completed all of the educational and supervisory requirements to hold such a license, but with a history like mine, there are always raised eyebrows, skeptical looks and additional questions to be answered.
When I applied for my training license as a professional counselor, I completed the additional addendum related to "Convictions and Pending Charges", mailed in all the necessary legal paperwork related to my two misdemeanor drug charges, paid $8 to have that information reviewed and verified, and there was no additional work required on my part: the state issued my training license without any delay related to my legal history.
Obtaining my full license and becoming credentialed as a mental health provider with various insurance companies, however, has been another story.
After I submitted all of my application paperwork to the Department of Safety and Professional Services, I was asked to provide additional information in an email which read: "It is your responsibility to submit the following: Personal statement describing each offense listed below along with an explanation of the penalties imposed and verification that you completed all requirements."
The insurance companies generally request additional information with versions of the following email:
"Thank you for disclosing your criminal convictions on our Confidential Questionnaire.  For the review of our Credentialing Committee, please provide detailed  explanations  of the events  as well as any/all official documentation that you may hold.  Be sure to indicate whether the convictions were misdemeanors or felonies." Or, I've received this email as well:
"Regarding credentialing for Kristine Sack: I work with credentialing for (Blah blah blah insurance company) and am reviewing the credentialing application for the above clinician.  Regarding her 'yes' response to disclosure question # 21on the application regarding the 9-21-04  infraction, please have the clinician advise:
·       An explanation of the charge and her response to the charge,
·       how this experience affected her
·       what the legal requirements were and if they were completed 
·       If this information was reported to the LPC  Board."
My first response to a request like the one listed immediately above is: "Really? Do you think I just 'skipped' that part of the application? Like the state wouldn't find out if I just didn't mention it to them?" I mean really, I understand that government oversight happens, but does this particular company really think I just blew past that portion of the application process, expecting that no one would look back at my training license application and overlook an enormous discrepancy?
The kicker for me is the second bullet point: "how this experience affected her." Do they want to know that on January 20, 2003, I clung to my father, sobbing, from an ER gurney while a deputy sheriff read me my Miranda rights? Do they want to know that the social worker who lead the groups on the hospital's inpatient unit was married to the doctor whose DEA number I had stolen and used for calling in my own prescriptions? Or are they more interested in the humiliating six hour "interview" I had with the DEA and DOJ in April 1997 where I felt like I had to serve up my former lover on a silver platter in order to save my own ass?
Bottom line: The past is never gone forever.
In less than 75 minutes, I will officially become another year older. Older, yes. Wiser? What do you think?
"You held me down, but I got up/Already brushing off the dust/You hear my voice, you hear that sound/Like thunder gonna shake the ground/You held me down, but I got up/Get ready 'cause I’ve had enough/I see it all, I see it now" 


Friday, February 21, 2014

When Your "Little Sister" Turns 40

On February 18, 2014, my "little sister" Jan turned 40 years old. Tomorrow, Saturday, 02-22-14, my parents and I are driving to Eau Claire to help her celebrate with about 30 of her closests friends.  It doesn't seem that long ago that I celebrated my own 40th birthday and graduation from graduate school at the same time. I had set a personal goal that I wanted to have my Master's Degree by the time I turned 40, and I accomplished that goal by approximately 8 days. That was when I developed my first-ever "five year plan" which was to apply to a PhD program by my 45th birthday and start that program in the fall of 2016 after I turned 45 in May, 2016. So far I have done some preliminary research on what doctorate programs I would be most interested in, and my interests tend to lean toward forensic psychology, which equals two years of law school and three years of psychology. So if I start a five year program when I'm 45 years old, I'd complete it at age 50 and then would need to work until approximately age 70 just to make it worth the time and effort I put into it  my current age of 42. That seems like a long time into the future, and I've never been the type that creates goals so far in advance; I'm more of a day-by-day person, which is somewhat unusual for someone with my perfectionist personality type.
Regardless of my "own stuff", the point is that my sister has already turned 40 years old, which kind of freaks me out as the oldest of three children. I don't remember Jan's birth. I was not yet three years old  when she came along and scientifically, people cannot remember anything before approximately age five; if you dispute that fact, I will refer you to my Research and Evaluation instructor from my graduate class who is all about statistics, "hard science" and valid research which overwhelmingly establishes that humans cannot remember anything prior to age five. As proof, he provided his own "memories" from the car ride home at three days after his birth and everything he reported to "remember" about the trip, his  parents disputed. Plus, there's a butt-load of research that indicates that the human brain is incapable of remembering details of experiences prior to age five, given how the human brain develops.
So most of my memories of Jan's infancy are related to her being placed in a pelvic brace and cast due to a hip dislocation at the time of her birth. All of parents' offspring were born in a breach position. I was born in 1971, my sister in 1974 and my brother in 1976. This was long before ultrasounds determined the sex and position of the fetus, so all three of us were born in the "breech position" which comes down to instead of us being delivered face down, head first position, we were all born "butt first", face up, which isn't the ideal position to be in when one is being born. Due to what I and my mom believe to be basic incompetence from the general practitioner who delivered my sister and brother, my sister was born with a "dislocated hip" because, again this is just my opinion, the MD had to "pull" her out of our Mom's birth canal and in order to make that process easier, given that my sister was in a breach position, he pulled one of her legs forward to make the delivery a bit easier. This resulted in her hip being dislocated. She spent her first months of life in a plaster cast and after that she was in a brace that kept her legs/pelvis from developing normally. Regardless of the photos my parents have of my sister in her cast and brace, I do remember her being in the brace. To this day, she uses a "lift" in one of her shoes as one of her legs is approximately 1 1/2 to 2 inches longer than the other.At times she has seen a chiropractor regularly and used a "lift" in one of her shoes.
So tomorrow, I will be a part of the celebration of the 40th celebration of her birth, because, I only have one "little sister" regardless of her chronological age.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Now, Shingles? Really?

One week ago I was diagnosed with Herpes Zoster, commonly known as Shingles.  According to Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, h.zoster is, in part, "reactivation of varicella virus years after the initial infection with chickenpox...A painful vesicular eruption occurs along the course of the nerve (called a dermatome) and almost always is unilateral...the virus may cause meningitis or affect the optic nerve or hearing. The incubation period is from 7 to 21 days. The total duration of the disease from onset to complete recovery varies from 10 days to 5 weeks." Fan-frickin-tastic.
Oddly enough, even though I'm only 42 and Shingles most commonly afflicts those age 60 and older, this is not the first time I've had a Shingles outbreak. My first outbreak occurred when I was 19 years old. Apparently it never crossed the mind of my family practice doctor at the time that what I presented with could be Shingles, so he "cultured" one of the "vesicular eruptions", which, in English means he popped one of the blisters, rubbed a long Q-Tip on the fluid that oozed out (seriously, that's exactly what happened) and sent it to the lab for analysis. 48 hours later he called to tell me I had Shingles. That was approximately 46 hours after I was peeled from the ceiling of the exam room because the popping and oozing hurt so frickin' much. 
Although Taber's doesn't mention it, it's commonly thought that the likelihood of a Shingles outbreaks can occur when one is under stress and natural immunity is lowered. It is scientifically proven that people who are immunocompromised (undergoing chemotherapy or have HIV/AIDS) are more susceptible to Shingles. Since I don't fall into either of those two categories, I'm left with this outbreak being prompted by "stress" which both concerns and confuses me.
Those of you who follow my blog, have friended me on Facebook, or just talk with me from time-to-time know that the past four years have been less than smooth. Ok. I was laid-off from a job I didn't really like, started graduate school full-time, completed a year long unpaid internship, graduated, turned 40, went to my 20th high school reunion, got a job in my field, left that position after getting a job working with what I thought would be my "ideal population", realized that was not a good fit, then went back to the agency where I had previously worked but in a new position. I had surgery on the great toe of my right foot, several basal cell carcinomas removed, and a breast biopsy from an abnormal mammogram. I lost my Grandpa Krause, one of my great-aunts, a great-uncle and my dog Peanut to the natural process of death. I gained a daughter-in-law and a grandson. There were family issues, marital issues, vacations to Hawaii and Utah, family weekends in the Dells, a trip to Super Bowl XLV, and the addition of a wonderful, hyper little dog we named Apollo.  This is the "stuff" of life when "life happens."
During particularly stressful periods, in the back of my mind, I thought about a potential Shingles outbreak. Sometimes I wondered, if the stress I was under wasn't enough to trigger an outbreak, what kind of stress on God's green earth would be required for an outbreak? I didn't want to consider what my life would look like with that level of stress involved.
Then last Tuesday, 01-21-14, at the end of the day I felt an ache in my lower back. When I woke up on Wednesday, the area just to the left of my tailbone felt swollen and I couldn't lay on my back or sit with my back against the back of my office chair without feeling really uncomfortable. That night I stopped by my parents' house and my mom looked at it (with a magnifying glass, no less) and said I should see my doctor. Since I couldn't really see the area that hurt, I wasn't all that concerned, until the pain prevented me from sleeping most of Wednesday night. So on Thursday I saw my very competent doctor who took one look at it and said, "You've got Shingles." So there you have it.
My insurance won't pay for the Shingles vaccine because I don't meet the first qualification of being at least 60 years old. Granted, it's been 23 years between outbreaks, but if there is something that could lessen the intensity should I have another outbreak before I hit the magic age of 60, I would like to take advantage of it. Shingles at 42 is odd enough, but add into that the fact that I had them once before when I was 19, well that's just a medical anomaly in my view. I'm not going to get into the politics of insurance-driven health care decisions because I've been in that fight since I was 23 years old in one form or another and my goal here isn't to get all righteous about how, because of my history, my insurance should cover the cost of the vaccine. Interestingly enough, when I picked up the medications my doctor did prescribe to help with my symptoms, my pharmacist told me that the retail price for the vaccine is approximately $219. That's not really in my budget right now and I'm ok with that. In another 23 years I will meet the criteria of being at least 60 years old (I'll actually be 65) and then Medicare will pay for my vaccine! Medicare, provided that's still around.
You know me: I quite enjoy being the odd-duck, the anomaly, the somewhat-weird one who odd things happen to - provided it's not something that will get me into serious trouble of any kind. I have finished my 5-day course of steroids and have two days left of anti-viral medication which I will finish even though I'm feeling a bit better after spending last weekend trying to rest; it's uncomfortable and awkward when you can't lay on your back. Although I will admit, I do enjoy the look on the faces of co-workers when I tell them I have Shingles and they assume I'm contagious on the same level as someone spreading SARS.
I'm just hoping for another stress-free 23 years. And although I did choose the photo below, I look nothing like this! Trust me!