Like many medical professionals, mental health professionals often have a specialization. When it came to finding my niche in the field, I wanted something that was unique, brought on different challenges each day, and could sustain my interest long-term. I did not want to be a “typical” counselor that worked with depression and anxiety. I went to the extreme end of the spectrum. I started working with psychosis and schizophrenia spectrum disorders when I was nineteen years old.
My initial experience came in the form of clinical research through my university and working with a brilliant professor who taught me everything I know today about mental health recovery and psychosis. I worked as his right hand man for nearly six years until I went out in the workforce as a mental health counselor.
Just over two years ago, I remember scrolling through Indeed’s job search engine and seeing “Outreach and Referral Specialist-First Episode Psychosis.” The title peaked my interest. It turned out that New Jersey just received funding my the federal government to start up three treatment programs for early onset psychosis. At this point, I was beyond stressed out at my current job and figured it was worth a shot. I applied, got an interview a week later, and was offered the job on the spot.
I initially turned down the job because I would have to take a pay cut. I was bummed. This was a dream come true for my career. It was a counseling position in my specialization. A week passed by from that Wednesday afternoon interview. That following Tuesday all hell broke loose at my current position. Between the clients, paperwork, and my colleagues, I was at my wit’s end. I looked at my phone and thought to myself, “I wonder if that position is still available?” I picked up my phone and emailed the young lady who interview me, inquiring about the availability of the position. She informed me that it was still available and that the offer was still on the table. I put my two weeks’ notice in the following day.
Going into my new job was going to be a large undertaking. I was to be a one man recruitment team getting a brand new program off the ground across eight counties. For the first six months, I went full speed ahead. I conducted nearly one thousand outreaches (i.e. phone calls, mailings, and presentations) and helped get our caseload up to twenty-five clients. I was proud of myself.
Unfortunately, the program’s therapist left. I was approached by my supervisors. They asked me to take over the position. It felt like I was being proposed to. I remember the smile coming across my face from cheek to cheek. Without hesitation, I gleefully said, “Yes!”
Press fast forward. Six months go by. There was a new supervisor in place. I had been with the program for over a year now. A combination of factors including my health, chronic pain, and personal issues led to increased stress levels. I felt defeated. I pulled back and did some serious soul searching. I already had a backup plan in place with my part-time job, so that was not a concern. I was financially comfortable with this job or my backup plan. It really came down to if I could continue going at this pace with my health and stress. Sadly, I decided to resign from my post.
Luckily, my amazing supervisor kept me linked with the program through a per diem position. This helped keep me in the loop with the program I adored and partially filled the void of leaving. I often assisted with behind-the-scenes administrative work on an as needed basis, but it was something.
About a month ago, I caught wind of some news. My former supervisor was leaving the program to pursue another position in our company. I did not think much of it at first. Then, I started talking to another supervisor about the news. I asked what the requirements were for the position in case I knew anyone that might qualify. As she started listing them off, I was going through the checklist in my head. “I have that. I have that. I meet that.” “Would I be able to apply for the position?”
After three rounds of interviews with human resources, company vice presidents, and the chief operations officer, I was offered the position. Excitement pulsated through my veins. I was about to take the lead on this unique program in my first real management position. It was the same program I helped start up, and it was about to expand even further. I felt like a proud papa being reunited with their child coming home after college graduation.
Another week went by, and my supervisor requested that I come to a team meeting to help with the transition. After the meeting, I sat down with the outgoing supervisor and our new director. I sat back listening to them converse. They talked about insurance, back payments, hiring new employees, and the upcoming changes to their respective programs. The new supervisor looks over at me and says, “It’s time to shake things up.” I sheepishly smiled and thought, “What did I get myself into?”
Almost everyone has heard of the fight-or-flight response. Many people neglect the third – “freeze.” I went into a state of panic. I ran out to my car and called my father immediately. He heard me say maybe three words and could hear it in my voice. “What happened?”
I told him that I felt like I was taking on too much responsibility. I expressed concerns that this would set me back and hurt my health again. I talked to him about how I did not get a good vibe from the new director. I was all over the place. My voice was raised, but shaking. My blood boiled. My father was able to provide some voice of reason however.
“You never did like change.” He was right. Even when I was five years old, I flipped out when he moved my bedroom furniture around.
I backed down and listened to this statement. I was overwhelmed. All of this high energy excitement transferred into anxiety and sent it through the roof.
I took it easy for the rest of the afternoon. I cancelled my appointments. I took a nice nap and spoke to some friends and my supervisor about what happened. All of them offered up wise words, ultimately echoing one another. The advice was mostly along the lines of “don’t do anything stupid” and “you don’t like change.” My one friend though gave me the reminder I needed. She said, “Be yourself.”
As cliche as that shit sounds, it was true. Among all of these feelings, I forgot about the centerpiece behind them. I lost track of who got me this far. I forgot to put the “self” in self-care.
A truly important aspect of self-care is holding onto what you have to offer. Other individuals including high level executives and supervisors saw something in me including my experience, knowledge, and leadership potential to offer me this management position. I have nearly ten years of experience with a specialized population. I have a strong, resilient personality. I like to learn, which will come in handy when learning the administrative pieces of the job.
I forgot about my “self.” This is what I have worked so hard to nurture and maintain throughout my extensive journey. I have to remember that this relationship goes both ways though. It reciprocates those sentiments back to me and those around me.
-The Caring Counselor