It’s Been Awhile

Like the title implies, it’s been a bit since my last post here. Largely that has been because I’m pretty busy reading, doing class work, writing papers for class, cooking, going to my job at the bookstore, or relaxing watching The Walking Dead or playing some kind of video game (or planning an RPG campaign, which I’m still trying to drum up support for). It’s been a pretty busy time, but despite being busy, I don’t know that there’s really been a lot to keep folks up on.

If you were among the few people who found the stuff I was cooking interesting, then you should check out the primary source of my cooking inspiration, All Day I Dream About Food. It’s got a lot of recipes, for a lot of different meals, parts of meals, snacks, or otherwise, and they’re all relatively- to very-low carb. All the recipes I have tried have been very tasty, and with the exception of the cauliflower fritters, very successful. If you are like me and addicted (well, not literally, but figuratively) to pizza, here’s a recipe I’ve had some success with: Crustless Pizza, from the website MyFridgeFood. Very tasty, just make sure that, unlike me, you grease the pan before you cook.

As for classes, they are going pretty smoothly so far. I’m enrolled in two classes at the moment – Policy & Practice in Social Work Organizations (Social Work 534), and then Human Behavior and the Social Environment (Social Work 503). The former is focused on the big-picture, large-scale issues of social work – why is it needed, what communities need it the most, what big-picture, long-term changes can or should be made to try to improve the lives of those who need it, things like that. The latter is focused on figuring out what motivates people, how to look at a person’s entire situation – not just what they tell you, but also their family, their living arrangements, their social networks, etc. – and use that entire picture to try and determine how best to help them. These are both very introductory courses, so much of what we’re doing thus far is simply figuring out the basics of theories and history, but they’re both interesting courses thus far. I’ve had one paper due – called a Community Immersion paper, where we (the students) have to go into a nearby neighborhood, talk to people, do research, find out as much as we can, and then apply one of the theories we’ve learned about so far – and I did pretty well on that, so I’m feeling pretty good on that front.

I’m waiting to grab a couple books I’m interested in – Brene Brown, a social worker here at the University of Houston, just published another book, called Rising Strong, and I’ve liked all her previous books; one of them helped lead me towards social work, so I’m eager to see how the new one is. Another, in a few weeks, is called SuperBetter, by Jane McGonigal. I’ve written about her previous book, called Reality is Broken, before, way back in 2013 on July 26. It combines feeling better with video games, so what’s not to like?

Socially, things are a little weird – neither of the groups I have gamed with in the past around here have been able to meet recently, so I am trying to cobble together a new one, possible made up of people from each of the previous two, to sate my gaming urge. We’ll see how that goes. I don’t have a ridiculous amount of time to devote to it right now anyway, since I’m pretty busy with work, school, and generally keeping myself healthy.

That’s my update for now. We’ll see if there’s more to add later, and if so, I’ll do so. If not, then I’ll catch everyone with my next update, whenever that shall be!

The Beaches, They Are Stormed

So, week 1 of my MSW program is over, and boy, are my arms tired. Wait, no, that’s a different joke.

This week has been a pretty weird one for me, because it has involved a lot of activity, often in ways that I am (if you know me) not generally interested in doing. Part of my plan for going back to school, for example, was to make sure I got regular and increasing amounts of exercise. Now, anyone who has ever been around me while doing any kind of exercise knows that, in general, I hate it. It tends to be boring, painful, and generally feels like it isn’t actually accomplishing anything. So me starting up my own little exercise program – even if it is relatively low-scale so far, with the intent to ramp it up as I go – should be enough to give you pause. Especially since a key component of this has been cardiovascular activity – as I hate treadmills, I’d prefer to just walk around, which I can do easily enough in my apartment complex; it feels more like I am actually accomplishing something, even if I am just walking around in circles. This is especially impressive (for me) when you consider that every day this week has been over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (heat index often pushing it up to 110 or higher), because walking a couple miles in that kind of heat makes you wish for death. So I figure if I can do that, I can certainly do that and more when it starts to cool down.

I’ve also started on a more rigorous diet program, which is intended to be more low-carb, high-protein. To my chagrin, I found that such a diet is not easy to accomplish with pre-made foods, because preservatives often add more carbohydrates than I want to eat. So, I’ve had to venture into the cooking arena again. While my ventures so far have met with some limited success – my fake (or crustless) quiche was quite good, my cauliflower ham and cheese fritters not so much – it helps me out in two separate areas, because I do enjoy cooking, but I often feel that I am left with too many leftovers, so haven’t done much cooking lately, and it also helps me to make sure I know exactly what is going into my food. Coming up on my cooking schedule are a bacon and Brie frittata, low carb-pizza with cauliflower crust, and possibly low-carb Andes mint fudge. I’ll try to keep that updated somewhere.

Finally, school. It was weird getting back into classes, especially since my classes are, well, online. And there were some hiccups in the technology, as well as some timing issues. But overall, it seems like a pretty easy way of doing class, though I still find myself trying to look semi-professional for my webcam (yes, mom and dad, this means I shower, shave, and wear pants and a collared shirt). While the work load was not a surprise – I’m used to doing a lot of reading for class, having gotten one Masters (and most of a PhD) in English literature – the subject matter was a shock to my system. I’ve done a lot of reading by social workers or psychologists in the last year or so, but none of it rises to the nose-bleed-inducingly dry levels for social work textbooks. That’s the part that feels overwhelming to me; all these theories, models, and practices, dozens of them, thrown at students in their first week of class, and somehow we’re supposed to learn and internalize them so that we can use them as the basis for further classes. That’s going to take some work. As well, our first major assignment involves going out into a nearby community and asking a great deal of interrogative questions to find out information about demographics, community leaders, culture clashes, levels of social, economic, and health-related inequality, and how content people are within a community, as well as several strengths and challenges each particular community faces. As an introvert, this is hard for me, too, because asking strangers these kinds of questions makes me very uncomfortable, but I’ve already gotten my work started, and just have to make sure it gets finished, collated, and written in a coherent manner by this coming Saturday.

Oddly, despite the stress all of this has caused – a new diet, new exercise program, new school, and going back to work this week – I think I’m doing pretty well, mentally speaking. I think a lot of that may be because these things are all things I am choosing to do, rather than things I feel pressured to do, which instinctively makes me push back passive-aggressively. Since I’m initiating them myself, that would be kind of weird – can you be passive-aggressive towards yourself? – so things are going pretty smoothly, all things considered.

Anyway, that’s about it for this particular entry. My stomach is unhappy with the lack of pizza or burgers in my diet, so anybody who has any good low-carb recipes, I’d love to hear (or read) them, and if you have any experience in social work, I’d love to find something that either simplifies the theories that come up in basic introductory stuff, or puts them in a manner that is more easy to digest mentally – some of these sentences and paragraphs in my textbooks, while I am certain they are very informative, feel like they are sucking the water out of my brain they are so dry. Have you ever seen a dehydrated brain? It’s not a pretty sight. So take pity on my brain, and drop me a line if you have any tips or tricks to get this stuff in my head more easily.

To Boldly Go

OK, well, maybe not boldly. I mean, with what I’m about to start, it’s really hard to do boldly.

Tomorrow, I start the USC online MSW program. I was accepted last month, and had to get up to speed pretty fast, with some speed bumps along the way. And it’s definitely been a time filled with anxiety and excitement; trying to make sure my computer was ready for online classes (which are all done live, through an integrated webcam/phone setup, so you can see and hear both the instructor and other students in real time), trying to make sure my work schedule was altered in order to be able to take my classes, and trying to arrange payment. Attending school online is a lot different than doing so in person, and so far the orientation process has given me a taste of what it will be like, but tomorrow will be the first test of how things really go.

It’s a big step for me, going from almost completing a PhD in English to joining a Masters program in an entirely different line of work. But somehow, I think it is a more fitting one for me. When I was starting out as a PhD candidate in English, my ultimate goal was to teach. I didn’t really spend a lot of time thinking about publishing papers or trying to add to the body of knowledge that already existed, and as I went through the program, I realized exactly how important to the PhD process publishing new work really is. And I found I just didn’t have anything new or revolutionary to add. I wanted to help new students learn and possibly find their own love of literature, and so I felt more and more incompatible with the program – especially when I ran into the dissertation process, and found myself coming up totally blank on topics.

With social work, I know that my goal is to become a therapist. I want to work with patients or clients one-on-one, and while I’m more than happy to keep up with advances in the field, I don’t know that I want to be the one making them – I just want to help people who come to me for help, and hopefully make them feel like they aren’t alone. I know that a crucial part of my own recovery was realizing that there were people in very similar situations, and that not only was I not alone in dealing with my mental health issues, but that I had a wealth of people who were going, or had gone, through similar problems and could, or did, come out the other side. And so I am working on this degree to help provide to others the same kind of help that I was given. And that starts, for me, tomorrow, August 3rd.

If anyone reading this has experience with social work – either in a practical or clinical manner, or just having made use of social work services, for good or ill, I’d love to hear about it.