At the end of my 6th grade year, my whole class was told to vote for the peer they felt safest going to if they needed help. At the beginning of my 7th grade year, we received the results. A small group of my peers and I had been voted as most trustworthy. We were initiated into a group designed for the purpose of helping our peers. It was the first extracurricular activity I was involved in when I was younger and my first step on the journey of helping others. We were called the Peer Helpers. We met after school, we went on retreats, we even traveled to other cities, honing our skills in being a safe source of support for our peers. I think it was the first time I understood and experienced what it was like to really help people.
My first job as a caregiver was working with developmentally disabled adults in foster home settings about 10 years ago. This job was my first opportunity working in a psych setting with individuals. It was surprisingly difficult, yet satisfying work. I spent 6-8 hours daily working with the adults I supported, living their lives alongside them. I shared in their daily difficulties, challenges, and joys. As a member of the Support Staff Team I helped the residents cook their meals, do their laundry, and assisted them with their Activities of Daily Living and took them to doctors appointments. But it was also emotionally and physically demanding work and sometimes violent work. I was bitten so hard in the arm that I bled, I had a metal patio chair thrown at me, and I was smashed in the head with a TV remote.
After a year and a half in Adult Foster care, I moved on and began working in nursing home settings. The residents were much more medically fragile. I learned to interact and support people with a softer touch. The residents were physically weak, sometimes unable to walk on their own. I learned to become a positive influence, their strength, their legs. The work was rewarding and the residents so thankful for the help and full of life. Not the sort of life a younger person possesses, but rather, the experiences from the years of life they had lived. They had stories and histories within them that I had only a fraction of within myself. But there was also a profound amount of loss. I spent hours on end with the people I cared for, often more time than their own families. I cared for them, shared in their lives and stories and came to love them, in my own way. For a few, I was there at their bedside as they passed.
I eventually moved on to get my CNA2 license and I began working in the hospital. It was a small hospital with four units. The Acute Care of the Elderly, the Rehab unit, a small Emergency Department, and a Psych unit. I trained and rotated through all the units. I learned the intricacies of working in the fast pace setting of the Emergency Department and the grueling patience of working on the Rehab unit. But after 2 years of floating between the four units my heart took me to the Psych unit full time and I’ve been there for 5 years now. It was here, on the Psych unit, that I found myself working with a very diverse and vulnerable population with a range of mental health and behavioral diagnoses. I learned to practice both empathy and cultural sensitivity.
As a CNA on the Psych unit, I am front line staff. I generally spend the most time with the patients and get to know them best. I am the first one who sees them begin to struggle and need some extra help. It is my role on the care team to update the nurses and advocate for the patient’s needs. It is my responsibility to inform the nurses of what is going on and help identify the patient’s need and find something for them; a medication, a visit from a counselor or social worker, or just to talk. Currently, that is the limit of what I can do for the patients. I am a witness, an advocate, a companion through their struggle and then I say goodbye.
The Behavioral Health Unit is designed to be a short stay unit. Most patients only stay about a week. As I have learned, the unit is to stabilize symptoms, not cure the patients. People come in at their worst, we help them feel safe, restart their medications, and get their feet back under them again. It is a hard concept for me, as my need to help drives me to want to do so much more for them. I know that there are not enough resources out there for our patients once they leave our care. There are so few places people suffering from mental illness can go for help and feel safe. There is so little awareness about mental health issues that most people don’t really think or talk about it at all. I want to assist with more awareness and education for the mental health population. I want to educate them on their diagnoses, help them to identify what their warning signs are, explain to them what their medications are for, what they do and why they should take them. My desire to help, my need to do more and see that the best outcome has been reached is what drives me to want to move in to the field of Social Work.
I was adopted as an infant from South Korea. I don’t know much about the situation, but I do know that my birth mother wanted me. I was born at home, not in a hospital, and the Korean name I arrived with was given to me by her. I whole heartedly believe that she gave me up for adoption so that I could have a better future. So that I could be here, now. My adoption was extremely important for me. I was given an opportunity with parents and experiences that have shaped the person I am today.
The thing about adoption is that while it is a great, beneficial, and wonderful thing, it is also emotionally traumatic for an adoptee. Many adoptees grow to develop mental and behavioral issues. Attachment disorders, identity issues, depression and guilt issues are common among adoptees. Guilt over feeling that something was wrong with them and that is why they were given up. Guilt that the desire and need to explore their origins will somehow hurt their adopted parents feelings. Finally, guilt over having these mental and emotional feelings when adoption is supposed to be such a positive and joyous thing.
I see some of these issues in myself now that I am older, despite having a birth mother who loved me and having adopted parents who gave me everything. And while I have been able to recognize and address some of these issues, perhaps due to my undergraduate background in Psychology, many adoptees might not be so lucky. Many adoptees will continue to suffer in silence because of the guilt they feel and the stigma that they should simply feel happy and grateful. Because of this unheard internal struggle, there is an increased rate of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as suicide attempts among adoptees. Adopted children will attempt suicide 4 times more than nonadopted children. I want to be someone who can bring comfort and education to adoptees. I want to be a voice for those too scared to use their own.
I see the core values of Social Work and feel that they align closely with my own values. This helps to confirm within me that this is the right path for me. I have had the desire to help people within me since I was very young. I want to help starving children in Africa, I want to help all the injured veterans get their benefits, I want to help lost children find loving homes, I want to save the world! But mostly, I want to become a Social Worker because I think it is the best way that I can do my part to make the world a better place here and now.
The world is a big place, with a diverse population with a diverse set of problems. I know there will be rough times in which I am faced with situations I may never have imagined I’d be faced with. I know there will be times in which my own beliefs will be challenged. I also know there will be times when I am unsure of what direction to move forward or how to help. My greatest desire is to do what is best for the client I am working with. Admittance into your Social Work program will help educate and expand my tools in doing what is right, what is best for each individual, our communities, and the world.
Lost in all the wonderous moments of the day, blown like dust along the dry desert road, and gone from here in ways only distant clouds could know…
I’m no vampire, you can still catch me in the sun if you’re lucky, but I am glorious glowing renewed. Nary a care, I have my purpose for each day I rise. I have found my fire, and you are all the moths..
Over Apple Risotto
I have been standing at the stove for some 20 minutes, staring out the window. What I am cooking, I don’t even know, and it probably doesn’t matter..
The upright piano was leaning on the ramp of the Uhaul. Next to it, the small, dark haired female sat, feet over the side of the truck bed, elbows on knees, chin in hands. To the other side, a tall man with shaggy hair, hands on knees looking defeated. They have been attempting, single handedly, to push the baby grand piano up the ramp into the Uhaul..
Maybe it started when I first walked past their front door. Right as I approached to pass, it opened and I was immediately engulfed in a cloud of weed smoke. My nostrils burned and my eyes began to water. After that, I noticed the same concentrated stench would creep through the vents and in the open windows of my apartment like The Fog. The worst being in my bathroom, so strong was the smell that my guests often suspected me of taking up the drug for recreational purposes.
Too often the ghostly odour was accompanied by the most extreme lung hacking from downstairs. So weak was the insulation between our apartments, I could often be woken from slumber by the coughing fits. The lung hacking was then always followed by the thick sounds of vomiting.
My glorious Sunday mornings, languidly waking to a fresh new day, suddenly interrupted by the hack hack hack, puuuuuuuuke from downstairs.
But I think worse than that, was the music. Nearly always poorly played, electric toned keyboard music. And though it could be done, I struggled to pull a familiar tune from the clash of notes played. Never once did I hear any notes played on the very real piano I had no idea they were in possession of.
Occasionally at night, as I would just be settling into bed, I could suddenly hear off key singing from directly below me. As though in an attempt to haunt me from my well deserved slumber. The singing was usually accompanied by their joint giggling.
The brief respites came when they would play tasteful, easy jazz on the stereo. From Frank Sinatra to Ella Fitzgerald type tunes for hours on end. But nightmare became reality when they began what sounded like the beginnings of a garage band. No sooner would I return home from a hard day of work, that the click click click, of the drum sticks would start.
Thankfully this phase did not last long..
And oddly, I recall a radio story I had once heard about a woman so wildly enthralled and equally appalled by her new neighbors across the street. Unabashedly, open curtain type neighbors. They had pushed their bed up against the window. She couldn’t believe it, and yet, she couldn’t stop watching them. She became a member of their lives via her obsessive voyeurism. Them being intimate, them eating breakfast together, everything. They were young, and beautiful, and in love.
Then one day she realized she hadn’t seen them in a while. Then when they came back, they looked very different. The woman looked heavier, the man thinner, weaker. He was bald. It took them a while to realize this was the same young, beautiful couple as before. The bed that had been pushed against the window, was replaced by a hospital bed.
It is strange how your first impressions can be one thing, when all the while there is a different story playing out in real life.
And for a moment, I can see it..
A young woman who grew up wanting to create music. A young man, in love, follows her to music school. They pack up grandma’s baby grand piano and the keyboard she’s had since childhood, and move to a small, 1 bedroom, downstairs apartment close to campus. Close enough for her to walk to school each morning, and back each afternoon.
It is difficult studies, but she works hard. Mornings he is left alone. He wakes with horrible nausea. The only thing that settles him is marijuana. He smokes it until he is taken by severe coughing fits. He coughs so hard some mornings he eventually vomits. He smokes religiously to feel stable. Until she returns home to tell him about her day, to play him the music she is studying in class.
Most days he feels strong, young. But when he has had a really hard day, she will sing him to bed. She sings off key, but he still loves it.
This is not the real story. They are simply weed smoking college kids. Each day I would exit my car next to theirs. Inside dangled old concert passes from the rear view mirror, the cup holder with its never changing large soda cup from Sarku, full of cigarette butts. Car that hardly ever went anywhere.
I must have lost focus, because I look up and the piano is successfully ensconced within the Uhaul truck. This is when it really dons on me, my downstairs neighbors are finally moving..
I’ve never really been a fan of lentils. So I thought I’d embark on a Journey of Lentils Challenge.
I tried to be diverse in my recipe choices to get a real rounded picture of lentils.
For the most part, the dishes were great. Just the couple times I made a cooking error..
Masoor Dal – India
Red Lentil Curry
Misir Wot – Ethiopia
Spiced Red Lentils
Fakes – Greece
Greek Lentil Soup
Mercimek Corbasi – Turkey
Turkish Lentil Soup
Poteje se Lentejas – Cuba
Cuban Lentil Soup
Mshosh – Armenia
Armenian Lentil Salad
What I discovered?
Lentils really aren’t too bad. Biggest lesson? Cook your lentils in broth. The couple times I straight cooked them in water, the dishes tasted like poop. Not literally… but it seemed that after cooking them in water, there was no real way to impart the lentils with strong flavor. And yes, I made this mistake on the curry, and I am fairly certain the curry shouldn’t taste bland.
I ended up only using Green and Red lentils. Though I have used Yellow once, and Black, which I actually like quite a bit.
(I also ended up making Persian Pomegranate Soup in the middle of this whole challenge. In honour of finishing the book Pomegranate Soup. It utilizes Yellow Lentils.)
When I turned 5, my mother finally allowed me to watch the work of The Women. She would wake me long before the sun rose. I would crawl out of bed, sleep still clinging to my eyes. We would travel deep into the forests on our lands. The trees were thick and no moonlight could penetrate through them. But mother had traveled this path since she, herself, was 5. Grasping my tiny hand in her warm one, she’d guide me over rocks and roots and around tree trunks, thick with age, never allowing me to lose my footing. Until eventually, we would break through the trees upon a wide clearing, filled with the women of our tribe. Each holding up an intricate circle, filled with a spider web design, laden with feathers and beads.
The Dream Catchers.
I had always assumed that what we did was make believe, false hope for those who dream. The first time I saw it, I thought I must be dreaming myself.
As the sun began to warm the sky, I watched the women, each one holding up a Dream Catcher, their long fingers dancing in front of each, drawing out invisible strands from their centers. I could almost see the ghostly threads drifting in the air, off each finger, like spider silk. And as the sky grew brighter, I stared harder, the threads becoming more visible, twinkling in the growing light. And suddenly there, on the end of each strand is something. Like some dark and leggy bug, clinging to the Dream Catchers, pulled away by the threads, by The Women.
There are hundreds of them. Nightmare creatures.
I watched my mother as she worked, drawing the small bugs closer to her face, staring intently at each as though she would devour them. And then as the sun came to crest the horizon and cast deeply into my eyes, I was blinded for a moment.
I wiped the tears from my eyes, trying to refocus. But The Women were done. Each leggy bug vanquished in a beam of sunlight. The silky strands were gone. Only the feathers dangling in the gentle breeze of morning..
I had a record breaking 3 racist comments towards me within 24 hours. All different people. One patient refusing my care until I proved to him I could speak fluent English. And I understand this is a burden I must bear for being born Asian. But it is not something I can help, I didn’t ask for my genes to be this way, and it is not something I can do anything to change. I can’t lose weight, or put on weight, or dye my hair, or cut my hair in order to change how people will see me.
But the most disheartening thing, is when people tell me to “get over it.” I joke a lot about when people are racist towards me, and someone once pointed out to me that that is another burden I am putting on myself. I can’t recall the exact term used for it, but I have conditioned myself, as an Asian-American, to make light of my pain to make other people more comfortable with it.
What the fuck is that all about?
My heart hurts extra because I go to my friends and colleagues, 90% of which are White American, and some of them actually tell me to, look who I am dealing with, why am I surprised? Why am I surprised? Because I am dealing with Americans, and because I am dark skinned and they are white skinned and they have no idea what it feels like to have someone automatically just see that I am different. Before even asking me what my name is, or bother to let me say, Good Morning. They have never experienced someone stop and actually walk the other direction after seeing them.
And this is what it means when someone says, someone of colour must work twice, three times as hard to be an American.
And I hate to bring the added adopted factor into this, but they also have no idea what it is like to feel like an outsider it America, and have the added burden of knowing that even though I am an American citizen and only know what it is to be an American, were I ever to “go back to where I came from,” because I am an American, I would be just as much an outsider in Korea. It will not make sense to an American, but Koreans would see it on me. The way I dress, the way I hold myself, the way I gesture. Before even asking what my name is, or allow me to say, Good Morning. So where am I supposed to feel like I belong?
I shouldn’t have to feel like an outsider in my own country. I am not saying that I need people to get up in arms when someone exhibits racism towards me. I am not saying that people need to paint their skin and walk around in my shoes to fully understand my plight. But I shouldn’t have to deal with anyone telling me to, “get past the racist comments.”
About now, the leaves of the tree outside my window would be full and green. The Whispering Bells. Not its real name, but the name that came to me for the sound the leaves would make in the spring breeze.
My tree is no more. I remember the day I heard the small hand held chainsaws rip through her limbs. She was already asleep for the year and could let out no cry of protest. I watched the young men carelessly throw her hacked branches into the bed of a beat up truck. I cried for her.
Today, there is only the light tinkle of my wind chimes. Singing out for their duet partner. But no answer comes.
In the distance, across the street and through some more trees, under the shade darkened awning of their abode, a lone piano player. From a distance, I hear them playing The Beatles’s Yesterday..
With Sorrel Pesto
My Weird Tuna Pita. Tuna with chopped Pickle, Rosemary, and Chives, and Horseradish and Mayo. With Spinach dressed in Lemon Juice and cracked Pepper.
Plum Sauce with Soy and 5-Spice glazed Chicken, over Coconut Rice
Spaghetti with simple Olive Oil Garlic Tomato Sauce with a little Heavy Cream and lots of Basil