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.