I had a whole post planned about feelings of guilt as an advocate and feeling like I failed a client.  But, it turns out, my feelings were 100% unjustified.

In a past post I mentioned that there was a client that I worked with who, after she left, my supervisor contacted her to offer a few suggestions on how to talk to the police since a report was filed of her assault and she didn’t want to go through the court process.  I had been carrying that around with me and feeling very stressed out, guilty, and anxious that the client would have seen that as a breech of confidentiality or betraying her trust, even though my supervisor explained that it is protocol for us to debrief with each other after each meeting.  I hadn’t heard from this client or seen her since, despite her saying she was planning on coming back and using our counseling services.  The fact that she hadn’t come back just added to my feelings.  Then, on Tuesday I was scheduled to go to our county attorney’s office for a forensic interview (basically where they do a less invasive and less traumatizing questioning to get information in case this case goes to trial).  I got there early and was sitting in the waiting room/lobby when that client walked in with the case detective.  (Sidenote: last time I had talked with the client, her case detective was the problematic officer who is inappropriate with the survivors, but this detective she is working with now is the head of the sex-crimes unit and is one of the best detectives available to us) She immediately lit up when she saw me and said ‘Hi’ and introduced me to the detective (even though we already knew each other).  When the detective went to speak with the attorney and interviewer, she and I had a chance to talk and touch base about where she was at.  Last we talked, she didn’t feel ready to go through this process so I was surprised to see her there.  But, it sounds like she was able to process it a little with her family and come to a point where she could see how it could help her long-term.  She said to me that “If I had known you were going to be here today I wouldn’t have been so scared or nervous”.  That statement alone made me feel 100% better and cancelled all my feelings of guilt and worry that she thought I betrayed her.  So, that was one really big positive for the week.

However, earlier this week a client who was working with my supervisor attempted suicide and came incredibly close.  She came in with friends to talk about how the school is making her be psychologically assessed to determine if she can stay in school.  I am the front-line of direct service so I was the one asked to talk to them.  As soon as I had heard what happened (earlier in the day) I was overwhelmed and noticed that it was affecting me so I was really nervous and anxious to do this meeting.  Luckily, I was able to bring in a more experienced co-worker and have her talk to the survivor and her friends as I wasn’t comfortable. 

It has been an interesting week.  I am going to a concert tonight for some self-care and I am immensely excited about it, it is very much needed.

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I’m not going to write much right now because I’m still processing, but just had a few thoughts I didn’t want to lose.

Today has been hands down the hardest day since I started here.  Yesterday (Sunday) a client that has been working with my center tried to commit suicide.  She came extremely close to the point that she barely had a pulse when they found her. While this in itself is unsettling and hard, she came into the office today for help and I was the advocate there at the time.  I felt so overwhelmed and like I didn’t know how to handle it, but luckily I was able to pull in my coworker and allow her to take over.  From observing her in this difficult situation I want to remember to:

-Be honest, if something makes me uncomfortable/feeling like I am hiding something from a client, it’s best to let them know and be honest.
-BREATHE! Relax. if I am tense and doubting what I’m saying it’s only going to worry the client — have confidence in what I’m saying and know that I can do it.
-Remember my role and what I’m there for. Don’t try and be anything but that.
-Don’t shy away from the hard questions/topics. If there’s a concern or possible concern, bring it up and let them decide if they want to talk about it.

Today is a reminder that I am still learning and I don’t feel like I am the best advocate I can be.

Self Care…

I had a hard week last week, both at work and in my personal life.  I struggle with high levels of anxiety, but it comes and goes so I never can really predict it.  When I was in college it would get so bad that I couldn’t breathe and my chest was in knots.  Now, it’s not quite so bad, but I can feel it building until it almost gets to that point.  Anyway, last week (Tuesday?) my anxiety really took over and I was having a hard time.  My boyfriend had some friends over and I couldn’t bring myself to socialize because I was so uncomfortable and anxious so I ended up just hiding in the bedroom with one of the cats.  To me, that’s not okay.  I appreciate that it helped reduce my anxiety level and that he kept coming in and checking on me and was worrying, but I don’t want to be that person who just hides whenever people are over.  I didn’t really know what was causing me to be so anxious, but I think I finally figured it out.

I worked with an individual last week who had been sexually assaulted the previous weekend.  After they told me their story I did everything I could to be supportive and helpful, but their situation was tricky as they had been pressured into filing a police report by the roommate and parents.  This normally could be a good thing, but they explicitly expressed that they didn’t want to go through the court process and couldn’t handle the trial and everything that came with charges being pressed.  However, they had just seen their assailant in class and felt as though they needed to tell the detective assigned to the case (which is a whole other story…).  I tried to warn them that because sexual assault results in criminal charges, it is the state who is pressing charges against the assailant and not them as an individual.  This means that once the police have a certain amount of information that can lead to an arrest, they must make it.  I was concerned that because they said they didn’t want to go through this process, that they would end up being cornered and forced to do something they weren’t ready for.  Now, I start off every session now with the disclaimer that “everything you choose to tell me will remain confidential, what we talk about is completely up to you and what you are comfortable with.”  As I have talked about in previous posts, I always check in with other staff members after a one-on-one to process and debrief.  For this particular individual I thought it was especially important because my supervisor has a better relationship with campus police than I do and may be able to offer better guidance to the individual or talk to the police and see where the case stands.  After I talked to my supervisor and the executive director they felt that the student should be contacted to offer a few further suggestions about what might happen and things they could do.  I wasn’t 100% comfortable being the one to contact her has they had not seemed comfortable giving me their contact information, so my supervisor said she would contact them.  At this point I was beginning to be uncomfortable with them being contacted because I was worried it would be seen as a breach of confidentiality and that the student would feel betrayed and wouldn’t want our support or services anymore.  I realized days later, that I was carrying that worry and stress of wondering how the student would perceive that contact and that was causing my high anxiety levels.

Since the beginning, I have had self-care preached to me repeatedly.  I got the message, that it is important to take care of yourself because what we do is hard, and we need to be in a good place in order to help these individuals.  I always thought I would be fine and could handle it, but this week I really struggled and am trying to find good self-care techniques.  Even writing this, I feel a slight tightness in my chest and the fluttering feeling in my stomach that is the warning sign for me to relax and take time for myself.  Right now I’m relying on reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and various blogs (www.thebloggess.com, www.filing-jointly.com and www.sometimessweet.com are my daily reads) and Netflix/Hulu to get me through.  I’m trying to find new ways to do self-care, and I really should get back into the gym, but it’s so hard when I get up at 5:30am and don’t get home until 6pm to get motivated to go work out.  I need to work on that.

This four-day weekend couldn’t have come at a better time.  I’m looking forward to spending more time with family, friends and my partner without the stress and anxiety of work for a few days.