Written by Alecx
When I began my year of service at the end of August, I knew it wouldn’t all be easy and as a Dominican, inspired by Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, I expected “the work to be great and difficult.” In fact, it has been. This year has challenged me in ways I never expected and I’ve faced trials, unlike any others. I was not ready for everything this year would bring, especially due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has changed every part of how we live. During prayer with my community on St. Catherine of Siena’s feast day, I found solace in some of her words: “To the servant of God, every place is the right place, and every time is the right time.” Despite all the trials, I can’t discount all the things I’ve learned and the skills I’ve acquired: from setting up a morning routine to speaking up when I need help at work, to facing my social anxiety every day, and even learning to practice self-care when it seems like I don’t have time for it.
One of my biggest challenges has been learning to co-exist with my anxiety. Due to many factors, my anxiety has been operating at full force. It began to stabilize but as the mandatory lock down was extended, many families and members of our communities began to have more needs, and my work picked up. I recall having more clients than I could handle and struggling to manage them all. I was mixing up situations and names: I would make phone calls and accidentally call the client by another client’s name. Things were chaotic and my mornings became very difficult; I was experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety. Concerned, my mom took me to a “botanica” to get some tea and she helped me establish a morning routine where I take my tea to calm my anxiety and then I enjoy some light breakfast. After this, my body is better prepared to face any situation at work. It hasn’t been easy to stay loyal to the routine but when I don’t, I don’t feel well and work tires me out. I’m slowly but surely learning to respect my routine and practice it every day.
During this time, I also learned to reach out for help. In my head, I believed that any situation happening with the Quinn community would be my responsibility. I believed I was supposed to do it all but when I reached out to DVUSA expressing the situation with my anxiety, I was prompted to speak up and ask for help. Knowing that they would have my back, I spoke up. This helped to clear up that even though I was the only companera at Quinn, I didn’t need to be the only one taking on cases and I received help with transferring some of my cases. Something else that came out of that are monthly Development Meetings with Kristen. These meetings have helped me feel more welcome and have provided a space to form relationship and mentorship at Quinn. Together we’ve discussed strategies to help my extroverted-self feel more comfortable at an empty 4-floor building and we’ve also discussed professional topics such as cover letters, and personal statements.
During a development meeting, I opened up about my social anxiety and the way that it co-exists with being an extrovert. I describe it as: I love people but I’m terrified of them. This means that I love to interact and be around people but at the same time, I have a paralyzing panic of being around and interacting with people. Due to bullying I experienced in middle school and high school, there’s always a voice in my head telling me that people don’t like me and that everyone is making fun of me. In college I learned to manage it during in-person situations but things like phone calls, video calls, or any type of interaction that isn’t in-person or in writing, sets off my fear.
Since opening up about my social anxiety, it’s been easier to face. I guess I just needed a space to name it in order to accept it and begin to overcome it. When I started in August, I rarely made phone calls. If I could text or email the person instead, I would. When there was no other option but to call, I had to mentally prepare myself and I had to write a script to follow, otherwise the panic would win and I would freeze. Now, I’m able to give myself a mini pep-talk and only write some bullet points to make sure that I don’t forget anything. I no longer need a script and I have more natural and welcoming conversations with clients. I also no longer get a paralyzing fear when I have to make a phone call. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still scary but now, I can do it! The other day I interpreted for a USCIS Interview over the phone and answered 3 walk-in phone calls back-to-back. This was an intense experience and I had to take a few minutes to self-care and compose myself after, but I did it! That was my first time answering that many unknown numbers and walk-ins in one day!
Something that was also a struggle when I had so many clients was taking care of myself. I was facing my anxiety, my social anxiety, I was listening and learning about different difficult situations, and I was struggling with feeling helpless since there were no easily available resources for my clients. I was carrying so much onto myself and I wasn’t offering myself the same patience and kindness I offered my clients. TDJ, Quinn, DVUSA, my community, my family, and my friends were all telling me to take a day off to recharge and come back feeling better but I felt that I had so much work, I couldn’t afford to take a day off. I couldn’t handle the thought that I would disappoint my clients and that I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to work harder to provide resources and answers even if it meant my own demise. I was losing sleep and skipping my lunch.
It took a whole month of physical anxiety symptoms to finally prompt me to take a day off. I didn’t get as much sleep as I wanted but my community mate and I took a walk where we got bubble tea and I found free books. It was refreshing to not have to look at my computer or think about all the worries from work. I now try to do that whenever I feel overwhelmed. I might not take a whole day off but if my day is rough, I’ll take a few hours and make them up withing that week. I’ve learned to accept that if I’m not doing okay, I can’t give my best self to my clients and I can’t offer them the support they need.
This work has definitely been “great and difficult” but it’s also been the right place and the right time. This work is still challenging but had I not faced these experiences, I would not have grown. I would not have learned how to co-exist with my anxiety in the mornings, I would not have learned how to ask for help at work, I would still be paralyzed and having panic attacks over making phone calls, and I would still be denying myself the care I need. However, the biggest thing I have learned is that Social Work is not the route for me. I love the work but it’s too draining for me which simply means that the thing that will set me on fire is still out there, waiting for me to discover it. I am not yet the thing I should be but I’m on my way. I’m very thankful for everything I’ve faced and I look forward to whatever my future may hold including the rest of my time with TDJ and Quinn, and beyond.