Sunday, February 10, 2013

New blog!

I've decided I'd rather not be blogging under my full name.  I'll keep writing the same kinds of things, but in a new place.

Email me for the new address:

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Mental health resources for weird settings

In looking for written materials on mental health for my clients, I keep finding that the materials out there are not well suited to jail. For example, every written piece of advice on how to cope with PTSD advises people to take soothing baths, go for walks, pet their dog, call a friend, etc. . . . not exactly going to happen when you're in jail.

I've come up with several handouts on various topics, all written at a not-too-difficult reading level. None of them contain references to things you can't do in jail. They would be good for other restrictive settings like hospitals, too.

Documents here. Feel free to use and reproduce them.  Most of the material is gleaned and edited from other people's websites.

Grounding exercises (for flashbacks, panic attacks, and anxiety in general)
CBT for anger (this one is written specifically for prisoners)
Grief journaling ideas
Daily affirmations
Coping with traumatic stress reactions
Exercises for anxiety
Money management (intended for people with addictions and/or who have been banned from having bank accounts because of their financial past)

Saturday, February 02, 2013

A different kind of startup job

Re-employment after doing time in jail is no joke. Some people are going home to supportive families, but some are leaving to a homeless shelter with only the clothes they're wearing. Then you have a criminal record, which makes any kind of legitimate work difficult to come by.

For men, construction seems to be the best bet. You don't need good English or a clean record  you just need to be able to do the work.

Drug dealing is another business with low startup costs. After a small initial purchase, you retail larger amounts. Of course, this is only profitable if you're not sampling the wares too much.

For women, the options are more limited.  When they need rent, or bail for their boyfriends, or drug money, or groceries, a lot of my female clients turn to the oldest profession.

One woman told me she worked as a prostitute but said bitterly, “My mom thinks I'm a whore.”  I was confused about the distinction, but she explained: a prostitute does it because she needs the money. A whore does it because she likes it.  “And nobody likes it,” she said.

Of course, there are prostitutes who like their work.  Freakonomics profiled one such woman who quit her job as a software developer to make $200,000 a year as a high-end call girl.  She described her job as playing the “ideal wife,” making men feel appreciated and placing no demands on them.  The Honest Courtesan is a blog by another such professional. Those richer women are relatively safe from legal action – they're not exposed in the way that street hookers are.

In Massachusetts you can still be jailed for something called “common nightwalking,” which means you were outdoors at nighttime and appeared to be soliciting customers. Unlike a lot of the old blue laws, this one is actually enforced.

I would love to see prostitution legalized.  Of course, if it were formalized (as in Nevada, with licensed brothels and required medical checks), it still wouldn't be practical as a stop-gap measure for some of the people who are now practicing illegally.  But it would provide some of the more determined ones with steady work, and would hopefully prevent some of the robberies, beatings, and gang rapes I've heard about from my clients.  (I'm including robberies perpetrated by the prostitutes, too  know how easy it is to grab a wallet when his pants are down?)  In a legally-run brothel, both sex workers and their customers would have more recourse to the law.

As a side note, apparently there's been a decline in self-care among Boston hookers.  I heard an older woman complaining: "When I was young, the women on Blue Hill Ave used to look goooood.  They had the nicest clothes, the nicest bags, they had their hair just so, they had their nails done.  Now  uh uh!  They look like the cat dragged them in!"  I haven't heard theories as to why this is.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Valentine exchange

Want a valentine?  Email me and I'll send you one.

Feeling vaguely crafty?  Want to make some valentines and get more than one?  Email me by February 4th and I'll set up an exchange - you make a couple of valentines, mail them out, and receive some from other participants.  It will be great!

juliawise07 at gmail dot com

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tell them.

Last week I complained about a problem. I've been thinking about what the solution might be.

I had never heard of Aaron Swartz until he died, though I used his inventions every day. This happens a lot with famous people – I had never heard of Frank Sinatra until he was dead and suddenly he was all over the radio. Of course, if you're Sinatra, you probably get more attention than you want. But I'm guessing a lot of awesome people, probably Aaron included, don't hear enough “You're awesome, and I'm glad you're doing the things you do, and I want to help if I can.”

I had a friend with a famous father. It struck me as strange that people were so excited about meeting him, because in person he was less interesting than her (possibly because he'd been pursued by too many fans and was sick of meeting people). People just walked up to him and told him how much they admired him and his work, but no one said that to her. I didn't tell her, “You're so fun, and I love your hair, and this spinach you made is really good,” even though I thought it every day.

When people die, we wish we had told them things like that.  And yet it's hard to say it in the course of everyday life.

What praise do we not give, and why?

One reason is the fear other people will think you're weird.  It's true that flattery can come off as creepy. But I think people can usually tell the difference between flattery and honest praise. And accepting weirdness is a good life skill.

Maybe hearing too much praise would make a person conceited after a while. But I think in most cases, it would just make them happier and better at being awesome. I love that as a social worker, I get to give my clients real criticism and real praise, because we're outside the normal realm of social interactions.

And the normal realm does not encourage this kind of thing.  It embraces irony, and geeky subcultures especially prize critique and verbal sparring (see also: Why Our Kind Can't Cooperate).  Which is fine, but that's not all there is to life.

So sometimes there's love and admiration that I don't have an easy outlet for.  It took years of angst before I gave myself permission to be in love with men who were not viable romantic partners. I kept trying to reconcile the love with the impossibility of acting on it. I finally realized I didn't have to act, and I also didn't have to squash the love. It was okay to give up hope and just love them.

With some of them I got to move on from the awkward-non-lover stage to real friendship, and that was great.  And one of them broke up with his girlfriend and married me, and that was pretty great too.

I try to push myself to tell people the things I love about them. It's scary, because there are probably situations where this could go wrong and people would be uncomfortable. But I'd like to move towards a culture where it's not weird.

For well you know that it's a fool
Who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder.
- Paul McCartney

Saturday, January 26, 2013