October 23, 2013
Recently, a couple of things caught my eye.
One of these things was a commentary in “The Onion” about life and passion and time. Read it. It’s funny and poignant at the same time.
The guys who wrote it jokes sarcastically that we should definitely keep working at a job we don’t like and do the things we love the most after a long, exhausting day for about five minutes before going to sleep (rinse, repeat).
The second thing I saw was a commercial. I don’t even know what it was for, but it centered on a mountain bike tour guide whose voiceover explained that he once worked at a job he didn’t like and spent most of his time making other people’s dreams come true. AND NOW? He works as a mountain bike tour guide in an awesome place.
Yesterday, I was cleaning up the “mess” after a large and rowdy music therapy group at a nursing home, and a new staff member asked me if I have a job “other than this.” Regardless of what this curious woman meant, what I took from her question, was “Do you have a real job?”
I’m sure many of us are asked those kinds of questions on a regular basis, and while a big part of me really really wants everyone in the world to understand that music therapy IS a “real job,” and not ask me that question anymore, I ALWAYS am happy to inform my inquirers that this is a part of my full-time job as a contracting music therapist and business owner.
It’s a hard job. A FUN job. A rewarding job. A job that requires worlds of patience, optimism, knowledge, and integrity, and a job that is uniquely conducive to a full life.
I find this work ever changing. I began working as a music therapist in 2006, and my “job” has morphed many times since then. Every time I have found myself getting tired of the same old songs, the same old groups, something changes. I started supervising undergrads, I got new contracts, I quit a part-time job MT job, I started blogging about work, I got some more contracts, I started a contracting agency with a friend, I did presentations, I started an internship program, I got some more contracts, and finally, I hired a subcontractor. During the summers, and for about a month in the winter, self-imposed diminished scheduling allows me to work on things I normally wouldn’t have time for, and that. Is. Glorious. There are so many things that make my job interesting, that I AM excited about work. I like the variety and I like the ability I have to shift things when I get antsy. It doesn’t even matter that I spend ungodly amounts of time in my car every week – it gives me a chance to catch up on world news and events on NPR, and maybe even listen to an audiobook.
Now, getting back to the Op-Ed I read this week, and that commercial I was talking about earlier in this post…
When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a hairdresser for a minute. Then a singer. Then a movie star (this was just so I could marry Elijah Wood). In middle school, I wanted to be a surgeon (this was before I found out about the educational requirements). Then I wanted to be a social worker. In high school, I completely lost track of what I wanted to be. I didn’t like school very much, and nothing except for classes in the music department kept my interest for very long. So… I went to college for musical theatre. I am happy to say, that if it weren’t for that very poorly reasoned decision, the two years of wasted time, and the tens of thousands of wasted dollars, I never would have discovered music therapy, I never would have transferred schools, and I would not be where I am today.
What do I want to be when I grow up? Now that hindsight is 20/20, I’ll change that up a bit and say, what do I want to DO when I grow up? (Ahh…if only guidance counselors had all the answers).
I want to work hard enough so that I can continue to have a good career, but not so hard that I don’t have any balance in the rest of my life. I want to want to go to work, and have variety in my week so things don’t get stale. I want to make my own decisions about my job, and I don’t want to have to ask someone for permission before I take a vacation. I want to be recognized for the passion I have for my work, and I want the people I work for and with to respect and support me. I want to make music with other people on a regular basis, and I want to make others feel good. I want to be able to see my friends and family regularly, and I want to be able to do what I WANT to do the same amount of time as what I NEED to do.
I am almost there…
It’s so cool to meet other people who love their jobs, and I am virtually surrounded by those people, but not everyone is surrounded by positivity, and I think most people don’t love their jobs. Does our culture put too much emphasis on quantity of labor, and not quality? When I look at European culture in some areas, I wish that our culture could be more like that. We’re so rigid here, and there are so many expectations we put on ourselves, and so many rules for life that don’t make sense. We are working for the weekend, and that’s a shame. A friend of mine from high school once told me when her older brother got a job out of college, he said, “I’ll work there for 40 or 50 years and by the time I retire, I’ll have a good amount of money in my 401K, and I’ll have a lot of fun in retirement.” She was horrified, and so was I.
Let’s save all the fun for retirement? Puhleease. A wise person once said, “Life happens when you’re making other plans.” Or, more spiritually, “When you make plans, God laughs.” What happens if when you retire you have a terrible accident which leaves you paralyzed? What happens if you develop early-onset Alzheimer’s? What happens if that money gets squandered by an irresponsible family member? Saving fun (and more importantly LIFE) for when you retire is just a bad idea. End of story.
If you are able to work at a job where you are still able to have a fulfilling life on the side, OR…shhhh even LIKE the work you do, you can have fun RIGHT NOW! You can live your dreams at this very moment! Despite the fact that money is certainly an object for most of us, there are ways to make at least some of your dreams come true, even if it wasn’t just how you had imagined it in fourth grade.
It all starts with a direction. And some courage. And some patience. And a positive attitude. And maybe at some point, you will find yourself working, playing, and living the dream all at the same time.
L’chaim! To Life!
October 23, 2013
Wow! It’s been a while – Sorry about that…
I have never been interested in working with individuals. Since my internship, and since I started working in 2006, 95 percent of my work has been in leading groups of various shapes and sizes. I have worked with some individuals, but I always felt that the clients I worked with (in facilities where I also led group sessions) needed a little something extra, and I could only use music when working with them, because that is, after all, my job. So…I left the places that required me to do individual sessions and have not turned back. Until this past May.
An Expressive Therapist friend of mine had been working with client L. for a while, and he asked me if I would be interested in taking over once he started his new full time job. I had to think about it – It was going to alter an otherwise ideal schedule and I was definitely not a fan of working with individuals, but she sounded cool, and the work environment was different than any I had been in before. So I decided to take the leap.
L. lives at home with her husband, is in her late eighties, and suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. She has been singing and playing piano since she was a tiny child, so she is an excellent candidate for MT services, and is just a fabulous person all around. Her son is extremely supportive and is a huge supporter of MT, and I am therefore working in a comfortable family home for four hours a week. And it doesn’t feel like work at all. Who knew?
I think part of it, is that it’s not all music. We work together to maintain her skills (musical and non) and we address her goals, which are to increase engagement, brighten mood, increase energy and motivation, increase communication, maintain decision making and verbal skills.
Our loose schedule for the two hour session is as follows:
1. L plays her favorite song on the piano “Till There Was You”
2. We sing our Hello Song – A song from a 1950s movie that I adapted for L (she knows the tune, so we use a lyric sheet with my adapted lyrics). The original song and my adaptation include her nickname.
3. Per the request of her son, I encourage L to maintain focus for twenty or thirty minutes at the piano while we read notation of several songs, some of which she remembers the refrain, but not the introduction. I bring in at least one “new” song (that she doesn’t know well) for her to sightread each session. Each day, I choose several songs that are in the same key, and we play the scale together several times before the songs are played. This requires her to visually focus and actually read the notes instead of playing by ear (which she tends to default to). She loves Barbra Streisand, musicals, ballads, and songs that have a sort of unpredictable and difficult melody, which means I have learned several new songs! When she gets frustrated, she plays Till There Was You again, and I always sing along. The most times she has played this song in a session was seven. So far. I also recently learned that she plays “La Vie En Rose” somewhat skillfully as well.
4. We switch places, and for about 15 minutes I play melodies on the piano and have her “name that tune.” We sing each song after she has either told me the title or sung some of the lyrics. We then walk over to the treadmill.
5. Music Assisted Exercise: We have recently begun doing this after L’s son told me they were having a hard time motivating her to walk on the treadmill. Since she has broken both hips, it is uncomfortable for her to walk for any length of time, and it is dangerous for her to be unsupervised doing this, so her private aide helps us out and spots her while she’s walking. For three minutes, she walks at a challenging speed (for her, this speed is .7 miles an hour) and I play tunes such as “Zippity Doo Dah,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Beer Barrel Polka,” “MacNamara’s Band,” “Hava Nagila,” “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” and “Seventy Six Trombones,” which all have a similar beat and tempo. She marches on the quarter beats while I march with my guitar in front of her. After the three minutes, we take a short break while she’s still standing, and we sing a song that she might want to dance to (holding on to the treadmill rails) such as “Sentimental Journey,” “Que Sera, Sera,” or “Bei Mir Bist Du Scheyn.” We do two more minutes of walking/marching after our break, which is about all L can do without falling off the treadmill from fatigue.
6. We then walk to the kitchen, sit at the table, and read. Her son has purchased several Dr. Seuss books, and we read one story each day for about twenty minutes or until L is antsy. The rhyme scheme in Dr. Seuss stories allows her to sound out words that are more difficult or unfamiliar, and she is able to analyze language. This may be a coincidence, but it seems like her reading skills are much better following exercise than not.
7. We play a picture matching game. The game is called Zingo, which is supposed to be a “Bingo-esque” game, but instead of playing the intended way, I line three “Zingo” cards up in front of her, and I tell her that our goal is to fill all the spaces in ten minutes. I hand her the little picture tiles (which also have a word beneath the picture) for the first three minutes, which seems to get her into the swing of things faster, and then for the remaining time, I cue her to pick the tiles up on her own. She matches the pictures, and seems to be really happy when we fill up a card. She usually comes up with a song for each picture, particularly the “Smile” tile, so we hum together while we’re playing the game. Before we put away the tiles, I begin the next exercise, for which I use the tiles in a different way.
8. The Great Day Song – A rhyming song, where I give her the first part of a rhyming phrase and she comes up with the second part spontaneously. Sometimes the phrases are based on a theme (weather, holiday, season, food) and sometimes they are based on things she is doing or wearing. When I say, “It’s a great day for being with you,” she often replies with “And it’s a great day for being a Jew!” She always gets a kick out of herself on that one (she is Jewish). Sometimes I add movements into the first phrase, and she almost always follows cues like, “It’s a great day for clapping your hands…” followed by a clever rhyme of some kind. Since she is unlikely to give me spontaneous suggestions for the first halves of the verses, and I want her to be involved, I have recently started using the picture tiles from the previous exercise to give her ideas. For example, I will take the tile that has a picture of the sun and the word “Sun” is underneath it, and after I sing, “It’s a great day…” she will finish the phrase with something like “for looking at the sun” or “to sit in the sun”, after which I’ll sing, “And it’s a great day…” and she will finish it with a rhyme such as “for getting it done.” We do this with all tiles that are easily rhymed with, and then the song is over.
9. We do a few theme related songs. I ask her to choose a color marker she likes (out of about ten markers) and then I choose a different one. I will write down partial song titles on a sheet of paper, and have her fill in the blank with her marker. Sometimes she fills in the blanks or spells things incorrectly, but this is more of an assessment tool to figure out if she is maintaining her skills or declining. We then sing the songs that we have talked about without lyric sheets.
Alternatively, We also sometimes do an expressive exercise where I will draw a picture (pictionary-style) with many different colors and I ask her what comes to mind (anything she says, I have her write down below the picture). I end up drawing about six pictures of animals, people, flowers, hearts, symbols, etc. Sometimes she comes up with a song related to one of the pictures, so we sing that as well.
10. Song choices. I give her several choices, each between two songs. For some particularly wordy songs we use lyric sheets (her son wants her to practice reading) and for some, she uses her memory. When she wants to sing both songs, I ask her to choose which song we should sing first, and at this point, she can still make a decision about this.
11. Our final task is the goodbye song. She and her expressive therapist sang a slightly jazzed up “We’ll Meet Again,” as their goodbye song, so we have continued with that goodbye song, and it is clearly a good one, because once I start playing it, she usually makes a sad face and says “Awww…” because she knows that’s the end.
L is one of my favorite contracts at the moment. I think this is because I am able to have a very personal clinical experience with her and her family, and they give me direction if they would like me to try something new. I also like the flexibility I have to change the session plan around if necessary. For example, there have been a few times where I have gotten to the house and she was watching her favorite musical on DVD. Taking this woman away from her musicals is equal to cruel and unusual punishment, so I watch it with her for a maximum of ten minutes, sing along, talk about the characters, and then after a song has finished, I pause it and reassure her that we will turn it back on after I leave. Other times, though not often, she DOES NOT want to stay at the piano for more than three songs. I can’t make her stay, and I certainly don’t want her to get agitated, so we just move on to something else. Yesterday, she wasn’t feeling well, so the entire beginning of the session had to change, but after a few songs, and some conversation about Irving Berlin paired with some pictures I showed her by connecting my laptop to their TV (I’m amazed they had the dongles and cables necessary for this) her energy level increased and we eventually not only completed our “piano time” but she also made it through three minutes on the treadmill before needing to sit down again.
While I don’t think I want to work with more individuals, this experience with L has opened my eyes to a different kind of work, and has not only been good for L, but good for me as well. I’m inspired to try some new things!
February 25, 2013
Helping others can be a healing experience, particularly when you’re feeling blue. Here’s a little blue stream-of-consciousness post for you.
A few weeks ago, I was taking a walk with my mom and my dog, and we came across a duck-ish bird limping down the street. It was dark and cold. The bird would take a few steps down the street and then lay in the road. The dead end street headed toward the ocean, where we usually enjoy the view for a moment, but we never made it there, because I decided that we must rescue this animal from certain death. The short version of the rest of the story goes like this:
I took the bird to my parents’ house after catching it with my jacket (which I took off in 30 degree weather :/), put it in a cat carrier, took it home, and in the morning brought it to a wildlife clinic an hour away from my house. I went on vacation after that, and when I returned, I got a call from the wildlife clinic telling me that “your bird” is ready to be returned to the wild. Here are a couple pictures of him on the way to freedom:
I’ve been struggling with some minor seasonal blues, and this made my day – my week. I felt so capable and calm, and on top of things.
And it felt good.
I think as long as there is good in a person, helping feels good, and will make people want to do it more.
I see it every day in my clients with Alzheimer’s; I say, “Can you hold these [maracas] for me?” They almost always say yes, even after I have asked them if they want to play an instrument, and they decline because they “won’t be good at it.” When I frame it in a way where the client is able to help me, they are immediately ready and willing, even if they “won’t be good at it”. For some reason, they are willing to risk [perceived and imagined] failure and humiliation in order to help someone by holding maracas. I might also add that these usually end up being the people who most surprise me with their rhythmic abilities – but I digress…
When a person has lost so much, they are still able to naturally help – to give.
In the psych unit, when patients help and support each other, it is heart-warming, and so telling of human instinct. When there’s a patient who is having a particularly difficult time, others will often encourage and prompt that person, even when they themselves are in the midst of turmoil and sadness.
The phrase, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” is something that comes to mind when I think of a dear friend of mine who was abused as a child and now has made it part of her own journey and healing process to help others find peace in their own similar experiences through a blog talking about pain, vulnerability, relationships, and spirituality.
It is incredibly rewarding to help others, because we can see ourselves in the people we’re helping. Because we would want to be helped. Empathy is a powerful thing.
I lead songwriting exercises in some of my groups. A few times, I have asked clients what makes them feel good/happy as the “theme”. ”Helping others,” is a popular response. In the psych unit, we talk about coping skills sometimes, and “helping others” often shows up on the list as well. We are hard-wired to help others – maybe because we all have weaknesses. If we are able to help someone – whether it’s helping an elderly person with a door, a busy colleague with some papers she dropped, returning a cell phone or wallet (intact) to it’s rightful owner, rescuing a limping bird, or helping someone find peace within themselves out of trauma - it can give us strength.
Finding strength (through whatever journey) allows us to do remarkable things, and it can change us. It can change the whole story.
January 29, 2013
As you may have guessed from the name of my blog (or if you know me, then you definitely know), I live in (more specifically, across the river from) Boston.
You may also know that at one point, I lived in sunny and mild San Diego, but chose to COME BACK. To one of the oldest cities in the country, and home to not only the most puritanical culture, but also some of the most progressive ideas. I love this place. I have lived in Massachusetts nearly all my life (with the exception of the San Diego stint) and have lived in the Boston area for twelve-ish years. When I decided to come back from San Diego, I decided one thing: that I wasn’t going to complain about the snow or rain anymore. This is New England, and unpredictable weather goes with the territory. While most New Englanders I know complain about the weather as a side job (in the summer, it’s too humid, in the fall it rains too much, in the spring, there are too many allergies, and in the winter…oh the winter), I chose to see the beauty. I told myself that in place of complaining about the snow, I would decide that shoveling would be exercise, and when there was a snowstorm, I’d drink hot cocoa and then take my snowshoes and walk in the woods in the powder. What a nice idea!
Winters in New England before last year’s historic fallwinter (where there were 65 degree days in January, and only a total of four inches of snow, two of which landed on Halloween) were picturesque: branches with a crest of snow highlighting each twist and turn, snowmen dotting lawns everywhere… Well, that’s what I saw, at least. And it’s one of the main reasons I came back to Boston from warm and consistent San Diego, where things didn’t change quite enough for this New England girl.
This Winter is a little different. We have had snow, but LAME snow. One inch here, another two inches there – and more often than not, it all gets washed away by cold, bitter rain before I can say slush.
The problem with this, is that there is no shoveling for exercise. There is no fun winter excursion into the beautiful Middlesex Fells Reservation. There is no beauty. Only cold, wet, dry, barren landscapes, and compromised immune systems. And my emotional health has taken a hit.
In the past few years, I have had some self-diagnosed issues with seasonal depression (otherwise known as SADD or Seasonal Affective Depressive Disorder). Around mid-January, I start feeling down, for no apparent reason, and despite otherwise good circumstances. The thing that stinks about this reality, is that there’s nothing I can knowingly do about it save taking pharmaceuticals. I am outside periodically throughout the day driving and walking from one place to another, so I do see daylight and sometimes sunshine, and I do get exercise (though not enough recently because of the negative degree temps) which can help. But the past two winters have been rough. There has been no real snow, which means that my winter coping skills have needed to change along with the climate.
So, what’s a girl to do? I eat healthfully, I take vitamins (and St. John’s Wort and Ginseng presently), and I get to see the sun. What that means to me, is that I need to put on my big girl pants and deal with it. Which I do.
However, feeling more tired and less alert in general does not generally mix very well with this line of work, and it is difficult to find the motivation to deal with certain things. Plus, there are these two young ladies who spend an awful lot of time with me and depend on me to be on top of my game. Yikes. Furthermore, I was talking with one of my interns yesterday about how people often brush off these types of feelings because they are not completely pervasive or acute, like other more serious mental health diagnoses symptoms can be. But!! They still should be addressed, especially if your job and clients depend on your usual enthusiasm and energy to last, even through cold, wet winters.
Where is the line between putting on your big girl pants, and seeking help? I have never needed to act on that latter step in the past, and with any luck a tropical vacation I am going on soon will curb some of the ennui I am feeling, but if it doesn’t, where is the line? For those of you working as therapists or caregivers in health care or other areas, does seasonal depression affect you? What are your solutions to that problem? Are there any holistic treatments that have helped you in the past? Please share your self-care techniques with me and the other readers, and we’ll make it through this, I swear!
January 20, 2013
Disclaimer: This is a controversial topic, but something I have touched on before. It also has nothing at all to do with Music Therapy.
“Mom’s doing great. She did have her defibrillator replaced and she came through with flying colors. She’s having issues with swallowing, which is a part of the latter stages of Alzheimer’s, but overall she’s doing extremely well.”
This is quote I heard in June of last year on an NPR program called Family Matters. The program followed three caregivers of elderly relatives over two months and covered important issues spanning the topic of elder care in the home.
When I heard the quote, my gut reaction was to call in to the show, but I refrained and instead ruminated on it for a year. It’s not about the woman who said those words, or her mom, or my opinions. It’s about the system, and about our collective inability to let go of ailing and aging loved ones, even at the natural end of life.
In preparing to write this entry, I looked up “stories about elderly people being kept alive with pacemakers” “difference between a pacemaker and an implantable defibrillator,” and several other phrases that I thought would help. Here’s what I found:
A pacemaker (taken from this website) “[keeps] the heart beating at the proper rate and from beating too slow. You can adjust the pacemaker so that it can be suitable for either the top or bottom heart chambers or both, depending on what type of pacemaker it is and the needs of the patient. It also will only work if it is needed, it doesn’t work all the time.
An implanted defibrillator is a bigger device. It is there to prevent death from a cardiac arrest. The device shocks the heart if it needs to be shocked, because of a life-threatening rhythm disturbance from the lower chambers of the heart. It can correct this rhythm. Because it has a pacemaker built into it, a defibrillator also has the capability of stimulating the heart like a pacemaker, to help stop fast rhythms, at times, and to prevent the heart from getting too slow.”
So, what I’m taking from this is: Ida, the 89 year-old woman with end-stage Alzheimer’s who is having trouble swallowing, just had her defibrillator (a piece of technology which restarts the heart if it stops and regulates heart rhythm) replaced. Because this conclusion is ginormously disturbing to me, I looked up what kind of procedure one must endure in order to have one of these lifesaving devices.
Here’s what I found:
It is a minimally invasive surgery which only requires local anesthesia and has few risks. The risks are, the defibrillator not working or not working correctly, a person having sensitivities to the device itself, and infection.
I also found this:
ICDs are “moderately cost effective in preventing sudden cardiac death,” according to a report in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. Every ten years, it’s “only” $24,900.
While I would love to believe that Ida’s daughter was the one who decided that this was a good idea out of love for her mother, I believe there was something else at play.
This forum shares several individuals’ stories about this very topic, and most of these guilty souls had been told by doctors and medical professionals that prolonging a declining relative’s life was something to seriously consider, regardless of the quality of life.
What happened to letting someone die with dignity? What happened to letting someone die, period? The heart can do amazing things, and medicine can do amazing things to keep the heart working, but when a person is going through the natural aging process, which sometimes (and unfortunately) includes disease, when do we decide to let the body do what it’s supposed to? I’m sure it’s different in every case.
A year-or-so ago I read an Op-Ed on this topic. I searched far and wide for this story, and finally found it here. It’s a brilliant story of a family’s tortured ambivalence about their patriarch who is kept alive far longer than necessary all because a cardiologist would not perform hernia surgery without previously inserting a pacemaker to correct an age-related slowed heartbeat. Toward the end of this article, the author mentions the same forum I referenced two paragraphs ago, and talks about issues we should all be aware of. I beg you to read it.
It also prompts a different question…When do we ignore doctors’ recommendations? If they are good enough at coaxing, they make a lot more money, regardless of what they believe in their heart of hearts is the right thing to do. We trust doctors to help us survive, remain healthy and give us sound medical advice, but we also trust them to make the right suggestions for our overall wellness. In our culture of greed, some doctors might as well be Wall Street bankers. Advising a family to consider life-prolonging surgeries and devices when what the device is doing is delaying the inevitable at an emotional and financial cost, is a tricky thing – it often causes guilt in the family and can cause more pain and suffering for everyone involved.
And another question: Who gets to decide what quality of life is? My idea of a good quality of life is much different than someone else’s I’m sure, but there must be an objective answer somewhere. I was recently talking with my boyfriend’s mom about this issue. She told me that my boyfriend’s late grandmother, his father’s mother, had an ICD implanted and replaced two different times. When she first had it implanted, she was in her 60s and had a good number of possible years left of life. Though she was never in great health in her later years, before she passed last year she was in rough shape and had had several other health problems that kept her from living her life the way she may have wanted. BUT, it was her choice. She had decided that she wanted to be kept alive at all costs, so what can you do? We have to honor our loved ones wishes, but the problem occurs when families haven’t talked about these issues and caregivers are forced to make difficult decisions for their disabled parents or loved ones. The amount of love, guilt, and feelings of responsibility for someone else’s life can really get in the way of making appropriate decisions, which may or may not have been why our friend Ida (from the first paragraph) just had her ICD replaced, and may or may not be the reason why people with advanced dementia or a terminal health situation receive triple bipass heart surgery, liver transplants, or even CPR (which I wrote about in THIS post).
I’m glad that I have talked about these issues with my parents and the people around me. I’m glad that my parents recently rewrote their wills and advance directives and don’t want there to be any unanswered questions. They recently made me their Health Care Proxy, which will give me (and my brother, who will also have access to their documents) the ability to make decisions based on what they want in the future, if their hearts stop beating, and when life starts to do what it was always meant to: to end.
January 4, 2013
For any students of mine reading this…I am no longer irresponsible in the ways I will describe in this post. However, my past errors in judgement have only made me better at calling BS on almost everything, so take my words to heart and take responsibility for your choices.
I had a student a few years ago who rarely turned in assignments on time, if at all. When I would follow up, this person would tell me something to the effect of, “I’m really sorry – site reports just aren’t a priority for me right now,” or “It just didn’t get done.” I appreciated my student’s honest statements so much that I didn’t deduct as many points when I gave a grade at the end of the semester. Since then, I generally have much more respect for the responsibility students take, even if means that it’s really just honesty about being lazy or unmotivated or going out too many times and losing track of priorities.
Most of us aren’t like that.
We make excuses. Specifically, we make excuses about why we didn’t [insert anything here]. We didn’t have time, our dog ate it, we spilled wine on our computer, we had a surprise hospitalization, our battery was dead, we were sick, our toenail was itchy, we had a headache…the list goes on. Most of the time, these excuses come from not taking responsibility for our choices and subsequent actions.
Have you made those excuses, and in hindsight realized the error of your ways?
Well, I have.
When I was in school (every school, forever) I had my own ideas about the way things should go. Here are a couple of examples:
When I was in early elementary school I didn’t understand the rules of kickball, so I would develop a “stomach ache” about once a month (kickball day) prior to gym class. My mom would come and pick me up, and I would spend the rest of he afternoon on the couch pretending to be sick. She eventually caught on and made me ask the teacher how to play. I was fine with kickball after that. What I should have done, was ask the gym teacher how to play kickball from the get-go. This wouldn’t have been so bad, since I was just six years old, but the patterns continued…
I also didn’t like doing homework. My parents didn’t allow my brother and me to watch TV or play video games until our homework was done, so I would do my homework in a cursory manner in order to watch a little “Doug” or “Rugrats.” Sometimes, I would say I did my homework but actually didn’t and I’d wake up the next morning with a “stomach ache” and stay home from school, for fear that I would get in trouble for not completing an assignment. My parents eventually caught on and began checking my homework for errors and level of completion. What I should have done was go to school anyway and take responsibility for the fact that I didn’t do my homework. I’m sure the same irresponsibility happened in middle school, but nothing comes to mind, so…
When I was in high school, I did not enjoy gym class. I did not have any interest in getting sweaty and having to shower or change in a room with my classmates. So I wrote fake notes from my dad (who was a department head in that school system and worked in the building) getting me out of gym class. The thing with doing stuff like that, is that someone always catches you. Damn. I was also a procrastinator and was easily distracted by everything that high school has to offer, particularly extracurricular activities like the plays and musicals, a social life, boys, so I left EVERYTHING until the last minute (except for stuff having to do with music or art, surprise surprise…). I can’t even think of what I should have done for these examples because they are so flagrantly unacceptable.
Which brings me to college. There was something attractive about going to college in Boston – there was a lot to do, there was a bustling atmosphere, and culture and liberal ideas. I love Boston, but in hindsight, I should not have gone to college there. I am so distractible even without the bustling atmosphere and I ended up having many of the same issues as I did in grade school, except in college I was expected to be responsible for my choices and actions and accountable for myself, and I wasn’t ready. (I also didn’t know anything about nutrition or exercise and gained 50 pounds, but that’s a story for another day).
Luckily, I became ready at some point during internship and began taking responsibility for myself. And you know what? It felt good. I was calmer. I was able to say, “I didn’t do this because I got distracted and didn’t use my time effectively.” I was able to make the decision to get to sleep early so I would be well rested for an early morning the next day. I was able to really plan ahead and make smarter choices so I would be successful in my internship, and when I didn’t, I was on edge and nervous, and it didn’t feel good.
Which brings me here, almost seven years later, to a place where most of the time, even if I don’t do something when I’m supposed to, I take responsibility for it, and try not to make excuses.
Something that comes to mind when I think of excuses is the notion that there are these obstacles that we can’t get around, and I notice this in many areas of my own life. When there is a reason that something that needs to happen can’t happen, chances are it’s an excuse. It’s like that with homework, bills, getting to work on time, exercise, eating healthy, walking the dog, and there are many many others in that same vein.
Do I want to exercise every day? Of course not. It’s inconvenient, and there’s not as much time as I would like. I’m also pretty lazy. BUT!! Do I have to exercise every day? Yes, at least most days, or I will gain weight and become unhealthy. If it’s cold, I run and become warm. If it’s snowing, I shovel or snowshoe. If there’s no time, I probably could have made more time, but either way, I make up for it the next day.
Do I want to go to work when I’m sick? Of course not. I feel crummy and can’t sing as well. BUT!! Do I have to work so that I can actually make money (self-employed people don’t get sick days) and maintain reliable relationships with my clients and contracts? Yes. Unless I’m really symptomatic or contagious, I go. I lead types of sessions where I’m not forced to sing as much or at all, and I rest in between groups.
Sometimes obstacles are serious and inhibit certain other things from happening, but usually, they are petty and exaggerated. When there is an obstacle in our way, do we see only the obstacle, or do we see a solution? Do we see a way around it? If we don’t, then the obstacle is probably an empty excuse in disguise and should be treated as such.
So, all you excuse makers out there…pull yourselves up by whatever bootstraps you have, acknowledge the obstacle and come up with a way around it, or you will never survive in this world.
January 3, 2013
In September, I started a new chapter in my professional life. With the help of a few wonderful colleagues and advocates, I was able to create an internship program based around the hospital system I work in, and let me tell you – it has been a whirlwind.
My two interns have just completed the third month of the six month program. Yikes! How did the time go by so fast?
I’ll tell you how.
Before the internship was able to start, the universities and the hospital had to come to a contractual agreement. This took a while. The issue was: the hospital I am working with has recently decided that it does not provide criminal record checks (CORIs) to interns. The schools my interns are from also don’t provide criminal record checks. Luckily, the memo didn’t get passed along to HR at the hospital, and the person in that department ran checks for us before I knew that CORIs were the main hold up. We eventually got everything straightened out, but the person in the legal department in charge of the contracts had not known that I had a relationship with the hospital prior to this, (or that project supervisor, S – a unit manager, was on my team) and had let the contract sit on their desk for over a month before it was sent to the administrators for signing. The interns started a week later than expected, because in order for me to even set up hospital and behavioral health orientation for the interns, the contracts had to be signed. In order for the interns to even start observing on the medical units and psych units, they had to go through said orientation and turn in their proof of immunizations, behavioral health and student rotation forms (this is something nursing students fill out so that the powers that be know where they’ll be, how often, and for how long), and get ID badges (which was a trial in and of itself). It was painfully frustrating.
In the time that I was waiting with bated breath to hear about the contracts, I had to create a schedule for the interns, a list of assignments and readings, make a contract, sit down for IIPs (Individual Internship Plans), talk with liasons from both schools about the contracts and liability insurance, check with every single facility I work at to make sure it was okay to bring the interns with me (there are 12 facilities), send memos to the medical units explaining the brand new music therapy program to staff, and do some sessions to acquaint myself with the medical units and staff. It was a lot of work, but I have to admit, getting my ducks in a row felt good, and with any luck, my experience this time around will make everything easier next time.
Then there was the actual internship.
Month 1 – First, we had two weeks of orientation. This consisted of the interns coming with me to every place I go, observing and participating, engaging in discussion before, between, and after sessions, and doing various assignments. After they completed behavioral health and medical orientation, as well as the required immunizations and hospital forms, they were able to observe me facilitating bedside MT in the hospital. After learning how to document, lead sessions in the hospital, and after a hefty amount of observing me in group sessions, they began to lead on their own. This happened just in time for me to get violently ill and lose my voice (which I wrote about in THIS post).
Month 2 – The interns got their feet very wet leading sessions as a duo (without my direct supervision) in the hospital, and leading my groups while I quietly observed their progress. There were a couple of misunderstandings and some personal issues that came up, but it was all productive, and all a great lesson in how to work and communicate effectively with others. Both interns chose topics for research study – one created a survey to find out how staff is benefiting from the music therapy program (indirectly and directly), and the other is conducting research to find out what the most popular interventions are, depending on demographic information.
Month 3 – Both of the interns solidified their final projects – One intern will be starting a music therapy program at two facilities with emotionally disturbed children and adolescents, and will be meeting with the coordinator to nail down details sometime in the next two weeks. The other intern is starting a pilot program on the hospital’s pediatric unit. We met with the unit manager to discuss logistics, my intern sent out emails and memos to the unit managers about the program so that staff is informed, and after a relatively easy process, it will begin this coming week! We found out about a month ago, however, that in order to conduct research having anything to do with the hospital, the interns must propose the research to the Institutional Research Board which requires six additional steps/forms/written work! Eek! The Board doesn’t meet until mid-February, so there is time, but it was an unforeseen obstacle. I guess this is all a learning experience! At least I have my trusty project supervisor, S, to guide me through the maze. Another fun and exciting thing that happened during the third month, is that my wonderful boyfriend (a professional photographer) did a photo shoot for me! One photo of all of us in transit is pictured above (courtesy of Chris Conti Photography).
The interns have been home for the holidays for two/three weeks, and while it has been nice to have a little break between groups, there is still a lot to do, so I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things on Monday. It’s amazing how productive I have let myself be, and how well this has all worked out.
Now, onto the National Roster application…
If you have any questions about the process, please don’t hesitate to ask! ”Like” Bostonmusiclady on facebook to get more updates.
January 2, 2013
In October, I got sick.
Things were coming out of my face that had no business ever seeing the light of day. I lost my voice at the end of one day of work and then had to take a last minute emergency trip to take care of a friend in a different time zone. It was miserable. I was hacking and coughing and wheezing and congested and couldn’t breathe, and then my voice never came back.
I waited it out, hoping it was just a lingering case of laryngitis, but after a month and a half, I still couldn’t sing normally and my speaking voice was strained and hoarse. My interns were still leading all of the sessions (which may have actually been a blessing in disguise, because they are doing an amazing job), and I had a looming unsettling feeling of pessimism about the
tumor problem in my vocal chords.
About a month ago at one of the facilities where I work, one of the nurses walked by me while I was brooding (and eavesdropping), and I heard several people say, “Heeeey! You’re back?” “How aaaare you?” It turns out that she got sick this past summer, got laryngitis, and never got better. And then found out that she had a nodule on her vocal chords that needed to be removed. And then found out she would need to be on vocal rest for three weeks.
The hypochondriac that I am, I freaked out and was 100% sure that I, too, had a nodule that was going to require surgery and vocal rest, and therefore ruin my career and my life.
Here are a few of the things I learned about nodules while Googling:
They are benign. They are polyps, lesions or blisters caused by vocal abuse or misuse. The nurse I spoke with said that the membrane tears, and the muscles, etc. behind the fold pop out like a hernia. I can’t find that information anywhere, so I’m not sure if it’s true, but in any case…In order to restore normal voice function, they require surgical removal followed by voice therapy paired with vocal rest. THEY ARE AVOIDABLE. Here’s a link in case you want to worry yourself as well!
So…I was inspired by the nurse at work, and went to the doctor (an Otolaryngologist), and found out, after a nightmarish inspection-by-videocamera (microlaryngoscopy) that occurred in my poor gag-prone throat, I found out…that I don’t have a node. I have been sporadically worried about nodes forever, so I was relieved, to say the least. However…
What I did find out, is that instead, I have a giant scar on my vocal chords prohibiting me from singing and speaking correctly. What’s worse, is that it is apparently not new, which means that the five years it took me to recover from the last time I had laryngitis was probably just my vocal chords adapting to their new topography. That’s only a theory, but it makes sense if that’s the case.
Where did the scar come from, you ask? Apparently, at some point one of my vocal folds tore (probably from coughing), it almost healed, and then tore again, and then healed into a scar, but the healing process wasn’t quite complete because I probably sang and talked and yelled through it and exacerbated everything.
Now, the fun begins. I have to see a speech and voice therapist who specializes in voice disorders for singers (and who is a former music therapist!) for 4-6 sessions. She will assess my current situation through a series of tests and give me exercises to do that will allow my vocal chords to heal (and get back to normalish). I will also most likely have to adjust several aspects of my speaking and singing voice, and re-learn how to breathe and warm-up. Fun times.
The reason I decided to write about this, is to stress to all of you (my colleagues, students, and friends who sing) to take care of your voice and your vocal chords. Warm up before leading sessions. Drink water until your pee is clear. Avoid coffee, sugar, citrus juices and smoking right before sessions. For the love of Pete, don’t sing through a cold or cough. Take the day off, rest your voice, and forsake the money you would have made (if you’re self-employed). It is not worth it to have your instrument stripped of its function just for a day’s pay. You’ll end up spending far more than that in medical bills and therapy.
Unfortunately, voice disorders having to do with scars or nodules affect adult women between the ages of 20-50 most often. Look at that! Music therapists are mostly women who use their voices every day to speak and sing. Double whammy for MTs. And even more reason to take my words seriously.
For now, I am dealing with the issue, and will start voice therapy in two weeks, but I can’t tell you how frustrating it is not knowing how long it will be before I can really sing again, or at least sing comfortably. I can tell you, though, that I’ll be far more careful from now on knowing what I do. Take my word for it, take care of yourself, and don’t take your voice for granted.
November 8, 2012
Tuesday was a big day – regardless of which way we voted – and I’m glad it’s over.
As I stood in line that morning for two hours (freezing my tuchas off outside for one hour, and inside a gymnasium for the other hour) I did some reflecting on what it means to be considered.
In 1920, something big happened. Women in America, after hundreds of years of being second class citizens, and thanks to the 19th Amendment, were finally given the constitutional right to vote.
In examining this I found out several things: Some women didn’t want the right to vote; men thought that if women were given the right to vote, arguments with their husbands would ensue and break up the family; women were delicate flowers who couldn’t handle such “hurly burly” things; women were too emotional and made irrational decisions which did not belong in politics; men belonged in the public sphere, while women belonged in the domestic sphere; women couldn’t physically handle the consequences of their political actions; there would be more women voters than men, which men feared would cause the government to focus on female views or an anti-male agenda; some men thought that women were already represented and influenced by the men in their family, which would mean that some men would theoretically have more votes than others. I could go on, but it’s really not worth it. Women got the right to vote, and even though some women’s rights laws are in danger of being undone if certain people (who shall remain nameless) were to take control of the government, this one is here to stay.
You might wonder what this has to do with music therapy, or my work in general, and believe it or not, I have an answer. Some women I work with were alive before the 19th amendment was passed in 1920, before wearing pants was acceptable for us, before women were able to enter the same education and careers as men, before divorce from abusive husbands was possible, before birth control was available, before they were allowed run a marathon, before Roe v. Wade. I talk with them, sing with them, drum with them, write songs with them, and because of all that I learn from them. I’m amazed at how strong they have been in the face of of war, genocide, grief, loss, abuse and exclusion. In talking with some of these remarkable ladies, I am humbled by some of their desires and subsequent efforts to be more than a wife, mother and housekeeper. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of people who choose to stay at home with their children, who couldn’t imagine life any other way, and that is awesome – and their choice. But, that choice is really what the women’s suffrage movement, and the current women’s rights movement were/is all about.
Ladies I work with have allowed me to grow as a person this year. While this was not my first election (it was my fourth!), it WAS the first election where I didn’t take my ability to vote for granted. I have never felt more privileged than I did on Tuesday, standing in line without anyone telling me I couldn’t, and proud that I was using my ability to vote to try to stand up for others, like those suffragettes did in the early 1900s.
All around the world, women have struggled. Women ARE struggling. A few months ago, I heard a story about a female singer in Pakistan, Ghazala Javed, who was hated by religious extremists and assassinated because she was too outward with her talent and voice. Just last month, a 14 year-old girl, Malala Yousufzai, also from Pakistan, was shot in the head by members of the Taliban for going to school, and for being a loud voice regarding the education of girls. She did not die, and the Taliban who shot her have said that they will not stop until she is silenced for good. These are just two stories of many that show me/us that we are so lucky, here in this amazing country. Because we were allowed to vote in the election on Tuesday, some of our rights will be preserved for another four years.
Here, we are capable of and entitled to make our own decisions about how our lives are going to go, we elect female political leaders, and we empower each other. No one should be able to make our decisions for us, except for us. Welcome to 2012.
We are strong, we are invincible…
We are women!
October 2, 2012
I am a crier. I cry all the time.
I recently cried while watching “The Blind Side,” “Crazy, Stupid Love,” a random “Friends” episode and almost cried when listening to a random movie theme.
Truth be told, I have been meaning to write a post about emotion for quite a while, but the interns started a couple of weeks ago, and things have been a little crazy.
Here we go…
To be in this profession, empathy is key. We all know that. We need to be able to make the right decisions about how to handle a situation based on our ability to read someone, and putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes is how we do that. Duh.
There are situations when our own emotions come out at unexpected times, and I think we have to be okay with that, at least for the most part. One of my interns said to me recently something to the effect of…the more we cry at movies and weddings and Hallmark commercials and anytime anyone else is crying, it reflects how empathetic we are as people.
I agree. But sometimes we miss the boat.
Last week in the psych unit, we had a group singing session. I have piles of lyric sheet copies which are laid out on a large table for patients to choose from (I know there’s a better way to do this) and a few tissue boxes. I encourage patients to choose a song that speaks to them or that they enjoy, and to take the entire pile of copies to hold on to. Each person shares their choice, and I ask them why they chose that particular song. Sometimes there’s a deep and meaningful story attached and sometimes they “just like it,” but regardless, we sing the song (sometimes using small percussion instruments, if the person wants us to) and when we are finished, I thank the person for choosing that song and we move on to the next patient’s choice.
Last week during our group singing session, a patient began to cry during “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which was a song chosen by another patient in the group. I thought to myself (during the song) that I should process with her when we had finished, but I stopped myself. I didn’t know this person, and since another patient had chosen the song, I didn’t want to make the other patient feel that her choice wasn’t honored. We finished the song and I moved onto the next patient’s choice.
Following the session, when we were all processing, the intern I mentioned above posed an extremely good question, wondering why the tearful patient was crying during that song.
I forget sometimes…I forget that crying is an individual’s situational outpouring of emotion or pain or joy, and that in a psychiatric unit, it might be something worth asking that person about. So many people cry when music is present (especially in those forums) that I forget how new it is to my interns, and how much better I should be about making sure I process those feelings with patients. Not only that, but spending the time at least asking the person if they want to talk about how they’re feeling, which I have done in the past, but didn’t that day. I forget that not everyone is attention seeking, like a patient who was in the unit several weeks ago. I forget that crying can be significant, even if it’s an every day occurrence in my life because of sitcoms and pictures of cute animals and human interest stories that turned into movies.
After I responded to my intern’s question, I went out to the milieu and, sitting down next to the crying patient, asked her if she was okay. She responded with “Yeah, I’m fine – that song always makes me cry – I have it on CD…but I’m okay.” I thanked her for coming to the session and told her I hoped that she would come to the drumming group on Monday if she was still there (she did).
I thought about my lack of good judgement in that moment all weekend and realized that I got lost in the structure of my session and forgot the important parts. Having tissues on the table is not enough. Surely, some people just want to be alone with their tears and are crying for no reason in particular, but what if someone was crying about something very specific? What if someone was crying for the first time in years? What if someone was crying for attention? Or out of frustration? Or anger? Or despair? The significance of any of those may not ever matter. We don’t have to pry if we think the person may need that solitary safe space to cry in, but we should at least ask.
Everything seems new-ish again with my interns asking simple but poignant questions, and I feel so happy that I’m able to share my knowledge with them, even if I make mistakes sometimes.
I’m so happy, I could cry
(But I won’t because I met my quota today during an old episode of “How I Met Your Mother”)