Drama Llamas are pack animals

26 06 2012

I’m gearing up for another girls’ group. These are generally the highlight of my professional life, so I’m rather excited. The thing that I don’t particularly enjoy about the girls, though, is the drama.

Now, I love drama. As in theater. The other kind of drama, though, I would prefer be saved for yo mama. (As a keychain I once saw instructed.)

Drama is free-flowing with teenagers, and not just girls. They can’t trust anyone, because everyone is two-faced. My girls really accuse people of being “two-faced” all the time. I kind of enjoy this because it sounds olden-timey. Like Sandy might have called Rizzo this.

They start spouting cheesy quotes that I assume they got from day-time talk shows and Jersey Shore.

“I like that people are talking about me, that I’ve got haters. It means I’m more interesting than they are.” “I know it’s just them being jealous.” Everyone is a jealous hater or has a staring problem. I remember being accused of these things in high school. I’m sorry, classmate, but I could see your underwear out the bottom of your skirt. I assure you it wasn’t jealousy.

“I’m the best friend you’ll ever have until you cross me.”  “I fight to the death to protect my family.” What does that mean? You’re talking like we live in Kabul. I believe the topic was infidelity.

“We’ll never be friends again, but if she calls me at three o’clock in the morning I’ll be there.” Why not if she calls you in the afternoon, like a normal person? You mean if she calls you because she’s being held against her will, or is on fire, or something? Is there a person you wouldn’t be there for in that situation? Is this such a likely scenario that everyone is always talking about it?

I can accept it from teenagers. It’s annoying, sure, but it’s developmentally appropriate. They’re becoming more independent, friendships take on increasing importance, and it’s normal to think that everyone is watching you with a hidden camera. When you haven’t experienced all that much, this minor nonsense feels huge.

When it comes from people my age, I start to have a problem.

I don’t know if this is more common with my clients than it is with the general population, or if I just don’t associate with people in my free time who get into this sort of thing. I suspect it’s a little of both.

Here’s a free tip–the easiest way to tell that someone LOVES drama is to hear them say, “I can’t stand drama.” It would be like me saying, “I hate line dancing.” I mean, I might, but since it doesn’t interest me, it’s not a part of my life, and doesn’t require a comment. Certainly not a Facebook status.

I hear it from my adult clients all the time. The parents are worse than the kids with the Facebook shenanigans. My constant refrain is, “If you won’t delete your profile, will you at least unfriend your ex/ex’s new girlfriend/former friend/asshole cousin?” No. They need to keep that person around. Know your enemy, and all that. “This way I can see what she’s up to.” Oh. Ok.

WHY THE HELL DO YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT SHE’S UP TO?!? You talk about how you can’t stand this person, thank goodness they’re out of your life, you wouldn’t touch them with a thirty nine and a half foot pole, but heaven forbid you not get to see the Instagram picture they uploaded of the bundt cake they made last night.

But you can’t reason with drama.

This is also what happened after I tracked down a father after his cell phone had been shut off. He begrudgingly gave me his new cell phone number, under strict instructions not to give it to anyone else. (You know, because I would do that.) He didn’t want people having that new number, because he didn’t want to deal with any drama. (You know, because people are banging down his door.)

I have a few theories as to why more of the adults I work with seem to attract drama. One is the lack of traditional employment. Most of my clients work, for sure. But most of that work is off the books, quasi-self-employment like Avon, or more casual like baby-sitting and odd jobs. The thing that helps some people reign in their nuttier impulses, especially on the social networks, is the need to keep up a professional appearance. If that’s not there, there’s less incentive to hold back.

Related to this is a lack of hobbies or activities. I would never say the families I work with have too much free time on their hands, because they don’t, but they don’t have enough mental stiumlation. A lot of the people I work with are very intelligent but under-educated, and can’t entertain themselves quite enough. Or they spend a crazy amount of time waiting for hours for appointments, and a fight might be just the think to break up the monotony.

Another is, of course, mental illness. I don’t work specifically with a mentally ill population, but of course, mental illness is everywhere.

Then there are poor examples. Growing up with violence and inappropriate anger in the family can make it easy to seem like that’s the best way you can show your love. Saying you’ll physically fight someone if they look at your kids or your partner sideways could feel like a nice compliment to let someone know you care.

And some of it is just lack of maturity. That sounds really judgmental, and it is, but I have a social work-y explanation. So many people I work with don’t get to be children. They don’t have the opportunity to experience that developmentally appropriate period of safely asserting their independence (and maybe their bitchy side.) Or this is when they launch themselves into the adult world, before they’re properly prepared, and they get a bit stuck in that phase. I hear parents tell me all the time that the kids need to get themselves together and stop acting up because, “this is my time. I raised her, and now it’s time for me to do me.” I don’t know what exactly “doing me” means in this context, but I usually have to remind these parents that the kid in question is seven, and their job as parent is far from over.

As annoying as it can be to hear about it, because it would be so easy to avoid it I have to remember that it’s worse for the person involved. As much as they might seem to glory in it, that is a stressful way to go through life. Never knowing who your real friends are, not trusting anyone, your guard always being up. If nothing else, it makes me grateful for my boring life.

But not so grateful for Facebook.

Hooray for Social Work! (or Hollywood.)

28 02 2011

I am an Oscar junkie. I can’t help it. Even when I know the hosts are going to be terrible (being pretty and having acting talent doesn’t excuse everything, Mr. Franco) I’m still excited for weeks. The fashion doesn’t hold my interest, but being a movie snob does. Nothing gives me greater joy than being able to get righteously angry for whoever got snubbed.

I should probably social work myself over that one. Later.

I make it a point to see as many nominated movies as I can. This year I made a spreadsheet to make this more achievable. (Note: if you do this, don’t show it to anyone. I assure you, people don’t understand.)

We all know that being a social worker colors your view of the world. It changes how you see things. The Oscars are no different.

We started with the red carpet. Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban just had a baby through a surrogate, and Sandra Bullock was talking about her son. So much going on. I wonder who facilitates these things. If you work in private adoption and Sandy strolls into your office, is it cool to ask her what she really thought doing “Speed 2” was going to accomplish? I think it’s relevant.

Some of those young actresses are looking awfully thin. Self esteem seminar, perhaps? Who are they maintaining this look for?

Kirk Douglas–does he have a case manager? He’s entitled to services, I hope he’s getting them.

James Franco…all right, kid. I love you dearly, but what are you on? I don’t know if an intervention is necessary at this point, but if this starts to affect your career and relationships, you give me a call. (Or you know, even if it doesn’t start to affect anything, you could still give me a call. I mean, whatever.)

Onto the movies!

Black Swan, a social worker’s dream nightmare something. There’s almost too much to discuss. Enmeshed family systems, diffuse boundaries, eating disorders, self-harm, sexual confusion…imagine a family session with Nina and her mom. If you haven’t run screaming, congratulations. You’ve got what it takes.

The Social Network. Just because you’re making tons of money and invented crack Facebook doesn’t mean you’re exempt from social norms. I hope Mark Zuckerberg has taken a good look at himself. Who are your real friends, sir? Where’s the support system?

The King’s Speech. What a delight. Social workers need a triumphant story every now and then. (As do speech therapists.) I think this film makes a really good case for the need for early intervention, though.

Inception. Oh come on. Are you kidding? All I can say is, I wouldn’t mind getting in Christopher Nolan’s head for a little while. But how would I know if I was really even there?

127 Hours. I loved this movie. It was probably my favorite of the year. But all I could think of was, 1) If I was part of the family who found Aron Ralston wandering the desert with an arm hacked off, I probably would have fled before helping, and 2) What if you were the person that guy came to for counseling? What is the precedent, really? “Ah yes, the old trapped for days in a canyon, drinking your own urine before sawing your hand off. I remember studying this in Ringling Bros. social work school.”

True Grit. First of all, Hailee Steinfeld should have won. (No offense to Melissa Leo. A working class tough gal from Boston with a heavy accent? Never been done.) Second of all, can we put a little more pressure on our 14 year olds? But Mattie avenged her father, survived a snake bite, and never let a man hold her down. (Also got spanked by Matt Damon, but that’s an entirely different discussion.) When I say “parentified,” you say “resiliency!”

Toy Story 3. Oh, life cycle changes. This one doesn’t make me think of social work, so much as it makes me cry. (Although I would kill to have Andy’s toys for use in a counseling session.)

Join SocialJerk next year, for the movie reviews you won’t get anywhere else! (And if someone could get Richard Roeper to return my calls, it would be much appreciated.)

Previously unnecessary rule: Ringtones should not contain the word “bitch.”

28 10 2010

People always love to talk about how they eschew technology and modern trends. “Oh, I really don’t watch television.” “I have a Facebook account, but I don’t know the password anymore.” “Twitter? I don’t even know what that is!” “I hate cell phones–I don’t believe in texting.”

I’m always suspicious of these people, because they come across as filthy liars. Everyone talks about not watching television, but millions of people do. Who are they? Are they hiding? And Facebook has over 500 million users. Surely some of them actually like Facebook, and use it regularly.

Well, here I am. I enjoy TV. I really do! I like updating my Facebook status daily with obscure movie quotes or snarky observations. And my life improved infinitely when I got my first smartphone a few months ago.

That being said, I do, on occasion, hate cell phones. From a social work perspective, that is.

In every teen group, the topic of cell phones comes up. Asking teens to leave their phones at home, or to turn them off, is like asking them to chop off their arm, all the while assuring them, “You’ll get it back at the end of the hour!”

They agree, but they think they’re slick. Somehow, they think I won’t notice the flurry of hand movement under the table. (Oh dear, at least I hope they’re texting…)

And putting a phone on vibrate is not the same as turning it off. It might be more annoying than hearing whatever current Jay-Z ringtone that teen might have. Halfway through a group session, everyone has missed at least one call, and it sounds like the room is being circled by a swarm of bees.

It really takes away when a girl is trying to share her tale of being abused by her mother’s latest boyfriend.

But teens aren’t the only ones. They at least have an excuse. They’re young, they still have room to learn, and going an hour without talking to a friend is an eternity for a ninth grader.

The parents also feel the need to have their phones on in session. I always address this upfront. “Oh, but it might be an emergency!”

Might it be? Really think, everyone. When is the last time you had a genuine emergency? An emergency involves calls to 911 and possibly hostage negotiations. They’re rare. It’s why my parents never used baby monitors–when you can hear every hiccup and cough, each one become cause for alarm. (Also, I really valued my privacy as an infant.)

Leaving messages is always a treat. Sometimes I think my clients forget that their friends and family will not be the only ones calling them. Some of the calls come from me, their children’s schools, or potential employers. I enjoy getting a chance to dance in my chair to a highly inappropriate rap song, but a future boss might not.

And then there are the outgoing messages. “You know who you called. Leave a message and maybe I’ll get back to you.” Ooh. Sassy.

There’s the, “Oh hi.”

I start talking.

“What was that? You’re breaking up.”

I start yelling.

“Hee hee. Just kidding. Leave a message at the beep.”

Well now I’m just annoyed.

Cell phones are great. A lot of my clients wouldn’t have a phone at all if it wasn’t for the option of a cheap, boost mobile. Granted, the number changes every other week (literally), but they do keep us in contact. But there are places they don’t belong. Libraries, confessionals, and the counseling room come to mind.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I really need to take this.

Social Work Ruins Everything

12 10 2010

There, I said it. You know you were all thinking it.

I had a day off for Columbus Day yesterday. We don’t get paid terribly well, but the agency is pretty good about giving us meaningless holidays. (Or holidays that celebrate the slaughter of a people, if you want to get technical.)

I decided to finally watch “Gone With The Wind.” Somehow, I’ve never been able to sit through the four hour epic. I have family members who raved about it all my life, so I finally decided to see what the fuss was all about.

But social work ruined it.

I spent half of the movie wishing Scarlett would get into counseling. The domestic violence was shocking. Scarlett slaps everyone who will hold still long enough, and then puts up with Rhett knocking some sense into her through marital rape. (Ah, romance.)

Speaking of Scarlett and Rhett, can we say substance abuse? Those two liked their brandy, and they liked to drink alone. Not to mention the inadequate supervision that led to the death of their child. (Personally, I think naming a child “Bonnie Blue” should be grounds for terminating parental rights.)

Throw in a healthy smattering of sexism, (life is meaningless without a husband!) racism, (come on, those slaves were happy!) and the fact that I’m pretty sure Scarlett has a borderline personality, and there you have it. A social worker’s nightmare.

But it’s not just “Gone With The Wind.” Pop culture has gotten much more difficult to enjoy since getting my LMSW.

I felt left out upon noticing that my friends’ Facebook statuses were all about “Jersey Shore,” so I decided to check it out.

Big mistake. And not just due to my taking offense on behalf of the English language, and the entire east coast.

Sammi, you need DV counseling more than Scarlett. Let me call the hotline for you, they’ll pick you up and bring you to an undisclosed location. Ronnie will be upset, but he’ll get over it once he starts a new cycle of ‘roids cheats on you gets distracted by his own reflection gets into his individual counseling.

The Situation has a classic narcissistic personality disorder, and the entire house has fallen into a dangerous pattern of alcohol abuse. A visit to an open AA meeting could do these guys a world of good.

OK, so TV and movies are out. I mentioned my friends being on Facebook. That’s fun, right? Once I get beyond worrying that Mark Zuckerberg has Asperger’s, and if he could have benefitted from group therapy as a child?

No, because then my mind turns to cyber bullying. Facebook comes up a lot in sessions these days. Especially with young moms. Their baby daddy’s new girlfriend is always sending threatening messages, after my clients post incendiary photos or statuses.

My knowledge of Facebook privacy settings–limit their ability to view your profile! Block their status updates! Defriend! Defriend!–has become very important to my work.

Let’s try music. How about a concert?

Oh boy.

There are teenagers everywhere. Do we honestly think I can be surrounded by teens and avoid social working? They must all be in such conflict with their parents. Oh, identity vs identity diffusion! I hope their parents know where they are. Do any of these kids have PINS warrants? I bet some of them do. I’ll call my friend in family court, just to be safe. Hey, hey, hey, are you sexting, young lady?

This doesn’t leave much. At least the holidays are approaching, so I can spend some time with my extended family.

Shouldn’t be any opportunities for off-the-clock social working there.