Anxiety over graduate school/rotations…You can do it :) If I can do it, anybody can…

I’ve had quite a few people now e-mail me to let me know their favorite posts are the more personal ones dealing with anxiety, etc. Let me tell y’all, I’m a walking DSM-IV-TR of issues. 🙂 Always functional for work though, hello bosses and insurance companies (:::waves::…seriously though. I LOVED LOVED LOVED OT school, but the parts I loved most were with my butt in a chair – I love learning and I can memorize things and take tests really well. I was valedictorian with Virginia (who I am seeing Saturday!) as we both had 4.0 GPAs. After an undergrad dealing with neuroscience, OT school was super easy compared to my undergrad…the hardest parts were time management and dealing with being in like fifty small groups at once. 🙂 Every time we had labs or rotations or anything hands-on, I got anxious. I hate to look stupid or not know what I am doing, and I get nervous and uncoordinated and forget everything I know, so even though most everyone else liked labs and real-world stuff most, that just wasn’t my personality. I had three, three month Level II fieldwork rotations. My graduate school makes us do 9 months rather than the more typical 6 months because it requires us to have a mental health rotation, which is relatively unusual. ALL THREE of my fieldworks fell through, so my plans changed last minute. So I ended up starting with an outpatient pediatric setting (in Mississippi) and that was a pretty good starting rotation for me as it was in pediatrics which I felt strong in, and the kids we were seeing were semi high-functioning, ie we weren’t seeing kids that were super complicated from a physical standpoint. My second rotation was in a hospital and IT NEARLY KILLED ME. Thank goodness it was a smaller hospital and we didn’t get the super complicated stuff. I loved my supervisor and we are still friends, but, not kidding, I was taking quite a lot of anti-anxiety medications just to get through each day, even with semi-un-complicated patients, because the hospital setting was so stressful to me. Nobody really knew as I am pretty good at hiding it and I did very well apparently, but to me, I was a mess. I felt so awkward and stupid trying to maneuver people in and out of bed. The easiest, most foundational skills of an OT, were the hardest for me. They still are. I was so relieved to be done with that rotation even though I liked the people. It wasn’t that it wasn’t interesting, I just felt soo incompetent, even if I apparently seemed competent to the rest of the world, haha. That’s a common feeling, to feel like a fraud or imposter, when first learning a healthcare trade, by the way. My third rotation was my mental health one (so my first was a specialty – I chose pediatrics, my second was physical dysfunction which was mandatory, and third was mental health, also mandatory for my school). Anyways, I spent 3 months in a locked psychiatric ward, specifically a geriatric one, so a lot of aggressive dementia. That was another one where I was sooo nervous each day entering the locked ward. We had to take a course that was basically self-defense, but with the defense being only to get yourself out of a tight spot, not to hurt the person. IE, if a person with dementia grabbed onto your wrists as you walked past, how could you get out of that without hurting anyone. Once I was on the ward I was usually ok, and had a hard time leaving it in the afternoon, but each day I was nervous. And each night I went home and slept for hours (I was staying with friends as this one was out of town). IE, get home at say, 5, sleep till like 8…get up for an hour or two, then go back to bed. It wasn’t the rotation’s fault, but my own psychological issues. Nobody knew that at work because I paid for it on my own time, so to speak. I was determined to get through the rotations. I’m not saying this to scare anybody, because again, the rotations were fine – it was me and my problems with depression and anxiety, etc, that made it a challenge. But I *still* got through all three of them with flying colors and was praised to the skies, so I wish I could have relaxed and enjoyed them more, as clearly I was doing okay…And am still in touch and friends with all the supervisors I had, and they all offered me jobs or would have if they were available. 🙂

For the most part, any of you who have read my blog since the beginning, have followed me through my schooling and fieldwork journeys, first job, etc…but I guess I am kind of summarizing it here with a focus on the personal part. Just feel like it tonight, lol. 
I did not get the dream job I wanted once I graduated/passed boards because of a long story, and I was devastated, but ended up in Warm Springs, Georgia, at the Roosevelt Institute, because I wanted a place similar to my dream job in terms of a “culture of excellence” where I felt I could be proud to work there. It was in physical dysfunction, and I would be the sole OT in a satellite clinic, which is EXACTLY what I do NOT and never did recommend to new practitioners, but I was escaping some demons so to speak, so I didn’t listen to myself. It was a challenging year as adult physical dysfunction is my least favorite area, primarily because I feel the least confident (and you also don’t get to use as much creativity). I did my absolute best and spent so much time researching, asking questions, etc, because I wanted to be the best OT I could be. But I still went home each night wishing I were better. I decided I could last a year so that I wouldn’t burn bridges, etc, but it was a hard year. I loved (most of) my co-workers and they felt I was doing a good job, but each day was a struggle, filled with hidden anxiety. 
When I moved back to CA, a school job wasn’t even on my radar, but over time, as I was job searching (plenty of jobs available, but I’m super picky), I realized how brilliant a school job could be, because it would allow a lot of breaks. When I first started the school job I was SO FREAKING STRESSED OUT because I started near the end of the year, during IEP season, with a lot of high profile cases. I cried a lot. But as I got more confident and knew what I was doing, I began to like it more and more….I ended up LOVING – still do – LOVING! My job. Of course it has its moments of stress ,but overall I love my coworkers, love my kids, etc. So I am doing much better because my environment is now a good fit. (By the way, I had decided always that I would do my first year in my worst area, physical dysfunction, because I knew if I started elsewhere, I would never go back to it!). 
My best friend, who I am staying with right now, in Alabama, is a physical therapist in a Level I trauma area, in acute care, and when she tells me some of her stories, it makes me sick, and so grateful I don’t work in a hospital with all the associated stress. Every OT/PT/whoever has their own level of comfort, own level of interest, etc. I find it all fascinating and interesting, but I know that personality wise, I have to be careful where I work as I am easily stressed in certain aspects. I guess technically many people would find my current job intensely stressful, but I’m good at the things my job most requires, so I’m content. It’s all about finding your niche. It’s okay if you don’t love or enjoy everything you encounter in OT school, it’s okay if some of it you find super hard or boring or scary. You can get through your rotations with your support systems in place, and then you can choose a job that fits your personality and whatever strengths/weaknesses you bring to the table.
I know, for example, that I don’t like manipulating people’s bodies because I get scared I am hurting them. As an elementary school OT working with reasonably high functioning kids, I pretty much never have to touch them, and I certainly never have to cause pain. I know that I am very creative and silly, so working with little kids is great as they find me pretty hilarious. 🙂 I know I can keep up with writing lots of big repor
ts, because I’m a fast typist, fast reader, fast thinker, etc. And I mostly work with teachers, speech therapists, parents, kids, etc…not high-pressure nurses, doctors….I just don’t have a hospital personality, although I still think I could handle a specialty pediatric hospital, ahem, which is still my ultimate dream job, but I’m many years away from even considering it. Also still plan on an eventual PhD 🙂 
I wish I could lay EVERYTHING out on the line in terms of diagnoses, medications, all my stories in details, but as we have all encountered, social media can get you in trouble. Like maybe a future place won’t hire me, or an insurance company won’t cover me, or whatever, because of things I write here. I’ve shared a lot, but as you can see still relatively vague.
Basically….becoming an OT is hard work, but soooo worth it in the end, and even if you have challenges, whether physically or mentally, the chances are, with support, you can still get through just fine. It’s okay if you are scared that you are anxious and socially introverted and that it will affect OT school…I get a lot of e-mails like that. You will face challenges, but you can always overcome them, and you will get through them, and one day end up in a perfect job environment. Just have faith in yourself, use your support systems (including your own internal ones), don’t be scared to get help, and MOST IMPORTANTLY – BE KIND TO YOURSELF! 🙂 
Jul 20, 2012 | Category: Occupational Therapy | Comments: 3