Coping with the Lesser of Two Evils

by Melanie

“<Insert program that funds my graduate assistantship> has been slated for elimination as part of the Fiscal Year 2011.” Sitting outside of my favorite restaurant, I’m trying my best to prioritize homework over futile daydreaming about losing my job. I try to think about communities and gaps in services. I try to focus on advocating for various programs at the state and local level.  I even try to think about my next post on Facebook, the next clever link to make my friends laugh, think, care—act. But, all I can think is:  in a few months, in my final year of graduate school, I might not be able to pay my rent.

Almost every year that I convince myself I am getting closer to being financially stable, something happens to bring me back to living from paycheck to paycheck: car troubles, family members in need, health concerns— a personal  “Rainy Day,” if you will. I think it’s bad luck, really.  I’m kind to and respectful of others. I jump at nearly every opportunity that comes my way, sometimes to a fault. I even try to create my own opportunities, my own destiny.  I very rarely feel entitled to anything, I’m extremely grateful for all that I have, and I work hard. Yet, despite all my attempts at success (my short-term version anyway) there are just some things beyond my immediate control.  In this way, I am no more immune to adversity than anyone else. I am no different from the clients I seek to help.

Despite the optimistic pep talks to get our clients “back on the horse” and our attempts to get them to feel empowered enough to pull themselves up “by the bootstraps,” it’s important that I acknowledge and accept the truth:

No matter the reasons for how and why hardship happens to others, and myself, it hurts.

Thank goodness for my experiences in social work. My heart is heavy, but void of resentment or bitterness because I understand. I understand that my program is not an essential part of life. It is not equivalent to providing food for a child, medication for those with illnesses, or shelter for the homeless (although these programs are vulnerable to budget cuts as well).  I understand why my program’s funding had to go, and the best (and worst part) of it all is that I won’t blame anyone or anything. All I have is disappointment, with a side of frustration. But, at least it’s better than rage.

At times like these, we tell our clients to draw strength from our, well, strengths. We get our clients to try to focus on the things they do have: loving friends and family, cute pets, sunny days, or a sense of humor. We get them to try to remember that it’s not the end of the world; life will go on, and you will be OK. The hard part, sometimes, is giving this advice to the most stubborn of audiences – yourself. I know that I have many things that only some could dream of having. I acknowledge how privileged I truly am to be where I am and how incredible it is to be surrounded by so many lovely people. So, I’ll keep being kind, keep searching for the next opportunity, keep doing my homework, because even in the face of adversity—the world doesn’t stop.

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