Hi Readers,

Last Thursday was Take Your Kid to Work Day. In honor of this (and because cats aren’t allowed in my workplace), I’ve decided to bring all of you to work with me today instead.

It occurred to me that most of you probably don’t know what I do with my life beyond smuggle forbidden fruit into foreign countries, take ill-planned spring break trips to Midwestern destinations in the middle of blizzards, and silently stew about Avril Lavigne’s everlasting youthfulness.

I don’t talk about my work because it’s confidential and because my old ethics professor—endearingly nicknamed “Boundary Barb”—successfully instilled in me that I should live the rest of my life in fear of violating HIPPA.

As a writer, I’m not sure why I thought it was a good idea to go into a field in which I am legally forbidden to share all my best and most ridiculous stories, but alas, 18-year-old J-Bo did not think of that. She was too busy blogging about her waitressing quandaries, such as trying to discern whether to regard the kitchen staff as sexual predators or sympathetic friends.

Anyway. Have a seat in my office. When you do, you’ll be gazing at these lovely wall decorations, courtesy of Gordman’s:

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Also these birds, who mysteriously pooped raisins one week when I was out of town…

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I work as a counselor at a local substance abuse agency. We serve a very low-income population who are mostly court-ordered to attend treatment either for drunk driving or using drugs while pregnant or continuing to get high while on probation or getting busted with their “friend’s’” pipe. (It’s ALWAYS the friend’s pipe…)

We have a residential unit for our most severely addicted clients and serve others on an outpatient basis. I am an outpatient counselor, so I carry a caseload of clients in our intensive outpatient program. I work late two nights a week to facilitate group therapy and spend the rest of the time meeting with my clients individually and conducting substance abuse evaluations for incoming clients to place them in the appropriate level of treatment.

A big part of my job is paperwork, as I am constantly having to communicate with court and lawyers and probation officers. Also, I have to watch people pee.

I also have a second job. I kind of work a lot.

My other job is to conduct screening evaluations for mentally ill hospital patients who are applying for nursing home placement. I conduct these evaluations anywhere within a 60-mile radius of my home, but luckily most of them end up being at the university hospital which is basically right next door.

I usually conduct anywhere from one to three evaluations per week. When a referral comes in I get a phone call and have the option to take it or leave it, which is pretty ideal for a second job. Evaluations take me about four hours on average, but I can do most of the work at home. First I go to the hospital and interview the patient, and then I complete a 27-page assessment form with details about their medical and mental health history.

This job is fascinating to me, because I see such extreme mental and physical illness that I would otherwise never come into contact with, even as a therapist. Many of the patients are actively hallucinating or delusional. I’ve also seen people who are paralyzed from failed suicide attempts, who have experienced rare side-effects from psych medications that have caused their brains to shrink, who have been given only a few months to live, who have completely fried their brains from life-long drug use, and who cannot stop inadvertently writhing and kicking me throughout our interview because of Huntington’s disease.

It is often impossible to gather accurate information from the patients themselves, so I usually also have to browse medical records and interview family members and nurses. I’ve gotten to learn a lot of medical information this way.

So, that’s my life. It can be exhausting and emotionally draining (and probably the reason I don’t feel compelled to socialize nearly as much as I used to), but I’d choose working with people over working with spreadsheets any day. Every day is different, and I feel honored to be in a position where so many different people trust me with their life stories.

There’s also obviously a lot of sadness in my work. But honestly, I don’t take it home with me. I have somehow turned off the part of my brain that allows myself to go there. Either that or it’s all building up somewhere deep inside of me and will come out again the next time I travel to India and have a psychotic break in front of Elvis.

Who’s to say? Ask me in another ten years.