Spinning on the Dance Floor

I started a new job mid-August. I’m still working in both government and in public health, but for a new agency and in a new area. I’d worked in suicide prevention across the state for nearly a decade, and it was a great time to be involved in this field. There were a handful of new laws passed that brought much needed attention to helping individuals access behavioral health services, safely store firearms, methods to remove unnecessary medications, etc.

In a nutshell: we actually saw progress. In public health school, professors said time and time again, “You can spend your career on an issue and maybe, maybe you’ll see some improvement before you retire.” Public health is often a game of patience. You have to tell yourself every day that the work you’re doing does matter, as incremental as it often seems.

But with suicide prevention, we saw a school staff training mandate go into place, new collaborations with other state agencies, and Veteran groups having meaningful (and much needed) conversations about how to help their community get into substance abuse treatment and get guns out of homes when there is a crisis.

I felt proud to leave when I did. The team is doing great work. We saw substantial decreases in youth suicide (41% one year!) and the partnership were in place for success. Plus, there were days when I would come home utterly spent. I wasn’t a clinician, but there were more than a handful of times when I came home from work having counseled someone who’d just lost a loved one to suicide. Those phone calls were the absolute worst. (Second worst was trying to help families connect their suicidal children to almost non-existent child psychiatry resources. Want job security? Study child psychiatry.)

It was hard, hard work. But it was also very rewarding. I was sad to leave my state agency, where I’d worked long enough that the systems and people felt second hand. The leadership was great and I didn’t have any reason to go other than I was ready for a new challenge.

And while being somewhat intentionally vague because it isn’t good form to go into work details on a public blog: I am loving my new challenge. It’s a much bigger job in a smaller region. Our team focuses on homelessness, domestic violence, and other social service outreach. It is the first regional policy focused position I’ve held, and the idea we could make regional changes to help the most vulnerable makes me want to do cart wheels down the street.

The business books and mentors would say, “never show your vulnerabilities in a new position.” To some extent, I agree. I’m not interested in complaining or looking foolish to the team I manage. However, showing vulnerabilities makes us human. There is only so much faking it till you make it. And getting into this new job groove, including a commuting routine, has felt like someone asked me to dance to a slow song and now I’m stuck at a rave and can’t find my way out. It is a go! go! go! pace, which is quite the change from working from my couch for 18 months. We are all feeling it. The dogs aren’t getting the same amount of attention. The meal planning isn’t as consistent. The garden is not being planted for Fall.

But, nearly two months into this new dance, I’m starting to anticipate the steps. This hasn’t come without some frustrating falls and missteps, to continue the metaphor. Today, I feel less dizzy. I’m paying more attention to exercise and what I’m eating to keep my brain sharp and ready to go. And of course, I’m loving having the opportunity to wear dresses again. I had been living in work blouses and shorts to meet the Zoom criteria. But the new gig is more dressed up and there is something about the clothing making the man. I never thought I’d enjoy wearing a suit, but I so do. Most days I’m in my fancy office by myself on the floor. (Most folks are still virtual.) But it still feels good.

While the Peace Corps didn’t go as planned, it did introduce me to the needs of the poor in a new way. And from that, I knew I wanted to study public health. How fortunate I am to have found a field where the work remains fun and a challenge.