Vulnerability As A Strength To Start The School Year

As I start each workday, I make a choice to reflect on a message or theme. I have a set up at the office where I have created a bit of an inspiration station with color, quotes, drawings, photos and charts. I say it’s a choice because it takes a split second of intention to do. This choice provides me a consistent reminder that the world is complex and full of opportunity. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced work to be more home-based, my morning prompts were different. Working from home I had more predictability in some ways but a more personal and responsive set of inspiration. I had my family (the most predictable of whom is my dog) and our home. Coming back into the office, the same quotes and pictures are in place but I am seeing them from over a mask and I am seeing them after having had a break from them. One that stands out at this time as schools start up during a pandemic is from Dr. Brene Brown: “Vulnerability is not about winning or losing: It’s having the courage to show up and be seen when you have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage”.

My children entered sixth and eighth grades this year. They attend a district where in-person classes are possible. This provides consistency and predictability in an unpredictable time where the only consistency is change. I am a social worker and I value the vulnerability I see around me as we all face this new set of rules, guidelines, messages and fears. Acronyms for vulnerability often have a negative feel — “weakness”, “susceptibility”, “helplessness”… but there is also “openness” and, as Dr. Brown notes, “courage”.

I have lived in Chautauqua County and worked at the County’s Department of Mental Hygiene for 15 years. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to work as a social worker in a department that provides a variety of services and roles throughout the community. You may not hear much about “mental hygiene” but since I “have the floor”, I’d like to share a bit. The department is a state-mandated Local Governmental Unit that oversees services relating to emotional and behavioral health as well as substance misuse and developmental disabilities county-wide. I am a licensed clinical social worker but not a direct care provider in my present role. That being said, I lean on my clinical training in my role and in all areas of my life. Themes of “what works” evolve over time. We are all whole people and we all make mistakes. The beauty in that is there is always room to grow. I love the quote from Maya Angelou — “Do the best that can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

There is also an element of vulnerability in self-care. I encourage you to be courageous and try self-care techniques — keep trying until you find things that build you up. Use technology for good and search up healthy self-care. Look for things that heal you and make you feel whole and able to be present and available to others. As a social worker, I assume everyone has been exposed to some form of trauma. This does not mean everyone is damaged or struggles, it means that everyone has the capacity to be resilient. We need to see from each individual’s perspective, and how they are experiencing the new “normal” at this time. When we are able to talk about experiences in a way where we feel connected we access resources to build resiliency and develop positive and nurturing relationships to help one another heal and thrive.

It’s ok to be anxious. In response to chaos, create predictability when you can. Set routines and work to make your expectations realistic and clear. Be patient. Be kind. And be vulnerable.

Rachel Ludwig is the Grant Director for the Chautauqua Tapestry Resilience Initiative under the Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene. Chautauqua County was awarded a four-year Federal Cooperative Agreement by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to assist in enhancing Chautauqua County’s system of care (SOC).


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