About Wanda Rohl

I have chosen to live a life of purpose and it is my passion to help others do the same. I have many roles including social worker, motivational speaker, writer, educator and therapist. I am a wife and a mother of 3 and in 2003 I had an ATV accident which left me a T6 paraplegic. which changed my life forever. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker i work as a professional mental health therapist. I am politically active and believe in social justice so in 2012 I was the Democratic Candidate for Congress in the 16th Congressional District of Illinois.

The Life of a Social Worker

This is going to be one of those “whiplash moments” I previously warned about.I’m a Social Worker…

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I actually am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker ( LCSW) and I work in the mental health field, mostly as a therapist. I know I haven’t gotten to that point in the story of my life yet  but today is one of those days where my current reality is more important than my past.

Earlier today while I was checking emails and reading a few posts on Facebook I came across an article on my college alumni page that hit very close to home given my current professional situation and it made me think about the jobs I have had and why I chose this profession given the environment we live in…

The Social Work Job Offer: Decline or Accept?”

Since graduating Aurora University​ with my MSW in 2011,  I have worked in several different environments and had to change jobs more often than I would like. In fact today ( Friday, April 27, 2018 ) is my last day at my current job where I am the Director of Behavioral Health at an HIV Clinic and I am sad to be leaving, but excited about the next chapter.  I love what I do for a living , but as always  I will miss my patients and my coworkers.

I currently work in a small non profit clinic that offered me an opportunity to grow and develop professionally which is always the hope of a new job.  In a previous position I had been tasked with leadership responsibilities as part of my job while working at a community health clinic including providing supervision for student interns, helping to develop policy and basically creating a behavioral health department inside a primary care clinic where there wasn’t one before. Although the work was hard and incredibly rewarding, the downfall was that I was not given the official title or the pay that should have come along with it. My boss, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) gave me high praise and tremendous support to create the Integrated Behavioral Health Department that I was so proud of, where I earned the respect of the medical clinicians I interacted with everyday. and the entire clinic staff. I was able to create a program, educate staff and be called on as an expert where mental health issues were concerned.  I was so proud of the work I was doing and the program I was developing; as well as, the sense of purpose I felt even on the hardest of days.  However, the sad reality of this work can be that if you work in public mental health in the state of Illinois under the current political leadership, the funding for your position may not always be there and it was exactly that issue, a state budget crisis, that inevitably made me leave the position that I loved, which lead to the biggest mistake of my career.

In uncertain times we can often make the wrong choice for what we feel , at the time to be the right reasons and that was so true for me when I unfortunately took a job I thought I would like. When you are forced to leave a job you love, due to no fault of your own, where you are a vital part of a successful team and you are respected, it can be very hard to adjust one’s own expectations.  I sought out a similar position, provided 8 letters of professional recommendation and was very clear about what type of responsibilities I wanted and what I was capable of bringing to the position. I had been taught to be confident in my skills and to only seek positions that allow those abilities to shine and grow, to identify the role I wanted to play in an organization and how my unique skill set could bring that to fruition.  It was at that time that professional promises were made and responsibilities were agreed upon, the job was offered and  I happily accepted. I knew what I wanted in my new job , I had asked for it and I got it, not because they simply offered it, but because I was able to articulate my goals ,my abilities  and how I could be beneficial to the team.  However, what I soon found at my new job was a change in leadership, which almost immediately had me asking myself if I had made a mistake.

Good leaders do not have to be experts at everything, but they do have to be aware of the deficits in their knowledge and have the ability to surround themselves with people who are experts, and be confident enough to listen to them when needed. This can be a challenge for some and appeared to be problematic for my new boss.

I’ve never been one to feel trapped by a situation, I have always found a way to make things work but after only 10 months my husband and I decided it just wasn’t going to work and I was so unhappy I started looking for a new job This was not an easy decision for me, I knew it wasn’t where I needed to be, but leaving meant more than just looking for another job, more than going through this whole process again, it also meant turning down the federal grant money I had recently been awarded that would have paid off my sizable student loan debt. However, turning it down was easier than I thought it would be because in order to receive the money I would have been required to make a 2 year commitment to  the clinic and it was not worth it to stay.

Professional and personal goals can sometimes dictate the job offer you except even more so than money. Recently while interviewing I was offered a clinical position and the pay was well, lets just say significantly more than I had been making but it just didn’t fit my personal needs, so I turned it down, which was not an easy thing to do . I had decided I was leaving a job where if I stayed my student loans would be paid off, but I had to do what was best for me and my family so I keep interviewing. I eventually was offered and accepted a position as MISA Coordinator ( Director of Behavioral Health ) with a small non profit agency that would allow me to achieve both my professional goals and my personal needs. The work environment was more collaborative and promoted a healthy work/life balance and even though it didn’t pay the most the benefits to my career growth were significant and it allowed me more time with my family. However, in accepting this job I broke one of my own professional rules, it was grant funded and I had swore I would never take a job that had an expiration date, but after discussing it with my husband we decided the potential for professional growth was worth the risk , and the truth is that changing jobs will always be risky, and as my luck would have it the funding for my current position is no longer available and I was once again forced to find a new job.

While I take the pictures off the wall and pack up my office preparing for the next opportunity I stop and think about what I have gained from my time in this job.  I have truly enjoyed the experience and feel I have grown as a clinician, a supervisor and had an opportunity to develop new skills in my leadership role. Although I am sad because I am saying goodbye to the friends I have made, my colleges and my patients I am looking forward to the nest step in my professional journey.

There are many challenges in this profession including but not limited to the constant change and uncertainty that can be hard on my family, but the rewards make it all worthwhile. Working in the mental health field, being a Social Worker has been one of the great joys of my life, allowing me to live a purposeful life. Since starting down this road I have been asked why I wanted to be a social worker, well it sure isn’t for the money because social workers are not paid what they are worth, I became a Social Worker to make a difference. The pride I feel helping my patients improve their quality of life, helping them find joy after pain and sorrow, fighting for social justice, being the voice of the voiceless, advocating for those who either cannot or will not speak for themselves is why I do what I do. So today as I pack my things and close my office door for the last time I am sad, but I can smile because I know I made a difference here and it’s just time for me to make a difference someplace else…

There is such a variety of things to consider when looking for a new job and when deciding which offer to accept or decline but the most important ones should always be will it make you happy in the long run? Will it meet your professional and personal goals? Will it pay enough to meet your needs? Will you achieve a healthy work /life balance?, Does it promote self care and a healthy environment and most importantly will it make you proud of who you are and the work that you do?…and if the answer is no, don’t take it and if things change and you find yourself in a position like I did where a professional change is required, do what needs to be done.  It may sound silly, but I have found that life is too short and the world is too hard and cruel at times to spend my life doing things that don’t make my soul sing.. find your joy in both your personal and professional life and the rest will fall into place.

Thoughts On Being A Mom…

The hardest job I have ever had is being a mom…

I was reading an article today about being a mom, written by a young mother, who was just  trying to figure it all out, getting ready to bring baby number 2 home and I started to think about my own journey as a mom, and my kids…. two of which are grown (both in their 20’s) and my teenager who is a Jr in high school and of course still lives at home… Being a new mom is exciting and exhausting but so is being a mom at this stage of the game, it’s just different and as I was thinking about what it was like I was reminded of something I read recently that fit my thoughts perfectly…

“Despite the warnings (and they’re everywhere, all the time) you can’t feel the truth of a situation until you’re looking backward, moving away from what was. ” 

Feeling woefully unprepared for the hardest, most important job of my life is how I felt when I became a mom for the first time and again for the second… I became a mom for the third time differently; he was just 12 months old when I chose to be his mom by marrying his dad, not my child by birth, but mine all the same. Children do not come with “owner’s manuals” we don’t take a course, get a practice kid…   (even though many of us with more than one child think about that in humor when we screw up… like ” Whew,  good thing we have a spare.. lol” but not really. )  we aren’t graded or tested to know if we have what it takes to be a good parent and as you are being discharged from the hospital it hits you… You see the nurse, who you just know that if she really knew how terrified and unprepared you were she would never trust you with such a big job, but  instead she hands you this adorable, fragile little boy who looks like you and tells you to take him home… Wait, What… ???

So you go and you try and hope that you won’t screw them up or that you at least make enough money to send them to a good therapist later…

Excited and scared you  begin to figure it out,  the sleepless nights, childproofing everything but still they get hurt,  and big firsts, like sleeping through the night, first steps, first words, ( which you secretly hope is mom) then it’s his first day of school, riding a bike with no training wheels, the scrapped knees,  and every little moment that  follows… Time simply passes, life goes on and soon it’s reports cards, sports schedules, Jr. High dances, and the list goes on and you don’t  even realize until they are grown, it’s those moments, those memories that  you will miss, the ones that make you cry.

You watch them grow, they become independent, they make friends, they find that first love and then their first heartbreak, and they start to make dreams of their own which makes you proud and sad all at the same time.

Then, somehow it happens, you watch them walk across the stage in the High School gymnasium in a cap and gown, and as you clap and smile he looks for you, like he did when he was little and you remember all those ” unremarkable” moments, things that didn’t seem “picture worthy” , things that didn’t go in the baby book, things like when he was little and you tucked him in at night and you would always say.to him. ” Do you know how much I love you?”… and he says back… “To the moon and back mom” and then with a kiss and a hug you say.. “That’s right,  to the moon and back”    and that’s when the tears come, when you wish that you would have taken more pictures, hugged him more often, and  held his hand a little longer back when he used to let you..

My best job, my most important job has been to be a good mom to all of my children, I know I screwed a few things up, well maybe more than a few, but I did the best I could, I tried.  No one really warns you , or maybe I just never listened but It isn’t until they are ready to leave you, until they are grown and that part of your life is almost over that you realize just how much you love them and how your arms feel empty and your heart breaks from wanting just a little more time where they need you  because if you have done the job correctly, your child no longer needs to hold your hand and he walks away, on to the next big thing in his life, whatever that may be.

Now I know that I will always be their mother and I will always have a place in their hearts but no matter how big they get, or how old they are, they are always going to be those little boys who were given to me and all I can do is hope that I did a good job…

I love you Mason, Austin & Ty… Our journey together has not been easy but I hope you have always known how much you are loved !

 

 

My Story In No Particular Order!

damn itTo help those who don’t already know me I have decided I need to share a bit of information. If you follow my blog you might get whiplash…!

My first two posts are a bit long and are about the first part of my life, how I grew up and my life before the chair,  but if you hoped I would go in some particular chronological order I’m sorry  but my thoughts are way too random for that.

 

I will try to stay on track if possible,  but just in case I jump to things in my life right now, which will most likely happen very soon please remember …

You Have Been Warned… LOL 🙂

Understanding How I Got Here…

Long before the ATV accident that shattered my spine I had a life and unless you know me and my story you will never understand my journey…

I have been on this earth for 47 years and in that time I have seen my life change from what I thought it should be to what I never could have imagined with sad, joyous, crazy, happy, torturous and painful things in between.

Before I decided to get divorced I was struggling to make sense of the decisions I had made and the person I had become. I was 30, married with 2 kids working 2 jobs and so unhappy I wasn’t sure if there was a point to my life,  but I just knew there needed to be. I remember sitting at home with the kids while my husband was at work ( we worked opposite shifts so our kids wouldn’t have to be with a sitter too often) I fired up the computer , waited for the dialing sound and that amazing phrase  ” You’ve got mail”.   Yes… I had dial up and yes I had an AOL account. ( 20 years later I still do… no judging) . The internet was the key that helped me unlock the trauma from my past and it was the chat rooms that allowed me to make friends outside my rural bubble and helped me to identify why I never felt at peace with my life. I typed “Rape Survivor” in the search box and up came all of these choices so I joined a few and it was in those chat rooms that I first started to realize that many of my decisions had been made based on being sexually assaulted at age 16.

Date Rape… that’s what it is called now, but back in 1987 the only thing I knew was that it felt like it was my fault.  I was 16 and he was 19 and I liked him, he was cute and funny and I was new to dating so I trusted him. Dinner and a movie, I guess he felt that those 2 things entitle him to sex. It started out like most dates, I got ready after school and drove into town to meet him, it was exciting and we had a good time and although I was nervous since I had been on like 2 other dates in my life I didn’t think anything of it when after the movie we went back to his place, I mean after all my car was parked there so why would I. It was still early and he asked me to stay for a while so I did  and at first I liked it when he kissed me but then I didn’t and he wouldn’t stop. This was not how I had imagined my night would go, it was supposed to be fun , I like him and I thought he liked me too but he took something that wasn’t his to take and left me feeling dirty and ashamed. When you are young and you think about your first time you know that it is supposed to be exciting and clumsy and maybe a little awkward but always consensual; however, that wasn’t how it happened for me.

As I write this I can still see the room, remember how it smelled, and feel his hands on my arms holding me down and the weight of him on top of me. I kissed him yes, I went out with him yes and yes I went back to his place, but was that consent, did that give him permission, how did I not see that coming? I asked him to slow down as he put his hands on me in places I didn’t like, I asked him to stop as he went under my shirt to grab my breasts and I pushed back when he put his hand under my skirt,  he just kept going, he would not stop and he kept trying to kiss me, telling me to relax and that I was being a tease and I would like it if I would just relax… He was WRONG!

He didn’t see what he did as wrong, when he was finished I was in tears and he just smiled and said ‘ oh stop,  you know you liked it” and he even kissed me again as I was trying to pull myself together and leave. I got to my car and drove home in tears,asking myself ‘how did that happen”, why did he do that”. next came the guilt and shame that enveloped me and didn’t let go.

I got home and took a shower and I didn’t tell anyone, not for some time. I never reported it to the police, because I felt it was my fault and ashamed of my stupidity for putting myself in that situation. I didn’t tell my parents until I was going through a divorce as a 30 year old woman and even then comments made by my father implied it was my fault, re-enforcing that belief and the guilt that I shouldn’t  have gotten myself in that situation in the first place.

It was in those chat rooms that I realized so many of the decision I made that followed were a direct result of that assault, starting with my emotional eating that lead me to become morbidly obese, now I was never a tiny girl and I never will be but the irrational thought that food was my comfort became uncontrollable. I now know I had unconsciously decided that if I was fat no one would do that to me again, I would be safe. After that I didn’t date for some time and when I did it was groups things; however, I did eventually meet someone who I didn’t realize until much later, I was attracted to him for all the wrong reasons. After we had been dating for a while I did tell him about the rape and he appeared to be understanding and didn’t push the physical stuff , but eventually knowing that our relationship had progressed to the point where sex was almost inevitable… I had to get drunk to do it,  I was 17  and I remember thinking “I just need to get through it and then I will be fine”. We continued to date while I was in HS and married the spring following graduation but eventually I came to understand that our relationship wasn’t based on real love, ours wasn’t the kind you can’t live without, the kind you build your life around because you cant see yourself with anyone else, at least it wasn’t for me. The uncomfortable truth is that I thought I married him for love but in reality it was because I subconsciously knew he could never hurt me physically.

When I finally faced what had happened to me as a teenager I was able to see that  it was the marriage itself that was making me so unhappy, it wasn’t him , he hadn’t changed, he was still the same non confrontational, safe man I married. It was me who had changed, I had gotten stronger, I had faced my pain and decided I needed to focus on healing myself and that’s what I did. I changed how I ate, I exercised and lost about 200 lbs.  I was on a journey to find myself and that meant that I had to leave behind the pain , the guilt and the shame that had haunted me for so long.

Figuring out how to be happy eventually required me to be on my own, it meant leaving my husband , ending our 15 year relationship and changing the lives of my children forever, but I couldn’t stay trapped in the marriage any longer. The next steps were even harder than I thought they would be but it was happening, my husband and I separated, filed for divorce, shared custody of our children, I changed jobs and moved into a place of my own. I had never lived alone. I  had moved from my parent’s house to my husband’s house and soon after that I had 2 children. Being on my own for the very first time was exciting and terrifying at the same time. I soon realized that finding yourself, defining the person you want to be and the kind of life you want takes time, courage, space and tears. Although it was what I wanted and what I needed I was sad in the beginning, because I never hated my life or my husband, it wasn’t his fault I needed out, I just did.

My revelation developed over time and it was during that process I learned and accepted that I would never be at peace with who I am until I dealt with the demons that haunted me and for a long time defined me. Facing the truth can be overwhelming at first, but accepting that fact made the hard decisions a little easier.  Risking everything I took that first step on a new path alone and found I have a better understanding of my strength and a clearer picture of who I am and where I want to be.  pexels-photo-68272.jpeg

 

Life is not how I thought it would be…

As, I sit at my desk contemplating where to start, I realize my life has not turned out how I thought it would. As a young girl growing up on a small farm in rural Illinois, I never would have seen myself where I am now, my goals were so much simpler then, my plans were smaller, my goals so much more achievable,  and me, well I was smaller too, not physically, but mentally. The youngest of three girls, I was the tomboy, the boy my father wanted but never got so it was overalls and baseball caps instead of dresses and tiaras, mud pies instead of tea parties, toy trucks and tractors instead of Barbies and dream cars, spending time in the barn with my dad taking care of the cows , pigs and the dog instead of  in the house with my mom and two older sisters playing dress up, decorating doll houses, learning to cook and sew and all the other things little girls do. Being “daddy’s little girl” meant something very different to me, I was his sidekick, his buddy, there were no father daughter dances but there was learning to roller skate in the kitchen while he held my hand. I didn’t go to dance class, or join girl scouts, instead I played baseball on the boy’s team, learned to drive the tractor and worked on our farm.  A typical little girl, a princess, that was not to be my life, not my journey, not who I was… or was it?

We learn from our experiences so my world view was never one of dependence and femininity, but rather independence, inhibition, tenacity, with a strong sense of who I was ( or so I thought at the time)  Those traits have served me well over the past 47 years, but they have also gotten in the way and caused me more pain than I could visualize or identify at the time. Being strong-willed isn’t always the best trait when you find yourself in trouble. Because of how I saw myself and how I thought others saw me, I often found myself in situations where I felt I couldn’t share my pain and I couldn’t ask for help.  I felt shame and self-doubt at times when I found myself in situations where I believed I should have known better, for allowing myself to get trapped in situations that I couldn’t get out of or that put me in danger and made me a victim. When you believe to your core that you have to behave in such a way as to not allow people to see you fail, or to need help, or to question your ability to make good decisions, you make decisions that can be detrimental to your health, your well-being , your life.

My childhood, and how I was raised, put me on a path that  later I would realize was not the one I would have chosen for myself if I knew then what I know now.  Looking back  with the benefit of time, education, experience and perspective I can see how and why when I was younger I made some very big, life changing decisions based on what I believed to be my truth and how that set into motion the life I lived as a young adult.

Perception of ones’ life is vital to understanding why we behave the way we do, because if you ask my parents I doubt they would believe that they instilled in me both good and bad versions of myself. However, with every milestone of development shaped by my environment and /or determined by my biology  I began to unconsciously interpret the meaning and importance of relationships,  successes and failures, socially acceptable behaviors and norms, encouragement and disappointment which in turn determined my role in society in rural America, creating what I thought was to be my future. A future where I was encouraged, if not expected to follow in the footsteps of those who came before me, to be like all the women I knew, to marry my high school sweetheart, live on a farm and be a good wife and mother, which was in direct conflict with what I knew and how I was treated as a young girl, when I was glued to my dad’s side, his helper, his self-sufficient child, that could be trusted to drive the tractor, bring grain in from the field, bail hay and help with the livestock. It wasn’t until I was a preteen (age 11-13) that my mom spent more time with me and my role  became more like that of my older sisters.  Although my parents did tell us we could do/ be what ever we wanted we had no other examples to go by, this was all we knew. No one in my family or life at that time ever went to college, except for my teachers, and those who did leave home, joined the military and that was not uncommon, in fact my father had been in the military  reserves for a time, but he was still expected to be a responsible member of his community and work on the farm with his father, eventually getting married, having children and taking over the family farm.

I was never told I couldn’t be more, but it wasn’t encourage, expected or presented as achievable.  It was a respectable future, I wasn’t expected to be more, to dream bigger, to be successful on my own. How I saw myself and what I believed to be acceptable was shaped very early on  through the development of concrete beliefs and ideals that were the foundation of  my young adult life. Rural values and christian morals were my guidelines, and if you are from my neck of the woods, you know what I mean. It was OK to be poor, but you were still expected to help your neighbor, you had children raised with manners because good parenting included a strong belief in corporal punishment, you had boys to carry on the family name and to run the farm when they were old enough. It was never acceptable to  “air your dirty laundry in public” because issues in a marriage or family were the wife’s responsibility to fix and to keep quiet because your reputation as a “good person” was important.  These ideals may seem old-fashioned , but I am almost 50 ( I can’t believe that is my age) and although things were starting to change when I got married at age 19 it was still the norm, and it was how I was raised…

Married at 19, first child at age 20 and the second less than 3 years later, I was all set to achieve the future I believed was mine. However during my marriage I realized I wanted more than to be a wife and mother who struggled working 2 jobs and still never getting out of the financial hole I was in, but that meant I had to take a risk and create the future that I wanted for myself. I could have stayed married for the kids or I could set a better example and choose to be strong on my own, to build my own future, to be happy by living by my own rules, so that is what I did. Most people in my life couldn’t understand why I wanted out of my marriage, I had done such a good job of hiding the problems, but I couldn’t do it anymore. Deciding to be a divorced mother of two was frightening, but I knew that if I wanted to be more than what I was the first step was leaving, and so I did!

When you realize that although parents do the best they can, their best of intentions can be to the detriment to the personal development of their child , you hope to do it better and I think I have, I know that I have tried, but life does seem to get in the way and of course it will be for my children to determine if I did a good job as a parent and I provided them with all the tools they needed to be successful and happy adults.

I choose to be a survivor not a victim, to live the life I want regardless of the expectations!