Report date
May 2023
Learning Log

Wrap your head around self-care and investing in yourself: My journey has unfolded in ways that I could not have imagined when I first began. Used to receiving grant dollars to which projects and SMART Goals are attached, it took me a while to truly wrap my head around the concept of what this fellowship is funding. I was repeatedly told that this is the Bush Foundation's investment in me as a leader and not "a project," although I am working on a project towards change. It wasn't until the fellowship retreat with my fellow recipients, and hearing from previous fellows that I began to understand what investing in myself means. This is such a different and novel concept. Many of us get here because all of our energy is spent taking care of others, of community, of causes. Many of us get here because we had no life balance. And suddenly, we are being encouraged to invest in ourselves, to take care of ourselves, to consider our needs in this work. This felt alien, and then during the retreat, Damon Shoholm reminded us that the biggest champion and the biggest barrier of getting across the finish line and accomplishing our goals In mental health, we often use the example of being on a plane, where you put the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping put it on others. This is the same concept, only on a bigger scale. Take care of yourself, learn what you need to learn, so that you can keep doing your life's work.

Keep going - it's how we honor ourselves and our community: Early on, I hit a bump - one that continues to carry a deep grief that in some ways I hope never goes away because of the people it represents for me. I had been having conversations with cultural healers from my community before the pandemic, some of whom I've partnered with when I was still working directly with clients. We'd been having conversations about what it could mean if we could extend the mental health care continuum to include them in this work. When I became a Bush Fellow, I reached back out to these incredible group of healers, elders who I respect so much and who carry so much history in their heads and hearts. Over half had passed away during the pandemic - many of Covid, because of course, during the pandemic, especially that first year when we lost so many people, these were the folks being called to help and heal our community. The grief that hit me was overwhelming. A whole generation of knowledge. A whole generation that kept the hearts and souls of our community, gone. I remember talking to one of my great aunts, an incredible healer herself, and we cried together until I was sure I'd be dehydrated. She reminded me I needed to continue this work, not just to honor the people who had passed, but to nourish the people who continue to live.

Life happens and it's okay to take a pause: And then bump two: my family got Covid, including my husband and I. My husband ended up in the hospital for two weeks, including on a ventilator for a night. But he came home. He came home! I had a series of community conversations scheduled that I canceled. I needed to just be with my family for a while.

Sometimes the universe provides exactly what we need: The time since that beginning - filled with so much grief and loss, has been quite an amazing journey. I have connected with whole new groups of healers - many of them my age or younger. This experience has filled my soul and shined a light on my own biases. Prior to this, I had only thought about healers as elders in our community and yet there are generations of young healers who are making their way in our world, evolving their identities as Hmong Americans and as healers. I realized that our healers, just as our community, just as I have, are continuing to evolve and find their place, identity, and voice in this community. The conversations I am having and learning about their journeys have been some of the very best I've ever had, and a balm for the brokenness that I was feeling following the loss of so many of our elders. When I think of how some of these generations are using both their Hmong and American selves to understand and heal, to provide greater access for all, I am in so much awe.

Being a Bush Fellow carries a great deal of meaning and weight. Do not underestimate it and use it to keep doing good: Some of the conversations I've had have truly surprised me. After the announcements of our 2022 class, a couple of health plans and one government entity reached out to me to ask, "How can we make this possible?" I never imagined even five years ago that health plans would be wanting to fund cultural healing as part of their benefits package. I could not believe that here we were, talking about both the community support and technical mechanisms to make this happen.

You don't know who you will touch: I want to end this with sharing something so beautiful, I get teary-eyed every single time I think about this. One of my references for this fellowship, a woman who had reported to me, recently reached out to me. She said she'd been thinking about our conversations and she wanted to give Wilder (where I work) a donation to fund cultural healing for our clients. "Just spend the money on whatever our clients and families need." she told me. So this month, our internal application for the cultural healing fund went out, and I'm already getting so much positive feedback from our staff. She and I come from very different worlds, and I was so blessed to be able to work with her for over a decade at Wilder before she retired. I never would have expected this from her, and yet as soon as she told me what she wanted to do, it made complete sense for who she is as a person and as a clinician. My only beef with her is that she won't let me tell the staff the money's from her. So while I want to sing her praises loudly, I grumpily respect her ask to remain anonymous - because this is also exactly who she is. I love this story so much not only because of the change she helped create in my own organization, but I never imagined when I asked her to be a reference that this is where it would lead. We are going to touch so many lives with her gift, and she shared with me that this also changed her.

Overall, this first year has been one of incredible highs and a few lows - personally and professionally. I couldn't have predicted where this journey was going to take me, and I couldn't have predicted the intensely personal nature of this journey. I can't wait to see what this next year brings, and I can't wait for you to begin your own journeys as Bush Fellows.