Be Present

I went to my mother’s for Christmas.  My sister, brother-in-law, and nieces live not far from her.  I looked forward to the visit and time off from work for weeks.  While I am glad I went – it is good to get away for a while and I enjoy the intellectual conversations Mom and I have – I always have a sense of disconnection.  It’s like I’m there but I’m not.  I don’t really know how to describe it let alone what to call it.  It is like feeling, emotional connection, is muted, more often than not.  Sometimes it is like there is a glass pane between me and everyone else.  For example, I was present on Christmas eve with everyone eating and drinking and playing with the girls but was I really there?  Not really.  It is like I am stuck in the state of the observer, outside looking in.  I was able to appreciate how cute my younger niece is.  I was able to express appreciation for the various toys my nieces attempted to show me.  But did I really care?  Not really. (Except for how cute my niece is; she’s adorable.) And when she chose to sit on my lap…I was excited and happy.

I am nostalgic at times for the most mundane things.  I went on a couple of walks while at Mom’s, something I used to do quite frequently.  Where I walk there are a lot of pine trees and the pine trees always call to mind many memories, impressions, and feelings.  Strange things.  Remembering holidays and every days with Grandma.  Catching a whiff of the cold air brought to mind the occasional visits to hospitals towards the end of her life and walking out of the hospital catching the same cold air.  Memories of the pottery show Mom and I went to once.  Seaford maybe?  Memories of a cultural, history, exhibit at a local park one year on my birthday not too long before I moved to PA.  Trips to Carboro and Hillsboro.  Hot days at the timeshare in Florida.  Days when Mom was more active, healthier… The day after I got back to PA I was driving back from the gym and passed a Walgreens.  I had a nostalgic longing memory of Mom and I wandering the aisles of one, God knows how many years ago.  I can feel these things but in the moment?  It’s like I’m concentrating too hard.

And I always find it hard to really enjoy myself with Mom when she’s clearly not feeling well.  I know her health, her body, her discomfort, her responsibility to manage.  But I am hyperaware of every grimace, twitch, breathing irregularity.  Every outing it is like there is a timer set before Mom’s energy runs out, before her pain, nausea, visual disturbances, are just too much to bare and we have to go home.  I was the same way when I lived with her.  Every time she was up in the middle of the night, though she does her best not to disturb anyone, I was, I am aware and cannot relax.

Years ago when we would get together with my sister and her then boyfriend, now husband, we would spend hours upon hours upon hours with them during the holidays.  I would be ready to leave far far far before Mom would be.  My introversion meter would be dangerously low many times.  Now I am grateful for the fact that Mom’s ability to spend time doing pretty much anything is lower.  She used to spend hours upon hours upon hours doing yard work too and I hated being corralled into “helping.”  Then being made to feel ashamed for not being more willing.  Now it is easier to help knowing she won’t last as long as she used to.  Our energy levels are more equal which leads me to conclude or perhaps wonder whether Mom’s body is rebelling precisely because she never cut herself a break when she was younger.  She never allowed herself to rest and now her body is forcing her to.

But, my original problem…I was observing my sister, her husband, and her in-laws.  I was blown away by, baffled by, her connection to them, as if she has always been part of their family.  To see my sister and her husband work in harmony and discuss the mundanity of raising a family, I have trouble fathoming the connection, the emotional, physical, connection between them.  To seemingly trust and feel that trust and emotional connection, vulnerability with someone seems so foreign to me.  I do not know what it is like to be purely myself with another person without some part of me worrying about saying or doing the wrong thing, of being misunderstood.  And it is this I think that leads, at least in part, to my feelings of disconnection from people and events.  It is very rare that I ever really feel like I am a part of things, that I belong without question, that flaws and quirks aside I belong…Maybe there is some…thing about me that has never really allowed myself to be a part of things…Some part of me is the observer, constantly on alert.

And so, my goals for the new year are to be more present, more in the moment, to try and give up being on alert, to devote more time and energy to social relationships (I may not ever be as close to someone as I wish to be.), and to create a better sense of identity and worth outside of work.

Advertisements

In a world alone

So yesterday I was walking into a local chain restaurant and I ran into my neighbor from across the hall.  I said, “Hey! If I knew you were coming to the same place I would have given you a ride!”  He had walked.  I drove.  Obviously.  He thanked me and we chit chatted for a little bit.  His girlfriend is sick and I asked after her…anyway.  After a while he let me know that one of our other neighbors “has the hots for you.”  Nice?  I guess.  But I was seized with anxiety.  I kinda muttered, “well with work and supervision and everything…”  (There was once, years ago, some guy asked me out and I said, “I don’t know.  I’ll have to ask my Mom.  I was a grown adult…)  I don’t even know who this guy is, other than what his car looks like.  Leaving my apartment and coming home I simply don’t pay attention to that kind of thing.  I don’t notice who else is coming and going unless they are in my way or I am in theirs.  I might exchange pleasantries if I pass someone.  I behave the same way when I am in public as well.  Unless it is obvious, I am usually in my own little world.  This has made it difficult to make friends or establish relationships with people.  Yesterday, I was stuck wondering why my first reaction was to pull away as if I had encountered something dangerous.  I was anxious just contemplating interacting with this guy and I don’t even know who he is!

Wondering who this neighbor is that supposedly likes me, I think about my lack of closeness with anyone.  The amount of discomfort I feel fluctuates, but it makes it difficult to get close to anyone.  I think frequently of my therapist as I drive to work each morning.  Her office is not too far from my workplace.  I miss her.  I miss her because she is the person I’ve been the most honest with and even with her, there have been things I’ve been afraid to talk about.  Like my fear that I am really not cut out to be a therapist because I am stuck in my head (I don’t even know how to develop appropriate social relationships for goodness sake).  And somehow she or I would think less of myself because of it.

I overthink encounters with “friends.”  I even overthink my supervision meetings.  Living alone, with Piper, my cat, I at least don’t have to analyze every little thing.  At home I can do my own thing without constantly worrying about someone else.  Living with someone has a lot of emotional feedback for me.  (This actually makes a lot of sense.  When coworkers are upset at work and being toxic, I feel ill and have to leave the area.  When I lived at home my Mom’s emotions would frequently cause me to leave the house.  Library, bookstore, a walk…)  Living with someone is exhausting.  Even thinking about a friendship or a romantic relationship with this mysterious guy is anxiety producing….And I understand even better our residents’ (at work) default state of “I don’t know what I am supposed to do.”  I don’t know how to friend.

My head understands that in relationships there is no “supposed to” (besides human decency) and that there are two people being individuals together.  My heart is full of fear of being rejected, of my most essential fears, hopes, dreams, silliness, pettiness, flaws, being rejected and, worst of all, invalidated.  Heck, I’ve never really been in a “relationship” or had ongoing ebbing and flowing friendships.  I have people I am friendly with.  I have acquaintances.  There is no one I am really intimate…or perhaps vulnerable is a better word, with.  The last peer friendship I had, that I was closest to, was when I was a kid, a young teenager.

I am amazed at the level of objectivity I am able to maintain at work and yet I still feel others do it so much better…Every encounter is a mixture of analytical decision making and “I shouldna’ said/ did that. (To be read in Hagrid’s voice.)”  As a result I am not as smoothly intuitive as I’d like to be.  And after a day at work or a few hours with people, I am tired.

TL:DR  I don’t know how to make friends.  I miss my therapist.

IMG_7288

There but for the Grace of God

I feel as though sometimes I come off as a complainer.  When I talk about feelings of being “less than” it comes from a place of being fearful that I don’t know enough, I don’t know the right things to say or do to help my clients.  That I am not worthy enough to help them.  I am unbelievably humbled by them every day, and grateful.  I am grateful for the chance to learn about the complexities of the human condition.  I am humbled to even presume to be a part of their journey.  It gets frustrating when you I want to help them so badly but I simply cannot travel their journey for them.  Then I think it sounds insufferably arrogant to talk about journeys when they are in the middle of the muck of drug addiction, self-harm, emotional disregulation, schizophrenia, BPD…

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

“The worst thing is watching someone drown and not being able to convince them that they can save themselves by standing up.”  Anon

It comes down to not knowing enough, not understanding enough, and not having lived the experiences they have.  And yet…I kind of see us like…

“This guy is walking down the street and he falls in a hole.  The walls are so steep he cannot get out.

A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you.  Can you help me out?’  The doctor writes a prescription and throws it down the hole and moves on.

Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father I’m don in this hole.  Can you help me out?’  The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down the hole, and moves on.

Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?’  And the friend jumps in the hole.  Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid?  Now we are both down here.’  The friend says, “Yeah but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”–  The West Wing, IMG_6957 I remember when I was still in school someone gave a presentation on hospice care and how to work with families in the middle of the grieving process.  The woman made reference to “mud sitting,” sitting in the mud with a client.  Sometimes the company of another person while sitting in the mud is what is needed to transform the suffering.  Or as Thich Nhat Hanh says, “No mud, no lotus.”

This post has been kind of unfocused.  Long story, short:  Knowing how to mud sit while knowing the way out.  Be humble because, there but for the grace of God go we.

I’m in my mid-30s damnit.

Apologizing is hard.  Saying “thank you” is hard, at least it is for me, sometimes, when the debt is big.  Both “I’m sorry” and “Thank you” leave the sayer, at least me, vulnerable.  Both are some type of social debt.  For someone, me again, who has questioned their worth, “I’m sorry” and “thank you” and “please, can you?” are risky.

Apologizing is frequently as a result of a breach of social contract.  Apologizing puts a person into a vulnerable position by submitting to the other person’s …selfhood.  The other person has the right to deny the apology.  “No.  You have no right to my forgiveness.”  “You are not good enough for my forgiveness.”  That is what terrifies me the most I think.

There are also different kinds of apologies.  There is the “Oops, I’m sorry I stopped short in front of you,” the casual, “I’m sorry,” and there is the “I’m sorry.  I screwed up.  I did not accurately take into account your feelings. I require your forgiveness”  It is this latter one that leaves me feeling the most vulnerable because I screwed up.  I am not perfect.  I do not know the right things to do, or say.  I am still learning.  And what happens when that apology is not accepted?

Thank yous are also problematic when it is a big thank you, like when your Mom fronts the cost of new tires.  (Thanks Mom)  Again, for me, it is a question of self-worth, like I have to do, or be, or say something, to make myself more worthy of new tires.  I am lucky in that I have parents who can, and do, help me if and when I require it and yet I feel horribly guilty and unworthy every single time.  I feel the need to repay Mom every time and I feel stressed to the point where I almost wish I owed a credit card company or even did without the new tires.  I should be overwhelmed with gratitude, and I am, but at times I also feel near tears because I cannot yet manage all on my own.  I’m in my mid-30s damnit.  It is right that I repay my Mom but man do I hate being in debt.  Being in debt and feeling unworthy of that debt…that I am not good enough, hard working enough…no matter how hard I work I barely make ends meet.  Is this what being an adult is?  Is this what a “millennial” is?  I’m in my mid-30s damnit.

What about feeling the need to both apologize and say “thank you” at the same time?  Always worrying about whether you are doing enough, saying enough, working enough, at your job.  Please God don’t fire me, kind of work.  That’s where the “Please, can you?” comes in.  Please, can you reassure my scared inner child that she is worthy?  She has something to offer but she’s scared.  She’s scared you will lose patience with her.  Thank you for believing in her.  I’m sorry if she’s not what you wanted.  Please God don’t fire her (me.)

Can I get a witness?

My Art Therapy supervisor and I had a brief conversation yesterday about “witnessing” another person’s story.  As therapists that’s part of what our role is, to witness.  In truth that is a large part of any social interaction.  “I am here to witness and share your story and you are here to witness and share in mine.”  This lead to me musing on my lack of friends.  I have acquaintances.  I have a few people I hang out with on the average of something like once a month.  I have family I regularly associate with.  But there is no one I am close to.  Most of this comes from the fact that I am an introvert and after a long day at work interacting with a lot of people, I am tired and all I look forward to is going home.  Alone.  Some of this also comes from the amount of time and effort it takes to cultivate a close friendship.  In some cases this can take years. Then again much of the time I am happy being alone, doing things alone, until I think, “I really should have a friend.  I really wish I had someone to share stories with.  I really wish I had someone I could relate to….I really wish I had a witness.”  I really wish I had someone I interacted with regularly where a mutual exchange of interests, energy, and enjoyment in each others company could take place.  And at times, I really wish I wanted it bad enough to make a coordinated effort to achieve such a relationship.

I once told my therapist that the thing I looked forward to the most each week were our sessions.  Our sessions, at that time, were pretty much the only “social” thing I did each week.  Her reply was, “That’s sad.”  I giggled over that for quiet a while.  (No lie.  I still giggle about it.)  I found it extremely funny.  She didn’t mean, of course, that it was sad that my primary interaction with someone was with my therapist.  She meant, she said, that it was sad that I did not share myself with anyone.  She saw the value in me as a person, qualities she thought meaningful, and that I had no one to share those with, she found sad.

I guess I am musing on this now because in the next couple of weeks we will be having what might be our last session, unless of course I need something or face some kind of crisis.  It has been a long road and I have spent a lot of time in her office over the last 6+ years.  I spent a lot of tortured time, a lot of growing time, and a lot of time simply enjoying the presence of a person I also found valuable.  I found my witness for the story I needed to tell.  I think back on how our therapeutic relationship started and marvel at the obscurities of chance.  Why her?  Why me?  She’s told me she doesn’t believe in chance which then leaves, we were meant to cross paths for a reason….This is getting off topic.  Excuse me.  I have had a valuable witness and part of me doesn’t want to let go.  I know that it is possible, if I really needed it or wanted it, to continue to see my therapist once every few months or so but I don’t know.  At that point it seems…pointless?  Or is it?There is value in checking in of course but the transformative period of time where the magic happened has passed, a chapter has closed so to speak.  Is it time for me to grow beyond the therapeutic relationship?  This could be equated to any relationship I guess.  So does the relationship need to end entirely now that my primary treatment goals are met or does it just need to transition to a new phase?

When my supervisor and I were talking yesterday she said something that kind of made my lack of close friends okay.  Before my new job I was working with people all day everyday at one job (cashier at a grocery store) and working primarily by myself at my “real” job (mobile therapy).  At my “real” job I had no one to regularly bounce ideas off of or seek feedback from.  As a result of both jobs, I was depressed and highly disillusioned, which lead me to feeling like an all around failure personally and professionally.  Now that I have regular contact with a treatment team at my new job I am much more fulfilled and I am more okay than not with having few social contacts.  My supervisor pointed out that as long as I am happy it is okay that I have so few social interactions.  But it’s not like one can regularly share the same things one would with a friend, at work. So where does that leave me?

New Day

At the suggestion of a friend of mine I decided to write an update entry.  In the past I’ve often written when I was upset or bothered by something.  Perhaps it is time for a different perspective.

Two months ago I got a new job.  One job. One paycheck.  Complete days off instead of partial.  I feel so blessed to be working a job and feeling like I am FINALLY getting somewhere instead of just treading water.  These past two months I’ve been excited to go to work for the first time I can ever remember and I don’t have to worry whether it will pay the bills.  It has been such a long time since I’ve had an ever so slight flexibility in my bank account.

I am learning so much too!  I can use what knowledge I already have.

When a person or a family is confined by their paycheck or lack of paycheck it is very hard to be hopeful and growth minded.  When your primary concern is survival, growth becomes almost impossible.  Everyday a person can read these “positive thinking” quotes or listen to podcasts or absorb the cultural messages that “if you just think it and work hard you will manifest your greatest self.”  While I appreciate the sentiment it is really condescending and disingenuous to the family who is wondering how to pay rent or waiting in line at the food bank.  Their priorities, my priority was surviving and I was in a much better place than most when I was working two jobs.  It is very difficult to be growth minded when you work yourself to exhaustion and feel hopeless.  Now this all can sound very condescending from a well-educated white chick but I am honestly amazed at the strength these families have and the sacrifices they make.

Now that I am in a better place financially my struggles with other issues seem more manageable.  Socially, eh, I’m working on it.  Expanding my therapeutic skills, I probably have a long way to go.  My anxiety is still present, especially when I am aware of all of my flaws and weaknesses (areas of growth). But the biggest change is finally, finally I can see the light at the end of the tunnel (and it is not just an oncoming train) and I can see a future.  I am finally able to judge my weaknesses and flaws with ever so slightly more perspective.  I am working on not judging my weaknesses and flaws as disqualifications for my worth as a human being.  Okay so maybe I am not as assertive or outgoing as would be beneficial in my profession.  Maybe I don’t respond as therapeutically, maybe I share too much, maybe I am little more than a friendly face…  I idolize people too readily, sometimes, to the point I disregard or cannot see or trust my own judgement.  I can always find my flaws before someone else points them out to me.  My strengths are what I need to concentrate on and finally I feel like I can (at least a little).

I am a writer.  I am smart (thanks Mom and Dad).  I enjoy my time alone.  I enjoy intelligent conversation.  I know what I like and what I don’t like.  I am creative.  I love art.  I love writing.  Now how do I make the best use of my strengths.  Grant writer?  Art therapy advocate?  Art therapist (if I am even no so awkward and clumsy) Author?

So what I am asking from the universe is help in keeping things in perspective.  Help me weigh my strengths more than my weaknesses.  Help me value myself and my contributions.  Help the anxieties and “less than” feelings fade away.  Help me find my place in the world.

An examined life

I will be starting the new year with a new job.  As I get ready to leave one job of nearly six and a half years and another job of nearly 3 years, it is a little difficult to let go.  The job of six and a half years has been my source of security, my faith that because I am working (and people like me there), I am valuable.  It is a job that has followed along with me as I work on personal transformation.  Through my coworker’s eyes and through the eyes of my regular customers I have begun to see myself a little differently.  It is a job of frequent drudgery and it is only our coworkers and the work environment that has made it worth while.  As the years have passed the work environment, the company environment, has changed and, I’m sorry to say, it is no longer fun anymore.  It is very difficult to get through the day sometimes.  But I will miss my coworkers, those past and present.  Through six and a half years we do feel like family.

As I get ready for my new job, I hold my breath.  Every little negotiation made, every little hoop to jump through, I hold my breath and think, “Do you still want me?”  I am afraid that at any moment someone will think “You know what?  This girl just isn’t worth it.  She’s too much trouble.”  Until I officially sign papers and get payroll set up I will have trouble relaxing into believing the company sees something valuable in me.  It will be a long time yet before I will believe that I have the skills necessary for the job.  It’s that ‘imposter syndrome.’  My therapist, for example, has said to me in the past that I “talk a good game.”  Now it is time to see if I have the balls to put my passions to work.  Can I be effective as a full time therapist?  I’m afraid I don’t have what is necessary.  Interacting with people on such an intimate level is still very uncomfortable for me.  It doesn’t feel natural to me.  I can’t relax yet and “just let it flow.” I am constantly thinking, “Am I doing the right thing? saying the right thing? Don’t say that, say this.  How should I respond?  What do I do?”  It’s exhausting.  So while I am thrilled for the learning opportunity, the consistent paycheck, good people to work with, I am afraid.  I am afraid of failing and of being told I am not wanted.  I don’t want to let my new boss down.

I am reminded throughout this process of the theme of my thesis presentation.  “Relationships matter.”  Just as the relationships have mattered to me over the last six years at my soon to be “old job,” the relationships will continue to matter at my new job.  I am a firm believer in the transformative power of relationships so while I might not have the exact right “therapeutic” thing to say, I can relate and transform through example, through personality, through caring, through a listening ear, or merely a human presence.  Some people might say “you went to grad school for four years just to learn how to be with people?!”  Looking back over the past six years I think, “Yes.  It has been worth it.”  I wouldn’t trade the people I have met, who have all helped me value myself, have shown me the wonders of caring, heartbreak, and genuine compassion for people, for the world.  It has been an expensive and often trying lesson to learn, and it is one I am still trying to fully integrate.  I have begun to truly understand that a person’s self worth is not dependent on how much of themselves they can sacrifice to please others.  A person’s self-worth can be found in the process of learning from ourselves and from others.  Most importantly a person’s self-worth can be found in loving and being loved.