What was, what is, what will be

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Using my face wash in the morning a memory of my Mom frequently comes to mind.  The face wash has a minty menthol-y smell/feel to it and I remember times when I was little when Mom would come in from shoveling snow or come home from work and she’d smell of mint from the gum she had been chewing.  If she was coming in from work she would often also smell like the rubber gloves she had been using in the lab that day.  When coming in from the cold I remember feeling a sense of excitement and so, especially on cold wintery days, there is this lingering sense of exhileration when encountering minty smells and tastes.  I remember Wintergreen most of all.

I remember how clear headed and so full of life and personality she was then.  I regret that almost as soon as my sister and I were old enough to really know her as a person she was overwhelmed with taking care of my grandmother, her mother, and then later, overwhelmed with her own illness.  The progress or lack thereof of Mom’s illness has changed her dramatically from the woman I remember as a young child.  In the last few years especially, I sometimes feel as if I can see her aging before my eyes.  Many days she appears shrunken and much older than she actually is.  Her realm of functioning and scope of existence has decreased steadily and sometimes dramatically over the past few years.  And the heartbreaking thing is that Mom knows she is not the person she used to be.  She has told me that she is not the person she wants to be.  She functions quite well and is still extremely smart and has a lot of the common sense and drive that were a part of the dynamic woman I remember, but something has been decreasing, dying, within her, since she has become ill.  I regret not being able to know the person she was.

…The problem I have that comes from so much self-reflection is that I am frequently wrapped far too much in the past.  This has been pointed out to me many times by a friend I’ve had since Middle School.

Nurturance

Nurturance: noun, warm and affectionate emotional support and careImage

I have been thinking about something a couple of friends said yesterday during a crocheting/ knitting get together.  The topic of retail therapy came up.  Both of my friends agreed that this was a good term for what it described.  (In class recently this sort of topic was addressed as being particularly true for Americans.)  I started to mention the fact that it was a very American trait.  Blah, blah, blah, materialism, happiness doesn’t come from material possessions, etc.  Long story short, they asked what was wrong with it if it makes you feel better.  After a pause I said, “Then there are people like me who have almost instant buyers remorse because the purchase is something I don’t really need.”  One of the women said I should go shopping with my other friend in the group and that she’d have me getting everything.

So many of the things I want or need on some real and/or psychological level I consider luxuries.  Then when I buy them or even when I talk myself out of buying them I berate myself for frivolous spending, self-indulgence, materialism, being foolish, seeking out happiness in illusions, etc.  80-90% of the time I cannot enjoy what I buy.

I told my friends that my Aunt was encouraging in the way they mentioned.  My Aunt would encourage me to get anything I really wanted, like the raspberry and gray bag I bought at Ross a few months ago or my rose gold necklace.  My Aunt is very supportive and makes me feel better about myself.  She makes me feel that I am okay as I am and that I have a right to my thoughts, feelings, and desires.  She helps to dissuade me of my misconceptions and misperceptions.  She helps me to see that it is okay to be human and that I don’t have to be afraid all of the time.  She is the nurturance I need but our times together are usually too short and sometimes emotionally unfulfilling, as I am afraid to unload on her and the times just not being “right” for it.  When I run across people like my Aunt and certain friends it is like water to a drought stricken plant.  But unfortunately the few drops of water I absorb are never enough.  I am never able to drink my fill.  I have this emotional hunger in me that never seems to be satisfied.  It is like a craving.  Color to someone who has lived in a world of black and white, light where there has only been darkness…

What I need is to be bathed in this acceptance, this unconditional love, until I can incorporate it into my being and go happily and confidently into the world.  I doubt that this will ever happen fully.  I believe it is something I will struggle with my whole life.  But I wish to have my thirst quenched just the same…

Trippy

Medication and Therapy.

psychotropic – Adjective – Having an altering effect of perception, emotion, or behavior, especially of a drug.

This week in Multicultural Therapy we were discussing, as a side topic, the use of medication in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and addictions.  My professor made it clear that she did not favor the use of many psychotropic drugs for the treatment of things like mild to moderate depression, anxiety, etc.  While I can understand her reasoning (she says that drugs used to treat relatively minor mental ailments can cause major brain chemistry alterations that are rarely for the good of the client) I have my own…beliefs in the benefits of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.  I also know that I have a tendency to favor the quick fix.  I want to feel better now .  I want to live the life I imagine now.  I want my fears to be gone now. My professor believes many cases of mental suffering can best be dealt with in counseling in an effective therapeutic relationship.  And I know pills aren’t the answer to everything but it is hard to give up something, even if there are risks that may outweigh the benefits, when it helps you feel good.  In this sense I can understand psychological addiction.

Certain pills designed for treating depression and anxiety have the ability to help people feel better.  Things don’t seem quite so scary or quite so overwhelming.  And frequently it is not even a conscious difference;  all you know is that you feel better.  When you feel better that kind of thing is hard to give up, especially when it is socially sanctioned.  I mean, would you rather go through months and months or years and years of probably painful therapy to maybe one day feel better, or would you rather take a pill and feel marginally better now?  I guess this illustrates the tendency of humans in today’s society, in American specifically, to prefer immediate gratification.

I’d be willing to give up my anti-depressant/ anti-anxiety pills if it weren’t for the fact that I am sure that one of them helps me sleep better at night.  Before the pills I’d have a week or more during a month where I couldn’t fall asleep right away and I would end up spending a good part of the rest of the month trying to recover.  When you are not feeling your best, you have no defenses against depressive and anxious feelings.  And then there would be a handful of good days and I would think, “Is this what it is like to feel halfway normal?”  As soon as you think things are starting to look up, you are sidelined, flattened, by what feels like the weight of the world… Days go by and you feel as if you are trapped in a rat maze at the bottom of a deep, dark, cold, lonely, pit…While I still have major ups and downs (thanks PMS) the pills make it so my downs aren’t quite as down as they used to be, or so I think.

I know I really should get back into therapy to deal with my issues but right now I enjoy being able to sleep through the night.  I enjoy feeling as if I have maybe a small weapon to fight against the dark side.

What does it mean?

This morning I have been reading a chapter in my Ethics book about informed consent, client rights, record keeping, and ethical versus legal counseling practices.  As with most of the reading I do for class I reference my memories of my therapy experiences.  From what I have learned in class and from talking to my professors, a good therapist/ counselor is something to be treasured and a supreme resource to be used.  But how does one become effective?  How does one provide an atmosphere, an aura, conducive to counseling?

I have read that process and progress comments are essential and from my own experience I believe this is true.  I do not feel there were an adequate number of either in my latest therapy experience.  I feel as if what I did in session was essentially emotional or verbal vomiting.  It helped to say a lot of what I was feeling out loud but I do not feel as if I was moving beyond that.  I had no direction to follow and was unable to process my emotions.  It was little better than writing in my journals.

When process comments were made (there were two times I remember specifically that my therapist asked me if this was “okay” and if this was working for me) I felt unable to say what I really felt.  I was afraid.  If I said that this wasn’t working for me, I was afraid that I would somehow no longer see my therapist.  I felt as if our sessions would end somehow.  I was afraid of being cast adrift. This is not to mention my fear of hurting her feelings, making her job more difficult, or of becoming a “problem.”  I also thought at the time, “if this isn’t working than what will?”  I thought, “Is this it?  Am I doomed to feel this way for ever?  Is this as good as it gets?”  And so I reassured my therapist and said that this was working and that it helped so much just to be able to talk about “stuff.”

If I had felt comfortable, if I had just a bit more courage, I should’ve been able to say what I was thinking.  I wanted to maintain that relationship even with it being as faulty as it was.  I needed something more.  But I didn’t know anything about anything then.

My first experience with a therapist was when I was in middle school.  It was shortly after my parents separated and my Mom was worried about me.  I was taken to this old man in an out dated old office.  I have very few memories of the time I spent with him.  One memory being of my Mom asking me if this guy was okay and saying that we could see others if I wanted.  Not really knowing why I was there anyway and again not wanting to cause problems, I said he was fine.  And so I saw him for, I don’t know, months?  Another memory I have of him is, after sitting in silence for a while, (I remember many of our sessions being filled with silence; although I do not know how true this is.) looking up to see him pick his nose and inspect what he pulled out.  My last clear memory of him or of our appointments actually is waiting in the waiting room after our session while Mom went into his office and talked about me.  To this day I still have no idea what was said.  I have no idea what influence these appointments had on me, if any, but I am guessing that at least Mom felt better.

In one of my textbooks for this semester the author says that she never talks to the parents without the child being present.

But so far much of my learning has been from books and they only serve to educate us on what should be done and what could be done.  It won’t be until we, my classmates and I, start our internships that we will see how to apply the principles we are learning about.

To Make Your Absence Felt

While I was out last night I was reminded of a curious phenomena I experience from time to time. Hopefully I will be able to accurately describe it.

I had my first and only car accident, gosh, more than 10 years ago now. The front end of my first car was all smashed up but it wasn’t serious. Later when I got back to my Uncle’s house, where I was staying that year, he told me he had talked to Terri Johnson, a close family friend, over the weekend while I was visiting my Aunt. (That’s where I was heading when I had my accident.) Terri Johnson is a man I’ve known since I was a scabby kneed little girl. In telling Terri about my accident, my Uncle told me that Terri asked, “Is she okay?” While T.J. is friends with my Uncle and I’ve known him a long time, I’m his friend’s niece. It is hardly a relationship that would matter a great deal, I felt. His concern though made me feel really good at the time even though, “Is she okay?” would be a question anyone would ask.

Then one time this summer my Aunt and I were arranging to meet for dinner. On her way here she passed a car accident, a pretty bad one. And, she told me later, that, as she sat in traffic leading up to the accident, she could only think, “Please don’t let it be Laura. Please don’t let it be Laura.” When she told me this it again made me feel good. I enjoyed the…novelty?, that she cares enough, that I matter enough, to cause her to worry about me.

In that sense, I can almost understand the people who intentionally make themselves sick in order to get attention.

It is often a unique experience for me to realize that I have or can have that kind of significance in a person’s life, in my realm of existence. It’s refreshing, exciting,and moving to become aware of the fact that other people do think about me and do care what happens to me and that I don’t just leave their minds when I leave their presence.

I think that is why movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” intrigue me so much. George Bailey thinks he is some humbug old nobody in a “crummy little town” and it isn’t until he sees what his world would be like without him that he learns how wonderful his life is. I love that illustration of the interconnectedness of people’s lives.

To matter, to participate, to engage, in life is what is important.

Isn’t it Tom Sawyer who gets the opportunity (through mischief) to observe his own funeral? That, to me, would be as great a gift as seeing what my world would be like without me. People don’y really take the chance to express how much they mean to one another until it is too late. Why do we wait until the person is dead to express how much we loved them and list their good qualities? As a society we are so inhibited by the emphasis on individuality, self-reliance, and differentiation from one another, that few of us really see how much the others in our lives mean.

So I smile anytime my Aunt says, “Call me or send me a message when you get home;” I rejoice when someone says, “Tell me when you’re not going to be at the gym so I don’t worry about you,” and I take comfort from the acquaintances who tell me to drive carefully when the weather is nasty out.

Somewhere deep inside me, whenever anyone expresses concern about me, I imagine Ducky’s voice (from the first “Land Before Time” movie) saying (instead of “You smell me!?”), “You love me!?”

Happy Valentine’s Day! Love the one’s you’re with!

What is Left Unsaid

For our journals this week we were asked in Ethics to analyze our influences, potential vulnerabilities, and biases.  In my effort to condense nearly 20 years of self-reflection this is what I came up with:

One of the major vulnerabilities I have, and have had since my earliest memories, is low self-esteem.  And at the risk of engaging in a little self-diagnosis, another on going major issue I have is with attachment and “goodness of fit.”  My mother has even admitted to not knowing how to help me as an infant.  I was colic-y and, apparently, difficult to soothe.  As a result of both issues I have a strong need for approval and seek out nurturing relationships in, what I feel to be, exaggerated ways.  But because of my self-consciousness and eagerness to be liked, loved, or at least not actively disliked, I am hyperaware of what pleases or displeases those around me.  I am anxious not to seem too needy, clingy, or repellant in any way.  In that sense I have a strong drive to be self-reliant even to the point of rationalizing emotional needs, that I cannot meet on my own, away.  Add in an unhealthy dose of perfectionism and you have a partial picture of who I am.

A large influence in my life has been my parents and their relationship.  Looking back on it now, I can see how immature my Dad was and how perfectionistic and demanding my mother was when they got married.  Needs were not being met on both sides.  I can see why it did not work out.  It took a long time for them both to settle into who they are.  But also looking back on their divorce I see how life changing and devastating it was for my sister and I.  While single mothers can do a wonderful job of raising children, (I will be forever grateful to Mom for just being there day in and day out.) my experiences have led me to believe that there is something to be said for having a positive male influence in a child’s life.

In my family, I have felt there has always been pressure towards a high degree of achievement despite my Mom’s statement that she, “only wants us to be happy.”  Both of my parents are extremely smart and have Ph. d.’s in the sciences.  Education is very important to them.  It was just assumed, I felt, that we would go to college.  College followed high school in the same way high school followed elementary or middle school.  Encountering “learning disabilities” or “learning differences” early on, in addition to ear and eye problems, contributed greatly to my burgeoning self-esteem issues.  Because of my learning differences, traditional schooling, and in particular Math, was very difficult for me for a long time.  It was only through extreme efforts on my Mom’s part that I did not end up in some special education backwater.  These difficulties contributed greatly to feelings of not being good enough, unworthiness, and to feeling as if I were a disappointment to my parents.

In a sense, I have the values and biases of a middle class family.  Education, religion, and a parent’s approval were all big influences growing up.  While not I do not go to church all that often and being skeptical, being raised Catholic was a part of growing up and I strongly believe I am better off for it.  Being raised in a family where education is valued has imbued in me the never-ending search for the answer to the question, “Why?”

My skepticism of religion, my valuing of education, and a heavy emphasis on individualism will certainly act as biases.  And I am sure there are many other elements of my life that will act as biases in perhaps more subtle ways.  However, I am also influenced by the good grasp I have of my own emotional environment.  That is what has led me to pursue psychology and, feeling that somethings are better said without words, is what has always led me back to art.

For all you lovers out there…

This post is of a list of songs that I made a few months ago when I was procrastinating.  They are songs I feel describe me, paint a picture of me, at different times during my life, in my past and present.  The list is by no means complete and it is forever changing.

Welcome to my Life by Simple Plan–‘Cause this just describes how I feel sometimes

California Dreamin’ by The Mamas and the Papas–A reference to being born a Cali’ girl

Reflection by Lea Salonga from the movie Mulan—Well…just listen to it.

I’ll Stand By You by ?–Makes me think of a lot of things. Mom.

All I Really Want By Alanis Morrisette– “All I really want is a soulmate.  And all I really want is a kindred, someone else to catch this drift.”

You Are Not Alone by Michael Jackson–Makes me think of a lot of people I’m missing. Grandma.  I sometimes listen to this when I am feeling kinda low.

Now and Forever by Carol King–for all of the forever friends that are and that I wish for

Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough by ?—‘Cause sometimes love really isn’t enough

Bulletproof by La Roux–speaks to my fear of vulnerability

The Rose by Bette Midler–Can’t have a playlist without Ms. M. But really…again, it’s me.

Glitter In the Air by Pink–“Have you ever hated yourself for staring at the phone? Waiting for it to ring to prove you’re not alone.”

F**kin’ Perfect by Pink—“You’re so mean, when you talk about yourself. You are wrong. Change the voices, in your head. Make them like you instead.”

Moon River by Audrey Hepburn–Reminds me of Grandma

God Bless the U.S.A. by Lee Greenwood–Pretty self-explanitory

Leader of the Band by Dan Fogelberg– reminds me of Dad, Grandpa was a cabinet maker/ carpenter;  the song usually brings tears to my eyes

So Hard to Say Goodbye by Boys To Men—Grandma

Little Wonders by Rob Thomas–

“Let it go, Let it roll right off your shoulder;

Don’t you know

The hardest part is over

Don’t you know
The hardest part is over
Let it in,
Let your clarity define you
In the end
We will only just remember how it feels

Our lives are made
In these small hours
These little wonders,
These twists & turns of fate
Time falls away,
But these small hours,
These small hours still remain

Someday by Rob Thomas–“Someday maybe we’ll figure all this out…Maybe someday we’ll live our lives outloud…”

The Climb by Miley Cyrus–‘Cause it really is all about the climb.

Come On-A-My House by Rosemary Clooney–Grandma used to sing this to my sister and I

Within These Pages

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This post is inspired by a show and tell session I had with a friend this morning.  She was intrigued by my process of journaling.

These are pages from my nearly 20 years of journaling.  I started February 8 1993.  The pink pages at the beginning are some of my first pages.  You can’t see it very well but at the bottom of one of them it says, “I’m sorry I didn’t write a lot.”  At 9 years of age I was already apologizing.  One page I scanned backwards by accident so you can’t really read it but I wanted to include the drawing at the bottom of the page.  It illustrates my frustration with my sister at that age and the accompanying picture of my Mom was cut off.  I drew her cheering me on.

I included a handful of newer pages and in looking through my journals I realized volume 42 kinda rocks.  Volume 42 is the painted page and the picture of the lilly I drew.  I was experimenting with including more art in my journals.  For those who keep a food diary note the list of what I ate at the top of the page dated May 16 2010.  The Mandala type drawing, the blue page, and the page with the drawing of the desk and window, was from volume 19.

Resistance is Futile

Some interesting ideas occurred to me while I was reading the next chapter in my multicultural therapy textbook this morning.  The chapter was about “Providing Psychological Counseling to Native Americans” but a specific statement made me think about its applicability to other cultures.

“For trauma and grief experiences, culture serves a psychological buffer against terror.  If an indigenous community’s lifeways and thoughtways are under assault community members will turn to their rituals, ceremonies, and healers to restore balance, fend off destruction, and protect traditions.  However, when traditional lifeways and thoughtways are suppressed, stolen, or lost, trauma may be irresolvable and subsequently may be passed along from one generation to the next.”-Counseling Across Cultures

Now this may be no big deal but one of my first thoughts was of the U.S. after 9/11 and then of the Palestinians and Israelis who have been battling for their rights to exist for a long time.  Then there are the Jews, Germans, Poles and countless others who were under attack in the 1930s and 1940s under Hitler.  Communities tend to turn towards each other in times of stress; hence, the outpouring of patriotism and outrage after 9/11.  Rituals and traditions provide comfort no matter what their form.  Look at the Superbowl, happening tomorrow, look at holiday family get togethers, look at the predictability and repetitiousness in children’s books, look at funerals; predictability and patterns are a comfort to humans.  If the touchstones of a culture are removed it is no wonder its members feel lost.  They are without their reference points.

Reading and thinking about this, this morning, brought to mind an article I read recently about the tendency of people to hang onto things that belonged to one’s past.  Specifically the author was talking about holding onto things after her father’s death.  Some people hang onto things from loved ones but others get rid of everything (or nearly) and I am curious about the dichotomy between the two extremes.

The article talked about the logic behind the desire to keep everything.  Those familiar objects, or even unfamiliar objects, connected to a loved one provide a reference point almost in the same way a culture’s traditions do.  The familiarity provides comfort, a shared history, a connection to others, a connection to the past, and are reminders and remainders of a life lived and its importance.  The things a person leaves behind, tangible or intangible, are the proof that they existed.  This connection, through ritual and tradition or physical objects and personal memory, are perhaps a way for us to grasp at, indirectly, immortality.  The reluctance to give up a loved one’s possessions is therefore understandable.  They do not want to give up that last tangible connection to that person.  It is in giving up these objects that the loved one left behind attempts to distance him or herself from the pain associated with the loss.

Out of practicality though we are forced, eventually, to give up many of these objects.  When it is less painful to do so, the article I read, suggested ways to do this.  But what struck me, are the many different ways the human need to create our own narratives, to make sense of our world, manifests itself.  Even in our increasingly multicultural world the dependence on ritual and shared reference points is amazing.  And it also makes me aware of how unique and individual we still are, despite our growing interconnectedness.  I also, perhaps, have a new perspective on the conflicts various nations and tribes and cultural groups take part in throughout the world.  We are all fighting for existence, we fight out of fear that one day, we will be forgotten and become irrelevant.

–pardon the incomplete citation of the text book referenced in this post.