The Narrative

There are many life and cultural events that shape us individually and as a society.  One of the first events I clearly remember is the first Gulf War and joking with my Elementary aged friends about Saddam “Insane.”  We thought we were so clever.

Another more personal memory I have from around this time (or earlier, 5? 6?) is an afternoon where Mom is making snow peas in the kitchen.  Dad comes in from the backyard and he says something about not liking peas or not liking what we were having for dinner.  Somehow, I am old enough to know this and other things.  All of a sudden Mom is knocking the near boiling pot of water off of the stove.  The peas are flying.  She’s mad.  I hear her slam the front door.  I run to my room to grab my shoes.  In passing the kitchen I see Dad trying to pick up the spilt peas and I say something along the lines of “now see what you’ve done.”  I’m terrified she’ll leave.  I run out to the car and get in.  I don’t know whether she invites me in or whether I just open the door.  I ask her where she is going.  She says, “away.”  I ask if I can come.  Meanwhile, she is struggling to get the car started.  She’s too upset.  In a moment she gives up and we get out of the car.  This is the first time I can clearly remember this happening, taking responsibility for someone else’s emotions (needing to keep Mom happy), being terrified of Mom being mad and yet being aware that this has happened before, and that there are consequences to be afraid of to making Mom mad.  At the time, as a kid, I didn’t have the ability to make sense of this.

The next cultural event I really remember being impacted by was the Columbine High School shootings.  I remember feeling empathy for the shooters as much as the victims.  I remember this as the year my high school had so many bomb threats that we started speculating on what period of the day we’d be forced out of the building.  I remember the bomb threats all but stopping after Columbine.

I see Columbine as my first awakening.  It was my first, though not my last, experience of collective confusion, shock, empathy, sympathy, then righteous anger.  I think it was my first real encounter with curiosity about the mental health of others.

Of course I was aware of the Oklahoma City bombing, how could I not be?  But I was 10 at the time; the perpetrator, an adult, a bad man.  Columbine was committed by teenagers, on teenagers, the same as I was.

My true loss of innocence came on 9/11.  I was 18.  I was in Western Pennsylvania for school, my first year of college.  I was home for the day.  It was Tuesday and I only had classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  I was half watching The Today Show, wrapped in a red and blue quilt my grandmother made me.  I saw the planes hit.  I saw the news as the day unfolded.  And when we heard the news of the plane crashing in a field just across the county from us, I saw my Uncle put his revolver on the dining room table.  This, and the following days, weeks, and months, were my second experience with collective confusion, shock, empathy, sympathy, and righteous anger.  This was a period of time I feel truly altered my consciousness forever.

As a country we didn’t know how to react.  We were united in our anger.  We were united in our care and concern for our fellow countrymen and women, those who were like us anyway.  On order to regain some sense of control and feelings of safety we lashed out at those different from ourselves, especially if you were Middle Eastern.

Eventually a new normal returned and I’d like to think many of us were more inclusive, more neighborly, less aggressively anti-other.  I think of the shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue not too long ago…and the violence against mosques.  I have seen members of different faiths stand guard so that others can worship in peace. This is as it should be.

Now we face a new kind of threat and I worry about the narrative that is being created as we are in the middle of all of this.  There are those that are clamoring for the economy to reopen.  There are those desperate for jobs.  If only the economic systems put in place after The Great Depression still worked efficiently…but no.  We’ve gotten too complacent to worry overmuch about the least of us.  Programs intended for the greater good have been defunded and labeled as “wasteful spending.”  I worry about what this is doing to us as a society.  I worry that we will revert back to suspicion, isolation, and every man for himself policies.

I worry that concentrating on the negative will inure us from the good, positive, and altruistic parts of ourselves.  Will we become hyper-vigilant to threats to our security?  Will we be less likely to extend ourselves?  Will stocking and hoarding and isolating become our new normal?  Will our essential social connections become wired in our collective unconscious as a threat?  Is the an entirely new kind of loss of innocence?

You see 9/11 was an immediate and drastic event.  This pandemic and the narrative created by the media and those visible representations of mores and memes, is ongoing and more unpredictable in many ways, and certainly much more elusive.  It is something we are fighting on multiple fronts and we are not even all that sure we are fighting well. It is as if we are shadow boxing with ghosts.

There is nothing decisive or even anything much that gives the illusion of decisiveness;  That is where the long term effects of change come in.  There is nothing yet to allow us to build consistent meaning around because meaning changes from day to day, week to week, with many of us just trying to get by, to survive.  So my question is, what will all of this mean in the end and how do we go about finding the answer?

hearts have all things

On my way to the gym this morning “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan was first up on my playlist and I thought of my step-mother.  I thought of the abruptness of her illness and death.  I thought of all the lives she impacted.  I thought of Dad struggling to be a single parent.  My heart hurts for them…

I think my PMS is making me more emotional this weekend…

The next song on my playlist was “One Sweet Day” by Mariah Carey.  It not only made me think of my step-mother but about the conversation I had with my Supervisor during Supervision yesterday. (22 hours to go!)  I told my Supervisor that I always compare myself to “K” and “M” and how intense they are.  My Supervisor said that my personality is different from theirs and what they offer might not always be what a client needs.  The same goes for me.  It is just an idea I’ve always found strange to get used to.  Personal and professional identities don’t have to be the same.  For a long time I have felt that if I wasn’t just like “K” I wasn’t a “real” therapist; I wasn’t a real Art Therapist.  I do wish I was more strongly and assertively psycho-analytic with the art though.  It, as usual, leaves me wondering what I have to offer.  What is my identity, personally and professionally?

There is still a part of me that is fearful.  But there is also a part of me that feels more personally and professionally developed since joining my current company almost two years ago.  I am happier.  And, at times, I feel I have the space to consider, “who am I?”  And it scares me, now that I have the time and the space to consider wonder, “who I really am?”  I’m 36 years old and really still wonder who I am as a person.  What do I like?  What am I good at?  Will I ever stop seeing myself as some mediocre forgettable?  How do I fill my time?  What makes me a person?  What do I value in myself and my time?  And, How do others see me?  I know they say it is not something we should consider, but observing those who attended my step-mother’s memorial service, I can’t help but wonder, “did she know how big a part of her community she was?”  I can now understand Tom Sawyer’s need to spy on his own premature funeral.

I can’t help but think how nearsighted we are- how nearsighted I am- when we lose sight of how much we are a part of others.  This is why, I think, I feel kinda sad when I feel disconnected from others, when it is not my office my coworkers chose to hang out in.

I really wish I knew my step-mother better.  I wish I had been more comfortable in her presence, and she in mine.  I wish I had made more of an effort to be a part of her community too.  It was hard, considering my sister and I were practically adults when my Dad remarried.

And so, what is my identity in my eyes and in the eyes of others?

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.

Unconditional

I know it has been a while since I last wrote.  I am writing today because I was informed this morning that a client’s pet died.  I keep looking at my cat, not even a year old yet, and wondering at her, cherishing her, holding her a little closer.  My client’s dog was old, half toothless, blind in one eye…my client’s family recused him.  He was roughly treated in his younger years and my client’s family made his last few years as comfortable as they could for him.  It’s a sad day for them.  I ponder the impact of unconditional love on us given to us by our pets.  I know a while ago, a couple of years at least, my therapist tried to get my then landlord to allow me a cat as a support animal.  I also know how much richer and better my life has been since I picked out Piper from her litter mates.  How much I’ve changed for the better just knowing that her warm little body and her ready purrs wait for me when I get home.  Piper was with me when I was in a house fire 8 almost 9 weeks ago.  She adjusted surprisingly well to the sudden upheaval, waking up in the middle of the night, being shoved into her cat carrier, being locked in an unfamiliar bathroom all night, the two (or was it three?) and a half weeks we spent at my Aunt’s, and then moving into a brand new apartment.  I still remember the way she used to curl up in the rug in front of my tv and wonder whether she remembers too.

Piper is my first cat that is all mine.  Growing up we had cats but they were family cats.  They belonged to all of us.  Piper is mine.  She knows me and I know her.  It was hard for me when we were at my Aunt’s, to listen to my Uncle get testy over what she is and isn’t allowed to do.  I get it.  Their house, their rules.  But she is so much a part of me it felt like a criticism of me.  I didn’t hate her for her natural behaviors and her personality, in fact while I was scared that we would be kicked out, I was also defensive of her.  I was angry at my Uncle.  This, getting defensive and taking care of my inner child, is something my therapist has tried to get me to do for my inner child practically since I started seeing her.  So in a way my cat embodies that inner child part, the vulnerable dependent part, and I am reminded constantly to take care of it, treat it with kindness, play with it, love it, honor it, and cherish it.

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The Stories We Live

This post might seem a little redundant at first. For a long time I believed there was something fundamentally wrong with me. Let that sink in for a moment. Many people grow up believing that yes they do good things and bad things but their essential sense of self is permanent, immovable. They might not even be conscious of it but they have this sense of okay-ness at their core. For reasons I can’t explain and are long and involved and don’t want to go into here, I have felt I did not have this essential sense of rightness. It is why for as long as I can remember I have looked for this sense of stability, something I can rely on, something to which I can attach myself, because I could not find this sense of rightness or stability within myself. I equate it to constantly being on a ship at sea, constantly adjusting, equilibrium always just a little bit off. I have been on a search for my land legs. I am tired of traveling the stormy seas.

Yesterday I came across this article posted on Psychology Today entitled “Imagining an Authentic Life.” For some reason, perhaps I was just receptive to its message, it really impacted me. The article talked about the stories we live and how they are composed for us, in this case by the author’s parents. I began thinking about the story that was composed for me and how all of the information I have taken in since I was a very little girl has gone towards supporting this story. I have finally begun to question this story of wrongness, of not good enough. Who says? And is this the story I want to continue living?

From the start my belief that something is wrong with me, something makes me essentially ‘less than” or unworthy, is something my therapist and I have worked on correcting. She, my therapist, has worked on pounding into my head the message that, “There is nothing wrong with me!” And yesterday for some reason I really realized just how much I was living someone else’s (Mom’s? My teacher’s?) story. It makes me sad.

I’ve beaten myself up for so long because I honestly and truly believed that I deserved it. I have been receiving messages or interpreting messages for so long that my wants, needs, inclinations, preferences, ways of learning or being in the world, etc. are wrong or shouldn’t be, that as a very little girl I distorted it into believing that there must be something wrong with me, my essential being.

And this is where my therapist would ask, “So what are you going to do about it?” I’d like to believe that I’ll be a little less afraid to engage in “reasonable risk taking.” By combating the belief that I am fundamentally undeserving, I will no longer be afraid to ask for what I want and need to survive. By accepting my wants and needs without judging their rightness or wrongness I will finally learn to love myself and to “write my own story.” Finally, “reasonable risk taking” will be more about deciding who I want to be rather than living someone else’s story.

There is also this part of me that doesn’t want to let go of this “magic feather.” (see Dumbo and his magic feather the crows told him he could use to fly.”

The Diet

It’s been a long time since I’ve last written. I was in the midst of thesis writing and internship hours. Now I have graduated. I finally have my Masters in Art Therapy after four long years. Wow what a journey it has been. I’m going to share a story that will be a little hard to really grasp without all of the background history but I’ll try to make it clear.

After high school I was heavy and during my first year of college, with the help of my Aunt, I undertook the task of losing weight. When I was losing weight I could see measurable physical results and I had my Aunt there to encourage me and recognize my results.

Now. I still struggle with the nasty messages I’ve been telling myself for decades, since I was really little actually. I often find myself wishing that changing these thoughts were as easy as it was for me to lose weight. It’s easy enough to say, “eat this, not that” but to fight something that is in my head and heart, it is not as easy to get a hold on.

In a way the horrible, nasty messages I live and breathe and incorporate into my being are like junk food. Worse, they are like the junk food that pretends to be healthy. When I’m eating it (the messages) it tastes so good and I can fool myself into thinking they are good for me. Later, I feel horrible and ill and they eat away at my being. It clogs everything up. These pretend healthy messages are actually junk. So what does actual healthy mind food look like?

Healthy mind food involves an accurate and balanced assessment of abilities and scenarios.

I was watching ‘My 600 pound Life’ last night and thinking about how the doctor told each of his patients to ‘stop making excuses.’ It reminded me a lot of what “K,” my therapist, tells me. Instead of bad eating habits I have bad mental/ emotional habits. Now again, it was easy enough for me to follow the “eat this, not that” direction but it is not so easy nor is there a perscriptive mental “diet” for me to follow. In any event changing my thinking, like changing my eating habits, involves the same kind of conscious choice. I’ve got to force myself to put down that metaphorical donut. Once. And. For. All.

2014/2015

This post is inspired by another post by another blogger/ Art Therapist. Earlier today I read http://natashashapiroarttherapy.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/great-idea-for-art-therapy-new-year-activity/

Give Away/ Get Rid Of from 2014

~Fear of trying new things, going “out on a limb,” experimenting
~Resistance- to new possibilities, doing new things, new ways of seeing things
~Thinking about myself only in relation to other people and their approval or disapproval
~Going too fast- Not making conscious decisions
-making reactive choices, thoughts, and decisions based on instinct, fear, or feeling, rather than thought out choice that recognizes all sides of the situation
~Not always using realizations made
-realizations —>new ways of seeing things should translate into doing, saying, or acting in new ways

Hopes for 2015

~Doing more of what makes me happy just because it makes me happy.
~Be more generous
~Stand up for myself more with less fear, even if I am wrong.
~Do more of what feels rights and less of what feels wrong.
~Do things I know are good for me even if I don’t want to- like going out with people
~Be Brave
~Be Patient

*Just because things (people, feelings, wants, needs) are hard to find, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Summer Perspective

Today is my next to last day on vacation. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking the past few days, since my therapy session on Wednesday. I’ve learned a lot over the summer. I think I’ve become stronger as a person and I’ve started to distance myself from the anxiety I’ve been plagued with for many years. Some days, some hours, some seconds are easier than others. Some days I’m overwhelmed by it still. I’m more settled in myself and have learned that even if there are some things I could do better I am a good and worthy person.

My therapist and I have been working on dialoguing with my Inner Critic and Inner Child. She had been advising me to view my current self (reason) as a coach who decides when to put certain “players” (the Critic, the Inner Child) into the game. I am the coach who decides how to best use each player. But this metaphor wasn’t working for me or maybe I just wasn’t getting what she was trying to say. This past week a simple change in vocabulary brought new meaning into the metaphor. She suggested I use the Critic and the Inner Child as “input.” They can offer input into whatever I’m encountering but I am the one who makes the decision on what to do, how to react, and what needs are met. For some reason this was more clarifying and enlightening for me. I can listen to one side and the other and then judge what needs to be done. Now these emotional sides of me aren’t always nice and patient or reasonable but somehow this shift in perspective gave me a greater sense of control.

I am still nervous about restarting internship this Fall semester. Will I be able to maintain reason and clarity and not let anxiety and fear get in the way of what needs to be done? I waver between this confidence and fear. I know a lot. I know theory and compassion and the humanity of it all but will I be blinded by my uncertainty, by my fear? Will I be paralyzed like I was during my first internship? I don’t want to be. Part of me is also afraid of asking for what I want and need, which is close supervision, a guiding hand, someone I’m not afraid to go to to ask for help, someone who will be near until I feel strong enough to work on my own. Asking for help has always been a BIG problem for me. Asking for help has meant not being good enough, not smart enough, not worthy, an imposition, an inconvenience, an annoyance. I have been afraid to ask for help for the simple fact that I have been afraid I wouldn’t receive it.

And part of me is afraid that I haven’t made as much progress as I keep insisting I have, though I do feel differently than I did, I think. Have I done enough? Have I done anything? Have I just been pissing around and not really doing any work at all? Though I am still slipping and sliding I think I am making slow progress towards more solid ground.

The Inner Child is whining. She needs something. She’s lonely and wants to be loved.

True to you or true to me?

I’m socially phobic. This is not just some random label I’ve taken on myself. My therapist and probably even my professors can testify to it. So obviously, this is a problem in a woman who is studying to become a therapist. I’ve come a long way but I am still not comfortable enough to really effectively work with people. This may change even more before I graduate but still it is not a strength I have. My strengths come from research, reading, writing, analyzing, putting together new information and associations, and passion, oh yes, I have boat loads of passion for learning new things, psychology, Art Therapy, and the human condition. And I have such empathy for people; I want to help them.  Over the past few days, since my last appointment with my therapist, I have been struggling with what we had discussed. She said that I can’t work with people in the same ways that my classmates can. I can’t work with people in the same way that she, my therapist, can. My therapist is a people person.  I, she said, am not.  I am an idea person.  She equated me to someone like “Abby Sciuto” (Did I spell that right?) in the t.v. show NCIS. Brilliant but out in the field??? She said, Steve Jobs knew he needed people around him that were better than he was at relating to other people.  Steve Jobs was the idea man.  Anyway. I have been quite distressed about this. Why can’t I ever do what everyone else is doing?! Why am I never like anyone else? Why can’t I just fit in? Why can’t things ever be easy for me? Why can’t I do what is expected of me?  I don’t care about having the knowledge half so much as being able to relate to people easily and comfortably.  I so want that connection.

My heart has ached and continues to ache because I am unable to do what the women I have idolized have done.

Then this morning, as I was getting dressed, I spied the poster I’ve had hanging on my bedroom wall for quite a while. It is a poster I made for…I think it was my Issues in Art Therapy class. We were instructed to create our ideal therapeutic space based on the ethical guidelines laid out by the AATA (American Art Therapy Association). My classmates came in with some really spectacular drawings all more or less standard drawing paper size. Me? I came in with a poster collaged with images of a window fronted A framed building surrounded by other images of zen pools, long outdoor dining tables, wide open spaces, terrariums, drawing tables, books, terra-cotta tiles, intimate sitting areas and flashy bar chairs pulled up next to marble or granite counter tops… It was beyond the four walls and art supplies drawings of many of my classmates. I was kind of embarrassed to hang mine up next to everyone else’s. Then when it came time to discuss mine one of my classmates put her hand up and said, “Yes. To all of that.”

This morning I looked at this poster and thought, “I could do that.” I could put together this retreat based on the principles of Art Therapy, trauma-therapy, healing, hope, being one with nature and ourselves…I could host so many skilled and talented therapists and artists who can get in there and do the hard work in ways that I want to but can’t right now. I can create the ideal space in which to do this hard but oh so necessary work. And since the profession is struggling for its place and legitimacy right now I can include research space. The research space would help to develop the strength the profession needs and deserves. It would be a place of education, insight, and hope for practitioners or anyone else interested in the human condition. Most of all, this place of mine would be one of healing, retreat, and living soulfully.