To live free

I keep thinking about my performance review meeting.  It was on Wednesday and it went well.  Lots of praise.  But there were moments I felt awkward, less than, strange, not quite as socially in step.  When my boss made mention of the fact that or her observation that I can take criticism and “have the hard conversations” and that she noticed me “breathing through” a couple of these hard conversations, I felt uncomfortable, as if such an observable use of coping was weak or shameful.  She praised my becoming more conscious of my body language too, which when she first criticized it, months and months ago, irritated me to no end.

It really was a positive performance evaluation and I left work on Wednesday feeling really good until my mind had to pick out and nit pick any little thing it could turn into a negative.  Sometimes it’s like my mind really will not let me feel good about things.  It has to find something negative because if I feel happy, safe, and relaxed something bad will happen.  I’ll miss something; make a mistake that is or becomes a problem I’ll be value judged by either by myself or others.

Old patterns die hard.

But it was very true when at the end of my evaluation I told my boss I was very grateful for being at the facility and for everything I’ve learned.

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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.

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.

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.

The Gift of Relationship Building

So I’m writing about friendship and relationships again…When I was recovering from a migraine a couple of weeks ago what I wanted more than anything was for someone to make me a cup of tea.  Can cats be trained to make tea? I wondered.  I was on the mend but it took me quite a while to push myself to get off the couch to make the tea.  Regardless, it was one of the first times I could clearly remember wishing someone else was there to take care of me and not in a “I’m feeling sorry for myself, I’m so alone” kind of way.  I just remembered thinking about how nice it would be if the tea was there and made and I didn’t have to move my exhausted and woozy self.  And that I actually wanted someone there to be nice and take care of me was a weird weird experience for me.

I remember a few years ago I sprained my ankle and I had people from all over the place offering to do things for me.  Get groceries or whatever.  I put them off.  “No. No. It’s okay.  I’m fine”  You know how it is.  Nobody ever wants to admit, “Yeah groceries would be nice.” (If you have ever walked around a grocery store in a walking boot you know how exhausting it is.)  I pushed myself because it’s just “easier” to do it myself.  And to think I was actually going to go to work the next day and I had to be convinced to stay home.  It’s okay to take care of yourself.

This year especially I have realized it’s okay to admit shortcomings.  It is okay to admit I can’t and that nobody can do it all.  It is okay to want to be taken care of and to take care of yourself for that matter….But that is not really where I intended to go with this post.

Off and on my therapist and I have had conversations surrounding letting others do things for you.  It is okay to do things for other people but ya gotta let them do for you too.  She’s asked me how it feels when I have the opportunity to do something for someone, buy flowers, buy tea, drive someone somewhere, or let them sleep on your floor…It feels good.  It gives me a sense of control and demonstrates that I can matter to someone.  Being able to help someone feel better is a gift.  But when you or I don’t allow other people to do those same things for you, when needed, you or I are robbing them of that gift.  Now when I had my migraine it simply didn’t occur to me that I could ask friends or acquaintances to come make me tea.  I had people offer after the fact.  It just never occurred to me.  I guess that is the result of trying to do everything by myself for so long and being afraid of being hurt.  Definitely, being afraid of being hurt…But that I actually wanted someone there this time was even more astonishing to me.

My therapist says that doing for others and letting others do for you is how we establish relationships.  Being vulnerable and finding a safe place to land or a safe way to get your needs met is what draws us together as humans.  I have to learn to recognize the opportunities for joining in this way.  I have to recognize when to ask.

Together Alone

I know I have been lax in my blogging again.  Frequently it is an event that sparks my return to the blogging format.  This past week my therapist informed me that my next session would be my 200th.  That’s not 200 hours because she frequently goes above and beyond the therapeutic hour.  We do good work together.  The culmination of this work lead to a discussion of termination in the not too distant future.  It excites me but scares me at the same time, not because I don’t think I could handle it but because I would miss the conversation, the processing, and the interaction.  Socialization is one of the things I have to work on, developing relationships and friendships outside of the therapeutic relationship.

So that is what I have been thinking a lot about since my session early this past week.  My therapist has told me often that different friends meet different needs.  Someone you might hang out with at a ball game might not be someone you necessarily bring to a work party, for example.  My problem, if it can be called a problem, is that I don’t really have a clear idea of what my needs are.  I know I prefer more intimate social relationships than I do casual friendships.  I have work friends but I don’t know how many of them I would hang out with outside of work.  But then, I haven’t, so I don’t know.  One of my work friends could turn out to be a bestie.  I know from a social aspect I have loved my time with my therapist but I frequently confront the fact that in many of my relationships with women who are older than I am, I seek consciously or unconsciously to fill a surrogate mother/ daughter relationship.  I flourish like a plant turning towards a light source in their presence.  I feel like I glow with excitement.  However one friend who is nearly the exact same age as my mother I see and interact with more as a peer and I don’t get that striving kind of feeling from our friendship and it feels less intimate in some ways.  I guess I am trying to figure out what friendship looks like and feels like since it has been so long since I have had a relationship I could clearly define and count on as a friend.  And if that striving, intimate, nourishing feeling isn’t realistic or is something I need to do for myself, then what is a friendship and how do I do that for myself?  Logically I know a friendship is a connection between two people who enjoy spending time together.

Professionally, my therapist has helped me to see that I need practice in interacting socially.  I have the head knowledge, as she says.  But I need to develop my ability to interact with people.

I have also been wondering again about the mystery of what leads us to be drawn to one person over another.  Why, for example, did I choose my therapist?  She was a professor of mine during a summer studio class.  There were two professors so why her and not the other woman?  There was something about my therapist’s personality that I liked, obviously.  Why are we drawn to some people more than others?  I know some people who are perfectly nice and fine and would be a good friend probably but I am just not drawn?, compelled?, attracted?,  to them as I would be to someone else.  There were teachers like that in school too.  As for peers I remember feeling on the outside, like a third wheel.  It often didn’t feel natural.  The only time it didn’t I remember was with my middle school best friend.  I remember that same sense of inclusion during the Curves trip to see the Pirates play.  I was part of the group…I am getting off track.

Now as for that sense of belonging I know I felt somewhat separate from the group during my grad school experience.  There were groups of people who hung out together, smallish little groups of 2-3-4 people, and I didn’t really feel like I was a part of one of those.  I felt separate.  It was a lonely feeling but not unfamiliar.

One of the reasons I like working at Giant Eagle is that sense of belonging.  People know me.  Coworkers can count on me.  They see me as a good worker.  I have been there long enough to be a part of that camaraderie that comes from working in the trenches of a service industry.  I can joke freely and I am confident enough in the duties of my job that I can get in there and work as hard as the best of them.  Best of all are the regular customers.  I remember when I first started at Giant Eagle that I admired and longed for that sense of community.  Now I am one of those who can say, “Mr. So-and-so, you’re by yourself today!” or “Hey! You’re late today.”  I can joke with the regulars and they know me.  And in that sense, beyond the monetary one, working at Giant Eagle meets a very big need of togetherness and community, for me.

So…my point.  Friendship.  What is it?  What does it mean?  What needs does it meet?  How do I know if my expectations are too high?