What I Can Do

I have to come to realize that I do not need that master’s degree in marriage and family therapy in order to do good in this world. I already do good in this world, and I can do so much more. I can raise a child to become a kind, forgiving, generous and respectful individual who will, as I have, contribute so much to this world, to our community, and add to the lives of others. I have a calling to become a mother. That is what I am choosing to focus on. I am going to start dating again, and even if I do not find a partner to raise my child with, I am going to have a child. I am 33 now and in the first part of next year I will be 34. Give me two years of building resilience and additional healing, and you’ll have a strong mother who can give of herself even in her worst moments. It might not happen in two years, but that is the hope I am holding onto. This is the future I choose for myself.

My leave of absence from the MFT program starts next week. I can take up to 12 months off while still retaining my enrollment place in the program. I could start up again in January 2019 or sooner. After that I will lose my place in the program and if I want to return I would have to reapply. I’m okay with that.

I have two dreams in my life. One is to become a therapist. The other is to become a mother. I see now that I don’t have to make all of my dreams come true. My strongest calling is to have a family and to become a mother. I can fulfill that dream first, and maybe when the kids are grown, I can go back to school and fulfill that second dream. It doesn’t mean I can’t listen to and read books about therapy and psychology. I am still fascinated by the human mind, the human psyche, and always will be. That will never die. Passion fuels my will to live, my will to achieve higher heights, and my desire to bring meaning to my life.

Life now has meaning, and I am building upon that. I am so worthy of this life. I am fortunate to be alive and to be able to wake up every day even if I don’t feel like it. I am fortunate to have my brother and my mum and my therapist in my life. They are the three most meaningful relationships I have. Nothing else matters, truth be told. I will always have those connections, no matter what, and there is not even the remotest possibility of experiencing abandonment from either of them. A part of them will always be with me, even when their physical bodies are gone. They will live within my heart.

I spend a lot of time daydreaming about being pregnant, and of having a small child in the home where I live now. I have truly made this into a home. It doesn’t matter if I cannot afford much, or afford to have the whole place to myself. It’s okay to have roommates. It’s okay to do what you need to do in order to live and get by. As long as those things you do are lawful things. I truly have a home. I have a place to call home. I have built my life from the inside out, and this home is the physical manifestation of all of the hard work I have put into my mind and my body. I have invested a lot in myself and it shows. The truth, the fact that “I am okay,” is resoundingly clear. I am safe now and no one can take that safety away from me. No one.

I imagine my sweet little dog being sweet with my baby and cuddling with my baby on the bed. My dog is an older dog of about 6 years old, not too old, and I adopted him on April 30th of this year. He sleeps with me and we do a lot of things together. We are often next to each other in the home. I have a small home, but it is big enough for the two of us and my dear roommate. I have gotten very lucky with roommates these last couple years, but I can also attribute that to my wise choices and good judge of character.

I got a raise this year. I went from not being able to cover my monthly expenses to making being able to make ends meet. The cost of living where I live is quite high, higher than most places. I also have certain important expenses which add up, such as paying for psychotherapy out of pocket. Even though the therapy is on a sliding scale, it still adds up. It is not uncommon for me to pay $800 per month in therapy fees, although lately I have been able to stretch that over two months because I have been doing better.

A friend recently suggested I start a blog for a magazine. I think that isn’t such a bad idea! I would love to put my real name out there and express myself to unknown readers. I already do that here, but my blog is for the most part quite anonymous. I also have my poetry. I have several hundred poems, and I have to say, they are quite brilliant. My mum recently told me about Rupi Kaur and I listened to her first book of poetry called “Milk and Honey” on Scribd. It’s really good. Her book has been a best-seller. I tell you, my poetry is that good or better. I have a story to tell and I tell it in sonnets and run-on sentences broken into paragraphs of words which sing songs of my life story. I wish that publishing poetry wasn’t so difficult. I think that publishers think that poetry won’t sell, won’t make any money, and therefore they won’t take on authors and offer contracts. I want to record my poetry and put it into an audio book. I want to do so many things.

I would have never known that graduate school isn’t for me had I not gotten here. Don’t get me wrong: I think I would be an incredibly effective therapist. I would be good at the craft. I could heal people through talk therapy and I could do for others what my therapist has done for me. But I don’t need a degree in order to help others. I can do that as I live my every day. I can smile at my co-workers and add value to my office, work hard and be good at what I do. I can offer my rescued dog a good life, and live peacefully with my roommate and find a man with whom I want to raise a child and build a family. That’s what I can do.

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Remediation

I haven’t even started my master’s program and I am already looking at Ph.D. programs. A year ago I wasn’t that bold. Two years ago, that would have been unthinkable. Three years ago I might have laughed and completely dismissed the idea with a statement like, “you’re crazy.” (Keeping in mind that the “c” word is not ideal because it perpetuates stereotypes and false societal perception of mental illness, as well as trivializes the experience of those suffering from mental illness.) A lot has changed in the last few years. I also never would have thought of myself as being a responsible dog owner and the fact that I just passed my two-year anniversary at my job is almost unheard of. Yet, it’s possible and it’s real.

I possess so much more stability that I used to. (Positive self-talk: “Yes! Own it, girl!”) The medications I am on not only “seem” to be working, they are working. I have certainly have had moments of extreme instability earlier this year including several bouts of suicidal ideation. But the frequency of those instances is decreasing and the buffer of my resilience is increasing. Just shy of a year ago I began seeing my therapist twice weekly instead of once, and it has served me well. I wanted and needed the extra support. When grad school begins in a month, I may even, at least sometimes at first, only see him once a week. A month ago I didn’t like the idea of not seeing him twice a week anymore, but I am getting myself used to the idea.

I have also been seeing my psychiatrist for almost a year. It took a long time and was harrowing trying to find a psychiatrist whom I liked, who was nonjudgmental (i.e. didn’t make me cry), less critical, and simply, accepting of me. A lot can be conveyed without words. Since I left my inpatient and outpatient psychiatrists in 2015, I spent a year and a half seeing people I didn’t like seeing. But I was too ill to fight for myself, that is, to expend the sumptuous effort it would have taken to find a new psychiatrist. My outpatient psychiatrist refused to see me unless I paid cash up front, rather than going through my insurance, because one of her bills was included in my bankruptcy. I was angry at her and I felt bad at the same time. I didn’t want to blame myself, but I did.

I have been taking a course called Psychology of Lifespan development. We have our final exam in four days and I haven’t really sat down to study yet. This was not a required course for my graduate program and I am glad I took it. I have learned a lot. I also finally started my new volunteer job a few weeks ago at a large county-funded organization that works with at-risk youth including those who are homeless. As a volunteer I am allowed to attend treatment team meetings. I will also be working with their adoption support services program and after attending my third movie night next week so that they can see how I interact with the children (or “kiddos” as they call them) I will be assigned a child to mentor on a weekly basis. I don’t know what age the child will be but I am figuring that it will be a younger child because in the movie night groups I have been assigned to the group with the youngest of children, starting at age two. My previous volunteer experience in the church nursery also lends toward this age range. The minimum time commitment is a strict six-month rule but I hope to continue with the child for much longer. I will simply need to see how my life and availability plays out. I want to be the best positive role model I can be, accepting, patient, and understanding.

My Fall classes include Introduction to Clinical Practice: Basic Skills, Theories of Psychotherapy, and Psychopathology. I am a proud new owner of the DSM-5, and each course has at least three required books. A few of those books I have purchased on Kindle, but there is something about physically holding a book under a reading light and being able to underline passages with pencil which isn’t the same as reading a book on the computer and highlighting passages with the click of the keypad (or whatever that area on the keyboard is called where I drag my fingers and click, since using a mouse with a laptop is so uncommon these days).

I have begun working on Saturdays to make time up missed at work during the week because of my volunteer job. It wasn’t easy getting approval to miss hours during the week for the volunteer job and then I had to be authorized to work on Saturdays. Once grad school begins I am going to have to tell them that I can no longer work on the weekend because of my school commitments. I also want to work part-time. I received more loan offers than I was expecting to receive, because of my bankruptcy, and I accepted most of them so that I would be able to afford spending more time on my school work and less time at a job. Only, I am afraid they won’t let me reduce my hours by very much. In the long-run, if I had to work 30 hours down from 40 a week, that would mean less student debt. However, I want to work only 20 hours so that my real full-time job can be studying. I feel that I need and want it. I am willing to train another sales assistant of they choose to hire one. The previous assistant resigned not too long ago because she needed full-time work in order to be able to pay her bills. I was sad to see her go because we had become friends. We are still in touch, only, I don’t get to see her any more.

I really do have a good life. I have a blessed life. I am grateful for my resilience at overcoming the most difficult of obstacles. I fought every day for my mental health, even on the days when I couldn’t (or “chose not to” as my therapist would correct me) get out of bed. When I was in bed, I was protecting myself from harm, even if those stimuli of the world outside of my bedroom were merely perceived threats, and I was preserving my well-being. It was mostly for protection so that I wouldn’t have to deal with “the world.”

Today is Saturday and I slept for eight hours the night before. I indulged in a lazy afternoon nap after work which ended up being a three-hour nap. Luckily I woke up while the sun was still out so that I could go for a nice ten-minute walk with my sweet dog, who napped alongside me on the bed (as usual). The weather is hot and I have the air conditioning on. Where I lived in 2015 there was no air conditioning. That was a miserable place to live, so I won’t think about it any more. I don’t have to focus on the bad things that happened to me in the past any longer. I can go into a bad memory, and experience sadness, but then I am able to bring myself out of it. Those dips into bad memories are less frequent and they do happen often in the realm of my therapy hour, which is a safe place to experience those feelings associated with the memories. Yes, I was raped, and that was the least of my worries in my old life. But no one needs to know that. Not any more. I don’t need to keep telling everyone I meet my story. I have managed to only tell two people at work whom I trust about my past, and almost none of my coworkers other than those two know anything about my past, the fact that I was suicidal for many years, that I hadn’t worked for a period of five years due to mental illness. I am okay now and I am resilient as shit and I am a fucking warrior.

Closing Out the Day

To my therapist,

I do not want to repeat a day like today: it was too perfect. Days like today cannot be repeated. I relished every moment of it. The Italian word is “godere,” and according to the dictionary a form of that word is to reference “gustare spiritualmente” which I will indirectly translate to be “tasting spirituality.” (It actually translates to “tasting spiritually” but I like my translation better.)
I did everything I wanted to do today. Every moment of the entire day was directed entirely by me. And it was just me and Samuel time together, all day long. I slept in, I took my time petting and fondling my dog’s furry little head and body this morning in bed. I ate throughout the day. We went on little walks through the housing complex where there is grass and dirt and other things to sniff. I spent some time with Irvin Yalom through his writings. I drank loads of tea all day long. I spent several hours doing laundry in the afternoon, after leisurely reading my book “for fun!” I didn’t turn on my computer. I vacuumed the corners of my room, which is a rare occurrence. I bathed my dog (he needed it). No one called me on the phone and I rarely spoke unless speaking to my dog. Most of the time that I did spend on my phone was listening to Daniel Siegel talk. The two authors I mentioned are pretty much my favourite authors right now. I’m glad I discovered them (one through you).
All day long I have been writing to you in my mind. I have been composing sentences to you, and thinking about how I would phrase certain things when it came to the end of the day and that it would be time to write to you about my day. I suppose not much else needs to be said.
Thank you for you.

Closing Words for the Day

To my Therapist,

I am always always always wanting to address you in emails as My instead of Dear, like I used to. It’s like a term of endearment for me. And I usually refrain because it’s not the normal way to address someone and people don’t belong to other people. But you are mine, my therapist, and our time together is all mine and ours but you are mine because you are always there for me. Sometimes it seems hard to believe that I filed bankruptcy over $15,000. But the calls from collection agencies was not good for my mental health. In five and a half years it will be off of my credit report and then I can apply for a loan for a home. I want to rent now and the money I have is to help get me through school.
Mum said I should freeze my eggs. She said that’s what she would do. That I should do it while I can afford it, while I have the money, before I take out student loans. I actually like her advice and I think she is coming from a wise place. When I first got married my Mum and her husband were at the time trying to conceive and mum had four miscarriages. Four. That’s a lot. She said she was under a lot of stress at the time. He isn’t a very nice person, Mum’s husband, but I think she will stay with him until the day he dies, assuming she will live longer. He is now 67 and I think my Mum is 58. That means in one and a half years we will have to have a big celebration for her 60th! I would love to take her on a trip but I will be in school.
I got off topic. Freezing my eggs. My future babies. You said sometimes you just have to make a choice and you don’t look back. I think I should do it too. I don’t know who is going to be the father yet. Even though I do want to have a career, I can see just as much wanting to stay home to take care of my baby full time and raise the baby because every person in the child’s life has a certain impact. I really want to have a baby and my Mum wants to have grandchildren. She said that to me and I said don’t worry, because you will have them from me. That’s why she won’t throw away or give away or donate much of the books and toys we had when we were kids. She is saving them for her grandchildren. She said she wants to have her own place one day. I don’t know if that’s going to happen. I am going to take care of her in her old age and I reminded her of that.
What else was I going to tell you? I like you to know everything about my life. You are better than family to me, better than anything I could have ever imagined. You are my therapist and aside from my Mum you are the primary attachment figure in my life.
I can’t believe I was so angry when I saw you last. Mostly about not having time to bring Samuel to therapy. But you showed me that the intense anger went away.
I woke up with a sore throat this morning. It has been hurting all day. I didn’t want to get up because of it. I haven’t been physically ill in over a year and a half. I have been really lucky. Mum said it’s probably because I was on an airplane and exposed to many people.
I miss you, but I am not needing to see you. I get to see you in about three days. That’s really soon. And it will feel good to talk with you. It usually does. You have seen a lot from me. You know everything about me and everything that has happened to me. You continue to be witness to my life and that is very special.

Self Reflection and Attachments

I could spend the next twenty minutes studying. I have been wanting to catch up on the reading I missed out on during my intensively-paced introduction to child development course. I read tonight’s chapter about substance abuse while on my patio at home and at the pool laying in the sun over the warm weekend. I wasn’t able to get all of the reading done for tonight, however. I am lacking on one chapter. I am choosing to do something, rather, to ease my mind, because studying takes concentration, and there’s only so much concentration in a day a person can take. I didn’t get as much done at work today as I could have and I don’t mind. No one is looking over my shoulder. There are days where I strive to be my best, and there are days where I just “am”. I give myself a bit of a break. I cannot imagine, however, doing anything but my best when I am a therapist.

I’ve been told that I am preppy, that I have a hard time giving up control, that I like to tell people what to do. What else comes to mind? I know I have high standards for myself. I’m not so sure I like the word “preppy” because it seems to have a negative connotation. I have a month left in my abnormal psychology course and I am getting about 100% in the class thanks to some extra credit points which were offered. My 92% in the 8-week course was kind of abysmal. My 4-week 3-unit intensive course netted me about a 96% which is decent. If I get 98% I’m not satisfied because I think, “I could have done better.” But of course, I have to remind myself that I cannot be perfect. Perfectionist. That’s another one I’ve been called.

These are all new traits that I’ve developed in the last year. I didn’t know I liked to teach and that I enjoy being the “boss”. Maybe those qualities were within me, but they were hidden, undernourished, and dormant for all of my 20s. Age nineteen was the last year I had of freedom before the darkness really started to creep into my life. Now I’m 33 and applying to graduate school. It’s something I have always wanted to do, at least for about half of my life. Five years ago I could not have foreseen myself being in the place where I am today.

Gratitude. Maybe this is a journal of gratitude. Can I list all of the things which are great about my life? I certainly don’t need to remind myself because I am living it every day. But then again, my moods shift and at times they plummet, and the reality is that I do need the reminders. I have a nice home. It is quaint and affordable and I have some nice possessions like my wall mirror, my L-shaped light green couch and my teak wooden lounge chair on the patio. I have my first and my own dining room table. I’ve never had my own dining room table before. Not since my marriage ended.

I have a life. I have a life that is worth living. I have my therapist and a few friends and my immediate family members which comprise the entirety of my social support. Although now I am my mother’s supporter, and it’s as it should be. The roles have shifted and she needs my support now, and I am strong enough to be able to be there for her.

Although I am extremely attached to my couch, the first piece of expensive furniture I bought after my divorce, I would actually give it up in an instant. I would give it up if it meant helping someone I love. I would give it up in an instant if the decision seemed imminent. But, I am not in that position right now. I just have to recognize that my possessions don’t own me. I own them. I gave away all of my nice ceramic painted planter pots when I had to downsize. No problem! I have simply bought new ones. Things, physical things, can be replaced. People and experiences cannot be replaced. I need to keep this in mind. I own so many things which I treasure: my paintings, my tea cups, my piano keyboard which rarely sees the sight of my fingers, some of my shoes even. As much as I enjoy having those things and using them, I need to remind myself that things, physical things, are replaceable. I keep repeating this because things, physical things, are what define my mother. The things she owns own her. She has not dealt with the traumas of her past and she cannot get rid of anything. She hoards and she will be moving out of her three bedroom home which is completely full of possessions, everywhere, on every surface, and they will be put in storage. I am not sure she will ever be able to afford a home big enough again which will fit all of her things. All I can do is be there for her, visit her, talk to her, accept her for who she is. I can pray for her healing, but that has to come with a willingness which is not currently there. Not yet. I can always hope.

Reflections: Part of my Therapy and Healing

Sometimes all I want to do it to write a blog. You know, just write. For me. I put my heart into it. All of me. My whole being. What I write is the epitome of me, my existence, who I am. Writing defines me. It helps me express my feelings and organize my thoughts. It solidifies the experiences that I have had. It gives me space to reflect. What would I do without writing as a part of my life? I don’t know. Writing has always been a part of my life. I know I kept a journal as a kid but I have no idea where that journal ended up. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is the process of writing. I don’t always go back to read what I have written. I don’t always want to. The act of writing in and of itself helps. I cannot bring myself to throw away the old journals which contain accounts of the horrors I have lived through, because they are a part of me. I know that if I were to read them, as I have done to myself in the past, it would have a negative effect on me. It might not retraumatize me, but it would certainly bring back the nightmares and a flood of tears.

Writing to my therapist by email daily is a part of my therapy. I need to connect with him daily. I need him, someone, to know how I am doing and to be a witness to my experience and of my innermost thoughts. I need him to know when I am not doing well, how that is for me, and I need him to know about the beautiful moments in life which make my life worth living. I want him to know it all. The act of writing it down is therapeutic.

I just had my morning weekend coffee. It’s past 1:00 pm (aka 13,00 hours) and I am sitting on my patio with new and old plants in pots, enjoying the song of birds and indirect sunlight. This is good for me. In less than two hours I have a Skype date with my aunt in Australia which I have been looking forward to for more than a week. We had to reschedule but I am okay with that. My afternoon is her morning and so it will be her Monday morning.

Three and four years ago, I had a garden of my own. I lived in a one bedroom apartment on the second floor and my balcony was filled with beautiful ceramic pots and soil and plants which I had grown from scratch. I didn’t even buy starter plants; I planted my plants from seed. I kept that garden. It was a part of my self-therapy. In tending to those plants, I was nurturing myself. In watching those plants grow, I was watching the act of life itself happen. It was helping to keep me alive. My life the way it is now? I could have never imagined such a life. Because the life I live now is not filled with nightmares and dark spaces and suicidal thoughts. The life I live now is just full of… life.

When I had to move away from that home I had spent two years building, because my alimony was ending and I couldn’t afford it any longer, I was devastated. Absolutely devastated. I got rid of all of my pots, along with other things, and life as I knew it was over. I stopped doing everything creative and sunk into an even deeper depression. I stopped painting with acrylic on canvas. I stopped making homemade paper and candying orange peels to eat. I stopped preparing fresh foods for myself. No salads, only frozen foods. I stopped writing poetry and playing the piano. It was the end of my gardening days as I knew it. I no longer sewed and knitted. I got rid of all of my extra, unused rolls of yarn to Goodwill. I stopped seeing people. The priest I had been friends with had moved away to another state on the other side of the country. I survived the entirety of 2015 by sleeping. On weekends I would stay in bed 22 hours a day. It was a miserable year and although I was not often in the mindset of wanting to end my life, the depression was absolutely crippling. It is a wonder that I was able to hold a job and start my career in finance again starting that August. But I did it because I am fucking amazing and because I am a warrior woman.

In December last year when my Mum came to visit, I had her buy me some plants from a nursery. Keeping those plants alive, albeit barely, brought me to this point. It is now well into Spring and my life is full of life. I still sleep a long time on weekends, sometimes 12 hours as I did last night, but I do things that people who don’t have depression do. I am living my life as best as I can, and I would say I am doing a pretty darn good job at it.

Friday night was revolutionary for me. Why, you ask? Because I was inspired! I was inspired to start my garden! I went on Offer Up, a site that I had just found out the day before from my friend at work. I’ve never bought anything via that site before. And I found a lady, Lily, who has a home business selling pottery. I made sure she was a woman, by asking her, because it was Friday night and dark outside and I didn’t feel comfortable having to deal with a man at that hour, under those circumstances. I drove the 25 minutes to her home. She had me park in her driveway and she was waiting outside for me. As she led me through the wooden gate to her large backyard, I noticed and pointed out how beautiful it was, with well-kempt bushes and flowers and lush grass. There was some lighting coming from the trellis which covered a part of her patio and she used the flashlight feature on her phone to show me the beautiful ceramic planter pots she had in her inventory. There must have easily been 100 pots to choose from, all different styles and sizes, but most in pairs and matching.

I chose three bright blue matching pots and a pot on a pedestal which was beige-coloured with the image of a sun with a face on it painted orange on the sides. I am phenomenally pleased with my selections and they are so much nicer than any pot I could have gotten at a hardware store such as Lowe’s or The Home Depot. I had to go to a pottery store, or in this case, a pottery home-based business. Lily explained to me how she had fallen ill at the end of last year and had to be bed-bound for three months, so she was just now starting up her pottery-selling business over again. She gave me her business card and I am keeping it for the future.

I have a few lettuce seeds planted in one pot. I planted green onions in another. In the third matching blue pot I planted cilantro and Italian parsley. I tried to only plant things that I would actually eat. I used to grow my own zucchini but I have decided for now that I don’t like zucchini. Probably because I am not very big on cooking still these days. Homegrown zucchini is really wonderful though, I must say. I wanted to plant mint but I couldn’t find the seeds for it and I don’t want to buy a starter plant, but I might just do exactly that. In the pedestal pot I planted morning glories. I find them to be really beautiful. I had forgotten that you have to nick the seeds with a knife and leave them to soak in water before planting them. I did that and I was so pleased to see the seedlings already bulging with life the next morning. The miracle of water and life. Water is life.

I have another large pot that I had stored at a friend’s house for the past two years. I finally picked it up last weekend. I bought sunflower seeds. These seeds are actually for growing gigantic sunflowers which will supposedly be a foot in diameter when the bloom is blooming! I wanted to maximize my space, and so I planted most of my seeds, well, all of them, too close together. Closer than was recommended. We’ll have to see how that works out. My little seedlings are already an inch tall and they are just a week old! I had planted them last weekend. They are pushing their way through the surface of the soil and spreading their first little leaves. Unfortunately, I have roly polies. Apparently another name for this bug is a “pill bug” but I have always known it as a “roly poly”. That’s because when it is under threat (I had to look this up) it rolls its little crustacean body up into a ball. My pot, which spent two years in an untended location, is full of these little bugs. I didn’t think anything of it, but when my seedlings were beginning to sprout I noticed the bugs congregating around the baby plants. Apparently they are harmless in gardens because they decompose old plant matter and eat their own poop. But when there is no decomposed matter to eat, they will eat sprouting plants. They won’t eat established plants. Now, several of my baby plants have half-eaten leaves and whenever I see a new roly poly that was previously hidden, I toss it out of the pot onto the grass beyond my patio.

Food is amazing. It nourishes us and keeps us alive just like water does to plants. Plus, water is life too. Water is even more necessary for living creatures than food. We can only go three days without water, but longer without food. I just ate a peanut butter protein bar. It was delicious. Of course, it has a certain amount of sugar in it. It’s like eating peanut butter fudge, as my roommate put it. The bar is called a Perfect Bar and they are sold everywhere but they are cheaper at Costco. Costco was having a sale on them a while back and I bought six twelve-packs of bars which come in three different flavours. There are easily ten or fifteen different flavours of the Perfect Bar but Costco has a limited selection in their twelve-pack: peanut butter, peanut butter cranberry, and almond with sesame seeds on the outside. They are all really good. I discovered them when my former roommate bought them back in September and I have been eating them daily for breakfast for the last six months and I don’t intend to stop any time soon. The bars are packed with superfoods and nutrients and are really good for you.

I have been spending a lot of money. I spend much more than I make every month and if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to get a settlement of a last bit of alimony last year then I would be completely broke with only a thousand dollars left in the bank, which is nothing. Scary little. But I’m doing okay even though I haven’t been saving money. I have been spending it. About a thousand has gone toward travel last year and then another eight hundred to new tires in December. Read: tyres, for those British-spellers. This year I have spent about a thousand on new clothes and shoes over the months. I am working on a new and better wardrobe for work, and looking toward my wardrobe as a therapist in my future career. It’s expensive to build a nice wardrobe. I have also gotten rid of small clothes which no longer fit me, which is a big deal. Now they aren’t taking up space in my closet. It feels really good to have clothes which actually fit me.

I also recently spent five hundred dollars on a laser hair removal package of treatment series. In 2009 I started a series of treatments and it significantly reduced the amount of hair I have on various parts of my body but it isn’t completely gone. It has been on my mind in the last several months to finish those series. I finally got up the courage to do some research on it, and I didn’t look very far. I actually went with the first place I found on Google. They were having a sale and it was meant to be! I have to wait several months before my first appointment because they don’t do Saturdays and the weekday evening spots are the most popular and always taken. I’m good. I can wait. This would have never been possible without the alimony I got last year. I am visiting my Mum for mother’s day weekend and there is no way I could have been able to afford the cheap plane tickets without the extra alimony I got. Money makes so many things possible and opens up opportunities. I feel fortunate to have just enough. Not a lot, but enough to be able to have luxuries in my life. There are many people who don’t have the nice things in their lives that I have and I am truly grateful.

I have been writing now for over an hour and my Skype date with my aunt is imminently around the corner. We always talk for an hour but I want to not be limited by time and I hope to get to have a couple hours with her, so I have to go microwave that sweet potato that I baked the other night so that I can have food in my stomach so that I can remain calm and centered during my conversation with my aunt. All this stuff takes planning. I learned about “HALT” while listening to Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s books. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Those are risk factors for being unable to cope emotionally. In the books it applies to parenting, but I can parent myself and pay attention to those risk factors too. I have to make sure that all of those aspects are taken care of so that I can remain calm and centered. So, I am going to eat something right now. Cheers!

Babysitting Adventures, Equality, and Saying No

I put my friend’s five-year-old to bed last night. It was quite precious. I was babysitting while my friend was at a concert and surprisingly, it was my first time ever alone with him. I used to help with the bedtime routine when he was one and two years old back when I wasn’t working and in addition to being therapeutic for my friend because of the negative household environment that her now ex-husband brought into the situation, it was therapeutic for me. I used to watch her breastfeed her baby and I read stories and played with this child while he was taking a bath. He still likes baths to this day.

This little boy kept wanting me to call or text his mom. His excuse was that he wanted his “normal” pillow and that the pillow on his bed wasn’t his usual one. We went to his mom’s room together but the pillows on the ground didn’t have covers on them because the linens were in the wash. “Please call my mom so you can ask about the pillow!” he pleaded with me. “What would that accomplish?” I asked. “So then she would come home to me instead of in the morning.” My heart broke. I didn’t realize he missed his mommy that much. In order to distract him I said, “how about I tuck you in like a burrito?” “What’s that?” he asked intrigued. I said, “Well, you have to lay flat on the bed with your arms to the side and the covers pulled all the way up.” Then I proceeded to tuck the blanket around his entire body while repeating the words, “squish, squish, squish.” Apparently he thought it was a fun game because he had me do it again later and then asked me to show it to his mom so she can do it too.

When I asked if he wanted me to rub his back as his mom had told me he likes that, he said, “You’re not my mom!” “No, I’m not.” I replied. Later on when I asked if he wanted me to pat his back while he was going to sleep he said, “of course.” He kept fidgeting around a lot while trying to go to sleep. “Close your eyes,” I instructed him in the dim glow of the fish tank on the other side of the room. I had to switch hands from patting his back every once in awhile because the other hand would get tired. He also let me lightly stroke his head. It was very gentle and a special moment. He is five, but in those moments while he was falling asleep with his back to me as I was sitting on the stool next to his bed, he seemed like a baby. He is five but he is still that little baby I once knew.

Now I understand when mothers will say, “yes, baby?” to their elementary school-aged child. Because your child is always your baby, even when they are grown up. You gave birth to them; you helped give them life. They were born unto you as a baby. Life is precious and so are children. So in a sense, that makes everyone in the world precious, because we all once were babies. Of course, babies are so innocent.

Adults have a self-awareness and a moral conscience, and so, they are not really “innocent” human beings. I remember last December when a man on the roadside helped me change my tire. I did pay him royally for his kindness but even before I had offered him money, he told me, “you are someone’s daughter and someone’s sister. I would want someone to help my daughter.” We are all someone’s daughter or someone’s son, we are someone’s grandchild, and we could be someone’s sibling, aunt, parent. We are all neighbours in this world, yet there is so much prejudice and stigma and fighting. I want to do away with the lot and treat everyone equally. Everyone is equal and everyone deserves kindness. Every. Single. Person.

When my friend came home around midnight I recapped the evening, including when her son, who has some behavioural difficulties due to the divorce and verbal abuse from the father directed to the mother, tried to hit me. I had told him, “don’t hit me, I’m your friend.” “You’re not my friend!” he responded. “I am your friend.” “No, you’re not,” he insisted. “What am I then?” I asked. “You’re… you’re… nothing!” he managed to eek out. I said nothing but he did not try to hit me again. My friend called me the “child whisperer.” Apparently in all of her son’s five years, she has never had anyone put him to bed other than herself or her mom. She was very pleased and grateful and she came up with my reward (since I didn’t ask to be paid): fresh, homemade tortillas. I told her I want to watch her make them. I am much looking forward to it. She has offered to take me out to dinner as a “thank you” but she knows now that I much prefer homemade meals, and she is really such a good cook. Much better than me.

At first, when my friend had asked me on Sunday to babysit, I had said “yes” having forgotten that I had scheduled a Skype date with my aunt for that night a week ago. When I realized I didn’t have the courage to take back my “yes.” I have a really hard time saying “no” to people. I’m the person who can always do whatever is asked of me. That has gotten me into some difficult situations at work in terms of feeling overwhelmed. I talked it over with my friend at work yesterday and came to the conclusion that it’s okay to say no. I don’t have to say “yes.” I have a life too; I have things to do too. I had really been looking forward to my Skype date and felt regret at having to reschedule it for a later date. I felt angry toward my friend who had asked me to babysit even though this had been my own doing. I vowed to not let my friend know that I was angry, and to take this as a learning experience: that it’s okay to say no.

 

Appreciation and Back To Who I Used To Be (Minus the PTSD)

It’s the dawn of a new day… no, no, no. It isn’t actually. It’s an hour before sunset and it is my privilege to be sitting outside under a blue sky on campus. I just got out of work and I have a half hour before class, so I figure I can make use of this time and have the luxury of writing a blog entry. I was elegantly dressed at work and I brought my bright pink duffel bag with gym clothes and flip flops to change into. It always feels great to not be in work clothes since I spend over 40 hours a week in them anyway. I wonder if in grad school I’ll feel compelled to dress formally as at work or casual as I am now. I suppose it will depend on what others do in my cohort. But this is undergrad and I totally fit in in gym clothes. I still don’t get the whole torn jeans thing. You buy jeans and other clothing items that look totally mutilated. I don’t get it. Not for me. Not of my generation or stylistic comprehension. But I will reserve judgement.

It’s just cool enough, 71 degrees and in the shade, to be wearing a nice, baggy sweater. I love covering myself up but letting my feet roam free in the air. I don’t like tight clothing unless it is black because then you can’t really see the shape as well. Even if I were super skinny… no, no, no. Yet again, no. I don’t want to be thin. I want to be healthy. I want to be as I am now.

I am so lucky to have been able to afford a new and lightweight computer. I look at myself out on this slab of a concrete bench with a laptop in my lap, typing away, and I think, wow, I am so modern. I have modern technology and my computer is portable. I can use it anywhere. I can connect to WiFi anywhere on campus. It just wasn’t like that when I went to college. I don’t even use a physical notepad any longer because I take all of my notes on a Word document. What ever happened to the buy-it-once computer technology. It’s because Microsoft can make more money off of an annual subscription fee. Plus the software gets updated automatically.

This morning was amazing. This weekend was amazing. It’s all because I have not been feeling depressed. I woke up before my alarm clock. Can you believe it? Me, of all people. Me, the person who used to have three alarms set on my phone with three snooze options per alarm. That’s an alarm ringing every 5 to 10 minutes for 45 minutes long. My first alarm would ring at 7:00 and my last snooze would be at 7:50 in order to make the short drive to start work by 8:30.

I woke up before my alarm because of a nightmare. But in that bad dream I was saying “no” to my abuser. I tried closing my eyes to think of something pleasant, such as imagining sitting in my therapist’s calming waiting room, but the visualization didn’t work. So I got up. I actually got up. I put my feet on the ground and slowly stood up. That’s all it took to get up. I am so amazed. Why does it feel insurmountably difficult to drag myself out of bed every single day, but today, for whatever reason, it was easy? I want more of these days!

I had coffee. I only make myself coffee on weekends when I sleep in and I have nowhere to be in the mornings. I purposefully don’t schedule my weekend mornings because I know just how difficult it is for me to get out of bed. But today, on a weekday, on a Monday, I made myself espresso in my stovetop moka. I even sat outside to drink it. I felt the cool air rushing over my skin while I was still in pajamas.

My patio is filled with a bag of potting soil, a new plant, and new pots. I have big plans for my patio. Two years ago, in 2013 and 2014 when I had my one bedroom apartment which I could afford only at the time, I had a potted garden on my balcony. I had the most beautiful ceramic pots of blue and other colours. I grew sunflowers and morning glories and basil and zucchini and mint and succulents and I still had my sentimental tree that I had grown since it was a baby tree for about eight years. I have since given that tree to my brother and his girlfriend and I’m fine with them having it. I can grow a new tree. Wouldn’t it be cool to grow an avocado tree? It takes years to finally bear fruit. I have only ever gotten a seed to grow two feet tall, but that in itself was an accomplishment. I used to take pictures of my flowers and send them to friends. All of this, I am going to do again. I am going to return to the person I was, the person who had hobbies and who did creative things, and filled her life with joy. It has taken a long time to come back to this place. But I did it. I am doing it.

My Grad School Interview

I did it. I completed my three hour group interview with a graduate school MFT program which I hope to get into. We find out in two weeks if we got accepted. Then we have a month to decide whether to accept the acceptance. The two year program would start in the Fall. I did not make it into the state university. Today’s interview was with a private university. The program is a very good program and intensive. It is also expensive. There is no time to hold any sort of employment because all the student’s time is dedicated to the study of marriage and family therapy. I would be living off of loans and by the end of the two years I will be at least $100,000 in debt. I qualify for a minimal amount of a federal loan due to the FAFSA which I filed. The rest would be private loans. Considering I chose to file for bankruptcy less than two years ago, the interest on those private loans is going to be high. This is going to be a very expensive education, if I decide to go that route.

I am ready to fully commit myself to my future career. I want to do everything and anything it takes to get my MFT license and start practising as a licensed clinician. I am ready for the immense challenge. I am ready to face my inner demons and hone in on my life skills. In this profession, practitioners have to be very good at emotional regulation. I have a lot to learn.

I told my friend tonight that I think I was one of the only people there who had actually suffered mental illness myself. Many of the other interviewees, i.e. the competition, were coming straight out of their undergraduate college studies. They don’t have ten years of post-college life experience like I do. This is an advantage to me. My friend told me that I am surely not the only one who has experienced mental illness; that there are probably several other people who have, but that it’s not talked about because of the stigma associated with mental illness.

We were a total of 21 interviewees. Some flew in from the other side of the country to attend this interview. Some drove for hours to get here. A few, like myself, live in the city. The interviewees were split up into five groups, so basically four people per group. I have to say, there was one male and twenty females in the whole group. Quite a phenomenal statistic considering that 50 years ago the field of psychotherapy was still male-dominated. Everyone was dressed nicely, most in suits like myself. Everyone looked really put together. Most of the women had nice hair cuts, as opposed to my flowing long hair that reaches almost to my waist. It’s okay. We are all different.

For the three hours we had one room that we stayed in, and the interviewers rotated rooms. There was one professor and one current student paired with the professor, who were the interviewers and judges. They ask questions and the four of us answered in turn. The questions were personal and required deep thought and introspection. All of the other interviewees’ answers were really good. I mean, really good.

The first question was an introductory question asking us what about our lives and our past experiences has prepared us for this career path. I talked about how I grew up with a single mother who became a widow at the age of twentysix with twin three-year-olds. How we moved around a lot and between different countries. How we experienced racism when we were living in Germany and in Switzerland. I talked about having a lot of anger with my mother when I was growing up. Another question was, why specifically this university? All of the other participants answered first and along similar lines. That the emphasis on the multicultural perspective is important to them, that they like the biopsychosocial perspective. I didn’t say any of that garbage, meaning, I didn’t want to follow the trend and repeat what everyone else was saying or what we thought we were expected to say. I simply said I admire all of the research that the professors have done and that I would like to participate. The reason for me wanting to attend this program is that it is very intensive and really prepares the students for this profession. Another important reason is because I do not want to move out of this city; I intend to stay here.

One question was presented as follows. In therapy there are many setbacks. Some clients remain stagnant and seem to not progress, even for a period of years. Some decide to quit therapy and they don’t tell their therapist about it, they just never call back for a next appointment. In these cases often the therapist may believed that they have failed in a way. What is one example of a failure in your life and how did you deal with it? I spoke of the demise of my marriage, about how it was not a failure, instead, that as it turns out, it was one of the best things that could have happened to me. That I have been in therapy for the last eight years and it took four years of therapy for me to gain enough strength and self worth to leave that abusive situation.

Name a person in your life who is completely different in values from you and how do you reconcile that difference? I talked about my mom and how it felt as if she wasn’t around enough for me when I was a child even though she tried really hard and worked long hours, and cooked us dinner every night from scratch as part of showing us her love. I talked about the fact that she doesn’t share the same love languages that I have, that she wasn’t big on physical touch or words of affirmation. And now, how she in a difficult relationship but refuses to go to therapy because she simply does not believe in it for herself. She has different views on therapy than I do. I reconcile these differences in that I know I cannot change her and that I must accept this. I must accept that she is very different from me and that she needs to make her own decisions and is responsible for her life. There’s nothing I can actively do to make her change, she has to want it.

What is one aspect of yourself that you want to change over the course of your professional career starting now and what are you doing about it? I don’t want to see myself as the victim any longer. For a long time I was held down and told that my abuser was the victim, not I. There was a lot of manipulation. Because of the domestic violence I am in a women’s group right now and it is amazing to see that each of the women have their own story yet we share that we all experienced the same sort of thing. I did not mention that it was sexual abuse. I feel that would have been crossing the line of self disclosure and of my comfort level.

If you were to speak about yourself from the perspective of someone who knows you very well, what would they say about you? I took on the persona of my best friend: she is intelligent and has been through a heck of a lot. She is a strong person. She takes me to my IVF appointments. We have such a close relationship that some people may be uncomfortable with our relationship. For example, when I was getting my eyebrows waxed, I got an eyelash in my eye, and she just reached over and took it out. The person doing the waxing said that we must have a very close relationship, implying that those are personal bubble boundaries which most people do not cross. A nurse after my surgery asked if we are childhood friends, and she answered, “no, we were just neighbours”.

There were some more questions and I revealed some more information about myself. During one of the sessions I did cry, when talking about the domestic violence I had experienced. This was the question about a failure in my life and how I dealt with it. Another time I choked up but the tears luckily didn’t come. While I was answering questions I noticed that I did not often look the interviewers in the eyes, and instead looked away and down. I noticed that other participants did the same thing.

Overall I feel good about how it went, but I was also physically relieved from the mental exhaustion of the intensity of the questions and answers. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt this way and at the same time there were probably others who did not feel that the interview was as intense as I experienced it. I am going to be held in suspense for the next two weeks until I find out the verdict, whether they are going to offer me a position in the program for the next cohort. But I will also be very occupied with therapy, school, and work, that I know the time will pass by quickly.

This is exciting! Something good, something positive in my life. And the best part is knowing that I made it happen. I did this and no one else. I am the one who studied for the GRE for five months. I am the one who healed myself from being suicidal on a daily basis to having it happen merely once a month. I am the one who kept going back every week to therapy no matter how difficult my life seemed at the time. I attracted good people into my life. I am responsible for the fact that I have a strong support system in place filled with friends, close family members (my mom and my brother) and a health team (my therapist and my psychiatrist). I am the one who continues to take my medications twice a day. I, I, I. I did this. I get all of the credit for what my life has become. I am proud of myself.

That which sustains me

To my therapist,
You are my healer. Actually you are my helper and I am my healer. Actually love and time and patience and resilience and strength and understanding are my healers. You have done and continue to do so much for me. I’ve also been wanting to thank you for making therapy affordable for me. It really helps. It’s so important that I am paying you now and soon it will have been a year that I started paying you. When you first decided to take me on as pro bono I had no idea. I just kept paying you my copay and assuming you were charging my insurance and it was only much later after my separation that I discovered you were doing this. You mean so much to me that words will never adequately describe the feeling I have for you. It’s attachment. You have taught me about attachments. They are so powerful. So powerful. I remember telling you at one point that I wanted to get rid of all the money my ex-husband was giving me for alimony. I wanted to spend it. I thought it was dirty. Little did I realize then that it would end and I would have to be healed enough to finally get a job to sustain myself. I think that having this job and the challenges I have been through in it have also helped me to grow and heal. And financial independence does a lot. I would be doing very poorly financially had I not received the unexpected extra alimony as income earlier this year.
I can’t believe it’s almost 2017 and that’s the year that I start training for my professional career. Actually I have been training for it all my life. I am ready for this and I am ready to truly and effectively pay forward all of the help and love and effort and dedication you have shown me. I definitely have faith in humanity and I have faith in myself. Nothing will ever stop me from achieving my goals of becoming a professional helper like you. And I happen to know for absolute certain that you will never leave me and that you will always be by my side. You saw me yesterday in the middle of the day even though you hadn’t planned on it originally. We don’t live our lives for each other, I know that we have our own lives. But the time that I spend with you, and all of the time in between, is, well, meaningful beyond belief and healing. Now that I have healed so much, even though there will be more work toward that ahead, now the real learning gets to start, and that’s now the fun part! When I was going through trauma I was numb, then I was in denial, then I was in pain beyond comprehension. And all that while I wanted to kill myself. But now that the fog of depression has lifted and the crippling desire to be dead is gone, now I have space to learn. I can absorb information more readily and what I learn now I am able to recall. You have patiently repeated lessons and phrases and concepts to me endlessly until it was no longer necessary, like the concept that the pain will one day end, and my favourite phrase “not yet”, and my even more favourite phrase that “feelings come and go but I remain”. I’m still actively learning about that last one.
You know, the promise and agreement for me to one day write you a handwritten letter of how I am doing has had some of the biggest impact on me, even though at times I have fought it. When I wanted to die you reminded me of that promise. And you always are able to find angles that I can relate to and that eventually speak to me. Like if I don’t care in the moment about not having had my own children yet, that I haven’t yet experienced being an auntie to my brother’s future child or children, that that got to me earlier this year. If you call my ideas brilliant sometimes, like my idea of going to the jacuzzi instead of writing about my past trauma, then, well, you are brilliant too. I know that you are human which means you aren’t perfect and that one day your physical body will no longer be with me, but you are everything to me. You are my world, or at least for a long time you were the only attachment I had to the world and to staying alive. At times I didn’t even want to stay alive for my mum but I knew that I had to stay alive so that I could see you again, and I lived off of each of our meetings, from one, which sustained me, to the next. There was a time when I was doing so poorly that you were seeing me every day. I don’t actually remember that time but I wrote about it and recently read about what I wrote. There are some things that I have forgotten or that are buried so deeply in my psyche that they are almost unreachable, and that that is a very very good thing.
You sustain me, and you always will. But I know that I will have other things that will sustain me, like my dedication to my future patients, and a child of my own to whose wellbeing I will dedicate every ounce of my being.
With that all said, I want you to know that I love you and I am looking forward to my future and to our future, you and me, and how our relationship will continue to evolve. This isn’t “the letter” that we know I will one day write to you, but I feel that it comes very close to it and that it’s good practice. And I also believe that it will not be just one letter that I write to you, but a series of letters.
I’m very glad that I didn’t die each time that I attempted suicide. And I know that you are very glad that I am alive as well.
Thank you for you, for being you, for dedicating yourself to me, for everything that you have given to me, your time, your emotional being, your efforts, your healing words and constant and consistent presence, for showing me what an authentic connection can be, for letting me become incredibly attached to you, which sustained me, for showing me your love and care through your words, your facial expression, your consistency, your actions, your body language and even the way you sit, for our silence and the necessary space you always give to me.
Grazie and happy new year.
~ Your dedicated patient and fellow human being.