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.

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!

Mental Health Recovery Day

I am kind to myself. I can be nice to myself. I give myself permission to practice self-kindness. I can be gentle with me. I can do this. I am doing this. I will keep doing this. I am strong, kind, generous, faithful, intelligent and beautiful.

I took the day off of work today. It was a mental health recovery day. These last five days have been hard and I just couldn’t see myself going to work today. I kept snoozing the alarm and I knew I just didn’t want to deal with life today. Instead, I slept for about 16 hours. I finally got up in the early afternoon, a couple hours before seeing my psychotherapist. I was originally going to see him after work, but because I took the day off and he had availability, I was able to see him sooner. I saw him yesterday and I am seeing him tomorrow. It’s Spring Break and he’s not teaching this week, therefore, I am taking what I can get. I’ve always dreamed of seeing him every day for several days in a row. I tell him by email all the time that I hate not seeing him and I hate having to wait five days to see him. Well, I can rest easy because I get to see him in less than 24 hours from now.

When I can’t cope, I can’t cope. It’s just a fact. I wasn’t okay. When I get overwhelmed my mind goes straight to suicide and self-harm. It makes sense. I wasn’t able to retaliate when I was being abused because talking back or acting out would only make things worse. So when I couldn’t control things in my external world, I turned to my inner world for a sense of control. In focusing in on myself, in exacting self-harm whether through restricting food, cutting on myself, drinking alcohol, having more sex with strangers, telling myself I wasn’t worthy of love, and in so many other ways, I was able to control aspects of my life. Unfortunately, the control seeped out into other parts of my life and I felt that this was beyond my control. I acted out at work and ruined my professional life by quitting my career job out of desperation. But after leaving the abusive situation I was in, I began to heal myself once the major PTSD symptoms had subsided, which took a couple years.

When I was growing up too, my external world was beyond my control and things were unstable, so I controlled my inner world by fantasizing about running away from home or sleeping out on the porch in the snow to hurt my mum by hurting myself. When I was eight, I remember yelling at her, “I wish I were dead!” at the top of my lungs, because I wanted to hurt her back so badly, and I knew because my father had died, that it would get to her. “No, no,” she had replied with tears in her eyes, and I knew I had gotten to her. It’s as if I had to go to extreme measures in order to receive unconditional love and attention.

Self-harm has always been a part of my life, but with the help of my psychotherapist over the last eight and a half years I am learning to find other ways to express my anger and to not direct it toward myself. Because I don’t deserve that. No one deserves to hate themselves and to hurt themselves. Everyone deserves kindness and compassion. Most of all, from me to myself. I am okay. I will be okay. I am going to be okay. I can do this. I am okay. I am okay. I am okay. Just keep telling myself that and eventually it will be true. But the fact of the matter is, I am actually okay, it’s just that I don’t always feel okay. But I have learned that feelings come and go, and I remain. The emergency in my mind is no longer happening, and the noise and the chaos in my mind has subsided, and what is left is just me, without the state of emergency. It meant the world to me today when, at the end of our therapy session, my therapist said to me, “I’m glad you are feeling better.” “Me too,” I replied. Me too.

In Healing From a Violent Passion

I am going to keep living my life. I am going to keep on inspiring others by continuing on with my life no matter what obstacles come in my way. I don’t care if I inspire one or a hundred people. One person can make a difference. If I touch one person, just one person, then my mission, my goal, my heart will be complete. Every day is a battle in it’s own right. Every day I face challenges that have to do with my mental health. It’s just like everyone else in the world! It’s called being human.

My struggle on the grand scale of life may not be monumentous, but it has been for me. In trying to end my life, I have begun my new life. I have formed a new identity and a new way of thinking, feeling, and living. I have something called self-esteem, and it’s not based on my looks and my sexuality like it used to be. In fact, I am celibate, and sex does not enter my life at all. It’s by choice and it’s for a good reason. I want to have a child some day, and I’m planning on going to a sperm bank to make it happen because I never want to have sex with a man again. That might change one day, but this is where it stands now.

Next month it will have been five years since the day I left my abuser. I literally packed my car with everything that would fit in it, mostly clothes, and drove for nine hours straight to the other side of the state to get away from him. I wish that would have been the last time I saw him, but unfortunately I ran into him once soon thereafter. He was mocking me by asking if I had children now, when he saw that I had a child’s car seat in the back of my car because I was helping my friend take care of her child. And yet, I was still unhealthily emotionally tied to him, attached to him. Even though it was I who left, it was not I who had filed for divorce, and I was emotionally not even close to being ready to leave him. It was the physical urge, the sexual abuse, the fear, the act of self-preservation, which had led me into action by packing up my car and leaving.

And so, before he left me that one time, he asked to have one last kiss. And that kiss was deadly because it was tender and gentle. The years of psychological manipulation came to a front and messed with me for months thereafter. I was torn at being in the process of divorce yet still believing I loved him. It was because of the love that I had stayed so long. It was because of that unhealthy bond and extreme level of attachment and forced dependency which made me allow him to abuse me.

I had been vulnerable when he started dating me: I grew up without a male role model or model of how a healthy relationship should be. I was angry with my mother for a life of inconsistency and unhealthy boundaries between mother and child, and having suffered the wrath of her keen temper. I was a teenager and not yet fully mature. And his manipulation started from the get-go, only I did not notice it. I thought we were Romeo and Juliet, forbidden to be together, yet violently in love. The passion was dangerous and that’s what drew me to him. And he said he loved me. He said he loved me so that he could get sex. It started before I wanted it to start and I would have had no way of knowing that his sexual fantasies were so deviant, that he would become addicted to sex to an extreme extent, that I would allow us to each have multiple sexual partners which were forced upon me by mental manipulation and minutely planned and persistently relentless brainwashing tactics.

I am sober now. I am sober from having been addicted to a violent passion which ultimately destroyed the entirety of me: my self-esteem, my self-worth, my view of myself, my mental stability, my connection with my family and healthy friends. He gave my vagina as a commodity to every single one of his friends except for his equally narcissistic gay friend. The only difference between his friends taking me, without moral regard to the fact that they were married and whose partners assumed they were in a monogamous relationship, was that his friends didn’t pay him to do with my body what they pleased. I went along with it and by then I was completely brainwashed. There’s no other way to put it. No sane person would ever let this happen to them unless under extreme circumstances.

Everything about my life was extreme. In fact, he was a daredevil flying fighter jets and often driving 100 miles per hour on a 65 mile-an-hour road limit or even on 35 mile per hour roads. I hated it and he knew that I hated it, but he was too self-centered and too narcissistic to care about how it affected me, because he kept on doing the things which I hated. And although it was obvious that I disliked those things, I mostly kept my mouth shut. I didn’t speak back. No, that’s not true. I was a normal, self-preserving human driven by the instinct for survival. Of course I talked back. Of course I said “no”. I said no in many ways: verbally and physically. I used to push him away and say “no” and “stop it” and “I don’t like it”. I used to clasp my hands over the naked entrance to my vagina to stop him from penetrating me with his violent hands. To no avail. He always won, and he wore me down with daily persistence over the period of years. I was with him because we were attached by the invisible, cultural and moral code of marriage, and I naively believed in the phrase “until death do us part” because my father had died when I was three and a half. I took the fact that we were married very seriously.

He peeled my hands away forcefully from the entrance of my vagina. He forced me to wear scant clothing which barely covered me, so that I would be vulnerable and sexually attractive to him, but mostly to others. He was addicted to watching other men take me. There was no sense of protection and everything about my life was reckless and unsafe. He adamantly denied me the use of condoms. He pimped me out to hundreds of men over the years and it is only to God’s grace that I do not have HIV. I do have HPV but my doctor told me that it is supposed to go away over time. I was shocked when I found out, although I shouldn’t have been surprised. No one wants to hear such news. I understand that HPV can cause cancer. I don’t want to develop cancer. I want to live and I want to become a marriage and family therapist and I want to help other people who have been victims of abuse, terror and neglect. Humans can be the most despicable of beings when they cause harm to others, to children of all people. They cause indelible suffering. But in helping, in becoming a therapist, I can be a part of the healing. My therapist pointed that out to me. Even though humans can be so horrible, there are others who have the power to cause positive change and to elicit healing. I want to not only inspire; I want to heal. I want to have the healing power that my therapist has passed on to me. I want to employ that power for my own personal gain, which is the feeling of pride, of having made a contribution, of feeling good for having helped another person.

I know I don’t have to become a therapist to do those things. I can let a pedestrian cross the road even if there is no crosswalk. I can let a car on the freeway into my lane before me. I can smile at a stranger in the grocery store thereby sharing with them that there is kindness and gentleness in the world. I can be a big sister through the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. I can love another woman’s child by being a dedicated friend and consistent positive presence in their lives. I can listen to a friend when she needs to be listened to. I can sit with silence and share compassion and be non-judgemental. I can make another person laugh. I can make daily human connections. There are so many ways that I can make a difference in the world. I choose to study to become a therapist because I believe from my own personal experience that it is the most effective way to enhance the quality of another person’s life on an emotional and spiritual level. One person can make a difference, and I want to be that person for many people. I care about myself and I love my life and I now have respect for myself. I have standards that I live up to. I want others to love their life as much as I love my own. I cannot force that to happen, but I can show them the way. I can guide them to self-actualization. I can be the enabler of positive change.

Change is difficult. To change one’s thinking takes years of training in therapy. It is challenging. There’s no other way to put it. It has been one of my greatest accomplishments to date. I know now that I can make things in my life happen. I have the confidence to be able to envision what I want, and to cause things in my life to go in that direction. I have the power to make my dreams come true. I have the power to respect myself. As my best friend, who is my sister from another mother, put it: self sacrifice is one of the greatest acts of self love. Knowing that has slowly changed my life.

When I spent five months studying for the GRE, four months into it, when I was really struggling with the maths quantitative portion in particular, she gave me this gift of insight. I didn’t believe it at first. I didn’t want to. But the way to show your child your love is to make sacrifices. And she told me to be my own mother, a mother to myself, and to love me by making sacrifices for me. The emotional energy, the strenuous commitment, the time spent studying: that was and is one of the greatest acts of self love because it is getting me towards where I want to be. I will do anything it takes to become a licensed marriage and family therapist. It is a long road of study, practice and training ahead and I am not daunted by the looming challenge of these years upcoming years of struggle because I know they will get me to where I want to be. I am me, I know I can be fully me now, and I have nothing to be ashamed of in wanting to be the best me that I can muster.

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.

The World We Live In

To my therapist,
I am supposed to be kind to myself. I don’t feel kind. I am supposed to love myself. I don’t feel love. I am human. I feel immense sadness. Some realizion of reality and terror just struck me and I am in tears. They feel like tears that come with the relief of knowing that the pain is over and I don’t have to feel it any longer except when the wounds will be torn open during group therapy for the next nine weeks.
I began feeling this apathy and dread at a social event earlier today. I spoke to the one person I knew there in order to distract myself. After many silent moments on the phone with a friend just now I hung up and started crying. I have now stopped and my tears are dry. I have no particular interest in reading my text book tonight. I have no particular interest on attending group therapy on Wednesday, the day before I am to see you next. I feel a moment of hatred for myself at the idea of attending this group. It was my idea. I’m supposed to attend because it’s supposed to help. But all of the women have experienced horror and terror and each of their stories weaves an awful story of a reality I do not want to bear nor live in. A reality where men take two year old girls to bed with them, a world in which men take women at knife point into the bushes to rape them with no regard to whether they are daughters and mothers, a world in which men sell their wives bodies to the highest bidder, in which men own human bodies, women’s bodies, and can do with them what they please and without consent. This is a world of evil, without humanity, without consciousness, a world that makes no sense to me.
In an enlightened age where modern technology creates feats of the stuff of miracles, connects one human to another from across the world, children are being sold on Backpage.com and trafficked, from a gutter and from one fancy hotel room to another with the establishments fully aware of the prostitution that goes on and to which they willingly, greedily turn a blind eye all in the name of making profit. There are men who enjoy torturing others, who get a rush from the ultimate violent act of raping a victim. This is the world we live in and most of us try to pretend that mysogeny doesn’t exist, that women have equal rights and are not discriminated against in fields of employment where they earn less than men.
I have to fight that world and to stand up to it and say no, but I cannot do it alone. I am fearful of what will take place in the 90 minutes of my group therapy session in just three days from now. Tomorrow will be a 13 hour day including class. I will get through the day just as I have fought so hard each day to make it through the last five years. In April it will have been exactly five years since the day I left, the day that my ex-husband and ex-abuser changed the locks on the door of my former prison and filed for divorce.
Help me please. Just help me and never leave me.

Survivor and Overcomer

Greek yogurt with raw honey and fresh cut strawberries – that was me doing something nice for myself, something kind to myself tonight. I just spent the last hour on Twitter reading posts from #rapeisnotokay and #sexualassaultsurvivor. Before that I attended my first group therapy meeting for survivors of sexual assault. The group wasn’t as intimate as I had hoped it would be. Instead of the 6 – 8 women I was expecting to see, there were 12 women and two female facilitators. We went over the group guidelines about confidentiality, respect, and setting boundaries. Then we introduced ourselves. We went around in a circle and I volunteered to go first. I said what I was hoping to get out of the group, which is healing, and that I was terrified of showing up today. I wasn’t the only one who was scared. Other women shared my sentiment.

It was amazing to see how these women, one by one, opened up about their sexual assault and sexual abuse stories, as discussions were held after the introductions. Someone is in trial to lock away her offender. Others have never spoken about it before, this being the first time. When I introduced myself I managed not to cry, but the next person did and then so did two people after that, as we went down the line. I lost it. I cried too. There were tissues readily available on the tables. We all sat in a circle. It was so sad to hear everyone talking about their stories. There are young women and older women. Every story of sexual abuse you can imagine came forth between these 12 women, including me.

I had kind of an emergency therapy session with my individual therapist yesterday in the middle of the day. I took time off of work to go. I was experiencing panic in relation to the therapy group I attended tonight and he was able to reassure me that ultimately, this will be healing, and that other women are surely afraid as well. He reassured me that he will help me, the subtext being that he will not leave my side and that I am not in this alone. He will monitor my mood and my progress throughout the weeks and I will try to pay attention to how I am doing as well. I am seeing him again tomorrow night and I am so indebted and lucky to have an individual therapist that I get to see. Many of these women in the group are on waiting lists to get into individual therapy. I am so goddamn fortunate.

Sad news came into my email inbox last night and I have been feeling disappointed and let down. I received a message that I was not selected for the group interview at the MFT graduate program which I was hoping to attend. “Everything happens for a reason,” a couple people told me in sympathy. “They are missing out on having someone great in their program” another person said. He was sorry for them, not for me. It was good to have another perspective to brood over.

This must just be a bump in the road. I studied for the graduate record exam for about six months. It was very challenging and I invested a lot of money into the prep courses. It looks like I will not be attending a state university. It was the most competitive program to get into and I thought I had a good chance of getting in. In fact, I was confident they would accept me into the program. Instead, the email notification said I can try to apply again next year.

There is a private university which has a 24 month program with year-round admission. One has to pay up front for each class every month and I believe each class is around $2,500. I suppose that is what loans are for. It’s significantly more expensive than the state university’s program, but not the most expensive. Other private universities are offering the same degree at a cost of $50,000 in tuition alone per year. That’s $100,000 for a two-year program. This field that I am going into is not a high-paying profession and if I were to be that much in debt, well, I have no idea when I would be able to pay that off. It looks like I am just going to have to start my MFT program later in the year. Maybe I wasn’t quite ready to start; May is just around the corner. Perhaps that would have been too soon.

I’ve written about having difficulty with getting motivation to shower. Last night I was supposed to shower, but after the bad news of not getting admitted to the program which I had been counting on, I went to sleep abruptly on the couch because I didn’t want to deal with the sadness. This is day number three that I haven’t showered and as much as I would rather not shower tonight, I have to go to work tomorrow and it doesn’t look good (and it’s not normal) to show up to work with greasy hair. Damn it. Damn it all. I’d like to end this blog post on a positive note, but life just isn’t all that sometimes. I just have to focus on what needs to be done in the immediate future: shower and then study, sleep, go to work, attend therapy, write out my feelings in another blog post, study, sleep and do it all over again. Luckily I am seeing my therapist more than once a week these days.

 

In Preparation for the Life Ahead

It has been a while since I last posted because I have been focused on other things, such as studying for school and working on my new creative art project which involves my three passions: photography, poetry, and painting. Of course, those are endeavours that are outside of the 40 hours a week that I work. My life is so much richer and fuller now. It wasn’t always like this, and not so long ago, as recent as last October, one of my biggest complaints was still that I was unable to get out of bed on the weekends. I would often spend 18 hours or more in bed, yet I managed to get up for work on the weekdays. I didn’t look forward to weekends. My therapist often reminded me that I was making a choice: that I was choosing to stay in bed for almost 24 hours at a time. I was feeling consistently very depressed and it did not feel like a choice.

It’s true: I did spend the last 14 hours in bed and only got up at noon. But right now I am not bothered by it because it did feel like a choice. I went to bed very early at 9:30 and woke up at 7:30 feeling refreshed. But I didn’t want to get up, not really, so I chose to go back to sleep. It was a choice, and had nothing to do with depression.

I am still seeing my therapist two times a week, down from the recent three times a week before he started teaching at the university when the Spring semester began. He teaches in the Education department and works with students who will be spending their careers working with young children. He knows a lot about human development, and how the growing mind works, and what is appropriate for different developmental stages.

I am going to be starting a ten-week group therapy course this week for survivors of sexual assault. It will be at a community center which provides housing for women and their children who have escaped domestic violence situations. I needed to find a group that was not for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, because that is not applicable to me, and most groups that I looked up on the internet were for that subject matter. I wonder if there will be members of the group who experienced ongoing sexual abuse for a number of years, like I did, not just one time.

My therapist told me that because it is a new group, a new cohort of women who have not met before, there are others who are probably also afraid of starting this group. I am feeling scared and I admitted to my therapist yesterday that I don’t feel like I am ready for this. He reminded me, basically, that I am in control and that if I need to step out of the group because it becomes too overwhelming, I can. No one is forcing me to go to this group and if I decide it’s too much I can even drop the group and stop attending.

I have no idea what this group is going to bring up in terms of feelings for me. My hope is that it will be healing, listening to others who have been through what I have been through, reminding me that I am not alone. I know there may be a lot of tears. I realize that painful memories might emerge. I am actually taking time off of work so that I can attend this group, because it starts in the late afternoon before I get off of work.

Currently I am not dating anyone. I have been on multiple dates with four different women, and after some time, I have realized that the special connection which is required for love to form, is not there. Or perhaps it is that I am not attracted enough physically and emotionally to the person, and that there might not be enough intellectual stimulation and room for growth. This one woman who I saw four times over a period of three months, I really liked her. I wanted to hold hands with her and to kiss her. That never happened and the frequency of our meetings was not enough for me. I wanted to see her more often but her schedule did not permit that.

For now I am focusing on my education, my new creative art project which will take place over the next year, my friendships, and therapy. Psychotherapy is the most important component to my life. It provides emotional stability and feeling connected to someone is so vital for me to continue to heal. I love my therapist deeply. There has never been any physical contact between us. I may have shook his hand the first time we met over eight years ago. I often feel like I want to hug him but I know about boundaries in the therapeutic relationship and instead of hugging him I simply tell him when I feel like doing it. Telling him is enough and I know he can appreciate the gesture and my expression of the feelings I have for him.

For a long time I thought of him as a father figure. I know that is counter transference. But I needed it at the time. I needed a protector, someone to take care of me. Since I started paying him a year ago, no longer pro bono as a client, it has helped to establish the boundary and I know that he is not a friend, but my therapist. He is not my father; he is my therapist. The therapeutic bond between a therapist and their patient is, once again, vital to the healing process.

I am preparing for the life that is ahead of me. I feel happiness more often than not, and peacefulness in my heart and in my mind. Occasionally, lately, I feel lonely, but that feeling only stays for a short amount of time, and then it goes. There is nothing that is really missing in my life right now. I have a full life and it will only start to become fuller as time goes on.

I had an episode a few weeks ago whence I got triggered and felt extremely suicidal. It was an emergency. I called the suicide hotline and then took the rest of the day off of work and was able to see my therapist within a period of two hours. I’m sure there was a lot to write about to help me process the event, but I chose to deal with it in other ways. I suffered for a short amount of time, two days, but it was intense. I had a plan to commit suicide and I had the intent to carry through with that plan. I was convinced that it was the right thing to do. The pain that had emerged suddenly was too much to bear and I needed to end my life. Seeing my therapist for an hour that day made me agree to not kill myself, and slowly over the next days that suicidal feeling dissipated until it was gone. It had been about six months since I had last felt suicidal, and those six months were quite the record. Although I had been very depressed, I had not been suicidal. Before that, suicidal thoughts and feelings came up about once a month for me. It was very difficult getting through those times.

I am ready for my future to begin. This is my new life and no one can take it away from me. I am in control of my life. I am an independent woman and I know that I am strong. I provide for myself financially and I am going to put myself through graduate school by taking out loans and then paying them back. I pay my own rent, I buy whatever groceries I choose to buy, I choose what to wear and I choose to be abstinent. I am choosing to attend group therapy starting this week and I choose to continue my healing process. I am in control and I get to be genuinely me now. And I am allowed to love myself, finally. I have waited a long time for this.

Looking for Peace

There are so many things I could be doing right now. I still have two more essays to write for my grad school applications. I could be writing in my personal journal. I could be writing my thank you cards to people at work who gave me holiday gifts. I am on vacation now. Staying with my Mum. It took nine hours to get here. The Christmas tree is lit and there is holiday spirit.

I have joy in my life yet my heart also lays heavy because I love my Mum so much. Basically I want her to move in with me and I want to take care of her financially so she doesn’t have to worry any longer. She works so hard and doesn’t earn enough and does a job that is far below her level of a Ph.D. just to have an income. Her husband has been unemployed for a year. He doesn’t contribute. He doesn’t do any chores. He doesn’t buy groceries or write checks for paying the bills and he doesn’t cook. She has to do everything for him. I know it would be a huge life-changing decision to make. She has been with him for 15 years. Not all of that time has been pleasant. Actually, I don’t believe most of it has been pleasant and plenty has been far less than pleasant.

I sent out some Christmas cards this year. I sent one to the victim advocate at the district attorney’s office and got a lovely email reply. She is so supportive. She calls me strong and inspiring. We are going to keep in touch. I sent a card to my psychiatrist and my former DBT therapist at the hospital. Occasionally I leave her voicemail messages every few months to give her an update of how I am doing. I remember telling her once that I am going to come back and take her job one day. She said she would love to give her job to me and she sounded sincere. She has a very important role at the hospital and if I were able to reach her level of accomplishment that would be a huge achievement. She wants the best for me.

I saw my psychiatrist last week right before I had gotten triggered of something from the past. I won’t go into it, but it’s basically a bill from the city saying that I owe them monies that I don’t think I should have to pay from three years ago and this bill was not a part of my bankruptcy. It brought up memories from the past and strong emotions. It was completely overwhelming. I felt very angry. In the past when I used to get angry, my mind would just straight to suicide as a solution. I went back to that old coping. I told my psychiatrist that I would rather be dead and that I wish I had died when I tried years ago. He asked me if I had any plans to go forward with a suicide. I said no. He asked me if I will stay safe. I wouldn’t answer him. I was so angry and I didn’t want to be safe. To be honest, it was shocking and scary that my mind jumped straight to suicide, but as my psychotherapist pointed out the next day, this happens with much less frequency than it used to. The last time I felt suicidal I believe was in the summer time. That is a long time ago. After talking with my therapist I decided to leave my psychiatrist a voicemail message letting him know that I will stay safe. We are seeing each other again in less than three weeks. I think he wanted to check in with me sooner because he was concerned, and with good reason. A professional in the business knows to not take it lightly when a patient says that they feel suicidal. Even though I occasionally feel suicidal I don’t think I’ll ever attempt suicide again. I think I have healed enough to the point where I am past having to go that far.

Because I am doing so much better in my life I have been able to do more things on the weekend… by choice! I haven’t had time to stay in bed with my eyes closed and sleeping for 22 hours a day on the weekend. I am doing so much better. Earlier this month I took a roadtrip with a friend to watch my second youngest cousin’s dance performance at her university. She is majoring in dance and minoring in English. I want to be friends with her and we have never really connected as adults. I remember when she was still wearing diapers. Now she’s going to be 21 years old. She wants to be a professional dancer in a dance company but her parents are not so supportive. I was glad to be able to visit with her today. We talked about her school and her plans. She was willing to listen for a while during which I gave her a lesson on investing and starting to save for retirement. I suggested she invest in a cd (certificate of deposit) at her credit union where she banks. I don’t know if she will do it but at least I planted the seed of thought and hopefully it can germinate. And I will certainly remind her. I feel like a big sister to her even though she does have two older siblings, a sister and a brother. I wanted to tell her all about my life and my plans for grad school. But just as a big sister does, just as a therapist does to her patient, I didn’t talk much about myself. We talked mostly about her for two hours and I was glad to do it. Even though I will be in school and studying will be intensive, I am going to try to go to some more of her dance performances next year and the year after that, while she lives within driving distance of me. Because the dance companies that she wants to work with professionally are on the other side of the country and I wouldn’t be able to just go for a short weekend trip.

Now that I am doing better, now that I am no longer in and out of the hospital for suicidal ideations, now that I have been able to hold a steady job for a year and a half after not having worked for five years, I am able to add positivity to other people’s lives. My mum no longer has to worry about me surviving and not killing myself. She knows I am doing well and we have been able to connect with each other and strengthen and repair and heal our relationship this year for the first time in my adult life. It took a long time to get here. She knows that moving in with me is an option, although it would be a huge life change. I don’t want her to have to work. I just want her to live a free life and have space to heal her wounds, her sorrows, her heart aches and her anxieties. She took care of me for the first 18 years of my life and I want and need to give that back to her. She hasn’t been able to save for retirement. I told her not to worry because I will take care of her when she is no longer working. I will take care of her when she is no longer able to take care of herself. Along with becoming a therapist and becoming a mother one day, my calling is to take care of my mum. It is the least I can do for her, and will never make up for the bad years of her life but if she can live a free life in the moment without having to look too much into the past or the future, then maybe, maybe she can experience true happiness. I want her to have peace.