Unsent Letter

To the CEO of the small company that I work for:

I don’t want to appear emotional so I am making the choice to tell you on paper rather than in person. I want you to know that I respect you as the CEO of the company I work for, as the “big boss” and as the one who makes the final decisions. The power differential between you and me is very clear and I want to respect that differential. But we are both human and I want to be honest with you and share some insight with you as to how I currently feel. My words just seem to come out better when I write them down on paper.

I think we can agree to disagree. That having been said, I did not like the way you spoke with me earlier. You may as well have been yelling at me, and in fact, that is my perception of what happened. I dare not speak of the “tone” of your voice lest that be perceived as disrespectful (which is the last thing that I want to have happen.) In fact, you are my boss, which would preclude and imply that you have the right to speak with me in that way, because you are the decision-maker.

But honestly, your conversation at my desk with me made me feel like crap. I understand that you are coming from an emotional place. I understand that you are not happy with how our program is doing, even upset, frustrated, and angry. I know that you probably don’t blame just one person, but somewhere, somehow, someone has to take the blame, regardless. When you were speaking one-on-one with just me, you were probably speaking also to the whole team, when you said that “you have to take responsibility and ownership” of the repapering.

I want you to know that I am doing what I can for the whole team. I am trying! If you want me to do better, than I need you to tell me how I can do better. It was obvious that my statement, “but we haven’t really had a program manager” made you angry, upset, defensive, protective, and possibly even offended. For that I sincerely apologize. It was not my intent to place blame. It was simply the first thing that came to my mind. But if you could just put yourself in my shoes for just one minute, knowing that every single day I strive to do the best that I can in terms of providing excellent, prompt, courteous customer service to our clients, as well as picking up the phone without hesitation every time an advisor calls in order to provide support to them. I answer emails promptly and I follow through on tasks. I struggle every week with staying on top of new referral calls and all of the follow-up calls. When I feel like I’m not making progress and when I am behind on calls, I feel down.

It’s not about whether or not we have a program manager – you are right. However, given that from my perspective I am doing what I can, I need someone else to come in and tell me how I can do my job better. I cannot do that on my own, with no feedback. And my understanding here is that we are all a team, which implies that we support each other. A well-oiled machine only works if all of its parts are working. So here I am asking you, or someone on your team, to show me how to help myself. The whole point of an annual review is so that we can recognize performance as well as seeing how it can improve and setting goals to make that happen.

As you may know, my annual performance review is very important to me. You told me during our conversation that S. is my direct manager and that I should be asking her on how I can improve my performance in preparation for my anniversary, which is coming up in about six months on August 3rd. As I told you today, my repeated requests starting at exactly this time of the year last year went ignored. At first I directed my requests to Sara and then when Jenna came on board I asked her to evaluate my performance in preparation for my annual review. My request landed on deaf ears because they were lost amid everything else that we had going on in the program.

Basically, I am simply trying to convey to you that I am trying. And if my trying isn’t good enough, then I need some direction. I hope that you can also see this letter as an attempt to not only communicate with you, but to let you know that I take my job very seriously, as anyone should. You chose me. You hired me for a reason. I want that reason to shine through. I am not the sort of person who sits back and lets life happen to them. No, I take action. I shape and form my destiny with careful thought, consideration, and planning every step of the way. You chose to hire me, hopefully, out of all of the other individuals whom you interviewed for this position. If you had not hired me, then you wouldn’t be getting this letter from me, because the essence of this letter is who I am and I can’t not be me.

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From Time to Time I am Not Okay

I have been sobbing uncontrollably for the last while and the only thing I can think of that will make me feel better is to write. I have to write to get my emotions out. This is a desperate call of self-help. You see, it feels as if I am having a mental health emergency. Everything is on fire and the sirens are ringing and I am trying to drown out the sorrow with music that I like, but the sorrow and the pain is still there.

Hours have passed and the sun has gone down since I wrote that first and last paragraph above. I am still sick and my body is somehow holding me up. I have been in bed for the last three days with the flu, unable to work.

New Year’s Eve was wonderful. It really was. In spite of what happened. I went on a date. I really like this man. Only he took me to a club downtown. It was my doing. I had the option of changing plans entirely. The book was wide open and I closed it shut the moment I stepped into the Uber. Why do books always seem closed when in reality they are always wide open? I could have stopped at any point. I could have said, “No, stop, that’s it, I quit.” But I didn’t.

We were a group of five and a table and bottle service had been ordered in the “hip” club I had never been to. Meeting at my date’s friend’s home was okay. The host offered me anything but water and I took the water option anyway. I don’t own a TV. My back was deliberately placed facing the television so I would not have to see it. Who knows what God-awful images might appear and trigger me.

Conversation ensues as does the drinking. One round of shots. Two. Three. My date had warned me in advance that they drink. He wasn’t kidding. This was before the bottle service table, which would inevitably include drinking alcoholic beverages. “Keep them away from me!!” my mind is screaming. Just the slightest bit of alcohol could trigger me at any moment. When it hits me, and I can feel the effects of the alcohol doing its’ thing to my organs and obscuring my mind, add to that an environment where I don’t feel safe… and there you have it. Only, I didn’t drink alcohol. Not one bit.

Because he used to get me drunk, and then do things to me. That’s why it’s triggering. Who wouldn’t be triggered? After what I’ve been through? Only, they don’t know. They, the other people. They don’t know about what has happened to me. I am healed enough to know it’s not okay to tell strangers about my past traumas. It’s just not necessary and once it has been said it cannot be taken back. I used to spit details of my traumas out like a firehose. Not any more.

It was the loud music. It was the dark, flashing lighting. But most of all it was the outfits, the things that women choose to wear which do not cover their bodies. I didn’t look at anyone and kept my eyes averted, focused on where I was going. But from the corners of my eyes, it was inevitable. I couldn’t not see what these women were wearing. It’s the kind of clothing women wear who don’t respect their bodies. Who shamefully display all of their private parts out in the open. Those are the kinds of clothing I used to have to wear.

A bonfire would have been better, but I threw all of the awful things away in a dumpster. I hope the reds and the slinky blacks are rotting with rats in the filthiest of sewers, because that is where those things belong. It was everything combined that triggered me, but mostly the outfits those women wore.

Immediately after I sat down I started to cry. I had been crying in the dark car on the way over whilst keeping my head turned so that he wouldn’t notice. I told him in the car that I was scared of going downtown. “Really?” he asked in surprise. He didn’t know. I didn’t realize what was about to happen, but it was happening already and I tried to pull myself together.

He offered his hand to me. There were hoards of strangers on the streets pushing by, going here and there and everywhere. I said, “no” but immediately took his hand. He led me through the crowds and I felt safe. Well, safer. Safe. As safe as can be. I don’t know what safe is any more. I create my own safety. My safe is different from other people’s safe.

I turned to him with my screwed up crying face and said, “I can’t stay here.” He took one look at my face and said, “then let’s go.” He told his friend that we might not be back and he led a crying martyr out of the craziness and back into the world of reality. We kept walking hand in hand and I felt better every block we advanced. For what I didn’t know was that he was leading me away from the crowds. By then I had expressed my needs and he knew for a fact that I don’t like crowds.

“I have no backup plans for the evening,” he said. I suggested we go to a little coffee shop and that we snuggle in the corner. “Will they be open at this hour?” he asked. I started to stay something and from the corner of my eye I spied an awning which said “Cafe and Wine Bar,” kitty corner across the street. Perfect, just perfect, I thought to myself. And it was.

“It’s not a secret, you can ask me questions,” I offered. “You don’t know what’s going on in my mind unless you ask. You’re not a mind-reader.” That was after I had told him I would tell him the reason for my reaction in about 10 years, maybe five, and no less. We were seated in the corner of the outside patio. Everyone else was inside but I didn’t feel too chilly and I needed the quiet. I had my back to the bush and the wall because I needed to know what was behind me for safety. He isn’t used to not facing out to the entryway but willingly conceded to the positioning.

When he asked me what had happened to me, all I could come up with before was that “I have had bad experiences in those kind of places and I got triggered.” I repeated it again while we were seated on the tall stools. I couldn’t conjure any other words and so he offered some: “Were you attacked? Did someone slip a pill into your drink?” That was helpful to me. I bit on to that trail. “Let’s just say, it’s something like that,” I said between tears. “Did it happen just once or more than once?” “More than once,” I replied again.

He had moved his stool closer to mine and put his big, comforting arms around me. They fit all the way round. I buried my face into his neat blue shirt at his shoulder and sobbed. When I was done sobbing I looked up into his eyes and he had to say this. Why did he have to say this? He said, “I’m not going to hurt you.” Big, loud sobs all over again. I had never before heard these words uttered from a man in a romantic setting. No one. No one has said this to me. Maybe they have and I have forgotten, but keep in mind I haven’t really dated much in the last five and a half years since I left the terror I used to call home. Terror used to be my normal.

Six years ago my only safe place was my therapist’s office. It was not safe to go home because then he would get home from work and find me sleeping and berate me for wasting the day, wasting my time, and wasting his life. I dreaded the moments of his homecoming. I was desperately depressed and unable to function, let alone have all of my wits about me. My therapist had a small side room which was a play therapy room at the time. After our therapy session I would sheepishly ask if I could stay, which meant curling up on the floor of that safe, dark room, and sleeping for a few hours. He never once said “no” to me and must have planned his time around seeing me. He almost always let me stay to sleep, because that was the only safe place for me to get rest.

That room is now gone and so is my need for it. I no longer need that room and I no longer need the soft,  forest green blanket, although sometimes I feel like I need it. But it isn’t there any longer. Those things are gone and I am safe. But at times I get triggered. There was no way for me to know that that was going to happen. It was severe, upsetting, dramatic, traumatic, and all in all not good. But the man who was with me made it okay.

I have been sick in bed for the last few days. The flu has reached epic proportions in plaguing our population at this time. Or so I have heard. More documented cases than ever before. Are there three strains of the flu virus going around this winter? Either way, all it took was me kissing someone on the cheek who wasn’t sick, but whose child was sick. And Voilà. There you have it. There I have it. There it is.

So it’s Friday, after a long week of still being ill, and I decided to take it upon myself to call my insurance company. Bad idea!!! On the second of what was going to be several frustrating calls, I wasn’t getting what I wanted. I was being told that all of my claims for the last several months have been denied because they needed a verification of student enrollment. WTF?! I thought I took care of this last month. They other people said I didn’t need it. That my student status was verified. And now I’m being told this is not the case. I don’t know who to call or where to go with any of this and I just hang up the phone while the representative is in mid-sentence and start sobbing.

The last time I cried was on New Year’s Eve and it was for having been triggered of things in the past. I cried for a solid hour today. It literally felt as if I was in crisis. Alarm bells were ringing and the sirens wailing and my body sweating and noises coming out of my gut I didn’t remember I could make. I sent text messages to a few people letting them know I was in crisis. One of those people was my therapist and without fail, as usual, he was able to come through for me. I am seeing him in about an hour from now.

Feelings come and go but I remain. I remain. I remain. I have to remember that. I need to remember this. Tattoo it on my arm, in my veins, do something! Help me! God, help me. I’m supposed to know this, that a crisis will pass. But when I am in the moment, it’s just too real and I had images of being caught up in a hospital with white bedsheets and white walls and white outfits on doctors. Am I going crazy?

But I didn’t go to the hospital today. I haven’t been in quite some time, in fact. I have managed to stay out. My roommate reminded me it would pass, and that I would feel better later. Dreams of lavender bubble baths entered my mind and it was the music which distracted me and made me feel better.

Also, I didn’t strangle my dog. While I was in crisis he was irritating the hell out of me and I thought about kicking him, throwing him on the floor. He just kept coming back to me, and licking his paws, which he knows he is not supposed to do! Thank heaven for the option I didn’t realize I had, which was to put him in the other room and close the door. He must have been so confused at the wailing sounds which were coming out of me.

When it was all over I brought him to me and layed on the couch. I stroked him tenderly and apologized to him. Really, I should apologize to myself. But not apologize, just empathise. I need to have more empathy for me and hold space in my heart for moments in which I am inevitably from time to time not going to be okay.

I Have Skills

It has been some time since I have last taken the time to write. I write every day to my therapist, and that is a part of my therapy, but this here is for me. My friend recently got me into drinking kombucha, and so I have a cup of organic kombucha perched to my side with my usual white comfort blanket on my lap, my computer on top of that blanket, and my dog to my left snuggled up close to my leg, looking at me with his ever-present snoring-type breathing letting me know he is definitely there.

I have these tasks on my calendar that I keep rescheduling. One of them is to “renew my U.K. passport” which expired many years ago. There is a certain mental block I have about this task, along with other tasks, which is preventing me from doing it. In fact, it has been on my “task list” all year long. Something about taking the effort to research online how to go about doing this and then having to step-by-step follow that process, which may include going to an appointment, and/or going to the post office. Reality is the stories we tell ourselves and I guess the story I have been telling myself all year is that this is a cumbersome task that I “should” do one day but that is down there with the lowest of my priorities. After all, I have my U.S. passport which I did take the effort to renew.

I saw my psychotherapist today. I have never, ever, ever seen him on a Sunday (okay maybe once years ago when I was seeing him 7 days a week). But Sundays are typically a person’s day off. Yes, he works 6 days a week and his days are incredibly full. I don’t know how he does it. He is awake by 6:00 in the morning and sometimes gets home as late as 10:00 at night (that’s 22:00 for the Europeans). He says he paces himself throughout the day. That’s just unfathomable to me, although in the past when I started grad school I was leaving at 8:00 and getting home at 10:00 but that was only once a week and it wore me out!

I have decided to take a leave of absence from school. I haven’t been able to concentrate on my one grad school class that I stayed enrolled in this semester. I am going to finish out the semester until mid-December but then I can take up to a year off while still being enrolled in the program. That would mean I would go back to the program Spring 2019. But, see, I don’t know if that is going to happen. Because I don’t even know any longer if I actually want to become a psychotherapist. No one could have prepared me for how incredibly involved and difficult a graduate level class can be. To be honest, it’s just too hard. It takes so incredibly much in terms of study and training to become a therapist… I had no idea!! I takes a very special person to go through with entering such a career. Very special.

My therapist is very special. He is my therapist. I am proud and possessive/protective of that fact. He has always told me, from the very beginning of my journey to grad school a few years ago, that there are many ways to contribute (to society). I can smile at an old lady at the grocery store, or let someone in front of me on the freeway. Plus, I have to remind myself, that just by being me, I add to the lives of those I know and those who love me. I sometimes forget that I am loved and often feel unable to love myself. I would rather tell my therapist that I love him, instead of proclaiming that I will one day come to love myself. Love is a huge part of the therapist-patient relationship. A strong bond and connection develops and just the therapeutic relationship alone, not taking into account interventions, is a major contributor to the healing of someone who suffers.

Last week I was in a lot of pain. One thing that I still need to be reminded of often is that “feelings come and go, but I remain.” I didn’t come up with that, but it is a brilliant mantra. That’s something I want to hold onto.

This week I am taking a plane to go see my Mum and her husband in the little town they moved to earlier this year. They had lived in their previous place for 17 years. Imagine that. That is a long time. Now they have a much smaller place and most of my Mum’s stuff is in storage. Of course it’s going to be messy and packed, because my wonderful Mummy is still a hoarder. But there will be room on the twin bed in the second bedroom for me to sleep, and that’s all that matters. I would even get a hotel room if I had to, but that’s not necessary. We are both looking forward to seeing each other.

She wants to know what I am doing for Christmas, but I told her I don’t want to decide until the last moment. It might be best for me to stay local and take some days off just for me, to relax and to take care of my mental health. She is going to be driving across two states to where she used to live and stay with her dad. This is mainly because all of her precious photographs are in boxes and boxes at her father’s house. He let her store them there, but we don’t know how much longer he is going to live and Mum is afraid of what the brothers might do to the home when my grandfather is gone. She doesn’t want to lose her photographs. They are her most prized possessions. They hold evidence for the life she has lived, and they validate the past and everything which once was. In a way, she lives in the past as she often talks about my father, who died when I was three and a half. She has memories that come up, but of course she cannot discuss them with her current husband. He’s not a nice guy.

It will be two whole weeks before my next appointment with my therapist. That is because I am traveling this week, and so, it’s my choice. But you know what? I happen to know that I am going to be okay. I am going to be okay because even if my emotions soar to a height of an anxious emergency, feelings come and go but I remain. And I have coping skills. Over the years in therapy, I have learned how to take care of my emotional self, which also involves taking care of my physical self, such as eating. It’s all interconnected. I have the skills and I am going to use them.

My Final Goodbye

After seeing my psychiatrist today during a session in which I felt extremely nauseated due to the conflicting feelings of sadness, anger, shame and guilt, I decided to take a different route home. Usually I go on the freeway but I decided to drive by the local park instead. When I say park, I mean, it’s a really really big park spanning perhaps ten blocks. In doing so, I came across the street where I used to live. I decided to do a drive-by. Serendipitously there was a parking spot open right in front of the building. It was dusk and the sun was setting on the building in a beautiful deep yellow reflection. This isn’t the most beautiful street. In fact, it’s close to downtown and it’s also not the safest neighborhood. The apartment is on the ground floor and has bars across windows with a metal gate locked in front of the front door.

This was the first apartment I lived in after I left my abusive relationship. I have a lot of bad memories here, including the cops picking me up violently and aggressively after I had called the suicide hotline telling them I was cutting on myself. Apparently a knife, even a small cheese knife, is considered to be a weapon. The PERT team never comes because that division is always understaffed.

Why was I sitting in my car staring at this place? I was feeling even more sad and dejected by this time, and I called three close girlfriends in succession. The third picked up and I was ever so grateful. We immediately made plans to meet up and I was able to leave the sorrow behind for the most part. As I was leaving the answer dawned upon me: the reason I came here was to say goodbye. I was saying goodbye to my former life. I am saying goodbye to the abuse and the sexual trauma.

Why? Because I met a man. I am infatuated with this man. He is kind and gentle. The kind of healing I am doing now was not going to be possible until I met another man. We have been intimately involved sexually for the past two weeks. After over five and a half years of abstinence, and an overarching fear of anything to do with sex, I am discovering how much I enjoy having sex. It’s an amazing feeling. I can have sex in a carefree and loving manner with a man whom I have chosen. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t know what he wants in terms of any commitment or relationship. It’s all so new. I have spoken with a lot of people about this new development in my life and I have decided to just have fun and take it week by week. I am not the one calling him often. I am going to leave the pursuit up to him and mirror his advances. I was advised not to give more than he gives. This is a dating game, but I can play this.

He is my lover. I have a lover and we make love. We also have plain and simple sex, and sometimes it is aggressive or vigorous sex. I have been able to communicate to him two things that he did which I did not like, which included having a hand put tightly to my neck. I have been strangled before and I don’t want it to be perpetuated by any man. I don’t find it exciting. I am learning about my sexuality and I am on a sexual journey. I realize that everyone’s sexual journey is different, and I am just so glad to be able to start my journey of self-discovery in this realm.

A Reflection

To my Therapist,

I have been needing to write you a proper email since yesterday. I could have written to you several pages worth of material. The last two days have been very trying. Full of things to think about. Lots has happened. I won’t even know where to start in therapy tomorrow.
You know it’s strange not feeling suicidal when I get overwhelmed now, these days. I think about how I used to obsess about the idea of jumping off the overpass over the freeway by my house, or even longer ago, about jumping off of the big bridge near downtown. I think about having really wanted to take an overdose in the past and being really convicted that it was the right thing to do.
Now I don’t think of dying or wanting to end my life. I came very close to telling my program director about my history of sexual abuse and trauma. I told her some other things that maybe I shouldn’t have said. I even volunteered to tell her about my fertility treatments, because she is a mom and a therapist and I thought she would understand. Did I want empathy? No. I just wanted to share something very personal with her because she had participated in the expressive arts team building exercises and I felt closer to her. But maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I did.
I have to talk with you about what to do with my volunteer job and whether to quit. I need help in thinking this through. I would also like to cry and have some healing tears with you because I feel like I have a lot to cry about, but who knows if I will even cry at all in the next couple days. I almost cried twice today at university. One was when the mentors were talking about finances and funding the education because I feel like I failed since I got denied the second loan. If I had gotten it each year I could have stayed on the three year graduation track. But wasn’t it me who said to myself just the other week that I have a lot of personal growth to do and if I can spend an extra year in personal therapy working through my own issues then I will be doing my future clients a favour and that I won’t have so much countertransference?
I just need tomorrow to come so that I can sit with you in therapy. We only have one hour. Let’s see what we can accomplish in one hour, 50 minutes. It’s never enough time yet it’s exhausting and more than that in a day wouldn’t be good for my health.
I just want the end of tonight to come so I can finally go to bed and just let go of everything I am holding on to and just dissolve into the night. Can you help me to disappear for just a little while from my busy, complex, over committed and over involved life, just for a bit? I was really hoping we could do more therapy soon again but I remembered my Mum is coming to town on Monday. I still want to try to get her to meet you next week on Saturday if you are available, just like we tried to do last time that first week of December. Does she really live to where she moved? Has it only been nine months since she was last here, in my home, in this city? Does she really still deliver food for a living and how can she even tolerate her life with that awful husband who is less than even a roommate in terms of their interpersonal connection to each other?
I have to stop now. See you very soon.

Musings

Just some thoughts jotted down on electronic medium. When school starts on the 29th I won’t really have time to post blogs or write in journals any longer. I don’t know how I am going to manage working full time and taking nine graduate level class units but somehow I will figure it out. Luckily this MFT program has part-time options available so if I need to I can drop down to six units a semester instead of nine. Twelve units is considered full-time.

I found out on Wednesday that my second Federal PLUS loan, which is based on credit history, got denied two days prior. I thought the reason they were offering me the loan is that it had already gotten approved. My modified plan had been to drop down to working 20 hours a week part-time so that I could focus on my studies and then supplement the rest of my living expenses with that additional loan. Now, the only loan I have is the maximum unsubsidized federal loan which is not dependent on credit, at $20,500 per year. That just barely covers the cost of my tuition and in no way covers any of my living expenses. When I am done, for tuition alone, I am going to be $60,000 in debt which, all things considered, is better than the $120k in student loans I was considering on taking so that I could afford to work part-time. And I am not going into a money-making profession. It just might take me a decade or more to pay it off, not to mention I want to have a child or two, for whose college tuition I would then want to start saving and investing, before my own loans have even been paid off. Lots of things to consider.

My roommate’s friend from the other side of the country has moved in with us and is staying for an indeterminable amount of time. What I initially understood was that she was to be staying for a month, for which I generously, maybe too generously, had said she doesn’t need to pay rent. But when she arrived I asked her when she is leaving and she shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know.” At my landlord’s suggestion I will start charging her a low monthly rent fee after the 30 days are up. It’s only fair for her to contribute to the household. In the meantime I will assign her house chores like cleaning, which I rarely get around to myself anyway. Dust is sometimes abundant in my room.

At least she will be walking my dog during the day since she isn’t working right now. She also brought her little chihuahua and so we have two dogs and one cat in the house. She and my roommate went off to Hawaii last week and so I have been looking after the animals by myself. I don’t mind it and I don’t even mind the extra company. I just shouldn’t maybe be as nice as I am with not making her pay rent.

I had broccoli florets with hummus for lunch, which wasn’t much. So I just made some pasta and I am now full, thankfully. Being full is a good feeling to have. I don’t like feeling hungry and I will sometimes overeat just because of the fear of maybe feeling hungry later on. It’s a new and recent development that I have taken on a fear of being hungry. It started while I was in summer school, having to bring lunch and dinner to work because I would leave at 8:00 AM and not get home until 9:30 PM. I didn’t want to be distracted from learning in the classroom by hunger. However, that fear has persisted even while I am in between my Summer and Fall semesters and I’m not sure why or how to make it go away or whether I even want it to go away. This is something I have not yet discussed with my therapist because I have other more pressing issues that need to be dealt with during my therapy hour. Both chihuahua’s are napping right now on the couch and it’s mid-afternoon on a Sunday. I have nothing that I absolutely have to do, which is a nice feeling, although I should do some laundry later today. It’s nice to not have to do things, or to have things to stress over like having to study. Studying takes a lot of energy and makes me tired. There is going to be a lot of reading for grad school and chances are I might not get all of the reading done on time every week which won’t be good. That’s what study groups are for, supposedly. I hosted a study group at my home over the summer and it was just me and another young woman in my class. We would both contribute snacks to the study session, or “study sesh” as she called it. She’s about five years younger than me which seems like a lot since I wasn’t previously familiar with colloquial statements such as “study sesh.” We didn’t use that abbreviation twelve years ago when I was just finishing my undergraduate studies. Interesting how times change.

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.

A Musing on Whether I Deserve Punishment

I wish I could take a picture of my life as it is now. Snapshot, and I’m done. I could post a photograph of me sitting in my teak wooden chair on my patio with my dog curled up in his bed in front of me and green plants growing in pots, the warm air filling my lungs in the evening light, but that mere description wouldn’t do my life justice. Or, would it? Instead, I am going to write. I am going to write more and I am going to write like I’ve never written before. Because really, it has been a couple months since I last took the pleasure of writing down my thoughts and feelings in a proper blog entry. That is, what I consider a proper blog entry.

A mini crisis just swept over me. I saw my neighbours walk by me with glasses of wine in tow. No, it wasn’t just one person. There were six ladies talking and laughing, each with a glass of wine in their hand. I had an intense craving for wine. This whole episode lasted less than ten minutes but it was an obstacle to surmount, for sure. I talked it through with my roommate. I’m lucky I have her. She said that if she ever gets a craving for something like that she eats a piece of sweet fruit. Luckily I have some perfectly ripe summer peaches in the kitchen and I ate one, dripping over the sink. It did help. It helped.

Sometimes I wonder if I am intentionally thinking about hurting myself. I wanted to drink wine just now, but over the last weeks I have been obsessing about reading some of my old journal entries, emails, and poems which are full of pain, hurt, and suicidal ideation. It would be catastrophic to my current state of equilibrium. I would feel awful and I’m sure I would actively want to kill myself again. That feels awful. It has been two or three months since I last thought about planning a suicide. God, I’m so brainwashed that I always initially think of the word “committing” suicide as if I am “committing” a crime. It’s planning. It’s completion of the suicide. But it is not something that someone commits. People die of suicide. Suicide is not a diagnosis but it is because of a mental health condition, a verifiable illness of the mind and of a chemical imbalance in the brain, that a person would even think of planning a suicide.

I just picked my nose. And I must say, it was incredibly satisfying because I sucessfully extracted some hardened mucous, which I then tossed with with the aide of my forefinger and thumb to the side. It was a good distraction. Anyone who tells me they don’t pick their nose from time to time is lying. As children, we are taught that doing so is not appropriate to do in public. But in private? Hell yes! Plus my dog doesn’t care. He licks his ass and poops in front of me. He doesn’t even care if I’m naked. He accepts me as I am. I want to metaphorically be able to lick my own ass and have someone love me in spite of having been witness to such an act.

It’s half past seven and the sky is getting a little bit darker. The shadows are long and the reflection of the sunlight off of the white buildings is a deep, golden yellow. My roommate has miniature pots with plants in them lined up on the stone of the patio wall in the following order: catnip, basil, parsley, rosemary, sage, spearmint and thyme. She has them labeled and in each pot there is a small bit of green sticking out of the soil. Growing plants is a beautiful thing. It is a lovely past-time. One must be consistent to water the plants on a regular basis just as it is important to shower one’s soul with self-love in regular doses.

I moved into my home and am sitting on my light sage green couch on top of a white blanket with my chihuahua blend dog right next to me. I didn’t feel like eating a real dinner so what I have eaten is a peach, a banana, sweet potato chips, and my new favourite Noosa brand yogurt. I’d say, healthy enough and definitely satisfying to the taste buds.

I suddenly remember a friend of mine from over five years ago. I don’t remember why we parted from our friendship. We had been friends from 2009 – 2012 and when we parted I was at one of the peaks of my journey with mental illness. I must have really not wanted to contact her again, because I deleted all of her contact information, including her address. I know what city she lives in but I cannot send her a letter. I was there the day after her baby was born. I documented her child’s first years through photographs and I made her an album. And now, we have no contact and I have never met her twin daughters.

I think I’m ready to go back to the hard stuff again. Why do I self harm? Why do I want to self harm? My therapist suggested that when things are going really well for me I seem to want to do something to sabotage it, so that things aren’t going so well any longer. “I know you’re doing your job to point out patterns,” I told him in a brisque manner. “That sounded angry but you look sad,” he replied. Yes, he was right. It made me sad to think of this topic. I wasn’t angry, nor was I annoyed. But somehow it came out that way.

I’m not a bad person. I am absolutely in no way a bad person. Then why do I treat myself as if I were bad? As if I need punishment? I seem to want to punish myself. But why? What have I done that has been so wrong? Weren’t those things done to me? I am not innocent but I certainly wasn’t the perpetrator of all the hurt and harm which happened in my life. At least not initially. I was treated so badly for so many years that I came to believe that somehow I deserve to be treated in that way, and that that is the only way to live. I even thought I deserved to die. That the only thing I deserved was to die, and it would have been a release from the pain and the ultimate expression of self-hatred. But just this past Saturday I decided that I love my life.

Things are good right now. Summer school started yesterday. Grad school begins at the end of August. It’s a three-year program. I am in process of applying to volunteer my time as a mentor / tutor to a child in a county-funded program for at-risk youth. I also plan to help out with marketing events for my local psychological association which I just joined. I want to get hooked into the local scene with psychologists and MFT’s. I want to get to know people and I want others to get to know me. Last night I had a long, private conversation with my professor after class and we walked to the garage together where our cars were parked. I believe she enjoyed my enthusiasm for pursuing my future helping career.

I have to close the blinds right now because it has become dark outside and almost an hour has passed since I began writing this entry. My dog is snoring lightly. I think of it more like his version of a cat’s purr.

I took another break. I was still hungry so I ate some homemade black beans with a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt. It was good. Then I went pee for the third time in three hours, hand-washed the dishes as I always do, and petted my dog. Here I am again, at my computer and more time has passed. I’m not worried about the time or the impending, looming hour that says it’s time for bed. I could go to bed right now if I wanted to. But I don’t want to go to bed yet.

I just can’t do it. I can’t do it. I am unable to focus on things which are difficult to talk about, think about, write about. All I managed was a few paragraphs today amid some healthy fluff. I can’t talk about why I am triggered at times to think of harming myself. I don’t want to think about it. I’m done. I’m in control. I get to say when enough is enough. I want to process these concepts with the help of my therapist. It’s far too difficult to do on my own. But I did do it. I managed just a little bit on my own. And that is enough. If I can accept the idea that I want to harm myself with loving kindness, then I won’t have to fight it. I can just let it be and acknowledge it and not act on it.

Emotions don’t have to control. They simply inform. The fact that I wanted to drink tonight informs me that I got triggered by seeing others holding wine glasses, which immediately brought me to self-harming thoughts, because alcohol used to be related to self harm. I used to drink when cutting myself and I used to drink when I felt suicidal so that I would have the impaired decision-making to carry through with a plan for suicide, whilst I inevitably always called the suicide hotline.

I am okay. I am okay. I am okay. I can just keep telling myself that I am okay. Then, I will begin to believe it. The reality is that I am indeed okay, but I just wrote about some not okay things, things that are not okay with me and things that I am not okay with. But me, my person, my being, I am okay. I am really okay. Now, with loving kindness, I shall focus my attention onto my napping therapy dog. Because I have the power to choose where my attention goes.

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.

I Can Do It: This Thing Called “Life”

I always have so many things going on in my mind: I could write about it every day if I had time. It’s really difficult waiting five days to see my therapist as I decided to not see him three times this week, only two. I have to practice my coping skills on my own. I can’t have him always there to help regulate my internal state of being. There are things I need to do that I keep putting off, like booking the car rental for when I visit my mom on mother’s day, and calling the collection agency that put a collection item on my credit report unbeknownst to me. I consider these to be unpleasant tasks and I have a mental block in my motivation to do them. The latter is especially cumbersome and complex emotionally, because of the bankruptcy I filed a year and a half ago. Anything to do with my credit report and so forth wears on me emotionally. But as my therapist had told me before, if I don’t do it today, it will still be there tomorrow. Meaning, there is no rush and I will get to it when I can get to it. To not worry. Because eventually, even if it takes me a year to muster up the courage, eventually it will get done.

I wrote the above paragraph in the beginning of the week. I was not having a good week. Monday I was busy straight from 8:00 AM to midnight, and the same thing on Tuesday. By Wednesday I was exhausted. Last night, Thursday, when I saw my therapist, the first thing I did was cry. And cry, I did. I let it all out until there was nothing left. Then, ever so gently, he asked me, “can you talk about it?” He had asked me at the very beginning of the session if I had had a difficult day, since he reads the emails I send him throughout the day. That’s when I started crying. After he asked me to talk about it I simply said, “No, I didn’t have a good day.” He nodded his head in understanding. Then, slowly, we began to talk about it.

He acknowledged and empathized with me about my feelings of being overwhelmed. When I was at the grocery store and the cashier was separating the cold and the not-cold items into separate bags, I said, “I just want to make it home. I don’t care how you put them away.” Another cashier heard this and commented, “sounds like you need a bottle of wine.” As a side note, I don’t like that our culture is so focused on alcohol as a solution to problems and stress. I don’t like it. “You didn’t tell the cashier to ‘hurry up and put it away so I can go home,’” said my therapist. “No, I didn’t want her to feel bad.”

Then, at work, I became inordinately angry at something that would normally have not made me so angry. I hate, absolutely hate, last-minute things. Ten minutes before our monthly strategy meeting was to begin, my boss told me that one of the dollar figures on the report was wrong and that I needed to fix it before the meeting began. I had already printed out 14 packages for each attendee, and at the last minute I needed to reprint one of the pages and replace that page for each packet. It was kind of stressful. I told my therapist that I had an angry face on during the whole meeting and that several people asked me what was wrong because apparently I was spaced out and not really present. “If an angry face was all you did, then that’s pretty good,” my therapist pointed out. I told him I wanted to cry, I was so angry. “But you didn’t.” Right, I didn’t. I wanted to cry but I didn’t.

Additionally, I wanted to call in sick to work and I have wanted to have alcohol for the last few days in a row, but I didn’t do those things. I didn’t do them because I have control over what behaviours I enact based on how I am feeling. This means that what I feel doesn’t have to dictate what I do. Feelings come and go, but I remain. Feelings merely inform me. It is up to me what I choose to do with those feelings.

I can do this life. I can do it. I am doing it. I am living it. I am living my life. I can do this. It is hard. It is really hard. Life is hard. But I can make it to the next moment, and then the next hour and then the next day. I can make it from day to day until that day becomes a week. No matter what life throws at me, I will always have life. Nothing can kill me. Emotions cannot kill me. I may feel very overwhelmed at times but it isn’t the end of my life. I can cope. I can do it: this thing called “Life.”