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.
To my Therapist,
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.”
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.
I started starving myself yesterday. It’s not a complete starvation diet. Since I managed to eat just 750 calories yesterday I’m going to restrict myself to 800 calories per day. I think that’s reasonable. I just got home from work and I’ve had a total of 515 calories so far. I’ve been constantly hungry for the past two days but I am able to sleep through the night and I think I have been drinking more liquids. That’s good, so I don’t get a headache from being hungry. I like the control this gives me. I have told several of my close friends. Some have responded with love and compassion and others have responded with insulting comments. That makes me feel bad and it is unfortunate. And I’m not going to eat because someone tells me to eat. I like the control I get over my body.
I don’t see this as a mental disorder because I don’t have a distorted perception of my body. I know I’m a bit fat. I’m about five foot, two inches and I was 139 for the longest time but in the last two weeks I’ve gotten down to 131 pounds and it is very encouraging. I would like to reach 125, then 120, and then we’ll see from there. A person I thought was a mentor and who used to be like my father responded “you can’t come visit if you have a feeding tube”. Can you believe someone would say that? Whatever happened to unconditional love? The best thing about this diet is that I can have as much tea as I want, which is soothing and comforting, and it’s not that I couldn’t have tea before, it’s just that I need the comfort of the hot tea more now than ever.
I told my roommate about my plan and she told me that is not healthy. That was earlier this afternoon by text message. Now she is sitting in the living room with me here, playing with her cat, and she hasn’t said a word to me. Just “hi” and that’s it. She probably just doesn’t know what to say. I have no idea what my therapist is going to tell me tomorrow night. Supposedly this is connected to the ending of my group therapy, because I decided to stop going. I started looking up things on anorexia last week and then by Saturday night I was so incredibly angry with myself that I was considering jumping off a bridge, but then I decided to go to bed. Yesterday I had no desire to live and I didn’t feel like getting up, and so 14 hours later when my mom called in the afternoon, I finally got up. I must admit I did feel better about life in general after getting up and being “alive”.
Did you know that a medium-sized apple contains 95 calories? Neither did I. But the internet has all sorts of information readily available. I used to think that anorexic people looked… well, far too skinny. But I was looking at images today while at work and I was thinking to myself that it looks beautiful. My friend whom I am seeing tonight said that women are meant to have curves and that my ex-abuser wanted to me to look like a little girl and that is why he put me on diets. He hated my big breasts and totally disregarded them as if they didn’t exist. All he cared about was my vagina and getting into it with his hands and other body parts as much as possible. And getting other men to use me too.
I have to go over to my friend’s house before it gets too late. She called me last night as soon as I told her what I am doing to myself and we planned to get together tonight. She wants to show me and remind me that I am loved and that her child loves me very much. He is five now and I have known him since he was born. She said that a child’s love, and a baby’s love, is pure. I couldn’t agree more.
Lately, I have been feeling stressed. Most of it is work stress. There is a finite level of the human capacity to tolerate stress, and I was close to that ceiling today. I took time off of work in the middle of the day to see my therapist because I needed to see him three times this week and that was the only time which was going to work. He helped me talk through the concerns which have been giving me anxiety at work in regards to my new assistant. I feel responsible for her progress because I am the one training her. However, I am not her supervisor and I do not have the authority to correct her behavior. I am worried that her motivation might not be as high as I hoped it would be and six weeks into the job I just thought she would get it by now. But I have to give her leeway because the learning curve in this industry is steep and she has no prior experience. I want her to be making more phone calls and taking on more tasks and I’m worried about not being able to trust her with projects to take on her own. She has been consistently late to work and she does not dress appropriately professionally. All of things are going to be looked at and handled by our supervisor now. What was hard was handing over that responsibility to someone else because I thought I could handle it. But my boss said she didn’t want to put me in that position. She’s right.
I just ate a chocolate that is at least three years old. It was Ghirardelli with raspberry filling, only the filling had sunken in on itself. It tasted okay though I was hesitant at first bite. People give me chocolates and I just don’t eat them.
I found a new walking path today. Because of the time change and the fact that it is lighter for longer in the evening, I had decided to go for a walk by my home. My neighborhood is not ideal for walking: there are long roads with only one sidewalk and cars which go by at fast speeds. I went walking along one of those roads. It crosses over a freeway. The bridge over the freeway is not very high, but I imagined myself jumping off the edge into the traffic below. I would probably only break a foot or leg, but the cars going by at 75 miles per hour in the fast lane would surely kill me. Only, if I survived, I might be physically impaired for the rest of my life and it would be very hard to kill myself then. I didn’t think about that at the time.
I thought about that if I survived, and another person died on the scene due to the car accident, then I would be convicted for involuntary manslaughter or some sort of charge and I would have to serve jail time and then it would be very difficult to find employment. If I had a criminal record I would not be permitted to work with children and the idea of my future career change would be out of question. I would be stuck in a minimum wage job because that’s the only type of job which would be willing to employ me and I would be on state healthcare and unable to travel or buy nice foods or do anything that costs money. So, I kept on walking, both times that I crossed the bridge, and I left my fleeting thoughts behind me on the bridge each time. I didn’t take them with me.
I had a nice dinner, leftover sweet potato curry from a restaurant, and it was delicious. Yellow sauce and whole pieces of soft yam and potato and some mushrooms, with rice on the side. I recently bought jasmine tea, which I haven’t had for some time in my pantry, and I am really enjoying sipping on it. I should be studying but I’m not. The cat is on the carpet right in front of where I am sitting and I had to reprimand him a few minutes ago for scratching on my cloth ottoman in the middle of my L-shaped couch. The couch is light green and I really love the color. My paperwork from school and job interviews and college applications have been littering the living room for the past month. I want it out so I can visually see it, and be reminded that, oh yeah, I still have that essay to write, or oh yes, there’s the New Yorker Magazine from the subscription my Mum got me which I never take the time to read. I told her not to renew it last year but I was too late. “They were having a discount,” she claimed.
Every day I catch myself rubbing my skin to get the dirt off of me. Only, it doesn’t consume my hours any longer, it’s just a little skin rubbing here and there. It’s part of the OCD category of symptoms, but doing it soothes me and at the same time it feels productive because I actually get dirt off of me. They come off in miniscule amounts which my therapist and my aunt have told me are dead skin cells. But I don’t believe it even though the rational side of my brain knows that they are right. I am still uncomfortable with the topic of sex and when it comes to my body, I don’t like to think about it. I feel fat even though I’ve weighed the same amount for the past two years, which is the first time in my life ever that my weight hasn’t fluctuated drastically. I used to be very skinny and it was absolutely unhealthy, but at least I didn’t feel fat (even though my ex abuser told me I was). I am supposed to look at myself as beautiful but the best I can muster is “eh, I look decent.”
My therapist doesn’t judge me. He doesn’t like to diagnose me and never tells me that there is something wrong with me. He guides me and makes gentle suggestions or gets me to think about a situation in a new perspective that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. Therapists aren’t supposed to diagnose anyway, unless it’s for an insurance company. Having a diagnosis sucks, although some people find it useful to have a label for their symptoms, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or OCD, to name a few. Five years ago I met the criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD, and now I no longer do. So it seems to me that it must have been PTSD symptoms instead. Because, how does a personality inherently change? A personality defines a person. Labels don’t define me. And I don’t have BPD. I have major depressive disorder, but it’s something that I have but not something that I am.
I am the maker of my destiny. Those are powerful words. It means that I am in charge of my life now. It is assuming responsibility for the actions that I take within my life. There’s no more acting from the perspective of fear or hurt. Sound decisions based upon a balanced soul and rational mind control my life. Some things don’t always go as planned and there are setbacks. But those are part of the normal ebb and flow of ups and downs which comprise the human consciousness.
I have not been accepted into the two graduate programs I applied to. I had high hopes for both and both times I was disappointed to the point of being temporarily devastated. But I have recovered. Had I written about those incidents at the time those musings would have been infused with strong emotions. I am now in the process of applying to more graduate programs whose deadlines have been extended and others who simply have later deadlines for a Fall start.
I discovered the LPCC Masters of Science program in Early Childhood Mental Health. I hadn’t looked into it before, but the university which did not accept me for the MFT program said they could transfer my application to that department. I accepted. Ironically, my therapist teaches in that program as part of the faculty. If I get accepted into the program I will not be able to see him for therapy because dual relationships are not allowed. And if I go to see him for office hours as my professor our conversation must be limited to class material. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I do not like the idea of not seeing him for therapy. My idea is that I will always see him, for the rest of my life.
On the other hand, the idea of him becoming my professional mentor is quite appealing. When I am in need of supervision during my practicum and internship, he might be available to guide me. Maybe it is time to graduate from his service as my psychotherapist. I would want to continue psychotherapy, and he does know colleagues to whom he would recommend me. However, the new therapist would know nothing about my past. I might not be able to be fully myself and fully open with her (yes, I am assuming it will be a female whom I would choose). I am often childlike in my expressions of joy, anger, and disappointment, and I might force myself to act in a more reserved and mature fashion. It doesn’t mean that I have to be less emotionally expressive.
Either way, I think my therapist is proud of me and will continue to be proud of me no matter what I choose to do. I can imagine my therapist teaching me about reflective practice, and guiding me to follow the beliefs and method and theory of psychotherapy toward which he leans. If I had to put my finger on a theoretical orientation which I might ascribe to him, it would have to be eclectic and nonspecific. Attachment work is a large part of our therapy together. He incorporates therapeutic techniques and interventions which he has refined and developed over the last 20 plus years. Whatever he does, it has worked. He always seems to know the right way to respond to me, and say the right thing. I always feel better after seeing him. I want to give this gift of calming peace and safety to other people.
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.
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.