Thank God I am Alive and Fuck the Stigma

I literally just said those words out loud with a big sigh: “Thank God I am alive.” These last two days have been challenging. I describe those moments like “an emergency in my head.” It’s as if the alarm bells are ringing and my mind is all over the place. Everything seems urgent. Every emotion is tearing me in different directions. I am in desperation. It’s a panic attack without the physical symptoms of sweating, shaking, or hyperventilating. In fact, if you were to have walked by my desk you wouldn’t have noticed anything unusual, except for the fact that I was on my phone, frantically texting people for help and support.

This morning I had an emergency in my head. I had to leave work early. (Let me rephrase, since everything is a choice, I decided to leave early.) It lasted between 60 – 90 minutes and it was intense. I was messaging my #SickNotWeak community on Twitter for support as well. It wasn’t so bad that I would have had to call the crisis line but I was considering driving myself to the local psychiatric hospital for an evaluation.

It’s all because of what happened yesterday. Yesterday was President’s day, which is a banking holiday, so my office was closed in observance. The night before I had been cleaning up piles of paper in my room to make it look more livable and neat, when I came across my old external hard drive. I had been meaning to backup my computer months ago and had pulled out the hard drive from its box. It never made its way to the living room. Not that I don’t have a portable laptop, but the bedroom is for sleeping only, not hanging out.

I had fretted about this the night before, on Sunday night. You see, this hard drive is a backup of my old computer before it died a year ago. There were a lot of files on it. In fact, around 800 GB of things. In those files, there are some good things and some bad things. I found a song in an mp3 file which I hadn’t listened to in years, so I played it and enjoyed it. I also found some photos that had my Mum and brother in them. But there were some #notokay sexually explicit photographs in there as well. From my past. From the days of my coerced/forced prostitution by my ex-abuser/husband. Why had I not deleted these images years ago so I wouldn’t have to come across them?

You know what else was triggering? The fact that I weighed 100 lbs in 2009. That is sickly thin and he used to put me on diets to make me skinny like a little girl because he was into that stuff. Pretending he was having sex with little girls.

But the worst was yet to come. I came across some PDF files. In those PDF files were copies of some of the Craigslist ads he had posted, which I had gladly forgotten about. He used to pay between $300 – $3,000 cash to girls to do kinky sexual favours for him. He went through money like it was water. He went through my money as well. Not to mention we had had an $80,000 wedding. But that was a long time ago.

The kinds of phrases that got seared into my head were sexually-implicating terminologies that I would never use, such as “creampie” or “water sports.” It’s really disgusting, you can just use your imagination. He had all these terminologies, I know there were more but I don’t want to even try to remember them. It’s all fucked up.

So seeing those ads really fucked me up yesterday and I was still recovering from it today. I left work early today going home with “nausea” because one of my bosses, the CFO, doesn’t believe in mental healthcare. She shared with me once that her mom had mental health issues and in therapy her mom just kept getting worse, and that’s why she doesn’t believe in that “crap” (my inserted word, not hers.)

You know what I really hate? When you take a mental health day off of work and the next day your boss says, “oh, you look fine today.” As if I should have been fine yesterday, or that it was a surprisingly quick recovery from the supposed physical health issue. Well, Fuck That! Fuck it. Fuck that there is stigma around mental illness. Fuck society who thinks healthcare for the mind should be valued less than healthcare for the body. Fuck President Trump, and Fuck everyone who has ever judged me for having an invisible illness. Well, it sure isn’t invisible when I go “splat” on the pavement from jumping up high or passed out and getting my stomach pumped because of a prescription medication overdose. Do you think that is invisible? Can you still ignore the thousands of people in the United States who kill themselves every year?

Rant aside, now I can focus and calm down. I just had to get that out. No, I chose to get it out. Everything is a choice, right? We can choose how we feel. Well, that’s what my psychiatrist was reminding me of today, is that they are feelings. And I know from my therapist that feelings inform but you don’t have to act on them. So if my mind-emergency happens again, which inevitably it will at some point, I need to remember to remind myself that they are feelings, not facts. It doesn’t have to be an emergency and my desired self-destructive urges don’t have to be acted out on.

I stopped and my mind went elsewhere for a minute. I had the thought that I want to call the crisis line even though I know I am no longer in crisis. I want to tell them what happened today and that I wanted to step out into oncoming traffic yesterday. Then I want to tell them what that ex-abuser fucker did to me to mess me up. Only, I’m not messed up. It just feels that way, but it doesn’t mean it’s true.

I have to say, I don’t practice the art of using curse words often. In fact, rarely. Seldomly will you hear me say something other than “Scheiza” which is “shit” in German. It somehow has less of an impact or seems softer if you say it in a foreign language that the other person doesn’t understand, but they can imagine what it might mean.

My roommate is really sweet. She put out her oil diffuser and humidifier right on the side table of where I sit on my couch. It was there when I got home. I plugged it in and now there is smoke coming out of it. Vapour smoke. And the thing changes colours which is fun. I microwaved the leopard print shoulder beanie thing to put around my neck. Now it’s back to room temp and needs to be microwaved again. I had cream cheese and a plain bagel for dinner, along with guava kombucha. I love that stuff. Earlier I took myself out to a hearty lunch at Rubio’s. I got what I always get: a grilled salmon burrito. It comes warm with guacamole inside it and some kind of sauce, and grilled corn and some plain and dry coleslaw stuff. God, it’s good. But I could have eaten half the thing and been perfectly fine. Only, I forced myself to eat it all because I don’t like to waste and I didn’t think it would taste good when it’s not fresh.

Self care. I am practicing self care now because the emergencies are over now. Yesterday I went to bed at 7:00 pm because I couldn’t bear to be alive, to be in my mind, and I forced myself to stay asleep for the next 12 hours. Why does my life have to be so difficult sometimes?

I told my psychiatrist that it’s not fair. It’s not fair that I have to live and other people get to die. He said what my therapist has said as well, which is that we all die eventually. So why not make the best of it now? That last part my therapist didn’t say, but he does things differently than my psychiatrist. I love them both and I never want them to ever leave me. I always get nervous at the end of a therapy session, especially when there is only 5 – 10 minutes left. It’s the anticipation of things ending. I hate when things end. I hate endings. I’m always watching the clock when in therapy so that I can call the time. I hate being told it’s over. I hate it.

I have a plan tonight. My dog is napping in my lap and I told my psychiatrist that he needs his mommy. My doctor agreed. Samuel came to my therapy session with me and I had him in my lap. He is my therapy dog, and a good one too. My plan is to finish watching the movie I started last night on my computer. It was pretty good. It was about a writer writing about a writer who stole another writer’s writing as his own and got famous off it. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

My roommate is so tolerant. The sink is piled high with my dishes, especially when I am mentally not doing well, and she never complains. I regularly apologize and the last time I said sorry, she said, “well, eventually you’ll run out of bowls, and then you’ll have to do the dishes.” That was a great response.

My two awful days of emergencies are over. By the way, I was going to delete that entire hard drive and wipe it clean. But my doctor said there is no urgency. That I can do it if I want to, but I don’t have to do it right now. So I think I am going to wait. Because in addition to really awful, horrible, triggering stuff, there are some good things on it too. Literally thousands of files to go through one day, if I ever decide to. But anything I would not want my future child to see has to go.

We are going to have a bonfire. My friend has a fire pit in her backyard and I am going to invite a few close friends and burn my old journals. I am finally ready to do this. I never want to read them again. Never. Ever. Ever. I think it will be cathartic and I know I won’t regret it. The hard drive, well, I can never go back once I hit the delete button. But my journals, this is more of a physical manifestation of getting rid of my trauma. I asked my friend if I needed to bring a kindle wood and she said we can use the journal pages as kindling. Wow! What a revelation!! I didn’t even think of ripping up the books. I was just thinking of burning them, but now I can rip them up AND burn them. It’s amazing. It’s fabulous. I’m really looking forward to it.

I’m kind of glad I’m waiting on the idea of erasing 800 GB of my past. It’s good to wait. It’s good to not act impulsively. My back is hurting and I have to change positions now. It’s because my laptop isn’t in my lap, but off to the side on the couch arm, because my dog gets my lap. Which doesn’t always make it the best for long-term projects on the computer. I have one last thing to say:

KOMBUCHAAA!

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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.

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.

To Believe in Myself

How is it so early still? I have over an hour before bedtime. Today marks my official vacation from school. Call it a vacation or a leave of absence or a break… call it whatever. The point is that, I’m free. Free to do whatever the hell I want without actually having to study! I’m quite happy about this and not being in school right now is a great decision for me. I have a feeling I’m going to be writing a lot in the next weeks…

Therapy tonight went really well. When I am really excited and I want to say something, sometimes I just open my mouth really wide and smile with my eyes, mouth, eyebrows and face wrinkles. My whole face lights up but I can’t get the words out, not just yet. So my therapist said, “It’s okay, you can say it.” A couple more hesitations and I am able to speak. I have been writing poetry!

I have written five poems in six days. These aren’t just little poems, they are well-thought-out compositions of a sizeable length in terms of stanzas. There’s rhyming going on as well as alliteration, one of my most favourite literary devices. “Haunted House” was the first alliteration example which popped into my head when describing this to my therapist. At first, when I was trying to think of the literary term, I thought of onomatopoeia. But that’s like “plop,” “swoosh,” or “drip.” We came up with these examples together today. It was so much fun talking with my therapist.

When I brought up the name of a person I hadn’t talked about in therapy before, it was hard. Difficult because I was trying to explain that she likes me, as a friend, and wants to hang out with me. She’s a classmate and I just don’t know why she likes me so much her face lights up when she sees me. She gives me the best greetings and there is so much positivity.

I think there is this part of me that doesn’t think I am likeable. Like I’m not worthy of her attention, maybe because she seems so wonderful and is so beautiful that I cannot measure up to her. I barely know her but she has been lovely so far. I emitted some tears in therapy while talking about this, without articulating out loud the self-deprecating parts of my thoughts. Why would I be loveable? How could I be loveable and likeable when for so many years I was put down to the ground and had my ego, pride and heart stepped upon so heavily that I became damaged.

I am no longer damaged. I am whole again. I have a life worth living. I have people around me who do love me, who want to be around me, who care. The fact that I add to the lives of others is huge. If I can effect positive change, even just to change someone’s moment (not even day) from negative or neutral to positive, well then that moment was worth being alive for.

This has been the main theme (German: Hauptthema) of my poetry this week: my strength and my resilience. Today during my lunch break I went down to my car, sat in the front seat with the windows rolled down (it was quite hot, surprisingly) and typed into my phone notepad an angry poem direct at my ex-abuser called “The Peace You’ll Never Know.” It was incredibly cathartic and I wrote it in a way in which other people could relate.

I love getting feedback on my poems. I write my poetry based upon my emotional state and it expresses exactly how I am feeling in that given moment. It is very therapeutic. That is why I also like to immediately send out my poems and share them with key people in my life so they can know how I am doing. I blind copy everyone. I always include my therapist, my mum, my brother, and a few friends. Sometimes I will also send it out to my psychiatrist, a former professor, my aunt in South Africa, and now I’m sharing with my massage therapist. See, the thing is, I like feedback. I crave feedback and validation. Of course, I don’t mind if someone doesn’t respond, and simply reads it, or maybe doesn’t read it. But if I get a response, I know you read it, and the fact that you had something to say about it even if it’s a monosyllabic “wow” or “beautiful” really means a lot to me. Thank you, friends, for validating my creative art, which is so personal.

My dog is napping by my side. He is so sweet and snores and I love it. I go to bed every night hearing his breathing and it is so comforting to me. He’s all of 12 pounds and a lovely older dog who isn’t very active and just likes to sleep and cuddle. For me, it’s the perfect fit. Normally I would be laying with him right here on the couch. Falling asleep on my comfy couch is one of my favourite things to do. But right now, I am just feeling so alive. I feel so engaged in my life. I feel motivated to write, to share, to express, to articulate, to pontificate, to feel, to reflect, to absorb, to listen. I just want to write and then read what I’ve written and process it, reflect on it, let it sink in.

I want to know that I am doing okay. I want to validate that I am okay. I want to write poetry and journal entries and in writing them, I have given of myself in a very personal way. It is my way of giving back to the world, what the world has given to me. It’s a way that I contribute for the betterment of humanity. Writing is my gift, my desire, my passion, and I want to put it out into the world. I want to share this part of myself, because I live and breathe my poetry and I can’t help it. One day I’m going to publish. This I know, this I want, in this and in myself, I believe.

What I Can Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

In Learning About Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

First week of grad school, done! I did it. I made it. I am here. One of my classes is Theories of Psychotherapy and Counseling. Chapter 3 is about psychodynamic psychotherapy. At the end of our first class, after we had gone over the first two chapters, the professor asked who would like to do the role play for psychodynamic psychotherapy (yes, it is a mouth full to say). My hand shot up. I was the very first person to volunteer. You see, I have an inkling that part of the type of therapy I have been in for the last nine years is just that, based on that theory.

I met with my therapist today to get help on my assignment and do some role play practice. It was very helpful. You see, I read the entire chapter, which took me about 4.25 hours over two days, and if I had to recite or recall anything from the chapter, well, I don’t think I would do so well.

Here is the scenario that we came up with. I am the therapist and my client is AM (Adult Male). AM is married to a woman who works in the theater industry and is always gone at night doing plays. AM works in the banking industry at a 9 – 5 job and when he comes home at night the house is always empty and he feels lonely. In addition to that his wife recently made them get a dog and she is never home to take care of the dog so he is always walking the dog. AM is not sure if he wants to stay in this marriage. I tell him I can imagine that this must be very difficult for him.

I ask him if there was ever another time where he has felt like this before. He reflects and tells me that when he was a kid his mom and dad worked very hard at their careers and he knew they loved him but that he was self-sufficient and a lot of the time he took care of himself. He says again that his parents loved him very much but looks down and to the side while saying it. As a therapist I notice this nonverbal gesture and realize that what was said may not be accurate as per AM’s perception, but this is his defense mechanism by defending his parents.

I tell him, “I notice you looked down when you said that and shifted your position. Tell me about what is happening on the inside for you.” He says, “I don’t know, I guess this topic makes me uncomfortable.” I say, “what is it like sitting with this discomfort?” “It doesn’t feel good,” he replies. “No, I bet it doesn’t.”

Shift of topic. I ask him what the experience was like when he was left alone and he says it was fine, really. I point out that just as AM’s parents were often gone, his wife is often gone and what does he think about that? I don’t know, he replies. “I think there might be a connection there, that maybe it is no coincidence that you chose to marry a person who is very involved with and focused on her career, just like with your parents.” It’s just something to notice, maybe a pattern.

This scenario happens during the working phase of treatment, not the initial phase. The scene with my scene partner only needs to be 10 – 20 minutes long. We can record it on video ahead of time, which is what I will be doing, or we could present the scene live in class. Either way the professor is going to help us to interpret the style of therapy, point out elements of the theory which were applied noticing interventions used.

I used empathy in the beginning when I said this must be hard for him. I guess what the intervention would be at the end is providing some insight as to the connection between the past and the present. I just added in the paragraph of how the therapist focuses on the here and now moment and his reaction to telling me about his past, insisting that his parents loved him even though he may have felt abandoned or neglected by them.

For each case, I am to come up with a case conceptualization and then a treatment plan. The treatment plan goes over the goals for the initial, working, and closing phases of treatment. For each goal listed there needs to be a set of interventions which I am going to use. Just the term itself, “intervention” is new to me and although by definition I know what it means, to intervene in a way which provides a positive outcome, I barely know what the interventions are. I know that using empathy might be a type of intervention but I don’t know what else is. I will have to refer back to the textbook.

Love letter to my dear friend

To my dear friend,

I am not going to ask you to write a love letter to yourself. I’m just not going to do that. What I am going to do and what I can do is to write a love letter to you from me. I am going to speak words of wisdom and courage into you. I am going to lift you up out of your anxiety. Why? Not because I care. That’s obvious. It’s because you deserve it. You fight so hard every day and your strength, the strength that you may not always have the perspective to see, is awe-inspiring. If there were to be any woman I would want as a role model, that would be you. Because guess what, we are not perfect. No one is. And sometimes we fuck up. But when justice comes into play, you don’t have to cognitively admit to yourself that you are right. You know it in your heart and your body knows it for you. That’s why somatic issues creep up and tears emerge and restless nights occur.
But you are not alone. If there’s one thing you take away from this letter, it is that you are not alone. It’s not that you’re amazing, and that the value that you bring to this world and my high opinions of your morality come into play. It’s that you are simply you. You deserve everything. You deserve justice. You deserve to have other people fight for you and to support you when you become weary and want to give up. You deserve to know that what you are going to do in trial is absolutely the right thing to do.
This isn’t just for you, you know. I know you want justice to be served, as much as a detriment this would be to the recipient of the consequences and possibly the short-term public opinion of you in the field. Notice that I said, short-term, because in the end, justice always prevails. The law and binding ethical standards exist for a reason. It is to protect the consumer from getting taken advantage of. Because in a therapist-patient relationship, who really has the power? It’s the person who is acting upon their professional license, the person getting paid for their service. The mere fact that you were paying for a service, for this woman to be your couples counselor, gives her a huge responsibility and those people who hold responsibility in their hands have power. She had jurisdiction over her ethical obligations to you as a couple and to not take sides and to not breach confidentiality. She made an active choice and an active decision to choose one party over the other and not just that, but to write a damaging letter which had detrimental consequences.
What were those consequences? I wasn’t the one living that life and going through the motions and trials and tribulations and heartache and shame and disappointment that you went through, but I can imagine the consequences you had to endure. Any compassionate, rational human being would realize that this letter had damaging consequences, but you are the only voice you have for yourself and no one other than you can say it on stand under oath. You are all you’ve got when it comes down to it. How do you want to look back upon this time in your life when judgement day comes around? Do you want to feel confident and relieved that you did everything in your power to ensure that this woman did not do damage to any of her other patients?
People don’t lie once. Because if they’ve done it once, and with such ease, the chances are they’ve done it before and they will do it again. Why would they choose to speak anything but the truth? That’s not for you to know and it is not for you to judge them. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you. Of course it will. This event was the catalyst of a storm of events which occurred which then culminated into a tsunami. It could have killed you but it didn’t because you are resilient and strong and you fought for what you believed in, part of that which was believing in yourself as a mom and fighting for the custody of your child. If you didn’t fight, could you have lost your child, thus causing extra damage and trauma in his life due to your absence? Absolutely, but that didn’t happen.
What did happen is that your son suffered the consequences of an unfortunate series of events which weren’t his fault but which he probably grappled with in blaming himself for, which all children do. They blame themselves. The ripple effects of this one breach of confidentiality and smearing of your reputation reached far and did not stop for years because of the PTSD which you endured. No one should have to go through what you have been through and I want you to stand up for what is right and know that when you are on the stand at trial, you are representing all women whose voices go unheard and who get taken advantage of by “the system.”
Do this for your fellow women, and sisters all over the world who are moms. Do this for me. Do this for you. Do it for your mental health and for your future. Do it for the people who’s lives this woman will damage if you don’t tell your story. Do this for your son and for the pain you endured and the sleepless nights it created, the anxiety, the fear, the trauma you experienced. Nothing can make right what happened to you because of that letter, but knowing that you can finally do something about it, even all of these years later, can be somewhat of a consolation. And a confidence-booster. Knowing that the nights you spent feeling that the whole world was against you were not in vain and were not right. No one should be made to suffer so much. You can’t take back the suffering, but you can take back your life. You can take ownership of your past and rewrite your story. Write your story in a way that you would want to be remembered for the rest of your life. Let justice take its course. All you have to do is tell your story. Nothing else. The judge, the general attorney, balance of good and evil, and fate will take care of the rest. And God is behind you lifting you up because you are his child and were made in the image of him.
Lord, anything that is evil, I cast and bind it away to the foot of the cross, Amen. May my dear friend be protected by your ever-lasting love and be infused with the peace that passes all understanding. Please let the strength and the courage which are already within her shine through and give her a sense of knowing that standing up in trial and telling her story is the right thing to do. Please give her the wisdom to choose her words carefully and not let anxiety get the best of her. Please let her rest and prepare for this important occasion you have granted her and challenged her with. And please bless her for being just who she is, because who she is, is just enough.