A couple of thoughts.

Don’t you hate it when you’re going through life, doing fine, and then you’re confronted with those emotions you’ve packed away for a rainy day? It must have been raining in my therapist’s office Tuesday night.

I felt like I didn’t have much of meaning to talk about when I first sat down. She scolded me for not giving “available” guys a chance, and getting stuck and attached to “unavailable guys.” That bugged me. I told her she was wrong. Maybe she is right. 20 minutes later the tears came and I’m reminded of the familiar question, “What’s wrong with me?”

I have many thoughts and feelings about my upcoming trip to Jimma, Ethiopia. I told therapist it will be nice to have something else to care about, other than myself. In Jimma I will give myself to caring about my fellow volunteers, the new community and culture I’ll be in, and care about the camp we’ll have with kids.  I care about making this a meaningful experience.

It’s not that I don’t care about things in my day to day life, it’s just most of my caring has to do with myself. Being single means my life revolves around…me. I care about my friends, but we’re not dependent on each other. I care about my family, but my parents are in Chicago, my brother in California, and they’re living their own lives. I care about my job, but I hang up my therapist scarf at 5pm and need a break.  I’m good at caring about myself; now what?

I’m very tired of being consumed with my lack of a relationship status.  There many other things in life I want to care about. Therapist said we can work on that when I get back. I like my life, I’m very content. But I’m starting to feel stuck. I was pretty down about that. My coworkers (my work spouses) get a lot of my emotions. I so appreciate them, and this week they taught me it’s not about getting down, but rather getting ready to shake things up. (Because it that unmarried, child-less life- you can!!)

They don’t pay me to cry

We learn as social workers to express empathy and compassion, to “go there” with our clients, to support them where they are. But we have to be present, keep going, see the next client. And appointments are always about the client, anything I say about myself can’t overshadow or be detrimental for the client’s treatment.

But you know what? Vicarious trauma is an asshole. It’s impossible to hear people’s stories and not be affected. To not take it home, have nightmares, feel down. It’s also impossible for me to always have a one sided conversation. Brene’s talk about connection and authenticity means that every now and then I will say something personal. And gasp- it creates a closer connection with that client.

This is not what I want to talk about. I also don’t want to talk about suicide. But it seems like suicide and self harm are an encompassing topic for many that come to intake. That makes sense. But it’s very hard to hear and type about suicide without feeling like a machine. A risk assessment beast!

This past week a teenager spoke in short sentences about her thoughts of dying and cutting. Mom started crying. The teen started crying. She kept looking at mom, seeing the pain and sadness, the pain caused by the teen. I didn’t see shame, but curiosity. An observation that while she’s being truthful, her truth is causing Mom’s pain. Mom was great, she told teenager she wants her to be honest and she isn’t upset with her. Then I started crying, and all I could say was- “I’m going to cry now too.”  A few tears. I felt sad. I was struck by the emotion and relationship I witnessed in front of me.

Why this moment, instead of other clients? Here’s my theory.

My dad told me once that one of the worst things a parent can experience is answering the phone and hearing your child crying. I’ve been guilty of that. I’ve called my parents after breakups. I’ve called late at night when I feel sad, lonely, isolated. They might not say all the right things, or be able to read my mind when I don’t express myself in words, but I know they will answer and listen. (that is until my mom says she needs to watch the end of her tv show). The feeling of unconditional love is so different than other emotions. It has the power to change a relationship.

I think I had tears when witnessing this interaction, because I could see Mom’s love for her daughter.  It triggered me to think of how parents are always on my side, cheering for me. I imagine they would also experience grief and sadness if I admitted to the thoughts this teen has. They wouldn’t brush me off, they wouldn’t minimize my emotions.

But, they don’t pay me to cry at clients. So, now that I’ve trauma-vomited this story, it’s time to heal and move forward.

Time spent

For someone that doesn’t wear a watch, I seem to spend a lot of time waiting.

Waiting for the intense emotion to pass, waiting for the weekend to come, waiting for my future to catch up with reality. Waiting for the moments that come too soon, or never come at all.

My parents married at age 20. Freshman year mom started asking, “Did you pick a major?” Along with, “Meet any nice guys?” Luckily those questions died off when the answer was always the same- “No.” Growing up learning from my parent’s relationship, it was a natural thought I would follow the same path. It hit me around age 21 that I was not, in fact, going to be married soon after graduation. Now, at 29, I still have that sense of- when is my life going to catch up?

Growing up female means growing up socialized  that I need to settle down, find a husband, have kids, live in a house. My parents taught the importance of education, opportunities, travel, independence. Where does that nagging voice come from that somehow, I did all of this wrong?

I’ve waited for long distance. Waited for betrayal. Waited to let the past go. Waited while I learned lessons, became a “stronger person.” I waited during other’s depression. Waited during my own depression. Waited for grief, for more learning, and waited while I gained acceptance. I’ve waited through higher education, waited by the phone. And I’m still waiting.

Cue the happy thought about not waiting and start living. Good thing I see therapist today.

 

Vulnerability wake up call

I’ve been inquisitive about my body language recently. I give off great vibes to male strangers when I’m out- vibes to stay away. As I’ve told a few, this doesn’t come off too well on the salsa dance floor. I think I have appropriate body language at work, although my typing- typing- typing mode has led me to requiring mental reminders to make proper eye contact.  I’m taking notice.

I know my humor and sarcasm is a tool. It’s great for changing the subject, creating relief in uncomfortable moments, and avoiding honesty when I don’t want to give the truth. I think that truth avoidance is probably better defined as anti-vulnerability.

Before my Brene Brown obsession became an obsession, it was a quest to become more confident and engaged in my own life.  I used to envy the openness I could see in other people, and didn’t understand why I couldn’t scrape the surface of myself.

With practice, and hours of therapy, I like to think I’ve become more engaged, authentic and vulnerable. Until earlier today, that is.  I was telling a coworker about a person in my life and the kindness they’ve showed me. The anxiety it gives me to not be my whole self with them, to feel the uncertainty of the unknown. And she told me to tell this person what I was telling her, that if I’m willing to be vulnerable it can create intimacy and openness. I stared at her like she was crazy.

The more I pondered her encouragement, the more it felt right. The more it literally felt like vulnerability. Feeling it in my throat and stomach.  It’s easy to be myself, to be “vulnerable” with my friends and coworkers. I trust I will be able to take care of myself with their support. Is that vulnerability, or just friendship? My coworker told me to be vulnerable with this person in a way I haven’t yet showed up with them. Honestly, in a way I haven’t been in awhile. It feels terrifying. But luckily, despite my sarcastic tendencies and humorous avoidance, I have time to prepare myself to prevent creeping doubts. Which means time to prepare myself for whatever sort of outcome I receive.

Body language includes vulnerability, does it not? This probably has something to do with why I can’t flirt….  Ha!

 

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.”

 

Let’s catastrophize that.

My favorite cognitive distortion is, you guessed it- catastrophizing! While at times it’s a fun way to create exciting and more less than likely stories among friends, it’s also a good way to make myself feel crazy. My favorite way to catastrophize is to take a seemingly normal, everyday life event, and make it explode with flavor and energy.  Usually ending in people playing along (the best), thinking I’m a liar, or just calling me dramatic.

Like that time when a coworker saved a life…and the yin and yang of the world means she had to take a life. Cueing us to imagine another coworker’s demise without a seatbelt, and the Intake team spending minimal time mourning and extra time stressing over lack of completed intakes.

Or that time when my writer friend quoted me in a 3 sentence paragraph in a wedding magazine. And I tooted my own horn, future movie roll played by Amanda Siegfried and signed autographs of Chicago Style Weddings for everyone.

Or that time I got my MSW, only to tell everyone my new life mission was to be on Dancing with the Stars via my salsa career. (Apparently when you make jokes like that, people assume you’re just a salsa dancing fool. “You’re actually not bad!” has been said to me).

Or, finally. That time I started dating again. And while a litany of SVU scenarios run through my mind, the most realistic is me jumping to the dramatic conclusions of meeting Mr. Right Now, moving in together, me selling my furniture. The inevitable break up, me crying, and now living without a plaid couch. I will miss that couch.

Therapist taught me to take the (wedding) photo off the shelf, take the picture out, and put the frame into a drawer. A far away drawer. A dusty drawer in someone else’s house. Maybe leave it on the store shelf.

That makes sense. And as a friend told me, put out a new frame. Fill my life with the pictures of what is happening now. Of the cool things, cool emotions, cool people that bring me joy. Catastrophizing makes problems larger than life. And while it’s usually a fun way to tell stories, I might need to practice reeling it in when it starts to keep me up at night. As a college roommate used to say, “Crazy in, normal out.”

But where’s the fun in that?!

Acceptance

I should rename this blog Becca’s Therapy Chronicles. This week therapist and I talked about finding my place. Not in that passive woman way, c’mon. I have more of a hallway than a kitchen.

After the weekend of 2 baby showers, I spent a weekend in DC with my dearest Valentine and visited with my long lost cousins. I’m not sure when this happened, but looking around me I’m surrounded by babies, couples, house purchases, people with baby fever. That’s awesome, that’s life moving and shaking. I make my life as passionately dramatic as possible, but the stories I tell are usually about the bad TV I watch or fun info learned from my podcasts.

I don’t want my podcasts to be my best friends, I want to keep my friends. I guess I worry that my married, coupled, parent friends are passing me by and I’ll get lost in the wind. Am I supposed to find new, single friends? Lame. I don’t feel lonely, or alone, or jealous. I just don’t want to feel left out. My cousin said I sound like a Sex & the City episode (aka, compliment taken. We muse like Carrie Bradshaw as we frantically type after intakes).

Therapist told me that good friends will stick by you, and all this change is relative. In a few years, who knows, maybe I’ll be the one forcing you to come to my celebration shower. Play silly games and pretend to surprise me with registry gifts. I need to put in the effort with my friends, and the friendships will sustain. Part of this is being vulnerable, bold with the people that have earned the right to hear my story and engage in my life wholeheartedly. (Guess the author)  I remind myself, I have to do the same- despite new additions, partners, and other forward movements.

Basically, I will invite myself over to other people’s house.

 

Heavy

Our vastly changing government has lead to many actions, thoughts, emotions, and confusion. It’s been hard to understand and accept the supporters of our new politics. I’m trying. Therapist encouraged me to extend compassion to his supporters, compassion for their fear of change and fear of poverty and loss. I’ve tried that for a few weeks…giving compassion in place of understanding.

What’s gotten me stuck, though, are people openly expressing they don’t care about others. A friend of mine described neutrality with our president, as his  own daily life isn’t expected to change much (cough…white male). When asked, “what about everyone else?” he responded with a shrug. When I asked a red coworker that same question, he responded with, “who cares?” Last night I read the Facebook comments of a post by my Uncle, a well educated, kind, articulate man. My Uncle presents the facts of society, and in the midst of the comments, someone wrote (in all caps), “American lives are more important than everyone else. Period.” That is so hard for me to write and repeat. That’s not fear, that’s hate.

I meet strangers everyday. People I don’t know, most likely will never see again. Part of my work is to speak with empathy, without judgment, and to listen without distraction. I can’t imagine not caring about the lives of other people. Don’t get me wrong, there are people I dislike. I’m no saint, but I can’t imagine caring nothing about the people around me.

This world gives me a heavy heart. I try to read positive news, about the lawyers and politicians doing what they can to stand up for what’s right. It’s hard to make sense of this, to find direction. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, disheartened, angry. This isn’t the kind of world I want to live in. Another reminder of our American privilege; there are countless people living in countries that have no voice against their oppressive governments.