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.

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.