So yeah. This is what has been taking my free time. As well as makeup tutorials because having purple hair freed me from my worries of looking too old. I couldn’t figure out how to dress comfortably for my age (read: business casual and muted) to avoid the “you’re too old for that” until one day I said to myself, “you have purple hair; you can do anything you want.”
Being in private practice gives me some creative freedoms when it comes to attire anyway so jeans are my everyday look. Pair em with some Vans and I’m good to go with my purple hair and whatever slightly muted spunky makeup I do for the day. I have never been particularly concerned about the latest fashion but I’ll wear what’s in if I like it. Otherwise it very well is an expression of me.
I often forget the general population isn’t well versed in mental wellness, never mind mental illness. I am well versed on either end of the spectrum, both professionally and personally. In fact, during college and graduate school where many of my cohort were learning things for the first time, my response was more along the lines of “oh that has a name?!”
In medical school as well as training to be a therapist, there is the tendency to diagnose oneself with every disorder learned. I had already had a moderate handful of diagnoses before studying them academically so I skipped right into imposter syndrome by my second semester of graduate school. The critical voices in my head had a new sneer, “how can you help others when you’re a mess yourself?”
Indeed, in my third semester of grad school I found myself reluctantly agreeing with my therapist to enter treatment for my eating disorder following a collapse in dance class. I felt ashamed but also incredibly grateful to my dance professor who required clearance from treatment before she would allow me to dance again. Bless her everyday for setting that boundary.
So I forget that the whole world isn’t constantly engaged in coping with and studying mental illness. When my instinct with friends or family discussing their bad day is to use words like processing, stabilizing, grounding and phrases like “ask yourself if” or “what are you aware of in your body right now?” And they look at me as if I have a grown a second head. Granted they know I’m a therapist so maybe they chalk it up to “psychobabble” but I hate that term because it implies lack of sincerity on my part and I can assure you, I couldn’t be more genuine.
I wouldn’t know how to be any other way at this point. It is my job but it is also why I have a job and a family and a home.
I do not wish to philosophize about the possibilities that exist, but my intellectual capabilities make it impossible for my brain not to fire in that way. My anxiety ensures these unwanted mental meanderings cause me great discomfort – for anxiety does not like to float freely; it prefers an anchor. And what better an anchor than the rabbit hole that is philosophy?
We are raised with certain belief systems, borne out of our caregivers’ bestowing. At some point, we have the option to choose a different value structure. If it does not align with our family traditions it can cause angst. This is where I often find myself. Sitting in the middle of historic teachings, my own experience, and the ability to see multiple perspectives. I joke that things were simpler when I had the checklist of religion and the prescribed wife and mother role from the 50s that I readily adopted. “Married with 2 under 2 by 22.” Life was neat and organized by childcare, housecleaning, and meal prep.
Now my kids are teens, I rarely cook, prefer to call myself a partner rather than a wife, and the only codified activity I participate in regularly is Pilates. Despite my existential angst, how I function in the world today is far more congruent to my authentic self than the identity I put on in my twenties. Important people in my life experience a bit of confusion, however, when I act in ways that seem to contradict their concept of me. It would be simpler for them if I retreated to a more predictable identity.
I can’t retrace my steps. I can’t unring the bell. I can’t pretend I don’t know what I do know. If I do, I betray myself.