For some reason it’s been easier to write poetry here than anything else. Which is quite odd because before this blog, I hadn’t written poetry in 20+ years. Amateur hour right here.

Writing painful and complex experiences through poetry is a way to distance myself from the raw vulnerability to an audience. Oh the vulnerability is there – plain to see. But the vulnerability exists as a work of art rather than I am standing naked in front of you, sharing my heart. Although both are true. Maybe it’s an illusion.

I return to work tomorrow as the therapist. What started as a vacation ended in bereavement so I don’t feel refreshed going back. Indeed, I feel weary. It can be quite helpful, however, to “get out of your own head.” Many people use this as their number one coping skill. That friend who never talks about her life, but is always by your side while you cry – she might be avoiding her own feelings. I’m not that person. I avoid my feelings in other ways 😏 but when I am faced with the raw emotion of another, it does trigger my own particularly if my self care game is not on point. (Which was the reason for the vacation in the first place).

I am confident I will be present for my clients as the warm therapist they are used to. My confidence wanes, however when I imagine how I will feel emotionally at the end of the day. I worry I will feel depleted. It is already a rough time of year for me, now compounded by fresh grief.

Mindfulness is a good tool here and the old adage of not getting ahead of oneself. We’re going to put one foot in front of the other, moment by moment, holding steadfast to years of experience telling me everything is always eventually ok. The world will not collapse. I will be successful as a clinician and I will take extra care of me in the moments I’m not actively a therapist.

Psst. You don’t have to be a therapist to use the above tools to cope during your workday. Or your family gathering. Or your doctor’s appointment. Or your long commute. Take good care of yourself, one moment at a time. Don’t know how? Ask a friend, a mentor, or ya know.. find a therapist. ☺️

Melody MaLady

She smiles sweetly. A bit seductive. Slithering in as security takes a smoke break. She whispers in my ear, “Hello honey. Having a hard time, huh?”

I am lost in the melody of her musing. She promises poise and perfection. A played-out song endlessly mesmerizing.

No. Music breathes life, even on repeat. She is the damsel of destruction. Coy in her captivating charm, she is a siren.

Almost erotic. Almost ethereal.

“I am Panacea.”

Deafening Stillness

My ribs are straining under the weight of breath.

For a full inhale draws awareness to the storm in my belly.

Spouting funnels of agony to the crown of my head.

I am alive.

No, no, no mustn’t be still.

To be still is to acknowledge. To permit. To accept.

Ribs straining.

Awareness of the storm

is agony.

I am alive.

They are dead.

Don’t Suffer in Silence. You’re worth Life – TW

I’m exhausted from the mental battle of the last few days but specifically fatigued over learning of the loss of a friend.

Just days ago I shared my experience when my dad completed suicide on this blog and on social media. September is suicide prevention month and today especially.

In a cruel twist of 2020, the year I actively reduced my time on Facebook in response to increasing division and hate, I visited Facebook today and saw in horror 6 days ago a friend posted her goodbye. Which had prompted a flurry of activity on that Facebook post, culminating with the obituary posted just today.

I am stunned. She was a beautiful soul. We went to high school together and recently physically reconnected through a mutual therapy experience, though we’d always maintained contact via Facebook sharing the love of ballet.

We were born only hours apart. She was my birthday sister. Now she’s gone. As one does I am replaying our last exchange and wishing I’d done more, tried harder.

My beautiful, empathic son, himself planning to study psychology in college next year stated: “Suicide doesn’t really end the pain though does it? It just transfers it.”

Yes. I will never say suicide is selfish because I know the pain of living in mental agony, but it absolutely leaves wreckage in its wake. Wreckage that never heals, only scars.

If you are suffering, reach out to loved ones, get help. You can present at your nearest emergency room and just sit there if you don’t want to talk. Sit and be safe. Or admit you’re worried about your own safety. Or call 1800-273-8255. text 741741 in US and Canada. 85258 in UK. 50808 in Ireland. You don’t have to suffer in silence. You are not alone.

Honest Grief – Trigger warning

I lost my dad to suicide. Oh just jump right on in – that’s a hook. “It’s not a hook, be quiet.”

The thing is I understood. I never got angry with him for choosing to end his life. I have been angry with him while he was alive, but the very reasons I was angry during his life are the reasons I understood his suicide.

Oh you’re a saint – it was easy for you to move on then, huh? “To the contrary. I developed post traumatic grief. But I never questioned his motives.”

He was close to receiving a terminal diagnosis for his alcoholism. The death certificate cited Bipolar Disorder as secondary cause to the suicide. This was before I was a therapist (indeed it would be the catalyst to my becoming a therapist) and knew anything about the disorder. But I knew he was a troubled man. And I knew the relentless cycle of promises and failures that is addiction because I, too had been far too friendly with the bottle.

The most agonizing part of losing my father in that way is knowing he died alone, feeling unloved and hopeless.

I think I cried for three years straight. I couldn’t go to funerals, couldn’t hear the word suicide, couldn’t go to recovery meetings, couldn’t be around men with similar features, couldn’t smell alcohol of any kind, couldn’t hear certain songs, had flashbacks for 8 years (yes they just ended – I think).

Complicated by other trauma . “Yes, shh. That’s another blog.”

Dance proved to be my saving grace, and I was a fairly new dancer then (side note you don’t have to start dancing at age 3 to be a performer). Improvisation and composition helped me express what I couldn’t put language to. Because with grief, language doesn’t make sense. Grief is a deep, guttural emotion – it isn’t logical and can’t be healed using the prefrontal cortex. We must feel it.

So I went to therapy. I think losing him in that manner gave me some sort of permission to go and face my demons. Of course I had no idea I was opening Pandora’s baggage.

Good job, I see what you did there. “Now you’re complimenting me? Hush.”

I would then go on to learn my empathy for his pain came from a real place of understanding as I learned about Bipolar Disorder. If you’ve followed any of my blog you’ll know the apple didn’t fall far for me.

You need to wrap this up, kid. “I’m aware. My story doesn’t end there, so how does one…”

My journey begins there, really. 27 years to find a path out of self destruction. I miss my dad so much it still aches everyday but him dying may have saved my life. And pushed me toward helping others. I hope he is smiling down on me. I sure hope I’ve made him proud.

I love you Daddy. Always be your girl. I know you’re at peace.

Dance

I met her when I was 27. This was back when the studio was in the old building. I was immediately nervous. This was big time. I was in college now, preparing to audition for the dance company. I had to be perfect. Perfect person, perfect body, perfect dancer.

I was none of these things. I’ve never asked her about that day but I imagine she knew how nervous I was as I was terrible at any semblance of compartmentalizing and even worse at not wearing my heart on my sleeve. Plus this was just months after going through the most traumatic experiences of my adult life. And she is a dancer, an artist. I had no idea where this relationship would take me.

I was in awe of her. I thought she was stunning, magical. Some sort of ethereal being. She would laugh at this I’m sure. As I danced in her classes, she opened up a world to me I had shut off (recall this was necessary in my childhood). Furthermore, she somehow stopped letting me give up. I couldn’t tell you how she did it but the most powerful statement she made to me was simple: “Yes you can.” No muss, no fuss. That’s kinda who she is. No heartfelt “I believe in you” speech just a matter-of-fact statement as if she had no doubt whatsoever.

She became my mentor. True in some ways I idolized her. I listened to the way she communicated with us dancers. I saw her wrath in rehearsal (insert laughing crying emoji here) as well as her compassion and cheerleading on performance nights. She appeared to be so good at being solid and steady. Who knows what was ever going on in her life but if there was anything she didn’t let on. Had it not been for the intimacy of dance training, I might have thought her cold, indifferent. I unconsciously realized she was very good at setting boundaries and attempted to model myself after her.

One day a fellow dancer came to rehearsal in fresh grief. I watched in sheer amazement as she held her, encouraging the full expression of the sorrow this dancer was feeling. She knew that release was necessary if we were to move forward with our rehearsal. I remember remarking to another dancer something along the lines of “Is there anything this woman can’t do?” To which the dancer replied “I know, she’s amazing.”

There’s this thing you do when you graduate from grad school where you give your sash to an influential person. Of course I planned it for her. I danced around outright asking if she was coming to graduation and ultimately she didn’t (I did not take this personal – she might have attended a thousand graduations in her lifetime of teaching) but I marched in her office one day and presented her with the sash with some words written on it. She tried to give it back and I was like “uh I bought this for you, so no. You’re a professor, you inspire people and I wrote on it already. Deal with it” 😉

I am still close to her 10 years later. Took me about 8.5 to stop being so nervous around her. She is the single most influential person of my adult life. She is still quite adept at keeping her cards tight to her chest. The therapist in me wonders if there is a story there. Maybe one day I’ll know.

I fully intend to share this post with her but I’ve said similar words to her a few dozen times and she’s probably tired of hearing it. Don’t care, she means the world to me.

We all need a person like that.

Curious

Today I’m keenly aware of the conversations bringing awareness of mental health to social media. I see my fellow therapists on Tik Tok noting their ADHD, Depression, Anxiety, OCD, eating disorder recovery. Many of them doing an amazing job talking about management of said conditions.

I’ve only seen one other therapist talk about Bipolar Disorder. And none talking about addiction. Kay Redfield Jamison is a psychologist diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and she was so brave to write her book An Unquiet Mind about her journey. I have reread it many times – she inspires me.

I don’t know if it’s that I haven’t seen therapists with more chronic mental illness or if they’re just not talking about it. And if they’re not talking about it, is it because they have fear of transparency as well?

Restrained

She looks deeply into the looking glass and repeats the words, beginning to smile. Her reflection peers back at her, encouraging.

Just as quickly, her eyes become sad. The four walls of tradition remind her. You were unsafe without this. Do not trust yourself to stand alone. You will fall.

Crestfallen, she retreats. It would be stupid, I know. Why fix something that isn’t broken? Remain safe. Restrained.

Will you keep living a lie?

Full Disclosure

I intend to write a memoir one day. Blogging is a way of dipping my toes into public authenticity. One post at a time, the depths of my life will come to light for all the world to see. All the world connotes.. well, everyone. Can we stop a minute and appreciate how terrifying it is to put oneself out there? (Insert grimaced emoji here). I’ve put off writing my memoir in fear of revealing myself to the public as a professional. Yes I am aware simply putting it on the internet will not ensure every person will read it. Honestly, I’m cool with strangers reading it. It’s the people I’ve known or could know (potential clients) that is terrifying to me. Once it is published, it is out there forever. I ask myself every time I make a blog post or a Tik Tok am I comfortable with my clients knowing this about me?

The struggle that ultimately led to my becoming a therapist is precisely the reason I want to be public. To be an example of a person with significant mental health difficulties still successful as an adult and a professional. There’s a fear my credibility will be diminished. I’m keenly aware of my position as a professional, however, to combat stigma and instill hope in those who are still struggling. It is less a matter of “I want to be public” and more “I have to be public.”

We are all just trying to do the best we can with what we have.