Current Obsession

When you dye your hair purple
I’m officially a makeup fanatic

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.

Favorite tee of all time.

The Funhouse Mirror

I referenced the mirror in a previous poem and it is with regret I admit I continue to be harassed by it. Certainly progress has been made, but I still suffer the endless committee meeting in my head discussing all the things wrong with my body.

Strangely (or perhaps not) aging while bringing its own difficulties has lessened the battle somewhat. I am nearing 40 and I have 2 teenagers. I workout 5 days a week and walk my 10000 steps everyday. I eat generally whole, clean foods with mostly balanced macros for my activity level. There’s really nothing more I can do that does not fall into eating disorder land. It is easier to accept my imperfections as I’m not supposed to look 20 anymore – not without plastic surgery anyway. So, acceptance is the answer to my problems today. Courage to accept what I cannot change.

The mental battle is fatiguing though, I will admit. I do slip into old patterns particularly when I’m very stressed but very quickly my cognitive functioning is impacted and it makes working difficult. As a therapist, I cannot be mentally tuned out during session. It’s very interesting indeed how important nutrition is to cognitive functioning. Consider that the next time you skip breakfast ☺️

I am grateful

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.

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. ☺️

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.

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?

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.

Flashbacks

I didn’t know what a flashback was until I’d been in graduate school (to become a therapist mind you) for two semesters and realized following a rough day with my boss that I would potentially be seeing male clients in my office. Cue evening phone call to my therapist who assisted me in returning to my body whilst parked on the side of the road in pouring rain.

Now I thought I knew what flashbacks were until that point. My understanding of them was full on checking out of current reality and reliving a previous experience. Of course this is true but so too are emotional flashbacks (no visual content) and partial dissociation (feeling of out of one’s body but still recognize the year, surroundings, etc). It would be another year or two following this experience that I would face the reality that *I* had PTSD.

Back to the flashbacks. I rarely have them now, as a result of some deep work with my long-time therapist. However, a significant portion of my clinical work is WITH trauma survivors and thus it is imperative I tend to my own self care. Sometimes I have to take some extra time. Today was just such a day. I needed to do a little more grounding, a little more self compassion, and a little more mindfulness. I chose lavender essential oil, and an earth element focused yoga practice.

I couldn’t have made the choice to engage in such self care were it not for my own therapy and thus would have run the risk of secondary trauma and/or lingering emotional distress robbing me of the next hours and days of my life. Or based on my history, engaging in unhealthy coping skills that have previously threatened my sanity and my life.

Growth is good.