Thursday, October 31, 2013

Scaredy Cat

Oh Halloween.  I know people like Halloween.  I know it's supposed to be a fun thing.  But I am just really not a fan.  Perhaps it's Halloween, perhaps it's just life in general, perhaps it's the fact that my brain just has a dearth of serotonin, but I'm "off" tonight.  I just feel weird, and it feels like things just aren't right.  Something feels unsettled.  I know I have friends who would tell me "it's because the energy on Halloween is different/stronger/fill-in-an-adjective."  I know I have friends who would say "it's just a rough day that happens to fall on Halloween."  I'm pretty sure I have friends that would say something like, "ummm...did you sleep last night?  Too much caffeine?  Stress at work?  Dunno, dude."

I dunno either, so I'm not going to pretend to have any answers.  

I do know that I really kind of dislike Halloween.  I don't even know why.  I mean, I can tell you about the time I was 8 and my elementary school had a "haunted house" that I went through.  The damn thing scared me so badly I refused to celebrate Halloween for the next two years.  I am unnecessarily sensitive to all things frightening, and I always have been.  When I did decide to celebrate Halloween again, we ran into some teenage boys in very scary masks with lots of blood and gore, and I wanted to swear off of Halloween forever.

**Embarrassing confession** When I was a kid, I was ridiculously frightened by Nancy Drew.  I was
reading it late into the night (after I was supposed to be asleep), and Nancy was stuck under the stairs and people were coming that were (presumably) bad folks...and I cried.  And I went into my parents bedroom and confessed that I was reading, and that I was terrified by Nancy Drew.

This was Nancy Drew, people.  I cried over freaking Nancy Drew.  

It's not that I'm scared of everything.  I mean, I watched "The Exorcist," and I had no idea why people thought it was scary.  I think, though, that things like demonic possession are so far outside of my worldview and beliefs, that it just doesn't scare me at all.  I had a friend who insisted that "Hide and Seek" (the movie with Dakota Fanning) wasn't scary.  I told her I was going to be scared, and I told her I didn't want to watch it...but she insisted, so we did.  I swear to goodness, I didn't sleep for a week.  I had nightmares for a month.  And I never let her live it down.  "Practical Magic" -- you know, the silly romantic comedy type movie with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman? I hate that movie.  I get too scared to enjoy it.  

You shouldn't be surprised to learn that I read a lot of non-fiction.  I enjoy fiction.  I really do.  But...sometimes, just plain ol' non-fiction is better.

I know some people enjoy the feeling of being scared, and I can't understand it.  Like, at all.   I'm also not a fan of dressing up and calling attention to's pretty much that whole holiday gone by.  I'm okay with it.  Really.  Just the chocolate is enough.

At any rate, I was talking with a new friend a few weeks ago, and found out that she blogs.  Yay!  So awesome, thought I.  And then I continued to open my mouth and talk about the challenge of NaBloPoMo, and how it's a really good exercise, and I think I may have suggested that we do it together.  At least, that seems to be what she indicated on her blog, here.  WHAT was I THINKING!?!  Haven't I learned from my mistakes already?

Apparently not, because here we go again.  Tomorrow is November 1, and already we're off to an interesting start.  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

With my face towards the sun

I've wanted to write this post since last Friday, but...[fill in the blank lame excuse for not writing].  But I'm making myself write it tonight.  It's had nearly a week to simmer in my brain.  It should be good and acquainted and flavorful by now.

See, as of last Friday at about 2:46PM, I am a licensed psychologist.  I have had quite a few celebrations between then and now, and too many "congratulations" to count.  It's a big deal.  Yes, yes, of COURSE it's a big deal for everybody.  It's important.'s a really big deal.  I cried when I passed that last test.  I cried when I got the official letter in the mail today.  I will probably cry when the official license comes in a few weeks.  I cried when I got mail from another organization saying "congrats, you passed it, now join our organization and give us money."  And yeah...maybe everybody cries about these things.  Maybe licensure just turns us all into blubbering messes. 

When I talk to others, I'm not really sure what to say.  Yep, I passed it.  Yep, it's exciting.  Yep, it feels awesome.  Yep, I'm really and officially done.  Yet, as I say these things and have these conversations, underneath of the excitement and the happiness is something else.  There's something else burbling there, and so far, when I let it up to the surface, it just comes as tears.  Happy tears.  Relieved tears.  Overwhelmed tears.  But tears nonetheless.  What's with that?

Passing that last licensure test feels like the closing of a door.  A big, heavy door.  On Friday, I let it slam with a really big, resounding BAM.  In the silence that is left after that soul-shaking slam, I feel lighter.  I feel like it indicates that I finally ran faster than those demons that have been chasing me.  For once, I ran down the right hallway, I closed the door, and the entire limitless world is in front of me, rather than a dead-end, or a cliff, or an ocean I need to swim. 

How are you liking all these metaphors?  Are they working for you?  I don't think they're working for me.  I thought this post had already had time to simmer? Let's try again:

Grad school was rough.  In fact, it was pretty awful in parts.  In other parts, it was just flat-out, downright awful.  I've realized lately that, sometimes, awful happens so slowly that you don't realize it's happening.  Sometimes, awful runs you over like a semi hitting a squirrel on the highway.  Sometimes, when awful creeps and rolls and flattens you, you kind of forget what "not awful" is like.  The work of grad school was part of it: I dare you to find someone who says their clinical comprehensive exams or their dissertation was "fun."  (Actually, my dissertation was kind of fun.  It was work, but it was good was a little bit fun).  The actual work of grad school, though, was not the majority of the awfulness.  The majority of it was the extremely unhealthy environment The Program created.  The majority of it was the finding and losing of friends.  The majority of the awfulness was bullying.  The majority of the awfulness was sexual assault.  It was harassment.  It was the brushing of issues under the rug.  It was no support from The Powers That Be.  It was lies, and it was fear, and no one to trust, and anxiety, and most of all, it was the feeling of No Way Out.  It was feeling that The Program and the Bullies and the Powers That Be were omnipresent and ubiquitous.

There were good things, too.  There were friends, and there was church, and there was meaningful work, and there are people I love there who love me back.  But when you're in a place of No Way Out, it can be hard to feel that and believe it.  It can be hard to feel worthy of it.  It can be hard to feel that it's real.

When I moved for my internship (which occurs prior to graduation), I wanted to feel closure...but I didn't.  The Program, the Bullies, the Powers That Be all had power over me.  The Program and the Powers That Be had legitimate power.  They could still prevent me from graduating.  The Bullies--that power was all in my head.  I had nightmares and day-mares on the regular about all the myriad ways I imagined The Program preventing me from graduating. 

But then I did -- I graduated -- and again, I waited for and looked for closure.  It came to an extent, but I still felt they had this power over me that I couldn't name.  I still had to pass the national and state licensure exams.  Somebody could still find me, hear some version of lies from The Powers That Be in The Program, and prevent me from ever being licensed (so I told myself).  I believed that I could still fail.  I could still "prove" the people right that I felt were trying to tear me down.  They could still win. 

The national licensure test and the state exam were the last hurdles.  The very last hurdles.  After that, I would be on my own: nobody else would hold that power over me anymore that I felt would stop me or prevent me from achieving my goal.  I imagined my school refusing to release my transcripts, being unable to get documentation of my hours of clinical practice and supervision...I pictured bridges being so burned that I could not get what I needed to finish the last step.

Miraculously, none of that happened.  Documentation was provided.  With much studying and anxiety, I finished the two tests.  It's done.  It's over.  I did it, in spite of The Program, in spite of The Powers That Be, and in spite of The Bullies.  I no longer need to rely on them to provide me with anything.  The people I work with now will gladly provide anything I need.  They like me and the work that I do.  I feel that they value me, and they respect me.  I get to engage in work that fills my soul and is deeply meaningful.  In spite of everything, I get to do what I set out to do.  I saw that goal through to the very bitter end, and it feels as though a weight has been lifted.  The axe is no longer hanging over my head.  The door is closed, and my body is turned out to the world with my face towards the sun.

I am also realistic: there may be strong winds that blow that door open a bit.  There may be times it gets stuck and I need to figure out how to push it closed.  It could fall off its hinges.  The locks could break, the handle could fall off, somebody I need in my life could be on the wrong side of the door.  Anything is possible. 

But for right now, the door is closed.  The weight of those years is packed away somewhere safe.  My body is turned out to the world.  My face is turned towards the sun.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Marshall, the Love Sentinel

Ever attuned to my body 
when my thoughts turn harsh he 
nuzzles his head under my arm to create a space
crawls into my lap without invitation
rests his head against my chest and
stares brown soul eyes into my face,

When my breathing eases,
he sighs, satisfied with his work.
Belly rubs are small repayment,
and scratches behind the ears.
We breathe together till his eyes close.
This, he seems to say, is what the world must need.

I invite him next to me so I can resume my work.
He snuggles tight against my legs,
lays his head atop my knee, as if to keep watch
with one eye open:
a fuzzy love sentinel,
ever vigilant to remind me
in the moments I forget to love myself.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


She hangs her failures on heartstrings as on a Christmas tree,
highlights mistakes with spotlights
calculates regret and marks it with mile markers as she speeds down the highway.
She hides heartbreak like her body's a scavenger hunt
admits nothing in words, but wears her heart inside out so it beats her skin
and blood flows by accident, or miracle, or pull of the moon, she
sweats worry from her pores,
squints her eyes and
beautifully because
failures look like aspirations when upside down,
illuminated by a string of lights,
and there's a spark in her eyes that twinkles


Saturday, October 12, 2013

On the bad days (praise you)

On the bad days, stop.  
Feel it all.  Let it in.  And out.
List it out as anger.  Sadness.
Shame.  Regret.  Nothing at all.
Write a poem titled The End of It.  Rip it up. 
Start it again.
Sit in it.  Stand in it.  Carry it around like a colicky baby. 
Soak it into your pores. 
Allow it to wash you, like an unholy baptism. 
Write a prayer in the dust on the top of your dresser.
Blow it away.

Praise dirty dishes.  Easy Mac.  Microwaves. 
Mindless internet.  Books you've already read. 
Electronic communication so no one hears your voice.
Your shaky voice. Time without electronics.
Righteous anger.  Wells of sadness.  Holes of regret.
That which we cannot name.
Satisfactory unbelieving.
Things we can't explain.
The many ways we reach acceptance.

Praise hot, steamy showers. Cold dog noses.
The shrill whistle of the tea kettle.  
That off-key song you hum when you're alone.
Patches of sunshine on rainy days.  Falling leaves.
Days you don't put in your contacts.
Sweatpants.  10-year-old t-shirts that fit better than your skin.
Songs without words.  Words without songs.
Quiet company.  Un-silent solitude.
All the ways you find to breathe.

Praise the music you blast in the car.  The way you know all the words and
the moment you realize you've been singing it wrong.
Funky skirts that have never been trendy.
Your unruly hair.  
The moments of panic and of calm.
The tingly burn of Listerine.  Fuzzy socks.
Your fear of the basement and the spiders who live there.
The way Lubriderm still smells like your grandmother.
The many ways you smile.

Praise twisty pasta, acappella music, and coffee. 
The way your dog thinks he can catch the squirrels.
Saying "I love you" to family, just because you should.  
Saying it because you mean it.
Hugs from your dog.  The way he stretches when he wakes.
Spontaneous kisses from children that are not yours.
Hearing the words "I love you" from friends.  Knowing they mean it. 
Kind eyes behind handshakes with strangers.
The way you carry yourself into tomorrow.

On the bad days, remember to stop.
Feel everything and write it in.
Title it The Beginning and write 10 drafts,
save them all and praise starting over.
Whisper your prayer to the air. 
Watch the trees learn it and rattle in concert.
Praise the rain and let it wash you
like the holiest of baptisms, whispering:
Praise you.
Praise you.
Praise you. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rules to live by: Keep Benadryl on hand. Be gentle with one another.

So...I had a really weird reaction to some food I made tonight.  Every once in a while, my body likes to react in ways nobody seems to be able to understand.  Like one time I ate lima beans and my entire body broke out in a painful rash.  And last year I ate a veggie sandwich at Panera (which I had eaten before, and have eaten since), and my body decided to break out in a crazy rash that landed me in an Urgent Care on two different occasions because the darn thing wouldn't go away and was ugly and terrible.  Tonight, I made 2-bean chili (one of my favorite recipes), which is basically black beans, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, butternut squash, garlic, onions, and chili powder...all things I eat regularly (aside from the butternut squash, which is only semi-regularly), and my body decided it was not pleased.  So not pleased, in fact, that my tongue and throat and lips got red and puffy and funny and I'm itchy all over.  I didn't even eat a bowl of it...I just tried it a couple times.  Apparently, my body says it's a no-go, though, and when my tongue and throat are involved, I just don't argue because, you know, I kind of find breathing to be a fun activity that I would like to continue. (To make matters worse, those 3 bites were delicious, and my house smells amazing.  Doh). 

At any rate, all of that to say, I've been planning this blog post in my head all day, but now I'm itchy and puffy and I've taken a couple Benadryl, so I'm also tired and a little loopy.  And my throat and tongue feel weird.  Kinda like Will Smith in "Hitch" when he has the allergic reaction... 

...(no, seriously, it's not that bad).  I just wish that when my body decides it's not going to like something it would let me in on it so I can make an informed decision PRIOR TO eating/cooking/handling that item.  On another note, now might be the perfect time to schedule that appointment with the allergist that I've been putting off.  Nothing like a subtle prompt to move you in the right direction, right? 

I can tell that I'm going to have a difficult time staying on track right now.  Don't blame me.  Blame the Benadryl (I'm not kidding.  It doesn't just make me a little loopy.  It makes me a lot loopy.  And I also have a weird reaction to Benadryl in that it makes my limbs tingle like they're asleep and makes my skin hypersensitive to everything.  It makes me crazy, but I keep it in the house for situations like this and for bee stings because, you know, breathing is important and stuff).  

ANYWAY.  Commercial break is over.  Now it's time to get back to your regularly scheduled programming (aka what I really wanted to say tonight before my evening got derailed).

My guess is that it comes as no surprise to anyone that there are a lot of people hurting right now.  For the past two weeks or so, I have just felt (even more than usual) that we all need to be a little more gentle with one another.  People are scared.  And they're worried.  And they're angry, and they're short-tempered, and they're frustrated.  People are hurting.  It feels to me like our collective heart is sore right now.  I could see it in the faces of so many of the parents I worked with last week.  I could feel it in the grocery store.  I felt it oozing through my Facebook newsfeed.  People are hurting, ya'll, and what has come to me over and over again is that we need to be gentle.  Be gentle with each other.  Be gentle with ourselves.  Be gentle with our words and our actions.  There's so much bubbling under the surface for so many people right now.

I remembered a post I wrote a long time ago (3 years!) in which I outlined some "rules" for engaging with others.  I had forgotten the context of the post, and I no longer agree with some of the points I made (we can call that growth).  However, those 4 rules...they're pretty good rules for life in general.  In case you don't want to go back and read the post, the rules are as follows:

                1) Say something.
                2) Care about people.
                3) Listen.
                4) Speak with intention; Socialize with compassion. 

I should copyright this, you guys.  Or, like, write my own version of The Four Agreements.  Because, apparently, Benadryl makes me tired and cocky and compare myself to Don Miguel Ruiz because, you know, why not?

Tell you what...I'm going to end there tonight, because I'm not going to be able to keep myself focused much longer.  I'm a little over a page in and I've already compared myself to "Hitch" and Don Miguel Ruiz.  God only knows what will come out of my fingers next.  

I have more to say about that list, but we'll talk about those 4 items tomorrow.

In the meantime, I leave you with this poem/prayer/meditation by R.S. Gilbert:

Be gentle with one another--

It is a cry from the lives of people battered
By thoughtless words and brutal deeds;
It comes from the lips of those who speak them,
And the lives of those who do them.

Who of us can look inside another and know what is there
Of hope and hurt, or promise and pain?
Who can know from what far places each has come
Or to what far places each may hope to go?

Our lives are like fragile eggs.
They crack and the substance escapes.
Handle with care!
Handle with exceedingly tender care
For there are human beings within,
Human beings as vulnerable as we are,
who feel as we feel,
who hurt as we hurt.

Life is too transient to be cruel with one another;
It is too short for thoughtlessness,
Too brief for hurting.
Life is long enough for caring,
It is lasting enough for sharing,
Precious enough for love.

Be gentle with one another.

I don't owe you a thing...but here's a blog post anyway

So I've meant to post for the past few days, but there's been a lot going on.  Some stuff kind of hit the fan that has necessitated late night phone calls, long conversations via text and instant message, and internet research that has taken far too long.  It's not resolved, but hopefully it will be in the next few days.  It's put writing on the way back burner.

And yet, I'm here tonight.  I have about 5 open documents right now with pieces of writing I have started...but I'm not continuing them tonight.  I will, but not tonight.  Tonight I'm going to write about something different that's been on my mind a good deal the last week, in a number of different ways: what, if anything, do we "owe" other people?  There isn't a set answer for this, I realize, but I think I come down harder on this than other people might (in spite of the fact that I am "too nice."  I've heard that so many times in the past week I could vomit).

Example 1: A colleague at work has a neighbor who creeps her out.  He texts her frequently, asks her to go out with him, invites her to coffee, comes out of his door when she is coming and going, and generally, she gets a bad vibe from him.  He won't leave her alone.  She is in a committed relationship, and this guy makes her uncomfortable.  After several weeks, he finally got the hint that she was continually blowing him off and ignoring him, and he started to back off.  Then, her apartment complex was repaving the parking lot, and he texted her to remind her to move her car.  "Thanks," she texted him back.  "Hope you weren't affected by the government shut down."  He texted back that he was.  She texted back that she was so very sorry.  He texted back that he really wanted to get coffee with her.  She came into work and talked to our other colleague and I, saying that she wasn't sure what to say because he had made a nice gesture and she didn't want to be rude to his nice gesture.  Our other colleague suggested beating around the bush and not answering his question directly.  I, however, got on a soapbox about how women are socialized to believe that if someone (particularly a man) does something for them, they are obligated to do something for him in return, even if it is something they do not want to do.  I told her that he texted her to tell her to move her car, which was a nice gesture...she said thanks...she is not obligated to do anything for him in return for a text message.   I wasn't saying let the door slam in his face next time you are walking out at the same time.  I'm not saying she should aim for him in the parking lot.  I wasn't even saying that she should text him back saying, "I will not and will never ever ever go get coffee with you, you creep."  I simply indicated that she does not owe him a coffee date that she is not comfortable with purely because he texted her to move her car.

My opinion, clearly, was in the minority.

Example 2: Two colleagues -- neither of which I know very well -- engaged in a conversation with one another about their significant others.  Being significant other-less, I was fine with continuing to work at my desk while listening on and off to their conversation.  As they wrapped up the relationship Q and A with one another, K turned to me and asked, "what about you Auto?  Do you have a boyfriend?"

                "Not right now," I said, continuing to type.  I asked her a question about her boyfriend.

                "But why don't you have a boyfriend?" M asked.  "You should be dating.  Why aren't you dating?"

                "You know," I said, "I've made the choice the past few years not to date...I'm to the point that I'm starting to think I'm you never know what might happen."  I smiled appropriately and laughed, then turned back to my desk.  "Man, I have so many notes to write.  Do you guys have a ton of notes this week?" I asked, clearly redirecting the conversation.

                "You should SO be dating," M stated.  "I don't know why you're not dating.  You should be dating!  Time's ticking!  It's time!"

                "Yep, we'll see," I said.

                "Well, we should go out, and you should get drunk, and I'll be your wingwoman, and we'll get you back out there again."

                "You know, thanks for the offer, but I really need to be the one to decide when I'm ready and how I want to go about it," I said.  I hate these conversations.  I HATE them.  Words cannot express how much I hate them...and when they get pushy, or start to involve statements like the above, I start to get panicky.  There are just too many memories wrapped up in people telling me what they think I need, and when people don't listen, I get angry, and I get scared, and I start to trust them less.

                "K and I will set you up with an online profile!  We can set you up with an amazing online profile.  Don't you feel your biological clock ticking?  There's some guy out there waiting for you!"

                I can feel myself shutting her out and feel emotion flooding the places where rational thought is supposed to be.

                "Is there a reason why you're not dating?" M asked.  I paused.  Part of me wants to tell her yes.  Part of me wants to tell her that there are reasons, and what they are, and how what she is doing contributes to me feeling unsafe.  Part of me wants to stop her and tell her that she better stop and respect my verbal and nonverbal cues to end the conversation or...or else. 

                Instead, I just say, "yep," and I continue scrolling through the treatment plan needed list on my computer. 

                "Ooooooooooh," she says, like she thinks she knows something.  "Did something traumatic happen?"

                My heart catches in my throat, and for a second, because she keeps asking these questions, I feel obligated to tell her.  I feel that my vague answers necessitate some sort of explanation.  I feel that her persistence warrants some sort of response.

                But at the same time, I don't trust her.  This person is not a friend.  She is a colleague, and thus far, she has not earned my trust. 

                "In part.  Something like that," I say, figuring this, please God, must be the end of this line of questioning.

                "Ooooooooh," she says again, like she really has it figured out now.  "What happened?"

                And again, I feel for a moment that I owe her an explanation.  I have been vague and unresponsive: perhaps that makes me in the wrong, and I therefore owe her a proper answer.  Perhaps I owe it to her simply because she asked.  Perhaps I owe it to her because she is clearly curious.  Perhaps I owe it to her because there is no shame in telling stories. 

                But, I realize, I don't want to tell her stories.  I don't want to give her reasons.  I don't want to give her explanations. 

                "I'd really rather not go into it," I said.  She accepted this answer and we all went back to our progress notes and treatment plans. 

                I struggled, afterwards, feeling as though I had handled it wrong.  Feeling as though I had fallen short because I had not given her the answer I owed her.  Perhaps I had not given her the answer she deserved.

                Auto, I told myself later, you don't owe them anything.  You don't owe them your stories.  You don't owe them an explanation.  You own the rights to your stories, and who you share them with and when belongs to you. 

Example 3: This last one is a long story that is ongoing, so I'm not going to post it here.  It's enough to say that there are certain people in my life who believe that, just because we have known a person for 20 years, and because we have put up with a certain level of concerning behavior in the past, we should continue putting up with that behavior, even when it reaches unacceptable (potentially dangerous) levels because we owe it to him.  Because we owe him the benefit of the doubt.  Because it is believed that he is, essentially, a good person.  Because he's having a difficult time, and potentially doesn't have long to live, and because he has done good things in the past, it has been argued that we owe him leniency when he engages in behavior that is black-and-white unacceptable, dangerous, and makes others feel as though they are unsafe. 

I don't believe that we owe him anything.  Unacceptable is unacceptable, and dangerous is dangerous.  A history of good behavior does not make us in debt to him such that we owe him anything at all.  The only thing we owe anyone is a sense of safety and security to ourselves and our loved ones.  We owe one another and ourselves the right to say no and draw safe and healthy boundaries.  We owe one another and ourselves the right to do whatever it is that makes us feel safe, even if it means taking strides that place limits on others and may make them sad or angry.  That is the only thing we "owe" anyone. 

When I write this, I feel like a bitch.  I have been socialized to believe -- and continue to receive message indicating that I should continue to believe -- that I should be "nice" regardless of the cost to myself.  That I should go out of the way to make sure that I am doing and giving and being for others.  I owe it to them, right?

I'm not saying go out there and mow everyone over and only look out for yourself.  I'm just saying that we do not owe these things to others.  No one will give us the respect we deserve unless we ask for it -- unless we demand it.  I say we should ask for it.  I say we should demand it.  We owe it to ourselves.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

I don't do Tuesdays's what I have decided.  I am going to continue to post for the month of October; HOWEVER, I will NOT post on Tuesday or Thursday.  I won't post on Tuesdays because I hate them and because they make me tired and grumpy.  I won't post on Thursday because I don't get home from choir practice until late, and it's just too much.  If I miss another day here or there, it won't be a big deal (notice how I give myself an out already?  I'm learning, guys...).  Otherwise, expect a post M/W/F/Sat/Sun.

I also want to try posting in the morning as opposed to so late at night.  This might be an abysmal failure, and I'll probably end up doing some combination of really late and early morning....but we'll see.

Other than that, I posted every day for a month.  And now, because it's Tuesday and I have nothing profound to say, I'm calling it a day.