Sunday, February 14, 2016

My work is to always remember this

My work is to know this: the young man who punched a hole in my office wall, who told me every week for 6 months that he fucking hated this fucking place, and why couldn't he get the fuck out of here, is an amazing, holy, brilliant being living in a world that does not understand him. 

When I told him he would soon have a new therapist, he said, "Well, Grundy --" he always called me Grundy, "I can accept that, as long as this new doctor is like you.  Except maybe with a smaller forehead.  You have a fucking huge forehead and it always freaked me out a little."

There was a pause as I chose whether to just accept the compliment, or to go for the social skills goal and correct the forehead comment, but he continued to say, "I mean, no offense."

"None taken," I say, joy rising in my chest and tears rising in my eyes, because this is the work.  I look in his face, with his awkward, shuffling feet and shifting gaze, and I say, "I am so proud of you.  What you just said was amazing and kind.  I am really, really lucky to have been able to spend time with you, and I am so incredibly proud of all of the hard work you have done."

And, of course, he responded to this by kicking the wall gently with his foot and saying, "fucking Grundy."  And it felt right, you know?  Because this is the work.  This work of process, of love, of presence, of holy, of mess and mistakes and hard and ugly heavy truth of it.  This. 

The truth is that I am the one who is lucky to spend time with families who entrust me with their children.  I am lucky to spend time with some of our society's most vulnerable citizens, and from them, my work is to learn.  My work is to see all the ways there are to be in this world, and my work is to deeply, honestly, and truthfully value their lives and what they bring to me, to their parents, and to the world.  My work is to do this, unfailingly, when others have stopped-- because they have, and they will. 

The work is loving the process.  The work is not taking anything seriously or personally because nothing is serious or personal; and the work is taking everything seriously and personally, because it is all serious.   It is all personal. 

My work is choosing the story above to tell you, because it is the one I think you can hear and understand.  It is knowing there are many, many stories that you just wouldn't.  No offense.

My work is trying to learn how to tell the stories so you don't hear them as being about me.  It is wanting to teach the world to unlearn the ways they see my work as selfless, and hard, and sad.  It is never being sure how to do this without sounding selfless.

My work is learning to be fully present with the 17 year old who licks his hand and wipes it across my face 24 times an hour.  To be fully present with the 10 year old who smears feces in my session room.  To be fully present with the 8 year old who urinates on the floor in my session room. 

My work is to live my values with the children who bite me and break skin, necessitating blood work and HIV testing.  To live my values with the child who gave me a concussion.  To live my values with families I do not agree with.  To live my values with families who do not agree with me.

My work is to stand on the side of love with the parents who do the best they can, but cannot care for their children.  To stand on the side of love with the children whose parents cannot love them.  To stand on the side of love with families as they fight systems of oppression and injustice, and to lend my power and voice where I am able. 

My work is to allow my heart to be broken when the babies I fight hard for fall victim to the multiple layers of systemic injustice that threaten to swallow them.  My work sometimes is to cry in private for those children that nobody cared enough about because their needs were too intense; their skin was the wrong color; their disability was too severe; their parent was too sick, or uninvolved, or overwhelmed, or poor. 

This is the only tragedy in my work.

My work is to remember the names of pet fish, favorite superheros, imaginary friends, and grandmas.  My work is to know the function of their stereotypic behavior, to run functional behavior assessments, to teach replacement behaviors and coping skills, and to teach parents protocols for nocturnal enuresis and elopement.  My work is to know the yardstick by which I am measuring each child's success so intimately that I can see each millimeter of progress from across the room.  My work is to do this with all of the 50 kids on my caseload as though they are the only one that matters.
 
My work is to always remember that, in that moment, they are the only one who does. 

My work is to remember this: when I was a graduate student, I had a particularly challenging, aggressive, and deeply wonderful client.  On our last day together, her mother hugged me tight and sobbed heavy tears onto my shoulder.  "I always knew she was amazing, but I never thought anyone but me could ever love her," she said.  "Thank you for loving my daughter."

My work is to remember this always.

There are days when I can still feel her tears upon my cheek.

***As always, stories/examples are composites of several clients to maintain confidentiality.***