An entertaining component of working with people and joining with them along their journeys is learning new terms and phrases. I’ve picked up all sorts of things from the “kids” ranging from “what’s the tea?” to “You’re vibin’”.
Recently, I heard a new phrase utilized by a practicing clinician at a place where a collection of professionals were conversing (Yes, it was a small gathering that practiced social distancing and my mask was securely in place above my nose). Instead of being amused by the phrase, I was perplexed, and grateful my mask covered the parts of my face that gave away my puzzlement. This phrase was “turn and burn”, in which was utilized in the premise of delivering assessments and diagnoses, and then promptly whisking them out the door without a referral to be had.
So many tangential thoughts raced through my mind. This professional appeared seasoned, and well-respected by the gaggle of others surrounding them. They spoke with a plethora of clinical dialogue, however stated an opinion of which causes them to “turn and burn” a particular category of clients. The casual way they threw this phrase into the open awoke the advocate in me.
Perhaps this phrase helps distance a person from the vulnerability that can engulf someone whenever they do not feel fit to aid in someone’s healing. One size does not indeed fit all in the world of mental health, and it can uncomfortably twinge every time this occurs. Take it from a therapist whose been in this world for only a handful of years, it takes a hot minute to find your way toward your preferred population. A hot minute full of awkwardness, anxiously slow sessions, and a room full of people who do not “vibe”.
So, I can understand the discomfort with this type of vulnerability. It keeps us on our therapeutic toes so that we continuously act in the best interests of our clients.
Perhaps it’s the “burn” part that singes my desire to explore this with this person.
It ties back to a past tangent I’ve been keeping in my back pocket. The majority of my caseload are minors, and I’ve read through my fair share of psychological evaluations. The hang up is that the majority of the evaluations I peruse were completed years ago. Presently, this is the first time families pursue therapy, although these evaluations clearly state mental health disorders and/or learning disabilities. These gaps in time are so thematic and equally as frustrating. Perhaps other clinicians have noticed this discrepancy.
This is the “burn”.
The discrepancy of our therapeutic world. The disconnect that impacts our ability to provide comprehensive care. Think about if you went to the emergency room for pain in your back. The ER ran an extensive number of tests and diagnosed you with scoliosis. They recommended you seek out the appropriate therapeutic approach. Next, they swiftly say “best of luck” and escort you toward the exit, never to be seen again. Imagine standing outside of this door, with answers, however without guidance on steps to remedy your pain.
No, the emergency room would encourage you to seek out a physical therapist, one that’s most likely covered by health insurance.
Jump over to the mental health world and our system hardly follows such fluidity. This is not mental health professionals' fault to a certain degree. The nature of the macrocosm of the US does not support it. Mental health is still very much in the fight for recognition as a form of heath that’s as vital for the pursuit of a full life as physical health is. Up until a few moons ago, I had no clue the particular professionals at this experience existed within the community I’ve been practicing in for the past few years. Sure, I know of some, but certainly not enough.
Standing there, I felt as if most of us exist on our own solitary therapeutic islands. All of us pursue the same desire to help and heal, and while we seek out consultation and support from those on our very small islands, there is little in the ways of building bridges.
I have hopes that one day, our nation will fully recognize the necessity of mental health and view it in such a proactive light as physical health is focused in. That comradery is composed in such a manor that when we feel the vulnerability creep in, we don’t have to “burn” but instead refer to our phonebook of colleagues whom follow a theoretical orientation that far better benefit the humans standing before us. I hope that “turning and burning” will be a phrase of the past as a highlight of the growth that lies before us.
Cheers fellow clinicians, I see you. We’ve got this.
Once upon a time there was this neighbor. First impressions colored him as a quirky, fun-loving character who was enjoying his first year of retirement tooling around with his mini cooper, singing off-key to Pop Reggae tunes. I appreciated his zealous personality and his way of embracing the music he blared as he pulled into his driveway each time.
Then one day, this neighbor showed his sassy, low-key rude side by confronting me about the way our handyman was going about disposing scraps from the bathroom remodeling we were having done. All would have been fine and well, if it weren’t for the fact, he had stopped me in the middle of the road as I was trying to quickly let my dog out in between telehealth sessions. The cherry on top were the classic power-move words “young lady”.
*Insert major eye roll here*
Quick tangent- Unless a person is an obvious minor, please never under any circumstance, refer to a woman as “young lady”, especially if you identify as male. This name is a commonly used power move that men slip in to demean a woman’s presence in a conversation or interaction. A fabulously irritating microaggression against a woman, that will most likely cause her to lose a substantial amount of respect for said man utilizing said phrase.
After bluntly exiting that lovely disruption to my peace, I began to hold onto the belief that this quirky neighbor was not so delightfully quirky after all. I’ve worked my tush off to get to where I am in this world and am in no mind space to entertain a lad who uses his status as an older lad to exude judgement on my intelligence or competency as a working woman.
Fast forward a few months, and this story finds itself in the middle of a sleepy September morning. Per usual, my husband took our fur child out for his morning constitution as I sat perched at the dining room table, quietly munching on my chocolate Cheerios absorbed in the Today Show. Husband and fur child return, husband kisses wife goodbye, and heads off to work. I follow soon-after and find a white envelope stuffed neatly under my windshield wiper. Puzzled, I open the envelope to discover a very grumpy handwritten letter folded up with a picture of my husband holding the leash of our fur child relieving himself on his front lawn.
You would have thought we threw a flaming poo bag through this man’s window. The letter practically spit venom as he ranted and raved about the audacity we have to let our dog pee in HIS yard. To keep our fur child’s bodily fluids in OUR yard.
All sorts of things about this letter flustered the hell out of me. From leaving the letter on my car after waiting for my husband to depart, to being irate about a dog peeing in his grass, to the passive aggressive nature of the whole thing.
You can probably guess what followed. My hot-headed nature got lit on fire. I was over the passive power plays, the self-righteousness I perceived, and the chronic nitpicking. I wrote a very…poignant letter in response not-so-kindly requesting he check his self before he wrecks himself.
Thankfully, my husband has an incredibly level head when confronting conflict, and helped me process my uncomfortable emotions that did not involve joining in this neighbor’s petty communication styles. I left the letter tucked away in the computer and relied on my nonverbals to communicate “DON’T”.
Now, we referred to this neighbor as “mean neighbor”. He was avoided and dismissed. He would wave and I would blink back in response and carry on with my day. I had resolved it in my mind. He was dubbed “mean neighbor” and no act of kindness could sway my mindset.
Until last night.
My husband and I got home late, a normal occurrence nowadays with how the world is spinning. We decided to walk fur child together, a chance to get some fresh air and air out the day’s heaviness. As we exit our driveway, mean neighbor comes out of his garage and exclaims “Hey can I talk with you for a moment?”
“Oh boy” my mind sighs, my body brisling at the thought of interacting with this man.
Then, something unexpected occurs.
He said, “I’m sorry.”
We dove into a somber conversation regarding his passive aggressive actions and ways of communicating. He shared that this year has not been kind, and that he was having some bad days and seemed to leave his frustrations in my windshield wiper or in the way he regarded me.
In that moment, I did not just see mean neighbor, but a whole human standing in front of us. A human whose experiences have been just as rough as mine this past year, and the heaviness he was so passionately trying to carry. His reactions to how unfair this world has been in the past 10 months or so were a product of his vulnerability and fear.
It’s safer to be angry. We all have experienced an insurmountable level of pain and fear as occurrences have reminded us at a rapid rate how little control we actually have. How little weight our plans carry. Pain and fear are perhaps the most vulnerable emotions we can experience. It cues our instincts to “cover up” in desperate attempts at self-preservation. So, what do we do after we “cover up”? We choose things we believe we have control over to express our discomfort through. It could be a number of things from the election, or conspiracy theories, masks vs no masks, food, alcohol, exercise, or in this case, a letter in a windshield.
I was thankful for the reminder and the reframe that this simple, but powerful interaction with this neighbor brought. It reminded me that everyone has a story they are writing that carries its own narrative of pain, fear, hardship, and discomfort. That sometimes, it’s human nature to relocate our uncomfortable emotions into outlets we have a sense of control over. Sometimes, it’s easier to hide behind anger, because we fear we will shatter into pieces if we drop the tough exterior. I get it.
So, mean neighbor is now empathetically regarded as the “whole human” who lives across the street.
Welcome to level eleven of Jumanji! During this level we get to survive the over-exhausted 2020 Election while managing raw emotions and increase levels of anxiety, wahoo!
All joking aside, is anyone really “OK” this week?
There is no way to escape the emotionality that is exuberantly displayed right now. Turn on any form of media and we are bombarded with skewed political commercials. Drive down the road and there are copious amounts of signage loudly exclaiming party candidates. Our phones are constantly buzzing with “reminders to vote!” and beckoning to “volunteer” at the polls, despite declining numerous times.
Everyone is talking about “it”. Family, co-workers, partners, dentists, neighbors, clients, children just to name a few. All firing off their opinions like their opinion is the most righteous one, a fire dancing within their eyes begging for someone to challenge their political stance so they can shout to the heavens about how grand and spectacular their candidate is, and that the other one is some form of scum of the Earth.
There is a different, more unnerving flavor to the 2020 Election. While all the above could more-or-less be poignant of any presidential election, there is something… off. Something that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Something that tips off tempers, insinuates tensions, and creates barbaric distances and alienations from one another.
People are hurting, badly.
The collective systemic trauma we have all endured for months on end has wreaked havoc on us. All of us have experienced some form of discomfort, grief, panic, anxiety, burnout, depression, or loss. The lack of general structure surrounding the response to the trauma has been weak, and everyone is grasping at the faltering foundation. Grasping into thin air, hanging onto anything that provides a sense of security. Irrationality is thrown into the abyss, and suddenly everyone is “right” and everyone else is “wrong”.
Unity has been demolished by our trauma.
Squashed, eaten, evaporated.
The Election is serving as a conduit for the build-up of emotional constipation and suppression. Finally! An outlet for us to express our pain, our discomfort, our invalidated voices.
But, it’s just too much anguish for any modality to handle.
This Election has been blown into a different version of reality. The consequences of this are swirling around us like the tornado in The Wizard of Oz. Conspiracy theories are expanding in faithful and firm believers at an exonerated rate. Political candidates are adopting God-like complexes, debates transforming into practically fistfights. Humble conversation and respectful regard for other’s experiences thrown away like yesterday’s newspaper.
Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4, and let out for 4.
Your experiences matter.
Everyone’s experiences matter.
I am so sorry for your trauma. For the discomfort and pain you have experienced with the world invalidating your voice in one way or another.
Please, don’t let your pain color the lens you regard others through.
Different experiences create different opinions and truths. This has been the way of things since the dawn of time and human’s ability to think abstractly. Please remember the 6 vs 9 metaphor we explored a few blogs ago. This still is applicable.
This week, please exude empathy for not only your experiences, but the experiences of others. Remember, we have all developed our truths through the ways we have experienced our worlds. A lot of people are hurting and are engulfed in their own battles. The safest way for humans to express emotions like these are through anger, rage, and all things aggressive.
You are no more or less human than the person standing next to you.
So folks, be mindful of the experiences swirling around you. If your candidate wins, please do not aggressively gloat or shame. If your candidate loses, please nurture the pain, sadness, or grief that comes along with this experience. Remember that your truth is valid, however it is not the only valid truth.
I beg you.
Remain vigilant of the humanness of others, for that is our ingrained right and worthiness, regardless of the “rights” and the “wrongs”.