Somehow, I woke up this morning and it was September. Peeking into the social media world, and it’s hard to miss folks kicking up their heels in celebration of pumpkin-spiced goodies and welcoming the season of spooky and sweaters. Football is at the cusp of its season’s kickoff, and people are eagerly formulating their fantasy football leagues.
September is a notoriously hectic month in the therapy room. Sessions have a reliable uptick in frequency as people settle into the rigor of demands exuded by school, work, and regularly programmed life happenings. I’ve always wondered about the correlations. Perhaps it’s a mix of first report cards, lack of sleep, and realization we’re not in the ‘Kansas’ of summer vibes anymore.
Thematically, there has been a shared point of ‘stuckness’ amongst those who grace the therapeutic space. One that seems to be the glue that halts one’s narrative of forward progression through life and damns them to their own versions of Groundhog’s Day. While not out rightly proclaimed, this theme presents itself within narratives in forms like “I don’t know how much longer I can take this” or overgeneralizations such as “I’m always going to feel this way” and “it’s never going to get better”. The list goes on, but you have an idea of the headspace.
Fun fact, each one of us has an internal dialogue that is maintained throughout our lives.
Yes folks, we talk to ourselves.
All the time.
This does not make us crazy. This makes us living beings with abilities to form conscious thoughts. Our internal narration of our experiences and perspectives cultivates our morals, values, and opinions. Think of this as our metaphorical fingerprint that contributes to our uniqueness as individuals.
We are existing conundrums because all of us engage in an internal conflict of finding change uncomfortable, yet craving change when our experiences are perceived as stagnant. In a perfect world, we could pick and choose what changed and what stayed the same. Yet, we all know this only exists in the Marvel Universe, fairytales, and religious beliefs.
What is the story you are telling yourself?
Sit for a minute and let that question marinate within your mind. Imagine if that internal voice began to narrate through the lens of which you perceive your life. What would it say?
In a world that exists largely outside of our control, the story we tell ourselves is the one aspect that is rightfully ours. If you recall in a blog a few posts ago, I explored three aspects of life that are guaranteed to us along our journeys. These are the beginning of life, the end of it, and the change that exists in between. There are many factors that come into play that try to talk us out of these assurances such as emotions and the influence of others. The fancy term for when emotions begin to define our fate is emotional reasoning. For example, if we feel defeated, then we must be doomed to despair for the rest of our existence. Cognitive Behavior Therapy would have a hay day with that mentality.
No matter what emotions might tell us, the story we tell ourselves does not have to be dictated by overgeneralizations that knock the wind out of our sails.
Check yourself before you wreck yourself, friends.
The frustration we can all resonate with presently is extremely valid. Our experiences feel stagnant because there is a giant Pandemic interrupting our regularly scheduled expectations of how life is supposed to be. We are existing within a season of life where “this isn’t how I imagined my life” is the perpetual catch phrase. Our nation is stomping their feet and banging their fists in protest. I get it. I feel it too.
However, the frustration and anxiety does not have to dictate your story.
This is where we are faced with a choice.
We can either succumb to our emotional experiences and allow them to color our internal storylines, or we can make room for both. We can recognize our emotions and choose to honor the humans we are existing in a chapter of life that’s hard as hell.
Our lives are a chapter book.
We fill in the pages.
In what manner and through what lens is very much in our hands.
My husband and I were chatting the other night over dinner about a peculiarity we share. When we were younger, school was a natural alignment to time, such as when we were in certain grades or the year we graduated. I’m fairly certain this alignment to memories to what occurred when was somewhat clear, yet there is no promise to that. It seems the majority of my memories “pre-COVID” are a jumbled conglomeration of more innocent times filled with handshakes, hugs, and far less Lysol.
When I examine time post-COVID, the clarity is uncanny. I can distinguish memories easily, as can my husband. Whether it be attributed to the short-term or stress, it's irrelevant. It seems we are stuck with the reality that this virus is not fizzling out anytime soon.
For those who are unsure, Adjustment Disorder is a very real diagnosis. It is when there is a development of emotional or behavioral symptoms in response to an identifiable stressor that has a clinical impact and impairment on one’s ability to function within 3 months of the stressor.
Folks, we are roughly eighteen months into a hellish nightmare with no break in sight. Opinions aside, I am back to counseling with a mask on and maintaining as much social distance as appropriate. Parents sit on my couch with death grips on tissues as they process the feat of sending their children back to school yet feeling as if they are sending them into warzones. Hospitals are overflowing once again, medical professionals are seeing double, shortages of goods haunt us within most every facet of our lives. The unknowns keep us up at night, fear grips our subconscious as COVID continues to place our loved ones within hospital walls we are unable to step foot in. Unpredictability is enmeshed within our worlds and it’s showing.
It’s difficult to adjust and flex to the demands of regularly-programmed life when there is a constant stressor of a pandemic looming over our heads. We notice our zones of tolerance are shrinking, our impulsiveness to cope in unhealthy, yet numbing manners increase, and we teeter on the edge of crippling burnout on the daily. What’s-his-face is screaming at so-and-so, and the blame game is circulating like wildfire.
As a nation, I would diagnose us with Adjustment Disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct. F43.25. Clinical recommendation of consistent therapy is encouraged.
Too bad access to beneficial mental health support and/or care is near to none at the present moment.
In case anyone is wondering what career to choose, we need mental health therapists desperately. The demands for therapy have quadrupled over the past eighteen months. Go figure.
So what do we do? The most exhausted question of the therapy room recently.
We keep going.
Validate the slew of emotions that may wreak havoc on your heart. Cultivate boundaries and build them up high around your own self care and investment in grounding yourself in the present. Recalibrate the universe by small acts of kindness and shared smiles. Recognize the uniqueness of your perspective. Invest in sleep. Take your vitamins.
Don’t undermine the resiliency you muster every single day.
You deserve a sticker.
Have you ever seen the movie Up? You’d remember if you did, it hits you right in the feels. An iconic character throughout the film was a bubbly talking Labrador, Doug. Doug provided a plethora of comedic relief, and one of the scenes that stuck with me was when he was enthusiastically engaged in dialogue with someone until he caught eye of a critter, in which he abruptly proclaims mid-sentence “SQUIRREL!”.
Despite our best efforts, we have a lot in common with this goofy pup.
We exist in a world fueled by minimization and are perpetually distracted by irrelevant knick-knacks.
Think about it.
We giggle when kiddos faceplant and pop up to exclaim “I’m OK!”
Our workplaces pressure us to “man up” when we are under the weather or face emotional tragedy.
We fire off excuses to provide cushion for those who let us down or experiences that time and time again evoke disappointment.
“Yeah, she forgot my birthday, but she has a lot going on at work so it’s OK”
“He yelled at me for burning the chicken, but he had a hard day and was stuck in traffic on the way home.”
Switch gears to knick-knacks and we all have a little Doug in us. Us humans go on quests for dopamine through perusing things irrelevant to actual fulfillment. This can take many forms particular to the soul we are referring to. If we feel uncomfortable emotions, we lean on Amazon, booze, adopting cats, and taking a hit off of a vape. Instead of being taught how to ride the wave of emotionality in its authentic form, we are victims of more instant gratification through the “shiny” and convenient.
“I could reach out to a therapist to help me process my grief of losing my mother… or I could go to Target to take my mind off things.”
*Insert friendly reminder here*
One’s headspace is far more comfortable the more we validate our own experiences. Minimizing our emotions and perspectives is one of the hardest and most prevalent habits to break. The dismissal- saturated narrative of our realities fuels the cultivation of unhelpful thought patterns. These can include coming down with a case of the “shoulda coulda wouldas”, black or white thinking, or mind-reading just to name a few. It’s apart of healthy boundaries to vocalize when one’s boundaries have been breached and feelings have been hurt. Fun fact, feelings serve a purpose, as obnoxious as they may be. Anger signifies when there is an unmet need, sadness highlights the significance of something to us, and nervousness highlights when our bodies believe increase arousal is key to survival.
I recently coined the phrase “Don’t overlook your joy in the pursuit of your happiness”.
While we cannot outrun the “Doug” in us, let’s all aim to “SQUIRREL” at the things in our life that fuel our joy. We are all perpetually seeking our fantasied “final happiness destinations” in one fashion or another. Yet, many of us (including myself) overlook the joy right in front of us along the journey of life. What if we “squirreled” at the dazzle of the smile of someone we love? Or we pause to appreciate the amazement in a child’s eyes dancing in the light of fireworks? Or backtrack to admire the radiance of a deep-red flower along the sidewalk on our ways to our cars in the mornings before work?
Tune into the awareness of how minimization and the preoccupation of irrelevant knick-knacks within your day-to-day. Your soul will thank you.
Truth be told, there is nothing ‘idle’ about me. I feel most at home in my body when I’m on the go, embracing the fluidity I have been blessed with. What’s even better is when I’m able to move in harmony with another, my favorite being a horse. My mind seems to follow my body’s lead in congruence, reliably mulling over one thing or another. Chipping away at a goal, even if the goal must be creatively dreamt up. I am pretty certain my spirit animal is the Energizer Bunny. The beat of my metaphorical drum sounding its predictable melody day after day.
It was so much easier to feel at home in my mind and body before my world got turned on its head.
My paths to busy were smooth from years of trekking. My mindfully preoccupying outlets were secure and oh-so-comfortable. I practically purred from contentment.
I had the security of a textbook, the support of superior supervising professionals, and the joy of my horse I felt soulfully connected to.
The noise of my contentment drowned out the fact time was marching forward. Subtle, and then all at once, I was met with the consequence of growing up.
I’m left looking around my world, lost in the aftermath of a chapter of a good time.
Clutching a halter with no horse to catch, entering a barn with no whinny to welcome.
The letters following my name signal my expertise, however lonely it may be.
Grief has become a heavy brick I tote around during my days. I have mastered the art of neatly tucking it away as I pull on my ‘therapist-mask’ to disguise the sadness pooled behind my eyes. I admit, I leave this mask on after I exit the therapy room on days the brick is too rough to sit with. It creates distance not only from myself, but from my longing for the mane I so desperately want to bury my face in.
Yet, despite this brick, I have also begun to feel joy again. At first, it came out of nowhere; the laughter bubbled up from my chest, clearing out the cobwebs as it sounded from my soul. The reason was just as equally ridiculous. I was watching a short clip of people parkouring onto foam, yelling from the top of their lungs. Something in me clicked into place, as if a cogwheel within my heart became unstuck. For whatever reason, something about the ridiculousness of these men flinging themselves off of high places to land dramatically in a pile of foam was deeply relatable. A perfect example of what it has felt like to move through this past year. Suddenly, I was peeling with laughter, the sound startling all occupants of my home. For those few moments my soul leaned into joy and I relished in the lightness. As if I had rubbed the fog off a cloudy mirror and caught a glimpse of the girl who had gone into hibernation the moment she kissed her beloved horse goodbye.
Since then, I’ve been mindful about my body and mind’s propensity for both. During my days, I take note of the heaviness of my evolving grief, and yet the beginnings of other sensations like passion and enjoyment. Feelings I had all but given up on. Feelings I soulfully believed were buried alongside Sadie. I traveled through life for a long time believing she was the keeper of my happy.
While Sadie took such good care of my heart, it’s time for me to take back ownership. It was never Sadie’s burden to bear the responsibility of my joy, and I realize this now. She blessed me with innumerable gifts, and the ability to grow up with the guarantee of my happy being tangible out in the world was one of them. No matter the obstacle, she was there. No problem could outweigh the promise and security I knew from the love of that creature. It’s the kind of fierce love that knows no limits, even after one soul is gone. I feel her all around me, and I feel her in the preservation of my joy.
Sometimes sadness can bear an overpowering brunt on us. Anger can flow through our veins and ignite us with rage. But I want to recognize that these times are guaranteed temporary. Our range of emotion and the rhythm of the ocean have something in common in that is they flow. Emotions and the ocean waters are never stagnant. There is a promise in our abilities to feel more than one emotion at any given time. Just as we can be brimming with sorrow, we can also peel with laughter than warms our bones and hurts our cheeks. We can feel deeply, and many things at a time, and this is a good thing. This is our ticket to healing.
Lean into the space where the comfortable and uncomfortable exist.
This is authenticity in its rawest form.
I’m Watching the Olympics this year, and my heart is breaking.
Heavy as I catch glimpses into the vulnerability these athletes are having to bare.
There’s an element to these games that has gone unspoken and I can see it slowly suffocating our beloved Olympians.
They are not meant to do this alone.
On the surface, these people are polished. The epitome of health. Their bodies scream athleticism. Yet, these shouts seem to distract from the chaos that swirls within them.
The chaos has begun to peak through their chiseled exteriors. The raw emotional storm that wrecked through Dressel at the sight of his loved ones thousands of miles away after he won Gold in the 100m freestyle begged tears from my eyes. Perhaps it’s just me, but those tears were not solely from the joy of triumph but echoed the soulful sorrow of isolation and longing. He and his people all but reached for one another through the screens. The media tried in desperate attempts to shrug the video connection off as a “blessing they get to connect so soon after the meet”. Yet, their was deep pain that flickered behind his eyes.
Olympians are not meant to do this alone.
Oh Simone. Beautiful girl, my heart swells for you. The building of the media’s perseveration on her as God-like cultivated nothing beneficial. She’s a glimmer of light in a world gagged by darkness, and she has had to bear the brunt of millions desperation for joy. The limelight was thrust upon her, and she was willed into America’s distraction without much say.
So many are so quick to brush off the horrendous trauma Simone and so many others endured. Stuck in their privilege of not having first hand experience with the post traumatic stress symptoms survivors of abuse endure unabatedly.
We took this young woman, willed her into giving up her humanness for the sake of our joy, and plopped her on a stage to perform in nothing but a robotic nature.
Olympians are not meant to do this alone.
Our beloved athletes don’t do this for their own selfish pride. They do not train for hours a day, seven days a week, for years for pure self-satisfaction and bragging rights.
They do this for those that make their word go around.
They do this for the fulfillment of the systems they exist in.
Without those that create safe spaces and ooze unconditional love as they shout out words of encouragement until their voices cease to exclaim, the ability to remain grounded and centered becomes off-kilter.
Simone is just as human as you are.
Dressel is just as human as the person next to you.
The amazing people who are a world away are more deserving of our love and support than perhaps any Olympians before them. Personally, I am in awe of the resiliency embraced.
We, nor they, are meant to do this thing called life, alone.
I live for the phrases I hear throughout my days that tickle my soul. That stop me mid-step as if I hear the tune of a catchy song, I can’t help but whistle along to. The flavor of these phrases are enticing, and I follow the tangential muse as one would be drawn to the aroma of a savory sweet wafting through one’s home. For someone whose mind is always busy, these phrases are a welcome change of mental pace.
A hop, skip, and jump ago, I stumbled across the witticism “recalibrate the universe”. Someone was nursing a bruised ego of being stood up, and another someone responded to their defeat in this notable way. I couldn’t help but let a grin spread across my face at the thought of living life abundantly in response to a disappointing situation.
I mean, think about it.
It’s quite the middle finger to the composition of a lackluster experience.
A commonality in my work is reexamining how we manage our power in any given situation. Whenever we devote our mind’s dwellings to anxiety or overbearing anger, we are also handing over our personal power to the source of discomfort on a silver platter. For those who provoke the most discomfort out of us, logically they don’t deserve to harbor one of our most sacred possessions, our minds. The complexities that exist in our own heads are so underwhelmingly cherished nowadays. As if it’s a fad to make the existence in one’s own internal dialogue as disastrous as possible. Negative self-talk is popularized due to the critical nature of possessing a contented image of oneself. The popular misconception is that this is “selfish” or “self-absorbed”.
That might be why this simple collection of words threw me off in the most delightful way.
One of the ways we can maintain our power in the face of obstacles or hardships is to focus on recalibrating the universe. Not divulging our thought patterns to the soul-sucking nature of resentment, but to throw our metaphorical middle fingers up in the air and proclaim the right to our power, our thoughts, and our responses to the bullshit that we are all guaranteed to stumble across.
By embracing the courage to live our lives out loud.
You find yourself being stood up by a date? Treat yourself to a three-course meal.
You feel undervalued by your boss? Invest your free time in a passion that lights your world on fire.
You lose two dear family members and your cherished animal companion in the span of three months? Honor their memories and book a trip that prioritizes joy because life is too damn short.
The obstacles that are promised in life do not warrant the robbery of our own personal power. Sure, they demand room within our minds, but they certainly do not have the right to become permanent residents to preoccupy us from the present. You all have the right to your own power and what takes up space in your mind. You are all worthy of this. Despite what the cruelty or ill-natured humans may proclaim.
Go forth, my delightfully messy humans.
Recalibrate the universe by the act of living life out loud.
How Does that Make you Feel?
The infamous line to any assumption of what being a Mental Health Therapist is like.
This assumption is generally followed by images of humans wrapped up in various cardigans, cross-legged in an oversized chair, with framed glasses perched on the end of their noses.
What if I were to burst your bubble and tell you all these myths (besides the cardigans…man do I have a love affair with those suckers) are not entirely true. Honestly, that one-liner is rarely utilized during my work with clients. There also is not a workday that passes without me cross-legged on the ground processing with a kiddo at one point or another.
While I always smile when I catch myself voicing off this stereotypical question, the truth around the premise of working with a Mental Health Therapist is largely skewed. So many clients arrive to therapy craving to remove an emotion from their experienced repertoire. Or perhaps they have been tantalized by the wishful thinking that clinicians are secretly Hogwarts graduates and can whip out our wands and rid them of their challenges with a glittery *poof*.
No folks, no glitzy magical wands are harbored by us therapists.
The point of therapy is to not rid you of the emotional experiences that are seemingly keeping you stuck in the uncomfortable trenches, but to shed light on the choices on what we do with our emotions. The fine print of being a human is that our feelings are an all or nothing situation. We either lean into the full gamut of human emotion, recognizing we must feel the uncomfortable feelings in order to have access to the comfortable, or we shut off one emotion, which quickly leads to a robbing of ANY emotional experience. While our brains seem to show off complexity, our relationship with emotions tend to be dramatic in this sense.
But in all honesty, when we run away from an emotional experience, we tend to lose sight of fully experiencing any emotion to it’s potential. So, if we occupy ourselves with running from emotional pain, then we also lose out on the ability to experience feelings such as joy, pleasure, excitement, and fulfillment. We are simply too distracted by our marathon from the ghost of pain’s past to settle long enough to reap the benefits of emotions we tend to enjoy.
This is where a Mental Health professional steps in.
As a client, one will quickly learn that growing pains do not only occur in their legs.
Therapy is not easy! For the simple fact that a part of the work is to learn how to sit with discomfort of whatever is haunting you. A part of my duty as a clinician is to aid in fostering self-awareness which leads to enlightenment, and this can be a painful process! Not like being stabbed in the stomach by a large knife, but like that burn you feel during an intense gym workout.
Here’s the cold, hard, truth:
Therapy does not work unless you work therapy.
Read that again. Slower this time.
It is NOT a therapist’s job to tell you what to do, or to take an emotional experience away from you. If this happens, please exit stage left ASAP. A therapist’s job is to create a safe, nonjudgmental space for someone to come face-to-face with their “ghosts”. From here, the therapist will foster exploration of different reframes, and processing of the choices the client has in what they do with their emotional experiences. Therapy is an empowering process in which we gain the courage to face our demons, rewrite our patterns, and break generational traumas.
Therapy is an opportunity to rewrite your narrative.
Yet, the key word is opportunity.
Remember, us therapists do not (yet) have magical powers.
Therapy does not work unless you work therapy.
It’s been a few weeks since the official dive into summer break for our students across the country. In Florida, the sun is bearing down on our shoulders cultivating the predictable afternoon storms that roll in to cool off the scorching ground. Typically, I would see routine travel plans followed by quick adjustments to client’s scheduling needs. Yet, this year, I am left sitting with the sounds of crickets as the masses flee any resemblance of routines.
Everyone is kicking up their heels and packing their bags, yet where does that leave me?
Do I add more clientele, risking the scheduling consequences for those actively seeking their joy? Do I wait for the chaotic drive for freedom to die down, twiddling my thumbs and watching my financial income dwindle? Of course, I will always hope for healing, and that the quest for peace is long lasting for those whom I was humbly apart of their healing journeys. Yet, I struggle to fully embrace the lull and wrestle with the urge to sink into disarray at the look of my spotty schedule.
There are disparities within the business realm of the mental health world. Take a peek into the logistics of working in a community mental health setting, and you will choke at the insulting pay rates and demand to meet idealistic client quotas. Yet there is a “steady” paycheck, however discrediting it may be, and there are higher potentials for traditional benefits. Most of the time, these “perks” are hardly worth the demands to put aside our humanness as clinicians and serve as robots dressed in human outfits.
If you're wickedly blessed like I am and find opportunity to work as a clinician in a private practice setting, the flexibility to attend to the human parts of you is far more attainable. Private practice allows for therapists to construct schedules and caseloads that are realistically doable, so burnout is not at the forefront of our minds. We are able to adjust rates that are fitting for our skillsets, and we are better able to embrace the quality of our abilities to best serve our clients. Yet, if I do not see clients or foster “billable” hours, there is no method of generating income. Pursuing benefits such as insurance or retirement saving plans fall on my shoulders. All are of which completely understandable. Yet, these “cons” to the private practice sector carry their own weight in what can keep me up at night.
Life carries onto its tempo in the form of seasons, and I am leaning into the discomfort that this suspension in caseload predictability has a promise of non-permanence. It is good practice to store away income when business is bustling, and budget responsibility when interludes in therapy sessions and high cancellation rates are abundant. It’s a reality that therapists in our current stagnant system must face.
I am tipping my hat to those soaking up the good times away from the rigor of their typical responsibilities, knowing the challenges I am facing are not their burden to carry.
This is merely a snapshot into the realities of the business side of mental health therapy. Our associations and organizations are tirelessly advocating for shifts within the macrocosm that runs the systems we exist in. License portability, wider insurance recognition of the importance of creating a smoother pathway to mental health accessibility, and generating more attention to the realistic needs of clinicians are just a few things on the forefront of the discussion points.
Cheers to summer!
What a lifetime this past school year has been. I have never witnessed the level of collective burnout amongst our youth like I have with the seemingly drawn-out conclusion of this particular school year. The number of novel experiences and disruptions to the typical flow of the academic year was enough to drive our kiddos bonkers. Final exams were held six weeks prior to the last day of school, state-wide testing was held four weeks in advance, and then everyone fumbled with tasks to keep the students busy until the states were satisfied with the number of days the children spent inside the educational walls.
As a clinician, it’s fascinating to observe the collective patterns of those within the community that I work in. My colleagues and I joke that something must be in the water, due to the overarching patterns of behavior that we seemingly bare witness to. If one client has a bad week, it seems the majority face obstacles they must navigate. If one client proclaims a planned vacation, all of the sudden, other proclamations of travels pop up within my caseload.
The ripple effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is still quite frequently felt, even a year and a half after the initial panic. Although I hear frequently that “we are returning back to normal”, I acknowledge that this “normal” we are all clamoring to is a desperate attempt to overlook the aftershocks of the traumatic blow to our World. Beneath the surface, we are no where near the state of equilibrium we all chase in our dreams. This summer is laced with the impacts of the pandemic, including the overarching theme of “getting the hell out of dodge”.
Yep, a large part of my caseload is packing up their bags and embarking on adventures outside of the bubbles they have been trapped in since the start of statewide lockdowns. The release of pressure from the chaotic school year has many breathing temporary sighs of relief which impact the overbearing presence of whatever dysfunction or challenge that originally led them to therapy. I wave goodbye to my clients and their families as they make the most out of this burst of optimistic energy. As if we all subconsciously recognize the calm before the return of the storm.
I wish the culture surrounding vacations or unplugged adventures could permanently mimic the mindset that I see present within my current community. Prior to the pandemic, vacations were almost not worth the exhausting effort it took to prepare our worlds to continue to spin without us. Guilt and anxiety, more often than not, talked us out of extended escapades, and we grappled with the crippling burnout simmering beneath the surface of our souls. Fast forward to present day, and the narrative of society is turned on it’s head. We are witnessing millions quit their jobs after returning to the office to sit with the suffocating ways of “what used to be”. The curse and the blessing of a forced hiatus from our usual is that we gain clarity into the dysfunction of our routines. Others have borne witness to insurmountable grief and loss that it forced their hand in what they prioritize within their lives.
We miss our people. We are hopelessly homesick for the memories and places we felt peace. We are tremendously in need of a heaping dose of happy. I don’t know about you, but I am so sick and tired of feeling sad.
Perhaps this normalized momentum toward the necessity of vacation and quests for happy will be here to stay. It’s difficult to muster up optimism (yet another ripple effect of the pandemic), yet here I am wishing upon a star. Tuning into the culture surrounding time out of the office as a clinician, it’s even more difficult to slip away without worry for our clients tugging at our thoughts. As a therapist, I am chronically fatigued from the anguish swirling around as a result of the trauma that has raged. Just as this past school year has been unequivocally novel to our children, families, and teachers, this stent of time has been unseen before in the mental health realm. In no graduate school textbook will you find a chapter on “unique needs and treatment plans for those experiencing a pandemic”. We therapists have been functioning as trailblazers as we struggle to wear all the hats necessary to serve as a supportive clinician. Your girl is wiped out.
Take it from a therapist who has sat with insuperable pain, grief, terror, anxiety, and sadness. Who has consulted with her colleagues who feel just as overwhelmingly fatigued. Who has struggled to dedicate enough compassion to her own self-care during this season of catastrophe.
Take the damn trip.
Call out of work.
Take the mental health day.
Embrace the peace we all direly deserve.
We really do not give Kindergarten the credit it deserves when it comes to the values it encapsulates. Some wise soul decided to craft a book about the lessons learned in the year prior to jumping both feet into the academic rat race. Its humble wittiness is endearing.
Ms. Wahloo was the delightful name of my Kindergarten teacher. Imagine the vivacious teacher from The Magic School Bus and you’ve got an idea of the soul that graced the classroom that year. To grab the attention of 20+ youngsters with the attention spans of hamsters, she would clap out a pattern to signal us to follow suit. Then, she would place a finger over her mouth and poise two fingers with her other hand above her head. Again, the expectation was for us little humans to copy the pose. Years later, I connected the dots and realized the two fingers meant listen with both ears.
What a lesson this is, that is so underappreciated once we exit the Kindergarten classroom.
I cannot tell you how many people grace my office that only listen with one ear. One ear to capture the dialogue of the experiences different from their own, and the other ear is distracted by the buzz of their own flustered internal dialogue that is busy preparing to rebuttal whatever narrative is shared by the other.
So often, we become conditioned to listen to respond, forgetting that the true purpose of listening is to understand.
My favorite cop-out line is “I hear what you’re saying but…”
Oy, if only people knew the negating nature of that “but”.
I will admit, I had to complete a master’s program to relearn the original intent of listening, including relearning how to properly attend to those I am engaged with. This meant I had to exercise the art of putting aside my own agenda to sit with the experiences of someone else’s that were different from my own. This was easily one of the most arduous skills to incorporate into my clinical repertoire.
What makes putting a pause on our own agendas so difficult? Perhaps it’s the irritating experience of perceived misunderstanding on behalf of the others involved in the dialogue. Defensiveness derives from a place of vulnerability that nobody wants to validate. If we acknowledge the vulnerability in the room, then we must sit with the fact that it’s an impossible feat to fully “get” the differing perspectives circulating within a discussion. Desperate to cover up our humanness, we latch onto the idealistic expectation of convincing others our experiences are the most “correct”. Yet, all this pattern of interaction does is chase one another around the metaphorical bush.
I work toward normalizing the act of pausing as a clinician. This always throws me back to the stance Ms. Wahloo took with the two fingers high above her head. As youngsters, we adapted to the mindful nature this simple pose signified. We were not focused on the internal dialogue poised to attack in response. Instead, we placed our bumbling agendas to the side and attended with both ears to the thoughts and feelings of the bubbly teacher we adored. Perhaps this is where we get lost. We so often sidestep the compassion that humans are worthy of and get lost in the shame of vulnerability that is cued by hurt feelings.
Something they forget to teach us in grade school is that we must achieve understanding prior to problem solving in any vocalized interaction with others. If we jump right into problem solving, it is as if we begin to build a new house before the old one is finished burning. We must first attend to the fire prior to beginning new construction. This means we must first hit the pause button and tune into the worlds of those we are stuck with in a misunderstanding. Validation of the authentic nature of another’s experiences primes each party for adequate problem solving. It’s enormously helpful to muster up compassion while this pause button is hit, so that we can fight the urge to listen to respond and instead focus on empathizing with the other’s perspectives. This does not mean you must agree with their perspective, but to merely exude empathy that this is in fact the other’s stance on the matter. Similar, yet vastly different.
Your patience will nag you as you first habituate to the engagement of dual-ear listening. It’s difficult to sit with the discomfort of misunderstandings and exude compassion when also experiencing frustration. All completely and utterly valid experiences. Yet, if you’d like to sidestep the mundane sprint around the metaphorical bush of disagreements, this practice of listening with both ears will pay off in the long run.
Plus, that Kindergarten teacher would be quite proud.
Heck, they would probably even give you a sticker.