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.
There are many constructs floating around within our experiences that are not meant to be ours to hold. Yet, human nature fights against the natural flow of the “should” and “shouldn’ts”, and we wind up stuck in the quicksand of our own fruition. Try as we might, we overthink ourselves into the same unhelpful traps that distract from the bigger picture of our purpose.
I grew up mulling over the construct of time. Paying mind to the dutiful way my Grandfather poised his watch to face inwardly on his weathered left wrist. Without missing a beat, he would methodically check this small, ticking trinket that would cue him to various acts throughout his mundane day. Check the mail, eat the meal, make the drink, watch the show, head to bed. What powers this little watch seemed to possessed over the nature of my Grandfather’s steps. As a kiddo, I’d playfully envision invisible puppet strings dictating his moves. He was most comfortingly predictable.
I sit here now feeling the weathered leather of his watch bands beneath my fingers.
While time decided that my Grandfather go reunite with his bride of 60+ years, I am left with one of his most treasured trinkets. When I hold this watch within my grasp, I can close my eyes and imagine his strong grip envelope my own.
Time, come to find out, was just a melody within my grandfather’s world he soulfully respected. He recognized the wild nature of it and faithfully trusted that time could rely on itself. Time was not his to manipulate or control, instead it was as free as a songbird. Meant to dance to its own tempo. My grandfather was merely a spectator to its beat.
I am allowing myself to marinate in the lessons my grandfather passed on in the form of this watch.
Tears cascade quietly down my cheeks as I tighten my grip on the memories.
I am learning that time does not require manipulation. It need not to be controlled but to be embraced.
Time is a gift.
Time grants permission for memories, healing, and growth.
Time cultivates life and purpose.
We’ve memorized the tempo of its methodical ticking, but for all the wrong reasons. We humans crave control in a fierce and unrelenting way. It’s addictive and perspective-altering, creating a false sense of security and breeds idealistic expectations. Control interrupts the tempo of time to the point of getting to a metaphorical finish line and realize we forgot to pause and breathe in the moments that mattered.
My grandfather danced to the melodies of time. He rode the tempos of the highs and lows, he treasured the quiet moments, and embraced the twists and turns that ensued. He sought to focus on the beauty of the uncontrollable nature of time, and reaped a fulfilling life as a result. He carried each day and honored the time that allotted him his influences and here-says. He thanked time for its gift of practicing resiliency and exercising his voice in a way that would leave an impression.
This watch has taught me an awful lot.
Mostly due to the man it was connected to.
Here’s to dancing to the melodies of time instead of embarking on a quest to control it.
Thank you for an incredibly powerful lesson in mindfulness and seeking beauty in all the unusual places.
Hi Hello, Here it goes!
Swinging back to the beastly nature of anxiety, it can plague us subconsciously. We can wake up anxious with no set reason for the awkward sensation. We can be tasked to being productive members of society all the while crawling out of our skin due to a possible outcome, regardless of its slim probability of coming to fruition. Anxiety can topic hop, meaning it can shift from one concern to another. Just because the situation seemingly driving the nervousness has passed does not mean the anxiety lays itself to rest.
Anxiety chains us to the future without room for the present.
No wonder children’s mental health books color anxiety to be an icky-looking monster. We all wish it were as easy as drawing it out and crumpling it up, never to be seen again.
Our logical minds reiterate worrying will not change the outcome.
We have little to no control on how our experiences play out. Sure, we can plan for roughly 10-30 different outcomes, however most of the actual outcomes are unrelated to our thoughtful blueprints. Perhaps that’s the beef we have with being human. We were left out of the metaphorical contract of who gets the power. Good grief, we are kind of obsessed with it after all.
Imagine a world where power was appropriately delegated to fit in our narratives.
Those who worked hard would reap benefits.
Those who dreamed big would achieve big goals.
Money would be no issue.
Weather would be controlled by properly trained meteorologist wizards.
Sound a bit like a fairy tale?
We lack control and we resent that about reality. I cannot blame us, building resiliency is no easy feat to the onslaught of experiences outside of our power or control. This resentment projects itself into the form of anxiety, a narrative that dictates if we hyper focus on the outcome hard enough or long enough, maybe, just maybe, it’ll give us the sensation of power.
I’m sorry folks. No Hogwarts for us in this reality.
Meet yourself where you are. Validate the underlying purpose of your anxiety. When I say validate, I mean outwardly identify how your anxiety is trying to serve you. In many cases, this anxiety is trying to serve as a cloak of protection away from circumstances that could cause pain. We typically have experienced a version of pain before, and we would do almost anything to secure our well-being. Even if it means sabotaging the well-being of our mindset.
Ask yourself if your thought process is geared toward problem solving or rumination. Are you reacting or responding to your environment? Are you triggered by something that is haunting you from the past?
Anxiety generates in the form of energy within our bodies. Ask yourself how you can release this energy through safe outlets. Whether it be through running, walking, gardening, painting, scribbling, etc. It is within your power to find an outlet that works for you.
I see you, my anxious friends.
I am proud of how you lean on your resilience.
The term “anxiety” can bring up a vast array of mental images. Perhaps a vision of a cartoon character with bulging eyes darting from side to side with beads of sweat cascading from their oversized forehead. Or maybe you resonate with the term within your own experiences which can jog your memory to the time you were perched atop of the doctors table, the sterile paper crinkling beneath your sweaty palms. Once the doctor entered the room, you are convinced they can hear the pounding of your racing heart.
Anxiety is a beast. This is how I paint it in a narrative light within the therapy room.
This uncomfortable emotion has no limits to circumstances it can weasel itself into. Google “phobias” and there is an endless list chalk full of anxiety-provoking situations that many have probably not thought of up until this moment. I can almost guarantee you every single human existing has come face to face with anxiety before, even if only for a fleeting moment.
Not to geek out on you, but anxiety is a predominate reason to why we exist today. If it were not for the sensation of nervousness, our ancestors would have probably tried to pet the Saber Tooth tiger instead of run from it and would definitely not have deflected the mammoth’s massive trunks trying to pound them as they attempted to salvage a sustainable meal. Anxiety is tied to something called our parasympathetic nervous system. Lightly put, this integral system is responsible not only for the functions of digestion or the ability to slow our heart rates down after a burst of adrenaline, but it’s the pause button to our ingrained “fight or flight” response.
Now, the hardwiring for humans is systemically flawed when we consider the biofeedback components of the “fight or flight” response. Sure, it served us well hundreds of years ago, but it doesn’t do much to benefit us present day. If anything, this primitive hardwiring, more or less, keeps some of us stuck in an anxious reel despite our logical minds screaming “hey, cut it out!”.
We could get into the age-old debate of “nature vs nurture” at this point of the tangent. However, for the sake of your attention span, anxiety is an emotional experience that impacts a large portion of humans gracing the Earth today. In fact, Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the USA today, impacting roughly 40 million adults. When is Anxiety qualified to fit within a DSM diagnosis? Broadly, when Anxiety symptoms interfere with one’s ability to function for at least 6 months.
I’ll leave you on this cliffhanger.
Give you time to marinate in these anxiety fun facts.
Tickle that maladapted “fight or flight” response for a bit.
Stay tuned to the wrap around that will capture ways of attending to those anxious woes.
As May swirls all around me, I am reminded of the nature of this profession. May brings with it awareness, but it seems this increased focus on the topic of Mental Health predictably vanishes with the shift into June. Yet, here I am, left with the ever-revolving tumultuous nature of our society’s mental-wellness. As if the party was had, and I’m left with the rubble of a good time.
All metaphors aside, I grapple with the fulfillment of my job at times.
The unpredictability of the cacophony of challenges wears on me.
The grief of loss that rages within me unrelated to the therapy room complicates the task of compartmentalizing other’s woes from my own.
Serving as a therapist and bearing witness to other’s pain is a cumbersome task without the obstacles of my own human experiences. When my life challenges color my world grey, it takes an extra hoist of willpower to cultivate safe spaces and mask the quiet sadness that lay just behind my eyes.
I never know what I will encounter in my workday. Sometimes, this can be exciting, especially to a newly minted therapist. However, this past year has dulled the novelty of varying narratives. The day could bring humble wins toward the pursuit of healing, or it can generate internal battles, thoughts of self-harm, feelings of worthlessness, or experiences of injustice. All desperate for someone somewhere to validate their truths and to recognize their voices. I’ve come to find out, the pursuit of growth and healing is one of the most cumbersome and exhausting journeys we can take.
I have found comfort in the longer-lit days when I depart from my office at 7pm with the sun still gracing my horizon. This makes the darkness of the second-hand trauma and empathy burnout seem less daunting. It’s challenging to remember the good when your days are surrounded by narratives full of pain, overwhelm, and loneliness just to name a few.
People are suffering.
Take a walk in my shoes, and you'd bear witness to overwhelming uncertainty, uneasiness, grief, trauma, depression, anxiety, and conflict woven into every facet of the workday. For hours, my cozy office holds space for brokenness, monstrosities, hopelessness, and cumbrous obstacles. At times, overextending myself due to the sheer demand of those craving a safe space. A place to process. To catch their breath.
I sit in a room with peoples’ horribly heavy “Stuff” day after day. Giving 110% of myself, encumbered by exuding empathy and unconditional positive regard, despite what is wreaking havoc within my own heart.
Your girl is exhausted.
There are some highlights. Don’t get me wrong.
Us therapists live for the giggles, the silly stories, and the moments of triumph.
Pride fills our whole bodies when a client shares a moment of success, of empowerment, or of shifts in experience that allow for light and freedom.
I love my job.
But my job is hard.
Please forgive me if I seem hollow. If there is a distant or distracted look in my eyes. Sometimes it takes a hot minute for me to be able to press the pause button on processing what swirled around in the therapy room. Please know, I so badly want to hold space for those I hold near, however my soul is dragging her feet. She craves a safe place to land herself, for she has borne witness to so much.
I am a therapist.
But I am so much more than that.
People find themselves perched on the comfy grey couch in my office for numerous reasons. Whether therapy be their idea or their families, it can take time for clients to relax into the ebb and flow of the therapeutic process the tranquil space invites. Despite the comfort the therapy room embodies, the internal storm battering the humans before me is a whole other ballgame.
Thematically, I’ve noticed a narrative that many perspectives, including my own, have been adopting. Let’s title this internal storyline as “I’m too much”.
From the outside, it is relatively simple to identify the unhelpful thought patterns that ensue with this particular narrative. However, internally, it’s difficult to decipher up from down. We align our experiences with accents of being a burden, being too messy to be enough, and overall not having what it takes to reach our ideal fulfillment quota.
This has me thinking.
How much is too much? How do we form the narratives that we are “too much” or “not enough”? Who do we see ourselves as? Goldilocks?
Perhaps this internal plotline is tied to the generational trauma of experiencing shame for our humanness. If we really sit with our historical timeline, our humanness is something we’ve picked at meticulously. The Egyptians spent too much time preserving their dead, men shamed for expressing emotions, and women have been laboriously lectured about being too much for wanting more equality.
Phrases such as “smile for me”, “men don’t cry”, and “get over it” keep us stuck in the quicksand of “you are too human”.
The list of these targeted qualities of individual authenticity is endless.
What if I were to tell you that you had the choice of re-writing this suffocating narrative? What if after all this time devoted to outrunning the labels of burden, you were actually most aligned with the bowl of porridge that was “just right”?
Because you are just right.
Feeling deeply and authentically comes with the territory of humanness. If it weren’t for our experiences of emotion, we would hardly make it out of infanthood. Emotionality is the mother-tongue of our collective whole. Universally, our nonverbals convey similar messages. Smiles communicate needs being met and connection. Furrowed brows communicate unmet needs and misunderstandings. Tears communicate pain. If it weren’t for our abilities to feel deeply, we would cease to exist.
There is no such thing as being too human. Your feelings are just as valid as a songbird’s melody. Your experiences are as real as the changing of seasons, and the flowing patterns of fauna that rely on the seasonal shifts. The generations that were silenced by the insecurities of those in power have subconsciously passed down their survival techniques, and I give them my thanks. Our ancestors did the best they could with the tools they had. However, their survival tools do not serve us anymore, and for that I am grateful.
This month highlights the necessity to approach mental health as we do physical health. It is intimidating that the brain is the one organ we still see as a mystery. Humans don’t like unknowns. It brings out the survivalist in us. Yet, here I am, wanting to shed kindness and compassion on the unknown complexities of our thoughtful perplexities, verses cowering in fear which leads to undermining the very core of what makes us human. Sure, our autonomy creates the outer exterior of being a person, however it’s really the inner experiences of our minds that color what it means to be human.
I challenge you to dip deep into your courage and embrace the uniqueness of you. Just as Zebras don’t feel shame for their individual pattern of stripes, we can break out of our generational patterns of shame tied to our own individuality. Lead by example, and those who matter will fall in step with you. It takes guts to be a leader in advocacy. Feel deeply, my friends. Validate your experiences. Cry, laugh, and connect authentically.
You are, and never will be a burden to those who matter.
Cheers to May.
Where the warmth of the sun begins to whisper the promises of the approaching summer haze. When most of our nation’s students stressfully sit for those dreaded final exams and parents scramble to finalize their children’s summer schedules. When we bear witness to Mental Health Awareness Month. Break out your green, y’all.
While the bulk of my profession centers around mental health awareness, I appreciate any excuse to increase the focal point on emotional well-being. In all honesty, it is one of the most neglected forms of health. Our current societal systems keep us stuck in the neglectful chokeholds our mentality suffers from. “Sick days” are dedicated to the times your nose leaks and your fevers spike. Most bosses smirk at the thought of someone claiming one of their precious personal days for something other than physically life concerning.
“Self care! Self care!” our world proclaims.
To be matter of fact, that is all quite lame.
Self-care goes far beyond bubble baths, chocolate, and long walks at dusk.
Self-nurturement is sitting with it. All of it. The emotional experiences that are the consequence of being human. Constructing invisible boundaries that keep our emotionality safe and our mentality secure. Learning how to say no without the influence of guilt. Carving out time dedicated soulfully to what lights our fulfillment on fire. Hitting the pause button when tragedy strikes defined by our own realities and holding space for the discomfort of the sorrow that wreaks havoc on our shattered hearts.
Self-care is perhaps one of the bravest and most uncomfortable forms of self-love we can sit with. This notion mimics the alterations of many Disney storylines. Something difficult to sit with has transformed into something heartwarming and fluffy. I won’t ruin it for you but go take a peek at the original Pinocchio or Cinderella stories. There is little to no “sparkle” within the narratives. It seems society took a look at the truth of self-care and did it’s best to shift away from the hard stuff. Instead, they added more bubbles, more exercises, and more “frills” until the discomfort was drowned out by the pretty.
But here’s the thing.
Self-care isn’t supposed to be pretty and wrapped up in a perfect bow. It’s meant to be messy, uncomfortable, and downright awful at times. Sorry to burst all the pretty bubbles.
We raise awareness for mental health to cultivate realistic conversations about what it takes to truthfully care for ourselves when life gets hairy. Fairytales are great escapes, but that’s all they are good for. Life will get hard and messy, and we will have to rise up and sit with the hard stuff. This is how we show ourselves the love and compassion each and every one of us deserve.
Sit with it folks.
All of it.
It’s not there to break you. Resist the urge to run from the discomfort. Bubble baths cannot dissolve our need for emotional processing. Chocolate cannot satiate the hunger for authenticity or connection. Walks at dusk cannot erase the pain from loss our hearts long to explore and make meaning from.
This is how we truly heal.
*This is a vulnerability-laced post. Reader's discretion is advised*
Life’s playbook fails to mention how to carry on when the weight of sorrow bares down on our shoulders. We proclaim to the heavens “Self-care! Self-care!”, but how do we pay mind to the heartbreak that can take hold when the breath is knocked from our lungs by news we could never prepare for?
Where is the “sick leave” for when tears stream from our eyes without a stop in sight? Where is the panic button when the best “self-care” would be to halt the pressure of the responsibilities it takes to live an adult life?
Tragedy strikes at inopportune times.
It robs us of the air in our lungs. Stays busy constricting our throats, robbing us of every nook and cranny in our minds. Functioning all the sudden seems laborious. Time slows down but races toward the moments of heart-shattering truth we are forced to face.
How do I serve as a helpful therapist when I am struggling to breathe?
How do I pay mind to my loved one’s experiences when the sorrow I feel in the pit of my stomach threatens to encumber me at any moment?
How do I make room for the tears and the wails and the screams of unfairness that I exhaust myself trying to wrestle down every second of every hour of everyday until the tragedy delivers its final blows?
Where’s the room for all these things in a world that fails to supply panic buttons for grief and unplanned tragedy?
Saying goodbye to a very best friend is soul-shattering.
Today I hurt. Sorrowfully and deeply.
Today, I will start where I am.
I will use what I have.
I will do what I can.
A side effect of the work I partake in includes the delight of gaining glimpses into the perspectives of others. Therapy fosters a space that allows for a therapist to join with someone on their journey, even if only for a moment. Some days, I feel like I have the secret keys to a time traveling machine, serving as an empathetic perception traveler, weaving in and out of varying realities that grace my office. It’s a neat and often humbling opportunity.
Some of the perspectives I find myself uniquely fond of are the realities of those on the Autism Spectrum. These are notoriously the most misunderstood perceptions out there. I often normalize the challenges for parents in connecting with their Autistic loved ones. Metaphorically, I have found the particular “key” to use when stepping into the perspective of those on the spectrum have a password that must first be cracked before gaining access to the key.
This is where I jump in.
Instead of demanding the password, I embrace unconditional positive regard and simply insert myself as an observer. I outwardly recognize the privilege that I have identifying as neurotypical and the honor it is to be invited into their reality. Here, the pressure is alleviated to “mask” and the authentic human that sits before me begins to peek through their defenses that are vital to their internal safety.
As this incredible soul begins to peer around their “masks”, I begin to listen for the soft notes of their tempo, their language, the distinctive notes that color their experiences. Quiet and hesitant at first, I gleefully and humbly listen, cherishing the moments I join with these clients. I hold space for the pain, the loneliness, and the long-held grief that is a side effect of being misunderstood. I empathetically jump into the topics that keep their soul alit despite the mountains of challenges. I immerse myself in the music of their perceptions.
Then, ever so magically, I begin to access the password to connection and fostering nonjudgmental spaces. I take these passwords, put it through my therapeutic translator, and later communicate the messages and the experiences my client’s struggled to convey with the world whose tempo just does not make sense. Try as they might, the ability to settle into the neurotypical world escapes them. Now, the tables have turned and suddenly these resilient individuals are now the teachers instead of the students. The empowerment of this unlocking still dazzles my soul when I bare witness to it.
There is so much to learn from a perspective that differs from our own.
Different is just different. Not bad. Not broken. Just different.
Those on the Autism Spectrum are unabatedly aware of this. While I will not try and speak for anyone, it is typically the tempo of the neurotypical world that colors “different” with negativity. Those with Autism are plagued with the monstrous task of learning to function to the notes of a reality that is far too unfitting and unyielding. They are told from a very young age their “different” is wrong, is sad, is something to be pitied and looked down upon. Where in the world is the empowerment in that?
Something that I listen to often is the silenced plea to have others let those with Autism lead the tempo from time to time. To join in their worlds. To empathically recognize they may never “get it” but their humble recognition of a reality that is different than theirs can still have some good parts. That joy, love, and enjoyment is still very much a reality, it just looks and feels different within the tempo they experience life in.
Embrace the many tempos that individual perceptions dance to. Lean into the melodies and recognize that different is just different. Novelty and differences can lead to connection, if only we bare witness to the soft notes that accompany them.
Embrace the melodies that are different than your own.
Then, prepare for the onslaught of connection to those whose tempos can finally find a place in this world.