I know, it’s been a while.

So, where do I begin?

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In my extended hiatus, I had a lot of folks reach out to me. Many of these readers are young people who want to be therapists or enter a similar helping profession and are on the precipice of a seemingly life-altering transition. They are reaching out to me for wisdom that can provide them the answers that won’t come from any sort of well-researched investigation. People really want to know: “Are you happy and do you feel fulfilled by what you do?”

When I made the decision to pursue my master’s degree in mental health counseling, I made it solely from a place of extreme self-awareness coupled with profound ignorance about the life-altering decision I was making. I knew it was in my DNA to develop people, to see the infinite good and potential and to doggedly champion that into some good for others and the world (oh hey, ENFJ over here). I’m a big thinker, infinite idealist and after coming off the high from years of therapy that really did some good – I was motivated to provide that high to others. I wanted to impact others the way my counselor had impacted me.

It was in 2009 and I couldn’t get a job. Period. No one was hiring and the economy was terrible. I  had specialized my skills specifically to print newspapers. In the four-year span of my degree, people stopped reading papers and really began adopting online journalism. No one wanted to pay for quality writing. You can read equitable material for free everywhere. Look at me, I have a blog. I am a columnist of my own making.

I was working in a preschool making $10/hour and I felt like I was wasting my life away. I had potential I was squandering, dammit.

So, in frustration, I began researching counseling programs one evening after I spent 75 percent of my day covered in poop or actively cleaning it up. It just so happens, UCF’s Counselor Education program is consistently ranked one of the best in the country. I was living with my parents. This is not where I envisioned I would be at this point in my life. I applied. I interviewed. I was accepted.

It was the best decision I ever made because it facilitated all of my best life decisions afterward. I met some of the kindest, coolest, most enlightened individuals who really just wanted to help people, just like I did. That’s a great group of people to be around if you want to grow.

My master’s degree was like The Karate Kid, but with tiny lessons about what adds up to the end result of being a good person. Instead of painting the fence, I learned active listening skills. Instead of waxing the car, I practiced reflecting meaning and reframing. I learned about what heals people, what motivates people and how my own unique point-of-view and passions could be channeled into something good. I also met my husband (spoiler alert, I got married) living in Orlando and some of my nearest and dearest friends would not be in my life had I not moved to go to grad school.

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I guess I really like learning about and getting very good at things you can’t measure. Everything I know I do well, is still a subjective undertaking. Sure, I can spell and I can string words together to form a sentence, but you can’t do anything to that sentence that is going to spit out a number to measure what a great writer I am in comparison to others in my field. With clients, you can measure their successes/recoveries/etc, but that has a lot to do with where they are at in their journey to mental health – especially with chronic mental health issues, clients ebb and flow in their improvements. As a counselor, you must accept that you can’t control progress and frankly, you are one raindrop on the surface of a lake during a rainstorm. Your impact may be profound, but it will not be the only thing that matters. That’s why counselors get ‘compassion fatigue’ and ‘burnout’. You go in wanting to be the Sean Maguire to your client’s Will Hunting and you mostly end up feeling like you’re some minor character in Girl, Interrupted.

I moved to Seattle and started my private practice. I had done my internship in a residential drug treatment facility and as much as I loved that work, I knew it wasn’t sustainable and it wasn’t working with people who were heavily invested in growing, evolving and sustaining improvements. Many of the people in state-sponsored drug treatment have been in the system for years and are fully involved in the addictive cycle. They need things like housing, jobs and food before they can consider pulling themselves away from the only thing that distracts them from their lack of resources. But, you can’t get a job, buy food, or pay rent when any money you have goes to your addiction = The Addictive Cycle. I knew the little helper in me would lose her drive to save the world.

Private practice is a beast and is for the relentless self-promoters (nothing wrong with that – it’s called being entrepreneurial), but I am not that person. I want to set-it-and-forget-it in regards to the icky things like rent, fees for service, scheduling, blahblahblah. I’m not an administrator. I don’t want to do anything that doesn’t directly contribute to a client’s success. It was all noise to me and I was a terrible entrepreneur. It was like buying that pair of shoes you’ve been lusting after only to find out that they are super uncomfortable to wear for longer than five seconds.

I needed to make a sustainable living and this was not that route. Even after 2.5 years of my master’s degree, I was required by law to attain another 3,000 hours of supervised counseling before I could be eligible to sit for my licensure exam. If I had gone the route of accepting $15/hour to work in an agency, I would be getting free supervision in exchange for making an insufficient amount of money to live on in Seattle (in my personal opinion for my standard of living). However, opting out of that meant paying a licensed counselor $100/week to basically make sure I didn’t push someone towards suicide or get in over my head. I was at the bottom of a very steep mountain with no well-trodden paths. I didn’t want it bad enough to have to work that hard.

Our country’s public mental health system and infrastructure are managed much like our public education system is structured. Create a lot of barriers to the profession, demand a high-level of education, pay those people poorly, provide inadequate resources and hope that people just stick it out because they are passionate about what they do. It’s insulting, it’s backwards and I don’t want to hear about another damn mass shooting and all the ‘mental health needs to be considered’ bullshit without anyone, with any political authority or power, doing anything about it (yes, there are quality people out there who are making a difference here and I shouldn’t speak in absolutes, but I’m doing it anyway because I’m angry about it).

I left the idea of being a licensed counselor behind. It was one of the most emotional, terrifying and angsty moments of my life. I spent many nights wallowing because I once again felt like I had totally screwed up my life and any chance I had at being successful or fulfilled by my work.

The story has a happy ending though. I’ll tell you more about that later. I promise I’ll be back before another three years pass.

Faith

I’m practicing yoga again. I found a studio I really like with a free one-week introductory period. Score.

I don’t know if it’s the yoga or the reset button, but I’ve been in a great place mentally. I think I’ve officially let go of a lot of the things I know I can’t control. I don’t even want to control them right now.

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Today, my yoga teacher asked us to pick a word for a the intention of our practice. For someone who really likes words, this can be a challenge. A ton of words ran through my head, but I clung to the word “faith”. I went with it and as I sat there askew in revolved triangle, I returned to this word. As I found myself doing poses I never knew I could do, not even worrying if I could do it before trying them out, I returned to this word. It’s been weird finding so much meaning in something that presents itself at face value.

I did a lot of thinking about why I chose faith and why I have been having such a great practice lately. What it is really, I think there’s a sweet spot when it comes to your locus of control.

Too much internal locus, and you often feel like the world is heavy on your shoulders and it’s your responsibility to solve every problem, find a reason for every mistake, and usually it all comes back to believing it’s your fault.

Too much of an external locus of control, and you end up feeling like a victim, like you have no control, like everything is falling through your grasp like you’re trying grip onto water. You usually feel defeated, broken, and angry with the world.

The sweet spot, which I think I realized today, is having faith. It’s trying your hardest to succeed at whatever it is that is before you. It’s working your fanny off to have the career you want, the relationship you want, the friends you want, and the life you’ve dreamed of forever. But faith… faith is recognizing that sometimes things are just out of your control and it’s beautiful anyway. You have faith that good things will happen to you and you believe the bad things are good things in disguise.

You could, however, look at the unknown and mysterious as bad. You could label things that happen to you as bad, unpleasant, or set-backs. Unfortunately, they are going to happen anyway because that’s life. Life has some certainties and a lot of uncertainties. It’s your choice about how you view both of them. Will the certainties feel cumbersome or will they be a fun challenge? Will the uncertainties cause us fear, or will they be welcomed with optimism?

It’s faith. I believe that good things will happen to me because worrying that bad things will happen causes a lot of undue stress in the meantime. If something “bad” happens… oh well. At least I didn’t stress myself about it up until when it happened.

The Case Files: Angelina Jolie

Back when I cared about such things, I was on Team Jen. I thought Angelina Jolie was a thieving husband-stealer and Jen was a hapless, kind gal who happened to marry one of the most desirable men in the world. Looking out on the other side of the ordeal, along with maturity and a more disconnected feeling from celebrity news, I don’t really think too much about it all. Jen is marrying a sexy, sexy man and so is Angelina. Life happens the way it’s supposed to happen.

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Angelina Jolie is beautiful and talented. There’s no getting around those two statements. She’s also done some things in her life that some might consider… crazy? Granted, my threshold for crazy is quite high (mostly because I think it’s such an abstract term at this point and no one is completely ‘sane’), but Angelina has done a few things I find impressively dysfunctional. However, I think there’s plenty of reason behind that.

Early Life

Angelina Jolie is the daughter of actor John Voight and model/actress Marcheline Bertrand. When Jolie was just 1 year old, her parents divorced as a result of her father’s infidelity. With little support from her father, Jolie’s mother abandoned her acting career to support her two children. At some point, she remarried and the family moved to New York. Angelina became interested in acting because of her mother’s influence taking her to movies as a young child and she enrolled in a theater program where she starred in several school productions. All the while, Jolie was estranged from her father.

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In 1988, Jolie attended the Academy Awards with her father (she was 13). Shortly after, Jolie reports she began cutting herself at 14 and began an intense and serious long-term (2 years) relationship with her then boyfriend where her mother allowed them to live in her house.

“I was either going to be reckless on the streets with my boyfriend or he was going to be with me in my bedroom with my mom in the next room. She made the choice, and because of it, I continued to go to school every morning and explored my first relationship in a safe way.” — Angelina Jolie

She dropped out of school with the ambitions of becoming a funeral director and began modeling. While the relationship with her boyfriend ended at 16, Jolie returned to school and lived in a garage apartment a few blocks down from her mother, eventually graduating. Jolie reports this time as the beginning of her ongoing battle with depression that lasted through her early twenties. This is also when Jolie began experimenting with drugs and by 20, she reports she had tried just about every drug.

Relationship with Father

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Jolie’s relationship with her father has been rocky. They have been estranged on-and-off for most of the actress’ life, citing Voight’s infidelity to her mother as the primary reason for the rift. They reconciled long enough for him to appear in the Lara Croft movies, but shortly after the relationship deteriorated again after Voight spoke with a media outlet about his belief his daughter was mentally unstable. Good job, Dad. Definitely go to the press if you’re worried about your daughter. *high five* As a result, Jolie severed ties again, citing Maddox (her first adopted son) as the reason she no longer wished to have her father in her life. They reconciled again after her mother’s death in 2007, but I’d hazard a guess the relationship is probably still quite chilly.

Relationship with Mother

By all accounts, Jolie adored her mother and viewed her as a saint. She named one of her biological children in honor of her mother shortly after her death.

Romantic Relationships

Jolie’s romantic relationships were always newsworthy. She married at a young age to her Hackers co-star, Brit Jonny Lee Miller. At the wedding, she wore black rubber pants and a white shirt with his name written in her blood upon it. The relationship dissolved because they were “too young,” according to Jolie, but she believes he was a great husband and the two parted amicably.

Jolie is also known for dating actress Jenny Shimazu, whom she has said she would have married if not for marriage to Miller. By all reports, Jolie’s relationship with Shimazu lasted on and off for several years and Jolie has said she identifies as bisexual.

Angelina Jolie with former husband Billy Bob Thornton.

Her most intense relationship was her marriage with Billy Bob Thornton. After a two month courtship, the two wed in Vegas in 2000. Their relationship was marked by outlandish public displays of affection and lust, along with the more notable habit of wearing vials of each other’s blood around their necks. After Jolie adopted Maddox in 2002, the relationship ended suddenly in 2003. It was obvious Billy Bob did not want a child.

“It took me by surprise, too, because overnight, we totally changed. I think one day we had just nothing in common. And it’s scary but… I think it can happen when you get involved and you don’t know yourself yet.” — Angelina Jolie

Then there was Brad. They are engaged now. I won’t go over it because unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know what I know. They love each other, they are not outlandish, and they live a pretty quiet and unremarkable existence with a million kids and lots of humanitarian work.

The Case File

I don’t know where anyone in psychology who believes people are not primarily affected by their past gets their supporting information. With the exception of some cases, I believe most people dealing with typical life challenges that inspire one to seek counseling, are caused by past wounds or experiences in one way or another. Angelina Jolie is no different.

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While I can’t be certain (the internet is only so reliable), I don’t think it’s surprising that Angelina Jolie was estranged from her father most of her life and then a year after attending the Academy Awards with him at 13, her life became much more sensational and her relationship with her boyfriend began (which she has compared to the emotional intensity of a marriage). She was trying to make sense of everything that happened with her mother and father and because she had little evidence to go on (remember, she was 1 when it happened) other than her mother’s reports, she had to experience a relationship herself. She had to love someone a lot and then find a way to let them go. It made her father human.

Her self-harm and depression was likely a manifestation of her own emotional turmoil trying to make sense of her life and her father’s abandonment of her. From Jolie’s humanitarian work and her choice of profession, it’s obvious she’s capable of caring a lot. When that energy is focused on things like children and do-gooding, it’s reflective. When it’s focused on the self (like most things are in your teens and early twenties) it can be damaging. We can sit and ruminate, never really finding a sensible answer for the wounds of our past, or we can put value on our lives and existence, proving we’re worthy to ourselves, by being good people and doing good deeds.

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Which is why Jolie’s evolution from wild, drug-experimenting, blood wearing sex vixen happened almost in direct correspondence with her evolving relationship with her father. Her relationship with Billy Bob almost directly corresponds to her fallout with her father. It’s no surprise that the two reconciled while she was with Brad and at the peak of her humanitarian work. We’re like magnets for what is going on inside of us. If we’re at peace, we attract the things that bring us more peace. If we’re in internal chaos, we do things that create more chaos because we can’t see what will be right. We’re too busy focusing inward.

I also find that in some ways, our partners and children help us heal whatever past hurts we’ve experienced – especially those from our parents. Jolie fell in love with a married man (Brad). She refused to pursue a relationship with him until his marriage to Jen ended, but it’s obvious something happened (emotional affair are real). I think this experience created an empathy for her father’s indiscretion that Jolie had not been capable of having.

So now, she’s in a good place. Her emotions and energies are put to good use, so when she looks at herself, she sees a person worth loving. She is a good mother (something she’s idolized from her own mother from the beginning), she is a successful actress and director, she advocates for humanity, she’s in a loving and supportive partnership, and I think she finally has a really good grip on the person she is and the person she wants to become. She also loves herself, which is always a recipe for happiness.

Sources (1, 2)