Us

I’m really into the show Sense8. I am a person who binges on TV, but rarely on the same show twice. The last time I watched a show obsessively was Grey’s Anatomy and that was only after I had four seasons in my possession. I have one season and I’ve watched it three times because every time I sit down to watch TV (which is also becoming increasingly rarer these days) I honestly can’t think of anything that seems more interesting than re-watching this show.

The common thread in my obsessive watching of TV shows is how they make me feel. I was obsessed with Grey’s at a time in my life where I was convinced life was really dark and and painful, but I was entrenched in the idea that there were bright spots worth pursuing.

Sense8 is similar for me in how it makes me feel, but the message is a little more optimistic. There are several characters, all with their own past wounds and current struggles. Sense8’s message is that a healing life is one where we are intimately known and connected to each other. The only choice we have is to live in each other’s skin to the end that we feel and understand as if it’s our own life. I love this message because it resonates with one of my deepest core beliefs: To be known intimately and adored for what makes you authentic, is the most exquisite part of this life.

There’s a scene where Riley, one of the Sensates, is discussing her life in Iceland and the suicide rates in spring when the winter clears. She is speaking with another friend and they discuss their mutual feelings of hopelessness about life. He says something I could relate to, especially in a moment Friday when I awoke to learn about another attack in France, a week after two American black men were senselessly shot and the ensuing violence in Dallas, where two police officers were killed in response to more black killings. This is two weeks in the world. Oh also, Turkey is going through a political revolution and people just keep killing each other. I’ve stopped listening to NPR, my dearly loved news radio, because my heart cannot take it anymore.

I got to admit it, sometimes I feel this way – especially when I see how awful we can all be to each other. I don’t understand how people can be filled with such anger and rage that they want to kill strangers. If anything, I find myself feeling sad and wanting to do something good to counteract all the hurt in the world. When I start realizing that this is human nature – we’ve been killing each other since our inception as a race – I start to believe that we are the problem. We are the evil. We are hopelessly destined to continue killing each other and those of us who have any shred of compassion can’t bear the weight of watching it helplessly.

I just got back from a trip in Europe. It was amazing and a feast for my soul. I inhaled so much inspiration, beauty, awareness and perspective. One thing I noticed while we were there that many of the ancient cities had arenas built strictly for the sport of watching people murder each other. Of course now we are more civilized. We have Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead and Criminal Minds and… all the entertainment we could want to watch each other die. What is our obsession with this and why can’t STOP KILLING EACH OTHER?

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I’m not omniscient and I am willing to admit that because I have very strong beliefs about how things should be handled in our world and how poorly they seem to be handled now, that surely I can be wrong simply because there is someone out there who disagrees with me. I just so frustrated that we can’t just admit it’s broken and fix it together. We’re so caught up in blaming each other and fighting about what causes the pain, ignoring the ways in which we’ve already discovered the solution. 

I think it’s our obsession with our differences. In Europe, there’s a history of difference. We never used to cross paths with those different from us because of our ability to travel outside of a small area, relative to the size of the world. European cities are walkable in ways I have rarely found in American cities. Infrastructure used today was often built before we had any major modes of mass transportation. Many roads are so narrow that only a human could navigate its path.

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Then we discovered a way to go just a little further. We found more people like us, trying to scratch out an existence. They had made different decisions on how to thrive, had evolved in small ways to survive. We found those who were different from us, but who were still ‘us’. We invented ways to get further, to see more. We claimed land and we didn’t want to share it, assuming there were more people like us, out there to claim the land we claimed. We became obsessed with the idea that there wasn’t enough to go around, so we had to forcibly claim it as ours, even if we had no certainty there were more like us – hungry to live in prosperity, created to survive – and we knew there would be more. 

We live in a world that has been crafted around the idea of scarcity. That there is not enough to go around to satisfy every craving. Therefore, we split ourselves into our differences: the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. It creates epic struggles, deep pains and often leads to the death of some so the few can have their most important wants.

I wish we lived in a world of abundance. One where there is enough to go around because we all recognize that when pain exists, it ripples through the ‘us’ because we are more alike than we are different. The European Union is a perfect example of this truth. You have countries with strong economies who are supporting countries with weaker economies and those strong economies have expectations about how these countries who they support will behave to give back to their financiers. England leaves the EU for more independence, seemingly without facing the hard knowledge that we are all intertwined – independence is an illusion. Our economies are dependent on each other. People are  more connected than they have ever been and information is in abundance. We cannot shut ourselves away from the world, because the world forces us to be together, simply by our geography. We will never be able to be isolated from the abundance around us, while not sharing the abundance within us.
I will hold on to the idea that one day, our eyes and hearts will be clearer and we will see this world for what it truly is – one giant experiment to see if we can figure out how to love each other with the shared understanding it is our only certainty to abundance for all. When I deny love to another because of their difference with me, I deny the truth that no matter the difference, the similarity between us is still greater. We all want a life of prosperity, peace and love for ourselves and that life can only be achieved when we recognize we cannot achieve it with certainty until we ensure it for our neighbor. As they say in Sense8: ‘I am also a we’. 

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.

Life…Recently

For the first time since I was 18 years old, I live in a place I have no plans to move out of in a year or less. Pretty much non-stop for the last 7 years of my life, I’ve moved constantly. The first five times were fun, but then it just started to wear on me. I want to nest! I want to own furniture that actually matters. I want to come HOME, not just have a place to sleep.

This new place is going to be a home. I’ve been staying busy organizing and clearing clutter that has followed me around for years because I haven’t had the energy or the time to throw things away. I spent all of Saturday going through random boxes of junk and just tossing stuff out and cleaning up a storm.

I cleaned my make-up brushes, which I admit with some shame I haven’t washed since I purchased them in 2009. Blech. I know I’m not alone, all you filthy make-up brush owners.

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I found pictures of when I was chubby, when I was blonde, and when I was so young I looked nothing like I do now. It was fun to reminisce. I laughed at the huge box I found of mostly movie ticket stubs I saved through middle school with notes on the back of who I saw each movie with. If that isn’t meticulous… I don’t know what is. I wish I could devote that enthusiasm to keeping track of business expenses.

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Then I cooked a spinach alfredo. I was good, but not great. I shall update and then maybe I’ll post it here. We went and played Jenga. I did not know this, but I’m like a Jenga ninja. Challenge me, I dare you.

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Yesterday, I joined the rest of the masses and watched the Super Bowl. It was fun, I was happy the Ravens won. Watching the Wire has made me care about Baltimore. So, yeah. Less than a week till Thailand. Holy moly, it’s really happening.

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