Thanksgivingish

Thanksgiving was dreaded, but turned out better than expected.  I think that’s my new normal on holidays.  

It’s been about month since I was laid off.  I immediately sprung into action.  Within a week and a half I had 2 new job offers.  I ended up accepting one, and am slowly training and building a client load.  But losing your job is a loss.  One that triggers those other losses as the merciful numbing of shock and action wear off.

Again this year, the blessing of being a(n unemployed) therapist is that we attend to our feelings and acknowledge the grief and walk each other through our shit.  An angel came in the form of a fellow laid off coworker, and we spent hours on the phone processing and acknowledging the dirty shit and laughing, sometimes bitterly, sometimes with evil joy.  We talked until we began to perceive a vague outline of the shape of what had just happened, the grief and the trauma, the ugliness.  We talked for a week and a half until I knew what I would say when the call came to join the new agency rising from the ashes of the old agency.  “At this time, I have to say no.  Maybe we’ll work together again in the future.  Good luck.”  As it turned out, only 1 of the 5 original therapists agreed to join the new agency.  To me, that said a lot.  It was validating in the extremely difficult decision I made not to return to the agency that made me, to the job that was so much more than a job.  I chose the unknown instead.  

It looks like it’s working out.  The new job I chose to accept has big opportunities for growth and leadership, sooner rather than later.  I will be getting a really good range of experience to complement the training I’ve had so far.  I’m getting unemployment as I build my caseload so though the building is slow, I’m not rushed or panicked financially.  That’s a blessing.  Thanks.  

From the outside it looks like things are in order, and from the inside I know that in a couple of months I may be settled into a new routine.  But there’s a hollowness that caught up with me around last weekend.  It’s hard.  I’m not good at connecting and reaching out when things are darkest, I prefer to stew and wait it out alone, telling my survival tale when I’m on the way back up.  

So I think I’m on the way back up.  

Talking to a friend tonight, I’m pinpointing this feeling of a loss of professional identity.  Yes I will still work in mental health, yes I will be back to therapy in a short time.  But I lost something, a big piece of myself.  I don’t have a boyfriend or kids, so I overemphasize my professional life.  That’s where I gain meaning, power, self-esteem.  And it feels like that was snatched away.  And I’m nervous about how the identity will be rebuilt as I return to work.  It will be a different version, because who I was as a Therapist at The Agency was very specific, it was something I had never had before on a number of levels – culturally, professionally, as a leader.  I felt comfortably embedded with Place, Role, Respect.  I was a very specific person with specific worth.  And that was lost.  

And damned if it doesn’t feel eerily similar to surviving the death of my loved ones last year.  

I lost some things.  And aside from the concreteness of Auntie Barb, of Grama, of my job… its a loss of pieces of myself, of my identity.  What will I look like when I put me back together in a new place, a new life, without them?

The cosmic timing.  The first inkling of my job loss was on the anniversary of Grama’s death.  Then quicker than I could imagine, we were back into the holiday season.  I felt dread settling back in as we approached Thanksgiving, randomly bursting into tears again, only this time without the distraction of work and clients.  Healthy planning of my free time slowly broke apart into willfully unstructured days filled with daytime talk shows (I recognized rather quickly which stars were on media blitzes), or long stretches of Scrubs in bed with my laptop (which was actually fantastic, no apologies, no shame for that, I fucking love Scrubs!).  Alas, everything gets old in excess.  

By the time Thanksgiving Day rolled around, I was pretty deep into a downward spiral with no interest in the holiday.  I forced myself out of bed and onto the couch.  Trying to find something to fill the 8am hour before something dependable was on, I accidentally hit channel 2 (public television, which I rarely watch, but my aunt used to rave about) and it was all this program on hospice care, death and dying, and end of life choices.  I was easily mesmerized in the best possible way.  I swear to you, it was the only thing that pulled me up out of the depths that morning.  It was like someone was speaking my language.  Yes some of it was very sad, yes I cried like a baby at parts of it, but it was exactly what I needed.  I’m not sure how to explain other than that it was validating.  Just like coming here to read grief blogs last year, I needed to know that grief and loss were on other people’s minds during the most wonderful time of the year.  With that programming in the background, I got up and baked bread.  I could do this.  

The day was uneventful, just our little family gathering at my mom’s house.  No friends, no extras, no replacements this year.  My cousin and his fiance came over for a while on their drive-by.  We laughed and had a good time.  We watched “The Outsiders,” which I loved.  It was my first favorite book as a kid.  The way it is bookended really touched me as a kid, and inspired me as a writer.  So that was nice.  

I feel like there should be something nice, some way to wrap this up in a bow.  But I’ve still got Christmas to get through and like I said, I’m building a caseload slowly with a lot of free time on my hands.  But.  I’m also coming up out of the hole, and working to take responsibility for my time, structure, thoughts, and feelings.  I’ve done a little EMDR on myself the past 2 mornings and that is helping.  We’ll all get through it.  

Advertisements

grief group

The week before last, I arrived at work expecting a supervision meeting.  Instead I was asked to handle a crisis intervention.  Reluctantly I took it (not that I really had a choice) and it ended up being a woman whose father had been found dead the night before.  She got the news at 2am and arrived at my office at 9 at the urging of her boyfriend. 

!$#%(@&#^^^(*!

So I find myself sitting across from a woman in the horrible shock, terror, and disbelief of fresh,  unexpected death.  And I knew from my experiences that there was absolutely nothing I could do.  So I listened.  And I told her about 8 times about how little sense anything was going to make and how ridiculous the experiences and requests and decisions were going to be in these next few weeks. 

After she left, my supervisors sat me down to process.  I told them that I understood that I was the only therapist available at that time, but that my deaths were still rather fresh so it was hard.  They made me talk a little more about what it felt like to be in the room with that client.  And I was honest about flashbacks of last days and bodies and shock and horror.  My one supervisor said, “Well, I don’t think you’re going to like this, but I think you are still in mourning and I recommend you find a grief group.” 

I told her that wasn’t a punishment for me.  I told her about engaging pretty obsessively with my grief through reading and writing blogs, in order to be able to connect whenever I needed to with people who were going through the same phase as me.  She challenged me that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing to be at different places in the grief process as others, and that making a human, in-person connection was very important. 

Sounded good to me.  I searched and was able to rather easily find a weekly group close to my house.  I’ve been twice now.  There’s a format of a speaker or presentation, then breaking off into small groups according to your loss.  The first week was amazing – a speaker telling his personal story and then having to tell mine in the small group.  Everyone was very supportive.  The one I went to yesterday was good, too, but a little strange.  The presentation was awesome, but the small group was off due to an obviously mentally ill man who was kind of disruptive to the process.  But I resisted my urge to bolt and stayed through it.  I talked to a nice Buddhist girl afterward.  I’ll keep coming for a while. 

In my experience so far, it feels a little darker, closer – the loss.  I have been able to set them aside and pursue building my life up again.  The best part of yesterday’s presentation talked about the process of grief really being a process of figuring out who you are going to be now.  There is part of you that died with your loved one.  We have also lost who we were, our identity in relationship to them.  That hit me in the gut because that is what’s real to me right now.  There are parts of my identity (perfect, good girl caretaker) that I angrily cast off immediately.  But the follow-up question is, Who am I if not her?  What is my family role now?  And because the way you learned to fit in with your family informs so much of your subsequent life, how does this affect this life that I’m building back up?  I’m building from scratch, but am I?  I didn’t realize how much of the grief process was about the identities of the survivors. 

Recently I have been dancing around the living room and come face to face with pictures of Grama on the wall, and my face changes and melts into the adoring granddaughter, eyes shining, in awe of her pretty little face.  And only with the time that has passed do I realize that this face, this expression is particular to my relationship with her. 

Yesterday was our family birthday celebration and my mom showed the movie I made of them again.  Last time we saw it I smiled.  This time I cried.  I miss them.  I can’t say I truly miss myself, because I like the more genuine person I am becoming as I continue to peel this onion.  But I am aware of the parts of me that have been left behind.  Grief is so much more expansive than I thought. 

what is culture?

i’ve been assigned to run a group about cultural wellness.  at first i thought it was going to be culture-specific to african american women, but as it turns out we have a mixed group. 

in school, there was a multi-cultural counseling class that i found to be a pretty annoying lesson in reinforcing racial stereotypes.  as with any stereotypes, parts can be true.  but that’s not how i want to think about cultural identity. 

i’m very much into the study of mixed race identity development.  i think identity is fascinating.  but with this group, i have the opportunity to really branch out and look at what makes up cultural identity in general.  for the women in my group, i want to help them explore their own cultural identity and how it is related to their overall wellness.  i’m kind of stuck on where to get started and how to pull it all together. 

so i’m curious – what is your opinion on how to explore your own culture?  what is culture?  and what does it mean in your life? 

i really want to hear from as many people as possible!  thanks in advance. 

Mixed

So I’m reading this book, Mixed: My Life in Black and White by Angela Nissel.  I haven’t read many memoirs about being mixed, and this one is really good.  And horrifying.  For the first half of the book I would laugh out loud regularly!  She’s a good writer, funny, describes some of the ridiculous situations we go through well.  But then it takes a turn.  Still written humorously, she goes into a depression and really begins to examine the way biracial people can really find themselves obsessed with race.  She’s eloquent with the pain peace.

I’m not done yet, but it’s a really good book and makes me think quite a bit.  It made me briefly consider writing a memoir someday.  I love writing, I expect to get published someday for scholarly work, but a memoir is different.  So personal.  Not that I’ve ever shied away from that before, but it’s something to think about, not to be taken lightly.

http://www.amazon.com/Mixed-My-Life-Black-White/dp/0345481143/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1334317156&sr=8-6