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Expectations. Premeditated resentments. Unnecessary stress.

Yesterday, I did a great job of placing the responsibility of change squarely on the shoulders of my clients–where it belongs, of course. And yet, for hours afterward I was left with a sadness I couldn't explain.

Through reflection and journaling, I stumbled across the thought:

I expect my clients to take our work as seriously as I do.

A friend tells me this is fairly reasonable as far as expectations go. That's probably true. But for me, it often morphs into:

I believe my clients are taking this as seriously as I do, so I will work really hard for them.

And often that means I'm working harder than my clients. And that means I'm breaking a cardinal rule of therapy:

Never work harder than your clients.

Because you will be consistently disappointed and frustrated, and those feelings lead to compassion fatigue, which is the kissing cousin of burnout.

I'm so mindful of letting go of the outcome and not basing my satisfaction on "making a difference." It never occurred to me that my real hang-up was a seemingly innocuous hope that I'm not the only one who cares about what happens both in and out of the room.

I'll spare you the deeper psychological wound this particular revelation applies to and re-opens each time it comes up. Suffice it to say, now I know how I'm being triggered and what contributes to my dissatisfaction with work. I'm whittling away at it so I can find some acceptance. I think I'm getting closer all the time.

Leadership, or a lack thereof

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I’ve been thinking a lot about management. For the last 2 years or so I’ve worked essentially unsupervised, and I’ve appreciated the breathing room. If you asked the managers I’ve worked for in the years since grad school, they might tell you I have a problem with authority. I actually had a supervisor tell me I was a narcissist! And he was one of the ones I liked. Go figure :/

Perhaps I don’t like being told what to do. But let’s break that down a little before we characterize me as insubordinate (and churlish–ha! couldn’t resist a little Key and Peele).

Whenever I entered into a new working environment, I naturally deferred to those in charge. I wanted to learn from the people who had been in the field longer than I had, because they had expertise to share. Fresh out of grad school, I longed for ongoing mentorship and guidance as I carved out my path in the world of social services.

Unfortunately, that’s not what I received.  From 2005 to 2015, I worked for a slew of managers who were clinically incompetent, ethically questionable, and ultimately toxic in their managerial styles. If you’ve heard me complain about working in mental health, know that much of my discontent is based in poor leadership. During a time when I needed support, encouragement, and someone to look up to, my agency managers dismissed me and left me to fend for myself.

My colleagues and I worked hard in the field–i.e., with our clients, in their homes, in shelters, in facilities, etc.–only to have our efforts minimized. If we received any kind of acknowledgment, it was through increased caseloads and decreased support. “You’re handling being overworked and underpaid so well, I’m going to reward you by giving you MORE work and ignoring your genuine concerns about performance quality and self-care.” Or “I’ve given you no resources and have unrealistic expectations for you. Why aren’t you succeeding?” 

And remember, we define success as numbers of clients treated, not quality of care. 

And have I mentioned the mental illness that runs rampant in social service managers? I’ve never met more personality disordered individuals in my life–and they weren’t even my clients! By and large, my clients have inspired me with their resilience and unrelenting desire to reach their goals. My managers, on the other hand, have astounded me with their willingness to gaslight, manipulate, and violate boundaries.

Looking back, I know that I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression on and off since I was a teenager. But these crazy-making experiences drove me to a place of despair and hopelessness I didn’t know existed for me. I was forced to question my career choice, which had come to define my life at that point. Therein lies part of the problem, I know. But where do you spend the majority of your time during the week? At work. So if your work environment is unhealthy, it’s bound to infect you, no matter how hard you strive for the elusive “work-life balance.”

I have to admit that my post-grad experience doesn’t reflect everyone else’s. I know people whose pre-licensure employment wasn’t as fraught with toxicity as mine. I just know that my experience was an incredible disappointment, especially after the promising foundation my grad program offered me. Talk about bursting my bubble!

You might ask why I stayed. Why didn’t I quit mental health? Aside from the financial investment and uncertainty about what else I could be doing, I had examples of true leadership that held my head above the waves.

My off-site clinical supervisor listened, responded with care, and took me seriously. He was also knowledgeable and willing to teach. He was the consistent reminder that I could rise above the chaos throughout every infuriating job or managerial situation I encountered. Having a safe space to take my frustration and sadness made all the difference.

My other saving grace were the supervisors I met at the sites where my agencies placed me to offer additional services. At a juvenile justice program, I met a woman who works tirelessly for her staff and for the kids she serves.  She is fierce but kind. She is stern but thoughtful. She has a heart for service and uses it to lead. She gives a damn!

At a retirement party last winter, I praised the ex-principal of an alternative school for the way he focused his efforts on supporting staff. He had their backs! And his response was “Of course!” Because to him, the only way to take care of your students/clients/customers, is to take care of your staff. If you take care of them, they’ll work hard for you!

No kidding!

A true leader sees his employees as real people with feelings, needs, and lives of their own. She recognizes the impact of the work they do and not only praises them but engages in conversation with them about their experiences. A true leader makes decisions based on the reality of what their workers face, taking into account the inherent humanity of social services, not just the bottom line!

Why is this not the prevailing attitude in mental health agencies? Mental health workers require a healthy working environment to do the work we do. How are we supposed to provide a wellspring of empathy when our agencies and our managers treat us like interchangeable work horses? How are we supposed to reinforce healthy relationships to our clients when our managers emotionally abuse us? How do we maintain a level of ethical competence when we watch our managers act in ways that put our licenses in danger by association? How do we find the indefatigable strength to be there for our traumatized and vulnerable clients when our managers weaken us with their indifference and ineptitude?

This is my experience. More pain than joy in a world where I thought I belonged. It’s a large part of what makes me question my place in mental health. I continue to process it, sometimes ad nauseam, I know. I’m just trying to decide what to do with it all. I’m not trying to change what happened, but I am trying to change how it lives inside of me.

 

 

 

When good storytelling hits you in the feels

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I recently watched Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King, and I was really moved–to laughter and to tears. He’s incredibly talented and such an important voice right now. His stories about growing up brown in America hit many of the high points that I can only try to explain to my non-brown friends. The expectations that seem out of bounds to them feel intrinsic to what “family” is to me. But I also think issues likes conditional love, feeling like an outsider, and your parents’ concern for what will everyone else think? are universal enough that most will find themselves mirrored in his stories.

That mirroring is what did me in. When he accurately reflected his surprise that adults wanted to get to know him on a personal level. When he expressed confusion about having interests outside of the expectations that had been drilled into him for years. When he practiced honesty and forthrightness and hoped he’d earn some benefits–power inside the group, an identity separate from the group, agency over his own life. And the resignation when it doesn’t get him any of those things.

Fast forward a few days. I’m scaling the mountain of dishes in my kitchen while listening to an episode of This American Life (#617, Fermi’s Paradox, Act III). A young girl says the following to her father:

So a conversation and talking are completely different things. Talking could be a range from ‘oh, hey what’s up?’ and conversation is you’re deep in thought, and you’re looking, and you’re making eye contact, and you’re really enjoying the presence of somebody else.

I felt those words like a punch in the gut. It’s one thing to talk–but to converse is to really be with someone, even your kid, especially your kid! And then flash after flash of talking but not conversing. Even as adults.

And then I remind myself: “They come from a different time, a different culture, and different expectations. It wasn’t and isn’t personal.”

I write in detail about these experiences from my upbringing, but I don’t publish them. I’m impressed by Hasan’s parents, whom Hasan describes as apprehensive but ultimately proud of his comedy, even when he talks about intimate moments in their family life. I don’t know if that’s an option for me right now. For a family that doesn’t even converse about the things that have happened between us, telling those stories to *outsiders* seems like a leap I’m not yet ready to take. No, it’s a leap I worry my family isn’t ready to take with me. I’m not ready to defend my personal story as separate and distinct from theirs. Not on that level anyway.

I wonder when that will change.

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A note from your (human) therapist

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It turns out that your therapist has a few–*gasp*–expectations! Deep breaths, everyone. Peel yourself off the floor if you fainted. I can wait…

“Expectations” is practically a dirty word, isn’t it? Therapists aren’t supposed to have them. We’re supposed to be unconditionally supportive, allowing you to be as you are in any given moment.

Yes… and I still expect certain things from you. Maybe that’s the human in me. The human that cares about you, invests in you, wants the best for you, and wishes you could see yourself the way I do.

So what do I–your human therapist–expect?

Mostly, I just want you to keep doing what works. You’ve spent time, money, and energy on learning a different way to do things. And if that way is working for you, then please keep it up! Even if you stumble along the way. It’s cool. I’ll be there with you to assess what’s working and what’s not.

All I ask is that you remember how hard you worked to get here. I saw your struggle. I know it hurt, but damn! Look how far you’ve come! Reinforce that effort with the ongoing reward of fulfilling your goals.

I know that life is chaotic, that it can rip the rug right out from under you, and that genuine setbacks can occur.

But complacency is real, people.

There was a time when you had to concentrate on changing the way you think, observing and redirecting your natural thought patterns. There was a time when letting your distress rise and fall felt like torture. There was a time when your new communication strategies would get derailed at the roll of an eye.

But now, you don’t have to be as mindful. Those new ways of being are pretty much habit, so you don’t think about them as much. You’re a little less conscious here, a little less intentional there… until one day, all that mindfulness has run off, and you can’t be bothered to go find it.

If that happens, all I ask is that you don’t look at me perplexed when your progress stalls, and perhaps your old issues return. Please don’t be offended when I remind you (compassionately) that you’re accountable for the life you live–always.

My job is to deepen your therapeutic experience. I will challenge old behaviors when I see them, and I will be curious about their resurgence in your life. I will–with your help–uncover the aspects of these experiences we haven’t explored before.

And please know that after I see you, I’m thinking about what happened. I wonder about our interactions, my countertransference, and your response. I reflect on how to bring all of this information into the next session. I consider how to talk to you about my observations so that you have the chance to help me know you better.

Or to tell me I’m off my rocker…

Either way–it’s kind of like this… I said “kind of.”

Help me help you. And help yourself. That’s all I expect.

♥♥♥

apparently I’m a therapist

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I stumbled upon some new (to me) remote job search sites. So I started looking. I think it would be nice to have another revenue stream that doesn’t revolve around getting more therapy clients. And wouldn’t it be nice to flex some other muscles, to remind myself that I’m more than a helping professional? To get paid for more than that?

God, yes, it really would.

Well, the same thing happened today that always happens. I have a lot of education and a lot of experience, but in ONE goddamn thing: being a therapist. I have other skills, and I’m a fairly quick learner, but if a job’s requirements center on what you’ve been doing for the last 3-5 years, then, yeah–I’m a therapist. I wish I’d known that going to grad school to be a therapist, studying to take a test about being a therapist, working in jobs related to being a therapist, getting additional training and supervision to be a therapist, and spending all my money on fees related to getting and staying licensed as a therapist would really only allow me to do one kind of thing: be a fucking therapist.

Yeah, I’m a little slow on the uptake, I know.

But when you feel completely lost about where you’re headed most of your adolescent and neo-adult years, finding one path to focus on–solely and completely–feels stable, it feels right. It feels like something you can sink your teeth into and never let go. Because if you let go, you flail and float off into the abyss. And who the fuck wants that??

Not this validation-seeking, parentified, terrified of being “found out” excuse for an adult, that’s who!

That’s who I was anyway, back when I entered the field. Sure, the vestiges of that mess still exist inside me, but I’ve healed a lot of that self-doubt. Being a therapist definitely reinforces the value of therapy, and therapy has been helpful. And yoga saved my life. And so did getting a cat. And just giving myself a break. I often joke that I got into this field because of my pathology, and now that my pathology has diminished and/or no longer runs my life, being a therapist no longer fits.

And yet, it’s the only thing that continues to fit.

Sure, I could get trained in something else….

But the thought of spending more money on education without knowing for sure that I’ll get a pretty good ROI from it… I. Just. Can’t. Even.

So I console myself by going back to the benefits of being a therapist. I work limited hours and still make enough to pay the bills–including the loans (a.k.a. the mortgage on my brain). I use the rest of my time to write my novel, see my friends, and learn how to sew. And when I cut my nails, maybe practice my guitar. Maybe.

This strategy has been working for a while. Rather than viewing myself as trapped into being a therapist, I try to view being a therapist as offering me the freedom to do the things that make me feel more interesting. To me, mind you. I’m not as concerned with what the rest of you think anymore (thank god for turning 30, amiright!).

That’s been my experience recently. I love my clients–they are forever insightful and intriguing. And being part of their journeys rewards my curiosity and is a powerful reminder that relationships are the seat of healing (I knew I got that tattoo for the right reasons–good job, 22-year-old me!).

But recent reflection on newer endeavors has made me curious about myself. I’m getting to know all the parts of me that I disowned or discredited for years.

  1. I recently reunited with a high school acquaintance. It turns out we make pretty good friends as adults 🙂 And she was kind enough to invite me onto her podcast. And though I spoke from my knowledge and experience as a therapist, I was still being me. Sham, who happens to be a therapist. Not, Shameela, professional healer. It was exhilarating!
  2. I really dove into my fantasy novel. The old me would have questioned myself: “Who the hell am I to write fantasy? What do I know about this genre?” Today, I answer: “I don’t know, except my love of all things magical and romantic and dark.” So yeah, I’m doing it, and it’s fun, and I feel the internal reward of doing something creative just for me. Yes, the positive feedback I get from people is fabulous. But the jitters I get when I write something I really love–no one can give me that, but me!
  3. I *heart* my sewing machine. It represents the marriage of creativity and certainty. If I follow directions and am careful, the result is the same each time! Yet, within those parameters, the more skilled I become, I can explore design, texture, color, lines, and shapes, and how they complement each other. There is nothing more smile-worthy than a finished product that is both aesthetically appealing and fully functional. Again, I *heart* my sewing machine.

That creative spark that was squelched in me so many years ago–for reasons that are too lengthy for this already lengthy blog–burns again! Creativity in self-expression, living through my words, ideas, and art. Creativity that blooms in conversation with people who want to know more about me than what it’s like being a therapist and how I can help them too.

This is great, I know 🙂 Except for the sadness and anxiety that arise when I have to go to work and do this other thing that just doesn’t light me up like that. I light up for my clients, as I’ve lit up for so many others who have needed me along the way. There’s a shadow to that light. When that’s the only light that guides your way–the light you shine for others–you lose sight of yourself. You have to shift the spotlight from time to time back toward yourself.

I accept where I am. I am grateful for where I am. I sometimes struggle with the reality of where I am, because it doesn’t always reflect who I am. But it’ll do for now.

2016

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25 Questions to Ask Yourself Before the End of 2016 (or at the beginning of 2017)

1. What am I most proud of this year?
Diving into my creativity with learning to sew and writing more than ever. I’m deep into a novel, which feels pretty exciting.

And creating a structure that allowed me to get physically fit and focus on creativity. I placed more emphasis on things going on outside of work than on work itself. It was lovely!

2. How can I become a better _____________?
I want to become a better me. I need more direction and focus. I still need to maintain compassion. And I need to feel comfortable with direction I’m currently going in or change it. I think I just need to understand where I’d like to be headed.

I also need to be less judge-y. More compassion and patience needed, as always.

3. Where am I feeling stuck?
I’m feeling lost. I’ve done a pretty good job of letting go of expectations in the past. Accepting my current situation for what it is and not placing conditions on it. But I think I’m feeling weighed down by expectations. Mine. Others’. Society’s? Truth is, nothing in my life has gone as expected since I was 17. This is not uncommon I’m sure. But sometimes I still sit inside my 17 year old mind and think about the future, and then compare outcomes. I’m usually astounded at how off track it all feels.

4. Where do I need to allow myself grace?
When I see myself feeling the pain of old wounds, there’s a reason they’re reopening. They can be re-healed. I just have to be patient and remember that as I get older, old stuff comes up in new contexts.

5. Am I passionate about my career?
Nope. My career is something I’m good at (for the most part) that allows me the freedom to explore creative outlets. I don’t know if I need to be passionate about my career–maybe I can be passionate about what I do when I’m not working.

6. What lessons have I learned?
That it’s okay to “suck,” especially in the beginning. If I let go of those pesky expectations, I can just have fun with my creative work….and it always feels good. Regrets come from putting off what I love. I’ve also re-learned that I can’t have what I want when I want it. But I guess that’s a good reminder.

7. What did my finances look like?
I felt comfortable. Savings > expenses, which is where I wanted to be. Retirement account needs attention.

8. How did I spend my free time?
Writing. Sewing. Building muscle.

9. How well did I take care of my body, mind, and soul?
I completed 2 intense exercise programs. The weight-lifting changed my body in ways I really appreciated. I ate well, mostly.

I tried to stay engaged in learning. I think learning has been harder when it’s related to my career, although I did get a chance to hear Esther Perel speak–and she was inspiring. I tried to learn more about things that interest me personally. So I turned to my muses, Liz Gilbert and Ira Glass, and to my podcasts, fiction, and well-crafted TV shows (Downton Abbey!!!) for personal inspiration.

I think my soul needs a little more. I know that writing and learning and being creative feed my spirit….but I’m feeling a bit ungrounded. Probably need some more yoga.

10. How have I been open-minded?
I tried so hard to listen with curiosity and openness. Without the chatter in my head that thinks it already understands and knows how it should respond. I’ve focused on this both at work and at home. I can keep working on this one.

11. When did I feel most creatively inspired?
Listening to the Magic Lessons podcast and to Liz Gilbert’s live talk. She has really opened up my eyes to the power of being creative and just letting it flow. And I’ve done that. No regrets for sure!

12. What projects have I completed?
I sewed a reversible tote bag that I love using on a regular basis.

Lots of mending and hemming pants.

I’ve completed significant passages of my novel that were so difficult to write, I often avoided them. And now I’ve written some of the best pages of my life! 🙂

I went 99% paperless at work. That brings me minimal joy but saves me a lot of space.

13. How have I procrastinated?
I need to spend more time with my sewing machine. I have a set of materials for a project that I just can’t get myself to start. I bought myself a cutting mat and rotary cutters for my birthday in October and only opened them yesterday! I’m not sure what this is about…I don’t think I’m scared. Obviously I can follow directions and create a useful product; I’ve already done that!

I always procrastinate when it comes to getting back into fitness. I took a break after my latest 4-month intense program, and I just can’t seem to get back into it. Granted, I was having some back issues, but being sedentary doesn’t actually help that either.

14. In what ways can I re-structure my time?
I need to get back into a fitness program. Having a calendar to follow was like gold for me! And around my workouts, I was pretty good about scheduling time for creativity, meal-planning, and work.

Continue to visit coffee shops to prioritize writing.

15. How have I allowed fear of failure to hold me back?
Fear of failing to meet some amorphous expectation of what and who I’m supposed to be and how my life is supposed to look–this has plagued me on and off all year, and into this new year as well. It makes me irritable and sad and at times, hopeless. It makes it easy to get caught up in the things that don’t matter. It fosters generalized anxiety and useless worrying.

I think there’s still a sliver of perfectionism left too. I’ve worked hard to let that go, but I still hold myself to standards that are unreasonable and probably not even my own.

16. Where has self-doubt taken over?
I continue to doubt my effectiveness as a therapist. Sometimes, I’m not that good at letting go of the outcome, which creates anxiety about my ability to help people who depend on me. On the flip side, I have to be careful not to let positive outcomes affect me either, because that’s a crazy roller coaster of ups and downs. I need to stay on the ground while everyone else takes their ride. That’s when I’m really most effective.

I’ve also questioned my self as friend and girlfriend. Are my boundaries okay? Am I asking for too much? Am I giving enough? AKA is my imperfect self good enough?

17. When have I felt the most alive?
On vacation in Nashville. At the Blue October concert. In the audience listening to Liz Gilbert. Any time I tried something or went somewhere new. Any time I immersed myself in music, words, tactile experiences, and conversation.

18. How have I taught others to respect me?
I ask for what I need. I offer empathy and remorse when necessary.

19. How can I improve my relationships?
Listen more, talk less. Offer appreciation.

20. Have I been unfair to anyone?
Maybe. I had to make some hard decisions this past year regarding where to spend my energy. I had so little to give at times that I had to separate myself from relationships that felt draining or that didn’t feel uplifting. I imagine if those people stopped long enough to consider my actions, they may have found them unfair.

21. Whom do I need to forgive?
Myself for not being perfect. I have forgiven those who have hurt me. I may not have forgotten and will be cautious in the future, but I hold no grudges.

22. Where is it time to let go?
Expectations regarding “what my life is supposed to look like.” That’s clearly a re-occurring theme.

23. What old habits would I like to release?
Worrying about other people who are capable of taking care of themselves.
Using my worry for other people as an excuse not to focus on me.
Cynicism.

24. What new habits would I like to cultivate?
Keep pushing for a fitness routine, as well as a mind-body wellness routine.
Continue to make time for writing.
Make more time for sewing.
So, creating and maintaining structure, even better than last year.

25. How can I be kind to myself?
Recognize the expectations when they arise and let them go. Be at work one day at a time, rather than worrying about “doing this forever.” Notice my small victories. Start journaling more. Cook more. Meditate and/or practice yoga more. Walk more. Exercise more. Eat more. Read more. Write more. Watch and listen more.

Where are the words?

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I’m truly amazed at how often you bloggers out there blog. Monthly, biweekly, even weekly! How do you do it? How do you always have something to say? If I don’t, does that mean I’m uninspired/ing? Meh. I choose not to berate myself like that. Hasn’t helped me before.

But I’m still impressed with those of you who maintain a consistent posting schedule. That kind of routine has never been my forte. Even with the alarms and lists of topics, I fail to feel driven to write anything. Except for when I am. Then it comes in glorious, massive waves! Until then…*crickets*…

My problem applies both to this personal blog and to my more professional one. I have heard that blogging is a great content marketing tool. And if I could write consistently, perhaps I’d have more of a following. The articles themselves are good quality and people like them, but they aren’t my preferred writing style. I call them my “red-headed step children,” because I don’t view them as meaningful (horrible, isn’t it?). And yet, it’s not like I’m writing anything else! So it’s not just a lack of interest; clearly, it’s more specific to me and my writing habits.

When it comes to writing professional articles, I get ideas from my conversations with people. My clients, colleagues, and friends are a wealth of questions to be explored. So I write an essay about those questions. Occasionally, I’ll write a personal essay. That doesn’t get published here. Because it feels too personal to make public. That still counts, of course.

But I think that might be an important piece of the puzzle. As a therapist and human, it’s rare that I feel comfortable taking others’ experiences and sharing them with the world! It feels like I’m exposing someone’s secrets in a self-serving way. The one or two times I’ve expressed publicly something that was shared with me in private led to bad feelings. Granted, these were times I wasn’t fully mindful of what I was doing; I’d like to believe anything I usually sit down to write and share involves thought and consideration. And in that thought and consideration, I ask myself: “Is it too soon? What if they stumble across this piece and recognize themselves in it, despite my attempts to generalize and shield their privacy?” And what if I’m referring to family and friends? Experiences shared with loved ones that evoke narratives that shine a spotlight onto the cracks, illuminating shadows and shame? Mine or theirs. Do I want that out there?

Write those stories for myself, right? Keep them close and share them only when it feels safe to do so. Yes, yes, that’s true. Is that where I land, then? Is that my rationalization for not writing more often? It feels unfinished somehow.

I will not end with a conclusion or a promise to you or to myself that things will change. I just found a few words and thought I’d share them.

 

I see your pain…now what?

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I’ve been thinking a lot about emotional pain. How it looks. How people respond to it. What makes it better. How sometimes you’re just supposed to sit with it, and other times you need to challenge it. How sometimes you need someone to sit with you, and other times you need to be left alone. It seems that you rarely need to be kicked in the ass and motivated to get over it….but I bet there are people out there who receive that well. I’m not one of them. When I see people try to motivate someone out of their depression, it makes me cringe. I know it’s coming from a loving place – usually – but it often misses the mark.

A conversation with a friend I hadn’t seen in years confirmed for me how little we humans know about responding to emotional pain. We want to reach out, we want to help, but we are lost and confused and pretty damn scared. How can I look at someone I care about and see them in such despair and have any clue how to benefit them? Is empathy really that powerful? Is it really enough to bear witness to someone’s struggle? Once I’ve held your hand and thanked you for opening up to me and legitimized your feelings, what happens next? Am I supposed to offer some kind of wisdom or assistance? And if I do, what the hell do I do if you take me up on it? Do we keep talking about it? Do I distract you and try to cheer you up? Maybe I’ll let you know I’m there for you from afar. I’ll stand over here and pray for you or think healing thoughts for you….from way over here. Where it’s safe. Where I don’t have to acknowledge my own inadequacy or confront my own struggles or any number of other things that shield me from vulnerability. Yours and my own.

I realize I might not be speaking for everyone. There are a lot of amazing people out there who can be vulnerable and can tolerate another’s vulnerability. And I’m sure that there are times when they are more available than others. I just know that so many of us are walking around with weights we can barely carry. At times our knees buckle under those weights, and we can’t move as fast as the world often wants us to. I also know that sometimes, we need to put down the weights – whether we leave them there or pick them up again, we can’t always drag them with us. Anyone who stops long enough to be curious about the weights and how we came to carry them – you are much appreciated. And if you can just be willing to notice the weights and refrain from telling us how we should just cast them off and be free, that would be pretty great. We’d like to cast them off too. And if we knew how, we would’ve done it already. Just notice. Just be curious. Just let us know that you see that our weights are real. That’s really all you, we, I need to do.

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Don’t tell me. Show me.

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I find it hard to update here when I’m working on my novel. So much of my energy is directed at just getting the words on the page. But I often have moments of wanting to talk about the process of writing, and this feels like the right place to do it. Especially if any of you who might stumble upon my page here have anything supportive or potentially helpful to say. I’d appreciate that!

Honestly, I still find it funny to call my story a “novel,” because that typically makes me think of this:

Giggle-worthy, but not particularly motivating 🙂

Back to the novel, though. It’s coming along all right. Over and over I hear that I should let my characters teach me who they are and tell me where they’re going. I really enjoy that process and love watching my characters become more and more nuanced. Their behaviors, their manner of speaking, the way they react to things – they’re becoming real to me. It’s like getting to know new friends! And like me and my friends, we do a lot of thinking and chatting and processing. Not necessarily the stuff of riveting plotlines, right?

I have been reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. She tells a story about how her editor loved the characters in a novel she was working on but didn’t feel the book went anywhere. Something about inviting all these interesting people to dinner but not giving them anything to eat. That’s my main concern! I have these people I am learning to love, but I wonder if they’re going places readers will want to follow. Truthfully, I’m not overly concerned about this. My reasons are twofold.

  1. When you’re writing a novel for the first time, it’s supposed to suck. So if it sucks, then I’m on the right track.
  2. I read Cheryl Strayed’s Torch and didn’t feel like any of those characters went anywhere. They milled about in their grief and just ended up at the end of the book. And yet, I read the whole thing. I’m not saying I’m Cheryl Strayed. Nor am I even saying I thought Torch was a fantastic read. I am saying that sometimes it’s okay to watch characters just be themselves in response to heartbreak. That in and of itself can be raw and intriguing, without some kind of uber climax. I like my characters. I’m going to let them mill about for a little while.

The one other experience I’m having is related more to inspiration and a kind of anxiety I wasn’t quite expecting. I get this rush of excitement and sense of knowing where I’m supposed to go next. A character gives me a glimpse of their next move or a bit of dialogue. As long as I give it my full attention, it expands and becomes clearer to me, so I run with it! Every once in a while, though, I’ll get that rush, but then an uneasiness settles over my chest, sometimes in my stomach. And then I might back away, even though I know I should push through. I wonder if those moments of inspiration are hinting that this particular part will be an important challenge, whether it’s related to plot or character development. But I think the challenge makes me anxious and then avoidant. I’m probably avoiding right now! Does anyone else experience this?

I’m going to post this. And then I’m diving back in. I’ve avoided long enough.