Boundaries and me

At 5:30 this evening I was sitting up in bed, trying to achieve exit velocity from Netflix so I could go stare at the kitchen shelves before making dinner, when my mom walked into my  bedroom.

This was no casual drop-in.  She lives a third of the continent away from me–fifteen hours by car, although her flight was substantially shorter.  I’d opened up to her this week about my current major depressive episode, and this weekend as soon as she was free from prior obligations, she flew out to see me.  We went to dinner, and then she bought me groceries.

Well, first we hugged.  And after we hugged, I went to grab my purse and shut my computer, which involved signing out of instant messenger.  My mom just showed up bbl.

Then I paused, considered that sentence, and added a little 🙂 before actually signing out.  Because with my friends, you can’t take that kind of appearance for granted as a cause for relief and joy.

The people I run with are really big about boundaries.  My friends often fall into a series of overlapping groups that talk about boundaries a lot:  feminists, mental health advocates, sexual assault survivors, survivors of childhood abuse, and people with disabilities, to name a few.  A lot of them are deeply concerned with fighting the social pressures that take away their independence, autonomy, and agency; they want the right to make their own decisions about what they do, where they go, and who they do it with.  I think it’s a good fight and I support it.  But at the same time, I back off from rhetoric about boundaries being the ultimate social good, about how a stated boundary should be inviolably respected; the issue is more complex for me. Continue reading Boundaries and me

Guest post: The woman who heard God

And I’m back to the blog after another hiatus. Real life can stop sucking at any time now. Back, with the second guest post from med school! This is the story I asked ladystardust19 if I could repost in the first place, because I think it’s a beautiful example of cultural competency in mental health practice.

A lot of people assume these days that if they hear someone is “Christian”, they know what that entails. That they have a reasonable idea of what practices the religion involves. However, Christianity is not a single monolithic religion—I know I’m blaspheming against ecumenism here, but I’m not sure if I’d call it a single religion at all anymore, so much as a spectrum of many religions with a shared set of core texts, from a practical standpoint if not a theological one.  Christianity is so diverse these days that two Christians who have both been immersed in their faith for decades can meet and scarcely recognize each other’s lived experiences. If you want to be culturally competent where religion comes, you cannot assume that “Christian” is the free square on your bingo card. You have to your research.

There’s a lot more I could say about why it’s important for us to be culturally competent around Christianity—whether about the domination of social services in many areas by Christian groups, Christian thought’s effects on psychological theories and practices, or Christianity’s messy struggle to combine religion and childrearing, and its aftermath. At some point, I probably will. But today, let’s go on to the story. Continue reading Guest post: The woman who heard God

Guest post: Killing Stalin

Since my last post, I have been absolutely snowed under with work; last week, I pulled double the number of usual full-time shifts at my job. My free time has largely been devoted to cuddling the crap out of the new cat I adopted from a shelter in July, and neglecting this blog. Good for me! Bad for you!

In light of this, I’ve solicited some guest content from a friend of mine. If you’ve been reading the comments, you may have seen ladystardust19 chime in with tales from her own work. She and I met in the nerdy teenage girl regions of the internet lo these many years ago; now she attends medical school in the US with an eye to rural general practice when she graduates. This is the first of two guest posts she’s written for the Book of Jubilation. Continue reading Guest post: Killing Stalin

Anatomy of a Scar

So a while back I mentioned offhand that, due to my occasional tendency to blurt things out thoughtlessly, I self-sequester from Nice Guys™.  (If you’re like, “Why does this chick hate decent men?” go read that link.  I don’t.  I’m referring to a specific social phenomenon.)  This is not because I dislike and despise Nice Guys™.  It’s actually based out of empathy and compassion because I don’t know how to keep from hurting them right now.  I see a guy self-loathingly talk about how girls never choose him even after all he does for them, and I’m like, “Me = Bull.  You = China shop.  Me = LEAVING before I break you.”

It’s because I used to be one.  (As a girl.  A Nice Girl™.  Gender socialization makes Nice Guydom different than Nice Girldom in many ways, but they both share a common emotional core.  For the purposes of this post I’m reviving the archaic custom of having the masculine pronoun encompass both male and female perspectives of Niceness, unless a specific example is female.) As a Nice Girl, I trailed in the wake of the people I liked.  I gave gifts, attention, and energy, desperately hoping they would love me back.  I never said a word until far too late.  And then when I was turned down, I was devastated.

I used to be one, but then I dedicated myself to years of beating back the darkness in my soul.  Over the course of this quest I have learned secrets of Nice Guyism that no Nice Guy can hear without pain  They are a very potent medicine; they can cure, but it is not a kind cure or an easy one.  They stripped me down to my very darkest place and left me there for a long time.

Continue reading Anatomy of a Scar

Field report

Being a counsellor with no clients sucks.  I’ve been working at the foster home for five months now, making sandwiches and sitting through meltdowns for little more than minimum wage.  It’s wearying and dispiriting and making me question my decision to live in this beautiful city, which I love, and which is positively oversaturated with mental health professionals.  I even had one afternoon where I was positively convinced I wanted to move home to my rural, frozen, politically conservative city of origin, which unfortunately has rather more job openings (and better licensing laws).  It passed, but still: it happened.

I miss being a therapist.  I miss not worrying every two weeks about whether my bank account will go into overdraft.  I miss being able to go home at the end of eight hours and pet my cat.

(Cat is a separate-but-related concern.  My beloved cat died in March, at fifteen years old.  I decided not to get another cat until I knew I could afford it and whatever veterinary expenses it might incur, since not being able to afford treatment for a sick pet is a special hell with which I’ve become well acquainted.  Time has gone on, my money situation hasn’t gotten better, and two weeks ago I bought myself a teddy bear because I so desperately needed something to cuddle and I couldn’t keep telling myself a cat would happen “soon”.)

I keep forgetting that it’s July, the height of summer, despite how taxing the heat is.  It feels like some harder, drier season.

So it’s times like this I revisit my favourite stories, the ones about people who do the right and necessary thing despite the cost.  I watch Call the Midwife and Oranges and Sunshine (which magnify heartbreak between them, as the stories echo back and forth), and Short Term 12 and Citizen X.  I try to find something deeper to draw from.

I go back to the poem I discovered in undergraduate, when I chafed at years of classes and no meaningful work to do, and try to drink my fill again when I have work, but it’s not my own.

To Be of Use
by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

I try to burn on, and shine on, and go on; and not to go out.

It’s all in the perspective

Talking with a friend on being pressured to “make peace” with her hugely toxic parents, I found myself saying something I want to remember for future use.

You ARE making peace with them. The kind of peace that comes from having a border fenced with barbed wire and patrolled by armed peacekeeping troops from a neutral third party.

For some of us, “making peace” means coming together into emotional closeness.  For others, it means a lifelong process of negotiating an end to the hostilities.

(In other news, I’ll be at one foster home or another for 72 hours straight this week, and then I have a six-hour training on nonviolent conflict intervention, which is like the martial art of the helping professions because the goal is to cause the least amount of harm possible.  I’m considering laying in a stock of meat pies and chocolate chip cookie dough for myself when I get off work on Thursday, because that level of stress and exaustion demands easy-to-procure carbs.)

The crankybolt strikes

I thought I was a bit snippy before, but then I got some really insightful comments to my post on people “outwitting” their therapists and now I would like to bite something (not my commenters!), as people contributed a lot of great ideas about how clients get set up in adversarial relationships with their therapists.

I have this dangerous habit of naivete that’s hard to break, which is: I forget about bad therapy and people who use therapy badly.  I like to relegate it to this separate place in my head and separate it from my vocation.  We may have come pretty far, but psychotherapy’s roots still go back to deeply toxic structures of institutionalization and social control.

I think a really common thread to the stories I get treated to was that the person was brought into therapy as a child, often for being “weird” or “odd”.  And a lot of child therapists, bless their hearts (she says through gritted teeth) actually do take it as their mission to take “odd” children and turn them into normal, happy, healthy children.  And sadly, a lot of dominant discourses say that normalcy is the path to health and happiness.  “If you stopped monologuing about Pokemon, then you could make friends and have a good social life!”

And, well, these conversations usually take place while at least one of us is in costume.  We’re geeks.  We’re odd children who grew into odd adults.  We monologue at each other.  “Normal” is the shoe that doesn’t fit.

Also, I did some work in my last practicum as a child therapist, and what really got to me was that all the parents assumed at first that taking your kid to therapy was like dropping your car off for an oil change.  You go and someone takes the kid away, and then brings them back 45 minutes later a little bit more fixed!  “Here’s your counsellor, Timmy.  She’s here to make you less of a freak.  I’ll be reading a magazine in the waiting room.”

The nice way to talk to the parents I worked with was, “I’m a stranger who sees your child once a week.  I’m good for what I’m worth, but I am nowhere near as important as you are.  You’re with him every day; you’re one of the foundations of his world.  If I do work with him, unless it’s being supported by things that change at home, it won’t be nearly as effective.”

(That was also the practicum that got me a case of, “Your child’s doing amazingly well considering the circumstances, but holy hell YOU need some psychiatric services STAT.  Let me write up a list of symptoms to take to your GP, and show you how to dial 211.  Also: HOW many social workers, law enforcement officers, and doctors signed off on your case without noticing this?  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”)

I love knowing that people like Social Jerk are slogging it out in the trenches of Child Welfare work, because when I think too much about the way our society practically enshrines a parent’s sense of proprietary ownership over their child I kind of want to swell up into a giant beast of rage and start lighting things on fire.