So throw away those Lamentations
We both know them all too well
If there’s a Book of Jubilations
We’ll have to write it for ourselves
So come and lie beside me darling
And let’s write it while we still got time
-Josh Ritter, “Lantern”
I had to do a family genogram in therapist school. That is, of course I did genograms in my Counselling graduate program; they’re a very useful tool of the trade. But the one I mean in particular wasn’t for a client or a vignette; it was for me. I was marked with a little star, and my family branched around me in circles and squares. When I picked colours to indicate mental disorders and began to fill individual cases in, it lit up like a Christmas tree. Depression, ADHD, Addiction, Other; the symbols for people looked like complicated heraldry after a few generations of intermarriage, since I had to divide them up into quarters to fit so many colours. I come from an unbroken maternal line of depression; ADHD smatters my father’s people like a rash. Two alcoholic grandparents. I included my eleven cousins, all of us in our teens or twenties, and six had been treated already for a mental disorder.
It really is something else to see it spread out like that across the page. I looked down and thought, No fucking wonder. I hardly had a chance, did I? The dice were loaded from the start.
The thing I’m saying is: my family knows how to suffer. We do it really well.
I’ve wanted to be a therapist since I was, oh… eleven, twelve, maybe thirteen. Probably eleven. That was the age I realized that there were professionals who helped people not feel like this, and psychotherapy was what they did. Because already at eleven, I’d been depressed for half of my remembered life. I couldn’t imagine anything better than driving that darkness off, and making a living showing people how to suffer less. Just as much as I wanted to learn how to fence and ride horses, I wanted to know how to fight mental illness. Empathy and compassion were the skills I needed more.
Thankfully that vocation has stayed more constant than the depression; I get weeks and months out of the black pit these days, but I still always want to do this job. But it means that I came to counsellor training with more knowledge and hands-on experience than some of my classmates gained in our entire first year. I’ve spent my entire existence since puberty steeped in knowledge of despair, self-hatred, and trauma, only some of it mine, and it forms the spine of my life. This is my reality. This is where I live.
What I don’t always know is how to be happy. I stumble for conversational topics when away from my fellow therapists, because all I have on my mind to talk about is this great new book on child abuse that I think is really useful. In my “remission” periods from depression, anxiety, and ADHD, I suddenly don’t know how to manage my time because I don’t know what to do with all the energy and get-up-and-go on my hands; I’m so used to tiny things taking enormous effort that I’m at a loss when anything is possible! So I had to ask: how do people choose, when their life’s work isn’t guided by a single passionate vocation? How do you balance energy and time, work and play, when you have a budget bigger than scarcity rationing? What are ways I can connect to people, other than in circumstances of mutual sorrow? Who am I, if I’m not the Queen of Sorrows?
I’m a complex-PTSD therapist who spent a lot of her Masters degree focused on career counselling and positive psychology because it felt like the thing I really didn’t know was what you did after the trauma was consolidated and healed.
The Book of Jubilation will contain writing from my past three years in therapist school, as I kept a journal to help me process the concepts and information I was learning. As well as polishing and publishing pieces I wrote along the way, I’ll be writing about new advancements in psychology and public discourse about mental health, as well as new developments in my life. (Therapist school isn’t even over yet, though I’m close, and who knows: I might have things to talk about even after it is.) The comments here are on, and I welcome you to join in to a respectful discussion.