I wrote and posted a haiku to my Facebook profile yesterday:
“My culture and I
differ in priorities
I feel fine alone.”
And even I was thinking, “Who are you trying to convince?”
I wrote and posted a haiku to my Facebook profile yesterday:
And even I was thinking, “Who are you trying to convince?”
I went to church yesterday—a Unitarian one where I was required to believe nothing in particular. Sitting in front of me in the balcony were bland clothes of dull purples, black, and brown cloth—pants, sweaters, jackets. Surprisingly boring for such an eccentric denomination and for Portland in general.
I noted the heads of white hair settled atop the bland sweaters and cardigans, and I thought, If I’m lucky, I’ll get to have white hair, too.
Last Wednesday morning, the day before my dad’s 21st death-a-versary, I drove away from the airport and towards work, leaving my mom on the curb for her to leave me and head back to Florida. Four years ago, I left her, moving to upstate New York. And a year and half ago, I moved farther way, moving here to Oregon.
We do so much leaving, us humans. Some out of convenience, some to save ourselves, some to become our true selves, to hide, for love, out of hatred, and most of all in death.
We leave, over and over and over again. And so it goes, and so it goes.
Dad died over 2 decades ago now. Now I’m 26.
Sometimes Society inquires,”Why aren’t you over it, Kristen?” like the idiot Society can be.
That’s 21 years of loss: of him not being with me, of significance he’s missed, that I’ve missed him; that’s 21 years without love from a man, a father-figure, a human to protect me from the cruel males who would try and have hurt me. That’s 21 years without hugs or affirmations and without a representative of what a man should be. My dad was flawed (we’re all and only human), but he was mine.
He’s gone, and every day the loss remains.
I work as a crisis therapist, working with suicidal youth. Two Wednesdays ago, a day I was on-call for hospital admits, I got called to the on-call supervisor’s office to be debriefed on a potential client before heading to the hospital to meet her. [Name of On-Call Supervisor] told me about a 16 year-old who attempted suicide on her daddy’s death anniversary. My dad’s death-a-versary was a week away then. I asked [Name of On-Call Supervisor] if we could close the door. She did. I wept, surprising both her and I, as I told her that I was experiencing counter-transference.
[Name of On-Call Supervisor] said she wouldn’t send me out. However, because of how they set up the schedule and to accommodate other therapists, I had to switch on-call days back with [Name of Another Therapist], causing me to be on-call Thursday again, the day my mom would fly into Portland, what I had been careful to avoid.
“Oh it’ll be fine,” said [Name of Current Supervisor]. “You know you’re going to see this a lot. A lot of our clients have dead parents.”
“If it weren’t September, I’d be fine,” I said.
“Is that why your mom is visiting?”
That night I went to The Dougy Center to volunteer with kids grieving the death of a parent.
The following night, Thursday, my mom and I had just made it into my apartment from the airport, and I hear the anxiety-provoking ringtone of my work phone. [Name of On-Call Supervisor] debriefs me on the kid I will see at the hospital that night, ASAP and within an hour as required. “Are you at the airport?”
“No. We just got to my apartment.”
“Okay. Does your mom know what you do?”
“Okay. Say ‘hi’ to her for me.”
And that’s when I broke.
The crying in [Name of On-Call Supervisor]’s office was nothing. I was enraged. I TRIED. I’m sorry my dad died in September and that I didn’t go out to the admit the day prior. And now my brief time with my mom would be shortened by at least 4 hours. Where was the compassion? Why didn’t the counselors I worked with understand grief?
Tears shot down my face as I screamed to my mom about how much I hated seeing the ugliest sides of life at work.
“I HATE MY LIFE.” I sounded like my teenage clients, which I guess you can do when you’re with your mom.
What was I trying to prove with this job? Do I get extra life points for being miserable? What color would they paint me as a martyr? NOBODY CARES THAT I’M MISERABLE.
The emotional intensity I felt surpassed all that I had earlier that week breaking up with the boyfriend.
I am tired of seeing the effects of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and other abuse presenting as suicidal ideation, violence/aggressive behavior, and cutting/self-harm (basically the causes and effects of pain—of people hurting people) and then going back to the office and being questioned if I’m good enough.
Goodness gracious, I’m sorry I’m not on Xanax or an SSRI, using alcohol, developing an eating disorder, or sleeping around to handle the horror and anxiety of this work like my coworkers. I’m sorry I cried at the office. I don’t like it either.
But I’m not sorry I’m human. And I’m not going to allow this job to take any more time away from me and certainly not any more time away from my loved-ones.
[Name of First Supervisor Who Never Wanted Me Hired in the First Place] was right all along: I’m not suitable for this job. She can smirk while she stomps her way down the hallways while she thinks she’s masking her deeply-set insecurity. She can have that.
Because here’s the truth and this also applies to the recent breakup with [Arrogant Doctor and Future Abusive Husband]: I have so much more to offer this world than completing the duties of this particular job.
We all leave each other for one reason or another. Sometimes we leave our jobs, too.
**I quit the next day, offering the organization a month’s notice, just as they begged for so that they wouldn’t be screwed over.
I quit appropriately on September 22nd, my dad’s death anniversary; albeit that symbolism was unplanned. If he were alive, I’m sure my dad would not want his daughter spending her one fleeting, precious life doing this work. As a dead dad, he knows how fleeting ‘fleeting’ really is.
The following Monday they fired me.**
I am guilty. I think nasty thoughts about you. I judge you.
I’d like to blame society for why I do this to you. I’d like to say that I was encouraged, even conditioned to be this way—to see you as the enemy, as my competition constantly, consciously and who the hell knows what I’m thinking of you subconsciously.
But no matter the influences, I’m in control of my thoughts (the conscious ones) and actions. I’m secretly quite unkind to you, and I’m sorry.
I’ll admit that it’s born of my own insecurity. When I see your better this or that (body, hair, presence, charisma, drive, job, car, body, face, eyebrows, body, body, body, body), I fear that I’m not good enough….but for what? For my own acceptance? I thought I determined that. Your perfect hair (and God, is it gorgeous) doesn’t mean mine is worse or unacceptable. It means you have great hair.
But I stack us up and against each other in my mind. I place us into a hierarchy situation, hoping I come out on top, always.
I get nervous to walk into a group of women. I often tell people that it’s a terrifying situation. Women always agree with me. No exception. We know and fear how horrible we can be.
If it’s just me and a group of guys, I get nervous because I fear gang rape, but I feel comfortable because there’s no one there to negate my specialness. In that group, there’s no one to compete with. I’m the best person present. (JK. Feminism is about equality, not reverse sexism. Get it clear, people.) I’m the best female there because I don’t have competition.
But other women are not competition!
I get nervous when another female comedian gets on stage to perform. My fear is rarely: Oh God, what if she’s funnier than me? (Chances are she is; I’m pretty new.) My fear is: Oh God, what if this means I don’t matter?
As if there can only be one female comic. (And there practically is in this city. I get that people don’t think women are funny, generally (sexism or stereotype that tends to be true?), but in a city the size of Portland, it seems odd that over ¾ of the comedians are male. Maybe not. Maybe my naivety is still going strong. Clearly I’ll become more jaded in a few years. That’s what comics tell me. Which is fine—it’s our internal brokenness that tends to make us funny and you appreciative. While we’re on stage anyway.) (Why don’t you want to deal with our depression off stage?! Blarg.)
Dear women, it’s so difficult to appreciate you. I’m sorry that your presence makes me nervous. I crave your acceptance, yet I’m afraid you’ll see my flaws—the ones that make you better than me (in my sick brain).
But here’s my new promise, whenever I find myself judging you as you walk by or as you get on stage, for every negative thought, I will find one thing that I appreciate about you. Even if your gorgeous hair trumps me. Even if you’re funnier than me. Even if, even if, even if I’m always insecure.
Here’s something that’s been whirling about in my mind for days, something I couldn’t quite explain until my mind was at ease as it drifted to sleep last night. I captured my thoughts by typing them into a text to myself before the moments passed.
The people who say “Get over it” or “Why aren’t you over it yet?” are simply the people who refuse to go deep into their own lives of pain–maybe in that moment, maybe in every moment that they’ve lived.
To them you’re the problem because you reflect the true reality of our human condition. Of course it could be worse. Of course someone else HAS it worse. Ignore, avoid, avoid. ‘I don’t want to acknowledge the legitimacy of your pain. If I did, I’d have to acknowledge mine. And I’m fine. It’s a shame you’re not fine, too.’
I’m so sorry they’re hurt you. They’re hurt me, too. Don’t believe their lies. You are strong while you feel so weak. You are brokenhearted. You are wounded. Because it matters.
Grief is a weight of depression and rage and brokenheartedness. It never entirely goes away. It rather expands at times and contracts so small into such a tiny volume that you forget its presence at times.
But loss is permanent. So the grief will be, too.
Don’t believe their lies. You don’t deserve to be hurt by others’ incompetence at connecting and empathizing with another human being.
It’s important to share. Find the safe people. We need connection and understanding. We’re all and only human.
I didn’t take a counseling job when I moved out to the West Coast a couple months ago.
Not a lot of people knew that—that I didn’t have my heart set on becoming a counselor anymore. I didn’t talk because I already had people’s unsolicited feedback on my move across the country.
Risky, they said.
Risky, sure, I agreed. Sounds like life, I thought.
I wouldn’t (do it), they said.
Good thing you’re not, I thought.
Sure, I said.
For the past couple years, I had lived in upstate New York, working towards a Masters in Mental Health Counseling, a degree earned in two ways—academically and emotionally. Unsurprisingly then, my perspective of myself and the world shifted.
I used to be think I should take care of everyone else, be a person who makes every effort to ensure other’s comfort, while ignoring my own needs. I thought nothing else could be as admirable.
Now I get it. I don’t have to claim to be fine when I’m not. I matter just as much as everyone else. My feelings have merit; they are information and should not be ignored.
This shift in perspective brought upon a change in how I saw my career path. I no longer need to be counselor because I no longer believe that that role is be the only thing to give me worth.
I desire the world to smile upon me, with approval of my achievements. But the truth is that I am not my achievements. I am not my appearance, my body, my materials.
I am an accumulation of everything I have ever experienced. I am human spirit, hopeful and fearful, receiving and offering love. I am not defined by the world’s expectations unless I allow myself to be.
When I realized I could do whatever I wanted, I decided to move across the country, without a job and full of hope.
I applied to some counseling jobs. I received some feedback. Then a different opportunity presented itself, and I took this job.
Then I worried: What will people back in Rochester think? What will family think? It’s not a counseling job. I’m not using my degree. Should I be ashamed?
Then I remembered: These are my choices. Of course some people are going to disagree, but I don’t need to allow that to bother me. I am confident with my choice.
To get me here it took a breakdown at mile 319. I was driving and had just realized I left two things in my medicine cabinet in my now abandoned apartment in Rochester. What I believed to be a thorough, successful walk-through of the apartment before I left was not. My NAKED eyeshadow palette ($50) and more importantly my retainer (Uh thousands for braces? Let’s keep those teeth straight!) were left behind.
I don’t know what city I was driving through, what Sonic the Hedgehog-like paths we were skimming along. I began rambling on about “how could this be?!” and “I tried so hard, I tried so hard.” Repeat, repeat, repeat. Until I started hyperventilating. My vision became blurry. I could still make out large blobs of mass, other cars, and general grey of the road.
“Calm down!” my mother cried. “You need to stay calm!”
Tears rushed down my cheeks like it was a race to my chin and neck.
“I just left EVERYONE. I NEED to break down,” I replied or possibly heaved.
So. My panic wasn’t about a retainer and makeup after all. It never really is about the small things, is it? But, rather, the bigger things that we don’t care to examine or admit to. Those things hurt more to acknowledge.
That was day 1 of our 5 day cross-country trip.
Two days later in Twin Falls, Idaho, my Trek bike (>$700 + the cost of two locks) was stolen off its bike rack on my vehicle in a hotel parking lot.
I had two locks attached to it. One snip-able kind for show to say, “Hey, there are locks here; now walk along, ya thieves!” and one that is supposedly (I doubt everything security now) unbreakable. This one was the real treasure lock, closed between the back tire and back rod(?) rendering the bike unrideable.
The bike salesman said this unbreakable lock was enough. Sure people could take the bike off the rack, it’s not locked to the rack, but they couldn’t do anything with it, he said. People aren’t stupid, he said.
But I knew better! People ARE stupid. People are so stupid sometimes.
So I added the ‘for show’ lock.
And nevertheless, my bike is somewhere in Idaho, I guess, still. Unrideable and pretty as hell.
The same morning we discovered the bike gone, we drove on into Oregon, the prettiest state I’ve ever seen. I drove through mountains that grounded me, reminding me of how small and temporary I am, reminding me how majestic our Earth really is. (I also started our day’s journey with The Muppets soundtrack; let me tell you: that helped. Life IS a happy song when you have someone by your side to sing along. Though, The Mom wasn’t singing.)
At the end of that day, we reached here, Cascade Locks. It’s not far from Portland and is the landscape I’ve craved to be surrounded by.
My soul was happy.
The cost? The price? The loss? What does it matter?
Look at the gain. Just look.