Working in healthcare, I've had my share of conversations with patients that have been left stunned or horrified by their recent flirtation with death. Not only do they perceive the world through a radically different lens, but some are often left almost angry with the pressure to do something amazing with their life, simply because they lived. I have also worked with a generous share of veterans from various wars, most commonly WWII and Vietnam. These often sweet-spirited men are still left shaken by the deaths of their close friends decades ago, while they were somehow spared, and physically unscathed. However emotionally, they carry an immeasurable load. There are still others, that have experienced what's known as NDE, or near death experiences. We have heard the stories, or watched the reality shows- hungry to exploit someone's worst day ever. An individual tells a story of slipping through the ice, or the last thing they remember is a MACK truck's lights barreling toward their car. These NDE's usually share a cluster of elements that are somewhat predictable. An event, a separation from their body, unconditional peace, and the choice to come back or not.
Who doesn't love this classic? I think I've been obsessed with Journey's melodic hits since I can remember. Their lyrics are not only catchy, but infused with soul and vulnerability that can only be written and performed from the heart. There have been periods of my life that could only be expressed through belted verses to "Faithfully" in the shower, or kitchen dance parties with my daughter, to classics like "Don't Stop Believing"- made almost more inspirational, by television show Glee's depiction of a washed out high school choir teacher, and his dreams of winning a greatly coveted national competition with a menagerie of misfits. I challenge anyone to be free of goosies after watching that performance. In fact, I've been found once or twice, sobbing silently to these inspirational clips. The thing is, these songs are relatable to every human experience. We have all felt hurt, alone, and longed for love, riding (at times) the faux optimism of resilience, believing it's just around the corner.
When I started this blog a year ago, I went through this whole transformative process with my identity. I've always been obsessed with writing. I loved the romanticized idea of pouring my thoughts onto paper. Creating imagery within the limitations of the english language, that somehow translates my experience of the world to readers. It seemed important. A noble and timeless plight. Given time, and indoctrination prescribed through academia, I found that my creativity was no longer welcome. Words must be concise, and gratuitous flourish was not only discouraged, but laughable. Where once I spoke in experiential prose, I was left to APA standards and extensive lit reviews. Sure, there is value in that style of writing. People that are dedicated to research, and report their titillating outcomes (however flat in composition), are helpful to every element of society. The medication you take? Someone wrote an academic report on that study. The reason lobotomies aren't on a psychiatrist's immediate treatment list nowadays? Research. I love it. I love reading it, and enjoying the benefits of it. I don't love to write it. There, I said it. I'm a freedom gal, a limit pusher. Strict paradigms bug me. The fact is, it's a good thing I was born in this era, because I would have likely been burned at the stake or institutionalized by my husband (cause everyone had a husband back in the day) for being too "uppity." It really wouldn't have worked out well for me.
When you're a kid, time seems to move at a snail's pace. Always wishing for milestones to get here faster than the laws of physics allow. We long for summer vacations, budding independence, and eventual freedom. The years leading up to the inevitable launch feel excruciating at best. We want so much, and we want it now. Something happens along the way. As we collect years and experiences, time begins to pass through our fingers so quickly and easily, that it is perceived as more precious. Instead of rushing forward, we are made look back on the past with longing or regret. As a therapist, I can state with complete confidence, that this is a prominent and debilitating problem for many. For me, the nature of time continues to unfold in new and cherished ways. Of course I look back. So much of my writing incorporates a walk through raw pages of the past. My motivations to reflect are not fueled by sadness, but pride in my own resilience. I look back to remind myself of my capacity to grow over time. I have learned, made better choices, and seek to share my insights to lessen heartache in others' lives. I hope that it is welcomed in it's value, and believe wholeheartedly that it is.
Everyone wants to be liked. Even me. As much as I would love to tell you that my confidence can surpass even the most petty slings and arrows of another's judgement, that's not always the case. Sure, as I approach 40, I feel more put together and capable than at any other time of my life, but that doesn't mean I'm bulletproof. There are days when the harsh rejection of a peer, or even a personality disordered patient can shake me for a moment or two. I hate that feeling, just like a punch to the gut. Why don't they like me? After all, I'm a perfectly likable person! Then... there are the other people who couldn't give two figs about what other people think. They are awesome in every way, and if you don't think so, it's your problem. I've never understood those people, though quietly admired them. What makes us so different? How do you get past the deep and unquenchable desire for others to accept you?
I work in a goal based business. In healthcare, we like to set goals like crazy. You want to lose 20 pounds? Totally possible! You want to lower your blood sugar? I've got a plan for you! The biggest problem with being a cheerleader (and I was), is that regular human beings have a problem maintaining motivation when results are sparse. The easiest metaphor is weight loss. Most patients I have, would love to lose some weight. Especially right now. All the goodies that have been showered down our throats, laced with love, have added up. We're all a little fluffy around the middle come New Year's Day. The problem with weight gain, is that it's fun while you're doing it. Are you counting calories? Probably not. Weighing your food? Heck no. But here we are, consequences making our clothing shrink. Jerk consequences. Unfortunately, the inches don't drip off as quickly (or easily) as they were accumulated. It takes good old fashioned hard work. Sweat. Deprivation (no oreos?!!!). Yet it can takes weeks to notice a substantial change. How frustrating is that? Some of us can look at a cheesecake and go up a size. In this scenario, people get frustrated. At first, you may have been reeling with optimism, ready to take on the world! But after a few weeks, your energy starts to wane, and cheating commences. Motivation lost. Bum Bum BUM (dramatic music here).
Therapists everywhere let out a collective sigh when we recognize borderline traits in a patient. As an undergrad, I had a fabulous professor for my abnormal psychology class. Prior to working at our humble university, she specialized in borderline personality disorder (BPD) at a group clinic out-of-state. I couldn't for the life of me, understand why she would give up such an impressive and needed specialty. That is, until I got a few years of practice under my belt. I don't pretend to specialize in personality disorders, as that's a long-term therapeutic relationship that has yet to entice me. Think of me as a runner (I'm SO not). There are casual runners that say, "I know what I'll do today, I'll go for a run!" Then there are intense athletes that train for marathons, choking down nutrient rich sweet goo, and barely realize they just lost a toenail. In this humble metaphor, the latter are the therapists that relish an opportunity to work personality disorders. I admire these folks, yet have no desire desire of my own, to lose a toenail.
As a teenager, I used to frequent this coffee shop that hosted raves by night, but by day- it was home to slacker wannabe poets and artists- your basic bohemian wonderland. While I was nothing of a skilled club dancer, I would consider myself an avid people watcher- soaking up the wide leg JNCO jeans, reflective wear, glow sticks and pacifiers. To my chagrin, the restroom was located on the other side of the dance floor, and there was literally no route in which I could escape the crowd of dancing party people. It honestly appeared as though the dance floor got larger as I saw the length I would have to walk amidst the chaos. That's when the feeling of social anxiety hits. People may experience increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweat erupts, and muscles tense- braced for impact. Your body tells you it's not safe in this situation and GET OUT! This is also commonly experienced with people facing public speaking engagements, performance, going to a party alone, a first date, or even the first day of school. Social anxiety is a little different than generalized anxiety, in that it is triggered by social interaction. Generalized anxiety can happen at anytime, including sitting alone on the couch watching TV, in a perfectly safe environment. Generalized anxiety can be made worse by social situations, but it isn't by any means a prerequisite.
People use the term bipolar disorder somewhat flippantly. Oh, you know so-and-so, they are so bipolar. What- are you bipolar or something? When I was first introduced to world of mental health, bipolar disorder was known as manic depression. I didn't understand exactly what this meant, but saw very clearly that judgement was projected on people who had it. It appeared as though they were not only stigmatized, but blame was assigned to the person, so easily labeled as "crazy." Like it could all be fixed with a simple tug at their bootstraps. All better now. Not quite. While my personal interest in mental illness has driven me to this career, I never suspected that I would personally care so deeply for people that wake up every day without a promise tomorrow will look so bright. It changes things, to see true suffering at the hand of something entirely unseen.
I think everyone is born with a different level of sensitivity to the world around them. For better or worse, I feel everything. By everything, I mean the whole enchilada. As a kiddo, I had no way to manage the intensity around me, and was consequently perceived as rather odd. When people are in pain, I can physically feel it. If they are emotionally distressed, I know the root of it. Not in a psychic way, but a feeling and empathic way. I've come to understand that this isn't a "typical" human experience. Luckily, over the years I have managed to figure out how to navigate my feelers to help others, and not fall down the rabbit hole to Wonderland in the process. It's not uncommon for highly sensitive people to suffer symptoms consistent with depression and anxiety, but the fact is, it's not pathology- but a gift that needs a little wrangling.