How it started....
I remember the exact moment I decided that I wanted to be a counselor. I was in third grade and the movie “Sybil” came on TV. In the 80’s, kids my age were watching He-Man, The Smurfs and maybe some “You Can’t do That on Television.” Those were of less interest to me than the movies that depicted real-life problems. Sally Field completely enraptured me with her struggle and genuine effort to have a normal life. Oh- and her trauma! My goodness. The idea that a parent could maliciously harm a little person blew my mind and I wanted to understand how this little girl lived through it! This movie is about multiple personality disorder (now called dissociative identity disorder in the DSM V. Or DID). This condition is a miraculous coping mechanism of the mind to protect the primary personality from harm by splitting into other personas that “take over” during times of distress. It is extremely rare, but occurs primarily in cases for those who have endured severe and repeated childhood trauma. This particular disorder has been depicted in many movies, television shows and used as a defense by criminals to explain away their bad behavior. Similar to “the devil made me do it” blame game. I mean come on. This is fascinating stuff! I was sold. Unfortunately, it would take another twenty-some years to get my feet wet.
I remember the exact moment I wanted to be a counselor
In high school I took an aptitude test for what I would likely excel at. Psychologist, counselor and social worker. Yahoo! I knew it! Then I looked up what I would have to do to get the training necessary. I was already picturing myself with a private practice and people pouring out their feelings on some Freudian couch. Then I saw it. For a psychologist, I would have four years of undergraduate work, grad school and up to six years of a doctorate program. What you talking bout Willis?? No way. I HATED school. I basically went to school to hang out in the theater costume room or skipped class to smoke with my friends and listen to The Cure. I was THAT teenager. So I naturally bagged that plan and went for the 90’s slacker Reality Bites track instead. Good choices Audrey. Good choices.
Claire Danes had nothing on me and my and my so-called life.
Without digressing entirely from relevant narration, fast forward to 23 year old Audrey. I was waiting tables, living in a crappy hip apartment, listening to Ani Difranco as my personal soundtrack and totally obsessed with school! I finally found my groove. I went to Boise State University and things were going so well, I was in the Honors College for my exceptional grades. What??? As it turns out I’m something of a brain when I’m interested and challenged. I was majoring in psychology, had a great group of friends, a splash of free flowing drama and I was loving life between tearful journaling and personal oaths to stop dating so and so…. By the time I was 27, I was just about a year away from graduation, dating a semi-rebound that I really cared about and SURPRISE! I’m pregnant. See- this is a big deal. Not just because yeah- baby- HUGE! But because this kid facilitated and enormous life shift. Much like a volcano erupting or waking up and the sun is purple. Big stuff!
Pregnancy sucked. My semi-rebound wasn’t jiving with the daddy gig (yet) and I was holding my own, working until I got super sick. I had a “high risk pregnancy” and a benign tumor the size of a grapefruit making everything extremely painful. Bed rest. Early delivery. NICU. That year I had five hospital stays with two incidence of sepsis (your body is entirely infected and you could pretty much die). All of that with a baby, living with my parents and battling postpartum depression. Party on Wayne! With the help of my supportive family, quality friends and this precious little love muffin, I found my drive and determination to get on with my personal goals. I was able to get out of my parent’s house and started working at university housing which kept me housed and utilities covered while I finished up. I started plotting and scheming about grad school and found that social work was the best fit. The program was only two years and I could increase my market value with my clinical license that I could earn after graduation.
I’m sure you have heard this somewhere- single parenting is difficult. Her daddy was involved and was willing to help with as much as he could, with time for me to work on projects as they came up. My parents were huge lifesavers. I couldn’t have done any of this without their child care and financial or emotional support. They were both unconditional in their desire to help me succeed.
My parents were huge lifesavers
Those years in school are nothing short of a blur. Anyone who has done this grad school thing knows exactly what I’m talking about. It’s like having your core-self broken down each day, only to find that it can break in to smaller and more neurotic pieces. With the pressure of 17-hour internship weeks, endless papers. presentations, group projects, regular work hours and raising a 3 year old (phew!) I really have no idea how I did it. I can say my drive had a lot to do with it. It never occurred to me that I would fail. I wanted it so badly I could taste it- along with the blood sweat and tears I was swimming in. I did it. For about a year after I graduated, I would still cry thinking about how hard it was on us to make it to that finish line. I was hired on the spot at a local hospice and got on with this thing called life. I had done school for so long, my identity was really challenged. I would think to myself, wow….now I will do this for 40 hours a week until I die? It’s a good thing I was passionate about social work and helping people because this is how people start praying for death. The monotony of a consistent work schedule was a blessing but also a pretty serious adjustment. I had some struggles.
It never occurred to me that I would fail.
Hospice is an amazing program. I was initially fearful of death, but mostly the people that were DYING. I knew there would be a lot of sadness, scary illness, absolute disability and mental decline. I couldn’t have ever prepared myself for how I would love them. People say: “Audrey- how did you do that? I could never work with the dying!” The thing is we are all dying, we just have different expiration dates. These folks are some of the best story tellers in the world. They taught me so many things. I learned to see someone’s soul and not their body. I learned extreme patience sitting with a demented non-verbal woman, holding her hand for an hour because she didn’t have visitors. I made a retired 90 year old clown laugh when I put on a red nose and honked it. I have seen everything, smelled more than I wanted to, and cried with people. What a special story I was given. I was heart broken when it was time to go in another direction but after years of death, I was ready for life.
We are all dying, we just have different expiration dates.
I started working at a hospital based rehab for people who have had a heart or lung event. What a different world! People were getting better and I got the opportunity to really dig into my counseling skills. My medical director believed in the importance of educating patients about things like mindfulness, gratitude, stress reduction, depression, and life-purpose in order to improve the whole health of each individual. I created a robust curriculum and was given the opportunity to teach on top of individual counseling. During this professional evolution, I got my clinical license after YEARS of hard work. I was finally an LCSW (licensed clinical social worker. The biggest deal ever!) With my increased confidence, I assisted in program development within our department, was trained as a tobacco treatment specialist at Mayo Clinic and got to work in a weight loss pilot for people at risk for future disease. This job was amazing. I started to notice some recurring and consistent challenges with my patient population. These people were stressed! They can’t sleep because they are so worried about money, health, family, and life-purpose. There are resentments, depression, anxiety, panic, and lack of self worth! Over the years I have seen dramatic changes in people after just a few sessions of teaching them some basic skills. I’m talking major lifestyle changes. People started to meditate, quiet their mind, practice yoga and write about their feelings! They felt better and life was a welcomed opportunity for growth instead of just punching a time clock until their final breath. Yes. People have said this to me.
Audrey's Peace of Mind
One day it hit me. I want to reach more people! I have the credentials and experience to really make a difference in a few more lives and I think I’m going to take that torch and run with it. I’m calling this blog “Audrey’s Peace of Mind” because that’s what we are all seeking. A peaceful mind, a good night’s sleep, and purpose. I’ve got you covered. While I’m a counselor, I’m not YOUR counselor. This blog is meant to be an educational tool to improve your daily life. For major mental health struggles, I ALWAYS recommend professional one on one treatment. This is going to be a great adventure and I’m thrilled to have you along for the ride. Together I have the feeling that we are going to create something beautiful. Welcome to my peace of mind.