Tuesday, October 12, 2010

“Refuse to fall down. If you cannot refuse to fall down, refuse to stay down, lift your heart toward heaven like a hungry beggar, ask that it be filled and it will be filled. You may be pushed down. You may be kept from rising. But no one can keep you from lifting your heart toward heaven-only you. It is in the middle of misery that so much becomes clear. The one who says nothing good came of this is not yet listening.”
-Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice--

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

"Mend my life!"

each voice cried.

But you didn't stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do--

determined to save

the only life you could save.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Eye of the Storm

"Well, when I was lost, I suppose it's good advice to stay where you are until someone finds you. But who'd ever think to look for me here?" -Alice

I've known I wanted to be a therapist forever, it just seemed that I fought my passion at every new twisty turn that my life took (hence my uber-beneficial english lit degree). It took the entire summer after graduation of sitting on my duff, chain-smoking on my patio, with my parent's watchful and judgmental glares from inside my house for the fire to be lit under my ass. I quickly enrolled in classes to fulfill many essential pre-requisites I needed in which my degree didn't come close to fulfilling. It was at this community college that I began asking questions for the first time ever. These weren't just any questions. They were the heavy-hitting questions that I can only assume many 20-somethings begin to ask themselves when they wake up and realize, "Wait a second, so, not everyone's like ME? Not everyone has been given the same opportunities that I have?" What a grade A douchebag I was.

Obviously I knew that not everyone is blessed with carefree lives. What's that saying about the sun is brighter after it rains or some stupid shit like that? Well anyway, all of a sudden I had an epiphany...Um, Hello, Earth to Caitlin; You want to be a therapist, and yet, you have never experienced anything outside of your comfortable, homogeneous, popped collar-clad world? I shouldn't be surprised that as soon as I left my safe bubble I began questioning things that I never thought to question before. I like to think life works like that- when you're so immersed in an experience, you don't think about (or maybe don't WANT) to question anything that would possibly disrupt the experience you're having. I think it's like getting out of a shitty relationship. When you're in it, you're in it. But when you finally open your eyes and walk away, that's when you begin to question everything, and realize that you probably should have started asking questions A LOT sooner than you did. But alas, I was 22, naive and now extremely curious about the different kinds of people that I had yet to experience.

When I began my program at school, I was surprised at how quickly we were able to choose our very first internship sites. This struck me as a daunting task, and when I arrived at my scheduled meeting with our clinical coordinator, I still had no clue what population I wanted to work with. Partly because of my unexplainable connection with the elderly, (more specifically, the dying elderly), and also due to a magical experience that Allie had when her Grandfather was ill, I've always known I wanted to work in a Hospice care facility. But I also know my own limitations. It would not have been a wise choice for me to work in Hospice during my first experience with clients. (Come to find out, Hospice is not a choice for first-time internship sites, for this exact reason.) So there I was, knowing for certain where I wanted to end up, but knowing that I had far more to learn before I was able to get there. It was then that my professor asked, "What about teens?"

A lightbulb went off in my dimly-lit, dusty brain. DUH. Why hadn't I thought of that? It was when she explained that the alternative high school that I could possibly intern at was located a mere 10 minutes away from my beloved undergraduate university that I was sold. Of course the universe works like that. I was about to enter the "other" world that I had blatantly ignored for the 4 most intensely fun, carefree and fantastic years of my life.

I began my internship working with the kids in January. Everyday has been fun, rewarding and difficult. The challenges I face day to day are personal ones- nothing compared to what my kids face when they leave the safety of the school. These kids push me in every way possible, and it's been intense to say the least. I won't lie, I was frightened to begin. I was certain that they could smell my anxiety and fear and I was right, they definitely could. But I've learned more about myself in the last 4 months than I could have ever hoped to from reading a book, or listening to a lecture.

I've learned that I lack boundaries with other people (I'm working on it). I struggle with wanting people to like me (not everyone, especially not every teenager, I meet is going to be receptive to a weird woman asking them personal questions about their artwork). I struggle with loud and chaotic environments (I need to get over this one, asap). I struggle with things that are unexplainable and unfair (like when one of my kids was absent and his friend told me he was stabbed in his lower back in his front yard because someone didn't like what he had said to them). I struggle with gang violence and murder (Obviously. But when a close friend of many of my students was killed over the weekend by a rival gang member, and I walked in Monday morning completely unaware, I finally had to take off my rose-colored glasses and see straight up what my students live with everyday.)

Have I had bad days so far? Yes. Have some of these bad days caused me to weep messily and loudly and openly while driving on I95 on the way home? Yes. Have I left my internship insulted, disillusioned, and battered? Yes. Have I lost hope for these kids? No fucking way. They have been the coolest teachers I've ever had, teaching me more about myself than I ever thought possible.

Although the bad days suck, there have been many glittering moments of beauty and passion sprinkled throughout my experience so far, and I've been lucky to recognize them while they are happening. I've learned many new slang terms that give me a lot more street-cred (or so I've been told); I've learned that when I don't do my hair in the mornings, people notice (I've been told); I've learned to think before I speak, and not to ask silly, ignorant questions (I've been told); I've learned not to make judgments about groups of people before I get the amazing opportunity to meet them (this one's all mine).

Whether it's been watching with my own eyes the entire student body beat boxing on command for a dance battle with an abstinence dance troupe from D.C. (I will never forget this as long as I live) to listening to a 15 year old girl's parenting advice to me: "Wait to have kids until you have a job, and if youcan wait 'til you have a husband, even better!", they've helped make me a better, stronger, more compassionate person.

Come June, it will be time for me to move on. School is not in session during the summer, and in September I will be beginning my internship at the Connecticut Hospice. I'm not surprised that I've had such an amazing experience working with my kids. In fact, nothing surprises me anymore. I should have known that when I began questioning things about the world, the universe would come through once again, and put me in the eye of the storm. For better, or for worse. But, mostly for the better.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I could tell you my adventures...

"I could tell you my adventures — beginning from this morning, but it's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then." -Alice

I'm no stranger to the impact that creativity and artistic expression can have on someones life. DUH. Why the F would I be going to school to become an art therapist if I didn't get that? Art can help relieve stress, build self-esteem, foster resilience, promote healing, and aid in forgiveness. Forgiveness, you say? Forgiveness, I say??

I'm currently enrolled in a course at school which is mandatory in our curriculum, and is essentially our own art therapy. How fitting! How lovely! How friggin' intense. They offer this course for the obvious reasons, and for the not-so-obvious reasons; we should be able to use the same language that we will be asking our client's to use: the nonverbal kind. We are expected to be well-versed in this secret, symbolic language that everyone is fluent in. Yes, I said everyone. It's just not everyone that chooses to communicate this way.

My initial enthusiasm for the class was probably because I've experienced first-hand the wonderful things that art can do for a person: Signing up for a pottery class in high school gave me a healthy outlet to vent typical teenage frustrations; it gave me a sense of accomplishment, helped to ease a rapidly growing battle with anxiety attacks, and was the only A on my report card aside from the ridiculous "child development" classes I took. Yeah- I wasn't even getting A's in gym! Ha! (Oh, and BTW- the modern-day feminist in me screams in horror at the idea that I signed up for a child development class- and yes, this was the kind of class that gave all of us sweet little Mommy's-to-be a cute little electronic baby, that cried (screeched) every time it was hungry (or every time you let it's head snap backwards--whoops!))

So I was super pumped for this class. Totally ready to be directed in my own personal growth via my artwork. Totally ready to be a model "client/student" in the class, and to create bangin' pieces of art while I was at it. Totally ready to be guided through the soothing, calming aspects of artistic expression that I have grown to love. Well, fuck me. I wasn't ready for A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G.

Our latest assignment was given to us two weeks ago. We usually have three weeks to complete our finished pieces on the given topic of our professor's choice. The topic is one word. It's a simple word, an easy one on any spelling test. Only 4 letters to be honest with you. A word that I use flippantly in conversation on a daily basis, many of us do. It's a loaded word, casually mis-used for us all to sound more descriptive in the telling of our daily happenings:


Oh, shit. We have been asked to remember a time that we have felt rage- not annoyance, not anger- actual, full-blown rage. The kind of memory that still makes our blood boil, our hearts beat faster, our breathing to speed up or stop completely. The kinds of memories we all would rather forget. Oh, shit.

I haven't begun my piece yet, and to be honest, I don't want to do it. It's not that I haven't felt rage before- unfortunately, many of us have. But the idea that I will have to channel the memories that usually just sneak up into my mind on bad days, the kind that I shake out of my skull because remembering makes me dizzy with a fury that is unrivaled...this makes me uncomfortable. This pisses me off. THIS enrages me. (Oh, irony.)

Why can't this emotion stay locked in it's sweet little box, gift-wrapped in my unconscious, to continually remain invisible until it pops up again and I need to remind myself to forget?

I'm confident in my choice to become a therapist. Some days, I feel like it's the only thing I'm confident about anymore. So, I understand on a basic level that in order to be a better therapist, (and dare I say, human?) I need to be on speaking-terms with feelings I have felt, and experiences I have experienced in the past, in order to be stronger in the future. How would I deal with a client who struggles with bouts of their own rage, if I had yet to tap into my own sources of inner rage? That wouldn't be good for my client, or for me.

So, I guess this is why they make you go to school before they send you out into the world all wide-eyed and naive, fully expecting all of your client's artwork to be beautiful pictures of smiling, shining faces and blooming flowers upon lush and vibrant landscapes.

No ones life is continuously filmed on a backdrop of a lush and vibrant landscape. But damn, I don't think I'm ready to give up drawing pretty pictures of blooming flowers just yet.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Even after all this time the sun never says, 'You owe me, Earth.' Look what happens with a love like that, it lights up the whole sky."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

“We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4am of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.”
Joan Didion

Thursday, March 25, 2010

You can't make this stuff up.

"When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." -the Queen of Hearts

I don't claim to know everything. In fact, I claim to know close to nothing, which can come in mighty handy sometimes. This afternoon I finally met Deb. Deb is the newest character in my life, introduced at a pivotal time in my story. Recently, my plot has thickened, and I know that she is here for reasons both essential and unexplainable.

Deb is a psychic, a life coach, a holistic healer, an unconventional counselor, a mother, a wife. As I write these silly letters on this silly page, I know they don't do her justice. As I took the turn up her long driveway this afternoon, I didn't know what I should be expecting. I got so much more than I could have hoped for.

She met me at the white door which she told me led the way to her office, and as I followed her, I realized I was holding my breath. We sat down across from each other, and she just looked at me. The words that came out of her mouth next made my jaw drop, my head go fuzzy, tears come to my eyes, laughter escape my lips, my mind to go blank and my heart to open:

"You're adorable, you look just like I envisioned. Just like Alice from Alice in Wonderland. You know, Lewis Carroll's character?"

You just can't make this stuff up. I'm still speechless.