So…

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I just self-published my first collection of poetry. It took me much longer than I’d like to admit, but I did it. Something concrete that I created is public. Open to be consumed and critiqued. Interpreted.

I hope people are inspired. I hope people understand me more. I hope to help others put their books out. I hope this is just the beginning.

I feel clean. Like I’ve made a lengthy confession about my first 31 years. Now that this is done, I can move on, and write more honestly. Clearer. Some of the poems in this book represent a trek from mindsets that I don’t even hold anymore. Battle wounds that are simply scars.

Wow.

It’s done.

If you’re interested, find the book here:

For James

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Safe Spaces (Thoughts on Being a Therapist)

I still experience brief panic whenever I’m notified that my next client has arrived. You would think that after working for 6 years in the mental health field, I’d more often face a new session with solid optimism and focus. There are times, admittedly not as often as in those earlier days, that I simply want to run away.

Is this the type of therapist that you’d want to see? Be honest. If you knew what went on in your counselor’s mind before, during, and after your sessions, would you feel offended? Would it lessen your desire to come back the following week? If you knew the script of anxiety, self-doubt, and soul sickness that he or she ruminated in their minds on a daily basis, how would it affect how you viewed their skills? I’d assume most of you would feel too squeamish to continue bringing your personal problems to someone like this.

Truthfully, I feel it is this, more than any of my therapeutic skills, that qualifies me to be a therapist. Let me explain….

I spend about 9 hours a day, Monday through Friday, helping others unpack and process the most horrific memories. The most dysfunctional thought and behavioral patterns. I walk people through their traumatic histories and admit their deepest secrets out loud for the first time. I’ve seen people cry in moments of grave despair and from being overwhelmed by relief. I’ve been a stand-in/substitute for people to unload their most narcissistic and down-right cruelest philosophies. I’ve seen my clients possess personal breakthroughs and insights, but also be gripped by irrational and rational fears.

Not a full week of sessions will go by without me identifying with something one (or more) of my clients say or do. I can’t help but see flashes of my face while listening; hearing my own voice serve as a faint echo when they speak. Even in some moments when they say something completely irrational, knowing the context, I secretly agree and will understand their thinking patterns.

It is a very thin line to walk. Crossing it would mean that I lose whatever insight I’ve gained through my own treatment. The torture lies in having to relive my history over and over. Circling back through whatever grief I’ve processed; being reminded of a painful past of which I’ve been able to stop dreaming. I sit in silence after a client leaves my office, and complete a self-check. There are moments when I am blind-sided and can only repeat out loud, “You’re okay. You are okay.”

This isn’t denial. Simply reminding myself of my path. The steps that I’ve taken and the storms that I’ve endured to equip me to be a “healer”. I read in a book once that, historically, therapists were seen as healers. Synchronized with that of a shaman, in some cultures. Meaning, we help others fight against unseen sicknesses. Whatever your point of view regarding therapy, we can all agree that there is no poster child for issues such as depression and anxiety. The sufferer changes faces, races, and ages all the time. Healers are meant to be strategic, compassionate, but also experienced when faced with the plight of these sicknesses.

This is why I feel, in some strange way, thankful that I require a deep breath, a prayer, and a period of quiet before a session. I am thankful for the brief battle that occurs before I go out to the waiting room to greet my clients. There is a shift that needs to happen. There are things that I need to remember. I’m never totally sure what needs my clients will bring with them into session. Many times, they aren’t sure themselves. Which is why that moment of quiet is so necessary. If they need a safe space, then I will clear the room to help them create one.

Have the Conversation: My Thoughts on ’13 Reasons Why’

DISCLAIMER: The following blog discusses the topic of suicide in detail & may be inappropriate for some readers. I encourage the reader to divulge into this topic in the presence of a trusted support person, if needed. The information presented are from limited years of mental health work, culmination of academic study and passion for youth, and my own budding clinical judgment. It is not meant to be a substitute for clinical research.

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My husband and I stumbled upon this show shortly after the buzz began generating on social media. We watched the first episode and expressed mixed feelings: shock over the content, and curiosity of hownthe writers would unfold the remainder of the story. We’re both mental health counselors who work with teenagers/children & felt a mixture of intrigue and dread. When I finished the final episode, I was deeply affected and incredibly sad. Faces of real-life would-be Hannahs, including myself, flashed across my memory. I made a mental check-list of folks I knew were watching to check up on & made a reminder to myself to talk the show over with my supervisor and colleagues. I gathered that whatever conclusions I would make about this show, I was responsible for what I did next.

’13 Reasons Why’ is probably one of the most successful shows Netflix has created in a long time, as far as viewership. But many parents and mental health professionals feel that the program is dangerous and irresponsible. As a mom I share in their caution. It is deeply upsetting to watch a beautiful, smart young girl  carry out a detailed plan to end her life. Secondly, it is normal for adult viewers to become disgusted and disturbed. However, after further processing, I felt the need to look at the popular program from a different angle.

Let’s walk through the criticisms I’ve heard about ’13 Reasons Why’:

  1. The show glorifies and/or oversimplifies suicide.

I must start off by stating that this program is rated TV-MA. Which means that it contains very disturbing material. The drama given to the storyline provided a necessary entertainment element, but I feel Hannah’s suicide, itself, was handled very openly.

Secondly, this isn’t the first time the topic of suicide was portrayed on television/movies.

Image-1Side note: If given the time, I can critique the above movies for their handling of the topic of suicide, but the fact still remains that many will still keep their acclaim. We ultimately  settle on the fact that the writers/directors have an artistic license to portray a topic and leave it in the hands of the consumer to view & digest responsibly.

To some critics, the writers portray suicide as a viable option – one both tragic and simple. Some say that the writers made suicide look easy to accomplish. I would have agreed with this criticism, if this wasn’t close to the train of thought held by many (not “all”) people who are suicidal. They may have moments of seeing death as easier, more peaceful, and better overall. They may feel it will ultimately ease suffering. It isn’t the NOT DYING part that’s difficult for a suicidal person, it’s LIVING that’s often too hard. If anything, the writers attempted to show how intently a person will pursue a suicidal plan if gotten to that point.

There is always hope, I sincerely believe, but because Hannah suffered very much alone, she had no one to help her grasp on to that hope. The tragedy behind Hannah’s fight with suicide is that it did not resolve her problems, ultimately.

The only critique I do have concerning this is that actually many who are suicidal have a methodical period but end up acting impulsively towards the end in order to complete suicide. Meaning, a suicide note is not commonplace (which Hannah’s tapes are considered akin to a suicide note.) The writers do portray Hannah to have been much more methodical than is realistic. However, this isn’t to say that some sufferers do not focus intently on escaping their pain and carry out a plan.

Other critics say that Hannah’s high school setting was overdramatized. It would be a mistake to believe that sexual assault, bullying, and harassment aren’t prevalent issues for our youth. Also, some feel that teens may over identify with Hannah. I say there may be more Hannahs than we are aware.

  1. It is an extended revenge fantasy; blaming those who mistreated Hannah for her death.

I’m often blown away at how much humans lack common courtesy and kindness towards one another. It shouldn’t take a television show to magnify this fact. However, the common culture among youth is fueled by bullying, scandal, and violence. For my adult readers, we all remember how tumultuous our teen years were…any mental health issues aside.

I’m constantly reminded how important it is to extend kindness to the next person, because what I do can deeply affect him/her. To deny the fact that her peers, family members, and school were partially responsible dances dangerously on the line of victim shaming. It places their pain center stage without taking into account the millions of interactions that led them to having suicidal thoughts.

Suicide has always been an “us” issue. Let me be clear, her classmates were not the CAUSE of her suicide, but did play a ROLE in her mental illness. We are all connected and responsible for one another. Hannah felt abandoned & mistreated by those around her. It’s not sound logic, we understand, but it doesn’t make it a fantasy. Rather than focusing on how intently Hannah unjustly sought revenge, let’s take a preventive stance by teaching our children how to treat one another.

  1. It encourages struggling students to not go to their guidance counselors/reach out for help.

This critique hit me hardest, considering I’m a counselor myself. Hannah’s guidance counselor, Mr. Porter, is completely unhelpful and distracted towards her. In Hannah’s tapes, she openly states that no one cared about her. Critics said that the show unjustly encourages Survivor Guilt. Here’s my take-away: Survivor Guilt will occur, regardless of the quality of relationships of those who remain after someone dies.

Also, the sinking feeling I was left with after witnessing Mr. Porter’s behavior was sobering. And I used it properly. It reminded me of my responsibility as an advocate. Simply put, if I am truly present on my job, then I can be a proper channel for change. Many of our counselors (especially school-based ones) are often burned out and overworked, distracted by test scores and administrative responsibilities.

But this actually segues into an even bigger conversation…which we won’t get into today.

To me, the most dangerous thing about the depiction of violence is not that our kids are watching violent content (and might be encouraged to reenact said violent content), but that even after hearing of teenagers struggling and dying, we still put the responsibility on entities that are not actually attached to our homes, classrooms, churches, and communities.

It has never been the responsibility of entertainment venues to educate or heal our children. Allowing them to consume without seeking them out to process afterwards is more irresponsible than the show being created in the first place. Much more. Entertainment is a good access point leading to the discussion, but they were never meant to BECOME the discussion.

  1. It will trigger those already struggling with suicidal thoughts or depression.

I had a friend who took to her FB status to ask others whether she should watch the show. I, more or less, replied, “Not alone.”. I would hope that those who are already getting treated for their depression will have the insight to stay away from watching, or at least be cautioned by a loved one or counselor to do so.

The population I feel the most concerned for are those who are without support and are struggling silently with depression and suicidal thoughts. However, I would still look towards those who are already called out to be the supporters/advocates; our teachers, counselors, pastors and family members. The girl scout leader and the mentor. Bus driver and the babysitter.

We are the “Village” that the quote “It takes a Village” speaks of. It is us that should be raising and safeguarding our children. The show presents a very real & important topic. One that our teens are faced with everyday; the hallways of their schools and text threads already contain the topics we shudder about. It’s our conversations with them after the last episode ends that will better determine their interpretation.

Important to note is that there is a 30 minute interview-style documentary on the hit series on Netflix, called ‘13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons‘, which contains more context and discussion about the content in the show from it’s actors, crew, and mental health professionals.

I also encourage anyone who knows a young person to arm yourself with knowledge on the topic of suicide, because this will be needed, even after the fame of this show ends. Here’s an amazing document I found on the SAVE/JED Foundation’s webpage (www.save.org) , outlining 13 Talking Points when watching the show with a teenager.

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Use it to start a conversation; one that someone you know may be afraid to have. If we can remove the taboo nature from suicide, then we might just become the right safe spaces for someone to take their first step towards desiring life.

Who, Me? (Thoughts About Work)

2014 was a seriously challenging, emotionally draining year for me and my close family. It wasn’t until 2015 was peeking over the horizon did I start to experience relief. My faith was stretched in amazing ways. (Feel free to go back a half a dozen posts to see what I mean…)

2015 has been both chaotic and peculiar. Doors have been opened for me professionally, ones that I hadn’t planned on walking through until maybe 2016. Granted, the nature of my job remains both taxing and challenging, it’s wonderful to work with kids and teens in a variety of roles. Muscles that I haven’t used in over a year are starting to gain their strength again, and I’m feeling my therapist brain becoming sharp where it had grown dull.

I don’t feel 100% prepared, if I can be honest. But then I realized that I felt a similar anxiety when I first started the associate counselor position back in September. But, I threw myself into the role, and sought to give my all to kids every single shift. And I began to gain my own rhythm. I recognized that many of my coworkers, with rhythms of their own, were seeking the same goal. On the majority of our shifts, we were harmonious. And kids found refuge, solace, and safety within the walls of our unit. 

Surpisingly, I found a sense of satisfaction in a high-stress environment. I’d taken the career assessment tests that told me high stress environments are the antithesis of a healthy work environment for me, and thus I should stay far from them. But here I am….in it, and feeling purposeful. 

I feel valued at work but I also feel like I have not all the way earned it. That is truly a hang-up of mine, and I recognize that. What is clearest to me, is that God has a plan for me, and being here with my coworkers and the kids/families who come to us in crisis, is a part of my destiny. 

ME, though? Jeez.

Second Wind.

I am NOT a runner. Never have been.

Oddly enough, I hate running outside. If I must run, I’ll do it in the comfort of an air-conditioned gym with a big screen television obstructing my view of the all of the incredibly fit people. I am a poor runner because I am a bad breather.

Let me give you another, unrelated, example:

I remember the year I worked at Liberty University’s Career Center as a Career Counselor, we would go make presentations in various classes. It was a blast, but also anxiety-producing for me. There was a particular class, a freshman Communications class, that had at least a hundred students stretched across the room in theater seating. I and another colleague made a presentation on resumes. I struggled that day, because I had forgotten to breathe in between powerpoint slides.

…by the 4 slide I was completely out of breath and sounded like I’d gotten punched in the stomach. I recall seeing a couple of students in the front row looking amused.

Terrible, right? I stink at breathing (albeit, pacing myself) when under pressure.

I’m drawing a similarity with my life at the moment: lots to do, many hats to transition into and out of, but starting to struggle with pacing all the responsibilities. I won’t write out a list here, because you could probably look back on my previous blog posts and see that I am an incredibly busy woman. Duh.

And at times, I feel that if I have to think of ONE MORE obligation (merited or not), that I’m going to run away. Dramatic, I know. But, it honestly agitates my introversion. My desire to grab my favorite blanket (the one that my former college roommate made for me — thanks Jess), my cell phone, and hide in my bed. Somehow I can do that because the baby has enough milk to last her a month and my husband’s love tank is full so he won’t miss me for at least a week. And miraculously enough, I was able to clone myself to go to work FOR me so that I can continue to help support our family, meanwhile taking care of the finances and managing the home (and never feeling like a failure of a wife). That same clone will also be incredibly active and innovative in church, and call all of my family and friends to give them personal time every week so  no one feels neglected. My clone doesn’t need sleep or pampering or nutritious meals or self-care. And she battles all of the mommy guilt for me, thankfully.

She will take care of all of that, so I’ll be able to sit in my bed and take that much needed second wind.

Glorious, isn’t it?

I feel like I’ve been running for ages but rarely take time to breathe. God the Father Himself took a break after creating EVERYTHING. Why can’t I? Maybe God wasn’t tired, but rather He wanted to show me the way it’s (and by “it” I mean Kingdom building) done appropriately.

All of my efforts to rest won’t satisfy my weariness if I don’t look in the right places. I tend to look for rest externally, when I’ve been commanded to find my rest IN God. And I can free up my schedule to the bare necessities, but still not find rest.

I can have more free time. But miss having genuine rest.

Isn’t that sad? So, is it really about just “not running” or trimming back the distance?

Maybe not, because the race MUST be run. It will be. Once my life is done and over, there will be a summary of how well I ran. How far. And where I ended. Maybe the point is to learn how to breath in the midst. On the journey. Staying connected to the Source that can breathe new life; the One who first breathed into us.

29: Take One

Edging closer and closer to 30 is nothing like the movies portray it to be. At least, not for me. Truthfully, I am thrilled, settled, and more at peace than I’ve ever been in my entire life. It’s difficult not to look at my life from the outside and gauge that my contentedness is based on what I have and who I have to come home to.

…that doesn’t quite explain it.

The 20s are meant to be significant; filled with triumphs and mistakes. You learn more about yourself than probably any other decade in life. There are definitely ways to screw up your 20s, but everyone seems to have an opinion on how to spend these 10 years. Some tell you to live it up because once The Terrible 30s come along, you’ll truly have to grow up, and others bombard you with conversations on marriage, 401ks, and establishing a career. This sort of pressure made me pray for 15, when no one seriously expected much from me.

Thankfully, I didn’t have an overambitious mother. Rather, I had a strong one, and patient to boot, who let me make up my own mind about my future. She treated me like I had the right questions when finding my path, not her. And she provided guidance when I needed it.

(I want to emphasize how much that propelled me into dreaming of my future. I can only hope that I’ll be able to provide that same gift to my own children.)

So, here I am. My plate has never been this full:

Wife.
Mommy.
Working full time in mental health.
In school full time, working on my Addictions certification.
Leader in my church/active in a monthly small group.
And I still go to movies on occasion.

It’s enough to make my head spin sometimes. Yet, I have peace. Not in the fact that I’ve earned where I am.
Quite the opposite. I do not deserve my life. If I felt I did, then I’d feel responsible in fighting to keep it…or drowned in fear of losing it.

But I’ve spent much of my teens and 20s battling fear. And I’ve beaten it these past few rounds.

And I’m encouraged because I’m not yet winded. There is so much better ahead, and my arms are finally, freely open to all that is coming.

Timing

I remember having a TERRIBLE sense of timing.

When to confront. When to complain. When to begin or end a relationship.

During our dating years, my husband would poke fun at me for having this major flaw. I would deny it, of course, but looking back on it I see that he was completely spot on. Lately, I’ve become obsessed at the way timing plays into my life’s circumstances. No conflict or occurrence is random to me anymore, nor are they without a smidgen of meaning attached. I swear, if I didn’t love Jesus so much, I’d be one of those folks reading the palms and the stars, and instead of Naomi, my daughter would have been named “Serendipity”.

…that does have a nice ring to it though, you think?….

I learned from certain biblical passages (try Ecclesiastes 3, for starters…) that God infuses His purposes and plan for us with both strategy and intention. He isn’t a god who loves anonymity, but He loves to place His signature, with bold strokes and lines — in ink– on our lives. He wants us to know that He’s the artist, the producer, and the author of it all.

He will even risk getting the blame for the bad stuff….because the good stuff is SO. GOOD.

So, I pay extra attention to the order of the story…the order of my story. Because I know that when I do, I will see his signature in plain sight. So plain that it can be overlooked, even.

So, I guess this post will serve as a caution/encouragement: Look up. Pay attention. God is speaking all the time, even when He isn’t talking.