Monday, August 13, 2012

The Keys to the Castle

I just downloaded the textbook I have been waiting for!  I know it’s grammatically incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition, in fact it’s one of my pet peeves, but I’m that excited.  I now have in my possession, The Skilled Helper: A Problem-Management and Opportunity-Development Approach to Helping, Ninth Edition by Gerald Egan.  Some of the chapters include:

  • ·      The Helping Relationship: Values in Action
  • ·      The Communication Skills of Therapeutic Dialogue
  • ·      The Art of Probing and Summarizing [the Art!!]
  • ·      Partner with Clients in Their Search for Value
  • ·      The Way Forward: Help Clients Develop Plans to Accomplish Goals

I loved my Development textbook with all the theories on how we become who we are.  It was a really good one, but this book is special.   It’s relevant and tangible and full of promise.  Boiled down, it’s an instructional manual on how to do what I want to do.  I rarely read instruction manuals, I have no patience for them, but this one, I can’t wait.  Class doesn’t start for a week, but I’m beginning today.  In fact, I think I’ll do that right now J. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Running downhill is so much easier than running up.

I realize I’m stating the obvious, but it’s something I thought a lot about recently while on the Mountains to Sea Trail near where I work.  Sprinting down hill the nice lady inside my shuffle informed me I had completed 20 mins, and my current pace was 9:23.  I’m rocking!  I never run close to a 9-minute mile, and I wasn’t doing it then, but like a scale that errs 3 or 4 lbs in my favor, I’m not going to argue.  So I was cruising along, listening to Slave, feeling happy, hip, and healthy as I reached the bridge that marked my turning point.  In no time I was climbing what I had bounced down just moments before and cursing the effort it took. Don’t wanna be your slave.  Why is it so hard to run uphill?  I cursed my legs and my lungs for their scorching response.  All these years of running and I’m still a slave to hills.  Yet I will tell anyone who asks, and more who don’t, that I love running them.  Really, they ask, you don’t like flat courses?  No, I like hills.  You go up, you come down.  You work hard and you get a reward. 

Hmm.  That’s a little like life, isn’t it? It is, and it reminds me of graduate school.  The struggle to balance my children’s needs with my need to read 100 pages before the next day and write a reflection on it.  Trying to give my family, my professors, my employer, and my friends something resembling perfection and reconciling that I can’t.  Uphill battles.

But I crested the first semester hill, with good marks and hard-earned confidence.  I had a wonderful break, moved into a new home, and felt like I was on top of the world.  I cruised into the second semester buoyed by my success, certain I knew the rules of the game and better yet, how to win.  But there were more hills I had not anticipated.  I walked into Children and Adolescents with my head held high, ready to embrace whatever challenges awaited me.  I walked out angry and deflated.  The professor hadn’t asked very much.  She wanted us to create a timeline of significant milestones from birth to 18.  She warned us to include only that which we were comfortable sharing with the class, but explicitly encouraged us to consider that which made us uncomfortable, for whatever demons lurked in our closets would seek us out as counselors.  For example, if you had an alcoholic parent as a child, you would find yourself working with the child of an alcoholic.  His or her experience could trigger emotions surrounding your experience, and your ability to help that child could be seriously compromised by your own unresolved issues.

Do we have to do this again?  I spent an inordinate amount of time contemplating my story last semester.  I had already dug around my closet and written about it at length.  I thought we were finished with that. 

Is your closet clean?  No.  Then get busy. 

At that point, I became not only angry, but also resentful of my non-counseling friends.  She doesn’t have to examine her skeletons.  He can leave all his baggage at the door and that’s not fair.  All of this bounced around my mind like a pinball as I ran.  Then This Head I Hold came on.  I was more or less oblivious to it, so consumed with sour thoughts, until the following lyrics jumped out and caught my attention:
See the answer is this
If I wanna be free
I gotta stop playin’ round and runnin’ from me

Wow. I was reminded of a Pema Chödrön quote Brené Brown included in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, which I highly recommend by the way.  In her book, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, Chödrön cautions “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded.  It’s a relationship between equals.  Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.  Compassion becomes real when recognize our shared humanity.”  It caught my attention when I first read it, and as I recalled it, while fearing my own darkness, I was amazed.  Though I was heading uphill, I wasn’t a slave to the slope.  I felt strong and inspired by the revelation.  If I am to sit with others’ pain, I have to become comfortable with my own.   We all struggle and often dodge that which causes us discomfort, but if we could acknowledge it and cultivate compassion for it, for ourselves, we all could become more compassionate with one another, recognizing our common vulnerability.

Running hills is like navigating life.  Introspection and personal work can be grueling and exhausting, but it doesn’t have to last forever.  You climb, and as you do, you grow.  You reach the summit and you descend with more confidence and compassion than you had before.  Yes, I like running hills.  I'm reminded of a quote from Brené Brown’s blog, Ordinary Courage, “Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
I’m inspired and I hope you are too.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

This is Missy.  Can I help you?

If you call the Middle School where I work, that is what you are likely to hear when I answer the phone.  The parents that call throughout the day are kind and gracious, apologizing for interrupting my work.  But it’s what I do.  It’s what I want to do.  To help them, and to help others.  It’s not altruism if you get something out of it, is it?

I’m pursing a Masters in School Counseling, also a helping profession.  It’s what I enjoy, it’s what I do. 

What I find most challenging is helping myself.  The faculty at Western Carolina, and the profession as a whole, emphasize time and again the importance of self-care.  Just as you’re instructed to do on a plane, with a small child, in the event there is a loss of oxygen.  Help yourself first, so you can help the one in need beside you. 

I recently finished a class on addiction and one of our assignments was to abstain from one thing, while simultaneously embracing another, the other being something good for us.  After considerable deliberation, I gave up texting.  I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say I found it difficult to refrain and relapsed on more than one occasion. 

What surprised me was how much harder it was to make time for meditation, my enriching activity.  There was time, but what I truly lacked was commitment.  Housework, homework, my children, and their homework all took precedence over that portion of the assignment.  It was easy to disregard because making time for that, meant making time for me, and well, if I’m taking care of myself, I’m not taking care of anyone else.

Oxygen, anyone?  I get it.  And you know who else does?  My new favorite heroine, Brené Brown.  She’s a professor of Social Work at the University of Houston who has made significant strides in what we know about shame, vulnerability, and wholehearted living through her research.  She posted a play list on her blog today, and it’s inspiring me.  What will I find this summer to be my oxygen, to fill my lungs and thereby my soul?  Running, hiking, reading, meditating, and most importantly being with my children.  These will fill my heart and soul.

What will you do?

PS – I must give my friend and colleague, John Douglas, Assistant Principal at Carolina Day Middle School, credit for introducing me to Brown’s work.  I think I will be forever grateful.