Friendship, Strippers, and Rainbows…….

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When I was 25 years-old, I lived in Southwest Louisiana. I had given birth to my third child a few short months before. 25 was a hard year.

At 25, a friend of mine called me in a desperate place. She was pregnant. She did not feel as though she was in a good place to keep the child and the timing of pregnancy ruled out other options.

You see, I grew up in a small town where vision is sometimes clouded and people love to talk. I knew this would be challenging for her. You could not give a baby up for adoption back in the ‘90’s without a lot of flak; especially in a small town.

Small towns haven’t changed much. They hold high expectations (theirs) and rarely see behind their own eyes. Then again, maybe it’s not the small towns.. Maybe it’s just people. Individuals. To a degree, people only know what they know.

I did what any friend would do. I offered her a place to stay.

I called adoption agencies. She flew across the country.  She moved in with us; myself, my husband and our three small children.

Around this time, my husband also brought home a stripper. She had one hell of a story. He told me she needed a place to live.  “She was dating a friend of his.” I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

I opened my home to my pregnant friend and the young stripper with a bad story.

The young stripper with a bad story didn’t last long. I gave my husband an ultimatum.

Having someone take advantage of your heart, especially the one person who is supposed to have your back, hurts like hell.

I told the young stripper with a bad story to pack her bags. I drove her to her family’s house.

It was not close.

I helped her unload. I chatted with her parents. I gave her some words of wisdom as I made my way out the door.

I never heard from her again, but truly I hope that today she has left her bad story behind her. And why not? Her name was ‘Hope’.

I resumed life.

When the time came, I was the birthing coach for my friend. I met the adoptive parents she chose.  When it was finished, I drove her home.

When we returned from the hospital, I found myself in an emotional place. I remember crying. I shed a lot of tears.

I was pregnant – again.

Not a lot of people were happy about this.

I heard words. Some cried. One made unspoken suggestions.

You know what was toughest; out of all of it?

My husband and my friend sitting at the table with the telephone pages open to clinics.

I remember the raised voices. I remember the words.

I struggled hard with this one.

You ever had to put your money where your mouth is? You ever feel the odds stacked against you so hard? Everyone staring at you to see what your next move was going to be? Throw in a lot of opinions and a shitload of pressure. A place where you find yourself at an ethical crossroads; a moment that can define what you believe in. There are no do-overs. That about sums up where I was at that moment in time.

In an instant it poured over me…. I felt like I was drowning in the noise…

“I just don’t know what you’re going to do.”

“Nobody in their right mind has four children, except black people and those on welfare.”

“We are NOT having another baby”

I slammed the yellow pages shut. I threw the phone book.

I knew in that moment that my friendship was over. I also knew that my marriage was on its last thread.

“I am having this baby – with or without you!” I said a few more words that were required in that moment.

To be honest, I was scared shitless.

I drove to work the next morning feeling lost and alone. I couldn’t stop my tears.

It was raining that day and as I looked up from the road, I witnessed a rainbow; from end to end. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen rainbows before, but this was the first and only time that I’ve ever seen both ends of one. I remember the awe. I pulled my car over. I wiped my own tears and I took a deep breath. I knew in that moment that I was going to have a girl. I don’t know how to explain how I knew. Some feelings are difficult to put to words, but in that instant I knew. I also knew that I would make it through this.

Nine months later, I gave birth to my daughter…..

© LifeasChristine, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

I screamed at the corn….

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The phone rang in my kitchen. It was my dad.

“Christa died”

“Nooooooo” I sobbed, “she isn’t supposed to die!”

I lost it.

My heart felt like somebody ripped it out of my chest. It was more than I could handle.

I was 34 years-old when I got that call. Six years prior, was the Day I got the call… I was so weary of walking mountains. I didn’t want any more tragedy. I didn’t want to go to another funeral. I didn’t want to say another goodbye.

I hung up and ran out the back door of my kitchen. I ran straight to the corn field.

I screamed at the corn. I screamed at life. I screamed at death. I screamed at God.

Christa was my stepmom. She married my dad when I was 6 years-old. I called her “Christa”, but the reference of what I called her did not reflect the relationship; she was a mom to me.

We didn’t have a perfect relationship. When I was 15, I had a challenging time. It strained our relationship. My first marriage added to this strain. We didn’t always see eye to eye on things. But in all those years I never doubted that she loved me as her own. And I loved her as mine.

She had the biggest heart of anyone I have ever met and her compassion for people surpassed my own understanding at times. She had an open-door policy and ‘stay as long as you’d like’ for anyone that ever needed a place to find refuge. She had a knack for all things in the kitchen and her cinnamon rolls were heaven-in-a-pan. At Christmas time, she baked dozens upon dozens of cookies and it was not uncommon for her to suggest we take some to an elderly person down the street, “Just to make their day a little brighter”. She was the type of woman that went the extra mile for many without asking anything in return. She had the heart of an angel and the will of a lion. Had it not been for her in my life, I cannot honestly say that I would’ve made it. She balanced out a lot of the negative things that I experienced in my childhood. In many ways, she was a light shining on dark times.

I remember the sky that morning. It was pink; many shades of pink.

Pink was her favorite color. I hated the irony. I screamed about that too.

Christa had been diagnosed several years earlier with Striatonigral Degeneration. It is now referred to as Multiple System Atrophy. It is a sporadic, progressive, neurodegenerative disorder. The average survival time for women is 7.3 years. Her survival time was roughly 9 years from the onset of symptoms.

Many people have no idea what that is or what it looks like.

She lost the ability to communicate. First with her voice.

We thought outside the box when she could no longer talk. She would blink.

Once for yes. Twice for no.

She lost the ability to walk. She lost the ability to move. She lost the ability to eat.

She never lost her mind. Eventually, she lost her life.

That is what Striatonigral Degeneration looks like.

I had a very hard time visiting her in the nursing home. She lived there the last seven years of her life. Nobody in their 40’s should ever live in a nursing home. But then again, I don’t believe anyone should ever live there. People go to nursing homes to die. No, I am not a fan of nursing homes.

I visited her very little the last year of her life. I didn’t expect her to die. And honestly, it was so difficult to see her there. I was a horrible nursing home visitor. No matter how many times I went there, I would cry. I once told her that I was a downer. She laughed.

My step-mom’s death plunged me off an emotional cliff. My grief ran very deep. I learned that when one loss occurs, it can bring to light all other losses; and at times that became a lot to handle.

But I also learned that life goes on. And I was blessed to have her in my life for the years that she was here. She is part of who I am today and for that I am thankful. I still miss her and would give anything to hug her just one more time or ya know, have one of those cinnamon rolls of hers. Happy Mother’s Day – fly high Christa!

 

© LifeasChristine, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I knew the road would be long and challenging….

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It took me a long time to complete my Bachelor’s degree. It was a combination of trying to pinpoint what I wanted to do after plan ‘B’ and dealing with life head-on along the way. Occasionally, I changed my mind midcourse and occasionally life just put education on the back-burner; it happens. I don’t regret changing my mind and I don’t regret putting education in its place when it came down to the priorities of my life. If you go back and read College; round 1, College; round 2, and College round 3 – VICTORY, you may get the gist of the road I walked – my walk, my shoes.

After much consideration, endless nights of researching different avenues, and countless conversations with some very important people in my life, I decided to apply to a doctoral program for Clinical Psychology. I was 41 years-old when I applied.

I’d like to pause there because I know many people think “Oh good for you!”

Along my journey, I have had encouragers,

But I’ve also had the critics.

Some of my critics, I did not expect and it took me a little while to digest their criticisms. I heard them – each and every one of them and I mulled them over. I gave their criticism a good hard, long look for what it was. I took any value they may have had in their words and I tucked it away; the rest I chucked.

And here’s why…

People love to tell you what you should do; what’s best for you and your life. But do they know?

Do they know my walk? Have they been in my shoes?

My biggest critics haven’t a clue who I really am. They think they know me, but truth is they never took the time to know me; which makes the majority of their criticism invalid and unworthy to me.

It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. I had a long heart to heart with my husband. I also held a family meeting with the kids. I knew the road would be long and challenging. I also knew that I couldn’t do this without their support.

So despite some criticism, I applied for a doctoral program in Clinical Psychology in the spring of 2014 and part of that application process was to write an essay comprised around three questions which they provided. In writing my essay, I placed these questions in red font and made them more personal by adding my name (thanks to a great suggestion of one of my proof-readers).  I had a few invaluable proof readers. I didn’t take everyone’s advice in editing. For the main part, I wrote from my heart and I mulled over suggestions, taking some and leaving others. I wrote honestly and without masks. My essay word for word that I wrote for my application for acceptance is as follows:

KNOCK, KNOCK

What are your long-term professional goals, Christine?

An experience roughly ten years ago, led me into the world of juvenile delinquency. I had temporary custody of a non-relative, troubled adolescent from Louisiana and though the story didn’t have a ‘perfect’ ending, it created an awareness and compassion within me. Troubled adolescents are one avenue that I am very much interested in.  Can I narrow my professional goals to specifically working with troubled adolescents? Not yet, but I would like to explore this possibility.

There is another avenue that I am passionate about and that is complex psychological trauma. It was a book on the ‘recommended, but not required’ list of a course in my undergraduate studies that ignited a passion in me to learn more about trauma and the trauma-based therapeutic approach. Can I narrow my professional goals to specifically working with trauma? Not yet, but I would like to explore this possibility.

I want to exceed expectations and limitations; I want to reach the unreachable.  I need to know more in order to do this; this is why I want my doctorate. I wouldn’t be honest telling you exactly where I want to be in 10 years because I’m not sure what I’ll learn along the way and how that will influence my thinking. I ask that you grant me that opportunity to learn and discover my niche in this field. I realize that I am taking a risk in what may appear to be uncertainty; and to some degree perhaps there is truth in that. Although acknowledging uncertainty, should not be interpreted as inadequacy or incapability. I fear being identified early on with one particular specialization in the field of clinical psychology because there are many avenues that interest me. And while I’d like to incorporate juvenile delinquency or trauma into my professional goals, I’m not sure that I know enough about either at this stage to fully pledge that as part of my goal. With that being said, my goal is that, through the journey of a graduate education aimed at obtaining a doctorate in clinical psychology, I will be able to more clearly and definitively find my passion, skill set and be well prepared to make a valuable contribution to the field as a whole.

How have you explored your interests in a professional psychology career, Christine?

My exploration in a professional psychology career has been an honest one. I don’t think it’s enough to jump into this field with the notion, “I want to help people.” And while I undoubtedly think that is noble; I think there needs to be more consideration given from a personal standpoint. I have examined this under a thoughtful microscope on not only the level of the implications to my life and that of my family, but also careful consideration of what I can bring to the table and my own limitations. I poured countless hours of research into the different avenues in which I could enter into the field of psychological therapy. I engaged in lengthy conversations with current practitioners. I have mulled through the New York State Licensed Professions website and examined the licensing requirements for most of the mental health professions. I am currently familiarizing myself with the Affordable Care Act and its implications for clinical practice.

And finally, Christine, what are your strengths and weaknesses for a career in clinical psychology?

Years ago, someone asked me to describe myself in one word. My self-descriptive chosen word was ‘Muller’ (one that mulls). Mulling things over allows me to remain objective; and yet reflective. Mulling allows for deep, introspective thought, the development of insight, options, and even answers. It is part of who I am; a ‘Muller’.

Another strength that embodies part of who I am is the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes (empathic). How do we understand and learn from others? We must be able to see the road that they are on, be able to view their experiences through their lenses, and we need to feel how their shoes fit. It is part of who I am; empathic.

I have traveled through a kaleidoscope of life experiences; good and bad. I’ve read that experience is one of the greatest teachers and I partially agree with that. There is something about real life experience that opens us up to understanding, compassion, growth and sometimes, wisdom. It is part of who I am; experienced in many different aspects of life.

I haven’t always wanted to go to graduate school and not because I hadn’t given it ample mulling, but because there was a time in my life that college was forbidden. What I hope you gain from me sharing this with you, is not the raised eyebrow questioning the word ‘forbidden’ and its meaning, but the strength of a woman who perseveres. Upon gaining freedom to walk through the door of higher education, I walked cautiously, yet curiously. It matters not the length of time that it took, but more so that I stayed the course. It is part of who I am; I persevere.

If I can write freely and honestly about my weaknesses (which I presume you would prefer), I would say that my empathic nature is a strength, but also has the ability to be a weakness. There have been times in my life when I have been taken advantage of due to my empathic nature. There is a delicate balance between a bleeding heart and empathy. I recognize this about myself and the need to keep things in check.

Finding the ‘off’ switch in my mind is another potential weakness with which I occasionally struggle. Obsessive preoccupation with the lives of my clients could lead to serious repercussions in clinical practice and potential burnout. When I found myself in the middle of a real life substance abuse crisis situation with an old high school friend, I understood the importance of finding the off switch. I spent countless hours on my front porch walking (figuratively) an addict from suicide to a residential treatment center. After the three long days of arguing and negotiating with insurance companies that it finally took to get her in treatment, I exhaled for the first time since the roller coaster began. I have been able to look back on this experience and know that I ate, slept and dreamt about the crisis at hand for not only those three days, but for days after that. I worried about her and wondered whether I handled her crisis correctly without creating a crisis of my own.

I’d like to hope that I will always care about my clients and hope that they always continue to better themselves to live healthy lives, but obsessing about their well-being and questioning myself to the point of self-doubt wouldn’t be healthy for me or helpful to my clients.  That is what I mean by finding the off switch. Just as it’s important to know how and when to shut off the over-analyzing switch, it’s equally important for me to remember all that I am and all that I have beyond the walls of my practice.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve found canoeing to be a great mental ‘off switch’, as well as various art projects. I think it’s important to have this mental decompression and I aim to never stop improving the balance between a focus on others and my own inner health.

I shared with you my goal of obtaining a doctorate degree and my personal exploration into this field. I have shared my strengths and my weaknesses for not only a career in clinical psychology, but also, I shared a glimpse of me. I am so thirsty to know more. I stand at your door now, knocking; knocking for knowledge. Please, I ask you, invite me in.

-My essay took the longest for me to complete, almost three months. Upon sending it, I received a phone call within three days that they wanted to meet me and interview me in person. I interviewed with them and received notification that I was one of ten accepted into the program.  I’d like to tell you why I chose this path and why I believe in it. I’d like to tell you the ridiculous things I’ve heard along the way and my thoughts on it, but all of this is a story for another day….

(Permission was granted by those anonymous people in my essay to share their story within my essay and publicly)

© LifeasChristine, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

On this day, I fought…..

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He called me a fucking bitch.

It may have been the quickest evaluation I have ever mentally processed; I remember this moment.

I thought about it. Was I being a bitch?

No, I knew with certainty that this was not the definition of bitch.

I clarified, “I’m being a bitch?”

He raised his voice; rambling on.

I defined a bitch in that moment; when he was through.

I clarified for him.

“No, I was NOT a bitch. THIS is a bitch!!”

I locked the door; locking him out of the house.

The minutes that followed that act of defiance, were not the best of scenarios.

And yet, I don’t regret it.

Can you let that settle?

Can you understand?

It was my own moment of empowerment.

I may have paid a small price, but I needed that;

I never liked the victim status.

I hate the idea of fight or flight; and yet, I understand it so well.

I have done both in my life.

I fly

AND

I fight.

On this day, I fought.

© LifeasChristine, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Actually, I used fingernail clippers….

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I became a registered donor of bone marrow yesterday. I’m not quite sure what that all entails. I have heard that is a painful procedure; a painful recovery.

I get it though; I understand.

There is a flip side; not just that view.

A woman, an old neighbor of mine for a few years while I was growing up, has been diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia. She needs a bone marrow transplant.

Her daughter is pleading.
Her daughter is desperate.

I understand this. I lost a Mom to a rare disease. I get it. I volunteered for a mouth swab.

I went to talk to her as I sealed my envelope that contained my cheek swab.

I gave her a hug. From there we started chatting. Her husband sat next to her on one side. There were two people on the other side. I think they were relatives of hers, but I’m not sure.
She asked me about my kids. From there the conversation shifted. She remembered and brought up the braces story. She started explaining to the people sitting next to her.

I didn’t realize how far that story had spread.

For some reason, this story has occasionally made people’s mouths drop in shock.

As she was telling the story, she paused, looked at me and asked, “With wire cutters?”

Actually, no I didn’t have wire cutters.

When I was 15, I removed my braces myself with fingernail clippers.

My family loves to tell this story; too often. It is usually a one sided story.

There was a lot of confusion in my life at 15.

At 15, I left New York and went to live in Virginia.
Virginia meant no orthodontist appointments. I knew this going into it. I had contemplated this.
I thought about this before I left; when they gave me that choice.
I knew what that meant. I knew because I was familiar with braces by this point. I had had them on for about a year.

If you knew me when I was little, you would know that I had very crooked teeth.

I was a thumb sucker; for a long time. I carried a blanket too. I used to roll up the corners of the satin edges of the blanket and stick a rolled corner up my nose; and suck my thumb. I found comfort where I could; it wasn’t always pretty.

I said goodbye to my blanket long before I said goodbye to my thumb. My thumb unfortunately made an impression on my teeth; this is why I needed braces.

I took a giant risk with my teeth. I know this. My teeth have held up very well; I am thankful for this.

I was down in Virginia. I had just gotten there. I was scared as hell. I didn’t know what this would entail. I knew what it was like last time I lived with him. I didn’t trust him.
But the truth is I didn’t trust where I had just come from either.

So I gave it another chance. I didn’t know what else to do, honestly.

I think it was my first week there.
I had met the neighbors across the street. They had small children. We introduced ourselves. I had babysat back in New York. They hired me.

It was late at night. Their children were sleeping. I was bored.
I remembered my braces dilemma; no orthodontist in Virginia.

I knew they weren’t covered by insurance. Even back then, they weren’t cheap.

I knew the situation; the reality.

I went into their bathroom. I opened their medicine cabinet. I saw the fingernail clippers. I found peroxide.

I was very careful not to touch my mouth with those clippers.

I clipped the wires first.

This was actually more difficult than I anticipated. I didn’t realize then that the Ortho had wrapped the wires around the back molars; special brackets that engulfed my back teeth.
The wire got stuck at one point. It was awkward. I tried looking in the mirror to see which direction the wire spun around.
Once I got the wires removed, I started pinching and pulling at the brackets glued to my teeth.
When I got to the back molars, I forgot that they wrapped around the tooth. The first one hurt because I tried to yank it off. I only made that mistake once.
The worst part was the glue. I couldn’t leave the glue on there. I found a brand new nail file. I filed the glue off my teeth.

I smiled at my old neighbor when she asked if I used wire cutters and answered her question, “Actually, I used fingernail clippers”.

© LifeasChristine, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.