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.

He was dressed all in white and wore leather sandals on his feet.

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Shortly after 9/11, I had to fly half-way across the country; it was not a request, it was a requirement. It was business, not pleasure.

I was on a plane headed back to Louisiana; alone.

I did not have the window seat or the aisle seat; I was smack dab in the middle.

Ironically, I don’t remember the person sitting next to me on the left, but I have a vivid memory of the person seated on my right, next to the window.

As I boarded the plane and scanned the seats, I immediately felt a twinge of fear.

He was an older man with white hair. He was dressed all in white and wore leather sandals on his feet. I noticed his lap immediately.

On his lap he had a clear bag that contained sand.

As the plane filled with people and the door to the plane closed, there seemed to be a dilemma. The flight attendant announced that we had more people on the plane than we were supposed to have; one of those ‘extras’ was the older man with a bag of sand on his lap, sitting next to me. His name appeared to be Middle Eastern and the flight attendant had a difficult time pronouncing it.

My fear was starting to gain strength as recollections of recent events played in my head: the 4 planes that had been recently hijacked, ending in tragedy.

I had heard that some dress all in white to prepare for their upcoming death. I scanned the older man with white hair, dressed all in white, with a bag of sand on his lap.

The flight attendant made another announcement; she was looking for volunteers to get off the plane. Every fiber in me wanted to raise my hand and get the hell out of this situation that was not feeling right and yet, I did not raise my hand; I remained.

Looking back I have to admit that I am slightly embarrassed that I had a plan.

If that older man with white hair dared to get up, I planned to jump on his back and take him down. He would have to walk by me to get out to the aisle. I was little in frame, but he was old; the odds seemed to be fair.

I was determined that I would not die on this day.

There is a rationality that is sometimes lost in fear, say for example when you find yourself planning to jump on the back of an elderly man if he so much as moves out of his seat….

When the plane safely landed in Southern Louisiana, I realized that unfounded fear had just stolen two hours of my life. I thought long and hard about this experience with fear and really evaluated whether I was in real danger, or whether it was induced by something I did not understand or something that was different.

I believe that some fear is necessary, but sometimes fear is simply a waste of time and energy…

© 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 know much more than I say…

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When my parents divorced, my mother was granted custody of my brother and I. Around the age of 13, I told her I was leaving. I needed out and I got out (read ‘He came to kill, steal and destroy..”). I packed all of my belongings and I left the blended family of 6 and went to live with my father and stepmother.

My father had remarried around the same time as my mother had; her name was Christa. I had a very strong attachment to her. She loved me like her own, but this is another story.

It was a completely different atmosphere. I felt like an only child at my father’s house; for they did not have any children at this point.

There was no swearing.

There was no abuse.

There were chocolate chip cookies and homemade bread.

There was a lot of religion.

In the beginning, this house felt like ‘love’.

I was no longer forced to wash dishes for three hours at a time; while they were inspected by Satan and thrown back into the water with force. I was no longer called names.

I felt loved.

I felt welcomed.

I felt noticed.

For a few years I was able to ‘just be a kid’.

Although I was expected to attend church with them on the Sundays’ that I was not visiting my moms’, I never felt like they tried to push their beliefs down my throat. Originally, it was my choice.

Over the years, many people have preached to me; many people have quoted the Bible to me. I always found this ironic because many do not understand that I probably know the Bible better than the ‘preachers’. To this day, I can still quote scripture as well as the quoters themselves. I know much more than I say…

I remember the church family. They were very welcoming. Everyone was so nice and ‘loving’. It made it easier to look past the strange things that I did not understand; the things I questioned within.

I craved love.

I wanted to be accepted.

They welcomed me with open arms, at first.

I remember I desperately wanted to be part of this love. It was unlike anything I had experienced before.

I considered attending the Christian school that was run by their church. I spoke to my dad and stepmom about this. I remember how happy my stepmom was.

Around this time, we also held prayer meetings in our home; every Wednesday night. There was church every Sunday and most Sundays, we attended Sunday night service as well. There was a lot of church. It was a non-denominational church. It was a ‘Full Gospel’ church. It was fundamentally Protestant, or Evangelical, or Pentecostal; I’m not exactly sure. There were some strange things that occurred. There were a lot of strange things that I had never seen and to this day, I still do not understand.

I made the choice to leave my small, public, rural school shortly after the start of 7th grade.

Things were a little different at Christian school from public school; as one could imagine.

Uniforms consisted of skirts or dresses for the girls. I never had an issue with this because I have always embraced my feminity.

There was chapel every morning prior to classes.

We were taught creationism; something that was not taught in public school.

I remember most of the students at this small private school. They were very welcoming. I made friends easily and quickly.

I remember how badly I desired to cheerlead. We only had one sport at our Christian school; soccer. I proposed a cheerleading team for the soccer team. My proposal was evaluated and approved with conditions; the skirts had to be the length of our knees. Modesty was not under negotiation; it was a requirement.

I chose to learn their beliefs.

I wanted to understand their faith. Their faith seemed so steadfast; so rock-like.

I will tell you that there were a lot of rules while living at my father’s house.

I was not allowed to do much. I was very over-protected.

Around the time I turned 15, there was a major shift.

I started wondering. I started questioning. My questions were not answered. My questioning was seen as rebellious. I was considered a ‘strong willed child’. I was told it was a spirit that needed to be broken. I do not agree with everything I was taught, but this is another story.

I was brought up Catholic for many years until Catholicism no longer served my parents beliefs or wants. I was baptized Catholic as a baby. I made my First Holy Communion and I was made to attend all of the classes.

When my father remarried, he adopted my stepmom’s faith. It was a complete 180 from Catholicism in many ways. Over the years, my mother no longer practiced Catholicism and searched other avenues.

I remember my stepmom talking to me about my mother’s beliefs. I remember my confusion and I remember wanting to understand it for myself.

I remember going to the library that was next door to my house. I remember obtaining books to try to understand why they thought my mom was practicing evil. I needed to understand what ‘evil’ meant and I wanted to understand it for myself; not just the explanations I was given.

This was very frowned upon. Questioners are watched very closely.

Rules shifted.

Gavels came down; hard. Lines were drawn.

Everything changed.

I remember I was no longer given choices. Once I said I believed in their faith, the rule bar was brought to an unrealistic expectation. The fundamentals of this religion are often forgotten by those that practice it; perhaps not for themselves, but when it comes to the judgment of others. Love is forgotten. Grace is forgotten.

I was not allowed to question. I was not allowed to listen to secular music. Getting caught listening to secular music meant consequences. Not singing in church meant consequences. Reading books about other religions meant consequences.

I became so confused. Suddenly it felt like everything was being forced on me.

I remember the confusion. I remember being taught about free will and yet there was no longer free will.

I remember my stepmom’s words. She was very angry with me.

“You think you can make it without God? (She laughed) Let me tell you something little girl! I was prettier than you, I was smarter than you, I was more popular than you and I did not make it without God.”

I remember I cried.

I no longer trusted this house.

I no longer trusted this love.

I no longer trusted this faith.

I had no idea what I believed in; I was so confused.

Religion took over at my father’s house.

I was in 9th grade at that Christian school. The ropes were pulled very tight. I tugged back. I was expelled from Christian school two weeks from the end of the school year, but this is another story.

The shit hit the fan. All the love I thought I had and known felt like a lie.

I was given a choice.

“You can stay here and be grounded for two weeks or you can go back and live with your mother.”

I was scared to return to my mom’s house. She had recently left New York State. She had moved to Virginia. She was still married to Satan. I was not a fan of Satan.

There was a lot at stake; I knew this. I cut my losses and told them I was moving.

I knew I was older. I thought I could handle Satan at this point in my life. I packed my bags and moved to Virginia, but this is another story…

© 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.