I have made the study of psychology my life’s work.  It all started when I had my first child at nineteen, and lived in a rural Vermont community.  Life was very simple.   Each day looked almost exactly like the day before; take care of the baby, clean the house, make dinner, go to bed and do it all again.  Money was scarce.  We had a standard shift car, and since  my license was only for automatic shifts, I was unable to get away to run errands, to meet other moms, to provide my daughter with social opportunities.  Therefore, whenever I could, I made my way to the library, which was a half hour drive to Bennington.   I would leave with a huge stack of sociology and psychology books.  This, for me, was fun!  I almost inhaled the stuff, fascinated with the workings of the human psyche.

Growing up in a chaotic home, I yearned for a feeling of security.  As an only child, I took on a lot of responsibility in order to make sense of the precarious family situation I lived in.  I believe that my love of psychology began in those early years of longing for stability.  I hoped to learn how to protect myself from the pain of my parents’ fighting.  Perhaps if I understood what caused it, I could prevent it.

I never learned how to control the people in my environment in order to create harmony and balance.  But I learned a great deal about what demons people live with and how they struggle to make sense of their lives.  All those years of study paid off as I worked with children and their families, and finally coaching and team-building in an organizational setting.  Taking care of others helped me keep the focus away from my own problems.

In the late 1970’s, I found myself at a crossroad in my life.  Married far too young and a mother at nineteen, I had hoped to create the happy family I had not known.  I tried to make it work and to be satisfied with my chosen lot in life, but a fire started burning in my belly.  I wanted more, different.   I desperately wanted to go to college.  I loved exploring ideas, philosophy and studying human behavior.  Reading the books at home alone without the benefit of discussion left me cold.  I wanted to experience more of the world of academia.

I was changing.  Moving in this new direction created a chasm in my marriage and we were divorced.  I worked in the school system and attended college.  It took eight long years but finally, I became the first member of my family to achieve a bachelor’s degree.  I was very proud to have actualized my goal.

This was also a tumultuous time in my life.  All of the pain over the years had accumulated, grown exponentially.  I had not dealt with it, rather I forged ahead toward my goal.  I made mistakes along the way.  I was carrying so much from my childhood.  I needed help.

By this time, I had my first professional position since college graduation.   I was forty-four years old.  I was working with babies and pre-schoolers who had developmental disabilities.  I worked in their homes with the kids, leading them in activities to help them gain developmental milestones.  Focusing on these children and their families kept me from looking at myself.

One day, I was at a training and the teacher, Kathy Kellison, was fabulous.  There was something about her that  made me want to know her.  After the training, I approached her and asked if she had a private practice.  She did, and I soon found myself in her office.

Kathy saved my life.  She was kind and caring and held me to a high standard of truth-telling.  I had become quite proficient at manipulating my truth, but Kathy saw right through me.  She wouldn’t let me get away with anything.  She was smart, savvy and an excellent role model.  I bared my soul and she put me together again, piece by piece, like a puzzle that had been thrown on the floor, only to become the whole picture that it was meant to be all along.  My counseling relationship with Kathy took three years.  I gained so much through this experience.  I surely wasn’t perfect, but I was much better prepared to effectively run my life.

Some people are ashamed of seeking therapy.  I tell my story because it is a huge part of who I am.  Someone really believed in me the way that my grandmother Estes had, and I became happier, step by step, day by day.  I carry that early pain deep within me still.  It will always be part of me, but because of the hard work I was willing to do, and because of Kathy’s belief in me, I used that experience to learn how to help others.  I believe that I was meant to grow from a painful place to a place of love and compassion.  All part of the journey.

Fast forward to the present.  Five weeks ago, I had the surgical placement of a peg tube which will become my primary method of receiving nutrients for the rest of my life, in the absence of a miracle.  As I have described in earlier posts, this was a horrendously painful experience, mostly physical, but not without emotional pain as well.  Day after day I suffered, and quickly parts of me began to wither and die.  I thought deeply about my quality of life and I wondered if I could ever regain enough of myself to make life worth living again.  I wondered if I would ever be someone who people enjoyed again.  I thought a lot about dying.   I couldn’t even cry because I knew it would make me feel worse.

After a couple of weeks, I began to come to grips with my feelings of hopelessness, fear and loss.  I found myself counting all of my losses so far:  The ability to speak, to communicate easily on a social level, the loss of my ability to express myself fluently as I always had, loving words to describe thoughts and feelings.  The loss of physical strength, once so vibrant and energetic, I mourned the passing of my robust nature.  I mourned the loss of the pleasure of eating, both for the physical pleasure and the social aspect of eating in nice restaurants while enjoying rich conversation.   I have already lost a great deal of lung function, so deep breathing, once a source of great relaxation, gone.  I lost the ability to swallow effectively. My salivary glands still work just fine, so there is a multitude of saliva to manage, which is incredibly difficult when swallowing isn’t effective.  I mourned the loss of power.  Always the independent woman, as I was recuperating I was almost totally dependent on my husband.  Another huge loss, is that I can not do the work that I love.  Supporting leaders in organizations, building teams that work effectively and cooperatively together is my passion.  I have loved all the individuals that I coached along the way and grieve the loss of my ability to do my work.  It has left a hole in my heart.

Finally, I realized that I was grieving in a way that I had never grieved before.  I have known a great deal of loss in my life, but this latest one is so huge that I had not allowed myself to accept the depth of this grief.  Once the floodgates opened, I feared they wouldn’t stop, and I knew that once again, I needed help.

I asked the social worker at the local ALS office for a recommendation.  She gave me the name of a therapist who specializes in dealing with people like me and their families.  She came to our home to meet us for the first time and Chris was able to interpret for me.  I lucked out.  This woman is highly skilled, direct and no-nonsense while being very compassionate.  I don’t need pity, I need someone who I can safely bare my soul with, someone who “gets” me, but isn’t a family member.  There are some conversations that family members don’t need to hear.  They are doing their best to deal with losing so much of me, they don’t need to be witness to my falling apart.

Last week, I had my first appointment with LeAnn.  I went to her office and it was great getting out.  We agreed on the focus of my therapy and had a great first session.  I am looking forward to the next one.

When you have been a “helper” yourself, it is even more difficult to ask for help.  Especially if you are strong, independent, capable and competent.  When these qualities have been developed and are a source of pride, it is incredibly difficult to ask for support.  But, I must recognize that regardless of how strong an individual I may be, I cannot do this alone.  I need my husband, my children and my friends.  We are a team and I am enormously grateful.  And, I need LeAnn to guide me down this mysterious pathway.  I am ready.