Onionskin Heart

[A more personal post.]

I’m in grad school studying mental health counseling. Six weeks ago I started seeing clients for the first time. The experience has been amazing, challenging, beautiful, heartbreaking, overwhelming, exhausting… Basically it’s kicking my ass.

A soldier wears a gas mask while peeling onions. I guess that’s one way to avoid shedding a tear. Source.

I am confused and tired. It is strange to be suddenly doing the work for real, after a year and half of training. I feel a bit like an impostor, of course. I find myself acutely aware of my age, feeling both painfully young and oddly grown up. It’s the feeling I like to think of as “7th grade all over again.” The grade/age varies a lot by school system, but you know when you go from being the biggest kid at primary school to one of the youngest and smallest at secondary school? I feel like that, or like the first time you venture into the deep end of the pool. I’m treading water, but I can’t put my toes down anymore. Shit got real.

I absolutely love working with my clients. It’s fascinating, exciting, moving, captivating. I really enjoy it. I find myself extremely awake and present during the sessions. There have been times I was totally lost, and times when we connected and some real work got done. My biggest fear right now is, will I ever develop the endurance do this shit 40 hours a week without keeling over?

I have a wonderful, very committed supervisor who has been giving me great feedback. I am learning to breathe deeply and not rush the process. Interestingly, she pointed out that I seem more openhearted with my female than my male clients. I still carry a lot of “boys don’t cry” baggage and it gets between me and deep empathy with another man.

Sometimes I can observe myself swallowing an emotion in real time. It is so weird; the reflex to swallow, repress, so powerful, and then it’s gone. Not really gone, but no longer accessible, bound to come back later. One of the stranger times: Alma and I watched the very important and heartbreaking film Broken Rainbow. I got through the whole thing without crying, though it hurt. Then a year later, we were discussing the movie one night, and I just burst into tears, absolutely no warning. It felt like the very same tears I swallowed in the first place. I am still letting go of all my backlogged tears.

Flashes of memories of learning not to feel: my father’s exhortations of toughen up, determination, learn the difference between pain and discomfort, stop crying. I think my dad picked up on my masculinity and he trained me the best way he knew how. He taught me that you have to be tough or the world will destroy you. As a young gender-variant person, I keyed into messages of masculinity with a secret intensity, clinging to them for dear life. Onionskin heart, I dismantle one wall and I find another.

My world is changing. It essential to face the world with an open heart. Love is far more powerful than fear. The more I open to the world, the friendlier the world becomes. Strange how my family has changed. What would be dad be like if he were raising me now? Now that he seems so much less anxious and reads the Tao Te Ching?

Brick by brick, I keep dismantling. I will not compromise love.

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6 comments

  1. genderneutral

    Rimonim, beautiful post as always. I do appreciate your openheartedness. As I am sure your supervisor has told you, we all feel that way in the beginning – and likely you will feel this even the first year or two after you graduate. That open-hearted connection is the key. Follow that and you will find your strength and all the potentials there are to follow. We will be lucky to have you joining the ranks! And about the 40 hrs, it is rare that you will have 40 hrs of contact hrs per week. If you start out at an agency, its more like 25-30 and a bunch of documentation. Private practice, you get to set your hours and make more money so need to work fewer hours. I respect and appreciate your willingness to look at yourself and allow the process grow you. That is what makes a great therapist!

    • rimonim

      Thank you for the words of encouragement! Yes, I know the way I’m feeling is to be expected, so I’m not psyching myself out about it. The idea of counseling full-time is just daunting right now, even factoring in all the paperwork, etc. Right now I have about 5 contact hrs/week and I’m exhausted, haha. Hard to believe I’ll be doing 2-3x that next semester. Of course, a huge part of the drain is the energy expended worrying about whether I’m doing okay! I trust that you are right–by being faithful to openness and allowing the process to change me, the strength and the energy will come.

  2. Meep

    Welcome to the world of counselling :)

    We do things differently here, in terms of hours expected, but I remember that exhaustion and also what sounds like it feels like a bit of elation?

    I hope that you’re able to feel more settled soon. Best wishes with it!

  3. arhizome

    Very exciting! I’m not counseling now, but I did complete a degree / couple years of work before I realised research was more my thing. My supervisor told me he wished he could have sent all his first clients apology letters. This really normalised how I was feeling at the time, and we had a good laugh about how daunting it is at first. Glad you have a good supervisor – that’s essential! All the best.

  4. UnknownJamie

    It sounds like you are doing great really. ‘Life is in the struggle.’ Your awareness will carry you through the exhaustion, so long as you aware to know when you must rest for you. It’s hardly kicking your ass if you are standing toe to toe with the challenge and persevering ;)

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