Second Half of Grad School!

I’ve really felt more of a draw to write lately. I can admit that a little bit of it is fueled by envy—which is leading to a why not me? Some of it is realizing that my words and I do matter, and some of it is just becoming more authentic and less afraid to be myself. And I miss having this kind of record of my life. Maybe I won’t feel this way forever, but I still do right now.

I’m listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic (a pep talk of a book about living a creative life) right now, and one line made me literally take pause, coming to a halt while walking Lucy.

You are allowed to be here, and you are allowed to have a story.

She also talks about not writing for the sole purpose of helping others and the joy that can take out of it for both the reader and the writer. I can vouch for feeling that way, and also for how much I despise attempts to help others that feel fully pedantic.

I can write because if feels good, because keeping the words inside feels like ants in my pants. Because writing is part of my identity, part of my soul, part of what makes me whole.

“What do you want your clients to feel from you when they’re in the [zoom] room with you?” my therapist asked me yesterday. I started my internship this week and will probably start seeing clients within the next week or two (!?!?!) (If you’re new here, I’m in school to become a therapist.)

“Comfort, understanding and like they’re less alone in the world,” I said. Maybe I’m projecting my own wants and needs, but they’re pretty universal ones.

And although I am nervous about how I might handle tough situations/clients/cases, I am pretty confident in my ability to create a warm space, and the relationship is the foundation of the therapy. (The foundation—you still need the skills.) In fact, research shows that a stronger therapeutic alliance is typically correlated with better results in therapy.

I will be 38 next month, and the magnitude of starting an entirely new career hit me HARD the other day—ALSO while walking Lucy. Apologies to the small shih tzu at the end of the Lilly leash for abrupt stops when I make realizations. When I realized this the other day, it felt really depressing and daunting to feel like I was starting all over again, but right now it’s feeling really exciting to think about how I want this future career to look.

I am feeling a weird sense of calm right now so I thought it should be documented. And I wanted to also document a little check in as I embark on my second half of grad school.

Last quarter was really hard for me. It went from early October to right before Christmas, so that means it included the election, the difficult holiday season, days getting shorter, and the pandemic getting worse. Additionally, the classes I took were: Assessment and Treatment of Addictive Disorders; Human Sexuality; Trauma, Its Effects and Recovery; and Pharmacology. A kind of heavy courseload emotionally? I was genuinely interested in every single one of these classes, but I also felt a sense of apathy and lack of motivation that was kind of hard to shake, just feeling like I was going through the motions. My advisor said that pandemic/election aside, this is actually a pretty normal feeling at this point in the program—you’re in it, but you haven’t started seeing clients yet, so it just feels like a slog.

I’m psyched and nervous for this quarter. The workload has felt intense the entire time, and every single week, I freak out and am convinced I won’t be able to finish it all. “Has that happened at all yet, Theodora?” my therapist asks. “Well, um…no.” Fine, lady.

But this quarter! I will be seeing anywhere from five to ten clients and having five to seven additional hours of training/supervision each week, on top of the rest of the schoolwork. I’m pretty nervous about the time management aspect of all of this, but I know I will figure it out. The benefit to this being online is that I won’t also be losing commuting hours for my internship/classes, and, uh, that there’s also nothing else to do right now.

A quick note on the classes I’m taking, more for future me than you, but maybe you care? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Personality Theories II: Comparative Contemporary Theories: I took Personality I in my first quarter last year, and it was a lot of learning about Freud and his contemporaries who were the foundation of this field. Personality II looks at more contemporary theories, such as humanistic, experiential, cognitive, behavioral, narrative (I’m particularly excited to learn about this one!!), feminist, multicultural, etc. I don’t have a particular theoretical orientation I’m really learning towards yet, so I’m really interested in this class and learning a lot more.

I’ve done a lot of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) myself. It’s pretty common because it’s very evidence-backed and, in some ways, can help you feel better pretty quickly—but it can also feel a little too simple, reductive and formulaic to me sometimes. In treatment, we didn’t follow a full formal Dialectical Behavioral Therapy program, but we used a lot of their tools/worksheets, and it is excellent in crisis/severe situations. For me, I have found a combination of CBT techniques (like learning tools and coping skills) and a deeper psychodynamic exploration of underlying causes.

I’m in a cohort, and we typically take all of our classes together, but I’m breaking out of the cohort for this one to take with an instructor I really like. I’m really bummed to be missing out on his IRL energy. Talk about feeling comforted and understood—this guy is a giant, brilliant teddy bear, and I know he must be an amazing therapist.

Family Systems II: I took Family I last year, and hooooo boy did it bring up a lot of stuff. We had to do journaling exercises and write a short reflection paper nearly every week for that class, and while that part was really emotionally difficult, I learned so much.

I don’t foresee myself doing family therapy down the line (other than in training)—but we all come from families, so it’s important for me to learn and understand more about these dynamics.

Research for Mental Health Professionals: Y’all, I am a nerd and super excited about this one. “We, uh, don’t get that a lot,” my advisor said, when I told him that. Essentially this class is learning how to read/evaluate/explain studies, which is something I’ve been doing in my professional writing for a long time. Most of what I know about this is self-taught, so I am interested to learn even more about how to critically evaluate studies. The class culminates in a lit review on a psychology topic of our choice, and Y’ALL. I love me a lit review.

I am taking this research class instead of a class on domestic violence that the rest of the cohort is taking, because we registered when I was feeling really burnt out and the thought of adding a class on DV when I was feeling burnt out felt incredibly heavy.

I’m also taking three one-credit workshops instead of fourth class here.

Dynamics and Treatment of Eating Disorders: Obviously, writing in this space for a long time, I’ve interacted with a lot of people with current or past eating disorders—or, at least, disordered/unhealthy habits. (I include myself in this, too—I’ve never been diagnosed with an eating disorder but I can also recognize some past habits of mine that were extreme.) I want to primarily work with women in the future, so it is really important to me to learn more about eating disorders. I know they are not just a female thing, and certainly not just a thin white female thing, even if the media portrays them that way.

Therapy As a Career: My long-term goal is to split my time between working in private practice, doing some kind of work that helps those who typically can’t access therapy, and writing. This is a second career for me, and I won’t become fully licensed until I am at least 40, so I want to hit the ground running and do as much career development as I can now and learn about all the options out there.

Compassion Fatigue: Taking Care While Taking Care: Coming into this with my own mental health issues and a history of poor boundaries around work after a decade of working in social media, I know how important self-care is. The true self-care—knowing when to say no, etc—not Instagram bullshit self care. Plus, I know that this is a career that is subject to burnout, so I want to be as cognizant of that upfront as possible and have the tools to recognize and deal with that when it comes up.

So…yeah. This quarter is going to be pretty intense, but good intense.

If you want to catch up from last year, I wrote about my first week last year and also a check-in after the second quarter, halfway through the year.

My Intentions for 2021

YOU GUYS. WE MADE IT. 2020 is over.

Will things be magical better today because of a calendar and a sun setting on one year and rising on another? Nope. Is there a little more hope on the horizon for 2021 than there has been for most of 2020? I think so. The pandemic is looking like it is getting/will get worse before it gets better, but hopefully things will start looking more normal at some point this year.

I looked back on what I wrote at the beginning of last year about goals—and it perfectly aligns with what I’m feeling now, too. “I used to write resolution/goal posts that were entirely achievement-based, but I want to focus instead on how things make me feel,” I wrote last year.

I’ve been referencing old posts lately to find memories, and I have zero promises about writing more frequently here, but I like having things documented here. (But also, how do you feel about newsletters? I like having this as a record for myself, but I also clearly want to reach people, or I’d just write this all in a Google Doc. I just want to reach readers wherever they are. Also curious how you feel about Patreon? To be honest, another part of the reason I started writing here a lot less is that it was taking time away from paid writing work.)

Here’s some things I want to think about for 2020.

Meditation: I took a class last quarter on marrying eastern/yogic practices with therapy, and one of our assignments was to meditate every day for 15 days. Well, I’m currently up to a 68-day streak!!! I use the Insight Timer app, and it’s been motivating to me to keep my streak up. I’d love to continue my streak as long as possible, but honestly, as long as I keep this as a regular habit, I’m happy.

Stop Rejecting Myself: I originally wrote this thinking about it professionally, but it applies personally too. I automatically think the answer is going to be no, in, like…all situations? So therefore I reject myself before someone else can. I get envious of others’ career success (particularly other writers) and realize that, often, the difference is that they put themselves out there. For freelance pitches, specifically, I have been rejected far more by Editor Theodora in my head than any real editors.

I 100% believe in synchronicity, and as I was sitting on the floor foam rolling earlier (this is really just an excuse for me to brag that I actually foam rolled), I saw this book on the bottom of my bookcase: Rejection Proof. OK, Universe.

Have the Hard Conversations: This kind of dovetails with the above. For so long, I was afraid to advocate for myself personally, too, because I just assumed the answer would be no. Recently, I’ve started embracing the tough things and speaking up for myself even when I’m afraid to. As I joked, “what’s the point of all of this therapy if I don’t apply it??” Apparently most people aren’t actually mind readers and our assessment of what they may be thinking is wrong and speaking up can help you get on the same page, or at least in the same chapter.

Be Kinder to Myself: I beat myself up, and then I beat myself up for beating myself up! Such fun! I drank a lot until I went to treatment two years ago, and, especially after taking an addiction class this quarter, I’ve really been realizing how that affected literally half my life. “OK,” said my therapist, “are you going to beat yourself up for that the next half of your life?” Fair point, lady. I’m starting to become more cognizant of noting when I’ve made a “mistake” and moving on from it, rather than beating myself up for it.

Relax: I am Not Good at this. Our society rewards productivity, my mom was an Energizer Bunny, and I lived in the NYC area or Washington, D.C. for the first 36 years of my life—areas not known for being slow-paced. On this break from school, I have had such a hard time relaxing. When I am attempting to relax, I feel like I should be productive; when I am getting stuff done, I tell myself that I should be relaxing because life is just about to get busier again. Again, I’ve been trying to just recognize that pattern and note it and move on, rather than beat myself up.

Be More Theodora: This phrasing is from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, and I interpret it as just allowing yourself to be more authentic. In my ketamine infusions, there’s always a point where I feel Peak Theodora and am accepting of all of me, and I let go of attempting to minimize or deny parts of me—even to myself—to paint a picture of who I think I should be.

Open My Heart: I said this at the beginning of last year, too, and I generally meant to romantic love, but even despite this whole pandemic thing, I still strengthened friendships and even made some new ones. Special shouts to my friend and neighbor Kate, who is my pandemic MVP. I also did attempt to date, despite the pandemic. I went on a handful of dates that were either sitting outside 6+ feet away from each other or walking. I’m continuing to work through my relationship blocks in therapy to help me ease into being more emotionally available and less of a stereotypical Aquarius when it comes to love.

Run More Consistently: Just one physical/fitness goal! I worked with a coach for a while in 2020, and running started feeling good again. But…that takes consistency. I don’t know if big races will come back this year, but I just want to continue to feel good about running, despite pace or distance.

Plan Workouts for the Week: I’m about to get much more busy than I’ve been, but my workouts are so so important to my mental health that I need to make sure I am still prioritizing them, so I am going to attempt to sit down with my schedule every Sunday and plan out when I can fit them in. There was one point in this last quarter where I started working out again in the morning, and that was really helpful. I do love a good midday workout as a break, but sometimes it can also be really hard to actually allow myself that break.

What about you? What are your intentions for 2021? (knowing that there is still so much beyond our control. I mean, there always is, but especially during a pandemic.)