Sunday, February 9, 2014

2/9/14: Special Guest Post by David...

Recently someone asked me, "What is it like being married to a marriage and family therapist student?” 

Tonight on a flight to Seattle when I saw Mt. Rainier gracefully emerge through the clouds I finally found my answer. I hate it. H.A.T.E. And by hate, I might mean love.

A few years ago I climbed Mt. Rainer via a technical route that includes a few hundred feet of ice climbing. Because of the many dangerous crevasses I was in a rope team with three other people. Unfortunately, two of the three people on my rope team decided to be tourists and take pictures every few minutes. Every time they stopped, the rope connecting us would go taut and I'd come to an abrupt halt. This constant, violent jerking strained my body more than I was prepared for. 

At about 5:00 a.m. at 13,000 feet above sea level, I was succumbing to altitude sickness.

In that moment I hated everything I was doing. It didn't matter that the sun was just starting to rise and the entire mountain reflected a transcendent palette of pinks and purples. It didn't matter that I was just 1,000 feet below the summit of one of the most technical routes on Mt. Rainer--the largest mountain in the continental US. 
I hated all of it.

When we reached the summit everyone else was shedding jackets and celebrating. Instead, I pulled my big red down jacket from my pack, threw it on, and shivered violently--not even able to stand. 

About 11:00 a.m. we were finally back to base camp, more than 12 hours after we'd left. We packed our tents up and started the slog back to the ranger station about 6,000 vertical feet below us. By 6:30 p.m. I was stuffing my face with the best tasting pizza I had ever had. 

But at this point the two tourists and I had a decision to make. Did we start the 14 hour drive back to Provo, or find a hotel somewhere? I was beyond broke and had a flight to catch in less than 48 hours. So, motivated by destitution, and fueled by more Mountain Dew than I will ever admit, I drove the three of us 14 hours back to Provo, through the middle of the night, after climbing for 20 straight hours, while the two tourists snored soundly. 

34 nearly sleepless hours later I was back in Provo HATING everything I had just done. 

Strangely, the next day as I was on a plane headed to the east coast I was already dreaming of climbing Rainier again. I'd seemingly forgotten how much, in the moment, I hated everything about the experience. Suddenly it was one of the most incredible moments of my life!


Being married to a MFT student is something similar. On days where she had a good session, Erin's excitement is uncontainable! After a day filled with sessions that 'didn't go that well' she gets down on herself. While I try to be supportive, I'm learning I'm not that great with the whole 'emotion' thing. Fortunately Erin's life is consumed with helping people feel; connecting with their emotions. Being married to her means I don't get to just be "mad." I have to be one of the what she calls primary emotions--"disappointed", "sad", "scared", or "hurt." At first it all felt very artificial, but now I realize how emotionally bereft I can sometimes be.

A huge focus for Erin's program is "self of the therapist." For her, that means being acutely aware of her own issues and weaknesses so that she can learn to not let them interfere with her therapy. For me, it means that at least weekly she comes home with probing questions about herself, me, and our relationship.

I knew when she was accepted into BYU's program that in a way I was getting accepted too. As part of Erin's program she started going to individual therapy. Soon after, WE started seeing a therapist. Being honest, I hate it. But I hate it in the same way that I hated my experience on Mt. Rainier. In the moment you can't picture anything more repulsive, painful, demanding, or discouraging. And then you realize that you just paid a lot of money for that "privilege"! 

But somehow when it's all over you realize just how transcendent and elevating the experience was.

I have a profound respect and admiration for everything that Erin is doing. Every day she is pushing herself to overcome weaknesses and better connect with her emotions so she can help others do the same. Frequently she feels like she hasn't made any progress. The truth? Being married to her I can hardly believe the amount of change I've witnessed in the last few months. It's a big part of why I hate being married to an MFT student. Watching her work so hard pushes me to work on my own issues. I can't just "coast" for a bit, and I hate it.

Sitting in the Seattle airport, all I can do is dream about climbing Mt Rainier again. I think I might actually love being married to a MFT student,  I wouldn't trade it for anything. I look forward to the coming months while Erin is in school because we're closer than we have ever been. My love for her is deeper and my respect and admiration grows daily. 

So I guess when people ask me what it's like being married to a MFT student I should just give them the short version and say, "It's awesome."

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

2/4/14: 80 hours--Learning to Find Joy in the (torturous) Journey...

Sometimes I think God is just waiting until I have two solid feet on the ground and I'm feeling pretty stable with life and then he says, Now!  Throw something new at her!.  I'm being slightly facetious, of course, but this last week felt like one of those times--apparently I'm not allowed to just float along or be complacent with my progress as an MFT right now.  If I'm not growing, something hard happens to ensure some personal growth.  I sort of have a love/hate relationship with this new pattern in my life because I like growing and becoming a more complete person, but it's also painful and if I had a choice, I think I'd settle for complacency once in a while.

This last week I hit 80 hours and started to really feel my hope in my clients disintegrate.  I thought if I was a better therapist (or knew what the heck to do at all), they would be improving faster and they'd have some chance of getting better.  As it was, I felt like I was impeding their personal growth and they had no hope for recovery if they stayed with me.  They're all so motivated and they're working so hard, but I just can't give them the tools they want and need.  I told my supervisor that I didn't think I was really cut out to do this because I haven't seen my clients improve very much yet and she decided this was a moment for some self-of-the-therapist work (of course...).

She asked me why I expected my clients to improve after 2 months when they've been struggling for 5-10 years on average with what they're coming in with.  I couldn't answer her, except that I just wish I could help them get out of their pain as fast as possible.  She dug deeper and told me that I am too achievement oriented.  For example, I'm taking extra clients to finish my hours early, I want to be a great therapist already after only about 10 weeks, I want depression and anxiety to just disappear as soon as clients decide to come to therapy, I expect the outcome of something I'm working on to be excellent--regardless of how hard it is to get it there, I'm not happy unless I'm working towards a goal and making good progress, and I can't feel good about myself if I feel like I'm not living up to my standards for myself or succeeding at my goals.  She concluded by telling me that until I figure out how to relax and enjoy the journey, I won't be able to help my clients very well.  I need to be okay with ambiguity, okay with this all being a process, and okay with things not getting "fixed" immediately.

Little did my supervisor know how deeply this runs for me.  I mean, I literally feel helpless and hopeless on a daily basis about my chronic pain and I'm frustrated that there doesn't seem to be an answer or a fix to all of this.  I just want it to be black and white.  Either you can make the pain go away, or you can't.  Either I can have kids or I can't.  Either I'll be dealing with this my whole life, or I wont.  I'm tired of the ambiguities.  I'm tired of the endless doctor's visits and tests.  I'm tired of being tired.  And I want it all to come to a nice neat conclusion tied with a bow.  Unfortunately, this seems like it's a lesson I need to learn--that life doesn't come with nice conclusions tied up with bows.  And that's okay.  

Every day I'm learning more about myself, my husband, my relationships, my family, more than I even care to learn, to be honest.  And I think that's what life is about.  It really is about the journey, as cliche as that sounds.  It's not about the destination, because there is no destination in life.  There's just trial after trial and joy after joy and it's all meant to be enjoyed :)  So that's what I'm working on this week--trying to find joy in the journey, in spite of temporary bouts of hopelessness.  Wish me luck!