Monday, April 16, 2007

Important things

I haven't written for a long time, since January in fact. It hasn't been because I haven't wanted to, that I havent had experiences worth sharing, or that I havent wanted to share. Nor was it that i didnt have the time. It was that i didnt have the information that mattered to me. i was buried in doubt, up to my neck in question marks. my future was uncertain, and it paralyzed more than even i realized at the time.
the last three weeks were especially hard. my whole family, lasitha and catie included, were at 6600 the day i heard back from grad schools. i had already gotten into Maryland, which surprised me b/c i thought that they knew that the program just wasnt right for me. it was a Marriage & Family Therapy program, a Master's degree, which would provide me the skills and rights to function as a therapist, but not be a psychologist, not to officially diagnose or treat severe mental health issues, not to perform psychotherapy and, perhaps most importantly, perhaps least importantly, not to BE a psychologist.
when i was ten years old i used to say i wanted to be a psychologist. is that normal for a ten year-old to say? did i even know what a psychologist was? i remember Alan Thicke's character on Growing Pains, (or, the celebrity i most resemble vibewise, the dad on Family Ties---was he a psychologist too? perhaps not). i remember the leather couches, no back on one side. something about those couches, that lifestyle, that job, called out to me from the beginning.
people who saw me develop during the college years can most clearly understand how the field of psychology came to call me. weeknights freshman year consitently showed the two Michaels parts of themselves they had not yet understood; ephiphanies abounded. he taught me and i taught him. i had been through difficult times in high school and only active, directed, conscious growth would help me actualize myself. this included adjusting my perception of myself, with confidence in myself and trust in others. it took time but i learned. psychology i believe is best suited for those who have actually seen themselves change, for we must believe that change is possible. i thank adam denenberg and michael ellman, along with countless others, for this gift.
my teaching him also pushed me towards psychology, for i changed him too. i showed him introspection. i taught him the game of trying to understand one's self. i learned that i have a skill; i believe it is my greatest skill.
sophomore year was a flood of ideas. we searched for answers everywhere and found answers in even more places. strong personalities, extreme people with brilliant minds, and a fondness for utilizing those minds on themes more important than academics, showed me much. i still look back on that age as the peak of ______. there is one photo i have that sums it up pretty well. seven of us on the stoop of 1315. a moment. in pictures at that age we begin to look like younger versions of our older that we knew, even at the time, that our children would see of us and think of us as grown-ups but know that we were young. it's funny, that unspoken moment where you become a grown-up.

i got into Maryland. i was feeling confident about GWU and the Wright Institute. it would all come down to one day--March 26th. i had just gotten back from a magical weekend at 'the cabin'. happiness and love, freedom and music, fresh back from my weeks on the west coast, new hampshire for my first Obama trip.
the night of the 25th i dreamt rejection. i had tried to convince myself that it wasnt a sure thing, that i might not get in, just in case, to soften the blow. i dreamt it so clearly that i woke up reeling. i knew it was just a dream, but it felt so real that i believed it would become true.
an hour or so later i got my Waitlisted email from GW---the school i really wanted, close to home, a bike ride from Mt Pleasant, my parents, my friends, my sister, my dogs, my life. i was hurt. i went into the family room and told becca and mom. i had tears. "i just wanted it so much" i said. they were supportive, but sad for me, sad for themselves.
an hour or so later i heard back from the Wright Institute. i was shocked, but their rejection was a relief. it meant i would stay in or around DC, that i was an east-coaster again, that i would stay near home. i told my mother and she cried "i didnt want you to go to Berkeley...i knew you wouldve had to, but it wouldve been so hard." we were relieved.
the next week was really hard. not only did i have to deal with the waitlist issue and pressure from Maryland to make a decision, but i had to adjust the image inside myself and of myself that i was going to be a psychologist. that was possibly the hardest part of the ordeal---the fact that this tiny difference was going to not only affect the rest of my career path, my life, etc., but that it would also affect who i am, what i am. it was nearly unmanagable.
the pro and con of the week was that my whole family was there. they were supportive, but the week was challenging. i felt as though i was never quite there, as if, even in the shining moments, a dark cloud hung above my head, a black cloud buried in the pit of my stomach. i hurt.
by friday of that week Maryland demanded an answer. i had no choice but to accept. the night before i accepted i lay in bed thinking about what i would do as a therapist, who i would be, and the fact that by accepting i would be releasing the dream of ever being a psychologist. it's difficult to explain the practical difference between these two professional fields, but there is a difference at the very core of their understanding of what "the self" really is, and i wanted to view things psychologically, work with selves from that perspective, and i was losing this. on this night i knew that i was effectively killing this dream of mine. as i fell asleep that night i knew it was wrong, and felt as though i shouldnt do it.
the next day i had no choice but to accept Maryland's offer. partly due to financial pressures they were putting on me in terms of their offer, partly because i simply needed the security of knowing i was going to study somewhere. it did not feel right, but once i accepted i was able to forget about the situation, to an extent, and enjoy my last two days at home before heading off to Iowa. we threw a party for Dan & Catie, my friends catered the event. faces from my entire history appeared. it was less difficult to talk about Maryland, the MFT, the waitlist, than i wouldve expected. i was beginning to accept my situation.
the next day i left my house. i said goodbye to my family and i looked into Lasitha's eyes as i walked out and asked if i would ever see him again. he is going back home soon, to Sri Lanka, for-possibly-ever. i am happy for him, sad for me. he is a remarkable person. we are lucky to have had him in our family, in this golden age of our family. he will be missed.
Iowa provided me respite from the graduate school process. it was a week of campaign work, flying high, taking care of business, feeling good about the campaign. thoughts of staying on, working for the senator for the next year and a half, were present. the events went swimmingly and the buzz of the positive energy, the feeling that he is the answer to our country's problems, and the idea that i could be involved in that sucked me in.
i had been slated for a trip to South Carolina that would start two days after the Iowa events. they were going to send me home in between, but i worked things out such that i could spend 36 hours in Chicago rather than heading home. i would see Ellman, Mason, Scotty et Al. there was to be a campaign party in Lincoln Park. it was all set. on the drive to the airport i spoke to my mother. mildly hungover but still buzzed from the previous day's event and the trip to Chicago, my mom and i spoke about Maryland, about the MFT, about options. i was immediately shocked back to reality. i had been floating in this distant land, a land where my real life could not reach me, where my tasks were of the greatest short-term importance but of none whatsoever thereafter. we build a site with great time pressure, we form intense bonds in a matter of hours, we love our volunteers and fall in love with our site contacts. over late dinners and long drives we learn to trust our teammates. when the sh*t goes down on gameday we are there for one another. only we know that bond, and the intensity of knowing that wheels are down. we thrive on it. and we are addicted to it. those who have real jobs struggle to re-enter their lives after an event. where's the thrill? they wonder. when can i go out on the road again? they ask their bosses. can i quit my job? they secretly ponder. advance is _______.

i didnt go to Chicago. blame the airlines, blame TSA regulations, blame the ticket-nazis behind the counter at American Airlines, blame myself and my hubris. i didnt go. i was devastated. but i was tired. and i was unhealthy at the very core of my being. things werent right. decisions were hard to make, and i knew what the root of the problem was. i was not stable. i went home in an attempt to regain some stability; 36 hours at my parents house, a good night of sleep. i watched the movie "Castaway". it helped. i understood it differently. i realize that he did not escape that island without losing something along the way. i'm not sure whether he would've kept it had he not lost his friend, but when the ball floated away a piece of himself also left. something there made sense to me.

i left Monday morning to South Carolina. i arrived happy. the sun was shining and it was warm. green trees, blue skies, the way April should be. i hadnt heard from GW and knew that my chances were minimal. i had given up on it.
i called a family friend, an MFT, to discuss the degree. he had his doubts. he wishes he had gotten the doctorate. it hurt to hear that. most MFTs i had spoken to were more optimistic, thought that if i wanted to do therapy that the degree was a fine option. i sank more into the thought of sticking with the Obama campaign. i knew it wasnt right, but it was damage control time. i could not let myself go after a degree i wasnt sure i wanted. i could not take the path of least resistance simply out of fear, out of decisions made. i had to consider my options. even when you dont have any options, you still have some options, right? i did. many options--apply to PsyD schools that still accept applications, wait a year and apply again, go for the MSW/MBA combination. many options. i didnt like any of them, but at least they were plentiful.
it was one of the hardest weeks of my life. i did not sleep well. my dreams were disturbing; not as though they were directly related to graduate school, nor were they nightmares. simply that i would wake up each morning and feel perturbed by what my mind had chosen to show me the night before. i was tired everyday. i felt as though i was, in my own way, depressed. why was it hitting me harder this week versus the others? was it because this was the last possible week of hearing back from GW, because i knew that the day of reckoning was the 16th and that, since i hadnt heard yet, only bad news was on its way? was it because complications lied also within my main means of support for that week? was it because i was losing steam for the campaign work? i didnt really know.
on Monday afternoon i jumped in the hotel pool and tried to stay under water as long as i could. i looked up through the water at the sunlight glimmering through. there was no noise down there. my body sank heavily, my limbs weighty. i swam hard for 20 minutes, doing frantic and angry laps in the small pool. i felt better with the exercise. i did flips underwater and tried to be a seal. seals dont have to worry about much, i thought.

Wednesday and Thursday were the toughest. i grappled with confusing feelings and held a general heaviness in my body. Friday, gameday, was better. the thrill of the event sucked me in, at least for the most part. i knew GW was over. i had sent the director an email Thursday morning, mentioning that i still had high hopes despite the miniscule probabilities, and that i would appreciate any thoughts on how to improve my application should i choose to wait and apply again next year. she hadnt responded. it was over.

the event went well, and afterwards i was back to normal. no post-gameday buzz like last time. i was heavy again. i napped, as i always do once the senator leaves. i woke up heavy, as i always do from long naps. we hit up the grocery store for dinner food and to buy some booze for the wheels up party. all the women on our trip had gone with the senator to Columbia and would not be back til later. back at the room we ate food, got started on our Southpaw Lights and watched The Wonder Years (yes, the show is finally back on the air...see me for details). At 11pm i checked my email. i was in shock. i had gotten in to GW. 10:16 on a Friday night she writes me to offer me a position. i called my parents, tears in my eyes. my mother, who was half asleep minutes before, was now dancing around her bedroom. we were joyous.

i began to take off my socks before i got off the phone with them. i knew i needed two things: to be alone and to be clothes-less. i put on my bathing suit and ran down to the pool. in the cold, dark air i sat alone poolside in our mini-mall in Florence, SC. there i wept. i wept because i had gotten what i wanted. even i had no idea how badly i had wanted it. i had wanted it so badly that it hurt to want it. i had wanted it so badly that now that i had it, it hurt to have it. it hurt in a good way now. i wept for the love and support i had gotten from my family & friends, for happiness that my mother now felt for me, for the future of living in Mt Pleasant and riding my bike to Foggy Bottom, living my life in my city. i wept for me and my hubris and my humility, for the lessons i had learned and who i want to be and how now i get to be it. i wept dryly and harshly and my insides were strained and rough and i didnt care.
once i had tried to contact my siblings i decided i needed to jump in the pool. i stood on the edge where days before i had leaned in the afternoon sun, exasperated, not from the sun but from myself. i was alone. i jumped in the pool and did not float and did not sink. my body was weightless to me and my mind was free. i did not swim or spring, i did not do flips. i just was there, in the pool, alone, tired and happy.


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