If you've ever had the unfortunate experience of watching The Silence of the Lambs, then you know the main character, played by Anthony Hopkins, is a brilliant psychiatrist, but also a dangerous psychopath with a penchant for cannibalism. Many years have thankfully passed since I saw it, but the unsavory scenes of one human eating another stay with most viewers. In my younger days I liked a good scary movie, but as an adult I've never much cared for them, which is ironic considering some of the horror shows I see when I go to work each day. Most recently, I witnessed the aftermath of a patient who later brought the aforementioned movie to mind. But sadly, this wasn't a movie. Chewing from an open self-inflicted leg wound, my patient tore around seven inches of flesh from her body and spit it on the bed. Her own blood covered her face and sheets as the nurse practitioner on call and three nurses worked quickly to stop the bleeding. She had done this before. The wound had grown so deep and so large that not enough skin remained to stitch it closed. I had never seen anything like it and nurses on call that day said the same. Standing to her side and trying not to cry for her, I forced myself to hold it together and work to calm her while the ambulance for another hospital was called. As I looked into her eyes, I saw her desperation to die and with tears beginning to run down her cheeks, she asked me if she would live. When I softly told her that she would, her face fell in disappointment and she laid back in defeat. Of the entire experience, that moment was more painful to see than the bleeding hole in her leg, blood stained sheets, and the pieces of flesh lying on the bed. It was all too much, and as I fought back tears, I knew I could never unsee any of it.
Saturday, January 13, 2018
As I walked into a patient's room recently, I wasn't surprised to see blood stains on the floor, bed sheets, walls, and her face. Only seconds earlier when her screams filled the hallway and nurse's station where I sat charting, I had taken a deep breath in to prepare for the complete breakdown that was commencing, and as I made my way over to intervene and stabilize her, I didn't have time to consider anything but the immediate crisis. She was in there somewhere...the woman God created, but shouting back at me and the rest of the treatment staff was a person so incomprehensibly angry, scared, and reportedly desperate to die that I didn't know whether or not I could reach her in that moment. So I prayed as I worked to calm her. Our sessions up to this point had been as productive as her limited cognitive functioning allowed, but in the middle of a self-injurious rage, patients aren't always so easy to calm. It's not my favorite part of being a therapist, but I had been in this setting before and the scene was all too familiar. Several years ago I spent time working in a psychiatric hospital in Los Angeles, but when I left that position, I had no intention of ever working with the severely mentally ill or those with neurocognitive impairment again. But there I was. Working calmly and quickly to stabilize a bleeding patient screaming about wanting to die. Again. How did I get here was no longer the question running through my mind; I knew exactly how I got here, but the question had become Why am I staying here? To be honest, I'm still not sure, but what I do know is that in this moment, all is well.
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
In the last few weeks, I have been undergoing a battle of the wills of sorts with my three month old daughter as I've endeavored to establish boundaries, schedules, and an overall routine. She and I have both cried many tears, endured sleepless nights, and I've prayed through the frustrations that accompany life with a newborn. Especially a strong willed newborn who is as determined to have her way as I am to have mine. I also have a 12 year old son, and as I look back through the years to the time when he was her age, I recall only brief moments of difficulty. He was essentially an easygoing, mild tempered infant who followed direction well and stayed within the parameters of whatever routine I had created. Sure, he went through a brief season of overwhelming colicky upset, but it was short lived and he quickly settled into life as the "perfect baby." My new daughter, on the other hand, refuses to be tamed into any sort of routine and if I dare try, she quickly and effectively makes sure I know she is calling the shots, which usually looks like her yelling and me not sleeping. And crying. And praying. Ironically, my efforts at formatting a schedule are based on the underlying goal of increasing both the quantity and quality of my nighttime sleep. Hasn't happened. The minute I feel I've had a couple of days of success and won the battle of getting her to comply with my way of doing things, she mixes everything up and my accomplishment is no longer recognizable. I've often heard parents say that their children are like night and day, different in every way. I understand the concept well now. My son was easy. My daughter is difficult. My son was quiet and content. My daughter is loud and restless. My son was mild tempered. My daughter is emotionally expressive and already opinionated. My son was teachable. My daughter is the teacher. He came out of the womb without movement or sound. She came out kicking and yelling. My son was and still is predictable in his next step. My daughter is nothing of the sort. The only predictable thing about her is that she is predictably unpredictable. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Friday, October 20, 2017
In the last two years, I've faced many crossroads. I've moved five times, gotten a divorce, conceived a child, finished my doctorate, and am now roommates with my ex-husband..in the same house I moved out of two years ago. Are we back together? Not sure. Yes? I think? Neither of us really knows, but we're raising my daughter and our son together, we get along great, and we occasionally speak of remarrying. With an infant in the house, no one really knows what sleep is anymore, especially me since she and I share a room, so when we've tried to define our relationship and life together it's just comical and uncertain. "So am I like your boyfriend or something?" he will ask with a smile. "I dunno, should we like...go out on a date or something?" I'll ask in return. We both try to be hip and fresh and new, yet he's the same man who talks to me while I sit on the toilet and I'm the same woman who yells about his odorous gas and smelly socks. We've been together for over 11 years and know each other inside and out, so it's hard to try and carve out something new when we're both so accustomed to the old. But we try. Then the baby cries and the answers get lost in a sea of spit up and dirty diapers. The truth is, we don't have all the answers. We don't even have half the answers we'd like to have. He loves me, I love him, and we both love the children we're raising together. That much we know. It's an unusual dynamic considering my daughter was conceived by someone else while he and I were apart, but it's our dynamic and,strangely enough, it works. For now. Amidst the chaos of starting over with a newborn and stumbling our way through a marriage, divorce, and a now new and undefined, yet unfolding, relationship, we're just trying to take the next step and let hope rise.
Thursday, October 12, 2017
If you've ever sought therapy, then you know that your first encounter with a therapist is often birthed from some ongoing mental, emotional, or existential crisis that has finally become unbearable. Prior to setting that appointment, you were attempting to regulate and manage the pain or circumstance on your own, but you reached a breaking point. Congratulations, you're now ready for help and you can choose to see the breaking point as either a new beginning or a sad ending. It's your perspective to define. We all have a limit on how much we can take, and seeking therapy is not an indication of your weakness, but a bold statement of your humility and fortitude and drive to overcome. While many disdain the benefit of mental and emotional health treatment, as a therapist, I've seen beautiful and profound strength in the broken client who tearfully seeks help (Psalm 51:17). Those who disregard the advantages of therapy are usually the ones who have never experienced it, and therefore, have no knowledge with which to judge the treatment process and therapy dynamic. Is that to say therapy is for everyone? Certainly not. Each person must handle life in a way fitting for himself, but if you're a therapy patient, and have sought help from a place of brokenness and despair, know that you're stronger than you think, more capable than you've ever dreamed, and fully known and loved by a God who sees you (Genesis 16:13), not just as you are, but also as you can be.
Sunday, October 1, 2017
Have you ever struggled with sin? Ever found it difficult to stop behaving in a certain way that you knew wasn't good for you? Perhaps you drink too much and want to stop, but find yourself still pouring that glass at the end of the day. Maybe it's a sexual behavior and you're finding pleasure in promiscuity only to have it give way to feelings of guilt and shame when it's over. Pornography? You want to stop watching, but the strength of what you see pulls you in one more time. Addicted to stealing? The rush you get is one from which you want to be free, but you haven't been able to break that chain. We've all got something and from mid-2015 to January of this year when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I experienced self-inflicted heartache and struggle on an unprecedented level. Like Jacob, who wrestled with God (Genesis 32:22-32), I regularly fought with God, myself, and others, and like Jonah, who ran from the call of God (Jonah 1:3), I, likewise, fled the Lord's summons. I stepped deep into pits of my own sin and rebellion, and I watched as my family unit disintegrated under the tumultuous battle between good and evil, righteousness and wickedness. Recently, however, I have come to realize that despite the chaos and storms raging around and within, even when I am against me, God is still always for me (Romans 8:31).
Thursday, August 31, 2017
Back in January, I was still working in Orange County so the commute home always took me on the I-57 North, which, if you're familiar with Southern California freeways, then you know that this one takes you through some small rolling hills before hitting the I-10. I drove through these peaks daily, but rarely noticed the beauty they offer until after a week or so of regular rainfall. Instead, I mostly grumbled about having to drive in the downpour (pictured below) and sit in bumper to bumper traffic. I dislike driving in wet conditions as it is, and most residents of the state will readily admit to being spoiled by the usually sunny conditions, so when our rainy season hits, people nearly lose their minds. It's as if we all forget how to drive when water strikes. Our interstates are jammed packed already without precipitation, but throw a storm into the mix and it looks like what L.A. dubbed "Carmageddon" in 2011 when the I-405 temporarily shut down. Simply put, many of us, while keenly aware of the need for it, don't like the rain, at least not while driving. On January, 12, however, I was heading home through the hills after the week of storms had subsided and I was caught off guard by how beautifully green the landscape looked as I passed by (see pictures below). It was as if I was seeing everything for the first time. Had it always looked so colorfully vibrant and just missed my attention or was there really a difference? There was just something deeper and richer about the shade of green than what it had been before the week of storms, and it wasn't long after that when I realized the sweet parallels in the spiritual realm - To see clearly, sometimes it takes the rain.