My college years were filled with drama and exhaustion. Going back to school was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do. Ever.
Until a year ago. But this story begins long before.
I remember the first time I sat in the office of the “Behavioral Health” clinic on post at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Checking boxes and filling out information so I could see a clinician for counseling services. It was 2010, my husband was between two deployments, I was pregnant, and I sat there desperately wondering if this would help. Because he was going to leave me, alone, with no family nearby and a newborn in tow. And I was afraid I was going to fall apart.
I felt vulnerable, like I wanted to hide. Hoping that I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew. Am I really doing this? Do I really NEED help?
Down the long hallway and into the office of a licensed clinical social worker. I sat my heavy, pregnant body down onto her tan chairs and avoided eye contact by looking at cashmere scarves draped over the other chairs and the little bubbling desk fountain she had on a table.
Jan’s office became a safe space for me. A place where I learned about myself in new ways. Where I found my voice and learned how to stand up for myself and set boundaries. It was in that chair where I learned how to practice guided breathing, watching that colored hot air balloon move across the Heart Math screen, while she took my infant son down the hall so I could have a break for fifteen minutes.
It was there where I watched her hand move back and forth performing EMDR, following with my eyes, as my brain processed the trauma of my first real heartbreak, my first debacle of a college experience, my traumatic birth experience, and postpartum depression.
It was there I processed the “touchstone event” of losing my best friends at age seven and never seeing them again, where I realized that over and over in my life I have felt helpless and unable to take care of the people that matter most to me.
“Notice that…” she says, as I tell her what I am feeling.
She taught me how to notice not just my feelings, but my thoughts, and the beliefs about myself and others that influence those thoughts and feelings.
It was there where we sat, hour after hour, as a couple – hand in hand. Where she taught us speaker-listener technique and how to truly communicate rather than just accuse and manipulate. Where we laughed and cried and probably did a bit of yelling, too. Where we did the hard work of connecting and reconnecting, over and over.
I don’t know if our marriage would have survived without her.
Three years later, we had to tell her goodbye as both our family and she were moving away from Fort Knox.
(reconnecting with Jan over lunch, October 2015)
We moved across the country and bounced from counselor to counselor trying to find help for my husband who given a combat related disability and diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. We finally found a good fit in 2014 with a marriage and family therapist who has helped us continue the hard work of making our marriage work while facing serious mental health challenges and special needs parenting.
It was also in 2014 when our son was diagnosed with ADHD and adjustment disorder and entered into an inpatient therapeutic day treatment program for behavioral therapy. As we sat there, distraught parents at the end of our rope, it was Casey, a licensed clinical social worker who helped us formulate his person centered plan. Who told us to go see a movie and spend time as a couple when we dropped Ezra off for that first day of therapy. Who met with me and my husband multiple times a month to let us vent, nurture us, help us work through our parenting skills and differences – and who worked with our son on a weekly basis in therapy.
It was obvious that she loved our family and wanted to see us – all of us – succeed in every way.
Every time I met with her I was recharged. Not only because she was helping me, but because there was something about what she was doing for me that made me come alive.
“I want your job,” I told her.
“I want to be you, for someone else.”
“You should. You would be great at it!” was her response.
Just like that, I felt that all the crap I had been through in my life might just have meaning after all.
At seventeen, I wanted to find a “preacher boy” to marry because I wanted to do ministry. I wanted to help people who were hurting.
Instead, I ended up married to anxiety and mothering ADHD and being the hurting one who needed help.
In 2014, the National Institute of Mental Health estimated that 18% of adults and 13% of children ages 8-15 face mental illness. As someone whose closest family members fall within those percentages, one of my biggest dreams is that God could take our experiences with mental illness and use them to help others.
My school plan
All that to say–this dream that was borne in my heart a year ago when my son graduated therapy is finally coming to fruition. I’m registered for summer school courses at our local community college. This is my first step toward an Associate in Arts degree, after which I plan to transfer to a four year school for my Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, followed by completion of a Masters of Social Work (MSW) degree and licensure as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).
While I have two years of college at three different institutions under my belt already, two of those three institutions took a religious stance against accreditation. Therefore, all of that work will give me no credit toward this educational path. Three courses (9 credits) have transferred from my 2nd semester of my freshman year (and I’ll be contesting the evaluation to see if I can get credit for one other), but that’s it.
I’m starting almost completely over.
If I reach my goal in 10 years or less, I will consider that to be a HUGE success.
I’ll be honest. I’m scared. Not of the work (school always came very naturally to me and I kept a 4.0 average). But rather of adding one thing to my plate in these days when I had to go on Zoloft, can’t even keep plants alive, and have given up on cloth diapering because I can’t keep up with the laundry.
But I fear that if I don’t start now, I never will. Maybe that’s misguided. Starting school now is something I need to do.
I’m starting with a music class (as my prior major was music) and an English class (which also comes easily to me), so I’m hopeful that I’ll manage well enough. I’m also doing my entire Associates degree as an online program, so that should help with time management issues.
Long term, I see myself working in case management either with veterans, veteran caregivers, or special needs families.
Because I want to be a Jan or a Casey to someone else.