Waste Management

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When I was 20 years old I went to study abroad in Costa Rica for 6 weeks. I returned to the U.S.  in July, the summer before my senior year in college with a rockin’ tan, nowhere to live and with no job to survive on.  My parents had moved from my hometown in southern California’s “valley” to a tiny apartment in a town notorious for cow dung stench and a prison.  Even though my options were slim, I did not want to crash on my parents’ couch for 2 months.  This is when I made the first of many bad decisions that summer. I decided that living in my boyfriend’s parents’ garage with my sleazy, underemployed, abusive boyfriend was a better idea than “suffering” in the Inland Empire with loving parents and free room and board. I also decided that I was going to get a job thru a temp agency, because how cool would that be? I saw myself as a would-be consultant, being in high demand for glamorous jobs where I would get paid to give my expert opinion on all my worldly experiences. I got called right away after my initial interview at the agency, where all that mattered was that I knew how to type and that I was willing to work in any kind of office setting. How many types of offices could there be? I thought.  I was given an address and told to show up at 8am. Since it was a time prior to GPS or Google maps, I pulled out my handy Rand McNally Road Atlas and started mapping out the quickest route to my new “office”.  It was located in a part of town that didn’t have many office buildings. In fact, the neighborhood didn’t have much of anything. On my first day, as I approached a landfill, I thought, this can’t be right. Since I can be downright arrogant when it comes to my spatial reasoning abilities, I couldn’t fathom that I had gotten the address wrong, so I stubbornly proceeded to park on a section of dirt, which by could easily be defined as a ditch. This was summer in the valley, so it was brick-oven hot, but I looked good. I wore a cute pencil skirt and fashionable, but practical, high heel pumps. Practical if one is walking on any surface expected in an office setting, but very much impractical if you are wading your way thru trash. Undeterred I continued to walk towards a structure resembling a mobile home. When I finally reached my office, I noticed that my black pumps were covered in a film of filth and my hair was tangled and no longer shiny.

This mobile structure turned out to be my office, and my employer was Waste Management, or more commonly known as the local dump. My job was tedious, sifting through invoices and flagging accounts that were past due.  I sat in front of a computer along with a middle age woman who clearly did not like her job, and who unfortunately, was also my supervisor.  Every day, I showed up to work clean and ready to sit for 8 hours straight. Every evening I left smelling of trash and wondering how the odor and filth seeped through the walls of the mobile structure and penetrated my pores. I hated my job, but I hated the thought of being broke and stuck in house with my boyfriend’s family all day even more. So, I kept going back, despite the constant nausea I felt when I arrived to work, and even though a thorough car wash did nothing to restore the shine of my once silver Camaro.

All good things have to come to an end, but I did not leave this job as I had expected I would. One morning after approximately one month of employment, I woke up vomiting with a severe migraine. I called in and explained that I was not physically capable of going to work. My supervisor informed me that if I did not come in that day, that I would be fired.  I told her I understood but could not go to work. This is when things got weird. She told me that I had lost my job, but to come in the following day to train my replacement. In hind sight, I wish I would have had the maturity and self-respect to tell her to shove it, but my 20 year old self, who was on a bad-decision making roll, agreed to come in the following day. I felt embarrassed and ashamed sitting in the disgusting trailer, with that miserable woman, showing my replacement what her duties would be. I felt even worse returning to that garage that evening, with that awful man-child enduring even more shame in silence.

The month before my senior year of college went by quickly, but not uneventfully. Since I was now unemployed, I was available to be around the house to babysit my boyfriend’s grandfather as his mother went on errands. This man was in his 80’s, very tall, and very stubborn. Now let me emphasize, most people are very tall to me, but this guy was a giant. Even in his old age, with a crooked back, the man was over 6’5. On one of the days he was left in my care, he got up and promptly fell while walking to the bathroom.  I could do nothing to help him other than call an ambulance. He went to the hospital that day with a broken hip, did not withstand the hip-replacement surgery, and never returned home.

That summer I experienced many highs and many lows. I wish I could say that I learned a lot from these experiences, but I endured many more blows before I started making some real changes to the trajectory my life was on at that time.  I sometimes feel sad for my 20 year old self, sad I didn’t protect her. However, I am proud of my current 30-something self, and no longer have to sift through trash or be ashamed when I go home at night.

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Mo money, mo problems

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My life is pretty good right now. My job is really sweet. I get to help people and have fun while I’m at it. For example, this past Friday, we had a big celebration for Hispanic Heritage Month, and I got to dance for almost 3 hours straight, ate magnificent Latin food, and enjoyed coffee and dessert with my colleagues in my office after a full day of festivities. This all occurred before 5 pm. Some other job perks are that I get to go home at a predictable hour every day; I work only 4 days per week; my salary is stable and fair; and I get to work from home a few hours a few days a week. This is what I always wanted, really – To feel good about my profession and get compensated fairly for my efforts. And yet, recently my priorities have become a bit confused. I have been interviewing for jobs that would be a “next step” in my career. Frankly, I haven’t been impressed. All positions would take me away from the things I enjoy most about my current life and schedule. They would be a lot more work with responsibilities that do not match my ideals or self-concept. However, the money is tempting. I am not currently destitute, but I am in a whole lot of debt. Some will eventually resolve itself, with a little help from time and a divorce, but for now, money is not flowing very freely. Yet, I make my bills, I live comfortably, I enjoy food outings with friends, and an occasional vacation to Chicago or the west coast. I could use more money (who couldn’t???), but I don’t NEED it. So, I keep asking myself, why consider taking a job which would add a whole lot of stress, not be fulfilling, take away time from my non-work life and private practice, and make me feel like I am a total tool? Money cannot be the only reason. And lo and behold, it isn’t.

I consulted with a few close confidants, and of course my therapist, and this is what I think is going on. The thought of me ever having to depend on anyone, especially financially, is unacceptable. Being dependent is frightening. It means not being free to exercise your own choices, and it means not being free to escape if the person you are dependent on becomes unstable or at the very least, unreliable. I have had my share of unreliable this past year, and some lack of stability as well. I never want to feel the way I felt last fall where for almost 4 months, I did not have the financial means to leave an unstable situation. I am so happy now, feeling safe and at ease when I go home, that I want to keep it that way. In considering taking on a crappy, miserable, high-paying job, I have been predicting doom and trying to prepare for it. The problem with preparing for doomsday is that it really impairs my ability to appreciate the good fortune I currently have. And not to brag, but life is pretty good. Ok, I’m going to brag a little again. Not only is my job pretty sweet, but my personal life is going pretty good too. I have really great friends and the man I am seeing is kinda awesome. My relationship with my parents is better than it has been in years, and even though thousands of miles stand between us, I feel very loved and secure in my relationship with my brother. I haven’t had a very bad migraine in months and my body keeps surprising me in its capacity to withstand the abuse I subject it to during my frequent running. I am happy. And if things are going well, why mess with happy. As the wise Hues Corporation once said, “don’t rock the boat, baby.”

Expensive body parts

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These past 2 weeks have been sort of annoying for me and my body. A few weeks ago, doing nothing out of the ordinary, I injured my left knee. I was fine one moment and then I noticed something felt off about my knee. Then it started to hurt. I mean, I was standing and then I felt like I was going to fall down from the pain. This was incredibly frustrating. I like to go running. How was I going to run if I couldn’t even stand without being careful not to put any weight on my left leg? So for one week, I did not run. I barely walked. I skipped my Monday, Wednesday, Friday lunch run, so instead I worked thru lunch. I didn’t know what to do with myself. On Thursdays on my day off I like to go for a morning run. Instead last week I went back to sleep and had an anxiety dream. Saturday was no better. The special runs I share with my special someone had to be put on hold this past weekend. Then, just when I thought my body could not disappoint me any more, I get a UTI. If you are a lady, you probably have had one of these. They suck! You have to pee all of the time and then when you pee, the urge to pee is still there, but now you are also in pain. This UTI was particularly fun. I also started feeling unfamiliar sorts of pain. My groin started to hurt, then my back. Then I felt like I was going to faint from the pain when I used the bathroom, which is particularly annoying when you are going to the bathroom at least once or twice every hour, even during the night. I finally went to the doctor Tuesday morning and I found out my kidneys were inflamed, so the infection had spread. I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t lay down, because I felt pain everywhere. It is now a few days after my doctor’s visit and the start of 10 days of antibiotics. I feel incredibly better.

All this body nonsense has me thinking about how I care for myself. I like to think I eat fairly well and I try to get regular exercise, but I started to wonder, do I do enough to take care of myself??? I mean, I’m healthy but I also engage in some behaviors that are unhealthy. When I was in high school, my father was driving drunk, had a pretty severe car accident, flipped and totaled his car, and ended up in jail with a DWI. I was furious with him. How irresponsible, I thought! Yet, I drive after drinking all of the time. Not drunk, but certainly not sober. In the time I am writing this entry, I have seen two different public service commercials reminding me that “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving.”

I also like to sunbathe. My skin is not fair but I am certainly not the darkest Latina. I have no business sunbathing without sunscreen, yet every summer, I worship the sun sans sunscreen. I am from California. I know the dangers of UV rays. I know that cloud coverage doesn’t mean that you can’t get sunburned. I have moisturizer with SPF 15, but I don’t use. In fact, I rarely moisturize. I’m a mess! I wear high heels all the time. My feet constantly hurt. I drive when I’m sleepy, and I’m always sleepy. I don’t sleep enough, then I drink too much coffee.

In the past 2 weeks, I have started working with 3 different people struggling with depression. I feel like an amazing fraud. I am preaching about healthy habits, good sleep hygiene, proper diet, blah, blah, blah. So, I need to start practicing what I preach. My academic sister always says, “girl, our brains are expensive!” She’s right. So is the rest of my body. I have invested way too much time and money into it feeling good and working properly.  So, time to re-evaluate my lifestyle choices. It’s not enough to eat well and exercise, if I am willing to make decisions which put my brain and body in harm’s way.

Big Girl Guts

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Today is my day off. There are many things I can think of doing today that are more fun that what I am going to be doing in about an hour. In one hour, I will be chatting with a lawyer. This is a long overdue conversation, but I am ready for it. And yet, after breakfast and coffee this morning, the thought of facing the day overwhelmed me, so I went back to bed. My dreams betrayed me. I dreamed that I was on the phone with a different lawyer, a man, who I was having difficulty hearing over a bad reception. The more I spoke, the more he ignored me and just said random stuff to me. It was very frustrating. Before I got off the phone, I managed to get his full name, and once I got off the phone I tried to Google him. He didn’t exist. I had just given all my most private information to some random stranger and I felt super vulnerable. Then, out of no where, my father shows up and tells me that he “knows” the person on the phone was my friend’s husband. How did he know this, I ask. He says, “because she told me” pointing at Ms. Channeyfield. If you don’t know this woman, well you are a blessed human being. She is real. She is not well. I work with this person and she says a lot of crazy things. She is not a patient.  She could be a patient. When Ms. Channeyfield shows up at my house and my father is listening to what she has to say, I know I am in the middle of a stress dream. So, this is when I tell myself, Gladys, you need to wake up. I try to wake up doing every strategy I know to use, including slapping myself, screaming, walking up to Ms. Channeyfield and slapping her. Nothing. I’m still there. Dang! But now I’m convinced this is a dream, because in real life, I have had the impulse to slap her many times and would never do such a thing. I hate being asleep and having the awareness that not only am I dreaming, but I am having a stress dream because I am nervous about a telephone call I am about to have.

Clearly I woke up. It is now 12:12pm.  I have 48 minutes. I know that I will feel better about this phone call at some point in the future. Probably not today. One big reason I have been avoiding this phone call for over 8 months is that I am afraid that making this phone call will once again leave me feeling vulnerable, exposed, and small. I know this is a possibility but the difference now is that I am ready. I feel emotionally prepared. I am not invested in being nice or in sacrificing myself for some bigger good. I just want, no, NEED, to feel in control of my life and my future. I am ready for the next chapter. This past chapter has been dragging out a bit too long for my taste. Next!

Masks and other protective devices

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For the past year or so I have been attending a support group. Support for what? Many things, I suppose. Besides my individual psychotherapy, my family, and very few dear friends, this group has been a lifeline in the midst of chaos. It has helped me survive a severe bout of depression, a marital separation, a major move to a new borough (a big deal in NYC), a start of a small private clinical practice, and a huge emotional growth spurt (aka life’s kicks to my ass). I have met some of the bravest individuals in this group, true survivors. Today I wanted to talk about one in particular. Not about her struggles or anything else I have sworn to hold in confidence, but about her impact on me.

 

This woman, we shall call her Elle, is a presence. She is vivacious, articulates herself well, and sits up with her shoulders back and straight, as if telling the world “yep, I know you’re impressed.” She wears beautiful colorful scarves and always wears long sleeves. Sometimes, when she talks with her hands and her sleeves hike up, you see marks on her wrists and arms. Maybe they are burn marks, maybe they are acid burns. I have never had the courage to ask her, but I always wonder what the story behind these war wounds is. She has many stories, as does everyone else in the group.

 

Elle has a way with words. She easily discloses horrific details about her life and does not overwhelm others with the content because of the way she delivers it. She is seen as a leader by her peers and as an example of what it means to not just survive hell, but thrive on the other side. She inspires me.

 

A few months ago after a weekend meeting in the city, I got up to leave the group, while people remained socializing. All of a sudden, Elle interrupts her conversation with a peer and jumps up towards me. At this point I had known Elle for about 11 months, yet we had never exchanged words outside the very clear parameters of the meeting. She said she wanted to tell me something and then she started crying. She said, “I’m so glad you’re not a cool bitch.” I don’t quite remember my response, but it was probably something like “me too…huh?” She went on to clarify stating that up until that day, she had always seen me as reserved and unapproachable. She said that she didn’t know what to make of me and that she had feared that for the past 11 months I had been sitting there in that circle across from her silently judging her. Upon hearing this, I was hurt. I had been so incredibly vulnerable in that circle, and the thought that I was perceived as cold and put together really did not fit with my self-perception. I was ready to blow her off, maybe say something like, “look lady, you don’t know me, so stop being so scared of what you think I’m thinking and talk this out with someone else, because although I am a psychologist, I am not YOUR shrink!” I didn’t say this to her however, because her next words were “you are my soul sister!” Even though this proclamation was a bit sudden and bordering on boundarylessness, I actually understood what she meant and I even sort of agreed with her. We spent the next few minutes understanding the other and by default understanding ourselves. That afternoon, it became super clear to me that even when I think I am being ultra open and vulnerable, I am still quite guarded and suspicious of trusting anyone. I learned that when I am feeling unsafe, I can be irrationally rational and appear to be detached emotionally even if internally I feel small and as if I’m about to be devoured by a hungry lion. I learned that we are all afraid of being vulnerable, judged, misunderstood and that even if I am proficient at acting “cool”, I shouldn’t always be acting. Finally, I learned that I had much more in common with Elle than I had previously anticipated. I don’t wear long sleeves to cover my past, but I do wear my “I’m a cool bitch, don’t mess with me, I’m smart and attractive, confident, and I know everything” mask to protect myself and hide my war wounds. Well, the mask is coming down. And what’s underneath is pretty awesome. My wounds are healing and the scars are beautiful.

Having Good Judgment

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What does it mean to have good judgment?

As a psychologist, I am often asked to use my clinical judgment in order to render an opinion about a patient’s clinical status and prognosis. Through experience and training, I feel very good about my ability to make good clinical decisions based on my clinical judgment. In my personal life, I do not feel my meter is quite as attuned. I have had plenty of life experiences to learn from; many mistakes to help me assess and evaluate the judgments I have made and decisions stemming from these. Growing up, my parents always trusted my judgment, even when it was not prudent to do so. As a teenager and young adult, I made a lot of poor decisions, and had to learn from these mistakes. Fortunately, I had enough resilience to move forward after these decisions, and none of them have had long-lasting negative effects on my life. My life has not been drastically altered or ruined due to my poor judgment. Yet, here I am, a full grown woman, still doubting my decision-making skills. I can be very rational, and yet when it comes to judging others in my interpersonal contacts, I can be very irrational. Things that get in the way of good judgment:

° Always giving people the benefit of doubt – believing that in general people want to do the right thing, and that people are inherently good.

° When in doubt, take responsibility, even when the preponderance of evidence indicates the responsibility lies elsewhere.

° Believing that “no one can be that ,,,,,” (insert choice adjective, i.e. mean, irresponsible, insecure, evil, stupid, judgmental, crazy, unreasonable, etc…).

° Believing that love and loyalty matter to everyone.

° Trusting that when people speak, they are being honest.

° Thinking that people will communicate with you, even when it is not comfortable to do so.

Luckily, I am one to learn from my mistakes. So, I can have some doubt in my decision-making skills, and still go ahead and ultimately exercise good judgment. I am learning to trust myself more, and learning to be more objective with people, even when my heart is involved. I may always have the initial desire to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I have to remember that people also have a tendency to disappoint and are not always aware of their motivations or the impact of their behavior. I am not a mean person for being careful. I am realistic and exercising good judgment.

Confidence and Insecurities

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I recently had an open, honest, and important conversation with a person I very much care for. After this conversation I felt vulnerable, grateful, respected, and appreciated. I also felt a tiny bit…insecure. Most days I feel pretty good about myself and what I bring to important relationships in my life. After this conversation, however, I felt that ugly feeling of insecurity. Not feeling good enough. I continued thinking about this as the day went on, and wondered exactly what I was feeling insecure about. I googled the topic, of course, and I found an article outlining the top 15 things women are insecure about. Here they are:

1. Sexuality 2. Age 3. Weight 4. Hair Color 5. Eye Color 6. Height 7. Breast Size 8. He will not call me back 9. He just wants to sleep with me 10. He’s dating other women 11. He’s not attracted to me anymore 12. Money 13. Career 14. Creative Life 15. Intellectual Life

After reading this list, I know I have many more reasons to feel secure than insecure. In general, I am happy with my appearance. I know I’m short and I have a very curvy body, and I am satisfied with the general shape and proportions of it. I am content with my hair, my eyes, and my breasts. I’m pretty confident and secure in my sexuality and what I bring to the table, or in this case, the bed (?). I am very insecure about money, but it’s something that will eventually even out. My career is fulfilling and brings me a lot of joy and opportunities for creativity and intellectual stimulation. “He” may not call me back, or may just want to sleep with me, or may be dating other women, but if those things are true, there’s not a darn thing I can do about that. And number 11, well if his tastes change, then why be with someone so fickle? But, I realized the one thing I am not super confident about is the one thing I really can’t do anything about. MY AGE. I feel like I am too old to not have my shit together, and simultaneously too young for others to take me seriously. Some of my friends have told me to ignore my biological clock and just live it up. Pretend I’m 24. Date, live life a la Carrie Bradshaw. I never identified with Carrie Bradshaw. I’m more of a mix between Miranda and Samantha. BTW – Miranda gets knocked up, moves to Brooklyn, stays in a relationship with baby-daddy, and makes the big bucks working for the man. Samantha falls in love with a younger man, de-sluttifies, and has a high power job, sans bebe in Los Angeles, while rocking a wig because of the cancer. Anyway, I completely went on a tangent there. The point is that I am 33. Not older, not younger. I can’t pretend I don’t care about the things that 33 year old women care about. I want a family, I want stability, I want to come home to peace. I am not 24, but I’m also not 50. I never thought I would be so insecure because I am not 50, but that’s reality. What I have to offer in a relationship is what 33 year olds can offer. Energy, hope, vitality, curiosity, commitment, effort, love, and fun. These are not things one should sneeze at!

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