Thank you all for your comments on my
Today's post is one of Julie's Hump Day Hmmms. She asked us to write about what we do or have done to make a difference. I don't believe that she could have set a more difficult task for me. I'm not sure if this post is what she had in mind, but I certainly discovered a few things about myself while writing it. That alone makes this post worth something to me.
Please be gentle. I bare my soul in all its flawed glory.
When I was in high school I once read that people attracted to the field of psychology are frequently those who are themselves emotionally flawed in some way. Although I can't recall the source, this theory resonated with me. Studying psychology solely for the purpose of self-analysis or to develop an awareness of some flawed familial structure or unhealthy parental dynamic made perfect sense to me at the age of 17.
So, of course, I majored in psychology in college.
I had dreams of saving the world as a brilliant analyst or researcher, or at the very least using my copy of the DSM IV to diagnose the
Along the path to my brilliant career, however, I found real people.
In college, I began volunteering for the YWCA's Violence Against Women program. I answered phones for our local hot line for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The stories were heart breaking. I spent too much time on the phone with each caller. Unable to really help, only to give information, but wanting to just listen, to let each of them find a voice.
Discussing the most private details of people's lives over the phone can be both incredibly intimate and incredibly limiting. There is a distance to it, a removal. At least there was for me. It was as if I was playing the role of calm confidant and informant. When I hung up the phone, it was over for me.
Over time, I took on more responsibility as a volunteer. I began facilitating group sessions for victims of domestic violence and, as I was applying to PhD programs in clinical psychology, I began acting as an emergency room advocate for sexual assault and domestic violence victims.
As you can imagine, most of my calls came in the dead of the night. At 2am I would race to a local emergency room and wait. Wait to speak with the doctor. Wait to speak with the victim who had requested me. Wait to speak to the police. Wait for the rape kit to be completed. Wait for the broken bones to be set, the sister to arrive, the father to call. If there was no sister, no father, no family, I would work the phones until I found a shelter.
The hardest visits were the ones where I wasn't permitted to call a shelter. Where the woman, the young man, the middle aged wife insisted that she or he was going home. Insisted it was an accident. Insisted the police had misunderstood. Insisted that I wasn't needed. While their eyes screamed.
As a mandatory reporter, I was very careful to discuss my obligations to report suspected child abuse before beginning any discussion about domestic violence or sexual assault with a parent. This was part of my training. I understood. The Y did not want its advocates used as a weapon against a victim by an abuser. We wanted the women to understand that we were on their side, but that there was a line they shouldn't cross.
I spoke with many women, a few men, but mostly women, with children. Women who insisted their boyfriend/partner/husband would never harm the children. Had never harmed the children.
And then it happened.
The story on the nightly news. A woman's face I recognized and, after consulting my notes, a name that was unmistakable.
A child in the ICU.
Something in me broke.
I faced an identity crisis. At 22, my whole sense of right and wrong shifted. The sheltered bubble in which I'd floated along for most of my life popped. Everything felt raw and new to me. Sand abraded my feet and gritted in my eyes for the first time.
The path ahead of me was no longer clear and straight. I would not become a psychologist. I could not become a psychologist.
I realized that I could not be an impartial witness to suffering. The distance I felt on the phone and in small conference rooms full of battered women? I couldn't maintain it when dealing face to face with reality. I felt responsible for every woman and man that crossed my path beyond those steely white emergency room doors. And unlike Atlas, I could not bear the weight of the world. If I tried, I would break.
To save myself, to save the humanity I failed to discover until my third decade, I chose an easier path.
I do not save lives. I will not cure cancer. I will never fly to the moon.
If I have an Achilles heel, a tender spot in my self worth that can be breached, this is it. The feeling that I am not living a life of meaning. The fear that I won't leave this world a better place. The fear that I chose the path of least resistance. Perhaps this is my curse in life? Wanting to help, to cure the ills of the world, but unable to shoulder the responsibility or bear the weight on my all too narrow shoulders.
I don't know.
But I do know that in stumbling along this winding path to my current life, among those very real and imperfect people, I found my soul.
So maybe this is not a story about how I make a difference but about how all of us, even those who seem beyond hope themselves, make a difference.
For me, that's enough.