On the eve of graduation…..

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The Journey began in 2001, when I gave my heart to the love of my life.  I was married (to another man) with a 3-month-old son when he and I began pondering the mysteries of existence.  I had never met someone who could go as deep as quickly as he could.  I was rarely able to find this connection.  Sparks here and there, but only for so long before I became overwhelming.  It was the first time someone was willing to feel the edge of existence with me.  Together, we imagined a better life.  A life where we were all sovereign beings, responsible for ourselves and each other through our human connection.  A place where we would both feel seen, understood, and respected. 

Before our tumultuous, whirlwind beginning, this journey was but a dream.  I was 16 when I took my first psychology class.  It was this strange combination of understanding the connection between logic and emotion.  Where emotion was recognized.  It was then that I began dreaming of becoming one of these healers.  By the time I reached the possibility of college, I graduated with a GPA of 2.7.  I was, however, in advanced classes all the way through.  Because of the advanced classes, and the fact that I was coming from what the state considered below poverty, I was given access.  A free ride through college!  When I was accepted to the University of New Mexico, I felt so torn between this world that could barely imagine going to college to a world where college is the norm, or the expectation, not a hope. 

After 2 semesters, failing Psychology 101 both times, I walked away, convinced that I would never be enough to become what I had discovered was a doctor, a Doctor of Psychology.  I was living in a makeshift apartment in a garage attached to a 5-bedroom house and 9 roommates.  We used to laugh about the MTV show Real World.  We would say stuff like, “they should follow us around if they want to see the ‘Real World’!”  I would come to learn how true that statement felt – when someone in/or from poverty sarcastically says, “Real World!”  To us, the real world was a place where selling plasma to buy groceries and cigarettes you had been smoking since you were 13 (like me), was the “norm”.  If you wanted to do anything other than survive, you had to sell your plasma.  Want to go to the movies? Plasma.  Want a few beers or mixed drinks on Friday? Plasma.  Want to keep from getting the lights turned off by the electric company?  Plasma.  My first husband and I lived like that (before getting married), in scarcity.  It was nothing new to me, but awful for him.  He decided that since neither of us were getting any better jobs due to lack of everything (after dropping out of college – both of us), he would join the Air Force.  It was boot camp, wedding, move to Eielson AFB, Alaska then pretend to be middle class. 

Four years of me achieving nothing more than a resume of work history as a laborer (housekeeping for the base’s huge billeting) and dry cleaning clerk, my ex-husband was released from the Air Force, we returned to Albuquerque having known what it was like to live in another state.  A year later, Aiden came.  Three months later, I began working as a caregiver at the retirement home my mom had worked on and off since I was a toddler.  My co-worker/shift manager introduced himself by saying, “Hi, I’m Zane, like Zane Grey.  You must be Teles’s daughter!”  He was (and remains) the literal man of my dreams.  I literally used to dream about him when I was growing up.  At different stages in my life I could feel him soothing me, encouraging me, loving me.  He did not just look like him, he was him.  His facial gestures, his deep voice, strong arms, loving warmth.    How could anyone say no to the love of their life?  It was impossible for me.  I had rarely felt understood, and he understood me like the man I had been dreaming about most of my life. 

I do not like to think of any of this as any excuse for how I ended my relationship with my ex-husband.  I own my clumsiness and cold-heartedness in ending a relationship in such a barbaric way.  I had tried to break up with him several times throughout the relationship, and each time he would convince me that we could be happy together.  After the birth of my son I began seeing the same lack of connection with him as he did with me.  It was then that I knew I would never be happy.  I would be resentful, or I would just become a zombie; a person moving through life mechanically, forgetting that real magic does not look like it does on the television.  I wished I had known how to end it more gracefully, where I could acknowledge my own instincts.  My ex disappeared from our lives when Aiden was 4.  I suspected that never seeing or acknowledging Aiden’s existence was either the only way for him to get past it, or evidence that what I sensed was true…just one of millions of examples of me doubting my own senses year after year, moment after moment.  At that time, I had never felt like an empowered being, like my opinion counted for anything.  I often kept my opinions to myself because people would either think I was weird, would misunderstand me, or would turn what I said into something perverse.  I had few connections that could go deep with me, let alone stay there perpetually. 

Interestingly, one of the first songs Zane made me listen to was “Rough Boy” by ZZ Top.  He told me for 16 years that I am too good for him, in between moments of brilliance, compassion, clarity, genius, and horrific manic rage.  Sometimes all at once.  No matter what we said to each other, no matter what we screamed at each other, we could not walk away from each other.  It was like we were caught in each other’s gravity, spinning ourselves chaotically into a better life and a brighter future that we had not yet imagined for our children.  Three years after our relationship began, we both enrolled in college full time.  It was 2003.  I have been in school every year since then, getting married in 2004 to Zane, and giving birth to Elise via c-section just before mid-terms and Spring Break, allowing myself 2 weeks off until I went back into the classroom full time. 

Zane and I studied tirelessly and did our best we could by our children.  Trying to get our son access to assessments to determine if he had a learning disability or developmental delay– due to hitting 4 years of age and speaking very few phrases.  By the time he was in Kindergarten, we knew he was on the spectrum, but it took us 3 more years before he would finally be assessed and given access to more supportive services.  Then Elise, a hyperactive, hyperintelligent child who was reading, writing, and doing math at a 2-3 grade level at the age of 4…going straight from preschool to first grade.  She made the transition seamlessly, becoming the social butterfly of her friend-group.  Watching the two of them grow up while I could go to school was really the initial reason I stayed in college.  We could survive better with financial aid than we ever could with the menial jobs we continually found ourselves in.  We figured with a bachelors, we can do a lot better.  It was very surprising to me that I did well!  Straight A’s first 2 years all except for Psychology 101 (seriously), which I passed with a B.  I am going to assume it was anxiety – either that or being terrible at showing my knowledge with multiple choice exams.  Words and I have not always been friends, so memorizing a whole new dialect (the language of psychology) took forever!  I still don’t remember names of things – but I can describe or demonstrate the concept which makes for excellent essay exam skills and worked to my benefit in graduate school. 

I decided to keep going until I could not go anymore – which apparently, was never.  I made it through my BA, into a program for an MS of counseling psychology at New Mexico Highlands University.  I pushed through 4 years and all the requirements except my thesis before transferring to the Doctor of Psychology program at Pacific University in Oregon.  I had stopped believing I could be a psychologist when I left UNM in 1995, all the way up until my neuro professor, Dr. Gerald Russell, said to me, you would be a hell of a psychologist!  Then Pacific accepted me, with an assistantship.  We were determined to get to Oregon, even if it meant we were homeless.

In fact, we were in Oregon for a month before my doctorate program began.  We were a homeless family of 4 (with an 8 and 12-year-old) all the way up until the 2nd week of classes.  Zane describes the day we found a home as the day our parachute finally opened.  He would say for 2 years, we almost hit the ground.  In a lot of ways, I think we did….and yet we still survived.

We survived my depressive episodes, Zane’s bipolar episodes, Aiden’s struggle with Autism, and Elise’s struggle with being a child with the intelligence and wisdom of an old woman.  Our chaotic dance sustained us through 8 years of severe poverty, chronic physical and mental health, and constant uncertainty.  When I finally received my master’s degree through Pacific – we began to feel lighter.  The worst-case scenario at this point would be that I could be a counselor, and considering where we came from, that is freaking amazing!  Somehow, after one of the worst years of our lives, we managed to push through 2 more years and a doctoral internship. 

The eve of graduation and I do not know how to describe what Zane and I have been feeling.  We had been struggling to find words all week, so I started writing.  Four hours later and the words seem to have found me.  Still, there is not one emotion that I can pinpoint that describes how I “feel” other than “all” the emotions.  At this point, it is undeniable that I will become a psychologist.  After finishing my doctorate, I am approximately one year of clinical work and one exam away from officially calling myself a Licensed Clinical Psychologist.  The person I was 20 years ago, and the person I am today, are as different as day and night.  Yet at the same time, I am still just me; the same weird, awkward, sensitive little girl I have always been.  Somehow, this thought is soothing to me. 

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