Giving Myself Permission

Well it’s over. Done. Finished. Last week I turned in my final assignment for graduate school. As soon as the grades post I will officially have my Masters in Counseling. It’s still a bit surreal at this point.

At the beginning of May my internships ended and I walked in the graduation ceremony. Suddenly I found myself with extra time on my hands. Internship was over and school was winding down.

Once everything started slowing down and I had extra time on my hands, I thought I would be able to get so much personal stuff done. Graduate school is very time consuming and many of my personal interests took a back seat during the past 2 years. Now I have so many ideas I want to work on. So I was excited to have this extra time. I was going to be SO productive.

Suddenly my life resembled life before the accident. I could be home all day working on photography or other things. I could go shopping in the middle of the day if I wanted. With no internship, little homework and the only thing on my calendar was class on Thursday nights, my schedule was my own again. The only difference was there were no children to pick up from school in the afternoon. No family dinner to prepare for. There was nothing to say this is your time, so you’d better get your stuff done because kids will be coming home soon.

What I discovered was that the “I’m almost done with school” lack of motivation toward my schoolwork filtered into every other area of my life. (Hence the reason there have been so few blog posts lately 😉 ). I suddenly didn’t want to do anything. Because I had so much time it was easier to procrastinate. The more I wasn’t productive, the more guilty I felt. And the guiltier I felt, the worse I felt about myself.

I was discussing this all with my counselor and it dawned on me . . . I just spent 2 ½ years going through the most intense schooling I have ever experienced. I’ve done nothing but homework, stressing about homework, and thinking about homework for the past 2 ½ years. I am allowed a break.

I don’t have to be productive right now. I CAN take a break. I’m in a period of limbo. School is done, but I haven’t started my career yet. I realized I would never have a time of no commitments in my life again. How many people get a gift like that?

I could spend the month of June doing basically nothing if I wanted to. But I still had trouble allowing myself this time of rest. We are programed that we have to be productive to matter. So we are always busy. We fill our lives with tasks, to do lists, and productivity. But we don’t rest. True relaxation is hard to find in our society of constant achieving. So how do you find this rest? How do you set productivity aside long enough to truly relax?

I had to give myself permission. I had to physically say out loud say, “It’s ok to not be productive right now”. I had to talk to others about it and seek some validation. We are so ingrained to be busy and productive every minute of the day, that we don’t really know how to stop.

Busy Productive

Knowing that soon a new chapter in my life would be starting, I chose to allow myself this time of rest. For once I was not going to push myself and I allowed myself to just relax. I have been sleeping in, reading fiction, shopping with my mom, talking with my sister, editing pictures, watching movies, and jotting down ideas for things I want to do. Overall I am enjoying just being able to relax.

On Thursday I will leave for my celebratory “I’m done with graduate school” vacation. I will be spending 2 weeks with friends doing nothing but hanging out and taking pictures. When I come back I plan to start implementing some of the ideas bouncing around in my head and dive into a new career helping others.

Is there something you need to give yourself permission to do?

Take time

My Lesson in Anxiety

Anxiety: Overestimating the negative future possibilities and under estimating your ability to deal with it. ~ Teresa’s Counselor

I woke up in the middle of the night. Something wasn’t right. Panic. I could feel it spreading through my body. I knew if I gave myself over to it, I would have a panic attack. I tried the deep breathing techniques I’d been practicing. But I couldn’t breathe in deep enough. So I waited. Eventually the feeling subsided.

When I thought back on that night I got mad at myself. A panic attack, really? I’ve never had a panic attack and here I almost had one over ORALS!

I first began hearing about orals my first year of graduate school. The professors started dropping hints about how difficult orals were in the first few classes. No one ever actually explained what orals were so it took me awhile to figure out what everyone was so worked up about. The oral exam is a pass/fail exam all the Masters in Counseling students have to take in order to graduate. You write a paper about a client, submit a video of you working with the client. Then defend your paper and video to a panel of teachers. It sounded hard but not undoable. So I didn’t worry about it.

But then we had our oral exam orientation in October. Yup! There was an orientation to explain what was required to pass our orals. It is that big of a deal. It was around this time my confidence evaporated and anxiety set in.

Somehow I’d talked myself into believing I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t write a giant paper. I didn’t understand theory well enough. I didn’t know how to use theory with my clients. I didn’t know where to put my client in Erickson’s Stages of Development. I didn’t have a good video. I could go on. My negative self-talk was so bad, the anxiety increased with every passing day. I allowed the anxiety to take control and for the first time in my life I got stuck. They gave us 4 months to work on our orals paper. I watched month after month slip past and I still had not written 1 word.


Shortly after my middle of the night almost panic attack, I started thinking about all the anxiety I was experiencing. I couldn’t remember ever going through something like this before. I started looking at the anxiety and wondering where it came from. Was I always this way? I didn’t think so.

I finally asked my mom if I was an anxious person before the accident. She confirmed that I wasn’t. She even pointed out that I was more of a deal with it and move on kind of person. So I assumed the accident had created anxiousness in me. But then my mom said something that surprised me. She said that even after the accident I wasn’t an anxious person. According to my mom the anxiety centered on school. She figured I had so much anxiety about school because I had so much riding on school.

Anyone who goes to college, especially graduate school, has a lot riding on school. So why was I so different? Because, I have EVERYTHING riding on school. Financial stability, employability, a new life purpose, a new identity as a professional and the idea that some day, through helping others, I will be happy. The entire process of rebuilding my life was riding on being able to graduate.

And my oral exam was in the way of that new life.

I was explaining this all to my counselor when she made a statement that stopped me in my tracks.

“It sounds like you have some resentment that you have to be doing this.”

Talk about hitting the nail on the head!

Yes I have some resentment!! I am a stay-at-home-mom with no kids to take care of. All I have ever wanted to be was a mom. And I loved being a mom. But that dream was ripped from me and I watched my entire life crumble around me. Hell yes, I’m resentful. Everything. I lost everything. I am rebuilding my life from the ground up. And I don’t want to have to do this. This is not the life I chose.

I also realized I have some resentment toward God for allowing all this to happen. That is a hard one to admit and will take some time to work through.

Sadly all this realization didn’t make the anxiety go away. The day for my oral board finally came. A bundle of nerves, I sat down in front of a panel of 3 professors. I explained my client and answered their questions. Turns out I enjoyed the mental challenge of the process. And in the end it was like having a conversation about my client.

By the time I got home that day I was mentally and physically drained. (I was even having trouble putting together coherent sentences).

It took me a week and half to emotionally recover from orals. Once I did I realized something. I had let the anxiety completely take over my life. As a result I had wandered away from my relationship with God. Even the daily running conversation I had with God was gone.

In my fear I had tried so hard to control everything around me, I had lost sight of who really is in control. I had lost sight of where my strength comes from. I had lost sight of who I am.

Today for the first time in 5 months I feel like myself again. And now begins the hard work of rebuilding my relationship with God and removing the anxiety from my life.

Now when I feel the anxiety beginning, I stop it before it can build. I say to myself “No! You are not going to do that again.” I remind myself how awful and exhausting it is to live like that. As time goes on I’ll be able to confidently turn to God instead.

I want to leave you with one final thought. Earlier this month a friend posted this on Facebook

“Fear Paralyzes. Faith Mobilizes”

It was fear of failing that had me so stuck I almost didn’t pass orals. It was faith that led me to graduate school and the idea that I can help others. It is faith that keeps me moving forward and dreaming of a better life.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

Me the day I finished my orals paper
Me the day I finished my orals paper

Another Birthday Past


This blog post is late. The process of going through my oral boards for school took a lot out of me. (There is a blog post on this coming soon). As a result when Devin’s 14th birthday came around, I was still recovering. It took me a week and a half to feel like myself again. Now that I’m recovered (I think) I’m ready to start posting again. 🙂

Devin would have turned 14 on February 26th. I missed his 10th birthday . . . turning double digits. I missed his 13th birthday . . . becoming a teenager. Every time one of these days passes I remember what I’m missing.

Instead of another list of all the things I’ve missed, I thought I would share some memories with you.

Devin and I had our own special way of measuring his growth. Sure we had the standard marks on the wall, where every first and last day of school new marks were added for both boys. But Devin and I did something that was just for the two of us. We’d put our palms together and spread out our fingers. I could see how much he’d grown by how long his fingers were against mine. Today, his fingers would probably be longer than mine.

One night Devin and I were being silly. He was telling me the names of his fingers. Yes, he’d named his fingers. I wish I could remember the names of his thumb and forefinger. But I do remember the names of the last 3 fingers. Billy, Bob and Billy Bob. Every time he named off his fingers, I’d go into a fit of giggles. He kept repeating them, because I kept laughing. It was a fun game.

Devin would often do or say the funniest things. I used to say all the time “you never know what’s going to fall out of that kids mouth”. The other day my sister found an old Facebook post of mine from September of 2010. It was a conversation I’d had with Devin that I’d forgotten about. It made me laugh to remember.

Devin: “Mom you know how Adam named all the animals. Well who made all the words?”
Mom: “God made the words”
Devin: “I think it was Eve”

Such a smart, funny kid.

Because of the way my classes are structured, I was not able to get out of class on Devin’s birthday. This was the first time I was not able to take the day off from my responsibilities and spend it with my family. I knew with all the stress over orals the birthday might end up being harder than normal. Stress tends to exacerbate grief. The fact that I couldn’t take the day off concerned me a lot. I wasn’t sure how the day was going to go, or if I’d be able to deal with it.

My sister came up with the idea of the family coming to class for a visit on my break. I thought that was a good idea, so I asked a few of my classmates if they’d be ok with that. Everyone agreed, so the plan was set. My mom bought a 5 pound Hershey bar, in honor of Devin’s birthday, to share with everyone.

For Devin’s 6th birthday my sister bought him a 5 pound Hershey bar. The candy bar was almost as big as he was. I left it sitting out on the counter and all 4 of us would break off pieces to munch on. One  day after school Devin’s kindergarten teacher mentioned to me that he’d been a bit more hyper in class than normal. I knew immediately the cause was the giant Hershey bar. I guess he’d eaten more of it than I realized. Sneaky imp. 🙂

Devin B-day

We thought sharing a 5 pound Hershey bar with the class would be a great way to remember Devin on his birthday and celebrate the end of orals. My family arrived and introductions were made. The candy bar was broken up and shared. It was a nice way to spend Devin’s birthday.

It's harder than you think to break off a chunk of a 5 pound Hershey bar.
It’s harder than you think to break off a chunk of a 5 pound Hershey bar.

As I was driving home from class that night I started to feel weird about having my family come to class. I felt like I had unnecessarily dragged my class into my grief, and dragged my family to my school when they didn’t need to be there. In short, I felt foolish. Like I had made a big production of something that could have and should have remained small and private. It took me a few days to realize why I was feeling this way. I’ve progressed through my grief enough that I can handle these days without the need for a big production. For every birthday and accident day that has passed my family has gotten together to remember the boys with a special activity and dinner at one of the boy’s favorite restaurants. We’ve done balloon releases, lantern releases, launched rockets, worn silly bands, played with Dawson’s go cart, done light painting and we’ve even gone to a MythBusters display at OMSI in Portland. I knew that someday these activities would stop. And though I’m not sure we’ve reached that point, it’s nice to know I don’t NEED them anymore.