Thursday, April 21, 2011

On the Edge of a Void, Looking In

On Monday night, I phoned the police on a client for the first time in a decade. Then, on Tuesday, I almost had to do it again, on another client. In both situations, my clients were distraught, angry, feeling severly at a loss and disempowered. The first is a nineteen year-old female; the second is a twenty-two year old male. She, in her moment of crisis, was feeling a large degree of fear. he was experiencing the frustration of feeling victimized and misunderstood. Each was so emotionally isolated in the moment as to be unable to take in anything that was being said to them by me, or - more importantly - by the loving others who were there with them. In her situation, what triggered the call to the police was the fear that she would harm herself. In the other situation, what was almost triggered was the potential that in his rage, he would lash out at another.

These situations make me reflect on fragility and vulnerability. How do we endure what we endure? How do we survive the feeling the we are coming apart, that the space we are occupying cannot properly hold us and that something will give? There were moments, on both of these nights, when my client turned to me in fury and declared that we were done, that they'd never see or talk to me again. Thankfully, by the time the episodes ended, I was able to give each an embrace that they accepted, and to tell them that I care for them.

I think of the times in my life when I've been incapacitated by my emotional or mental state: deeply troubled, angry, sad, afraid.... I'm the sort that has strong emotional reactions to things. I can carry upsetting scenarios in my head and play them over and over. I can become distracted from what's around me by the dramas that play out in my head. I can easily shift into a frame of mind in which going through the motions seems pointless, which are precisely the times when it seems perfectly reasonable to do the outrageous. Why not scream at the top of my lungs? Why not hit something, or someone? Why not take this or grab that, just because it may offer some momentary distraction, or light, or enlivening pain? I've been close enough to see the potential of going rogue, of flipping out, of embracing the essence of "Don't Give a Fuck!"

But, lucky me....I can imagine such reactions, but I'm just not wired that way. When I'm feeling upset or lost, I generally take a walk. I like walks. They soothe me; always have. From as far back as I can remember, walking out has been a way out. And because I'm not a highly confrontational type, because I often prefer my own company to the company of others, because space and movement and peace appeal to me, I almost always and instinctively avoid things and situations that generate noise and confinement and pressure

I've never been diagnosed as having a mental illness, and I've never thought of myself as such. But I've contemplated the pros and cons of suicide, I've escaped situations that I simply no longer wanted to face, through getting high or by hitting the road. I've secluded myself from family and friends for periods of time. I haven't experienced any of these frames of mind, or of mental and emotional pain, to the degree that so many of my friends, colleagues or clients has. I've only approached those limits, those boundaries into severe dysfunction.

But what of those who veer ever so slightly further down that road toward dysfunction. What about being just a little less able to hang on when emotions are in turmoil. What about having just a bit less of a margin - of support, of respectability, of physical space (a home) to burrow away in. What if - when I find myself in challenging social situations - I had marginally less ability to express and advocate for myself, less in the way of material means to rely on, less of the simple physical and mental health I've been blessed with?

Both of these clients I write about might so easily have wound up in angry confrontations this week. They might have been arrested, hospitalized, beaten, or otherwise hurt, by well-meaning others even, or by themselves. I can't help but think about the narrow margins they walk, every day. Both of them have dreams, and very clear goals they'd like to achieve, but are sometimes blind to the many obstacles they will face on the road to achieving them. They each have gifts too, but where the clearing to display them?

These events haven't challenged my belief, or damaged my faith in what those I work with can do. But they've resensitized me - yet again - to the challenge of fitting into the world, with all its unknowns and all its surprises, and doing so gracefully. It matters in this business of fitting, of having a place, to know and to have command of ourselves. But even to the degree that that's possible, even as it's desireable, is it ever enough?

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