26 June 2012

Paradise Lost

I went to a training of Friday, "Discernment Counseling for Couples on the Brink".  For all of you non-therapist types that means "How to Help Couples Decide if They Should Divorce".  The training was fantastic and offered a new approach to helping couples...it also threw me deep into thought about what marriage and intimate relationships mean to me.

I may be single, but I believe in marriage...well, I believe in GOOD marriages.  And I believe all marriages have the potential to not only be good, but to be GREAT. 

Marriage is something I've wanted since I was a child.  My parents were highschool sweethearts.  They were engaged the year my father was in Vietnam.  They were married three years before they had kids.  And they had no problems leaving us at least once a month so they could have a weekend away from us.  I grew up with a healthy example of marriage.  A good example of marriage.  At times a great example of marriage.  Their relationship was as egalitarian as they came and they genuinely enjoyed being together. 

I remember my mom telling me the advice her mother told her, "if your husband ever asks you to go anywhere with him, you stop what you're doing and you go.  Housework can wait.  Yard work can wait.  Your relationship can not wait".  I love that advice.  I vowed that I would make sure I did that when I got married.

Well, I'm not married.  And the older I get the less likely it is to happen (we all know the stats).  But the fact remains...I believe in marriage...I believe in good marriages...I believe in great marriages.

I hate when people get a divorce.  I hate knowing that two people who loved each other enough to commit their lives to one another have changed their minds.  It makes me hope and wish and solemnly promise that if I ever have the opportunity to marry someone I am truly, madly, and deeply in love with, I will cherish them.  Every awesome, irritating, angry, joyous part of them.  Because if I ever get married it will have been after a seemingly endless wait.  It will be after years of watching relationships fall apart over petty garbage.  It will be after seeing how the little things can fester into a wedge that drives even the two most compatible souls apart.  It will be after living a life of wanting, and waiting, and watching.

We live in an incredibly selfish world.  A world that is full of horrible, terrible ills that plague us all.  We're all damaged.  We all have wounds that aren't quite healed.  We all have unfulfilled dreams and desires.  We all have fears.  We all have differences.  I know how hard it is to find someone, someone you can be intimate with.  Not sex.  Sex is easy.  Real intimacy.  The hard kind.  The kind that requires you to be vulnerable and exposed.  The kind where your worst self is presented.  The kind that takes the risk of being hurt, because it is only through that risk that one can ever fully experience real intimacy.  And I believe real intimacy is what we are all after.  A true connection.  To be loved when we are at our worst.

But life beats us up.  We quickly learn how to protect our most vulnerable selves.  We grow callouses around the tender parts of our hearts.  We have to, it's how we survive the torment and abuse of youth, of life, of all of the negativity we are subjected to on a regular basis.  And that which once kept us safe can quickly keep us from what we truly want and need to heal. 

I think about that.  About my own callouses, the ones I turn to when I feel the slightest tinge of pain, even the potential for pain.  They shut me down.  They lock others out.  They keep me safe through isolation and silence.  But they keep me from what I honestly want and long for...a true, vulnerable connection 

Let's be honest, perfect fairy tale love doesn't exist, nor would we really want it if it did.  Instead we are left to grapple with the imperfect and messy alternative: real love.  The kind that dulls after years of knowing one another.  The kind that looks a little less lustrous the more you get to truly know someone.  I've never known that kind of love.  I've never been in a relationship long enough to get to that point, the point where it looks mundane and somewhat boring.  But I hope I do. 

And I hope I can look back on my life, on the way love changes over time and think like Eve in Twain's "Eve's Diary":

"When I look back, the Garden is a dream to me.  It was beautiful, surpassingly beautiful, enchantingly beautiful; and now it is lost, and I shall not see it any more.  The Garden is lost, but I have found him, and am content."

"I have found him..."


20 June 2012


I don't remember the details of the accident, or the events that led to our acquaintance.  I only remember watching them remove the tubes.  Noticing the way the pink in his face was replaced by a sinking blue-grey.  His children crying in the corner.

We had tried to convince them, tried to explain, that he was in the nebulous space between life and death.  We encouraged them to give him more time, give death a chance to peacefully do his job.  But they couldn't wait.  They wanted to rush through the moment, the pain, as fast as they could.  Believing the other side offered relief.  They didn't know, how could they, that there were worse things than standing by, helplessly watching life fade.  Worse things than death.

So the nurse removed the tubes, and the hope of relief was replaced by horrific, deep, desperate gasps.  Like a fish, plucked from the water, he lay on the stretcher, seizing, muscles instinctively constricting, panicked and fighting for air.  He sat up, reflexes acting on their own.  He groaned, sucking for air, then relaxed as a deep hollow whoosh escaped from the blue circle of his lips.  His body animated by awkward twists and twitches.  Involuntary.  Unconscious. 

It seemed to last forever.  I remember begging god for it to end.  Praying that his body would give up the fight; that his heart would surrender and stop tricking his lungs into feverishly trying to hold on.  That his children wouldn't have this as their last memory of their father. 

Just when it appeared his heart was peacefully drifting away, it would rally, the term we used when the heart refused to stop.  His heart rate rose, then plummeted, then rose again.  Each time triggering a new quake of deep, twisted gasps.

I don't remember when or how it ended.  I stopped consciously being present after twenty minutes. I shut out his daughters' screaming sobs and sons' angry yells and retreated to the damaged solitude of my own head.

It wasn't a good death, at least not for those gathered around the bed.

It was a lesson.  A lesson in patience.  A lesson in learning to live in the nebulous space between life and death.  A lesson in the danger of rushing to get to the end, to get to the other side of whatever you think the end may be.  A lesson in thinking relief lies beyond what you're currently experiencing.

Sometimes those gasps echo through my head, relentlessly.  In my mind he is perpetually dying.  Perpetually caught in the in between.  Perpetually holding on. 

Sometimes I feel as though I am caught there with him, holding on to something we should both let go.  Something neither of us will ever get back.

The innocence of not knowing.

15 June 2012

My First Children's Book!

Ok, so I published it myself AND there are only five copies in existance, but it's a start and by golly I'm excited!  It's rather amazing to see your name on a title page.
I took a specialized trauma course during Fall semester and we had to do a special project.  Now, while most of my classmates wrote long academic papers that are sure to take the trauma world by storm, I sat at my kitchen table and came up with "little green and the BIG grey".  There are no words and the story is told with colors. 

I wanted to create a book that could be used regardless of language or culture.  I figured that color was about as universal as it gets...thus this story was born.  It's about "little green" who experiences a trauma (represented by the BIG grey).

And how little green reacts after the trauma.  The book was created so the child who is reading it (most likely with a clinician) could co-construct the story.  When you do therapy with children they tell you what is going on in their lives through play and stories.  My hope is that "little green and the BIG grey" can help children do just that, share their stories of trauma.  For instance, while little green is in the "BIG grey" a child might say that little green was beaten, or left alone in the cold, or in a car crash...any trauma that they may have experienced.   The rest of the story goes through how little green feels and acts after the trauma.  It is to be used as a tool to help the child identify their own emotions and reactions to trauma.

This is one of my favorite illustrations.  I love the way the cloud turned out.  I used a mixed medium of wax and watercolor and I loved how the wax made the watercolors perfectly splotchy.

There is a user's guide at the end of the book that explains how the book could be used.

One of my professors took a draft of the book to an international traumatology conference in Germany.  The feedback was positive, so the next steps will be to pilot the book in several mental health clinics to see if the book does in fact do what I created it to do (help children tell their trauma stories).  If that goes well then I will pilot it in different language/cultural areas (Uganda is on my list of potential locations to try it out)

I'm pretty excited to see how it does...it may end up being a total flop but it has re-lit my children's book writing fire and THAT is exactly what I need.  I have another child therapy book in the works.  And who knows, maybe I'll get up the courage to send some of my other manuscripts in to publishers.

One rejection at a time...

09 June 2012

100% American

I've never been a fan of baseball.  In fact, I think it's the most boring sport ever...BUT, I live in a city with a beautiful stadium and a major league baseball team...so I figured I'd check "MLB game" off my bucket list...and I was not disappointed.  I should take this as a life lesson...always have super low expectations and then chances are you'll be delightfully surprised.  How can you NOT be delightfully surprised in a place that serves nachos in a helmet? 
A helmet ya'll!

We had a bird's eye view.  Can I take a minute to say that I LOVE well mowed grass.  It's beautiful.  Makes me wish I'd stuck with my 1996 dream of getting a degree in golf course maintenance...sigh, life is full of so many unfulfilled dreams. 
I love the Minneapolis guy shaking the St. Paul guy's hand over the Mississippi river...we're all friends here in the TC.
I wore red, white, and blue...to match both teams, so I could cheer for whoever I wanted.
Of course I cheered for Joe...he sponsors a local ice cream company.  I cheer for anyone who cheers for ice cream.
After the 4th inning I decided it was time to start eating to stay awake.  I went wild and bought a Dinnger Dog.  It was literally the size of the baseball field.  The guy behind me said I couldn't eat the whole things....we all know how telling Carrie she can't do something turns out.
I ate that dog with pride...although I kept calling it a Dinnger Dong...because some days I only speak Freud.

In the end the Twins killed the Cubs and I took in an entire baseball game...my ability to be patient has really increased over the last few years.  Go me!

06 June 2012

"S" is for Spectacular

I love little people...especially when they're spunky sprites with gargantuan personalities packed up in perfectly blonde, blue eyed bundles.  And when they call me Miss Carrie...well, I melt.  Amazing little thing, won me over the second I set eyes on her.  Something that cute needs cute things.  She simply had to have a coloring book satchel and matching crayon roll (a girl needs art on the go).

And when I heard that those tight little store bought pj's irritate her perfect skin, well...she needed some designer sleepwear.  Fluttery sleeves and detailed stitch...nothing but fanc for my little friend.

AND, when I saw her play kitchen and little collection of cakes well...

From one baker to another...the sweet little thing NEEDED this.

Yes, "S" is for spectacular.

05 June 2012

Experience Makes Us Wise

Today, while driving home I thought about the mom, the one whose son hung himself.  I thought about the 12 hours I spent with her, waiting for donors to be found.  Waiting for all of the tests to be run.  Waiting for the procurement teams to come and collect the vital bits and pieces he had left to offer.  I thought about her eyes, red from sobs, all cried out.  I thought about the confused look on her face as she pointed to her son, tethered to a ventilator and multiple IV's. "He's not dead" she said over and over.  His pink cheeks and artificially warmed skin giving the illusion of life.  I thought about the police officers, standing guard, watching closely as his soulless body gave rise to the air being forced in his lungs, tricking his heart into thinking it was suppose to keep beating.  I thought about the four hours I spent in the OR waiting room, watching her vacillate between the anger of a mother bear, and the hurt of an abandoned child.  I thought about the moment, the moment she said she wanted to stay, she wanted to see him one last time.  I tried to warn her.  Warn her that a body warmed by heated blankets and pumped full of chemicals doesn't look dead.  I told her of the ashen skin, the feeling of lifeless cold, the way loving features sink into the harsh contours of a skeleton once the soul leaves.  I advised her not to go, not to enter the room and look behind the curtain.  But one can not stop a parent from seeing their child.  Her sobbing scream echos in my head as I see her throw her heaving body across that of her son.  "You killed him" she cried, "you killed him".  I reached out a hand of comfort, the officer standing near stared at the floor, twisting his black shoe back and forth, counting the seconds.  Time passed.  "It's time to go", I said, blinking hard, regretting the late hour and the four hour drive home.  "It's time to go home".  An animal-like moan resonated from the mass of mother and son.  "I know you don't want to leave, but it's time to go".  She clenched harder, gritting her teach, "you can't take him away, you killed him, you killed him!".  The officer stepped in, hiding behind the innate force of his job he placed his hand on her shoulder.  She twisted underneath his touch.  "Don't make this any harder than it already is," he said.  Looking at me he motioned for help.  "Come, it's been a long night, " I said, gently reaching for her hand  "YOU KILLED HIM" she screamed looking in my eyes.  She needs to believe this, I told myself, she needs to believe that you killed him.  I didn't kill him, but I almost wished I had, wished her pain could forever be focused on me, on someone other than the one who actually made the choice to die, someone other than her son.  I thought about the officer and me, physically prying her off of her dead son's body.  Feeling the invasive necessity of our actions.  My heart hurt for her, hurt for the nightmare from which she would never wake.  I thought of how she'd aged over the few hours I'd spent with her.  An old woman, about to bury her child.  I cringe now as I cringed then.  Too much pain.  Too much loss.  And grief that one can never comprehend.

That was the day you called to ask me if you should keep the TV, the one you didn't pay for.  I was overwhelmed by death that day, and you wanted me to tell you it was ok to steal.  Ok to forgo honesty.  

It wasn't ok.  Nothing was ok about that day.  But you didn't ask, and you kept the TV, and every time I looked at it I thought of her, and the ashen child wrapped in white sheets.

Flat Affect

It's not easy being a therapist.  And it's REALLY not easy being a good therapist.  In fact, it's not easy being a bad one either.  Since I can't stand doctors who think they are too good to go to the doctor, I refuse to be a therapist who doesn't think she needs therapy.  At one point or another I believe all therapists need therapy.  Our lives are just as confusing and messed up and depressing and anxiety provoking as everyone else.  Sometimes more so, because we know too much, on too many levels.  For instance, I can spend DAYS dissecting the layers behind my fear of clowns.  Historically I'm pretty sure it comes from the afternoon my older cousin Matt sat on the trampoline and told my 5-year-old self about how Raggedy Ann and Andy come alive at night and kill people...and I believe it.  I'm also really uncomfortable with masks, and people hiding behind them.  I like transparency and authenticity.   Which is why it seriously irritates me when someone tries to assign me an emotion.  This happened yesterday during my personal therapy session. 

I hadn't seen my therapist in over a month, there was a lot of catching up to do...so I caught her up.  In record time.  I'm not hiding anything, I'll tell her how it is.  After my 5 minute spiel about my revelations about school, and control issues, and being a Type A personality who is obviously embracing a type B personality she stopped me.

Her:  "I think you're angry."

Me:  "No, I'm not angry.  I'm sad, but I'm not angry."

Her:  "No, I think you're angry."

Me, starting to feel irritated:  "No, really, I'm not angry.  There's probably some grief, ambiguous, disenfranchised, complicated grief.  But no, no anger." (I thought if I threw out some heftier, clinically based terms she'd move on to something relevant.) 

Her:  "You should admit your angry."

Me, feeling my neck turning red (which is a sign of anger in the Hanson clan):  "I'm not going to admit something I'm not."

Her:  "But you're just too calm about this."

Me:  "Does my flat affect bother you?" (more clinical terms)

Her:  "You're suppressing anger."

Now, at this point I knew it was hopeless to try and explain that the only anger I was feeling was towards her, and her inability to believe me.  So I played her game, I threw out facts from my past, making obscure links to possible scenarios.  I got emotional, I yammered on and on and on, then ended with a fake moment of deep personal revelation about my "tender artistic soul" and a commitment to "search deeper" and "feel my anger"...

Oh, I felt it all right, all night, and I've felt it all day.  Anger, towards her...which means our next session (if there is one) will most likely evolve around my dislike of having others tell me how I feel, or how I should feel.  You want to make me angry?  Just tell me I'm angry when I'm not.  Go ahead, wave that red flag in front of my face. 

It's not easy being a therapist, good or bad...and it's really not easy to be the therapist of a therapist...I know what you think that you think I'm thinking...but I'm not thinking what you think I think I'm thinking. 

So to my clients:  I apologize for being a bad therapist on some days...and hopefully we have at least one day when you think I'm a good therapist...either way, I'm not going to be angry.