Thursday, March 29, 2018


I've been perusing through some of my old posts, and I am amazed to see the difference between where I was then -- emotionally, psychologically -- from where I am now. A lot of my old posts are bogged down, as if I am trying to pull myself out of slowly hardening cement. So much to figure out. I can feel how frustrated and baffled I was with my inability to reshape myself emotionally or psychologically in relating to the issues I had in my life. I remember many of those incidents and feelings as if they happened yesterday, and yet, I feel so far removed from the person I was then. And I attribute most of these changes, if not all, to entering my masters program in marriage & family therapy.

My MFT program has changed my life. I am in a cohort of 27 students, and everyone is wonderful. Warm, caring, thoughtful, and kind. It's exactly the kind of community I've longed for, and couldn't find in the years after we left San Francisco. I once again feel like I belong somewhere.

During the interview for the program almost a year ago, I entered the room feeling slightly apprehensive. What skills did I have as a lawyer that would be conducive to me becoming a therapist? As a litigation associate, I had spent most of my time writing combative nastygrams to opposing counsel and dealing with discovery nonsense. Had the law hardened me to a point that I would be unsuitable for dealing with other people on empathetic and personal levels?

In the group interview, we were first asked to go around the circle and introduce ourselves. After listening to the impressive backgrounds of the people before me, who had actually all done something to better the world through social services, I found myself stammering, "I'm not sure why I was even invited to this interview, because I have absolutely zero experience in this field that I hope to enter. I am so impressed by each of you and all that you have done." And then I prattled off a sentence or two about how I had been a lawyer in my former life.

Amazingly, at the end of the interview session that day, the director of the program offered me admission to the program on the spot.

The program started in the summer, and we spent much of the summer listening to each other's life stories. We took turns talking about the experiences we had with our families of origin, what events shaped us, what issues resonated for us. There were so many stories, some with intersecting threads, others with unique directions. But everyone had a story to tell. And they were all humbling and edifying.

It felt like I had read 26 memoirs in a matter of weeks. And I loved it.

Since the fall semester, we have been meeting with clients, and I can't describe how much I love meeting the clients and listening and talking to them about their lives. It's similar to the conversations I have always had over coffee with friends, conversations I have always loved. But these are more intentional and more directed. And with strangers, at least at start, who give me the benefit of the doubt to open up with me.

This one change - entering a new program - had reset me completely. I don't obsess about my time as I used to. I don't feel bogged down by the fears or worries I used to have. I don't feel so negative about my past career as a lawyer or my passing days.

I think if I had been diagnosed with breast cancer before I had been admitted to the program, I would have fallen into a deep despair. I would have been so wrought with resentment and sadness that I had to waste time on something that had nothing to add to my life. I would have seen it as something to deal with in order to return to status quo. And I would have felt that it was yet another segment of my life wasted on top of the years I spent trudging through law school and working as an attorney.

Now that I'm in the program, the cancer diagnosis has hardly made a blip. I see it as a nuisance, nothing more. Even though most of my free days are filled up with doctor appointments, chemo therapy, and some test or another, it hasn't gotten to me. Not nearly to the degree I used to be bothered when I even missed one day of planned me-time when one of my kids got sick or my plans got upset.

Even though I attribute it to being in the program, there are many facets embedded in it that I find so fulfilling and satisfying. Most important is that I am learning again. I am learning about things I care about in life and exploring ways of seeing things through different frameworks. The conversations that I am having as I'm learning are complex, nuanced, and substantive. I am reading wonderful books by innovative and insightful thinkers. One of the most satisfying books I read over the summer was on multicultural perspectives. To date, I have never read a satisfying book on race, at least not one that addressed different perspectives of different racial and ethnic groups. But, yes, such a book exists! I am also spending time talking to my cohorts, professors, and clients about subjects that I think are worth talking about, not just about the weather, or sports, or some TV show. And all the while I'm doing this, I am among a group of people I really appreciate. The cohort is composed of people of various ages ranging from 23 to perhaps late 50s or early 60s, all with life lessons to teach, insights to share, and life pains they have overcome and somehow managed to shape into future directions.

When I think about how simple this was -- how simple it was to reset my life -- I can't help but wonder why it felt so difficult before.  The idea of going back to school seemed daunting. I was already in my mid-40s. I have small children. My husband worked. I had to take the GREs. I wanted to carry my fair load of household responsibilities, whether it was taking care of the kids or contributing financially. And as I list them, I now see that none of them were insurmountable. I recognize that I have it easy. Jeff took some time off of work so that I can go back to school while he takes care of the kids. He has taken over almost all of the domestic chores. But I see the other women in my program doing it. Like me, most of them are entering a second career. Many of them have working husbands and children. Some are single moms. And they show up to class and turn in their assignments.

I think about the countless conversations I had with my lawyer friends when I was practicing law about the second careers we wished to have. It was probably the most popular topic of conversation. And instead of regurgitating those conversations ad nauseam, I could have just gone back to school. But of course, in hindsight, it all looks so easy now. Besides the logistics, I think most of it had to do with the uncertainty of not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. And I realize now that I didn't know what to do with my life because I simply had not lived enough. Maybe I needed all the detours and the events of my life to take me where I am now. Maybe I needed law school, my ten years lawfirm career, the disasterous layoff, the three miscarriages, the family estrangement, the precancerous cells in my cervix, the worries of being a parent, and the delicacies of being married as well as all the happy and fulfilling moments embedded along the way. Maybe I needed these more than others after a lifetime of being a good daughter and a rule follower.

Now, from where I sit, I am grateful for all those experiences - the challenging as well as the happy ones. Even my recent diagnosis. They have made me a fuller person. I relate to others differently. I relate to my children differently. I respond with more patience, more understanding, more heart. I even like myself more.

I think returning to school was about fulfilling one of my core needs. I need to be in an environment where I'm learning. And where I am connected to others through my learning. The learning doesn't have to come in an academic environment, but I need to make space for that in my life. When I didn't have that -- when I didn't have the time or the space to take care of one of my needs, I felt suffocated and desperate.

I think about the little steps we can take to identify and meet our own needs. And to recruit others to aid us in our effort while we help them in turn. Many of us may be gearing ourselves in that direction without even realizing it.


  1. I've seen you've come a long, long way too, you're a butterfly now!

  2. I was so happy to see you pop up in my RSS feed again! Please keep writing. I started following you when you got laid off and have loved getting to know you through your writing. It's so encouraging to see the many different paths life can take.