Monday, April 02, 2012


I've missed blogging, more than I even knew myself, and I blamed a lot of things, like the relative ease of Facebook, and the crammed-upness of my calendar, and the dwindling hours in a day (they are getting fewer, aren't they? It can't just be me.) But the thing that I don't blame it on is my work, though I strongly suspect it is the main culprit.

I'm not supposed to complain about my work because when I went to school to be a therapist, we all said words like "rewarding" and "fulfilling" and "it's not about money" with stars in our eyes, but we meant them. I meant it.

And during the first years of my career, starting up, cutting my teeth, hearing stories and giving people direction even when I felt like a kid in a grownup suit, I still meant it. I meant it even more. I felt like I was really helping people. The first time you go home knowing you have categorically saved someone's life, that they are alive at this moment because of you, it's a pretty flush feeling. Your adrenaline gets going in those moments; you push aside your panic, the doubts you may have in your own capabilities, you crash through the outer limits of your physical and mental self, and somehow you become more. You become a bigger, stronger person than you actually are. It is exhausting but you cannot fail, to fail would be unthinkable, so you don't, you win, you win at any cost. When the situation resolves itself, you deflate in a slow whoooooosh, I've actually felt like someone was letting the air out of me while simultaneously draining the colour out of the world and the energy out of the room. But you live for this shaky sense of euphoria and relief and you go home proud.

While I'm technically a self-employed counsellor, I have worked for the past 4 years on a government contract. I work with a specific segment of the population that has experienced severe childhood trauma. I am a crisis counsellor. These are not clients with daddy issues or low self esteem. Every day, I deal with crises. Every day I listen to horrific stories, stories that have made me spend my breaks crying in bathroom stalls and my nights wide awake, afraid of what I might dream. Every day if it's not the 87 year old woman who is sobbing recounting being raped at the age of 6, savagely, repeatedly, then tortured, the left without a family to raise her, then trapped in an abusive marriage as she watched her children be taken away by social services until the day her husband died, leaving her penniless and homeless in her old, crippled age, then it's someone else with a different but equally soul-destroying story and they're looking to me for help. How can they live with this?

That's a question I don't always feel comfortable answering. Sometimes I really don't know. But I value life, and I value healing, and I believe that it can be done.

When I started this job four years ago, I believed that I could save them. Now I'm not sure that I can even save myself. I feel dead inside. Sometimes I get home at midnight and sit in the bath with a bottle of wine and the tears won't even come. I watch the clock because I know I'll have to be up in just a couple of hours to do it all over again. Crises don't hit Monday-Friday, 9-5. Suicides are not a business-hours business.

I feel like a fraud. I feel like no matter how many dragons I slay today, tomorrow there will just be a new herd of them, fiery and relentless.

It's called secondary trauma. I know this. When you're a front line worker getting assaulted by every graphic detail, it saturates you. It becomes you. I am not a rock. I am good at my job because I am sensitive. But how many stories of sodomy and starvation can one person hear? Whatever that number is, I think I reached it awhile back. They are sitting inside of me, like poison. I am rotting.

When you start out, you're all gung-ho about "self-care" , the stuff a therapist does for herself, on behalf of her own sanity. The things that put the spring back in your step. But the ghosts of your clients will follow you home. The sound of draino being gulped, a noose being thrown around a beam, the chair tipping back, the gun hitting the table, the heavy breathing of someone who's just cut into themselves. It's haunting. Saving on person's life feels great. Saving many ...

I don't know.
I don't know anymore.
I don't have words.
And so, I do not write.
A wordless writer,
a novel-less novelist,
a ghost of my former self.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A woman of a certain age.

I am 30.

Later this year, a birthday will occur that places me in the bracket of a woman "in her thirties."

Thirty is supposed to be terrifying. It's supposed to be old.
I remember when my mother turned 30, and her admonishment to answer "29" if anyone asked her age.
It was a big deal.
So I prepared myself mentally for turning that dreaded age, as well as anyone can, and planned an elaborate holiday to NYC to soften the blow.
But there was no blow.
30 felt a lot to me like 29, which felt a lot like 28 come to think of it, which felt not unlike 27.
Thirty turned out to not be a very big deal after all.

Except I am married to a man who is 5 years older than me, but looks 10 years younger than me. His hair is graying but he has a boyish face, a little imp of a grin. If he's anything like his father (and to my eyes, he's practically a carbon copy), he will continue to be fit and cute and vital for a long, long time and the gray at this temples just makes him look sexier. Damn.
Which presents me with an odd dilemma - even if I age gracefully and look good for my age, I'll still look older than him.
I do not particularly relish this suffering by comparison.
And apparently, this suffering has already begun.

Last weekend, a meeting of the sisters at my mother's house took place, and my sisters teased my husband about looking barely beyond the age of majority, and then turned to me and said that I looked "young at heart."


To my ears, that was was worse than "You look older than he does" or "You look 30" or even "You look 50." Young at heart is for an octogenarian who still wears a jaunty hat or likes a nip of whiskey. You can only be young at heart when you're old in body. And 30 may be no spring chicken, but I hardly think it qualifies as old.

A note about my sisters: my sisters, all 3 of them, are my younger sisters. Curses. It is literally a woman's worst nightmare to be the oldest of four girls. All of my life I will be pictured with and surrounded by younger women. As if standing beside my handsome husband is not punishment enough, I also have to spend my life being compared to women who look vaguely like me, only younger. Not awesome.

Until that moment, I didn't really take issue with how I looked. I like what I see in the mirror most days. Maybe I look 30, but what's wrong with that? I am older (and fatter) but I am also happier, with better shoes and a more expensive haircut.

Young at heart.

Okay, I admit it. I cried.

I tried to laugh it off. If you have my sisters, you grow a tough skin. All my life they have taunted my big lips, my "mama" sized boobs, even the shape of my bellybutton. But with this one, they have struck a chord.

It doesn't bother me a whit to look whatever age I am - 30, 40, 50, 60, whatever. The only thing that makes me cringe is thinking that somewhere along the line my husband will start to look like my little brother, or worse, my son. My worst fear is to look like we do not belong together.

There is no diet, no miracle makeup foundation that can help me with this. Demi Moore started going bananas with the plastic surgery and the anorexia the minute she married a younger man, and then it literally drove her crazy. Is a mental breakdown in my future too? Kate Winslet is vocal about being against plastic surgery, but at the ripe old age of 36, she's out there schilling anti-wrinkle creams. If she's worried, then I should going fucking ballistic! And here I am making do with $10 moisturizer like an idiot, meanwhile the city miles are wracking up on my face and I'm not filling them in with anything!

Apparently I've already started the descent. I'm already looking aged, says my sister, who will be as old as I am in just four years (which is small comfort, since she will never catch up, I will always be that much older, look that much worse) and who once offered the worst insult she could possible dredge up after someone gave her a makeover she didn't like - "I look like a 30 year old."

Well, 30 is coming.
It happens to all of us.
It happened to me.
And it keeps happening. I'm older now than when I started this post. I may look worse, but I feel better.
And if in 20 years I'm playing tonsil hockey with my super hot son, then so be it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Pain is so demeaning when it stops you in your tracks.
It robs you of your personhood a little, it takes part of you away.
And the loneliness.
The loneliness of it is pain too, less acute, more hollow.

But it's amazing what searing pain can teach you.
You can reach the outer limits of yourself, that squibbly border where the universe slowly becomes me, where my skin and the thing next to it are virtually indistinguishable, where pain is just a thing, a thing inside my head that is in fact not bigger than I am.

Meditation is to conquer the beast.
To sit down and have an intellectual conversation with it.

Comfort is the bedside table: the chocolates that I don't even pretend to hesitate over, the books with unbroken spines, the blister packs.

Victory is sleep - despite, or in spite?
Just sleep.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

For a long time, blogging was very fullfulling for me.
I started to see life in terms of how I would post it: something interesting (or banal but potentially still worthy) would happen, and my brain would ZING with words, excited to put it down and hit publish.
And then I fell away from it.
But you don't stop being filled with something that needs to come out.
I still have a lot that wants to come out and meet the world.
These days, I'm making connections with brides instead of bloggers.
I make wedding invitations.
I make really beautiful, glamourous, high-end, unique wedding invitations.
I make a small contributions to people's love and happiness.
I make something meaningful.
Sure it's business, but to me it's so much more.
I'm not trying to make a lot of money, I'm just enjoying being a working artist with a little studio and lots of lovely ideas.
Everytime I put a little sparkle into someone's day, a little bling, a little glamour, a little luxury - there's just something satisfying in that.
Taylor Made is a work of love - not just invitations, but wedding stationery: the thank you cards, the ceremony programs, the favour tags, the wine bottle labels...I love the layers. I love the love.