I am really enjoying the process of studying to be a counsellor. I love reading the different theories about why people are the way they are. The other people on my course inspire me with their generosity and willingness to share their experiences. And its indescribable how fulfilled I feel when I work as counsellor.
But, it’s hard too. Although I believe training to become a counsellor is one of the best things I have ever done, I am finding it incredibly tough. It’s not just the practical considerations of taking a massive pay-cut and fitting study and placement hours around work. What I find difficult to bear is the constant emotional upheaval. It’s not like studying engineering. As part of the course, we have to be self reflective, picking every thought and feeling apart. Some aspects of myself I was already so familiar with they seemed like old friends like my inability to say no and pathological need to make everything better. Others blindsided me, you mean everybody doesn’t spend their life in a constant battle to not feel so shit about themselves? Self analysis is uncomfortable at best, painful at worst and some days I just want to exist on the surface not down in the murky depths where darker memories lurk like sea creatures waiting to gobble me up.
Before I started this process I was comfortably numb, under rigid control. Now like opening a Pandoras box feelings are emerging I’ve buried for years. I don’t like feeling this vulnerable and shaken. As if the foundations on which I have built my life are cracking and now I’m wondering what, if anything, I can save from the rubble. A fortnight ago as I was preparing to go to personal counselling I was so over it. (As trainee counsellors we have to be personal counselling throughout the duration of the course. Thank God!) In the past I had always started counselling at my nadir and talking made me feel better. But this time I started counselling when I was in a great place emotionally and digging up the past had started to make me feel worse. I just did not want to talk anymore. Then a friend sent me a link to this Ted Talk by Brene Brown on vulnerability.
And I knew I had a choice to make. I could continue to try to shut out my pain and inhibit my ability to feel joy. I could continuing existing, never really living.
Or I could trust the process and keep going. Accepting that paradoxically my vulnerability was my greatest strength.
So I have. One foot after the other, and again and again. I keep going because I don’t want to feel comfortably numb anymore. I want to be present, inhabiting every inch of my body. But, when shutting certain feelings out has become habitual how do you start listening to yourself again?
Well, on the advice on my counsellor I have been ‘checking in’ with myself. Yes it sounds very hippy dippy but stick with me. (Plus, with a name like Rowan, what else would you expect?) We use check ins at the beginning of our practical workshops at University. The rules are simple we go round the circle and you may share in a short sentence or even a word where you are today. The idea is that you can quickly gauge the emotional weather of the group. And also it’s really helpful to be mindful of what you feel in each moment.
So for the past week I’ve been checking-in with myself. Am I angry, sleepy, frustrated, cold, hot, happy, hungry, sad, tired, excited or overwhelmed? Mostly I’ve learnt I’m hungry and sleepy 🙂 Ah January, thou art the cruelest month. Joking aside, I’ve noticed that there are certain emotions that feel more familiar and comfortable (sadness) than others (anger).
The challenge for me has been simply noting what I feel and not doing anything with that feeling. Burying myself in activity is much easier than sitting with my feelings. If I feel something I need to, no have to change it. One of the paradoxes of change we learn about in counselling is only through acceptance does true change occur. But at the moment acceptance is a step too far. One day I hope I will be able to accept the things I don’t like about myself but for now naming and identifying those experiences is enough. Baby steps 🙂