An open letter to those who have come before me, who question my ability to learn how to practice psychotherapy while suffering from a chronic illness.
There aren’t many ways I could write a response to this without sounding aggressive. But the truth is, I need to be aggressive. If I’m not aggressive – if I don’t fight you on this – I risk being left behind. I sound aggressive because I’m female. Because my voice gets high pitched when I’m cross and tears often leak out when I’m frustrated – which I am. I’m beyond frustrated because it’s not your job to tell me whether or not I’m capable, depending on my health, depending on my experience, depending on my personal journey.
It might be your job to critique my practice, to question me on my actions or to ask me to defend why I behaved a certain way in a specific situation when you most certainly wouldn’t have acted the same way. But when I answer those questions, you’re not in a position to critique the way I experienced those situations – if I acted as best I could with the information I had on hand, then I gave it my all. That’s my experience. That’s my point of reference from which to work. That isn’t up for discussion.
When you label me, when you tell me that I was wrong to hear words a different way you then you intended them to be heard, when you insinuate that my experience is unacceptable, you’re refusing to accept me. I despise the need to explain my every thought process and begrudge your lack of faith that I don’t know my own limits; whether of my body, my health or my ability.
When you criticize my ability to be “proactive”, you’re criticizing my fundamental beliefs that to get anywhere in this world, you have to go and get it. You’re ignoring all my previous experiences that have cemented this, as well as my previous schemas which dictate that, as a woman in her twenties, I have to fight harder to be noticed, to be listened to, and taken seriously. You’re criticizing my open-mindedness, my desire to learn from the world at large, and my ability to find lessons beyond the schoolyard wall. How can one be too proactive in this world in their twenties? The media describes people my age as lazy, yet you decide to stunt my drive. You’re caging my very existence within your patriarchal system, when you’re supposed to be my teacher and my guiding light. You are the adults who came before me, the ones I look to for pastoral or medical care, the ones I’m asking for guidance.
You’re ignoring my fears – that I may have to start a family early if I wish to be able to conceive and carry my own children naturally, that this may be to the detriment of my own career – the very career I’m fighting to begin now. A career that I picked because it allows me to work from home, move around the world, set my day around children and family life, or even set around my partner’s career if need be. When you label me, you make me question the backbends I’m already doing, you help me confirm that I’m not good enough. You make me question what on earth I could possibly doing better. This brings me to the worst possible realization – I can’t win this fight.
The minute you label me, I’ve lost the war. When you label me, I lose independence in your eyes and those of your peers. I’m no longer the young woman fighting for success, but the young woman on the verge of something far more sinister; a young woman who is willing to carve her own pathway, listen to her own gut and develop her own rules, her own understanding of the level of greyness one must work within in the field of psychotherapy. You halt me, you trap me within a blade of glass.
To fight your label, I have to devise strategies, I waste valuable energy playing your game. Or I refuse to engage and you squash me anyway. No matter how I play it, once I’m labelled, I have little control in your world. And I am in your world. But I won’t get out alive.