The Psychotherapist: From Trainee to Professional

The first reading I ever completed for my three-year psychotherapy diploma program was in the summer before starting the certificate (In the UK we get our Postgraduate Certificate before we can progress to the Diploma). I can’t remember what book it was from, but the author seemed very determined to instill in the reader that any trainee counselor was going to need an incredibly strong support system (they called it an ‘anchor’) in order to survive this course. I thought they were being overdramatic. I read this aloud to my boyfriend-at-the-time’s mother and she stated that she expected her son to fulfill this role. He left before he had to, but that’s okay because by then I had my cat, Lucy.

Lucy became my anchor – my cat was the reason I got up to go to work so I could buy her food and treats. She was the only way I began to create any sense of attachment theory. I hesitate to describe her as a transitional object, but I can’t deny that I see myself very differently now than I did at the beginning of this course. I arrived believing I knew everything but was secretly terrified of having to sit with someone face-to-face instead of over the phone (my background is in peer support hotline work). What if they didn’t speak? What if I couldn’t help? What if I wasn’t good enough? I am now leaving this program fully aware of – and embracing – what I don’t know; yet feeling much more confident in my ability to sit with a client no matter what is brought – and survive a possible hour of silence with a stranger!

My journey to becoming a counselor began many years before that summer. At age 17, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Fearful of speaking to my parents about it, I took myself off to the general practitioner surgery where I was prescribed Propanolol. The doctor was my mother’s own doctor when she was pregnant with me and thus he had always treated me as an extension of a family friend. By just giving me some pills, he managed to cement my idea that I was broken and needed to be fixed. It was only after I hated the pills (initially I hated the idea of them, but then I disliked the way they made me feel) that he suggested I look into counseling, which ironically made me feel even more broken. I didn’t know anything about counseling then, other than what I’d seen in films about psychoanalysis and that scared me. I made the appointment over the phone in my friend’s bedroom and ended up sneaking out of school every week for eight sessions of CBT – cognitive behavioral therapy.

I’ve been in and out of counseling ever since. My style of therapist and senses of accomplishment have varied, as have the labels I have acquired from different professionals. I’ve stomped my feet every step of the way. I’ve been angry at the system, angry at not feeling heard, angry at feeling that my age prevented me from being taken seriously. I’ve disagreed with nearly every label and fallen out with nearly every therapist. But I can’t argue that they’ve helped get me here. I can’t say they hindered me -just that it’s been an uphill battle. My counseling history has helped me now find therapists that I enjoy and taught me how to feel comfortable in my own practice for my own clients.

I began my course angry with the way the system worked, thinking that if only I could get my foot through the door with a qualification, I could attack it from the inside and perhaps gain a greater understanding about how people fall through the net or get left behind. I could help bridge the gap. I could help make this system work.

I’m still angry and I still want to change the system. However, when I was asked why I wanted to do my course, I originally refused to give this reason, because I thought it would be mocked or seen as naive. Whilst I can still see the possible naïveté in it, I don’t believe I could continue to do this job without that anger, without that strong desire to make sustainable mental health more accessible.

So it’s ok to be angry.

It’s also ok for me to say goodbye to my course. The three years have gone by in the longest blink. I notice in my client work, I’m always aware of making sure it’s okay for my clients to leave at the end of a session; can they return to the real world as their outside selves? I really value the time it may take them to put their outside faces back on and slip back into who they need to be. I’ve done this. I’ve cried my tears. My makeup is fixed. I’m okay to leave.

I’ve said before that I think this course is really more a driving test; I’m only going to learn to drive once I’ve passed. I have a whole new journey ahead of me to discover just what type of counselor I really am, once the reins have been cut. I’m really excited to start.

That first reading was right. This course has been testing and it has completely restructured how I view the world around me. But I think what it’s taught me most is to be my own anchor. Whilst Lucy is a wonderful companion to come home to and ride a train with, it’s me that I take everywhere I go. She cannot physically sit in a therapy room with me, although I can channel the self I provide to her to be the self I try to provide to my clients. But it’s me that I need to be able to rely upon – my knowledge and control of my selves that I need to have faith in. This has been difficult when also factoring in a long-term illness that means my body might not always be able to be relied upon and brain fog is never too far away. But I’ve done it. I’m here.

I’m ready to leave. I’m ready to pass. I’m ready to support my clients through their own versions of this journey. I’m also ready to continue learning in my own way. After seven years of university, I’m ready to let go of the ‘trainee’ title and embrace the ‘professional’ one.

 

Why a Psychotherapist?

At the end of one of our sessions, a client apologized to me for leaving me with all of their problems. This wasn’t the first time a client has apologized to me for this and I’m sure it won’t be the last. We were running out of time and my rushed response became a garbled, “Oh please don’t worry about it, this is my job.” I heard the words come out of my mouth and immediately hated them.

I should have taken them back, but I didn’t. I kept quiet because it was the end of our session and there wasn’t time to discuss this in depth and I needed to get ready for my next client. I heard the phrase, “this is my job” as it came out of my mouth and thought about what it would sound like to my client: this is my job, to listen to other people’s fears and complications. This is what I do all day, and often the only thing I want to do all day. What does that make me sound like? What type of a person wants to wade through a stranger’s misery day after day? I want to say it’s because I want to help. I think I can help.

Given the opportunity to think about it, I would have liked to have offered a short summary of how listening to their problems is what I am trained to do, that I have my own supervision and therapy I can go to if anything said to me became too much. But I would have reiterated that the space is theirs to use as they wish, as am I. There’s a part of me that wants to reassure and rescue, to reiterate how much I love my job and remind them that they aren’t burdening me with anything. But that’s not necessarily what my clients are asking. And to say they are not a burden may suggest that their problems are not as heavy to me as they feel to them, which would also be a lie.

There’s a really fine line between taking what my clients tell me and holding it in the room instead of taking what they tell me home. To hold it in the room is to do my job to support my client. Not letting it leave the room and taking it home is my job as part of supporting my own self-care. But to explicitly describe this feels clinical. Telling someone that I am sitting with them because it is my job feels superficial, as though the time they spend with me is simply a paycheck — which could not be further from the truth.

In reality, when it does get heavy, I will measure how the heaviness is affecting me and discuss that with my supervisor. I will discuss it (anonymously and confidentially, with no identifying details) with my peers and I may practice the different responses I might try in the next session in a role play. I may look for extra readings, I may work out a little more in the gym, or buy an extra bottle of wine and binge watch something on Netflix. I will endeavor to bring up how I’m feeling with my client because it may be something that they themselves have been struggling to name and my opening up might help empower them to name their own emotions. I might stomp my feet a little and berate the way the world works. I will always return to the room, to the client and sit in the muddy puddle of whatever emotion feels most overwhelming. I will bear witness and I will try my hardest to hold because that is my job – that is what I am there to do.

In truth, I believe without a doubt that this is what I am supposed to be doing. So yes, it’s ok that you tell me everything you’re worried about, everything you don’t like or even your deepest fears and your most superficial ones. Because it is my job, but also because it’s what I love doing; because it’s what I believe is my life’s purpose; because if there is some divine providence somewhere that’s dictating my life story, “Listener” is scribbled all over my book’s cover.

I would love to tell my clients just how privileged I feel to be able to listen to what they wish to tell me; how lucky I feel to know that I can make a living out of something I believe in; how yes, this is my job, but it’s also my calling; how actually, they may be giving me far more than I could ever give them back.

 

 

Contour Queen: The Power Of Makeup Revisited

A few years ago, I wrote a piece called “Send In The Clowns”. As a photography student who was enthralled by feminism and bodily autonomy, I captured my thoughts on makeup through a series of pictures that expressed my confusion- whether weaing makeup was feminist or not. Two years on, I would’ve never thought that my makeup journey would have progressed this much, and my thoughts around feminism related to makeup have finally become clear.

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I’ve had to defend my choice to wear makeup amongst feminist circles countless times, which was disheartening, to say the least, when I started out experimenting with makeup. I’ve always seen makeup as a form of self-care, so to be met with negativity (especially from people I looked up to) made me question whether I was damaging my feminist integrity.

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I can’t say when the turning point was. I just stopped caring. I slowly began to realise that I loved what makeup could do for me, and starting owning it. Being a perfectionist, I would spend hours upon hours replicating beautiful looks I’d seen, getting frustrated when I couldn’t get it 100% right. However, slowly but surely, I started getting it “right”. I didn’t have to meticulously plan out every look I was doing the night before, making sure I had all the right palettes ready for me to start first thing in the morning. It was so empowering.

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I still had thoughts that were harmful to myself and others around me; maybe I was better without makeup on, more natural, maybe I would be seen as intimidating to others by having strong brows and bold lips. Was I supporting an industry that makes it’s money by tearing women’s self-confidence down, telling them that a blemish is the end of the world, and that no one will love them if they have chubby cheeks? After some tough talks with myself, I came to realise that it was the intention behind my cosmetic obsession that what was really mattered in my personal journey. I wore makeup as an extension of my personality, as a creative outlet, and as part of a self-care routine; and identifying this felt profoundly feminist. 18579307_1898696840350555_2027954573_n

From this long and exhausting journey, I started to love my own skin. I became aware of why my skin would break out, and learnt to forgive myself for mistakes. I became more conscious on what would give me the best value for money in regards to what products I was buying, and hugely boosted my creativity. I stepped out of my comfort zone, and reaped the benefits of it. As I realised that I was good at what I do, I was being told that I looked confident, and I felt it.

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I have become aware of the flaws in the beauty industry. I try not to ignorant. I give advice where I can, and I learn as much as possible. I dedicated my Instagram to purely makeup (give it look here), and I practiced, practiced, practiced. I write makeup pieces for Rosewater. But most importantly, I feel confident, inside and out. This weird and wonderful art of makeup has allowed me to embody the sharpness of my eyeliner wings, the glow of my highlight, and the holographic wonder of my glitter. And even after a long, hard, exhausting day, if my cheekbones are contoured sharp enough to kill a man, it’s all worth it.

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The Scariest Four Letters

I miss the days when my biggest fears were not getting thirty or more notes on an edit I made on Tumblr, or not seeing my crush walk by my locker before fourth period. Mind you, I was fourteen at the time, so my fears don’t seem so scary now. I’m seventeen now; I haven’t posted on Tumblr in over a year and it’s been almost two years since I’ve had any feelings for that crush. Fear is a four letter word that I’ve spent most of high school trying to detach myself from, but sometimes it’s not so easy.

I fear publishing editorials that are too specific to what I truly am feeling or what I’ve experienced, because I fear people from high school discovering my writing online. I fear opening my college admission letters in front of people, because I know I will most likely end up crying, regardless of the result. In my freshman year, I feared joining a sports team. I feared talking to him because I thought it would be too obvious I liked him, but now we just don’t talk anymore. And despite many people telling me that I appear to be completely apathetic towards the world with my resting bitch face, I fear judgment from those around me. I make self-deprecating jokes about not getting accepted into colleges, and about myself, but it’s different when I hear those same words coming from others. When I hear it from them, a sense of panic washes over me, making me feel as if I’m destined for a grim future, despite the fact that I myself always joke about having a grim future. It’s as if I’m realizing, Oh god, someone else believes Im not destined to be great. My fears coming to life would feature me confronting the fact that maybe it’s not all in my head, maybe the worst parts of me actually are real.

You’re probably wondering why I bother to spend time with people who judge my every move. I’m still working up the courage to understand the answer to that question. Whenever I hear snide remarks about my desire to pursue a creative career, it takes a few seconds to recover. The immediate reaction is betrayal – how can these ‘friends’ who say they support everything I do, also be the ones that try to tear me apart from following my passion? Do comments about ‘unemployment’ or remarks like, “your only career option is teaching” have the power to derail me from giving up on a future that makes me happy? I try to compose myself and to remind myself that it’s my future and I will most likely never see these judgmental people after graduation ever again. Judgment from others about my interests – academically and personally – has suppressed my ability to open up about who I am and what I love. I’m trying my best to undo this.

I never thought that my passions could end up being one of my biggest insecurities, due to the criticism of those who cannot respect me for who I am and what I love. I love imperial Russian history and I love Björk and Jamie xx. I love boys who are wittier than I could ever imagine. I can’t wait to take printmaking and media classes in college. I want to fully dive headfirst in and experience what the world has to offer. I want to unafraid to shamelessly flirt with boys beyond a smile or gaze; I want to be able to confront my enemies with words that can be interpreted through a simple middle finger gesture. As schmaltzy as it may be, I know now that fear isn’t the worst thing in the world. Sure, it’s hard to jump headfirst into something I want to do but am scared, but nothing beats the feeling of achieving something that I originally was afraid to do.

 

Written by: Irine Le

Instagram (@irlirine)

Cargo Collective portfolio @irine_le

Unboxing My Past Selves

This past Christmas, I decided to take several boxes of books from my parents’ house back to my apartment. I was tired of looking at bare spots on my bedroom shelf. Some of the books had been in storage since the summer before my freshman year of college, including Harry Potter, my Sherlock Holmes anthologies, and the entirety of Full Metal Alchemist. Seeing them again was akin to meeting old friends after a long absence.

However, it wasn’t just the books I was interested in taking with me. In those boxes were nearly two dozen notebooks and diaries I kept during three distinct periods in my life. They ranged from school notebooks, to marble journals, to Mead Academie Sketchbooks. I decorated them with stickers, magazine clippings, and anything else I found worthy.

My sister and I spent a few hours rereading my childish handwriting, laughing over drawings of various quality, and she especially enjoyed teasing me about what I agonized over in high school.

The two marble notebooks I am most grateful I kept were the pair I wrote and drew in during first grade. My teacher, who I will refer to as Mrs. C, wanted her students to write at least a page about a daily prompt or whatever was on our minds that day. Sounds fun and simple, right?

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Apparently my mom writing my name wasn’t good enough for Mrs. C. Photo courtesy Rachel Bolton.

Wrong. First, Mrs. C was an unpleasant teacher. I was terrified of her. She had a large black beehive hair-do that I still  don’t know how she did everyday. Adding to her frightening appearance, Mrs. C wore garishly theatrical makeup that would’ve belonged better in a 50’s B-movie.

Second, the challenge of writing a whole page filled me with dread. I could never write the page-long amount she required. Curled over my tiny desk, I would write a sentence or two and then spend the rest of the time illustrating my brief description, afraid that Mrs. C would come over and demand I write more.

Keeping the journal gave me my greatest joys and biggest fears during the 1999-2000 school year. Mrs. C ran her classroom with standards that would have worked better for high school aged students. Everything had to be neat and organized, from the sharpness of your pencil, to your handwriting, and to the contents of your desk .Any failure was met with yelling.  I was scared that she would discover that my journal fell apart, or see that I drew a very unflattering picture of her when I wrote about my dislike of math.

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I wasn’t trying to exaggerate her appearance, but she really looked like this. Photo courtesy Rachel Bolton.

Accompanied by a short description, I mostly drew my family, my dream of having a dog (specifically a poodle), how much I wanted to go home from school, how I missed my mom, with the occasional cameos from beanie babies, Jesus, and the cast of The Sound of Music. 

Rereading them now, I feel a protective, almost maternal love for my seven-year-old self. Those two notebooks show the honesty of childhood. I wrote and drew about my life as I saw it and as accurately as possible. While reading it, my sister recognized my mom’s old sweater in one of the drawings.

While no other teacher I had mandated keeping a journal, it wouldn’t be the last time I would pour my ideas and drawings into one.

A few years later, at twelve, I started what became a series of fourteen sketchbooks. In the days before I had a laptop, this was the only way for me to unburden my many creative ideas. Like my first grade notebooks, I wrote and drew in them. Luckily, the art and writing had improved.

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Photo courtesy Rachel Bolton.

At that age, I struggled to have friends. My childhood best friend had moved away before I started junior high, and I couldn’t find my footing in any social group at the new school. My being awkward and lonely gave me plenty of time to write and draw. Page after page was filled with whatever I was interested at the time, which often included warrior women and emo boys, my major obsessions with Star Wars and X- Men, and several parodies of the two.

Even though I was not the greatest artist, I probably drew hundreds of character drawings. They were characters with what I hoped were interesting backstories who came from thriving and detailed universes. I created the denizens of a multi-racial fantasy world with the intention of turning it into a novel. While I doubt I will ever do that with those characters, I think back on them with fondness.

I feel a little embarrassed by a few of my ideas, but I do look back on these journals with pride. They are my beginning as a creator. Everyone has to start somewhere, and I am impressed with how far I’ve come.

Slowly, I stopped drawing.

It wasn’t that I disliked it, but more so that I started writing more and wanted to focus on that. My parents put the spare computer in my room, so I typed out my stories instead. It was simpler and faster than writing by hand, and soon the sketchbooks sat on my shelf, untouched.

However, inspired by a New Year’s Eve 2010 watch-through of Bridget Jones’ Diary, I decided I would start keeping one as well. I wanted to be like the titular heroine, someone who wrote about her life with thoughtfulness and wit.

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I didn’t want anyone to read these, thus the warnings. Photo courtesy Rachel Bolton.

It was not to be. While I am attached to my earlier notebooks, I feel no such nostalgia over my high school diaries. I deeply cringe when I think about them.  

The words my seventeen-year old self wrote were sappy, obnoxious, and love-obsessed. Rereading them, I think of how badly I needed to get snapped out of many unhealthy mindsets I had. 

Compared to my earlier journals, I wrote more about what was happening to me than what was going on around me. I wasn’t making up stories or drawing pictures of my classmates. It was self reflection without the self improvement that usually comes with that habit.

Contrary to first grade, I wrote long winded analyses of my life. (No drawings this time.) Endless, nauseating passages about my crush, the people I despised, and problems my friends went through. It is a chilling documentation of a high school social group. Who liked who, who was a mess, what weird stuff happened at the latest hang out. If I ever needed to write a teen drama, I could just cheat and use my diary for plots instead.

I stopped writing in the diary a few weeks into my senior year. I got a boyfriend, and since most of my writing was about how I wanted one, my new relationship left me little to write about.

While I feel embarrassed by my high school diaries, they make me happy because they are proof that I have changed so much since then. I’m calmer, more sensible, and stronger now.

Since high school, I haven’t kept a diary. I still write down story ideas, but it’s more of a way for me to scribble out my thoughts more fluidly than if I were to type it out on a computer.  A part of me does miss keeping one. Maybe I will keep one again in the future.

As for my old notebooks, they have a place of honor in my apartment. I’ll keep them forever. My journals are pieces of my self, or pieces of my selves.

Witchcraft in the Modern Workplace

It can sometimes feel difficult working an office job, especially for a whimsically-spirited person, like me, who wishes they could get paid to typewrite pun poems and glitter-glue their eyelids shut as a method of achieving the most glamorous nap. Dolly Parton already hollered all that needs to be hollered about this, but I am grateful that my 9-to-5 generally ain’t so bad. The other day I reminded myself of this as I sat on the floor of my office performing a witch ritual – or “witchual” – with a couple of coworkers.

We mixed a small pot of tea tree honey, Peace, Love and Peppermint tea leaves, and some dry herbs that I had been hanging from an old light fixture above my desk. This sacrificial offering was placed snugly between the gangly limbs of a once-cursed clown puppet we’d somehow found amidst the day-to-day drama of office life. I lit some dried sage as if it were incense. It smelled like weed and Occupational Health and Safety infringements. Fight the Power.

Our witchual involved some simple, makeshift spells for kindness in the workplace, particularly on behalf of a coworker who was meeting with a venomous manager later that afternoon. We expelled these hopes into the universe through clumsy attempts at incantation, in a gesture more for ourselves than for the sake of cosmic causality. It helped and she reported later that it had, in fact, worked. I appreciated that my world would accommodate for the tomfoolery I held so dear. We found out later that a coven of women had attempted a binding spell on Donald Trump that day and felt quietly connected.

Amidst our wishy-washy attempts at witchcraft, I started thinking about the witch trials in 16th and 17th century Europe, as well as Salem. There are times within history that now tend to inspire a collective eye roll at how ludicrous and uncivilised our predecessors seemed to be. Really, though? Because it seems like we still are. I see the witch trials as an intersection of the population’s God-fearing sensibilities and a historical distrust of women (although yes, a minority of the accused were men), which is not unlike society’s modern fears of paganism and female autonomy. We may see this specific form of persecution as far-fetched and antiquated, but much of its rationale still exists within the constraints currently imposed upon women.

The reasons why a woman would be denounced with accusations of sorcery were vague at best and contradictory at worst. Some of these included: breaking any rule in the bible, having a blemish on your skin, being outspoken, being poor or being rich. As you can imagine, this made it pretty easy to be a potential witch. As ridiculous as this all sounds, I often feel that our own era is equally frustrating, albeit veiled by the normalization of modern sexism. Biblical teachings may not be proselytized as overtly in the public arena as they once were, but we are still far from achieving truly secular governments. The fact that abortion rights are still not a simple reality is largely due to religious opposition. Outspoken women are still stifled and women are vilified for exercising agency over their own sexual choices. Instead, they’re expected to conform to male projections of their sexuality. The contradiction of desirable versus undesirable femaleness lives on, although it has shapeshifted its way through changing zeitgeists.

This evolution of Western misogyny, on one hand, feels defeating. But it also gives me something valid to say when it is argued that women are now treated equally and feminism is obsolete. Misogyny is engendered by prevailing cultural norms and adapts to societal advancement. In one century there might be witch trials and another there might be revenge porn. ‘Isms’ can be channeled into different forms as effortlessly as people insist on carrying their bigotry through generations rather than cutting loose this historical dead weight.

It is no doubt a snug little nook in which my professional life sees minds that spark with magical ideas and we can freely set them alight, up and into the vents for all to inhale. Though, shit still ain’t easy for a witch, or a bitch, even if they are different than they once were. All the coolest people of this century would’ve been burned for suspected witchcraft. While I am relieved that this fate is unlikely, that’s not to say we won’t face being burned in one way or another.

A Catcalling Story

Catcalling has increasingly become a mainstay in my life. I’m not sure whether it’s the colder weather or simply the fact that my moving off campus has made my time on public transportation increase exponentially, but it seems nearly everyday I can’t escape the unwanted attention. I can’t differentiate between the innocent hellos and the gateway conversation progressing into an uncomfortable territory.

Everyone has a catcalling story. The most impactful story for me occurred during one of the many times I missed the shuttle to the metro station. I decided to brave the 12 minute walk to the station as my feet and back weren’t yet at the point where they ached due to the weight of my too heavy tote bag or my black heeled boots. Walking down Georgia Avenue in Washington, DC is always interesting as one passes through the mixture of students, faculty, people waiting or the bus, street vendors, and those hanging around, everyone soaking up the atmosphere of faint GoGo music and construction work. As I was walking past a corner store with my earphones in, but not playing anything, two men having a conversation on the side of the street stopped to say hello. I gave a small nod and continued on my way, just wanting to make it to a train leaving the city. As I passed one of the men made an “oh” sound and asked for my number. My face warmed and I flinched, about to look back, but remembering that replying in any way was more trouble than it was worth. One girl, who I assumed was still in high school due to her backpack and khaki pants ,must have sensed my slight panic. As I continued to pass, much slower and more visibly uncomfortable she whispered “just keep walking.” I whispered back a “thank you” and continued down the street. Luckily, the man had no more words for me.

What this young woman did was one of the nicest things a bystander could have done at that point. In that situation I felt alone and embarrassed. What that simple phrase did was assure me that I wasn’t alone and that someone was paying attention and gave me a reminder that the best thing to do for myself is to keep moving. I had never had anyone do that for me, and I have never done that for another woman, but I will now.

I want to thank that girl again, even though she most likely won’t read this. Thank you, that small act brightened my day and encouraged me to help others. It reminded me that even during times I feel alone, I am connected. May bystanders continue to be brave in face of  crappy catcalling.

I Make More Money Than My Honey: Reflections of a Reluctant Breadwinner

When I was a little girl I wanted to grow up to be smart and spunky. I also wanted to meet a boy who was my bitter rival and sworn enemy, but who gradually came to have a secret passion for me. Of course, that passion would only be revealed when I rushed to his side at a time of grave illness and he professed his undying love for me. So basically, I wanted to grow up in a turn of the century novel for young adults.

When I was in my 20s, I wanted to meet a man who was my equal in every way and who saw me as an equal. We would both have fulfilling careers, exciting philosophical conversations over glasses of wine in French cafés, and we would split the housework 50/50. Or even better, I would have a high-powered career and he would take care of the kids. He’d be a great cook and he’d keep the house running smoothly. In essence, I wanted a sexy, intelligent man who was also a 1950s housewife.

These are just two of the fairy tales about love that have colored my romantic life. And what I’m discovering is that the earlier tales don’t disappear. They just get covered over temporarily by the next story, like an archaeological dig of love and longing.

I met Daniel, now my husband, in engineering school when I was 23. He’s unconventional, spontaneous, he feels deeply, and he has a true moral compass. He stood out from other engineers -– on the inspirational poster showing a crowd of penguins, he’s the one painted bright yellow.

Except for the sponge manufacturing factory date, we rarely went to places or events that were intrinsically interesting. It was Daniel’s quirkiness that made our outings memorable. One evening we left his apartment in character – me a wide-eyed country girl visiting Montreal for the first time; he, a foul-mouthed Russian aristocrat – and spent the date in our roles. Another time he demonstrated his repertoire of crazy faces and invited me to grimace back at him. I was entranced.

Daniel is smart, but unlike my 20-year-old self’s fantasy man, he doesn’t enjoy philosophical conversations. He respects me, but laughs in my face when I’m trying to pull a fast one.

My main con is acting sweet and innocent, while in ruthless pursuit of what I want. A few months before our baby was born I was “asking” Daniel “nicely” if he would mind taking care of our older son while I traveled out of town to visit an old friend. He listened to me, and I watched resistance come over his face like a blind rolled down over a window. Why was he being such a jerk? I needed this getaway, I deserved it, and who was he to stand in my way?! Suddenly his face changed, as he realized what was going on. He laughed, and then he switched into Birdie role. He mimicked my saccharine voice and fluttered his lids over wide innocent eyes. At the same time, he used his left hand to imitate the driving force behind my words. His hand came toward me like a drill, relentlessly pursuing me, as I playfully ducked and parried. A second later, I dissolved into laughter, recognizing myself in his act. He’d totally nailed it. Now, with my intense need and demand out in the open, we were able to have an easy, productive conversation. He was happy to give me a mini vacation, and I felt seen and relieved.

I love Daniel’s home cooking. He also has a higher standard of household cleanliness than I do, as I learned when we moved in together five years after we first met. I’d just left a good job to go to grad school. He was working, making decent money, while I was racking up tens of thousands of dollars in student debt. It was awkward for a modern woman. We could theoretically share costs, but my half was just coming out of my loans. So, to cope, we dropped the charade and he paid for most things.

Several years later, he was burned out from an office job he hated and was taking time off to follow his bliss. Hopefully. Or at least find a career that didn’t make him want to stab his own eyes out. He gradually found work he loved as a psychotherapist, but it took time: four years for school and several more years to begin a practice and grow it

I graduated from naturopathic medical school and was trying to make a go of it in private practice. I quickly saw that being financially successful would take years, along with having entrepreneurial talent and a comfort with the unknown that I didn’t yet possess. I was also 33 and aching to start a family. I realized how passionately I wanted a home of my own, and maternity leave that wouldn’t leave me fearful about my finances.

I started to feel anxious, and resentful toward my husband. I woke up to a strong but secret expectation that my husband would provide for us. I envied other people who could go through life with a ‘Trust the Universe’ sensibility, but when my husband talked like that I could feel hot contempt rising up in my throat. “You owe me a home, a baby, and security!” I silently screamed. My thoughts shocked and horrified me. What had happened to my modern values about equality of the sexes?

It was time to do some soul searching. My husband was not providing the things I needed to feel safe and fulfilled, but he didn’t have the same needs as me. It wasn’t his path. Something changed drastically the day I woke up to the fact that if I knew what I wanted, it wasn’t anyone else’s job to make it happen.

It was up to me.

I combined my engineering background and my medical studies to find a full-time job. Now the bank would take us seriously. Mortgage pre-approval and a whirlwind house hunting expedition quickly followed. A few months later we moved into our cozy three bedroom home –- one for us and two for the babies we badly wanted. Something fundamental had shifted for me as I threw myself toward my dream. We’d been trying to conceive for many long months, and after dozens of heartbreaking pregnancy tests, we finally saw that tiny blue plus sign in the window. We’d conceived the very first month after moving into our new home.

There was magic in the air. I was happy, and my life even felt a little enchanted. But the inequity in our work life balance started to get to me. I was working my 40+ hour work week and commuting an hour or more every day. It was me bringing home the bacon and picking up the tab for a few years. I didn’t like it.

Daniel got to work from home every day, and what exactly was he doing, anyway? How much time was he spending watching TV? Facebook? He definitely wasn’t seeing clients every day those years. Was he putting enough time into creating his website, and marketing? Was he pulling his weight?! I had forceful opinions about how he should be spending his time. He was surprisingly unwelcome to my helpful suggestions.

It took a while for a new sense of balance to be restored. Daniel’s practice began to grow, and I could see the pleasure and meaning it brought him. I also began to fully appreciate all the other ways he contributes to our family life. He shops with great care for quality ingredients that he uses to prepare delicious meals. He vacuums with an athlete’s intensity. He notices when the parking sticker needs to be replaced, makes the appointment with the bank when it’s time to contribute to the kids’ education funds, and most of all, he’s a loving and committed dad to our small boys. With our first son, he took night shifts every second night, holding our baby in his arms and feeding him a bottle. School lunches, play date drop-offs, runny noses – he is in. Our 9-month-old baby squeals with delight to see him because Daddy means fun, comfort and love.

My marriage is not a fairy tale. My husband is not a knight in shining armor. He’s not even a turn of the century romantic lead. There’s a part of me that wishes he were, but the clear-eyed adult part of me sees the ordinary heroism in the way we try to be real with each other, and in how we show up for our kids.

The Power of Pee

Tonight is the third night in a row I have left the support center I volunteer at once a week, needing to pee. There is a perfectly acceptable bathroom that I have access to before I leave, but I never use it. There is always this little voice in my head, as I watch the minutes crawl to the hour when I can leave that whispers, “At least this way if anyone does attack you on your way home, you can pee on them.”

I am reminded of a drunk driving course I had to take in high school in which the woman leading it told us all not to bother asking our speeding friends to slow down, but simply to threaten that we were about to vomit because no self-respecting speed dragon would ever wish to ruin their upholstery. This was directed at all of us, regardless of gender, when she said it. I remember being shocked and then impressed by how simple a threat it would be to carry out. Of course, nobody likes vomit on their upholstery; that’s expensive and time-consuming to clean up. Equally so, vomiting is a bodily function we don’t always have control over. Nobody could blame you if you did vomit due to fear of speed, you wouldn’t necessarily evoke the label of ‘wuss’ in the same way as you might if you cried. Vomit is more serious and much more unsettling than tears.

As I leave the building that’s located in a small cul-de-sac just off a busy main road littered with takeaways, pubs and bus stops, I keep my head down as I head to my car. My hair is always down – no ponytail, no extra allure to grab onto – my hands are dug into my pockets and my phone is always speed-dialing my mother or my boyfriend, usually on speakerphone. I used to live in a dodgy neighborhood, two cities ago, where being followed was almost a rite of passage one should expect to go through, especially if one is female and in her twenties. I used to be able to escape to the local grocery store where there was a security guard on the door if it happened back there, or I could call one of my male housemates to come and meet me at the end of the street. Here I live alone and whilst there are several pubs along the road, there are plenty more dark alleyways without security roaming.

It never takes me any more than about 100 steps to get to my car. I always arrive early to scope the closest parking spot. Every night, as I take a big deep breath before I leave the building, I wonder what life would be like if I felt safe in my skin, in my gender, in the patriarchy that fills me with terror every time I leave my door. What would it be like if I didn’t hold my breath every time someone walks too closely behind me in the street, if I didn’t panic dial my partner whenever I get off the bus in the dark, or even if I could tie my hair back without thinking about it.

What could I be accomplishing if I wasn’t worrying about my bladder and whether or not I need to use it as a weapon? What on earth makes me think that if I’d peed before, I’d have been protected by urine?

It’s a topic I would never bring up to my co-workers, although I know they fear unlocked doors at work and feel uncertain of the giant, dark old building we work in. I don’t think it’s something I’d feel comfortable discussing with my friends either, not because I think it would be met with derision, but rather because I think it would be met with understanding. The fact that someone could understand me thinking of using my bladder as protection, that it might not be such an unreasonable idea to forego using the bathroom, this might make the world outside seem just too scary for me to bear.

Because if even that chance, that shock, that minute of horror could give me an opportunity to escape, to protect myself, I might never use a bathroom again.

Now is Time to Follow Scientists and Science Journalists on Twitter

Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

 

President-Elect Donald Trump has shown that he has a quite tenuous grasp on science, at best, and that his policies will be, at best, hostile towards research and innovation. Alas, Trump offered little in the way of a policy platform throughout his campaign, so we’re left playing catch-up to understand a Trump presidency’s impact on science. That said, what we do know of Trump’s take is alarming.

 

Trump believes climate change is a Chinese hoax, tweeting in November 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

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In his hallmark tradition of international affronts, Trump has also threatened to “cancel” (withdraw from) the Paris climate agreement.

 

More recently, in September of this year, Trump selected Myron Ebell, a well-known climate skeptic, to lead his EPA transition.

 

Trump believes the United States does not have funding for space research, because we have potholes to repair. He also believes in privatizing space exploration. In November 2015, Trump was at a “Politics and Eggs” event in Manchester, New Hampshire when a 10-year-old asked him about space. Trump said, “Right now, we have bigger problems—you understand that? We’ve got to fix our potholes. You know, we don’t exactly have a lot of money.” He continued, saying that privatization of space is “great” and “maybe even better” than government space exploration.

 

Trump’s space policy adviser Bob Walker recently suggested in an interview with The Guardian that he intends to cut budgets for NASA’s “Earth-centric science.” NASA’s Earth Science Division, which will receive an estimated $2 billion (out of a total $19 billion) in funding for the fiscal year 2017, is dedicated to researching things like hazards, weather forecasting, and climate change. An article on Vox details the complexities of such a budget slash.

 

While Trump has thus far publicly made climate change and space the primary targets of his ineptitude, he has revealed a gross (and now empowered) lack of understanding in a wide-ranging set of areas, including the internet, mental health, and water.

 

Now for the reason I’m writing this article. This month, the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s official account tweeted a Breitbart climate-change-denying article.

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As in the past, but perhaps now more than ever, it is up to scientists and science journalists to combat the barrage of scientific misinformation—and up to us to stay woke. So, if you haven’t already, now is the time to follow these people* on Twitter.

 

* This list includes primarily environmental and space scientists and reporters.

 

 

  • @AstroKatie: Katie Mack is a theoretical astrophysicist at Melbourne University and a passionate science communicator. Mack’s work focuses on finding new ways to learn about the early universe and fundamental physics via astronomical observation.

 

  • @PlanetDr: Sarah Hörst is an assistant professor of planetary science at Johns Hopkins University. Her work focuses on the formation and composition of planetary atmospheric hazes.

 

  • @edyong209: Ed Yong is a science writer at The Atlantic. Yong recently authored I Contain Multitudes, a New York Times best-selling book examining the microbiome. Yong is also the author of the National Geographic blog, Not Exactly Rocket Science.

 

  • @mdichristina: Mariette DiChristina is the editor-in-chief and senior vice president of Scientific American. Her work can be found here.

 

  • @Rocket_Woman1: Vinita Marwaha Madill is a space operations engineer at the European Space Agency, as well as an advocate for women in STEM. At the ESA, she works on future human spaceflight projects. She is also the founder of Rocket Women.

 

  • @scicurious: Bethany Brookshire is a staff education writer at Science News for Students. Her work can be found here.

 

  • @mcnees: Robert McNees is an associate professor of physics at Loyola University Chicago. His research focuses on general relativity, cosmology, string theory, and quantum field theory.

 

 

  • @am_anatiala: Asia Murphy is a PhD student in ecology at Penn State. She runs the website Anati’ala, which is Malagasy for “inside the forest,” where she communicates science and conservation information for lay audiences.

 

  • @elakdawalla: Emily Lakdawalla is the senior editor at The Planetary Society, and an advocate of exploration of all the worlds of our solar system. She uses the Planetary Society blog to write space news, explain planetary science, and share beautiful photos.

 

  • @TucsonPeck: Jonathan Overpeck is a professor of geosciences and director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona. Overpeck is interested in interactions among climate, ice sheets, and sea level, as well as in interactions between climate and ecosystems. He also collaborates in environmental law. Full disclosure: I am employed by the University of Arizona.

 

 

  • @cragcrest: Christie Aschwanden is the lead writer for science at FiveThirtyEight and a health columnist for The Washington Post. She blogs about science at The Last Word on Nothing.

 

  • @aaronecarroll: Aaron Carroll is a health services researcher, and contributor to The New York Times. Carroll is editor-in-chief of The Incidental Economist, a health services research blog.

 

  • @GrrlScientist: “GrrlScientist” is the pseudonym of the evolutionary ecologist and ornithologist who writes about science for Forbes. Her work can be found here.

 

  • @chriscmooney: Chris Mooney is an energy and environment writer at The Washington Post. His work can be found here.

 

  • @LeeBillings: Lee Billings is a science journalist covering space and physics for Scientific American. His book, Five Billion Years of Solitude, chronicles the scientific quest to discover other Earth-like planets elsewhere in the universe. His work can be found here.

 

  • @laurahelmuth: Laura Helmuth is the health, science, and environment editor at The Washington Post.

 

  • @borenbears: Seth Borenstein is a science writer for the Associated Press, covering climate, astronomy, and more. His work can be found here.

 

  • @ivanoransky: Ivan Oransky is the vice president and global editorial director of MedPage Today. Oranksy is also a columnist for STAT, and the co-founder of Retraction Watch, a website dedicated to tracking scientific retractions. Oransky teaches medical journalism at New York University’s Carter Journalism Institute, as a distinguished writer in residence.

 

  • @celiadugger: Celia Dugger is the science editor at The New York Times. Her work, focused on global health and development, can be found here.