Several years ago, I was a college student going through a difficult phase in my life. I decided to seek out professional counseling, and made an appointment with a psychologist who worked on campus at the university.
During my first session I explained that I was in a new relationship with a man who, on paper, was perfect for me, but I was feeling insecure, and felt out of place in his circle of friends. They were all attractive, popular, successful, and came from, what seemed to me, great families. My life, on the other hand, felt far from ideal. I didn't have many friends and I wasn't that close to my family. I had been working as a caregiver for the elderly for six years and the stress of it had taken its toll. I had also been heart-broken a few times. I was sensitive, and became defensive easily. In short, I had emotional issues.
I have long been on a self-improvement mission, even from an early age. When I was 10 years old I made a tape recording for my future self. In the recording I read aloud the ill effects of drug abuse from the encyclopedia, so if my future self wandered off track, there my little girl self would be, speaking from the tape player with her determination to do right and good, to make her dreams come true. Some have called me a diligent seeker, as I am always looking for spiritual insight, with the hopes of having a breakthrough, an epiphany, a moment where I transcend into a woman who truly believes in herself.
I went on to describe all my shortcomings as she took notes. She had me provide a thorough account of my background. "What was your relationship like with your parents when you were growing up?" she asked. "What was your relationship like with your father?" I probably mentioned to her that my grandpa and dad had gentle hearts that were surrounded in black iron fencing. They were sensitive, but my theory was that they had decided it wasn't that great to be kind, vulnerable men; it was safer to be a bit harsh and guarded instead. As a girl my mission was to warm my way into their hearts "¦ somehow. I tried, by dedicating touching poetry to them, or spending many hours in the garage being daddy's little helper.
I'm sure this caught my counselor's attention. She could have continued to psychoanalyze my past and family dynamics, concluding they were the root of my issues. But she didn't, she said something much different and surprising. After one of my long awkward monologues, she said, "You know, it sounds like you just aren't accepting yourself."
It was a breakthrough moment. I had been on a mission to find inner peace, one I was willing to climb mountains and wrestle demons for, and yet she was telling me all I needed to do to find peace was to accept myself? She instructed me to shut my eyes and visualize something that I regarded as peaceful. It was springtime and I had taken notice of all the beautiful purple irises in bloom. In my mind's eye there appeared a purple iris. She led me to describe my image to her. "It's content, and elegant." I told her. "It isn't striving to be anything, or to do anything." It was laughable to imagine a flower that compared itself to others, or didn't feel it belonged, or was upset because it thought it was flawed in some way. It was happy to be what it was, a part of nature, with no agenda, just a beautiful life form, complete and wonderful — just as it was. As I finished describing the qualities of the iris she said, "It sounds to me like that iris is really accepting of itself." Yes, it was, and in that moment I could feel what that felt like. I knew that I too could be a beautiful life form, complete and content with who I was.
Diane works as a caregiver in Ashland.
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