Growing & Learning (a lot)

I started graduate school at the University of Colorado Denver (UCD) about 6 months ago. It is just the beginning of what will be a long (but significant) journey; my schooling (inclusive of practicum and internship) will last over three years, then, for two years I will work under supervision before I can become officially licensed as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).

I joined UCD’s Counseling Program specifically because of the program’s multicultural focus, fusing psychological approaches with specific cultural contexts for people of all backgrounds.

Originally, a few years ago, I had thought I had wanted to be a social worker.

Post-Peace Corps, I applied to the University of Denver, got in (twice) and subsequently decided that I didn’t want to fork over that much money simply to be qualified to help people.

There was more too – I realized that while social work is an incredible profession – creating ways for individuals to access important resources – I wanted to help individuals, groups, and communities in a more relationally focused way. I started researching and exploring and found that counseling was a great fit for my interests and skillsets.

Social workers work within systems, usually matching services for the needs of a client.

Counseling, however, provides treatment (often in the realm of mental health) for clients in a setting that prioritizes a professional relationship so that a person can slowly heal, grow, and become fully empowered in their life. I like to think of this more positively; instead of focusing on a person’s shortfalls, a lot of constructive change can occur when a person knows (and uses) the assets and strengths they hold. Leveraging these, I’m learning, is a powerful way to pursue health and wellness.

Upon starting my program, I was ready to learn about the ins and outs of counseling, therapy modalities, and techniques to use when working in therapeutic settings. I had a vision for the kind of therapist/counselor I wanted to be – one that worked with individuals from different trauma backgrounds (like refugees), cultures, and age groups.

As with any formidable learning opportunity, already a lot has changed.

My coursework has challenged me; I have had to confront my own bias’s, beliefs, opinions, assumptions, and understandings about people. In just a handful classes, I have also re-explored some of my own past to understand better why I do what I do. In doing so, I can see where some of my perspectives have come from, and while I can hold onto these, I must also see where my blind-spots exist, too.

You see, what I forgot to consider in starting my path as a counselor-trainee was that I would need to continue to do “work” with myself. After all, without self-awareness and knowledge of self, how can I possibly begin to help the clients I work with in the future? As a result, It feels like the door has opened and that this journey has brought far more emotional healing than I could have otherwise found. That has been a pleasant surprise.

I have also felt overwhelmed at my interest areas, not unlike a child in a store filled with candy:

Do I want to focus on trauma? How can I use narrative therapy? What if I want to work with older adults? Can I specialize in working with LGBTQ+ populations? Do I want to work in an agency or focus on private practice?

 The questions have felt endless, but I do believe this is ultimately a really necessary step within a much larger process. I am beginning to filter through where and how I will work. I mean – how cool is that?

In the meantime, I am learning to be kinder to myself, to let myself dream, to imagine what my profession will be like as I learn, and to enter it all with fearlessness, grace, and patience. It isn’t easy – but it is necessary.

Here’s to growing, learning, and doing it all with some humor, sass, and fun.

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The Next Big Thing

I knew at a young age that my bones, brain, and heart had been crafted in such a way that I was meant to help people. When my grandmother cooked chili and grilled cheese for dinner, I wanted to set the table. When my teacher had a stack of papers to grade, I wanted to make sure she had a full set of pens. When my teammate was hurt, I was first to make sure she had the proper medical equipment or medicines. More than just action, I knew and believed in the power of asking questions and helping people through conversation and dialogue.

It was here where I felt most energized.

This deeply earnest part of me was like a seed that grew (and grew) as I got older. Helping in many ways, became a way that I felt most apt in communicating love.

And yet, growing up becomes more complicated. As I ventured into my teens, and young adulthood, I had to learn the necessary (but at times painful) process of also accepting, receiving, and engaging with help. I had to learn to ask for it, and I had to learn that it was healthy to acquiesce to it. Being helpful certainly doesn’t make you invincible. When I was stranded, someone always showed up. When I needed extra money, a check always came my way. When I was sick, someone always filled in as my caretaker. When I was heartbroken, someone was there to rub my back.

At 29, I recognize fully that there is no way anyone can do this – life – alone.

We need each other.

By knowing the power of relying on one another, I have been able to find a great deal of healing from pain in my past. Healing, I know now, requires us often to go back to places of suffering. Instead of pushing against my own feelings, reflections, or experiences, I have chosen them. I have acknowledged them. I have reconciled with them.

This has been grueling, and it has not come quick or fast. Yet, through this process, I know that I can now fully, authentically, genuinely help others. This realization has been life-changing for me – now, I know that I’m ready to take the next step in my professional life because of the work I have done in my personal life.

Often, the notion of my career has included education and advocacy for people who need it the most. Now, knowing what I know, and believing what I do, I am pursuing to be a Licensed Professional Counselor through the School of Education & Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver. Because I do love helping, and because I love people, I would like to apply my life experiences into a professional path that creates access to healing for anyone – and everyone. For the next 3 years, I will be training with other Counseling candidates to become certified and work on behalf of those needing mental health services.

The University of Colorado Denver is unique in how they structure the Counseling program; with multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusion at its core, all of the methodologies, theories, and therapies that I will be learning will hold tightly to these values. I will learn how to be not only a counselor, but a counselor that has to consider privilege, difference, and oppression as we work for social justice. Our world needs this.

I want to be a counselor because I want to help people understand their lives better, to know themselves, and most importantly, to know they matter and that healing is possible. I want to be a counselor because I believe that this service is too often inaccessible for many people in our society. I want to equip individuals with the mental help and wellness they may need. Whether it’s refugees, the elderly, or LGBTQ+ people, I want to be a part of a movement that brings mental health services to ALL.

I want to create a safe space – even if it is the smallest of spaces.

Becoming a counselor has been a dream of mine for many years. And yet, it has never been the right time. Other things were in the way, I had too much to work through, or I was abroad. They say timing is everything – and they’re right. Now, it is the right time, and I am beginning a path that will not only fulfill a professional desire, but a personal one, too.

I will help people, and in turn, I recognize they will help me too.

Here’s to the next big thing, with lots of dreams, love, work, hope, and papers. Always papers. This new journey begins on January 17th, and likely will take 3 – 3 ½ years to complete.

I’m in it for the long haul and truly, I can’t wait to get started.

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New Things I’ve Learned This Year (2017)

2017 has been a huge year. There have been momentous times of joy, and also, seasons of deep hurt. Adulthood is showing me this – that we carry these tensions together, often, and that holding both hope and pain at once is completely, one-hundred-percent okay. There have been travels, adventure, and also, writing, decision-making, and new seasons. This year, I’ve learned some important things, and I feel motivated to share. The truth is, we’re all always learning – can you see it? Can you notice it? Do you allow it to change you? It’s in these places that we grow and we can become consistently, fully ourselves. Cheers.

IDINA MENZEL IS THE REAL DEAL. 

Like everyone in the universe, I was a fan of Frozen when the Disney classic was first released. What I did not understand – fully – from enjoying the film was just how much talent Idina Menzel holds.

Luckily, in perusing options for celebrating Chelsea’s birthday, I stumbled across tickets for a summer Idina show. Chelsea once had mentioned that Idina was her “girl crush” and so attending her concert would be the perfect kind of gift. I purchased the tickets and she was delighted. We attended the concert and oh my good gracious – I was absolutely blown away. The cadence of her voice, the intensity of her stage present – it all rocked me. Finally, fully, I could appreciate the gift of Idina. It was easily one of the best concerts that I have ever attended.

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Idina at Fiddler’s Green in August.

NOBODY GRIEVES THE SAME WAY.

Tragically, during the month of August, Chelsea lost both of her grandparents, lovingly called “Omi” and “Poppi.” Simultaneously sifting through photographs from childhood and hearing stories of their life together, I knew this was a major loss for my beloved. As a partner, standing in the grief, I was initially overwhelmed. Ultimately, there was nothing I could do to change what had happened.

More than that, Chelsea was handling her sadness different than I would. She was handling it head on, where for me, I often put my grief or sadness in a box and deal with it later. Bravely, Chelsea chose another way. At first, it was hard for me to adjust to. But, eventually, I came to learn and respect the value of difference and how we each have to take steps in our journey that aren’t the same as others around us. It’s part of being human, and I am grateful that she could teach me this in a genuine and authentic way.

REST, FOR ME, MEANS SPONTANEITY. 

Towards the end of this year, I felt frazzled, overwhelmed, and really, just all over the place. Work was bleeding into my personal life and I felt like everything was meshing together. I was trying to take time to be quiet, to be still, but I wasn’t necessarily re-entering life fully refreshed. And then! One evening, Chelsea and I were discussing the way in which we wanted to live our lives, yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily. A common theme emerged: spontaneous fun. Yes, fun, but fun that wasn’t coordinated or planned or etched into the calendar. Literally, fun for the hell of it.

We have started to do this – whether it means grabbing our favorite sandwich instead of doing laundry, or seeing a movie last minute instead of watching our normal Netflix show – we are learning the value of going against a hard, rigid schedule sometimes. It is reenergizing, surprising, and honestly, so fun.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL (AHEM, THE SOONERS) ARE BETTER THAN THE NFL. 

One of the things that I have always known about Chelsea? She is from Oklahoma.

Because of that, inheriting Sooner fandom was a part of the package deal. Her family loves the fandom of Boomer Sooner and so this year, I had the opportunity to attend my very first college football game in Norman, Oklahoma. Together with Chelsea and her father, we went on a Sunday afternoon to arguably, the country’s epicenter for football. I could barely contain myself with everything – the colors, the size of the stadium, and the adrenaline. Sure, the NFL is fun to watch, but what is better than watching a sporting game with new, enthusiastic family? It’s pretty hard to beat.

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Oklahoma vs. Tulane in September. The Sooners won big, with a score of 56-14.

LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIPS ARE REALLY (REALLY) HARD. 

Beginning in early January until early March, I was in Rwanda for work with The Women’s Bakery. That meant that at an important time in my relationship, Chelsea and I would be growing together from a distance – a really long distance. When I flew out of Denver, to Detroit, and on to Kigali, I was nervous. I had never done this before, not like this, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I learned is that loving another human from far away is difficult. I grasped that sharing the little pieces of life becomes much more challenging over a screen. We persevered, of course, and what happened upon coming home was that I was surer than ever that this was the woman I loved and the woman I wanted to be with.

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Rwanda in February.

GOOD READERS NEED GOODREADS.

Several friends introduced me to Goodreads back in the day, but truthfully, I didn’t really understand how it worked. I gave it another go this year and it was exactly what I needed to help me read a book at least every 2 weeks. Goodreads is great, and certainly a must-have application for the phone, especially when tracking reading progress throughout the year.

MY BEST FRIENDS ARE STILL MY BEST FRIENDS.

For the first time in my life, I traveled to the state of Massachusetts and Rhode Island this year! With Ali, Michelle, Rachel, and Jordana – my best friends from college – we gathered together, again, to catch up on life and spend time together. We sipped coffee in the morning and wine at night. We went on walks. We told each other stories. I understood from these precious moments that these girls, now women, will always, always, have a special place in my heart. They will always be my best friends – and that makes me immensely joyful.

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Together again this past May! The Hey Girl Heys hit Rhode Island and it was everything.

HOME ISN’T NECESSARILY A PLACE.

I struggled in my early twenties to find “home.” Sure, there was home home back in Colorado, but I was confused with how much I had grown to also love Arkansas. And then, there was Rwanda. For many years, this was my home, a place that I felt most like myself. Yet, as I readjusted in my mid-twenties back to life in the United States, I was confused about where I belonged. Sure, Denver has always (and always will be) my first home. But this year, I learned that home is more about the people than the place itself. I fell in love hard this year. I began to love a woman that saw me differently than anyone ever had. Time with her, and being known by her, this was home. I was a bit surprised by this; I did not know love could be like that.

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Exploring Red Rocks over the summer with visiting family.

PURSUING DREAMS CAN SOMETIMES BE A CHOICE.

For many years, I have wanted to go back to school. Social Work. Education. Counseling. I have thrown many ideas around, hoping that I could land at one that would be the one – as if a diploma could complete or validate me at all (it can’t). In moments of peace, clarity, and quiet, along the shores of Kivu in Rwanda, I re-discovered a deep knowing. More than anything, I want to help people. And, more than that, I want to be a person that can hear the stories of others and help them. I want to be a counselor. I want to be a counselor because all of us deserve to be heard, and all of us deserve to find healing. In July, I applied to the Graduate Counseling Program at the University of Colorado Denver (specializing in Clinical Mental Health (Multicultural Track)). In October, I interviewed for a competitive spot. In November, I got in. I start classes next month and I could not be more ecstatic. 

PUFFY CHEETOS ARE CRAZY DELICIOUS.

I might be the vegetarian, and thus, have introduced Chelsea to all sorts of ways to prepare vegetables (deliciously), however, she has introduced me to White Cheddar Puffy Cheetos and my life will not be the same. You MUST eat these wonderfully addictive snacks. You won’t be sorry.

PROPOSING IS MORE THAN A QUESTION.

In October, I asked Chelsea to be my wife. Admittedly, I scoured the internet for ideas or stories of how other people have gone about proposing to their significant other. Eventually, though, I had to step back from the noise of others and reflect honestly and authentically. What did this experience mean for me? What did it mean for Chelsea? As I planned, I prepared my heart for this huge step. More than just a question, “will you marry me?” is a commitment, a statement of love, and to me, a promise. More than ever, I know that she is the woman I want to share life with. That deep knowing – that is what proposing is all about. 

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November: Celebrating our engagement in San Francisco, California.

ACCEPTING YOURSELF WON’T HAPPEN JUST BECAUSE OTHER PEOPLE ACCEPT YOU.

One of my areas of weakness is that I sometimes do things for the sake of making other people happy. A less nice way to say this is being a “people pleaser.” While looking to others’ happiness can be a nice gesture, it is otherwise unhealthy when it becomes a centering objective in what you do. That’s what made “coming out” so hard – I knew that I would upset people. Eventually, I had to recognize that my happiness, in this case, had to come first. However, I still have a lot of work to do on this. This year, now with Chelsea and fully out, I discovered that even so, I still carry a lot of shame with me. Earning acceptance from others, I have supposed, would allow myself to come around fully to who I am. Honestly, this has failed. I cannot wait for the approval of others so that I have the approval of myself. That must – it must – come first.

WALKING IS THE SPORT OF THE SEASON.

There have been seasons of my life where running – the harsh breathing and flowing movement – has been my main way of de-stressing. Those days, at least for now, are over. Instead, this year, I’ve learned to love the joys of walking. One foot in front of another, looking up and around, I have found a lot of peace in taking morning and evening walks to re-center myself. The pace is slower than running, but for now, that’s what I need. I need to notice. I need to look. I need to take the world in. And still, I must move. That’s why walking has become so important for me.

 

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Walking & exploring the topography in New Mexico, just outside Sante Fe in September.

MIRACLES HAPPEN. 

I have always believed in miracles. However, sometimes the hardness of life stiffens my usually open spirituality and miss the many small miracles happening around us. This year, I witnessed a big one – my brother graduating college. This act, this celebration, propelled me forward to remember, always holding to the truth, that miracles are around us, and they are happening all the time. They don’t have to be dramatic or completely unheard of – they can be small, daily things that prove that we are stronger than we know and that we can do things that we thought to be impossible. I still believe in them, and I hope, really, really hope, that I always will.

It’s been a good year and I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings.