I’ve written about what I have done with my life, but that is not what I set out to do. I never thought I would become a psychologist or work with an NGO. This all came from the cloth that was cut for me.
At school I did very well in English, French, and German. Despite having had German as my first language, because I was teased at school, both my sister and I did not want to speak German at home. I wish my mother had continued to speak German to us, even if we had replied in English. (I used to speak to my daughter in German when she was tiny and sing to her German lullabies and nursery rhymes.)
I loved learning and using languages. I was ‘top’ of the class in French and occasionally knocked to number two by the friend I sat with. We would pass notes in French between us. This often led to her collapsing in giggles, while I, having a dry sense of humour, would perhaps smile. It caused some quick thinking to give a reason for her giggles but sometimes she was able to turn it into coughing.
My rival at German, was a boy who also had a German mother, and his parents were loosely acquainted with mine. He was a little big headed but although he would never admit it, he was somewhat protective of me as I was the subject of much teasing and ridicule after my brain surgeries, because of my appearance.
So I was very shocked when my mother refused to let me stay to do Sixth Form ‘A’ level English French and German. My sister had done Sixth Form at college where she did a pre-nursing course and went on to fulfil hr dream of becoming nurse.
I had dreamt of going on to do a degree in modern languages and become a translator, maybe with the Foreign Office or a holiday rep overseas, or possibly teach ‘A’ level languages.
My mother told me I had to get a ‘profession’, a paid job, as she was not going to support me through two more years of school. I was devastated. A profession would need sixth form at least. So I found a job at the Head Office of an international branch of a well known bank, and put myself through college one day a week. It was Business Studies, but got me an HND, even if it was a long way from my ambition.
Day-release at college is no easy ride. You do the same amount of work as a full time course. Many in my class did not return for the second year. It was hard work. I remember once I fell asleep at my desk, and woke to find my face on my work book, the lecturer saying my name and apart from that dead silence. The lecturer was not compassionate, but making jokes about me. I didn’t care, though I was embarrassed. If I had to burn the candle at both ends, I was determined to get the qualification.
One of the guys with whom I worked, would sometimes let me crib his homework when I’d struggled with maths. I have a phobia around maths, as I was once good at it, and after missing two and a half years of school while I was very very ill, had brain surgeries, and some recovery, I was put back in the top set. Of course, I struggled and failed and was utterly humiliated. To this day I can’t do anything except the most basic maths in front of another person without anxiety, stress and mistakes.
After I had worked at the bank for four years, I decided to go and work with an NGO that a housemate had gone to. This would be my work for three years, visiting five countries and seeing unnecessary poetry, disease and death. I was also involved with pastoral care for those around me, and felt a degree of frustration in my ability to give the right support. Then I heard about an opportunity in southern California, where I could attend lectures at USC and after certain amount of time and enough credits, would be able to work with a certified recovery programme. This was in Alta Loma, where by weird coincidence one of my great poet contacts lives, Frank Mundo. He believes in me as a writer and poet, and he rocks.
So that is how I came to be a psychologist. I discovered I had enough credits to have gone half way though a Masters when the accredited link with the place I was working at folded, but by looking for a tutor I was able to write my Doctorate.
During this time I was a counsellor, and an assistant house-parent. I loved it when I was de-facto houseparent especially, as I could feel the love of the people I was responsible for. They would change the oil in my car for me, they would like it if I was on meal prep with them. And some of them would always come to sit where I was, whether in the house or outside. When I was assistant or deputy, I would take a group to have frozen yoghurt, or to the video/DVD rental shop. I would organise car washes to raise money for someone who had a particular need, or to buy sports equipment for the house. I was always on the lookout for fun recreational activity that would not be to competitive individually. When you are responsible for people recovering from addiction, PTSD, people with various mental illness diagnoses, there is need to stay with team sports. I was very dismayed when I played baseball for the first time, having loved rounders, that the diamond was gritted, not grass, and my sneakers were not suitable and I slipped.
There are people who still stay with me. A man who was silent and had frozen his fingers off because of his shame of masturbating. A recovering alcoholic who asked me to go with him to an AA meeting and I said he should go alone. A woman who walked into the kitchen, announced she had taken 40 tablets and was going to to lie down. I told her no, put salt in a glass, added water, made her drink it, and go 2 of the most reliable residents to walk her around the garden while I phoned the Sheriff. Another woman would eat a pack of 12 bagels in the night and then be in agony because she did not purge. We had to have a lock put on the food store and make sure the fridges did not contain anything she could binge on. Locking them was not a good option as the climate is so hot and dry and cold drinks needed to be available.
I have a memory of coming to the house and finding the original houseparent talking to a bathroom door, saying ‘if you want to commit suicide, go somewhere else’. I emptied the drawers of kitchen knives, and hid them in our hiding place.
There were occasions when I had to wing it. Two kids set a fire in the garden. I thought I heard rain, but it was 10 ft flames. I had to call the fire service and organise the most mentally able to soak the lawn between the house and fire with a hose in the hope of containing the fire until the truck arrived.
I had a tiny office which was really a walk in closet. When things got on top of me I would go and sit on the floor with the door shut. I would breathe deep and slow, and pray. I would pray for inner peace, pray for each of those in my care, I would pray for wisdom, I would ask the Holy Spirit to come into the house.