Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Unintended Table Turnings

Blog, Feb. 19, 2013

Are we actually free or we are driven at times to fall unintentionally into muddy potholes then change clothing before proceeding on the journey in new attire, as a new person?
     I yearn to get far away from concerns of food preparation, bills, focusing on how other members of the household meet their needs or carry on with their own work under at times dire circumstances.  I also need new attire, not just because I am in the process of reaching hard ground after having lingered in a swamp, but because I also need shoes!
    My problem started when I first rented the second floor bedroom where I still live, a sense of uncertainty pervaded me at the time....  I was going to have a real daytime job and be self-supporting. This had not been the case previously, since I had been a housewife for the previous twenty-two years making little money while creating art in two basements. A divorce altered the course of my life. Also, an apparently inconsequential event occurred in the summer of 1983.  I was enrolled in graduate school at the University Hospital in Philadelphia. A paper was due for the summer school course I was attending at the Medical school downtown. One evening, after my return from school I asked my landlord, who was an excellent writer, to correct the typos in the final paper for the course. It was about 5 PM. Before I went to bed I asked him to return the corrected paper, which was about 6 pages long. He had not finished correcting it. I stayed up longer and asked him again about it because it was due the next day. He was not yet finished. I left for school without it. When I handed it in the following day to my thesis advisor who also happened to be the Department Head, everything appeared to be all right. I was somewhat concerned because my research had expended beyond the requirements of the course, but the more the better!
    The first half of the summer semester ended and I received a letter from the head of the department asking we to withdraw from the Master’s program because I had several incompletes and was failing. As a child and adolescent I had been raised on footage of low self esteem: not pretty, absent minded, sloppy, messy, dirty, etc. and having failed to finish the paper in time was an added reminder of my incompetence. Therefore I simply accepted the verdict and did not question it when I went to the last meeting with my advisor, who had that summer become the new department head. I deserved it. I recall vividly what he asked me at the time: “How do you perceive yourself? “  Somehow a picture appeared of a fully opened sunflower living in a dark basement. I described it to him. I was an underdog who managed to survive anywhere. Thereafter our conversation was brief and I agreed to leave the program.
Something haunted me about leaving a half started session with a transgendered patient whose trust I had finally acquired, and who was starting to have some self-esteem.  Yes, my procedures were somewhat unorthodox, but the psychiatrist in charge of the 12th floor of Hahnemann University Hospital approved of them. Besides, I didn’t really think that I was failing!  On the other hand, I would no longer be able to get a job as an art psychotherapist because it appeared that I would not get my M.A.
    In a quandary I called a very good and old friend of mine, Eve, and related her my mishaps. Her reaction marked a change in how I would react to unfair insults for the rest of my life. Her voice was clear but firm, her support of me was unconditional. Her words were those of a commander giving battle instructions to a reluctant soldier. “You can’t take this lying down! You are telling me that you don’t believe you are failing. This man wants to get rid of you because of the subject matter of your paper, which appears to go against the belief system of the department guidelines. You need to absolutely go to the registrar, and check your grades and find why you are failing!”
     She obviously threw more nuggets of wisdom and common sense at me that day over the telephone. But the next day I did go to the registrar. No, I was not failing. All my previous incompletes had gone, except for the last paper, which supposedly was sent in late and for which there was not yet a grade. As a matter of fact, spelled out in black ink on my report, I had several A’s. The registrar suggested I speak with the Dean of the Medical School and ask him for re-enlisting. I was upstairs in five minutes. The dean looked at my records and said that he did not see any problem, why should there be one? Would I want to continue with my studies? All was clear. There was no problem.
   My head reeled with surprise and anger and also for gratitude. “No”, I said, I shall not continue because I would feel most uncomfortable. “The man asked me to think it over.  As I left the tall building and walked outside, a strange sense of relief overcame me. Did I really want to spend the rest of my life counseling schizophrenics and paranoids on the twelfth floor of Hahnemann Hospital where male aids related stories to one another about  how they raped and fondled drugged or unconscious  female patients in restraints?
     On the other hand, what was I going to do now?  (See next installment.)