Part I – What’s wrong with me?
I was living the life I’d imagined – practically to a tee. I had a beautiful old house that I’d restored and decorated. I had a private psychotherapy practice with clients I loved, and a comfortable office with soulful, caring colleagues. I had great friends and lived in the beautiful state of Colorado. I was healthy and active.
So what was wrong? What was this vague yearning, this fleeting irritation, this dissatisfaction I felt?
“What’s wrong with me?” I thought. “Am I just one of those horrible people who are never satisfied, no matter what they achieve? Why can’t I just sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor?”
It wasn’t until I resolved to pay attention to my yearning, irritation, and dissatisfaction that the answers started to come. Carl Jung, the brilliant psychologist, had taught me that what I refused to look at – that which I relegated to what he called “the shadow” – would haunt me from the unconscious until I gathered the courage to take a peek.
But I didn’t want to look at it, not even a peek. I had worked so hard to get to where I was. I didn’t want to disrupt my peaceful existence. The irony was that as I started to pay attention to the rumblings, I saw that my life really wasn’t all that peaceful.
I had lived in Denver, Colorado for 30 years, my entire adult life. Thirty years ago Denver was a small “cow town” and there was no such thing as rush-hour traffic. It was a friendly place, and the nights were quiet and peaceful. There was a lot of undeveloped land, even close to downtown, so it felt open and spacious.
Of course I had noticed my beloved cow town morphing into someone else’s vision of what it “should” be. The development of every lick of vacant land, moving the local airport 35 miles away, the “scraping” of small homes in my neighborhood so that huge mansions could be built, the influx of people, the increased traffic. I thought if I just stayed in my neighborhood and worked close by, then maybe I could ignore all the signs of growth and change.
But as I looked at the shadow, I admitted to myself that my neighborhood was no longer quiet, my 10-minute “commute” now took 20 to 25 minutes, and the traffic, noise, and constant building projects in both my home and office neighborhoods was truly rattling my nerves. I was not happy with what had become of my home.
Looking deeper, I had to admit that my work had taken a toll as well. I’d worked with people dying of AIDS, sexual abuse survivors, people with serious mental illnesses, and people in hospital emergency rooms (ER) who were suicidal, homicidal, or psychotic. I’d also been verbally attacked by people high on meth or PCP and dealt with criminals who avoided incarceration by feigning suicidality. My colleagues had been attacked in the ER, and it was only by the grace of God that I hadn’t been hurt yet. My team was there when the Aurora movie theatre shooting happened and we dealt with distraught patients and families for weeks. In all of this, no services were provided by our employers for the secondary trauma we experienced as a result of ER work.
If I were honest with myself, I was burned out. If I were honest with myself, I was exhausted. And once I was honest with myself, I remembered that, once upon a time, I’d had a different vision for my life, one that I’d buried along with everything else I’d pushed into the shadow.
To continue to Part 2, click here.