Archives for July, 2011
Recently, I saw the film "Bill Cunningham New York." Twice. Never in my dreams (or my nightmares for that matter) did I ever expect to meet a mentor from deep inside the maw of the fashion industry. Yet from his first days as a humble young milliner to his current post as the New York Times' celebrated street fashion photographer, 82 year-old Bill Cunningham has never lost his childish enthusiasm for fashion-as-art, fashion-as-self-expression, fashion-as- (in his own paraphrased words) a panacea against the pain of life itself.
Oh boy. Here we go, right? "The role of death in mentoring"? Will anyone even read this? Will they have nightmares? I hope not. In a previous post I shared that, for the last couple of months, I have been training to become a hospice volunteer. One of our assignments was to read a book called "Final Gifts." This book, written by hospice nurses Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley, chronicles story after story of the final months, weeks, days, and breaths of some of the many patients they have cared for over their careers. You will need kleenex, and that may be off-putting to some. But you also need this book. We all do.
I have learned lately that life itself rarely gets easier. But our ease with life's hard times can. When I was younger I had a fascination with comparative religion. I was just sure that the cure for it all (whatever "it" happened to be that day) would be found in a power higher and wiser than myself. Later I had a crisis of faith and opted to go for a time without any and see how it felt. I was intrigued to notice that neither extreme felt particularly better nor worse than the other. In fact, further analysis revealed that I felt equally dependent, powerless, and incompetent from either side.
Today I was pondering yet again the intense gratitude I feel towards my own mentor, Lynn. Without Lynn......well, I've never really relished thinking about that. When I first met Lynn, she was not my mentor but my boss. That was not the easiest job in the world....I've always been a free spirit, and have never exhibited a strong fondness for square-shaped spaces called "offices." I was out of mine a lot. Some few months after Lynn arrived to take the helm at the marketing company I worked for, she and I had a conversation, and from that point on she became my mentor. We discovered that we shared a love of service, that we were both in recovery, and that we enjoyed talking about life and growth and the deep questions of the universe. That is not to imply that there was a single area where we particularly stood on equal footing - except in the fact that we both knew what it felt like to struggle, and we both had a strong desire towards self-directed self-improvement. However, in every other way, Lynn was several steps (yards? miles?) ahead of me, and even as we took on service projects together outside of work hours, and often spent lunches and other spare moments chatting about my questions and her insights, she was firmly in the role of confident mentor as well as boss.
Earlier this week I blogged about Dr. Marsha Linehan's stunning (yet somehow not surprising) admission that she has had personal experience with the disease her professional reputation has been built around treating. Today, as I continue to contemplate her remarkable disclosure, I am pondering the pivotal moment when she had the what some might term spiritual or religious experience that connected her for the first time ever to a personal sense of self. To hear Dr. Linehan tell it, the moment in which she was first able to address herself in the first person as "I" and "myself" was also the moment in which her first real progress towards recovering from the symptoms of her borderline personality disorder and resulting suicidality was made. All of which is to say that self-acknowledgment is powerful. It is hard to ignore what we have admitted exists.
Just last month a historic event occurred - at least for those of us who work in the mental health field. This event was on the level of Dr. Kay Redfield Jameson's epic confession that her years of leadership in promoting knowledge and treatment for bipolar illness had all along been fueled by her own near-lifelong battle with the disease. In Dr. Jameson's case, it happened through her memoir, An Unquiet Mind, a book that has since become required reading for families and clinicians working to better the lives of patients who have been diagnosed with bipolar illness. But last month, it happened in a talk, to a small select group of physicians and loved ones at a Hartford, CT, clinic called the Institute of Living. The speaker was Dr. Marsha Linehan, the world's leading researcher and clinician in the arena of treating patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD), and the founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), the to-date most useful clinical protocol for treating BPD. In this talk, Dr. Linehan admitted to the world what her own patients had long inquired about - "do you share our diagnosis?" Dr. Linehan's firm answer was "YES."
I have never been a "Biggest Loser" fan. Given my line of work, I suppose that's not much of a shocker. Nor am I going to spend our precious time together debating the relative merits of the potentially positive versus negative benefits of either participating in or watching one of the many so-called "reality" television programs that are so readily available to us today. But recently I found myself reading with great curiosity in the aforementioned gifted magazine about Jillian Michaels' own self-assessment in her post-Biggest Loser days. While I was over at my friend's house (she is a personal trainer) the magazine picture of Jillian Michaels caught my eye, and I headed into it, full of prejudices and judgments about what it must be like inside the mind of someone who spends their on-air time screaming at people to drop the pounds. I must say, I was surprised by her words.
Recently a friend gave me a copy of one of her old magazines. It is not a magazine I usually read. Well, if I'm being honest, I usually don't read magazines, so that is nothing new. But there was one article in the magazine that I liked, and so she offered me the option of taking it with me. Once I got home, the novelty of having an actual magazine in the house got the better of me, and I sat down to thumb through it and stumbled upon some insightful advice about how we talk to ourselves. In particular, the writer mentioned how, when we reject a compliment, make a self-deprecating comment, or refuse to own up to our own expertise or insight in a certain area, we both lead ourselves to water and we make ourselves drink. Whether we want to or not.
First of all, I was not born to kayak. If we are being accurate, I was not born to do any sport I have yet discovered. Except perhaps yoga, and then only if we disregard the pulled muscle in my back, my aching left knee, and that mysterious shooting pain in my right hip joint. My parents used to call me "their little flower." And it wasn't for my beauty. I sat. All. day. long. What was I doing? Reading. Napping. Drawing. Anything that didn't involve movement of any kind. But even taking that into account, recently I did find myself getting a bit peeved at the reaction I would get each time I'd tell a friend about my upcoming kayaking adventure.