Thursday, December 29, 2016

...and it's over

I've never understood why all of the Christmas "cheer", i.e., music on the radio, classic holiday movies on TV, Christmas tree lights and other decorations come to a screeching halt on December 26th. Isn't there a holiday "season"? To me, it makes the most sense to celebrate from Christmas Eve to New Years Day; a "season" if it's only really eight days. Or we could back it up to Thanksgiving through New Years Day which extends the holiday season for several weeks. I lament the holiday season wrap-up every year because I think it happens too soon. But no matter when I think the holiday season should officially end, it always seems to be December 26th and I doubt I can change public opinion (or marketing strategies as my local Walgreens already has Valentine's Day decorations on display).

I've become a member of a local storytelling group based on The Moth Radio Hour on NPR this year and have found a deeply meaningful way to express my thoughts, experiences and life-stories in a public medium. The group is called Storycatchers and I've processed several experiences in this format and feel that I have made more progress around these particular parts of my life-story than I have in years of therapy. That's not a knock against my therapist because she's great and I've made a lot of progress working with her nor is it a knock against therapy in general as that's what I do for a living and have productivity requirements to meet. (Anyone who knows me knows it's not about the numbers for me, but rather the progress, interaction and relationships I have with my clients.) But Storycatchers is mine. I don't invite family members to public readings because I lay it all out there and I don't want to damage any relationships as a result. In many ways as a therapist, I am a keeper of others' secrets. Storycatchers is a place where I can tell my secrets and not get analyzed or judged because of them.

The Storycatchers lady-in-charge emails "sparks" with prompting questions or statements for participants to complete. Today I received a spark with one of the following requests:
1) What is one moment or one day from this year that you could relive every year over?
For me the easiest answer is to relive Thursday, November 3, 2016. Not because the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series, but because that is the date an article about the PATH for Students program (Providing Access to Healing) ran in ten statewide newspapers, front page above the fold featuring a nice photo of me and the story of one of my students from a local high school. Suddenly I was receiving congratulations and recognition from the Appleton East High School staff, the Appleton Area School District, the United Way Fox Cities, and the LSS Foundation and various programs and staff. I received a hand-written note from WI State Senator Roger Roth. I gave a presentation on school based mental health to the Appleton Rotary Club. The number of people who contacted me within LSS was amazing. Not only was this an opportunity to bring further attention to the need for and benefits of school based mental health counseling, I felt like the program (and, maybe selfishly, that I) was finally being recognized for the incredible amount of work it takes to bring school based counseling into a school. There was the testimony of a student I've worked with for three years on how the program has benefited her in many ways. By stepping out from behind the screen of anonymity, she delivered a blow to the stigma that continues to surround mental health diagnosis and treatment. I'm incredibly proud of her, not only because she stood up and acknowledged her need for therapy, but because of the progress I've seen her make in the three years we've worked together.

I'm on vacation starting December 23rd and will return to work on January 3rd. The attention the newspaper article brought will continue to fade, yet those of us counseling students in their schools will continue. I will submit a poem I'd like to read at the next Storycatchers live event in February. The Christmas season will continue to deteriorate until it's brought back to our collective consciousness around Labor Day 2017. It will be interesting to answer the question about one moment or one day from 2017 that I could relive. We will discover together if 2017 is a year where: "There are years that ask questions and years that answer." Zora Neale Hurston.