December 12, 2019

Using the hero’s journey to navigate my life – Part 2

Crossing the first threshold

Thresholds are doorways. Some you want to step through. Some you get thrown through and landing hurts. You have to pick yourself up, take a moment to get your head around what the hell just happened? It may be one small step from a life that was certainty and status to one giant leap into months or years of feeling lost and ashamed (apologies to Neil Armstrong).

Following my only-option resignation, my priority concern was income. Although I had said goodbye to the shenanigans of being investigated and feeling betrayed by colleagues, my anxiety was still high. I still had financial commitments to meet and after receiving much support from my husband, I wanted to be able to give back. Possibly being male it’s engrained, embedded, that relationship support means being a good provider. Being able to contribute my fair share financially seemed incredibly important to me. Perhaps (in hindsight) I was just desperate to again prove my own sense of value?

The awful, time-consuming, somewhat shaming job of looking for a job then began. What would I do? Seek employment or begin private practice? What would I say to prospective employers as to why did you leave your last position?’ I got shown the door? I used belligerent humour to sass people?

The job adverts were depressing. The few on offer were for those at the beginnings of their careers. Nothing for senior therapists. I applied for several, only one responded with an interview. The two people who interviewed me were 7 and 5 years into their careers. My resume indicated 30 years of work experience, professional development and skills. I had more experience and better qualifications than either and one of them indicated they would be my supervisor. They looked uncomfortable and I felt it. Needless to say I did not get the job.

Private practice seemed to be the goer. Having worked in other psychologists’ practices, I knew some of what was required however I had never created a clinic from scratch. I also assumed that it would take a couple of years to build a clientele which meant a couple of years with not-so-good income. These new unknowns continued to keep the anxiety pretty high. I was still making sure to exercise regularly, get lots of affection and use my CBT to combat catastrophic thinking.

Tests, allies, enemies and rewards

After crossing a threshold, you enter into a new world, a foreign place with its own new language and rules. Such was the world of small business and private practice. Creating a website was relatively easy. Follow the prompts provided. Understanding search engine optimisation and google analytics however was completely maddening. A new language of ‘plugins, cornerstone content, CPC, campaign type, active bid, conversions’ needed to be learned. As with any new language there was a lot of hit and miss, mostly ‘misses’. For some never-to-be-known reason my website was proving to be popular in China. Go figure? And as video online sessions were still a few years away, I was left wondering why anyone in China would be searching for a psychologist in Brisbane. Needless to say, no clients followed. I then discovered that there were people you could employ to do ‘SEO’ who understood google’s algorithms. Finding one proved to be another lengthy, frustrating process. So many indicated their initial willingness only to suddenly lose interest when they realised I was a fledgling, small business in an unknown suburb offering psychological services. SEO itself on each webpage is also a technical dictator that demands you adhere to a lot of rules! The use of headings, the number of times a ‘key phrase’ is repeated. Why are there no links on this page! I was to learn the hard way that SEO rules must be obeyed.

While these external, real world challenges kept me glued to the keyboard through the day, the other challenges were internal; psychological. Loneliness, sadness and shame. These are the dual demands of a hero’s journey. External challenges that you don’t know how to do, don’t really want to do inevitably linked to internal, psychological tests. A private practice from home meant no colleagues, no contact, no conversation. The sadness came from the persistent disbelief that former colleagues simply did not make contact. When I first began, we were a small team who shared a small office. We were literally on top of one another and in my memory at least, we had shared many laughs, many challenging moments and had supported each other. When I had shifted positions from colleague to manager, some struggled with this power shift, however most continued to be collegial, supportive and grateful. When I had found myself formally chastised and rejected, I had believed that it would only be a matter of time before they made contact. In the months that followed, only one did. She was still so terrified by the work climate, that the chat only added to my frustrations. It was a shock, a struggle to accept that people I thought I could rely on, were simply not reliable. In hindsight, it’s easy to recognise now this common theme to many hero’s journeys; so-called friends disappearing.

The final and potentially the most harmful emotion was the shame. In the inevitable and necessary self reflection I acknowledged that I had let some of my staff down. I had been belligerent in my humour. I wonder if you’ve ever noticed that when trouble befalls you, you tell yourself a story where you are the good guy? Your story paints others as the problem? It is rare, in my experience for people to examine their own behaviour. For some reason we seem to find this self examination incredibly threatening. Finger pointing is so much easier. But I knew ‘where there was smoke there was fire’ so the self examination began. This personal stocktake also happened at the same time of continuing high anxiety about the business and my future, already feeling exhausted from the months of investigation. At its worst, this self examination was like peeling raw skin. There were be times I could only see myself as a complete failure, as deserving of rejection and punishment, without a future. Yet again it was a time to use CBT to ensure my thinking was both accurate and helpful. Sure, I had failed, maybe hugely, however I was not a failure. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, such a silly name for such a simple skill, helped me regularly tease reality from the catastrophic, truth from self-flagellation.

At this stage in my hero’s journey, at the beginning of the trials and obstacles, I was still very much alone, though with the complete backing of my husband, family and friends. Three little words, husband, family and friends that sound like nothing but are the equivalent of an army. It’s been my experience that it is these connections that make the difference between success and failure of most ventures. It’s a cliche to say it aloud, yet the reality is that without connection, the individual is alone. There is no respite from the tests, no support when tired, no acknowledgement of the enormity of the task that must be undertaken. Such are the moments where one might contemplate suicide as no reprieve from the emotional pain can be found. Yet it is the presence of connection, that changes nothing, yet makes anything possible.

Next blog. The tests get bigger… but so too do the Rewards!

Dr Clive

About Dr. Clive Williams

Clive Williams, PhD, is a psychologist with 35 years’ experience with a particular focus on how individual change occurs.

Clive’s private practice is in Brisbane though he works with clients around the globe.

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