A couple of weeks ago I went on an archeological dig in my attic. Out came eight overstuffed banker/storage boxes that have been sitting in the far corner since I moved into this house in 1996. I just put the very last remnant of the boxes, which contained all of my work towards my Ph.D., into the recycling bin. Soon all the journal articles, literature searches, drafts of papers, finished papers, my dissertation proposal, essays and tests will be picked up by the city and turned into something useful – perhaps to return to me as paper towels, or maybe even toilet paper. (I do so love irony!)
In 1991, twenty years and a lifetime ago, I applied to and was accepted in the Ph.D. program in clinical psychology at the Fielding Institute, in Santa Barbara, California. At the time, going to Santa Barbara and enrolling in a Ph.D. program was the bravest thing I’d ever done. It was at Fielding that I began to learn not just who I was, but who I could be if and when I started saying yes to my dreams.
In the spring of 1994 I became ill with an unknown, unidentified virus. By September I was unable to work, on disability, and often unable to even get out of bed. The following March (1995) I returned to work, but only half-time. My medical leave from Fielding turned into a conditional (I could come back with out reapplying) withdrawal, but I never returned. The virus left my brain befuddled and in a permanent fog. The months of disability and part-time employment left my bank account empty, with no hope of paying tuition.
But I was not ready to let go of the dream. Everything related to Fielding was stuffed into these boxes that the movers put in the attic, where they’ve gathered dust and mold the last 15 years.
One of my intentions for 2011 is to release all that I no longer need or that no longer serves me. So in mid-December out came the boxes. Going through them, seeing the papers I wrote, the work I did, is like visiting a ghost of myself. I see the person who I used to be before I got sick, the person who had a brain that worked, who had boundless energy, who had incredible drive and perseverance, who worked full-time AND worked on a Ph.D.
And then there’s all the time and energy, all the work, contained in those boxes. The funny thing is how little I remember of doing it. Some faculty names seem vaguely familiar, the names bring back equally vague faces and memories of classes and conferences, of people I’ve not remembered or thought about all these years. “Oh yeah,” I think, “I did do that huge presentation on substance abuse disorders in women. Oh yeah, I did write that essay on psychodynamic treatment of Lady Macbeth.” But it feels like these memories belong to someone else’s life, to some other Janet who did not get sick, who did not have to recognize that she had limits, and who did not run headlong into the delusion of her omnipotent drive and energy.
Still, there’s weird continuity to be found, and not necessarily one I’m happy to have brought with me from grad school days. A faculty comment on a paper states, “Of course you are capable of doing graduate level work, and I hope you are beginning to believe it as well.” Fast forward to the harp years, and the judge at a Scottish harp competition telling me, “You perform much better than you think you do.” or my Irish harp teacher saying “You have what you need to do whatever you want with the harp. You just need confidence in yourself.” Lack of confidence in my ability is an ongoing theme, oft portrayed in this blog as I bemoan every playing the harp really well, ever really being a musician.
Fielding was that first place where the mirrors held up for me, and my reflection in them were different from those I was taught to use and see. No, I didn’t finish my degree. But the journey I began there brought me to the harp years, the music years, to the people in my life who continue to hold up a different mirror, and to my teachers who stand beside me as I look into that mirror, and who point out the image of two musicians looking back.