the worst thing

[Author’s note: I wrote this over several days because I’m very tired. Please forgive any typos.] 

I’m a little bit anxious by nature. High strung, type A, whatever you want to call it. A true Enneagram 3 (3w2 to be exact).

My anxiety is definitely of the high-functioning variety, which means I often behave in ways in response to my anxiety that are rewarded with more anxiety-provoking tasks/experiences/etc. Insert joke about being a PhD student here.

My anxiety is so human, too. It keeps me alive and safe, serving its good, intended purpose. I tend to trust my instinct, she’s a powerhouse. But like many things, this high-strung hyper-vigilance overstays her welcome and makes things difficult.

I want to let y’all in on something I only really ever talk about with my counselor. My anxiety has some weird rules.

I, too, am a counselor, and my primary theoretical orientation from which I work is Adlerian theory (Individual Psychology). One construct of the theory is that folks tend to operate from their own private logic — their own way of seeing and making sense of the world that is informed by early life experiences. Everyone has their own private logic; the framework (or lifestyle, if we want to get real Adlerian about it) I use to see and experience and make meaning of the world can only be true for me.

So, my private logic has some rules. Somewhere along the way, I started following these “life rules” I made for myself (we all do this, all of us in our own ways) — and much of the time, the rules work. But sometimes the rules don’t help at all.

Here’s one of my rules: If I anticipate the worst scenario, I’ll be prepared for anything. If I imagine the worst thing, then if it happens, I won’t be caught off guard.

On the surface, it seems like a pretty good rule. Be prepared.

Here’s how it’s blown up in my face recently:

On May 7, I had jaw surgery. The weeks leading up to this surgery were extremely hard. I was constantly anxious, constantly thinking through the worst-case scenarios, and the anxiety was taking a serious toll on my body and mind. I cried often and easily. The lymphoma in my skin flared up. I had a hard time sleeping and a hard time waking up in the morning. It was tough to stay focused on important tasks.

Now, some of you may also be feeling this way whilst living during a pandemic. My COVID-19 anxiety was mingling nicely in this jaw surgery anxiety storm — add in a hearty dose of graduate student stress, and you’ve got a nasty cocktail for distress. The same can be said of all sorts of things so many of us are experiencing — parenting, school, work, job insecurity, job loss, grieving major milestones like graduations and wedding plans, etc. If you haven’t already, take a moment and write down all the things that make you feel sad and scared – just get it out on paper. Then cut yourself some slack when you don’t feel like you’re doing “enough.”

[Also: this surgery has been in the works for over a year. It’s why I’ve been wearing braces again. In March it was postponed, and then put back on the schedule at the end of April.]

Anyway, before jaw surgery: here’s an example of some of the thoughts raging in my head at any given moment during this time:

“The most vulnerable in our country are the ones who will suffer the most from this virus, and they will continue to be the forgotten and ignored. And we have to fight with people to wear masks and practice social distancing, because they think they’re above it all, or that it’s a hoax, and protecting the lives of vulnerable people infringes on their personal rights. I have no hope for humanity, none.” 
“Are my clients safe? Are they going to be okay? How will I know if they are okay if I can’t see them in person?” 
“Hey, not to bug you, but you’ve got two pretty important paper deadlines that you need to finish, like, yesterday.” 
“What if you hate the way your face looks after this surgery?” 
“Maybe you can just live with TMJ pain and wearing your teeth out, cause this is gonna be a tough procedure.” 
“You’ll probably have permanent nerve damage in your face. What if you can’t feel your mouth? How will you kiss Chris again?” 
“What if you have some crazy complication and die? You need up update your advance directive.” 
“What if you throw up with your jaw wired shut and start choking? And what if your nurse doesn’t get to your room in time, since you’re going to be alone?” 
“What if you get COVID-19 in the hospital?”
“You need to get a timeline for when you’re going to finish these papers because dissertation is here.” 

These scary thoughts serve a purpose, according to my rule. But I do need to take a moment and deconstruct the true meaning of this life rule.

If I anticipate the worst scenario, I’ll be prepared for anything. If I imagine the worst thing, then if it happens, I won’t be caught off guard. 

actually means

If I worry about everything, I won’t be afraid and I won’t get hurt if something really bad happens. 

Ah, see, now that doesn’t make sense, does it? Can you see how the rule is flawed? Worrying does not equal protection. It’s overstepped it’s place. A little dash of anxiety keeps me aware, and my awareness may protect me — but worrying about the worst things will not protect me from them.

Anyway, May 7 rolls around after a week of emotional agony. I arrived at the hospital (after being tested for COVID-19 the night before) and hugged Chris goodbye as they made him leave the surgical waiting room. I was so scared. I cried hard for a few minutes in the waiting room and texted my family and dear friends to try to calm down.

My surgery lasted around 7 – 8 hours, and it was successful. The worst part was waking up in PACU and spitting up blood that was draining down my throat from the nasal intubation — but no vomiting! The second worse part was getting a CT scan before I left the recovery room. I didn’t know how to move my head, I had several IVs, and going from the bed to the scanner was tough. I spent two nights in the hospital and then came home to recover.

Then, four days later, I woke up in the middle of the night with a stomach ache. At first it felt like any old annoying stomach ache, so I tried to do things to get comfortable and find relief. I wasn’t taking the narcotic pain medication that was prescribed to me because I really wasn’t in much pain at all — and I was trying to be proactive about my gut health during a time of liquid diet and surgery, if you catch my drift.

The pain got worse, and eventually Chris called my doctor. He said I might be having a case of gastritis due to the NSAIDs I was taking, and to take something like alka-seltzer or drink some ginger ale.

[Side note: I could write (and I just might) a novel about Chris and the ways he has cared for me and loved me these past two weeks. When I tell you that he helped me with every single activity of daily living, I mean it. If you want to experience depths of love you didn’t know you could reach, go through a major medical crisis with your person (ugh but don’t, please be safe). This is “wash the blood out of your hair, prepare food and feed you through syringes because you’re too tired to move, go to Walgreens as soon as the doors open and buy every single medicine designed to alleviate gastrointestinal distress, keep your water cup full, help you to the bathroom” kind of love.]

After Chris returned with the full Walgreens stock of GI medicine, I took some and tried to sleep the pain off, but it kept getting worse. Eventually, it got to the point where I was crying and moaning, and I felt completely out of control. It was like those sounds where just escaping from my mouth, I had no authority over them. Around noon, Chris called my doctor again, who told me to go right now to the emergency room.

The ride to the ER was a painful blur. Every movement make me hurt. The pain was truly the worst physical pain I’ve ever felt in my entire life. Outside of the ER, I remember holding on to Chris to keep from collapsing.

As a reminder, my jaw is wired with a splint and banded shut. Communicating was extraordinary difficult. Chris stayed with me and insisted he come with me to the ER if any of the staff want to know what’s wrong with me — and he was absolutely right. If he hasn’t been there, I’m not sure how I would have communicated my issue. All I could do was moan and sob and mumble through a closed mouth full of wires and metal and plastic, and Chris was able to give the nurses and doctors a very detailed explanation of what was causing me distress and what I had been through the past few days.

Chris held my hand and encouraged me while we waited for a room. This, too, is a painful blur, but I do remember him saying things to keep me focused — “they’re just waiting to move someone out of a room, and then you’ll get some relief…we’re almost there, and as soon as we get to a room you’ll get help.” All I could do (for what seemed like hours) was moan and cry and scream. My vision was blurring and starting to black out. It was truly awful.

Eventually we got to a room, I got some morphine, and was able to feel some relief for the first time in almost 12 hours. Even with the morphine, I could still feel stomach pain, but with the morphine it was manageable. Some blood work (with a very high white blood cell count) and a CT scan later, and one of the doctors (very nervously) told me I had appendicitis, and it was bad. I could opt to take antibiotics to help, but the success of that treatment was highly unlikely because I’d been on strong antibiotics already for a week. I needed surgery, and soon.

An emergency appendectomy 5 days after jaw surgery was not an experience I considered.

I was in so much pain, I couldn’t really think or process anything. Later that night, I was admitted again to Emory and had to part with Chris as I prepared for another surgery. It was a total blur.

I was told my appendectomy would be at 3pm the following day, but around 5:45am, my nurse woke me up and told me they were ready for me for surgery. I frantically texted my family and friends and was wheeled down to the OR. I had to do another COVID-19 test, which (other than the appendicitis pain) was probably the worst pain I felt during this whole ordeal.

Having another surgery so soon after jaw surgery was risky for intubation. I was intubated through my nose for the jaw surgery (hence painful COVID-19 test and spitting up blood in recovery room), so things were kind of a wreck up there (I’m still not allowed to blow my nose, by the way). But intubation through my mouth requires my jaw to move when it has been banded down to heal.

In what I can only understand as divine intervention, my jaw surgeon and his team had to cancel their Wednesday case due to issues with parts inventory. [They’ve had cases almost every day for the past several weeks — lots of folks like me needing sensitive procedures.] My doctors walked in the pre-op room to tell me they’d be there during my surgery to make sure everything went well with intubation. I’ve been giving my jaw surgeon “elbow high-fives” when I’ve seen him over the past few months, but when he walked in the pre-op room, I reached out and grabbed his hand before I could think to stop myself.

I was so scared, so unhinged, and so without my protective “armor” of “oh I already thought to worry about all of this so it’s not a surprise to me.” Instead, in those moments before another surgery, I found solace in the prayers of others for me, with the brilliant, caring doctors, nurses, and techs who went out of their way to comfort me, and with this prayer one of my amazing priests shared with me the night before my first procedure:

This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.

Looking back, so much of what was required of me during this time was sitting still, lying low, and doing nothing. I was at the mercy of my body and of the medical interventions required to heal it.

“If I am to worry incessantly about hypothetical situations in hopes to feel prepared for the worst, let me wear myself out with mental distress” doesn’t work here. At all.

And in spite of my life rules, through the support of my family and friends, strength from God, and strength to draw on my own inner strength — not my anxiety — I made it through.

I made it through the appendectomy (and the intubation) just fine. I spent another night in the hospital, and was discharged immediately to my 1-week follow up at the clinic with my jaw doctors. My jaw is healing well, I’m managing the full liquid diet well (which really isn’t as bad as I thought it would be), and in two more weeks, I’ll be out of the jaw cast and on to the next phase of recovery. My stomach is healing well too — the incisions are almost completely healed.

The moral of this story isn’t “don’t be anxious!” For anyone who lives with anxiety, having someone tell you “don’t worry” is like someone telling you “just don’t breathe, you’ll be okay.” What’s worse is when folks tell you your anxiety means you don’t trust God enough (that’s spiritual bypass folks, and I don’t have the time or energy to write about it now, but it’s just bad theology). You can trust God and still feel anxiety! (and doubt! and fear! and lots of things!)

Instead, I hope one thing you can take away from this is to be mindful of your rules, and how they will fail you, and how you can re-evaluate the rules.

And when you’re feeling overwhelmed with all of this — with life in a pandemic, and all of the grief and stress and anxiety that comes with it, imagine trying to float instead of continuing to tread water. I don’t know what that looks like for you, but I hope you can find peace in moments with abundant grace.

Full-Circle Experience at the State Unit on Aging Conference

This was originally published on May 14, 2019, on the GSU H.O.P.E. lab blog. Check it out!

Full-circle experience at ACL State Unit on Aging Conference

On Wednesday, I had the great privilege of accompanying Dr. Laura Shannonhouse and three of our wonderful lab members, Kiara ExumHannah Reed and Carly Skaar, to the Administration on Community Living (ACL) State Unit on Aging Conference to present some preliminary findings from our research. We shared some of the data that our lab members have been collecting through their interviews with older adults in the community. We presented information about the training and preparation we undergo during our weekly meetings, and our students shared a few personal stories detailing especially meaningful interactions during their interviews. There was laughter, and even a few tears shed. Afterward, we had the opportunity to connect with leaders in the field of aging from all over the southeast, program officers of the federal grants, and a number of other participants who commended us for our work. Finally, we took the opportunity to experience a Virtual Dementia Tour sponsored by Second Wind Dreams before walking back to campus from the Sam Nunn Federal Center.

Four years ago, if you had told me I’d be doing this, I might have laughed in your face.

CPS HOPE group at the conferenceMy journey with Georgia State University began in the fall of 2015, as a woman in total disbelief that she was about to start working on her master’s degree. I had made the decision to listen to the gentle tapping – that small whisper in the back of my mind gently suggesting, “maybe you should be a counselor.” I had quit my job in video production and took a leap of faith back into academia. This decision was informed by several experiences, including the emotional toll of caregiving and loving persons with Alzheimer’s disease in my family. My dad specifically was a caregiver for the majority of my life and was currently caring for his sister, my Aunt Ellen.

Flash forward a year and a half, and I’m sitting in Dr. Laura Shannonhouse’s office, blinking again in disbelief as she suggested, “maybe you should consider getting a Ph.D. in counselor education.” My experience as a first-generation college student has had several moments like these – brows furrowed, wondering how in the world I could manage to get a Ph.D., and never imagining that the gentle nudge to “be a counselor” would take me this far.

A year after that, I found myself once again in her office (I spend a good bit of time there) – this time as a first-year doctoral student. We were having a vague conversation along the lines of, “maybe we should figure out a way to study the impact of ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) among older adults.”

Flash forward again several months (exactly one year ago), and we’re preparing to present to this conference – this time, with the hope of introducing the dream of an idea to a network. None of this would have been possible without mentorship from community partners and mentors who care deeply about the lives of older adults.

Our team spent the summer putting together a grant proposal, and now we are funded by the Administration on Community Living, sharing some preliminary findings to members of the aging network. I have the great honor of serving as the assistant director and co-investigator on the grant. Pinch me.

As if that was not a surreal enough moment, we had the opportunity to participate in a Virtual Dementia Tour for free. The Virtual Dementia Tour is an evidence-based method of providing a greater understanding through the use of sensory tools. In other words, for about 20 minutes, we were in a carefully-structured environment that simulates what it might be like to live with dementia. This tour was provided by Second Wind Dreams.

Admittedly, I was anxious to do this. I’ve had a front row seat to the impact of Alzheimer’s disease for as long as I can remember. My aunt died in the first year of my doctoral program, and for the first time in my life, my dad is no longer in an ongoing caregiving role (he also provided care for my grandfather and my great aunt). I was expecting to be emotionally upheaved by the tour – by the fear of what it feels like to have dementia and the frustration of not being able to complete basic tasks. The tour certainly did provide an emotionally eye-opening experience of dementia, but something happened that I was not expecting: during the tour, I found myself wrestling with the realization that when this is over, I can leave and return to a life without dementia. So I kept asking myself during the tour, “what is it that I need right now? What would help me?” As soon as the thought formed in my mind, I immediately recalled one of the last memories I have of my aunt – of my dad sitting with her quietly, putting lotion on her hands and holding them, bringing her a sweet tea with a straw, and telling her he loved her. I was floored by the reminder that my aunt was (and is) loved, that my dad and the team of wonderful folks where she lived provided the best possible care for her, and at that moment, I needed someone to do what my dad did for my aunt– I needed someone to gently hold my hand and remind me of my love and worth.

I was not expecting such a powerful experience when I prepared for the conference earlier that morning. But then again, I don’t think I could have fully prepared for anything that has happened in the last four years — and yet it’s only the beginning.

golems, crematories, ghosts, oh my!

I read a lot of wonderful books this month.

I know what you’re thinking. “Mary Chase, how do you have time to read? Aren’t you in grad school? Don’t you have things to read for grad school? Why would you do this? How can you read this much? What’s wrong with you? Why are you writing this? Shouldn’t you be studying?” 

A few things:

  1. Reading is an important part of my self-care, and I find it very enjoyable. It’s totally okay if you don’t like to read. I’m not going to make you, or think ill of you if you don’t.
  2. I read very quickly. Thanks, mom!
  3. Depending on the size of the book I read, I can finish a book in a week  by reading 30-50 pages a day. I know that sounds like a lot, but depending on what I read, it goes by very fast.
  4. Related, read books you want to read. If you don’t enjoy reading, and you pick up a book that feels daunting and you don’t want to read it…you will never enjoy reading. Read something that appeals to you, and don’t worry if other people give you a hard time about it (remember our good buddy Dr. Seuss, although I’m pretty sure this wasn’t actually his quote: those who mind don’t matter, those who matter don’t mind). I have no intentions of reading Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s not my cup of tea. But just because I/anyone else doesn’t like it/doesn’t think it’s good/whatever, does not mean you shouldn’t read it and enjoy it, if it’s something you would like to read. And you shouldn’t feel bad about liking any book you like. Contrarians ruin everything.
  5. Audiobooks rule. And yes, it counts.
  6. I read many of these during the first part of the month, during my winter break.
  7. Yeah, I’m in grad school and I just basically read 12 hours a day. And it works for me.
  8. I’ll always be studying.

Now that’s settled, and without further ado, here are the books I read this month:

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
A Beautiful Work in Progress by Mirna Valerio
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman*
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders*
The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs
Lord of the Flies by William Golding^

Audiobook* 
Re-read^

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Aren’t they lovely? Pardon my dusty coffee table. And don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker: 5/5

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I. Love. This. Book.

Aunt Carolyn (Christopher’s aunt) gave this book to me for Christmas this year, and I loved every moment of reading it. The Golem and the Jinni is a story about a Golem (in Jewish legend, a clay figure brought to life by magic) and a Jinni (in Arabian and Muslim mythology, supernatural fire sprits that take the form of animals and humans, and can possess humans as well) who try to fit in as immigrants to America in New York City in 1899. This story was such a magnificent adventure. Much of the book is focused on building a gorgeous world, combining American history, Jewish folklore, and Arabian mythology. The cultural aspects are so beautifully woven into the narrative — a lovely reminder that our nation is comprised of immigrants. The Golem and the Jinni is historical fiction, fantasy, and magical realism. Be ready to absolutely devour the last 80 pages. It’s definitely one of those books that you finish, and immediately regret finishing the book because you’re not ready to leave the world or the characters. Fortunately, a sequel is coming out this year called The Iron Season. *squeals with delight*

A Beautiful Work in Progress by Mirna Valerio: 3.5/5

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This delightful memoir was our book club’s January selection. Mirna Valerio is an ultra marathoner, and writes the awesome Fat Girl Running blog. She shares details of her life, how she became a runner, why she runs, and shares insight to the runner’s world. This was really fun to talk about with our book club, because we have many runners in the group (including my husband, who ran his first marathon last year, and my good friend Michael, who has ran more races than I can count and recently traveled to Greece to run the Athens marathon). We were all very empowered to run; to conquer physical feats (such as trail running), to do the things we thought we could not do because of stigmas or stereotypes. Because we have bodies that can.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn: 4.5/5

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My sister-in-law, Meredith, is 2/2 for suggesting books that I will like, that I in turn stay up until ungodly hours of the night reading. The first was The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah — our family was on vacation, and I purchased the book per her recommendation and promptly stayed up until 2:30am reading it. It’s incredible. She and my mom are in a category of their own: I know I will love whatever they suggest I read. No questions asked.

Meredith gave me a copy of The Alice Network for Christmas this year (she read it during The Nightingale vacation) and I couldn’t stop reading. I devoured this book. It’s the story of Eve and Charlotte (known as Charlie), two women who cross paths as Charlie tries to find her cousin two years after the end of World War II. The story is told in flashbacks to World War I, where we discover Eve’s past as a spy for the Allies and a member of The Alice Network (that’s all I’ll say, go read it). It’s a lovely work of historical fiction and compulsively readable.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty: 5/5

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I’m not sure where to begin. I absolutely loved this book. As soon as I finished it, my first thought was, “I have to read this again.” Caitlin Doughty is the host of Ask a Mortician and now one of my personal heroes. Her videos are hinged on death education — to quell death anxiety and stigma around death and loss, combat our cultural (for the U.S., anyway) fear of death and dying, and share though warmth and humor, how to deal with the ultimate concern (Yalom, 1980). I’ve written that a lot lately, so I thought I should cite it in my blog.

I read this book for both personal and professional interest. As many of you know, I am pursuing my PhD in Counselor Education and Practice, and death anxiety is on my research agenda. I’ll share more about that later.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is Doughty’s memoir of her year working as a crematory operator for a funeral home in San Fransisco. The lessons are heartfelt, told with warmth, humor and without inhibition. I cannot recommend this one enough. I’d like to make it a class requirement one day for counselors in training.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty: 5/5

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My sister Jayme gave both of Doughty’s books to me for Christmas this year (my family knows me well) and I devoured this one as soon as I finished Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. From Here to Eternity is a beautiful book. In each chapter, Doughty shares various accounts of cultural death rituals from all over the world. It really shines a light on our Americanized fear of death/dying/dead bodies, especially learning how so many different cultures deal with grief by spending time with dead bodies. This one is a bit more structured and informational than her memoir, but equally as readable and fascinating. I loved it.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins: 4.5/5

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This was, without a doubt, the weirdest book I have ever read in my life, and unlike any book I have read before. The Library at Mount Char is wildly original, bizarre, terrifying, and hilarious. It’s fantasy/science fiction/horror/dystopia and I can’t compare it to anything. I don’t really know how to write this blurb about it. I will say this was one of Victoria Schwab’s (author of my new favorite fantasy series, Shades of Magic) “just trust me” recommendations. I adore Schwab’s work – in fact, I’ll probably write a post dedicated to her books – so I trusted the recommendation she provided on a guest post with NPR. It took me about 100 pages to get into the story — it’s just so bizarre — but once I was 100 pages in, I couldn’t put it down. Also, Scott Hawkins lives in Atlanta, which I think is really cool. It’s a good city.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman: 5/5

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The Rules of Magic was my first audiobook of the year, and it was just fantastic. It’s read by Marin Ireland, and I was sad to finish. I did not want it to end. It’s about the lives of Frances and Jet, the aunts in Practical Magic (side note: I love Practical Magic, and I had no idea it was a book first. The Rules of Magic is the prequel). This book is truly magical — Ireland reads the glorious world Hoffman built, and spans decades. It’s a story of love, grief, family, and the importance of being true to who you are.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: 5/5

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Lincoln in the Bardo is right up there with The Library at Mount Char when it comes to the category of “weird books that I loved.” I listened to this book, and it is hands-down the best audiobook I’ve ever experienced. If you listen to any books this year, make sure this one is on your list. I’ll probably read the book one day, but listening to the cast of voices (166 total, led by Nick Offerman and David Sedaris) with Saunders’ strange, albeit beautiful storytelling was just incredible. I felt like I was listening to a Greek Chorus tell a Civil War ghost story. Lincoln in the Bardo is a story about heart-wrenching grief and love, told with bursts of humor and fascinating accounts of history. It checks all my boxes, and I will be listening to it again with Christopher on our next road trip.

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs: 4.5/5

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Last year, I read Paul Kalanithi’s incredible memoir When Breath Becomes Air, in which he accounts his final days and the journey of having terminal cancer at age 37. His wife wrote the epilogue after his death. I came across The Bright Hour after discovering that Kalanithi’s widow Lucy is now dating Riggs’ widower John. Nina Riggs died of metastatic breast cancer at age 39. She is a direct descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and shares her family history, skill with words, gut-punching humor and profoundly human reflections in this memoir.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding: 4/5

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For my last book of January 2018, I decided to re-read something I read in high school. It’s been 13 years since I first read Lord of the Flies, and I enjoyed reading my copy from freshman year. I’ve changed a great deal about many things in the past 13 years, but not one bit when it comes to reading and taking notes. Highlighters, notes to myself in the margins. My copy looks like I could have made those notes yesterday, rather than 13 years ago. And in a purple pen, no less (What can I say? I’m very on-brand when it comes to purple). It was fun reading alongside 14-year-old Mary Chase.

The book itself is the same dark, dismal story I remembered with profound symbolism. One thing that struck me on this second go-round was a particular character’s death (at the risk of spoiling anything, it was not the one with the glasses that we all remember from high school). I don’t remember feeling gutted by this character’s death in high school. When I re-read it, it really stuck with me.

Most of the books I read this month have to do with death. This isn’t surprising, mainly because death is part of my research and the work I do in graduate school. But I also recently had an experience with death — my wonderful Aunt Ellen died on December 18, 2017, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. I’ll write more about her this year as well. Reading is also a part of how I grieve.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and I’d be delighted to know if you have read any of these books and/or will read any of these books in the future.

Cheers,

Mary Chase

 

an update, two years later

In clearing away the cobwebs and dust from my blog, I discovered that my domain name expired. If you go to marychasemize.com now, the Internet will take you to what looks like an online store for Patagonia in another language. At least it’s not porn.

So, henceforth and forevermore, my blog is chasinghope.blog. I’m actually quite pleased with this domain, and I solemnly swear to stay on top of securing this domain, lest a North Face retailer endeavor to take it away.

It’s been well over two years since I shared a blog post, which I find both disappointing and understandable. My last blog post was an update of my first week of graduate school — a Master of Science degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Georgia State University.

To say many things have happened since that time would be an understatement.

In this brand new year with this brand new domain, I want to get back to blogging. I have stories to tell, and I hope you will join me.

one week down

*clears throat*

Hello? Is anyone there?

I’ve missed you.  Though I promised to write more in 2015, I have neglected my wonderful little corner of the Internet that is my blog. The hiatus was good. But I’m back feeling incredibly inspired to write and share what’s going on in my life. So get comfortable. Go make yourself a cup of tea or coffee or any beverage of choice. Grab your dog if you have one, snuggle up, and allow me to steal a few moments of your day with my words and ramblings. I hope you enjoy them.

This past Monday, I began the adventure of pursuing my Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Georgia State University. Actually, I take that back — I began my adventure of pursing my Master’s degree last Saturday, in the middle of a heavily-wooded section of metro Atlanta, dangling by a string on a high ropes course.

I have expected this course of study to be life-changing. I figured I have been well-groomed for it: in the past year, I took the trip of a lifetime to New Zealand and took part in some serious soul-searching. I quit a good-paying job that made me unhappy. I stepped out of my comfort zone — predictability, stability, routine — and relied on the Providence of God to lead me where I am today. (And let me tell you: if you like routine and control and stability as much as me, this was not a walk in the park). But in the midst of my fears and doubts, I was — and still am– continually astounded by how well my needs were met; when I decided to pursue a career as a counselor, I felt as though every obstacle that could hinder my progress was obliterated. I felt like the path ahead of me was well lit and clear; all I had to do was walk.

What I did not expect in this life-changing course of study was how quickly I would deal with some of my worst fears.

Fun Fact: I’m afraid of heights when I don’t feel secure. I feel safe on a rollercoaster, but not on a Ferris Wheel. I’ve been trying to make sense of it myself for years. 

As it turns out, I do not feel very safe in a harness dangling from a wire while 4 or 5 stories above solid ground.

But this was the beginning of my graduate school journey. I spent the day getting to know my fellow cohort and professors in the context of a ropes course. Communication, trust, and camaraderie were established quickly.  And through their encouragement and my own personal will power, rendered from the depths of my soul and not without some real fear and anxiety, I finished the high ropes — complete with two zip lines to the ground that turned out to be AWESOME. I’ll zip line all day long.

On the first day of class, I didn’t walk in to strange faces. I felt an immediate bond with the people around me.  I’m so grateful to be learning alongside such wonderful people — people who will be my professional colleagues and friends.

My classes are interesting, challenging and wonderful. My professors are brilliant, and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to learn from them.

A few people in the program have told me the first semester is an emotional upheaval — and I experienced a taste of that on Thursday in one of my classes. During our very first lecture, I was moved to tears by the candor and encouragement of my professor.

This semester, I will learn how to become a helper.
I will immerse myself in techniques and skills.
I will discuss, in depth, some of my worst fears — like losing the people I love.
I will learn how the human body can heal after unspeakable pain and tragedy.
I will read more than I’ve ever read before.  

And I will never be the same.

 

 

graduate school

I’m doing that thing again. I hate it. I let dozens of ideas for blog posts buzz around in my head while I write and re-write and think and think and think and not actually post in my blog for six months. But on the bright side, half of 2015 is left to enjoy and pickup those resolutions that slip away. I’m only saying that because my last blog post was somewhat focused around resolutions.

I’m pleased to say that I will be attending graduate school at Georgia State University in August. I was accepted to the Master’s program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and I am absolutely beyond excited/thrilled/deliriously happy. It’s incredible how things fall into place when you’re doing what you are meant to do. I feel like I’m pursuing my life’s calling — not just acknowledging it.

 

 

what are you going to do in 2015?

I love celebrating New Years Resolutions.

I’ve never appreciated snarky people who say things like “ugh,  I can’t wait for all the New Years Resolutioners to quit hogging all the treadmills at the gym.”

I want people to succeed. I don’t mind waiting a few minutes for an elliptical if it means someone is making a life change and is feeling renewed and inspired.

However, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not one who usually make a list of resolutions. I honestly, and I mean this, try to get started on resolutions as soon as I decide to tackle them — not waiting until January 1. That’s not because I’m this noble, aggressive-passionate-go-getter (though I try to be); it’s because I’m impatient. I want to get started NOW! I want everything RIGHT NOW!

In terms of thriving in a schedule, I’m much like an infant. I like knowing what I’m doing and when I’m doing it. I like having a plan. I like order.

I totally get the clean slate approach to beginning a new adventure on the first day of a new year. In a way, 2014 was framed quite nicely for me: I was immersing myself into a new job during the beginning of the year, and ending the year with the trip of a lifetime we’d planned for so long. It was nice. I really liked 2014. There were plenty of bumps and glitches, but for the most part, I really can’t think of a continuous year I’ve enjoyed as much as I enjoyed 2014.

The year 2015 is going to be interesting.

For starters, I decided to leave my job at the North American Mission Board. My coworkers were amazing — and arguably the best part of my job — and I’ll miss my paycheck, but this was an easy decision to make. And since you are interested enough in my life to read my blog, I’ll be honest with you: I wasn’t doing what I’m meant to do or want to do. And I wasn’t happy doing it. I spent the majority of my day feeling discouraged, and spent the afternoon commute being angry and stressed in GA 400 traffic.

One of my friends told Christopher that I should pitch a new slogan for New Zealand Tourism. “New Zealand: It’ll make you want to quit your job!” But seriously: spending 21 days away from my job opened my eyes to so much about my life. Frederick Buechner once said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet.” I thought about this quote a lot during our trip, and fully realized something I really think God has been pulling me toward for a few years. The intersection of my deep gladness and the world’s hunger is counseling.

So, as of right now, I’ve left my full-time job to pursue my Master’s degree in mental health counseling. I’m applying to a few schools in Georgia and am looking into a few online options. Hopefully by this fall, I’ll be enrolled in a program and on my way toward becoming a professional counselor.

With this comes a whirlwind of emotion. Instead of trying to eloquently compose a narrative of what’s going on in my head, I’ll give you the unfiltered version:

Holy crap. I just quit my job. 
Thank you, God, for giving me peace about this.
Allright, grad school, here I come!
But what if I don’t get in?
Woah. Georgia State only accepts 30 people into their program. 
There’s no way I’m going to get in.
Sure, I can! I have good undergraduate GPA. I can nail a statement of purpose. All I need is a good score on the GRE and I got this!
GRE. 
Wut.
Math. 
STAHP. 
Alight, first go at the GRE. I think I’ll do pretty good on the verbal, but not great on quantitative. 
*Does exactly what I predict I will do and gets disappointed because I didn’t miracle-guess correctly on all the math*
It’s okay, I’ll study and try again!
*Decides this during the holidays, studies but not as often as I wanted, has mental breakdown while math-degree-bearing-husband consoles me and tries to re-teach me how to find the area of a triangle.*
-Flash to the present, two days before my second stab at the GRE.- 
I should study. 
*Reads a book instead.*
Everyone keeps telling me: “You’ve got this! You’ll kill it! You do great on the GRE. You’ll totally get into grad school. You’re so smart.” 
Here’s the thing: I’m not as smart as some people think I am. I worked hard in school, and yeah, I mean, I’m a decently-bright bulb in the chandelier, but I’m not guaranteed a spot in graduate school. 
What will people think of me if I don’t get in? 

There it is, one of my many flaws. My pride. I am genuinely worried about not getting in to grad school for the sake of having to explain to people that I didn’t get in. “Oh, so you quit your job and everything for…nothing?”

But I keep reminding myself this, the absolute truth: I’m going to go where God wants me to go. No, I don’t have a definite plan. Nothing is certain. I’m going out in blind faith here. But, to borrow a phrase from barre3, I’m going to honor my truth. I’m going to do what it takes to become a professional counselor.

So, what am I going to do in the meantime?

  • I’m going to try the GRE one more time and see what happens. There isn’t a minimum score requirement for the schools I’m interested in attending, but there’s just so much fear of the unknown for me surrounding that stupid test. But I’m going to give it my best shot. But let the record show I have been, and still am, absolutely terrible at taking standardized tests. If it ends up breaking my chances of getting into school, I’ll study harder and longer and give it another try.
  • I’m going to finish all of my applications and send them off. Then I’m going to wait patiently and I hope I’m exactly who these schools are looking for.
  • I’m going to write more. I absolutely love writing.
  • I’m going to read more.
  • I’m going to work part time at the barre3 Atlanta – South Bulkhead studio. I can’t quite express how happy I am to be doing this. I joined this studio in August, which was arguably the best decision I’ve made while living in Atlanta. The exercise is amazing, but the people are even better. I love the community it brings, and I’m thrilled have a greater part in it.
  • I’m going to go to a lot of barre3 classes.
  • I’m going to pursue the things that make me happy and fulfilled.
  • I’m going to try a new recipe each month.
  • I’m going to bake more.
  • I’m going to let go of stupid things that give me anxiety or steal my joy.
  • I’m going to run a half marathon in March.
  • I’m going to save money aggressively while living generously.
  • I’m going to spend more time with people and let them know I love them.
  • I’m not going to put pressure on myself that is totally unnecessary. I’m 24 years old. It’s okay if I haven’t moved into a dream house with a baby on the way. It’s okay if it takes a few tries to get into grad school (really, Mary Chase, it is! The world will not stop turning!)
  • I’m going to stop feeling like I constantly have to explain myself to people, and stop feeling like I must have everything figured out.

I want 2015 to be the year of crazy courage, faithful living, and chasing my deep gladness while meeting the world’s hunger.

What are your goals for 2015?