It was at my fourth session, probably right before Christmastime, when my therapist introduced me to ecomaps. A quick Google search says that ecomaps are used in social work to diagram processes and/or environments of families, communities, and other systems. In therapy, she offered it as a tool to not only help me get a bird's eye view of the people, social units and activities in my life, but also to gauge the quality of those connections.
My ecomap mirrors the example above, except the lines are varied and colored to display three relationship measures:
- Strength: Strong ties = straight lines (one or multiple depending on intensity), tenuous ones were dashes
- Quality: Green for positive, red for strained
- Level of importance: 1-to-10 scale, with 10 for highest priorities
It's the measurement aspect that prevents me from sharing a copy here, but I have to tell you about my ecomap because, for one thing, it's the only tangible takeaway I have from my six-week stint in therapy, and for another, it produced a brief "a-ha!" moment.
(Side story: I have mixed feelings about therapy. I'm deeply grateful for the opportunity to attend those six sessions for free, thanks to the employee assistance program at work. But instead of matching by specialty, the EAP shared recommendations based on zip code, so the professional I worked with had an office the next town over, which was super convenient, but she specialized in family counseling, and I was coming alone. Plus -- and this is not a critique of my therapist so much as a general observation on the experience -- despite my many, many, MANY type-A tendencies, on the couch I was eight years old, desperate for direction, and I didn't know what to do when the ball was in my court.
"What do you want to talk about?" she asked at our second session, and I balked. WHAT THE HECK, MAN. It took almost a year to screw up the courage to sit on this couch, and I've gone through a pack of travel Kleenex in 10 minutes. I should get an award for just making this far, and now I have to own the agenda? I CANNOT BE TRUSTED WITH THIS MUCH ADULTING. Shouldn't therapy be more like court, where you wear me down with leading questions until I burst like a damn with personal growth?
So, yeah, only six sessions. But I'm not giving up. Condolences in advance to the next person who takes me on.)
We were reading my ecomap through a lens of scaling back and finding more places for "white space" in my life (my words and preference). When we came to the "Creative Writing" box, we stared at the broken red line with the 10 in parentheses, having just talked about my 10s for Luke, the kids, God, service, and my faith life. As the sole breadwinner, I ranked "Career" a nine.
"You'll have time to write when the kids are older," she said confidently, but I shook my head. "I don't want to wait," I said. "I want to do it now."
It's not a coincidence that my creative pipes clogged up as my career advanced and self-reflection grew more complicated. My inner perfectionist shouts at me so loudly these days that I nearly convinced myself I had no right to be here.
You're a wife and a mother and you work in a building where half the people wear suits every day. YOUR THIRTIES ARE ALMOST OVER. Aren't you too old to play Frema? Shouldn't you be freelancing / reading the Bible / spending time with Luke / working on your Issues / volunteering / <insert more responsible task here>? Unless you want people to think you're immature or an overrated fraud, you can't write here anymore.
Hello shame triggers, is it me you're looking for?
I thought I could work on myself and come back to this space only when I had neat and tidy progress reports to share. The epiphany is, I can't. For me, staying active in this space is part of doing the work. Even when what I'm writing about has nothing to do with the work.
A weekly post is probs not in the cards, and I'll constantly check my intention to make sure I'm sharing for the right reasons (Thanks, Brené). But this blog is important to me. Not to fish for compliments or prove my writing chops, but because it helps me feel like myself.
A couple of months ago, I was asking God about how this blog fits into his plans for me. Yes, writing is part of my path, but does it have to be public? Couldn't I meet the same need with private journaling? I didn't think so but wasn't sure. So I knew exactly why, on May 17, I received the following email from an old friend who I hadn't seen since 2004 or connected with in over a year:
Well played, Lord. Point taken.
(P.S. Thanks, Chris.)