The final requirement of my graduate program is a one-year, full-time internship. It’s a grueling application process, and one that you’ve spent the better part of your energies preparing for throughout your entire graduate training. And if you are a friend or even FB friend of mine, it’s been no secret that this was a tough process for me, as it is for most of the many, many graduate students competing for a limited number of sites. And the “match” was something that was deeply painful for me to experience. That moment when you check your email to find out how or if everything worked itself out and if your hard work and diligence (and let’s not forget hundreds to thousands of dollars) was all worth it.
For me, it was mismatch day. To be honest, it was shocking to wake up and realize that I was heading to Portland to a place in which I was really unsure about the fit. “Fit” is something that had been used over and over and over again throughout graduate school and by nearly every site taking applications. “It’s all about the fit.” “We are looking for fit.” By the end, it was one of those words that lost all meaning but somehow still made you nauseous. But if that was indeed the goal or aim, I felt something had gone wrong. My internal process and what I thought was at the heart of the conversation that I was having with God seemed to be way off the mark.
Still, this is not an uncommon experience. Many incredibly determined, brilliant, and high-achieving grad students in clinical psychology wake up surprised and end up at places that may or may be a good match for them personally. Many who are more qualified and experienced than me are also confused or even bewildered on match day. And certainly a number are disappointed, hurt, and distressed by the outcome.
So, what’s my deal? Why did this seemingly common experience feel so devastating and why does the sadness and mourning linger? These questions are the ones that I have been working through. And these are the real focus of this entry.
To be sure, there is much to be said about the totality of the outcome. There is not one single factor, but many that we all face with a move or a new place of employment. And the various factors all contribute to my experience. Yet, I knew there was one that stood out and I yearned to understand the nuance of what was happening cognitively and emotionally for me. There are multiple layers, but the pain created dense fog. Everything felt surreal and yet I was not able to truly understand why.
I have not walked through this fog alone. I am incredibly thankful to have experienced an outpouring of love and care in ways that hit hard, in a good way. Things made their way to the deep internal soil as seeds that will surely lead to growth. Yet, as I was treading through my own muck and trying to sort things out, I was surprised at times at my inability to express my deeper aches and to feel as if others really understood those. And I was humbled as I realized that I too often miss the experience of others who are desperately need me to empathize with them and with their experience. So many of my dear friends and family had nothing but good intentions to try and help ease the pain or just remind me to be grateful and look for the positives. But there was a gap, a misunderstanding maybe, between what I was going through and their responses to me.
So often others had wonderful things to say about the city I was moving to, the area that my family would get to explore. Donuts. Beer. Hiking. There were countless times that I heard just how beautiful Portland was, about how so and so lived up there and just loved the place, and about how they would love to live up there….
But here’s what I knew from the beginning: It’s not about Portland.
At first I was too depressed to know how to respond to comments about the Northwest, and then too numb for a time. Anger bubbled up and my dear friends were incredibly gracious with me. There were countless times, though, that I held my tongue. My unkind and immature response would have been “well, if you love Portland so much, why don’t you move/live there??”
Thankfully, I did not reply with that.
Because that snarky response actually misses what it is about. Just like some of the accolades about Portland, my anger and the associated thoughts would have robbed me of the chance to communicate what was truly real and meaningful.
The hokey pokey is not what it’s all about.
And so here’s my chance. Here’s what it is: that at the very core of my sadness, the deepest pain and wounds I think we all experience, are about the loss of others. The loss of relationships or the quantity and/or quality of them. We mourn losing others because that affects not only our well-being, but also our identity. And when we lose the other, we lose a part of ourselves as well. But the relationships, the unique experiences we have with those around us, those are irreplaceable.
Now, to be sure, living in a nice city or having a good home and resources makes a big difference. I have known those in severe oppression and poverty and I will be the first to admit that I come from a privileged position. There are a number of places that are WAY WORSE than Portland, Oregon. But Portland means nothing to me without the relationships. The blackberries and incredible hikes are rather meaningless without loved ones to share them with. Regardless of where I am, it is only a fleeting happiness if life there is experienced in isolation.
And certainly, there are more friends to be made and meaningful relationships to foster. But here’s the thing. Those do not and cannot replace the ones that I already have. It would be foolish to assume that there is not a unique bond and quality in each of the relationships we already have. And thus, internally my sadness is the aching to be with those I love. I am not grieving the fact that new relationships will grow; I am grieving the fact that my current relationships are real and alive and thus the loss is also just that: real and alive. I cannot replace those. And why would we want to? I will never be the same me with others either. I believe we create a unique bond and shared experience in each of our relationships, and that simply cannot be replicated. I miss those relationships and I miss that me.
It’s not about Portland. It never was and it never will be.
It is about….ending a huge chapter in my life and that of my family as well. And about shifting from deep face-to-face conversations with people who get me. And about physically wrapping my arms around dear friends. It is about knowing that life goes by quickly and that the children of our friends will continue to grow like weeds and I won’t be there to see them do it. That dinners out will not be with those that I long to sit across the table from. Sweet familiar faces I will only see from screens for the time being. It is about my daughter saying goodbye to her wonderful friends and having to give up her earned opportunity to mentor younger students at her school. It is about my son playing sports for the last time with friends he has grown up with. Saying goodbye to coaches who have supported and challenged him. My husband saying farewell to incredible colleagues that have helped him grow and thrive in his profession. It is about change and love and heartache and it all hinges on relationships.
This discovery is not anything necessarily profound and certainly not anything new for those who know me. If you ask me about the problems and cures of this world, we are soon going to be discussing relationships. However, there were several thick layers that seemed to stand as obstacles for me to get to this truth with this particular experience. I thought that perhaps the deepest wound came from not matching at what I thought was my dream internship site. I thought perhaps it was about how tough it was to swallow a big piece of humblepie and realize that I was overconfident in my qualifications and interview skills. All of that stung, but below that, at the deepest level, it was about not wanting to lose those I loved and feeling that perhaps this move and mismatch would result in that. And that somehow my outcome would affect what others thought of me. That moving would mean another loss in my life and that this one would be big. So many dear friendships have been centered around a common place and process; what would this do to all of that?
The greatest fear for me, and I think for all of us deep down, is that we do not or will not belong. That we cannot or will not be known, loved, and cherished. That we will not have the opportunity to do that for others. And when we do find those profound opportunities and experiences, we then fear losing them. We fear not being able to find it again.
It is not about Portland.
It was and is about my insecurities and fears. It is about real relationships that matter to me. It is about realizing that I often lost sight over the past six years of what really matters and I lament that. It is about being reshaped and reformed, which is incredibly painful. The pain will lead to growth, but it is a deep pain. It is about real losses, of time and energy, of not being able to hug best friends or sit across and eat the fruits of Portland with those I already know. It is about wanting to nurture my current relationships while also having open arms for new ones.
This pain is one that will not be healed by the beauty of any city, but instead by the resiliency of relationships. And it is precisely the relationships, their strength and perseverance, that help me to grieve but also to celebrate that which lies before me.