She comes into my office. Slight build, long brown hair, brown eyes. Sanja (not her real name) is about forty years old. A second generation Indian (as in from India). She married a man she met in college and has two children, six and nine. This is our intake session and all I know before she comes in is that she’s feeling depressed and doesn’t know why.
As we talk, I find out that she has a job working fifty hours a week at a tech company and that she volunteers for her daughter’s Girl Scout troupe. At lunch, she dashes to the gym for thirty minutes on the treadmill, and on the weekends she works on a project for #LoveArmy and their Green for All initiative.
I listen for the better part of a half hour with part admiration for how completely Sanja lives into her personal value system and part guilt that only this year did I realize that single-use plastics like straws and picnic cutlery were a major hazard to our environment. Sanja’s household is almost at zero waste. She plays a game with her children to keep plastic out of the house. “Plastic out of the house is money out of the hands of polluters,” she says. “Then she says, “I’ve been working on this stuff for two years, but since the election I feel completely defeated.” And she starts to cry.
I sit across from her in my small therapy room. The sun is coming in the window at an angle so it hits me right in the eyes, but I resist getting up to fix the blinds. I want to hold space for her pain. Which is also my pain.
She goes on to describe her fears and how she feels like giving up on saving the planet, but how when she looks at her children she knows she has to keep moving forward even when she doesn’t feel hopeful, I start to well up too. A tear escapes, and I blot it away with the knuckle of my forefinger.
Sanja isn’t the first terrified client crying in my office over the election. Since my job is to hold space for clients, to let them sort through the triggers and pain in their lives by offering them supportive reflections and questions, I try to never let my own political cat out of the bag. But I find it so hard nowadays. I find it hard sitting with Sanja, someone who has lived her life for years in a state of conscious intention, believing she could make a difference.
“It’s no small thing to feel hope slip away, is it?” I reflect. “I’m sure that’s contributing to your depression.”
“No, this whole thing isn’t small at all. I know you can’t do anything about the big picture,” she stares out the window for a moment. “I guess I’m hoping someone can help me hang on to my faith.”
I nod. I don’t have any confidence at all that I can help her with that. My work since the election has been difficult. Not since 9-11 have I had so many clients in my office talking about world events as their major stressors. “I’ll try,” I say. “At least I can help you learn a new relationship with fear and frustration. Maybe if they don’t feel as unmanageable and overwhelming, you can see your faith through the fog.” Even as I say it, I can only hope it’s true.
We make another appointment, and I walk her back to the waiting room to say goodbye. “I feel a little lighter,” she says as she walks out the door. “Thank you.”
“It’s my privilege,” I say. And I mean it.
I go back into my office and adjust the blinds I resisted adjusting before. I think about how I should recycle more. I should march more. I should call my elected officials more.
I have a half hour before my next client. I heat up my lunch and pull out my new bamboo utensils to eat it with. I pop open my computer and Google Love Army.
“We need all hands on deck fighting for the future.” –Van Jones, founder of #LoveArmy
Cami Ostman is co-founder of the Red Wheelbarrow Writers and Director of Memory into Memoir, a program that gives writers everything they need to get their books done. She is author of Second Wind: One Woman’s Midlife Quest to Run Seven Marathons on Seven Continents and Co-editor of Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions. You can find her at camiostman.net.
Thank you Cami! I was moved and inspired by your piece. I also looked at LoveArmy. Looks like a great project. Sanja is an inspiring woman. I hope she recovers her appreciation for all the “little things” she is doing in her life, that do make a difference. My 3 year olds love to recycle and I am happy that I’ve been able to instill that in them.
This is very moving. I feel as if it’s myself in that chair with you listening nearby. Many thanks to you and your client for a broadening perspective.
Yes! Magazine is another that highlights successes in creating (pieces of) the kind of world we want to live in.
Thanks, Cami, for telling the truth about the toll on us.
Great post, Cami! I can only imagine what must come up in therapy sessions as a result of our political climate. Thanks for sharing this experience.
Cami, your job description (in addition to your post in general) is inspiring. “… my job is to hold space for clients.” What a remarkable idea that each of us can apply in our own lives. Holding space for those we encounter, rather than judging, shunning, looking at our watches, would absolutely alter the world. Thank you.
Thank you, Cami. I welled up too. I have found some comfort in a weekly email from Small Victories: two women collect positive political stories (yes, they are out there!) and circulate them. You can sign up at email@example.com.