Marie entered my office visibly distressed. Clinically depressed over the loss of her 19-year-old son, she missed work and cried often. It had been less than a year since her son, Ray, died by suicide. The grief was fresh, raw and unprocessed.
In addition, her stepdaughter from a previous marriage had been abducted at school. She was never found. The community organized walks and vigils to help find her. There were bumper stickers on cars with “Find Katie,” and the local news media covered the story.
Marie had a solid foundation of support. She grew up in a loving home. Her relationship with her parents was good and they lived in a nearby state. She had a tight-knit group of friends from work, a diverse group in terms of religion, sexual orientation and race. Marie was part Native American. Her friends were people who loved each other because they saw through their surface differences. Still, even with the best support system, a person’s fortitude can crumble under stress.
The loss of her son and the abduction of her stepdaughter made the top of her list of stressors, but Marie had many more. Her daughter, May, was in a nearly fatal auto accident. Her other son, Lee, was in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army and she had conflicts at work. The stress overwhelmed her.
Marie managed her stress and stayed above water. Then life hit her with another obstacle. She unknowingly had taxes due back in another state. Because she didn’t know they were due, she didn’t pay them. The state garnished her paycheck, leaving her with $32 to her name. Ironically, Marie’s job was in payroll processing.
She went home, took a bottleful of pills and drank.
Fortunately, she survived the deadly concoction. One of her friends found her and called me with the news. I decided to take drastic measures.
I invited her three best friends and daughter to join for group counseling every Saturday. Marie needed to see why she could not abandon these people. She needed to see how they needed her. Her daughter, May, showed strength that clearly reflected her mother’s. Marie was made aware of her impact on the lives of her loved ones. This grounded her, giving her purpose and motivation.
Our therapy was successful because she applied what we discussed to her life. She would read and act on the articles and books I gave her. Therapy was also successful because I remained curious and compassionate about her situation.
Cognitive therapy was a central part of our work. During sessions we used eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), as well as hypnotherapy. These treatments helped assess the efficacy of her meds and gauge whether she was managing her depression well. We addressed and alleviated her damaging thoughts. However, it was our strong connection that made the therapy work. Marie knew how much I cared for her and her family. She had a safe place to cry and grieve and vent; we were often able to laugh.
We used the Enneagram, a personality test I give my clients. There are nine different archetypes including #9: peacemaker and #7: enthusiast. In fact, she printed off her profile and had it posted on her cubicle for her co-workers to read. Her personality type is known as #8: challenger. Enneagram personality types are described in depth and give examples of what each type is like at their best and their worst. It helped her gain self-knowledge.
One assignment she enjoyed involved picking a theme word for the entire year. For example, I’ve chosen words such as listen, humble and peace. Choosing a theme word means being aware of that word on a daily basis. I expected Marie to use her planner to stay reminded of her word. She not only decided on an excellent word that resonated with her, but she had it tattooed on the inside of her wrist: becoming.
I am honored to have worked with her over the last decade. Her story exemplifies courage and resilience- traits I couldn’t help grow to love about her. Marie has taught me by her example. She has shown me it’s possible for someone to be strong despite their circumstances. After all, when you really think about it, we are all becoming.
Thank you, Marie.
Disclaimer: The stories and names shared have been modified to protect the clients’ privacy.