Content Warning: Difficult subjects including but not limited to sexual abuse, losing a family member, feminism, gay rights, etc.
The act of crying elicits a lot of emotional response from others. Some people get pissed at you for being a cryer because they believe you to be weak or pathetic. Other people are emotionally sympathetic and will want to cry with you.
When we started the residency we were warned not to use the time as personal counseling. Put more simply, we weren’t supposed to talk about the really trying and difficult things. On a scale of 1 to 10, we were supposed to keep the seriousness of the roleplaying scenarios under 5 and preferably around a 3. Examples of what I’m talking about are siblings who fight, a parent wanting a child to get better grades in school, a spouse that isn’t keeping the house clean, or a roommate that’s not pulling their own weight. Problematic, but not traumatizing.
After lunch we watched the professionals do a roleplay and then discussed how to incorporate specific methods of eliciting information and asking questions. The sort of stuff that you can know theoretically but is much harder to do in practice (as I’m learning).
The last two days have been a humbling experience to say the least. While I am book smart, it’s clear that I (like many others) have a difficult time deviating from my own norms and behaviors.
To keep us all from sleeping, the professor did a line game. Everyone starts on one side of the room. The professor reads off a statement and if it applies to you, you walk across the room, turn to face your peers, and look to see who is with and not with you.
As you can imagine in a counseling cohort, this included some really difficult questions. To put it simply, it was an exercise to explicitly show us the ways in which we cannot assume *anything* about other people and the ways in which we are more similar than we might otherwise believe.
The questions began with things like “I consider myself to be Catholic.” And one or two people walk across the room and then walk back. “I consider myself to be Protestant,” and after a little more clarification, this equated to Christian but not Catholic. A few others walk across the room and walk back. “I identify as African American.” Two people walk across and joke about not being alone, then walk back. “I identify as multiracial.” I walk across, alone. I joke about it being a lonely walk, and walk back.
The questions grew in intensity to include “I believe that it’s a woman’s right to have an abortion.”, “I consider myself to be a feminist.”, “I have a friend or family member that has been sexually assaulted.”, “I have a friend or family member that has AIDS or HIV.” There were times I didn’t look up from the floor when I walked across. Other times I didn’t want to see those on the other side of the line from me out of shame. Mostly vulnerability.
It was the discussion afterward that really became difficult.
Professor: “What surprised you?”
Me: “How often people were on the other side of the line with me.”
Professor: “What other feelings did you experience when doing this exercise?”
Professor: “Did it change the way you viewed the others?”
Me: “Sometimes I wish I were the only one walking on the other side of the line, because you really don’t want to believe that we all know someone that’s been sexually assulted. And I’d rather be on the other side of the line by myself.”
Someone: “Some of the statements could have been worded and didn’t include ourselves.”
Me: “I think for some of us, we ARE our own family. And we could very well have been walking across the line for ourselves.”
Professor: “When we leave here today, remember who had the hardest time and struggled with some of these, but still were courageous when they walked across. I won’t single anyone out, but it was very obvious for some.”
I was the first to cry. I called myself a cry baby, though I think it made others more mad that I did. Others said they couldn’t look at me because they were already on the verge of tears themselves and if it wasn’t me it would have been them.
It was an emotionally draining experience, but also one that really did bring our group closer together. Tonight is a larger group going to dinner. We’re gonna get some deep dish pizza as a group. The professor made a point this morning to say that he had never experienced a cohort that had been as close knit and willing to help each other as we have been, especially not after the first day.
On the board at the end when we were summarizing the end of day 2, I made sure to include that we were the best group.
And it’s okay now for others to cry cause I took that fear of being the first one away.
This post is part of #Blaugust 2015.