(or Me vs. the Horseshoe Crab)
I walked into my therapist’s office the other day to find that it was all packed up. The bookcases were empty, the knick-knacks were gone. There were stacks of boxes and rolls of bubble-wrap. She had momentarily left the room when I arrived, so I had several minutes to devise a list of worst-case scenarios. Was she moving to a new office? In the same suite? Same building? Across town? How would this move impact my journey? Or worse: was she retiring? Closing up shop? Had she had enough? Had we all driven her completely crazy?
When she returned to the office I immediately demanded to know what was going on. She seemed shocked that I would ask, as if walking into your therapist’s packed-up office was completely normal. No, she was not moving or retiring. Her office was just being repainted and new flooring was to be installed. And did I really think she would move or retire without giving me months and months of notice so that we could process it together?
In short, yes.
Certainly a move of office would be a much easier scenario to adapt to than losing her to retirement, but even so, I was uneasy with the thought that anything about this therapeutic environment might change.
There is something very reassuring about knowing that my therapist’s office is intact, that I will find it nearly exactly the same way each time I visit. Not long ago she changed the pillows on her couch and I found myself quite upset by this. How could she just toss out those old pillows, the ones that I clutched and hugged and cried into? So, no, I’m not sure if I could cope with a new office. I’m not sure I can cope with new wall colors.
I am very sensitive to change. In spaces that I am intimately familiar – my home, my office, my therapist’s office – I know in an instant, as soon as I enter the room, if anything has been shifted. I know immediately if something has been added, or taken away, or moved, even slightly. After our house-cleaner comes once a fortnight, I have to go around the house and put everything back in its rightful spot.
I once had a roommate who would regularly lend out my room while I was away on business travel. What always amazed me was that she wouldn’t even try to hide the fact that she had done this (and she certainly wasn’t asking for my permission beforehand). I would have realized regardless, but I always thought she would at least attempt to put the room back as I had left it.
I often score high on being “change agile” in the workplace. I think I often come across as being adaptable to change on the outside, even though I am seething and resisting on the inside. Like many emotional states that cause me discomfort, I turn those feelings inward for processing – or suppressing.
This doesn’t come as a complete surprise to me. After all, by the time I got to third grade I had lived in three states and attended six different schools. Change, over which I had no control, was part of my life. I’m not sure that I knew any different but I knew that I did not like it.
And now it’s not that I am resistant to change, but I definitely don’t seek it out. As long as the current state of affairs is working, or at least tolerable, I have little impulse to shake things up. It will take some cataclysmic eruption – a natural catastrophe or prolonged unemployment for example – to propel me out of my predictable rut. I like homeostasis. I don’t get a rush from the opportunities presented by major change, and instead look longingly back to what was once stable and predictable.
Despite the many moves in my early upbringing, I’m not sure I come from a lineage of change-embracers. I have no insight into how or why my European ancestors made their way to this country. I don’t know if they came willingly or reluctantly. I often contemplate the inter-generational wounds that have been handed down, of which I acutely feel and wrestle with, but don’t often have awareness into the origins.
My aunt (by marriage) tells this story. Many years ago we were all gathered at the family summer home. The kids were being put to bed, and she, having not yet had kids, decided to be helpful and wipe down the kitchen counters. She completed her task and sat down in the living room, where she proceeded to watch my mother come out and wipe down the counters. And then my grandmother. And then yes, my great-grandmother.
I remember getting quite upset with a high school boyfriend when he dared to question why the Christmas cookie icing was in an array of pastel colors. “Because that’s just the way we do it, it’s the way it’s always been done,” I’m sure I snapped. Who was he anyways to come in and challenge such tradition? The cookies are always iced in pink, light green, white and just a hint of yellow. That’s how I was taught and I’m sure it’s the way my mother was taught by her mother and by her mother before. I’m sure there are a hundred years of Christmas cookie plates that look EXACTLY the same. Same recipe, same shapes, same colors. There are just things you do and don’t even think to question.
So I had to catch myself this year when my son asked for blue icing! Blue icing!!! On the Christmas cookies. And oh, could the pink be more red and the green more green. And we need more yellow.
This just illustrates so much of what I’ve come to observe in my own family of origin. We do things simply because that’s what we’ve been trained to do, either consciously or because it’s just been embedded in our genes and wiring. Breaking those innate patterns is hard. I don’t think it’s just me that is change-adverse. I think it’s a trait that been handed down over many generations.
A few years ago I had a very vivid, symbol-filled dream of a giant, monster-like horseshoe crab. Elements of this dream have resurfaced many times over – the horseshoe crab as an ancient sea creature, resilient, a guardian of time. A creature that can re-grow lost limbs after severance and has very powerful, healing substances. To me it has become a reminder of those unseen, unknown, but clearly felt wounds from my ancient past, the historical mistakes needing to be corrected in the here and now.
This realization doesn’t make me like or embrace change anymore, but it does make me appreciate the function of change. The wounds we don’t deal with, as we continuously wipe down the kitchen counters and decorate cookies on auto-pilot, only get passed on to the next generation. And with each passing, the wounds become deeper and harder to heal, the innocent deep sea-creature only grows in size until it’s more anxiety-provoking than calming.
I know it is my calling to battle the giant horseshoe crab from the ancient depths of the past. And I’m working on it. I have a long way to go before I slay the monster. Perhaps accepting new walls colors and cookie icing colors is a start.