Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The genetics behind a mid-life crisis

Do you suppose there's some kind of gene predisposing people to a mid-life crisis? I suppose not, but it would at least give me some kind of tenuous reason for mine...other than that I've completely lost my mind. But a lot of these things seemed to make sense at some point or other and now they're some big, tangled morass. I think I'm starting to get things figured out, but just like a big tangled ball of yarn, it's going to take me a while and there are some big knots to deal with.

This all started about a year ago, when I found out that a local highly respected university was going to be starting a masters program in genetic counseling. It's a profession I've always been interested in, but never had the guts to pursue. It has all of those messy aspects to it, like human emotions. As a college student, I didn't much like the idea of messing with my own fragile psyche, but I've learned a lot since I was 20...thank goodness. Now I feel like it's a job I could actually do. So, a year ago, I e-mailed the medical director for the program. She gave me some vague idea about the requirements...human genetics courses, biochemistry...all stuff I already have. I was put on the 'interested prospective students' list for updates.

I finally heard back on the program this year. They plan to admit their first class...of six students...next Fall. I figured I probably wouldn't apply for Fall. I probably need to wait a couple of years until both of the kids are in school. Along with that announcement came the full, real list of requirements and recommended experience for the program. They'd changed, naturally. They now include a psychology class (developmental psychology or counseling psychology), and strong recommendations to do some work in crisis counseling and to job shadow a real-life genetic counselor.

Still not a big deal and I was kind of psyched about the whole thing, so I went back to a place I'd looked into last year for crisis counseling (I knew other genetic counseling programs recommended it). It turned out they were just about to start a training class for new counselors. I could make it to all of the mandatory meetings, so I signed up even though it meant having Scott come home early from work twice a week. I really enjoyed the class and the role playing. I felt like I was learning something new for the first time in a long time.

After I'd completed about half the training, the genetic counseling program sent out their curriculum for the program. The classes looked cool and exciting. Lots of clinical work. Lots of medical genetics and developmental biology. But one look at the list of classes with 20-22 units each quarter and I realized that it would easily take up 60 hours a week. I have two small children and a husband. How would I ever be able to do that? I can't. It's just doesn't work with my philosophies about parenting and family. I love being home. I love volunteering at school. But,...

I already had a meeting scheduled with the new director of the genetic counseling program and it was just two days later, so I continued going to my training classes and met the director. I figured I'd go ahead and ask her my questions and see if I'd even be able to get in. We went over GPAs and GRE scores. With the crisis counseling and a psychology class under my belt, I'd be a great candidate. I was all enthused again. I even asked her if she'd known people who'd been through the program with young children. She did. It sorta sounded do-able, even though she confirmed my suspicions that it's about 60 hours of work every week.

The same day I met with the director of genetic counseling a friend of mine from Mam's playgroup had a massive stroke while on a retreat for work. She was 35. The news the next day was grim. There was no hope of recovery. They eventually removed her from life support and she died, leaving a really sweet husband and a 3-year-old daughter behind. She was a really amazing woman who had done tons of volunteer work for disadvantaged kids and gotten her Ph.D. at Stanford. She was teaching classes there when she died. The news was crushing...in so many ways.

So, I thought I'd re-prioritize a little. The idea of doing genetic counseling went pretty much out the window. But I thought I'd go ahead and finish my counseling training. After all, it would ensure that I could still apply for the program if I changed my mind in a few years. But I'd stopped enjoying the class. I didn't enjoy the last role play I was in. I didn't feel that good about it, but I'd already done a couple of "shadow shifts"...listening in while an experienced counselor was on the phone with clients...and I was just about to do my first shadown shift where I was on the phones myself with the experienced counselor listening in.

Then came the memorial service for my friend. It was harder than I'd imagined...and I already knew it was going to be hard. I'd seen my friend just four days before the stroke. She was fine, lively and happily watching an Andy Z concert with her family. The loss to her husband and her daughter, who will barely remember her, seemed immeasurable. I wondered how I could have spent even a second considering a program that essentially requires me to abandon my family for two years.

Yesterday, things came into focus just that much more. I had my shadow shift with a woman who is probably one of the best phone counselors they have. I hated just about every minute of it. Crisis counseling, especially on the phone, really isn't quite what I'd expected it to be. They have a list of people considered "frequent callers". It might be 100 people long, but it may not be that long. Most of them are mentally ill. Some are just lonely. All of them call a lot, so the TCs (telephone counselors) get to know these people rather well. There's not much to do for them other than listen and encourage them to take some steps to get their lives together.

I was there for four hours and answered 25 calls...at least that's the number I logged. The phone rang so much that I probably missed a couple. I know it was an usually busy night, but I don't think that really had anything to do with my feeling about the whole thing. It felt like four hours of running my fingernails down a chalkboard. It was a very long four hours and I didn't enjoy it. My shadower said I needed to sound more like I cared, like I was really empathizing.

What I learned is that I understand so little about where these people are coming from that maybe I'm really not all that empathetic. I want to be that person...that warm caring voice for anyone who needs it, that person who makes psychologically wounded people feel better by just listening. But I'm not. I have little doubt I could become an adequate telephone counselor if I really wanted to. But I don't like it. I don't want to spend my time this way when I could be with my family. I need to quit.

But, of course, prior to going to my counseling shift, I'd just e-mailed the director of the genetic counseling program to remind her that she was going to send me names of people I could shadow, information on a potential internship and information on a good psych class to take. I guess she should be sending those this week. I almost hope she forgets. Goodness knows, I want to.

My alternate plan? I'm going to take some classes on decorating cakes (I've been left way behind in that arena) and making jewelery. I love that stuff. And maybe, just maybe some new hobbies are really what I need.

1 comment:

tiffany said...

Good for you! And a round of applause for doing what you feel best for your family. I love the cake decorating idea. Sounds fun, Tiffany