When I first met him, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d had numerous counselors before. Some were good. Most were average. So when I went to the mental health center that day to meet him for the first time, I didn’t think much would come of it. For the first few sessions, I raked him over the coals. It’s not something I am proud of as I look back on it now, but I think something inside me needed to know if he could truly deal with some of the issues that were prevalent in my life.
“What qualifies you to work with someone with disabilities?”
“Do you understand that my physical disability is not the main issue that I struggle with?”
His answers were always wise and gentle. And as we got to know each other over the next months and years, he helped me to dig deeper. He encouraged me to feel things that I wasn’t used to. When I was having a hard time, he reminded me that I was a good person. When there was a behavior that wasn’t working for me, he called me out on it, but never with the result of my feeling bad about myself. He taught me the concept of mindfulness–living in the moment without regretting the past or fearing the future. It’s a practice that I still need to practice, but I am getting better at taking one day at a time.
Eleven years. George worked with me one on one every week for eleven years. In the process, he chipped away at my anger and my self-doubt. He encouraged me to try things that I didn’t think I was capable of. He helped me to analyze relationships and taught me skills and strategies to use when I wanted to communicate effectively. He supported my writing and my advocacy efforts and always wanted me to tell people what I needed, whether they were receptive to me or not. And he always reminded me of my progress on the days when I would sit in his office and cry because I didn’t feel like I was making any progress at all.
There were a few months in the course of our working together when I couldn’t leave my house after a complicated surgery. George left his office and came to my home during that time. He understood that I needed him badly.
In 2015, for reasons that were both personal and professional, George got a job in Topeka, and our counseling relationship came to an end. Devastated does not do my feelings justice, but I knew I was a completely different person than when George and I first met. He is a truly gifted counselor and he had shared those gifts with me. Read more about George here.
This morning, I was outside with a caregiver. We were trimming my raspberry plants and watering the rest of my garden. Because my driveway is connected to a bike trail, I often see people on their bikes close to my house. So I didn’t think much of it when I saw a biker today. I only stopped to take a closer look when he turned into my driveway.
I hadn’t seen him in person in more than three years. We are friends on Facebook, but his professional ethics prevent us from communicating very much.
“You were sitting outside today. I thought I would say hello.”
He showed me pictures of his grandkids. I gave him a copy of my book. I asked him questions about his family and he did the same. He wasn’t here very long but seeing him did me a world of good. In the fourteen years I have known George, the two hugs I have gotten from him were both given to me today.
I have two surgeries coming up and both of them scare me. There are some potentially scary things that are up in the air with my family, and as always I am trying to navigate my relationships in the best way that I can. So often in the last few months, I have found myself wishing that I could talk to George. He understood me so well and always helped me to figure stuff out when I just didn’t know what to do.
The fact that he sought me out earlier today let me know that he was still out there and still cares. It was a good reminder of all the work we did together and all the progress that we made.
In the next few months, I will have some challenges. But by George, I think I will be okay.