Dr. Stacee: What I’ve come to discover about myself is that my role in the world is to use my experiences and my process of being to inspire others to do whatever it is they really need to do. One of the important projects I’ve been engaged in is connecting the work I do as a counselor, educator and writer with this older story which is the hero’s journey. It’s become an important part of my understanding of what we go through when we transform, heal, and make decisions to be bold and to move into a new space, and when I discovered the hero’s journey through a review of stories, myth, and self-help, I found that it had a lot of resonance for people, especially kids, who were marginalized or made to feel other. They found something inside of themselves where they could use that “otherness” as a source of inspiration and personal clarity.
CB: I love that perspective, that our struggles can be the thing that defines us in a positive way.
DS: In counseling and other helping professions, we often treat people’s experiences of growing up with challenge as being defined exclusively by that challenge. I’m trans, and I started hormones when I was 19, so I had some really challenging experiences growing up. It’s often the case that when we tell the stories of trans people, for example, that the focus is on the struggle, difficulty, and complexity of that experience. That kind of thinking takes us into spaces of always worrying about issues like depression, substance abuse, and suicidality. We treat otherness as a deficit. In diversity training, for example, we don’t talk about otherness as a place of learning and clarity of how to be. We always approach otherness as solely a challenge. We don’t yet have a good method for using challenge as a tool for knowing how to move forward. How can our struggles be a focus for reckoning? For being able to place ourselves in new contexts where we are able to transform? In the context of the hero’s journey, we can look at ancient myths, like Hercules, for inspiration. These are the fabric of our understanding of ourselves. We look at celebrities, like RuPaul or Steven Hawking and think “Wow, look at these people who have triumphed and done amazing things,” yet we fail to see the hero that exists within us. For example, someone who overcomes a daily battle with depression. It’s not that they’re never depressed, but that they carry on in spite of it. As a mental health professional, I’ve met people who experienced profound abuse as a child, but in adulthood, came to see him or herself as very lovable and capable of creating strong relationships. We don’t pay enough attention to that, to overcoming the odds in our daily lives. We focus solely on the struggle, and edit out the good stuff that comes with it. We don’t name our own hero’s journey that exists as we try new things, choose to get unstuck, and to go out in the world to become something more. We don’t give enough value to our conscious choices to move beyond the struggle, to refuse to be mired in the past.
CB: As you describe the hero’s journey, you mention really important words like “create” and “do” and “be”. Our focus at Snapdragon is to talk about how creating can help us heal. I’m wondering how creativity, art, or writing has played a role in your own hero’s journey?
DS: What I’ve discovered through my own journey is that I’ve always been a writer and a creative person. I didn’t always understand or value that… I though, “Oh, I really can’t draw. I’m OK at dancing, but I’m not a beautiful or graceful dancer. I don’t make things that I can see.” What I wasn’t paying attention to was that my whole life I was creating, writing, and engaging new parts of my brain and myself. I’ve learned how to use blogging as a part of my creative journey. I write about issues like humiliation and resentment, and how we uproot those limiting beliefs, how we name and identify them. As I write about these topics, I don’t write exclusively as a counselor. There’s a very active process of self-discovery going on for me. I’m journeying within and examining my own life as I blog. Through writing, I’m telling the story of me. If I can learn how to heal my own pain points, if I can describe it for somebody, then perhaps I can help them heal their own pain points as well.
CB: From a counseling perspective, what is it about the creative process that helps people heal?
DS: In our modern society, we really undervalue creativity. We think very linearly, and think of things as whether or not they have pragmatic value. These conditions really force people away from things that might give them joy, because at the end of the day, we’re trying to make ends meet. Thus we engage in activities that are mostly about paying bills and managing our lives in a pragmatic way. When we neglect our deeper desires and needs, we take a turn off of our hero’s journey. When we turn away from our creative selves for too long, we begin to feel depleted. So someone who struggles with depression may find their symptoms worsening, or someone with anxiety begins to feel edgier. When we’re away from our creative spaces… I mean both literal and emotional/psychological spaces, those non-linear times when creating takes place… we’re not taking care of ourselves, and a sense of depletion begins to take hold. We start to diminish and we notice that we’re not very happy. From there, other aspects of our lives begin to suffer, like our relationships and our health. My challenge to my clients is to recreate the spaces where creativity can thrive, and to embrace them. The effects of creative time are not hour for hour, but cumulative. Just like how an hour at the gym doesn’t create just one hour of extra energy, but much more than that. Creativity awakens our minds and our energy. It enhances our life.
CB: What suggestions do you have for our readers who would like to be more creative, but who feel blocked? How might our readers begin to infuse more creativity in their lives?
DS: For me, it begins with silence. I need silence in order to begin to get clear about what I’m wanting to create. Life doesn’t always allow for much silence! But the older I get, the more I recognize that silence must have a more central role in my life than it once did. I take time to get quiet, focus on my breath, and really notice what’s going on within me in the moment. In that space, I can ask myself, “What do I need now?” in an intentional way. It’s helpful to my process of clearing my mind and my space. I also believe that just starting has value. For example, if I feel writer’s block, and I write one sentence, I find it’s hard not to keep going. I want to continue. Starting helps me overcome that block. The blank page, or the blank canvas, can scare the hell out of us. But if we just start, a brush stroke, a sentence, these are enough to get us moving forward. If we allow the stone to start rolling down hill, it will begin to gather momentum, and we’ll find the process is there for us. Also, we have to learn what works best for us, and what we wish to manifest. Personally, I struggle with having my attention divided in many different ways. I’ll never be a great multi-tasker. I used to think I was good at it, but I’m just not! I need time to concentrate on one thing, rather than subdividing myself. I think that when we start using our artistic process as a guide, it helps us organize other parts of our lives, because we become clearer on who we are and how we can deliberately make decisions without constantly being overwhelmed. Other people need to dabble in a lot of different projects, and appreciate being able to shift from one thing to the next. So it’s all about learning about who we are, and how our creativity is best channeled.
CB: Your comments touch on our summer issue theme, “Surrender”: Surrendering to who we really are, and letting go of the need to force a way of being that isn’t natural to us. When you think about the word “surrender”, what does it mean to you?
DS: At first, “surrender” seems counter-intuitive to the notion of the hero’s journey. We think of heroes as assertively or even aggressively going after their goals. We don’t think of Hercules as surrendering. But what’s true for me, and what as I see as resonant with the circular notion of the hero’s journey is that by surrendering, we surrender to a deeper understanding of our path, of who we are. In essence, surrendering the notions of who we were “supposed” to be. In my own life, I’ve had to surrender a whole lot of stuff, over and over again. Being trans, there was a surrender to and acceptance of being trans, and also surrendering what it meant to be trans, ideas that came from other people. Others had very specific notions of what it meant for me to be a woman and so I subscribed to those ideas, until I realized that there were many pieces that didn’t suit me. I had to surrender to my own identity as a woman. I’ve also had to surrender in my professional role. Recently, I made the decision to surrender from my position as associate dean, realizing I yearned to focus on my writing and teaching. Although I did that administrative role well, it was based on what I thought I needed to be rather than what I wanted for myself in present time. I realized that whoever I needed to be to get me to this point doesn’t define who I am moving forward. Letting go of others’ expectations of what my hero’s journey should look like helped me find my own. Surrendering means surrendering the narrative written by others, and rewriting it myself. It’s about becoming clearer on who Stacee is and who she wants to be next.
CB: So, surrender as “giving over” instead of “giving in”. Giving ourselves over to who we truly are.
DS: My own journey and telling the story of finding the hero within is what I’m writing about. It’s about embarking on our own hero’s journey, especially for kids who felt different, and learning how to recognize our challenges and contextualize them so they have meaning, inspire our actions, and guide our decision making. Our challenges can help us do things that are original and unique, and don’t rely on the permission of others. We can be out on a limb with all our adult resources. It’s such an exciting experience, because writing is helping me discover the story, and finding a better way to tell it.
You can connect with Dr. Stacee, read her otherness blog, and learn more about her forthcoming book via her website. You can also follow her on Facebook & Twitter.