FAMILIES ARE VETERANS, TOO

l to r: Dad, Aunt Mary (visiting), Mom, me, and my sister. Honolulu, Hawaii, 1968

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Usually drunk, or trying hard to be, Saturday nights we’d pile into somebody’s car and drive over to the MATS terminal on the military base where many of my friends and I lived.  The flight line wasn’t our reason for driving there; as I recall the snack bar had really good fries.

It was 1966, in Hawaii, and the Military Air Transport terminal on Hickam Air Force Base was a stop on the hop from California for soldiers going to Vietnam.  Like us, most of them were teenagers.

Most of my friends were kids of military families like mine.  Ever since Pearl Harbor the military presence on Oahu’s been pretty beefy so being a military kid –  Air Force, Army, Marines, and especially Navy – wasn’t unusual.  My life was about protocol and acting appropriately; I remember having to answer the phone “Sergeant Palermo’s quarters”.

Adolescence is a time for challenging authority; it’s part of what young people have to do in order to find out, and be, who they are.  While I tried to be part of my peer group, which group had my loyalty was unclear.   Was I a hawk like my military-industrial-complex’s warmongering father? or was I a flower child, a peacenik, a dove like the rest of my generation?

For a military brat like me, being sixteen in the sixties was complicated.  My answer was to dress like a hippie and keep my military heritage to myself.

Even so, those years in Hawaii were mostly spent among other kids who were themselves veterans of military life.  Even when I began college at the University of Hawaii, there were no demonstrations that I remember maybe because the bulk of the island’s inhabitants were part of very traditional Oriental cultures.  For lots of reasons, I wouldn’t have joined a protest rally anyway.

I had pen pals in Southeast Asia, guys I didn’t know but who were like all the guys I did.  Some classmates joined up out of high school, some got drafted, and some were friends out of the University’s ROTC program.  I still keep the letters from one of them.

It was later, back on the mainland, that I felt out of place and isolated – a military brat at a small New England college the year Jimi Hendrix (formerly in the Air Force himself) electrified the national anthem at Woodstock.

Being a childhood veteran is a singular experience; one that’s both good and bad.  I went where my father went and, with hardly any choice, he went where he was told to go.  So me and my family, veterans all, piled into the family Ford or onto a transport plane, and set off across country – again.

They also serve who sit in the back seat.

I never thought to complain that the only consistency in my life was change: leaving friends and having to make new ones; the anxiety of changing schools to one whose different curriculum inevitably guaranteed my failure; trading lush landscapes for harsh winters.  And always, always aware and reminded that my actions could literally affect my father’s career.

Lots of my behaviors result from those years; how can they not?  While I’m flexible enough to move about without trauma (I think) I  don’t have a hometown.  Quick at making friends, I don’t hang onto them.  Love is usually lost, marriage notwithstanding.  A poised pretender, I’m self-critical and self-conscious.  Honest and honorable, I’m surprised and stung when those around me aren’t.

Today’s military families are no less veterans than we were.  Like it or not, and many don’t, military affiliation sets you apart.

There’s nothing quite like the sense of ease I’ve felt around military people; nothing like the belonging I feel around things military.  No time I’ve felt more at home than with others who know what it felt like to be a veteran of growing up military.

Maybe that’s why I love a man who’s a military brat, too.  Whose father and mine were stationed in the same place two different times in our young lives.  Whose mother and mine were bowling buddies across our country.  A family reencountered years later on one of those re-assignment journeys in our family’s Ford.

Thomas John Palermo, Kathe’s father, was a veteran of the Army Air Corps who served in China during World War II and for almost 30 years in the United States Air Force, retiring as a Chief Master Sergeant.  He played a significant military role during the Cuban Missile Crisis, about which he never spoke.  Her mother, Elizabeth Korobeckhine Palermo, was herself a veteran of World War II.  Working as a Marriage & Family Therapist in Colorado Springs, a high-profile military town, his daughter, Kathe (Palermo) Skinner, often works with veterans of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan and their families as well as with those who currently serve.  She is married to David Skinner, son of George and Kay Skinner, military friends of her parents for almost 50 years. 
© Being Heard, LLC, 2017

DO YOU NEED YOUR THERAPIST TO BE HUMAN?

robot“I can’t work with someone who’s broken,” he said calmly.

The young man had just read my Disclosure, a description of rights that, as a Marriage & Family Therapist, I’m legally required to give all clients.  Although it isn’t necessary, my Disclosure also relates that I have multiple sclerosis; I don’t want clients to wonder whether my stumbling is about a liquid lunch.

Broken, he said.  BrokenI never imagine anyone thinking of me as “damaged” – hell, even in my most self-pitying moments I don’t think of myself in that way. 

I was temporarily speechless; did he really say that? 

“Tell you what,” I said when I was sure my response wouldn’t betray my hurt, “think about it until next time.”  Then I went home and cried.

At our final session he admitted what had evidently been in his mind for the three months we worked together.  He was glad he’d given me a chance.  “I found out I was broken, too,” he told me.

That young man understood that no one is perfect, not even therapists.  That healers can be in need of healing, too.  By making it “normal” to have flaws —  even serious or disabling ones (his anxiety and my m.s.) — the young man was able to let go of the stigma of emotional distress, the impossibility of being perfect, that was behind his anxiety in the first place.

I still disclose my disability to clients although the passage of twelve years has made symptoms apparent that were once easy to hide.  I fundamentally believe that clients who come to therapy often do so because they feel alone with how they feel; as Roy Orbison sang, the feeling is that we’re the “only one” who experiences the depth of pain we do.  How secretly pleasing to know that the someone who slips-up, isn’t always self-assured, or doesn’t always behave the way the experts’ books say is your own therapist!

How healing to know you’re really not the only one.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in couples work, especially with those whose relationships are impacted by invisible disability or chronic illness.  She’s been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for over 35 years.  At home in Colorado with David, her husband, and their two hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy, no one in their household believes in Kathe’s perfection.  Find information about the Skinners’ upcoming Couples Communication Workshop at www.beingheardnow.comand Kathe’s other dynamic practice and programs at coupleswhotalk.com.

Image Courtesy of supakitmod at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

© 2015, Being Heard, LLC

SOMETIMES YOU OUGHTA BE SCARED

clown hugBells should go off in your head if you’re walking in the woods and a clown in a bunker’s offering free hugs.  

Or when your guy grabs your shirt, slams you up against the wall, and says you don’t wanna make him angry.

And the whole theater’s screaming at that dumb young thing not to open up when the doorbell rings at midnight and nobody’s expected.

I’m not generally an alarmist although my husband David would disagree.  I do worry about fire starting in a trash barrel where he’s dumped grass clippings.  Or being afraid things are gonna blow up.  Or when I feel eyes on me when I’m working late by the open window in my first floor office and I can’t help myself I just have to look.

One summer my panties started disappearing off the clothesline, hang-up calls began right after my soon-to-be-ex left the house, and the guy across the street would make a racket so I’d look up to see him standing naked in his doorway.  When the phone rang at 2 one morning and the soon-to-be hustled me into the dark backyard I thought yeah, sure, I’m gonna get whacked — he had lots of, uh, connections; I didn’t for a second believe the police were evacuating the neighborhood.  But they were.  That spooky ass guy shot a neighbor who was coming home from shift work.

A bit after I rented out my condo, the woman whose doorway was a few feet away from mine was strangled at home then dumped in the woods. The daughter’s boyfriend went to prison for murder in a sordid story worthy of a bestseller.

Like people in an abusive marriage or those who return from war, I can talk about what’s happened to me as if it had happened to someone else.  Traumatic stress is often numbing and, whether the stress is long- or short-term, the need for self-protection can make us look (and be) detached and dispassionate.

Danger exists in trusting others even as protection is so desperately needed.  Laying down the guise, being vulnerable and exposed, is almost literally a deadly challenge that many won’t choose.

Traumatic stress is so often unexpected — who would set themselves up to be traumatized? — we cannot prepare or protect our psyches from it.  A system-wide shock indicates that everything in our world — most especially those to whom we are vulnerable like spouses, parents, children, friends as well as surroundings that once felt safe — is now suspect.  Add to that the invisibility of chronic, traumatic stress and the difficulty of  recognizing or relating to it adds to misunderstanding and further isolation and loneliness.

Traumatic stress can be vigilance run amok.

The experiencing, fearing, seeing, remembering of violence and harm can derail our thoughts and emotions, often forever.  Like someone who puts and keeps themselves in line for abuse, or those who think themselves immune to repeated horror, all of us need to realize that horror commands a price.  Similarly, we need to know that sometimes, not always, we can predict nasty experiences and seek to avoid them.  Problem is, the invisibility of stress disorders can mean that some people are less in control than it seems.  The creed of healthcare workers, protectors of public safety, combatants, and others who serve reinforces our expectations — and their own — about invulnerability.

Sometimes, vigilance is underrated.

Putting ourselves in charge, like not hanging out with somebody who slams you against a wall, is a proactive step to avoiding traumatic stress in the first place.  And when you can’t avoid getting bummed out, talking with a professional helper can expiate what may be stuck in your head.  That’s necessary if you want to be able to live your life without looking over your shoulder for clowns.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice who specializes working with couples, especially those for whom invisible disability — like PTSD — is part of their relationship’s mix. She and her husband David hold Couples Communication Workshops that help inoculate couples from the stress that a poor relationship can bring.  Register now for the lateswt workshop at www.BeingHeardNow.com

© 2015, Being Heard, LLC 

7 TRUTHS ABOUT COUPLES THERAPY

computer screen choosing loveJunk.

That’s the name I give to those reams of paper already printed on one side, fit only for recycling.  The remains of old binders of stuff from grad school account for this week’s batch of junk paper for my printer. Like a paper I’d written almost 20 years ago:  Assumptions, Approaches and Issues in Marital Therapy:  A Personal Definition.

Amazingly, what I believed then, minus the naïveté and lack of experience, is largely the passion and promise of what I believe today:

1.  Ease the pain.  Right off the bat, a therapist’s job is to give a couple hope about the future, no matter if it’s separately or together.  A therapist’s first role is to soothe heart hurt, restore faith, and normalize anger.  The hard work can wait for later.

2.  Children’s and pets’ behavior is about you.  Overstated, but you get the point:  Misbehavior, theirs or yours, is a symptom and not necessarily the cause.  When you want things better at your house, start by working on the big boys and leave the small fry alone.

3.  You’re driving the bus.   Where we go is yours to decide; my job is to help you get there.  A good travel agent doesn’t tell you where you want to go; you tell the agent.  Think of me in that way, gathering information then putting a package together that gets you on your way, lending a hand when problems along the way.

4.  I’m not immune to the issues you have.  Part of my skill is being able to tune in to your problems.  Although I’ve often been there, done that, I may see in your struggles things I have yet to resolve in my own life and relationship.  In the  that’s called counter-transference, and all therapists are touched by it.

5.  For each step back take 2 steps forward.  The family  system we grew up in, and how relationships worked within it, predict behavior in our relationship now.  Think of it as an individual version of “driving the bus.”  Called individuation or differentiation, couples therapy looks hard at each partner’s ability to separate from those automatic behaviors we learned about ourselves and relationships so long ago.  Remember that it takes two strong individuals to make a relationship work.

6.  Without Action, Knowledge is wasted.  Put another way, “So what’re you gonna do about it?”  The whole aim of coming to therapy is “behavior change” and not just “changing your mind.”  Those are things for me to know and you to learn.

7.  Crisis = Opportunity.  Going into marital therapy, or any kind of personal work, is an adventure whose outcome is largely unknown.  What I do know is that when things come to a head tremendous opportunity for growth exists when things burst.  Relationship is dynamic and as individual as each of you and the two of you together.

Hardest for me to learn has been that I can never want change more than my clients do.  You will  be (and ought to be) the trump card, driving force, bus driver, agent for change, mover and shaker.

What I know is that all of my skill, compassion, and knowledge will never be enough to right a boat when the passengers have jumped ship.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist, Coach, and Relationship Specialist who, for almost 20 years, has been in private practice along Colorado’s Front Range.  She has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis longer than most relationships she sees and specializes in working with couples where invisible disability is part of the relationship mix.  Kathe and  her husband, David, teach Couple Communication Workshops where participants get a peek at how this team manages a marriage where 2 very different personalities see things from 3 perspectives – and where class-goers learn to do the same.  Workshops are offered throughout the year.  Get the schedule and learn more at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com.

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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©2014, BeingHeard, LLC

IT TAKES TWO TO DO-SI-DO

cowboy boots red

Doin’ the do-si-do’s impossible to do by yourself. 

I spent lots of years hanging out with girlfriends or not hanging out at all, which was more likely to be true. Most times, none of us even had someone who filled in for love. I’m not ashamed to say there are times I would’ve settled – my need for affiliation was that great – at least for awhile.  Although I did draw the line at that Mafia guy.

Being un-paired suggested to me that who I was was unacceptable; someone whose standards, suggested Mom, were sometimes too high.  This time she was right.

The upshot was a 10-year marriage I never wanted and that didn’t work, anyway.

And when, post-divorce, I found someone to love, conundrums followed double-behavioral-messages and I was as heartbroken and needy as if I were one of those women who stand uncomfortably on the periphery of social situations.  How humiliating that, when I bought myself a dozen roses to make him jealous, he knew no one else had done that but me.  

If you haven’t been there, done that, and are newly-bummed by Valentine’s Day, here are some thoughts:

1.  Scoundrels are plentiful.  Scoundrels will always be scoundrels. Scoundrels become scoundrel-ier the more you like them.

2.  Singles gatherings are very sad.  While such encounters are billed as “fun”, they never are.  They’re too often a forum for people to tell their bad/sad story.  While good forums for social science researchers, mixers like this can suck the breath out you for weeks.

3.  Visit the zoo.  Animals who live in enclosures have other fish to fry so they’re not upset when your dump truck of emotions backs onto their turf.   Just don’t dump on their food.

4.  Develop a mental solidarity with women who become collectors of cats.  Every cat-loving woman I’ve ever met understands how this happens, and is comforted by knowing that homeless felines are plentiful if all else fails.  

5.  Diet only if you want to.  A hungry person is a grouchy person, not at all lovable.  By the same token, if you’re ashamed of evidence of those ice cream orgies, remember that a shamed person often lies.

6.  Going to a bar is noisy, phony, expensive, sometimes dangerous but often depressing, especially when your friend gets hit on and you don’t.  People sucking up the bar scene are generally alcoholic, shopping for a good cut of meat, or both.  

7.  At the first sign of abuse run.  Fast and far.  Never look back.  

8.  Everything you’ve ever heard about kissing frogs is true.  These days you really can get warts.

9.  While the world feels like Noah’s Arc. fact is that with the divorce rate at 50%, out there’s a pretty big pool of people rejected by someone else.  And they’re yours for the taking.

10.  A clean bill of health is as important as it was to have a passport in Nazi Germany.  The consequences are about the same, too.

Pairing up is about lots of things, many of which we have no control over, like the biological imperative to reproduce our species, and to protect what we create.   Humans are meant to affiliate; we’re social animals who rely on, and need, each other.  The herd is enormous – 7 billion and growing. 

The odds are in your favor.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach who’s been in private practice for the last 17 years.  She works especially with the invisibly disabled.  Kathe finds real-life adventures in Front Range Colorado, where she lives with husband David and their hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy.  Neither of them has square danced since they were in 6th grade.  Learn more about Kathe & David Skinner and the Couples Communication Workshops they teach at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com and be sure to keep visiting Kathe’s blog at ilikebeingsickanddisabled.com.  P.S.  Pass it along!

©2014, Being Heard, LLC

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THAT GIRL KEEPS FALLING ON HER BUTT

fall-down-stairs.jpgMy balance, isn’t.

So when I head straight toward the bushes at the entrance to my building it isn’t surprising.

Bushes are a trigger in picturing my first (and only) experience as a new MSer in an MS support group.   Recommended by my neurologist, the group experience was meant to help me cope with the way-past-due-diagnosis of my disease.

Instead, it freaked me out.

Walkers, wheelchairs, canes, crutches – and me, invisibly disabled, in high heels looking at a future unable to wear them.

Big time downer.

Especially when a guy lost his balance and landed on his butt in a bush. That he laughed it off was horrifying.

I understand, now, the reason he laughed.  Not only is laughing at the faux pas around the commonplace common, but situations that elicit that kind of response are also all too common.

The reality he must’ve experienced then is one I now share.  Today I laugh, too.  Because it’s truly comical at times and also because laughter is socially reassuring.  “It’s alright, folks.  I’m alright.  Nothing to see here, move along.”

Knock wood, I’ve yet to experience anything dire in my navigational mistakes.  Embarrassment to be impaired in public is what hurts. Most of us don’t know what to do in a situation like that.  I put lots of effort into looking unimpaired, but when I catch sight of myself in a shop mirror, the reality of how I walk, for example, isn’t normal at all. 

When I use an assistive device, a rollator in my case, parents scold their children for staring.  I’ve yet to hear mommy or daddy use the opportunity as a teaching moment to talk about disability; rather it’s “don’t stare” before hurrying away.  No wonder society hasn’t made much progress in accepting the disabled community who, except to children, remain largely invisible.

Recently, Disability.gov blogged an article about steps to take when being newly disabled.

It’s worth a read, especially if you’re not.

Specializing in couples work, Kathe Skinner is a Colorado Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Specialist.  She works especially those couples where invisible disability is present.   For over 10 years, she and husband, David, have been Certified Instructors for Interpersonal Communication Programs .  Find the schedule for their next Couple Communication Workshop at http://www.beingheardnow.com© 2014 Being Heard