Jan Phillips
Cathy Conheim, L.C.W.S.
Christine Forester

 

ē Cathy Conheim, L.C.W.S. ē

I come to this project as a change agent.

Long before I became a change agent I came to this world as a person who never quite fit what the world wanted me to be. I never understood why there was a way I was supposed to beóand I understood even less why I was nowhere near what those expectations were. Formal education never made sense to me; its presentation bored me. I wanted to be doing things and trying out ideas, not reading about them and regurgitating what I read.

I went to small private schools but fit into none. The first six years of school I went to a predominantly boys school. I was one of two girls in the class. I didnít fit but learned to do the activities of sports and shop that boys did. At age eleven, I woke up one day and was five feet eleven inches tall. My body had betrayed me;my childhood was lost. I looked like a grown woman and was responded to as such. From seventh grade to grade twelve, I went to a private girls school and again, I didnít fit. I was always ten going on 40 and spent most my time with people far older than I. There, I felt at home.

I went to a huge university and felt isolated in my freshman class of over ten thousand. I related more to my teachers than my classmates. I didnít fit. The oddity of it all was that inside, I did fit. I knew who I was, I knew what I responded to, I knew what I believed in, I knew who I loved, I knew what made sense to me. I felt strong and centered, as well as small and vulnerable. I was extraordinarily intuitive, seeing and knowing things that most people didnít. I thought everybody noticed inner feelings and internal conflicts. I said things I thought people knew. They didnít. I scared them, and again, I didnít fit.

In the sixties, I was a passionate protester believing for sure that my friends and I could make a difference, change the world, end the war. I was devastated that neither happened. Instead, I ended up clinically depressed and, once again, didnít fit. I learned to pretend and appear as if I fit. Few, if any, knew of my inner turmoil. I was tired of school and I wanted to go to work and do things.

After completing my undergraduate degree, I ran a center for criminally abused and neglected kids. They didnít fit and I knew how to reach them. I could make a difference in their lives. In that role, I fit. I later went back to graduate school, the formal walls of the kind of education I hated but it was okay then because I knew what ticket I needed to be able to go out and make a world that made sense to me.

With my masters in hand, I entered the world of traditional psychiatric hospitals. My work with the patients made perfect sense, but my interface with the medical system made no senseóeven 25 years ago. I tried for five years to make the way psychiatry was practiced make sense. It never did. A lot of my creativity got channeled into anger trying to change a system that had a huge stake in the status quo. I didnít want to be that angry. They all thought they were doing good medicine. I didnít fit. I went to the mountains for a month. It became clear to me that I had to leave the whole "comfortable" world that looked like it fit for me and find another way to live, to work, to love or I would die. At 29, I "dropped out" of the world for a year, left the man I shared my life with, the job which had defined me, and gave myself as much time as my life savings would give me to find a way to fit.

It was the hardest and best year of my life. At the end of that year, I found home within myself and the courage to make a life where I did fit. I left the east coast and came west. I was never again employed by another. I did work that made sense to me. It was clear, outcome-oriented work with clientsóprivate and corporate. I let the marketplace decide whether I was good enough to be employed. If I had a full private practice and satisfied corporate clients, I was satisfied that my work was effective. I had no one to tell me my work was good or bad. Clients came wanting some sort of help to profoundly change their life. I was a good guide, they were courageous travelers. Their lives changed and I had the privilege of being a part of their journey.

If I look at how mainstream America lives, loves and works, I suppose I donít fit. The difference is, I donít want to fit into that mold. I want to live with integrity, accountability, intensity, consciousness, curiosity, creativity, and mostly with reality. Consciousness has become a counter culture activity. I am happily counter culture. What makes me powerful as a guide and a change agent is not what I learned in school, it is what I learned in life: being me in a world that invited me as a woman to be everybody but me. I am willing to share that life and journey with others, to give them the courage to know that they can create any world that they have the willingness and courage to try. As a change agent, I want to challenge people to go beyond the barriers of what they see as their limitations. I believe that as we own who and what we are, we start to own our own real personal power to create a world that works and fits our own unique energy. As a woman and as a psychotherapist, that is my work and that is my life. Work and life have become seamless for me.

I still am far from the norm in every way that my culture has set for me. Everybody I see in the world also doesnít fit into the "cookie cutter" mold, physically, emotionally, intellectually or spiritually.

These stories and the pain they reveal are a call to arms. In sharing them, we ask other women to join these courageous women. Share your stories, your pain, your survival strategies. Use these as the springboard to form new emotional clothes. We all deserve to fit. Make your own pattern and try it on. I did and I came to love me for who I am, not for how I donít fit.

ē

 

 


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