Sometimes you choose a career. You have a passion for something – the law, medicine, filmmaking. You pursue the necessary education/training/experience. You become the lawyer, doctor, or renowned documentarian you always wanted to be.
Sometimes you inherit a career. A long line of ancestors did the work of farming, banking, or manufacturing widgets, and you’re expected to follow in those footsteps, whether you want to or not.
And sometimes a career chooses you. This happened to me.
When my son Julian was 15 (perhaps even earlier), his father and I became aware that he was a cutter. This was just a symptom; the underlying problem was paralyzing depression and anxiety. I felt ill-equipped to support him in ways that might make a difference. So I did what any freaked-out mother would do: I went back to school to get my master’s degree in counseling psychology.
I sometimes describe myself as a “professional question-asker.” I learned to do this in the field of journalism as a television documentarian before law school, trying to get to the core of a newsworthy issue or incident. I learned to do this again as a lawyer, trying to get to the core of a conflict between entities or individuals. And now I was learning a third way: as a psychotherapist, trying to get to the core of my clients’ subconscious.
My son’s battle to stay sane and alive aroused a passion and curiosity in me. I wanted to achieve greater empathy and compassion for his sometimes maddening and often dangerous behavior. I wanted to be able to ask the right questions of and have intelligent conversations with the professionals who were treating him. I wanted to offer him real hope in the form of clinically based methods that were shown to have worked for others. Honestly, I needed that hope as well.
As my body of knowledge in the field of psychotherapy grew, Julian continued to have his ups and downs. However, every day he was still alive was a victory in my book. I completed my master’s degree in June 2009 with over 1,500 clinical hours of experience towards the 3,000-hour requirement to even sit for the psychotherapy licensing exam in California. I was still working towards that goal when I got the call on June 1, 2010. Julian had succumbed to his illness and died by suicide. My professional trajectory came to a screeching halt.
I was broken.
And then something miraculous happened. I began to tell Julian’s story of mental health challenges and suicide. I began to tell my story of loss and grief. Word spread. Friends started to call: “I know a woman whose son/daughter just died by suicide. Would you be willing to talk to her?” Of course I would. And did. The feedback I got was that it had been so helpful to speak with someone who had “been there.”
The real surprise is that the help I gave to others helped me too. It gave my unfathomable loss meaning and purpose. A few years later I became a certified Grief Specialist.
I no longer have a full-time practice, but if a call comes in from someone who is grieving who chooses to work with me, I will not turn her or him away.
My blog, A New Normal (www.celeniadelsol.com) and my podcast, Beauty In The Breakdown: Living & Loving Life After Loss (anchor.fm/celenia-delsol) are other outlets I’ve created to reach people who are grieving.
Sometimes your professional life has curious twists and turns. None of it is for naught. I’ve never regretted my legal education, training, and experience. They have served me in every aspect of my life. The law is one of many lenses I use to view the world and make my way through it, no matter what travesty or tragedy comes my way.