Most people agree that going through a graduate program can have a life changing impact. I was one of those people but oh man, never would I have imagined how great those changes would be. Going through Columbia’s DMT&C program turned me upside down, shattered my sense of self, the way I saw and related to the world, and re-assembled it. It was truly transformative.
In an attempt to honor this process and to show how “messed up” my mind works now, I invite you on a train ride from north to downtown Chicago.
Thorndale Redline Stop
I’m waiting for the Red line train towards 95th at a northern stop in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood. It is a nice, but cold day. Overnight the temperature dropped below 0C/30F and we had a couple of inches of snow. The windchill makes it feel even colder and I’m happy to enter the train to find some warmth and shelter.
The train arrives, the doors open, and I’m stepping into the wagon. Assessing people’s body postures, mimics, and how they positioned themselves in relation to the available space and other people in it, I walk from one end of the wagon to the other to find a seat. You can sense the weather having an effect on people’s mood and most of them sit curled up in their seat to warm up.
We haven’t reached the next stop yet when I feel an edgy sensation rising from my belly to my collar bones. Curious what this is about I look around. Everybody seems to be relaxed, but wait…is that person sitting diagonally from me, around 5 feet away, staring at me? I look back down. Maybe its just my imagination. But the sensation does not subside and I realize that I had started picking my fingernails.
Two stops down the road/ tracks and the sensation remains. I’m still picking my fingers and can feel the gaze of that person on me. I had looked up a couple of times finding myself in eye contact with that person. By now I realized that the sensation I experience is similar to what I feel when working with my clients of the schizophrenia/ psychotic disorder spectrum. Could it be that person has a mental disorder? But wait, this sensation is slightly different. However, they both share the experience of privacy being invaded.
We arrive at Lawrence and for 3 minutes nothing happens. The train stands, doors open. People are starting to look around. Then I hear the familiar cracking of the speakers:”We are standing momentarily waiting for police assistance, because a passenger is behaving rudely and is only half-dressed. We apologize for the inconvenience this might cause you and hope to be able to move shortly.” Interesting. I am starting to wonder what that persons intentions are. Is it a homeless person seeking shelter from the cold? First of all, which half is dressed? Maybe it is somebody with mental health issues? Maybe it’s both or none of them? Where is the next hospital with an ER and inpatient psych unit? I look out the window…I think Lakeshore Hospital is not too far away. I hope the officers know how to handle this situation and deal with the person and situation respectfully. How about the other passengers? I hope they are taking care of themselves and somebody can calm the situation, if necessary. Some breathing exercised and nonverbal attunement would be good…
After approximately 15 minutes the doors start to close in preparation to continue our ride. In that moment one guy in my wagon jumps up and pulls down the emergency knob above the door. Unfortunately, he seems to lack the physical ability to push open the doors, making it almost comical, but delaying our departure. A**hole! Well, at least it seems like I have my priorities straight…and the intrusive sensation from earlier is gone.
We continue our ride south and the train fills up. It is interesting to observe which seats are being filled first and which remain empty for longer. When we depart from the Fullerton stop, the wagon is packed. People are standing, sitting, 80% staring at their phones. The other 20% either reads a book or stares out of the window headphones plugged into their ears. A mass of people tugged into a small space, in relationship but without relating to each other. It actually makes me sad, but that’s also the world we in live now. Disconnected from each other, disconnected at times from ourselves. It is in those moments that I relate back to my 8 senses: my five senses of touch, smell, taste, sight, and sound; my sixth sense of bodily sensations; my seventh sense of mental activities (memories, thoughts, images, etc); and my eighth sense of being in relationship to others [this understanding of eight senses instead of just 5 is based on the clinical approach I’m following – interpersonal neurobiology]. It makes me fully aware of the moment and my life at this point of time. In a way it makes me alive in the literal sense of the word.
Enjoying the experience of being connected to the moment and honoring being alive, I continue my ride to the Harrison stop, where I get off to start my day at Columbia as a graduate assistant. But still, being a dance/movement therapist influences every second of it.