It started during a lunch out with all of the interns in our first week of orientation. Regina (we'll just call her that for ease & anonymity) had not been at a previous event where the interns had come together to complete a ropes course, so it didn't seem unusual that she was asking a lot of questions of the other interns, at least not at first. Then, I noticed that she didn't ask me any questions. And she seemed to ignore me when I answered questions about the city, nearby attractions, and Louisiana cuisine. It was as if I were invisible. I ate my lunch in silence (mine) and chalked it up to a case of ageism by a younger woman, something that I had recently begun to experience since working with more and more millennials.
A week or so later, I experienced her wrath for the first time. I said something that she didn't like in a process group, and she stewed on it for a week before confronting me in the group in an aggressive manner. She never spoke to me directly that week, but clearly had spoken to others. I instantly felt that the lines had been drawn and that I was now on the outs--not just with her, but with her posse of followers. The year was off to a pretty shitty start.
Then, at the beginning of the spring semester, something suddenly changed. We found out that a new intern would be joining us. Apparently, this threw Regina for a loop, because she actually came to me and attempted to join together against the new intern. She argued that our group had "bonded" and that a new intern would upset all of the work that we had done as a group. She said that it wasn't fair and that she already didn't like the new girl.
So, it was no surprise to me when she confronted the new intern in her first process group. And, it was no surprise that no one in the group came to the new intern's defense, except for the new intern herself. She spoke honestly and eloquently about how this transition was hard on her. She talked about having to leave behind co-workers and clients at her previous site. And she explained that the site had a lot of upset in its management and that it wasn't an easy place to be an intern. She cried, but she spoke up. And, I felt both empathy and respect for her immediately. Regina wasn't going to claim this one.
As the spring semester went on, I cared less and less about Regina and how she felt about me. I soon got busy with a caseload of clients and my own concern was them. My skills increased, and my confidence grew. I was connecting with my clients, who kept coming back, who were making changes in their lives, and who were telling me that meeting with me was helpful. I was doing good work, and I felt it on a deeply personal level. I was finding my identity as a counselor. I was proud, and I was happy.
And, so that was how I ended the semester and the internship. I was even able to speak honestly in our final process group. I apologized to one of Regina's friends to whom I had been unnecessarily mean and ugly (in my opinion) during a previous group. I answered Regina directly when she said that I had pulled back and put up a guard. I told her that I had, that she was right, and that it had been a conscious choice made in response to her attack of me in the second group of the year. She did not respond to that statement. At least not then.
A week later, the interns came back together for a final goodbye lunch with the staff. Except for my normal social awkwardness, the gathering went just fine until I met with my supervisor afterward. He hesitated when he told me that someone had gone to one of the staff with a concern about something I posted on Facebook. I was in shock. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I felt the blood drain from my face. I was sick to my stomach. I couldn't catch my breath. He went on to describe a post that I made on my final day at internship--a picture of a small piece of art that a client had made for me along with a statement about how much the experience had meant to me and about the gratitude I felt for each person who had been part of that experience. The post was visible only to my friends, and I didn't think of it as a breach of confidentiality. My supervisor couldn't even say that it was inappropriate. He said that he just wanted me to know that something had been said.
My immediate reaction was one of concern for my reputation. I had worked hard all year to prove that I was a dedicated counselor and that I had the skills necessary to do a good job. It was important to me that the professionals with whom I had worked all year would be willing to provide me with referrals for job openings and positive references. I suddenly felt like all of that had been compromised. I was now irresponsible and didn't respect confidentiality. I posted inappropriate things on Facebook. I was guilty of behavior fitting a 20-year old, not a mature and seasoned professional in her 40's. I was devastated.
And I was angry! Though my supervisor refused to tell me who the source was, my thoughts went right to Regina. She had sent me a friend request only about a month prior. I accepted it, knowing that it would be less awkward than not accepting it and telling myself that when the internship was over I could always unfriend her. I wanted to confront her! I wanted to get even! But, all I could manage to do was to go to a friend in the office and cry. I had plans to visit another internship site and to meet friends for drinks later. I couldn't bring myself to do either. I cried and drove home. I called a friend. I climbed into bed with my pets and cried some more. My mother-in-law called. I cried to her. I cried a lot.
And I unfriended and blocked Regina. I hoped that it had not been someone else. I worried about being vulnerable, about being betrayed by someone I trusted. I posted "pissed off memes" to my page. My true friends called and texted out of concern. The passive-aggressive vagary was completely out of character for me. They reassured me and supported me. They reminded me that this was "about her" and had nothing to do with me. They said that she was jealous and insecure and threatened by me. And, I mostly believed them. But, my worries, sadness, and hurt remained.
Until now. Now I know that she is just a mean girl. Now I know that she is threatened by my confidence and my abilities. Now I know that she is immature and doesn't know how to communicate directly or honestly. Now I know that she taught me a valuable lesson.
She taught me that there will be obstacles in my path from time to time. They may be people or events. They may come as a surprise, or they may be seen from a distance. I may be able to avoid them, or I may be forced to face them. I may get past some with little effort or effect, and some may knock me to my knees. But, like her, they really didn't matter. They were inconsequential. What really mattered was how I dealt with them, how quickly I recovered, how I let them affect me, and who was there to support me when I needed them. She taught me that, while there were mean people in this world, I was surrounded by lots of people who loved me for all of the attributes she saw as threatening. They like my honesty. They appreciate my directness. And they admire my emotionality. I have friends and family who know me on a level that Regina could never experience, and they accept me completely.
So, now I want to thank Regina for bringing my awareness to the support that I have been blind to for a while now. I want to thank her for showing me that I am strong enough to survive direct attacks with grace and dignity. I want to thank her for affirming through her jealousy that I made true connections with my clients and I made a difference in the lives of those with whom I worked this year. I want to thank her for reminding me that I am happy, confident, skilled, and capable, that I have a wonderful life with a supremely supportive partner, that I don't really care if I'm not a part of the "in crowd," and that I get to made a choice EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. to spread empathy, care, and support to others and to myself.
Thank you, Regina. I sincerely hope that someday you will be happy enough to stop being a mean girl. In fact, "I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy."