by Caroline

dark was the night; cold was the ground

“So, what happened to your sense of humor?”

“Can you just loosen up a little?”

“I miss the old you.”

“Why do you have to take everything so seriously?”

“It was just a joke.”

“Do you ever leave work mode anymore?”

But I’m happy now, is the thing.


The first time I can remember feeling unsatisfied with my life as it was is actually entirely coincidental with learning to love poetry. There is a Tony Hoagland poem called Reasons to Survive November, and it wasn’t the first poem I loved but it was the first poem I felt, viscerally and as an explanation for feelings I couldn’t yet quantify. There’s a bit toward the end that’s always struck me as incredibly powerful where he talks about “shoving joy into my heart over and over” and I (still) remember reading that for the first time as a senior in high school and realizing that someday, there was going to be more to my life, more maybe than I could even have imagined.

It’s a pretty negative poem (or at least, it comes from a pretty externally negative place) and I identified pretty hard with it during the peak (trough?) of my depression. I don’t anymore. However. I do come back to those lines specifically every so often; historically I wonder when I will begin to live it, but now I think I am. Maybe this is just a long-winded way of saying “haters can hate”? But either way. Haters can hate. And I will shove joy into this tiny little heart over and over until surviving November is not even a question but a fact, unquestioned, and I will live that like a firebrand. And that’s about how this life is gonna go.

on vacations, reflections, and rocks (these are a few of my favorite things)

I am finally finished with work, school, and DVRT for the rest of December — i.e., I am officially on a break, with NOTHING TO DO. Literally. Nothing. My days are filled with questions like “should I bake cookies today, or scones? hmm I’m going to Panera,” and “do I really need to take a shower today?” (because there’s AN ACTUAL LIKELIHOOD that the answer is NO, BECAUSE I MIGHT NOT LEAVE MY HOUSE) and wow maybe I should focus on the positives of being on vacation?? Tonight, there’s a holiday pop-up market in Ypsilanti that I didn’t have to check my planner before deciding to attend.

This feeling of not having anything to do is pretty foreign to me and it’s been compounded these last few days by the fact that we’re a week outside of Christmas and it’s sixty degrees out. Weather shifts for some reason are always really strange for me — it’s like my brain doesn’t know what to do if the weather outside isn’t textbook-cliche given the date — and between this and the (mandatory) self-reflection I’ve had to do recently for various classes, my introspective side is kicking into overdrive.

All of the self-analysis I’ve had to do for school and for DVRT point to one common theme: one of my biggest obstacles to helping is an almost crippling fear, but as time passes, my fear is melting away. One of my best friends is in town for the holidays right now and I was able to spend yesterday afternoon with him. I was on call last night, so we got to talking a little about that and he asked me a few questions, the most important of which was “are you still afraid when you go out onto calls?” My answer surprised me, really, because back in September it seemed like I would never get there, but I can say, honestly, that unless I’m getting called into the hospital, the answer is: no. I am not afraid anymore. Do I get apprehensive as I knock on a door? Does my heart break more often than I’d like when I’m talking to survivors? Do I still leave sometimes and wish I had said or done something different? Yes, yes, resoundingly yes. But I’m not afraid going in anymore. The difference between then and now is that now, I know that whatever happens, I can do it. I can get in and do some good, no matter how small. Which is a pretty good feeling.

It’s not really the end of the journey, though, like I thought it would be. I thought I would be afraid the entire time until I got to be A Good Counselor (whatever that means??) and then I would suddenly stop being afraid. Like so much else… this is wrong. I guess I can’t explain what’s different? Experience? Having had a chance to see the potential I do possess? The knowledge that I’m going to keep learning, refining, and getting better?

My basic skills class ended on Wednesday, and as part of the final class we had to give oral presentations. The last bit was an instruction to talk for a minute or so about “a topic of your choice related to professional helping” so obviously I chose to talk about river stones? (If you are wondering what the heck is my problem/how I am allowed to leave my house, I can tell you that you are not the only one/I don’t know.) Anyway, the deal with river stones is that they are pretty normal rocks (nothing special, nothing gem-y, just rocks that are in the right place at the right time) and through some intricate series of events, they wind up being transported down the length of a river. By the end of their journey, which is at times stressful and turbulent and which winds up taking them very, very far from where they’ve started, they are smooth and round, all their edges sanded off. You can actually tell generally how far a stone has traveled by its general shape.

Obviously my love for both metaphors and rocks has kept me coming back to this idea every time I feel like throwing my hands up and admitting defeat. I can’t express how many times I have sat at my desk and thought, river stone, river stone, river stone, as I decide to stumble through another assignment or another call. Another encounter, another rough edge gone.

This idea of constant refinement is somewhat challenging for me. I am kind of at a point in my life where I don’t really know what’s coming next. I am incredibly different, already, from the person I was in August. I have no idea who I’ll be a year from now. It’s pretty hard to contemplate that, to know that I’m sort of just along for the ride. Not knowing how I’ll change, only that I will. I really have no idea where the mouth of this river is.

BUT, for now, it’s winter break. I’m going to my parents’ house this weekend for the first time all semester to procure and decorate a Christmas tree. I’m not going to think about anything, for two blissful weeks, except my family and my friends. This little river stone is taking a break. ROCKHOUND OUT.

so many turkeys

People who know me know how much I love the holiday season, and specifically how much I love Thanksgiving. (I think it is criminally underrated.) It’s the perfect holiday to kick off a month of reflecting on maybe the two most important facts we can know about ourselves: what we have, and what we can give. I try to look at it as an opportunity to balance myself: count my blessings – give thanks – while gently reminding myself where I can do better. Because I always can.

In the spirit of the season, then, I thought it would be a good idea to try and write a list of the things I’m thankful for from a professional development standpoint.

First, I am thankful for the incredible support network of family and friends that allows me to do what I want to do. In many ways, this year has been painful and difficult. My schoolwork is difficult, and in a different way than I’ve ever had to deal with before. My job is wonderful as always but my new position has a learning curve associated that’s caught me off guard a bit since May. DVRT… we don’t have to linger, but it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And all of this sums up to be what it’s like to leave behind a life I really wanted, and a degree I worked very hard for. In short: this is hard. My family and friends have been there for me so consistently and have been such a calming, soothing presence; I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them.

(I should also say that spite of all this difficulty, though, I am also thankful for all the ways that this year has been wonderful and easy: I feel like I am finally fitting into where I was always meant to be. It’s all about getting stronger, kinder, better. And the going might be slow, but it sure is going.)

I am thankful for the opportunities in my life – I am thankful that I got into a graduate program that fits who I am and what I want the first time around, and I am thankful for the graduate assistantship that’s making it possible and giving me so many skills and advantages. I am thankful for bosses and professors that truly care about my education. I am surrounded by role models every day – by people who don’t get told often enough how integral to my development they have been and continue to be. (Resolution: tell them more.)

I am thankful for working in a building with a Starbucks downstairs.

I am thankful that I live in an area with so many opportunities to volunteer and “get my activist on”.

I am thankful for a boyfriend who helps support me, and who makes it possible for me to devote my life 100% to school and volunteerism. I am thankful for intelligent, open-minded friends who listen to me, who talk to me, who learn with me and help me see new things, or see old things in new ways. I am thankful for this bullet point: thankful that my personal and professional lives can intersect so seamlessly while still remaining, at the end of the day, separate. I’m thankful for feeling like I even have a professional life. It’s good. Life’s good. Happy turkey day. <3

new skin new life

Right now I am procrastinating on finishing a paper for my Human Development class. (It’s a strange class for me because I am so interested in most of (…much of) what we learn about and yet I just can’t stand the class itself — probably because of its hybrid “take a four-hour class session once every two weeks and complete activities online in between” format, ugh.)

Anyway, what’s on my mind right now is the following short observation: I feel really good about my program right now. I’m writing a few large papers right now (or at least, large by my undergrad standards) and they’re really serving as a reminder that I love what I’m studying. They’re taxing in a way that papers never have been for me: writing these papers is very difficult because I care so deeply about getting it right.

One of the papers is for my research class. I’m writing a review on commonalities between students with disabilities who graduate from four-year institutions: things like whether their universities have an office for students with disabilities, etc. My other paper is on transgender students on college campuses, and what we as student affairs professionals do well in terms of supporting them, and what are still represented as huge gaps. (Both of these papers, and the latter paper especially, are really making me work hard to zero in on precise language and clarity of ideas. I can honestly say that I’ve never had to work on that before. For me, writing a paper has been, until now, like unravelling thread: once I figure out where to start it’s rarely difficult to finish it off. But writing in these domains — again, writing about something I care about, to be read by someone whose opinion I deeply respect and value — is a whole other ball of wax. So really, even in addition to building the content, even figuring out how to physically write it is teaching me a lot.)

Writing both of these feels like I’d always hoped writing papers would feel during my undergrad. It is not about HOMG I HOPE I FIND TEN SOURCES FOR THIS AND THEN PEACE OUT BRAH. I find myself actively seeking out reference pages for the primary sources I really enjoyed. I’m reading dissertations that I can’t technically cite solely because they make me a better professional. What is going on here?? Is this what it’s like to study something you genuinely care about?? And honestly, this feeling, probably above all other positive reinforcement I’ve gotten over the last six months or so, is just the most reassuring thing. It’s okay that I’m here. This is where I’m meant to be. This is digging in my heels and wanting to learn and do a good job. I keep getting lost in the garden paths of “Oh what an interesting reference page this source has, I’ll check that out!” and just… endlessly wanting to learn more. Also, I have to say that one of the huge differences between my undergraduate degree and this degree is that now, whenever I learn something, the ways that it will make me better are tangible and obvious. I learn things and immediately think, this is how I can apply this to my practice, which is awesome. I’m almost glad I never felt this during my undergrad, because now that I know that school can be like this, I honestly don’t know how I could have finished anything that felt like less.

twilight at dawn & dusk

I have been without internet for two weeks and so much has happened. So much.


The blue river is grey at morning
and evening. There is twilight
at dawn and dusk. I lie in the dark
wondering if this quiet in me now
is a beginning or an end.

-Jack Gilbert, Waking at Night


I had two posts lined up before I lost the internet, one on language and how it affects us as advocates, and one on the It Gets Better Project musings. Since then, though, I’ve started working response team shifts, and I can’t post here without talking about that. Getting pages at four am, stumbling out of bed to talk quietly into my phone to sheriffs and survivors, scribbling down addresses and case numbers and “evidences of past abuse”. Counseling, alone at my glass desk, the entire world narrowed to the woman on the other end of the line, talking softly to me, the crickets outside my window the only sounds filling our silences. Going back to bed and looking at the person sleeping next to you and knowing that the heaviness you feel in your heart is something for you, for only you and the person who gave it to you and feeling what it’s like to share such a link with someone you’re unlikely ever to meet. Realizing that the heaviness you feel, you feel because someone gave it to you, because a stranger trusted you with the things that hurt the very most. Two weeks, and everything’s changed.


The world changes when you force yourself to think about everyone in it. It’s a stretch, because the world is big and people are small. I am small. I am a small person in a big world, a world that is too big for me to ever hope to understand everyone, and the thing is that understand is such a romantic word. I was a scientist before I was anything else. In science we talk about understanding and equate it so often with learning, when sometimes it’s just the opposite. Sometimes understanding is unlearning. Sometimes understanding is seeing.

© 2019 Caroline Horste

I am neither a professional nor an expert, and nothing here should be taken as counsel or legal advice. Along the same vein, nothing here should be taken as representing the views of anybody but myself, including my employers or the organizations I volunteer for. -CH