I Am Closing My Clinic—Guest Post by Michelle Rivers
I am closing my clinic. I’ll be joining another community clinic just two miles down the road, as an employee. After more than six years, I am grieving my emotional attachment to this place. As is always the case with grieving, though, amidst all of the intangibles – the thoughts and feelings and memories - there are the THINGS that need to be handled. The STUFF. All of the contents of the clinic need to be cleared out. Every post-it note and paperclip. All the recliners, the rolling stools, the boxes of tissues. I need to touch and re-home every physical item in the place. All the comforts: the cough drops and the blankets and the earplugs and the quilts covering the cold cinder-block walls painted chocolate-brown.
And my desk drawer, a snowstorm of reminder notes and thank-you notes and breath mints and dried-out highlighters. And the lost-and-found box: temporary home to essential things like cell phones and house keys and prescription glasses (people always come back for those); permanent resting place for the smaller accessories people shed as they prepare for treatment: folks literally and figuratively letting their hair down, leaving the plain brown elastics behind to keep company with the sassy-patterned reading glasses and the lone dangly silver-feather earring, the homework assignment – balled up, smoothed out, then folded impossibly small, and the sobriety coin that slipped out of a pocket, unnoticed.
My mind wanders to what else people have left behind here.
Many left their back pain, as those same 10 pins, five each in a hand and a leg, did their thing again. And again. And again.
Some left a layer of grief, as three pins placed evenly along the inner forearm, a pattern called Three Scholars, stood upright in parallel formation, bearing solemn, sagely, and silent witness to the cold autumnal rain of tears.
Skeptics left their disbelief, as a single pin placed in their palm near the pinky finger melted away that three-day migraine.
Caregivers left behind the relentless tidal pull of those they take care of day and night, clearing out, at least for this hour, an oasis for themselves.
Newbies left behind their first-time acupuncture jitters.
At least one person left behind her identity as “patient, fertility (frustrated)” She traded it for “parent, adoptive (joyful)”. Five pins, in a NADA constellation, whispering comfort into her ear, weekly, for months.
Everyone left their money, 15 and 20 bucks at a time: from hard-earned wages or a closely-managed monthly check.
Some left their hope for relief from whatever was tormenting them. Acupuncture was their last try before moving ahead into whatever mixture of resignation and acceptance would be their long-term home.
Others left their despair, as time, patience, repetition, and hundreds of pins created a shift in their glacially stubborn symptoms.
And many left, at least for a moment, their loneliness: resting peacefully in community, during a shared moment, a mutual recognition of the most basic truth of human suffering.
And me, what am I leaving behind as I empty this space? And is it more like housekeys or is it more like a hairtie? At times, it has felt raw, like bloody, torn chunks of the flesh of Ego and Id, ripped and strewn like carrion. I had completely identified with my clinic, like the whorls of my fingerprints were pinwheels. I would meet people around town and start talking, and they would light up and say “Oh! You’re Pinwheel!” and I would light up in response: “Yeah, that’s me. I’m Pinwheel.” My good reputation in town has fed me and fooled me… a hummingbird addicted to the colored sugar-water. What a boost of energy! But wait… I’m crashing… I need some more…
My identity as the founder and creator of the clinic was feeding an old, old weed of self-esteem, rooted in the relentless capitalist rubric: production + power = value. But the weed has proven to be very fragile, discredited by every single patient interaction. Every time I roll my stool up to a patient’s chair, I know just how much I am NOT in charge of what’s about to happen. How much it’s all them, and the pins, and the forces at play that are far, far, beyond my control. I do not have the power to produce results for patients. All the power is in the people. I am the fortunate and profoundly grateful witness.
So I hope to leave behind a scaffolding of ego that has served me until now – the same one that will suffocate me if I don’t part ways with it. I leave behind “owner,” “founder,” “president,” and “sole practitioner” for “employee,” “punk,” and “team member.”
I’m also leaving behind the desk chair where I learned what depression feels like for me. It’s heavy arms. Like some mixture of lead and clay that can’t be lifted to the keyboard to respond to that email or produce that IRS report. That wouldn’t sweep away the cobweb in the corner or go clean up the Big Gulp a neighbor left in my parking lot. The same ones that regularly couldn’t be persuaded to check voicemail or post something worthy on facebook or any of the thousand lonely things clinic owners need to do to keep their clinics busy.
I’m not expecting to leave behind the depression cycle itself. But I am hoping to find some peace, away from the demands I could no longer meet on a regular basis. Away from the self-judgment and criticism that came so easily, paired with a crushingly heavy suit-of-armor persona as all-competent, all-capable, solo practitioner and founder.
I want to leave the desk chair and hang out on a rolling stool. All the sad and broken, and all the soft and human and kind and playful parts of me, being light. Thanks to someone else who is willing to be the owner, I get to hang on to the privilege of rolling from chair to chair, sipping the true nectar of love and connection with the people under the pins.
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