Meghan is the newest member of the Family Guidance and Therapy Center’s team. She is currently an RDI certified consultant as well as an MFT intern.
Read more about what Meghan brings to our team.
How Growing up in New England Helped me Cope with Change
Growing up in New England, I experienced change four times a year. Thankfully I live in San Diego now, so I do not have to deal with the dramatic and pesky shifts in climate. Today fall and winter mean boots, cute layers, and pumpkin spice everything! But this was not the attitude of younger me. Younger, New England me, dreaded the changes, because with every season came different emotions, feelings and experiences. Despite having grown up in the area, I am still surprised at how difficult it was to adjust to the change in seasons. Knowing about the change didn’t make it any easier.
Myself, like many others, often do not acknowledge the inherent difficulty of change. There is a prevailing misconception that change shouldn’t be scary when you know about it or especially if you initiate it. We often do not give ourselves the space or tolerate the time that’s needed to accept change.
I recently experienced a job transition that has had a significant impact on my life. I won’t bore you with details about why the transition was so difficult, but it got me thinking about how I process change. I started to realize that change in my adult life is not unlike the seasonal changes I experienced while growing up.
Anticipating change didn’t make it any easier to accept. I knew change was coming and I still dreaded it.
Every year, come October or November, depending on the intensity of the winter in New England, it would start. The knowledge that winter was coming. The stress and anxiety I experienced when I anticipated the months of cold, snow, angry people and the longing to stay indoors as often as possible. It would stress me out just thinking about it. It would start with a weather channel report of “chance of flurry”. I would think, “Here it comes, winter’s here.”
Accepting the dreaded winter was even harder when the first snow was predicted, but never actually occurred. That meant my anxiety would be put off until the next “chance of flurry” forecast, which was irritating. It made the inevitable change even more difficult to accept. Yet, despite the dread, I couldn’t prevent the inevitable winter. Therefore, I would force myself to acknowledge the good parts of winter. The first fresh blanket of snow, blizzard parties with friends, and of course, holidays with family. It was sometimes work to push out the cloud of negative feelings to be able to focus on the positive elements that accompanied this change. But a must.
Fast forward to adult me who was faced with the need to make a change. I knew I needed to change my job. I needed to be challenged again, to experience the joy and excitement that I used to feel at work. I also needed to complete the other requirements that accompanied my masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. The decision to leave my prior job wasn’t an easy one. In fact, it was one of the hardest and took me a long time to make. I knew change was needed once I finished my masters degree. The hard part was actually taking the steps towards change. Once I finally made my decision to leave, it felt like winter was coming. The dread and anxiety were intense. From giving my notice to my former employer and having to say goodbye to my clients, to starting over again at a new company; all of it stressed me out!
The stress and anxiety I experienced throughout this process made me wish that the change didn’t need to happen. During the moments of doubt or uncertainty, I would need to remind myself of why I was making the change, just to push through to the end. But I did it.
It is not unlike the times when I ask my families to step out of the known and to step into the uncertain. For years as an RDI Consultant, I have had the privilege of supporting families who have children with autism. In my clinical work I spend a lot of time supporting the process of change. In RDI we work toward creating moments of productive uncertainty. This simply means creating an experience that is the just the right amount of unknown. In these moments you don’t know the answer(s), yet, but you know you can figure it out. You can take steps and be productive in figuring out that which is currently not fully known. The goal in moments of productive uncertainty is for the person to take away two things from their experience. First, knowledge that the feelings accompanying uncertainty, such as fear, discomfort, dread, or anxiety, do not last forever and are temporary. Second, that even if you do not know something right away, you can and will figure it out — assuming you try or have the right support.
Now the transition is behind me and I can reflect on the productive uncertainty imbedded in the change. It was difficult and at times I needed to rely on others for guidance, but I trusted in my ability to make the change. I was also aware that when I didn’t have all the answers, I had people that would guide me through. When I recognized this, I felt the power of what I support my clients in building with their loved ones.
The support I felt during the stress of the transition gave me the strength to continue, even when it was uncomfortable to stay the current course. My husband, friends, family were all available to guide me through this transition. I knew that I could take the necessary steps because no matter the outcome, my bond with those who cared about me would remain. There was joy and comfort when I would remind myself of this truth.
My clients with autism experience lots of uncertainty in many areas of their life. During my work with them and their family, the first thing we attend to is the bond. Because while I change is scary and often dreaded, it’s so much easier to sit and be with the unknown when you have loving relationships to rely on. I work hard with my clients so that they can feel just as safe and supported during moments of productive uncertainty. Because the truth is the discomfort of change is only temporary. Eventually life settings and allows you to experience the joys that come with anything new.
While change is stressful, I can’t let it derail me. Because new is also exciting.
In true New England fashion, we never actually knew when winter would end and spring would begin. Because I hated winter. Everything about it; the freezing weather, the snow, taking 10 minutes to dress myself before I go outside, only to remove it as quickly as possible when you walk into a place with the heat cranked. Just thinking about it makes me cringe. Thank goodness I live in San Diego — hence the reason for the move.
I vividly remember the excitement I would feel when I knew spring was coming. When winter was almost over and the season I was waiting for is starting. The birds would start chirping, the snow was melting, and you could leave your winter jacket inside and walk around with only your Northface gear. I couldn’t get enough of it, leaving the house as much as I could in order to experience all that spring had to offer.
I’m having those feelings again and it’s wonderful. Once everything was settled with my old job, and I had a few days to sleep off the stress and tiredness, I woke up with the same level of joy I felt at the start of spring. I woke up easily the morning of my first day (a big feat for me), picked out my “first day outfit”, ate a full breakfast, and left the house energized (I swear I heard more birds chirping than any morning before that day). As difficult, stressful, and challenging this process of change has been for me, it was in this moment I knew I made the right decision.
Because truth be told, once you make it to the other side, once you finally get to the place where you are able to accept the change, it’s pretty wonderful. Everyone should feel the joy and pride that comes after tolerating the discomfort of uncertainty to see a decision through. It’s managing the feelings of uncertainty that is the hardest. The entire memory, from the first decision, to the emotional discomfort, to the joy at the end, all of it will stay with me. My memory of this time period, this episode of my life, will stay with me. When faced with a similar experience in the future, I can recall this memory and trust that I have the tools and confidence to tackle it.
Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. Seasonal changes in New England are inevitable. So are changes in life. Be they life or weather, you might not know exactly when they are coming, or how intense or challenging the change will be, but it will happen. Changing my job was a big life change for me. It was also intense and challenging. I experienced many, many emotions in a span of about a week. Guilt, anger, excitement, anxiety; all are perfectly ok. Not one of these feelings were wrong. I also learned that as much I dreaded the change from fall to winter, I look back on those times and am able to see the fresh blanket of snow, blizzard parties with friends, and holidays with family. Guiding others through change can be hard. Change is never easy. But if you can make it through, it’s worth it.
I have spent my career working in the field of autism and other various developmental disabilities. Over the past many years, I have witnessed the value of strengthening the family unit as a whole, as a vital piece of a child’s success and growth. Therefore, as a certified RDI consultant and Marriage and Family Therapy Intern, my approach has consisted of providing a safe, comfortable environment in which I can support each member of the family in their relationships with each other, as well as with themselves.
I specialize in working with children, adolescents and adults with autism and co-occurring disorders such as anxiety or depression. I also have a particular interest in working with couples or individuals who are impacted by a diagnosis.
I firmly believe in the importance of collaborating with my client and am constantly learning and growing from each experience a client shares with me. I ensure that I view each client as an individual and support them to find the right level of challenge necessary to experience growth.