Acknowledging the Mess II By Marielle Grenade-Willis MA, LPCC

I recently saw Everything Everywhere All At Once in theaters, and I kid you not that my eyes were wet from the emotional whiplash for almost the entire movie. The film feels like colliding with the entire universe in that every scene is emotionally and sensorially over-the-top. To reduce the entire plot to a battle between the age-old –isms of nihilism and optimism feels like a gross oversimplification, and yet I don’t feel like I have many options when it comes to explaining the magnitude of this film’s attempt to address-it-all.

What spoke to me the most was the film’s candid representation of what’s-not-working-in-our-world as depicted by the character of Jobu Tupaki/Joy who seems ready to give up caring about anything. She’s emotionally exhausted by her one-sided relationship with her mother, generational patterns of dismissal/gaslighting within her Asian-American family, and feelings of being othered due to her romantic relationship with a mixed race woman. While I can’t say Joy and I share the same experiences or identities, I found myself resonating with her expression of, “I’M TIRED OF CARING ABOUT EVERYTHING THAT’S NOT WORKING RIGHT NOW!”.

When clients come to me for therapy, I often notice a similar pattern. There seems to be an awareness that something is off but not necessarily a comprehension about what that thing is or what to do with that feeling of off-ness. The off-ness seems accompanied by a dynamic coupling of fatigue mixed with a disproportionate desire to fix what’s not working. I witness this desire as a longing to exterminate the spring-giddy ants trailing into the kitchen yet no understanding about where the actual ant colony is located. Clients expect immediate relief from their problems, and they look to me to help them find the spray bottle filled with water and vinegar.

Yet I actually have no say in whether or not my clients will feel relief in their process. All I have is the ability to support my clients in acknowledging that there is spilled milk on the floor, sitting with them while they cry/laugh/yell as the milk balloons in all directions, and collaborating with them on whether they want to use a mop or a paper towel to clean up the mess today (or tomorrow or never). I often return to the taped-off crime scene of the spilled milk with them to examine the stain like a Rorschach test in search of new evidence. And that’s OK. There’s a whole lifetime of experience to process and returning to the same material again and again takes courage. It takes courage to say, “There’s something else for me to learn from this” or “I accept that I’m not over this yet”.

In an interview with Brene Brown on “Unlocking Us”, actress Viola Davis, discusses how her therapist once asked her if she would be OK if nothing about her life or herself changed. I think about that question a lot as a therapist since I am in the profession of believing in a client’s ability to change. If I took away anything from Everything Everywhere All At Once, it is the remembering that I have a choice around how I respond to life even when it all feels like it’s going to shit. In every session, I try to create a space for my clients to make that same choice. Like Carl Rogers says, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.”

Marielle Grenade-Willis is a current counselor with People House and has a MA from University of Colorado – Denver. With a B.A. in Sociology/Anthropology and a background in dance, dramatic, and vocal performance, she applies a somatic and systemic approach to the individualized work of counseling. Marielle works from a client-centered, experiential, narrative, and trauma-informed perspective with her individual clients. Prior to People House, she worked extensively in nonprofits focused on animal conservation, food access, and refugee welfare; and has had her poems read and published throughout the Front Range and beyond.