Radio Maine Episode 8: Dr. Brooke Jackson

Dr. Brooke Jackson is a practicing clinical psychologist living in San Rafael, California. She is also a lover of art, lifelong learner and gardener. Join us for episode eight, as Brooke tells us about searching for, and finding, her genuine life path after a career trajectory that included jobs as a paralegal and educator, before returning to college later in life to earn her PhD in psychology. Feeling blessed that she could still work remotely as COVID lockdowns happened, Brooke made a determined decision to continue her support of independent booksellers, artists and her favorite non-profits. Her connection to Maine pre-dated her relationship with the Portland Art Gallery by 30 years, with her family’s annual cross-country trips from California to Maine. Her extended family now gathers whenever possible in a small, seasonal lodge on the shores of Moosehead Lake in Greenville, Maine. Watch and learn more about the important work that Brooke does with her clients and view the original art that she has on her walls. Thank you for joining us every Sunday for Radio Maine, and being part of our creative community.

Dr. Lisa: Hello, this is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to or watching Radio Maine. And I am speaking today with Dr. Brooke Jackson who is actually located across the country from me in California. It's really great to have you talking to me today 

Brooke: So nice to be with you. 

Dr. Lisa: Can I call you Brooke? 

Brooke: Yes, please do.

Dr. Lisa: Brooke, you have been, you've had a strong connection to art for many, many years. You actually have a background in textile art. You've done art therapy with children. Art has really woven itself throughout your professional and personal life. When did this all start? 

Brooke: Well I have to say it's just been a part of who I am. I have always been drawn to people who make art and I'm very attracted to the poetics in that it inspires and provokes. So art has always been really important to me. And although I am not really an artist, it is something that I hold very dear. And I'm inspired by it. 

Dr. Lisa: You've made a lot of pivots and shifts in your life. You have a very impressive resume. You have been educated in multiple different areas including most recently going back to school and getting your credentials in psychotherapy. 

Brooke: Yes, I have my doctoral degree in psychology and that was taken on later in my life and it was such a good decision. It really brought all the threads together. 

Dr. Lisa: Well, tell me about those threads. How would you describe the threads of your life? 

Brooke: Well, I've done so many different things. You know, I've lived in different parts of the country. I've worked in various settings including educational settings. I worked in a law firm for 10 years. I've done a lot of different things. And at this point in my life while also working with many older adults who are also doing life review, trying to make sense of where all of their paths have brought them, it's been so wonderful to be able to draw on my life experiences. So that's really where it has all come together and made so much sense. 

Dr. Lisa: You also have a background in environmentalism and gardening. 

Brooke: I do gardening as a hobby. I have a lovely, small garden and I'm looking at it right now in my little tiny backyard but it's been important to me all my life. I sometimes mark my life by "What garden am I in? How many more gardens do I have left?"

Dr. Lisa: So tell me about the garden that you're currently in. 

Brooke: The garden that I'm in right now is small which is perfect because I actually have time to be out there. And, I grow roses because I live in a climate that gets nice and hot in the summer and flowers. It's just a very lovely restful place to be in. So that's been one of the benefits of being at home during this time of COVID is that I've been able to step out into the garden and breathe. 

Dr. Lisa: I know that one of the things that my family medicine patients and I connect on is actually gardening. It's a place of commonality. So this time of year, my patients, because of course in Maine our climate is different, they’re just starting to put seedlings in the ground. You know, they have their sets of cucumbers that they've been growing inside. And it really does feel like almost a sense that life goes on, that there's some hope, that we're going to move through this and come to the other side eventually. 

Brooke: That's right. That somethings are ongoing. 

Dr. Lisa: Now tell me about transitioning for you from being in practice in person to doing all of your work out of your home and doing it virtually through telehealth. 

Brooke: I think the first thing that comes to my mind is gratitude that I was able to continue my work. So I work with some of my patients are really kind of fragile and it was unsettling to think wow what am I going to do? So  when it became clear that we could all move into telehealth to provide service it was it was just so incredibly wonderful. It's been really hard to address the screen.  I've even started with clients now on the screen. I've never met them in person. That's been a really interesting experience. So sometimes I describe it as having to make it more like Kabuki theater where everything gets big. We have to really you know move into the screen to make a point to connect.  but it's it's actually gone really well. And for some of the people I work with what's been fascinating is that we're those who had trouble either physically being able to read their home to get to therapy or to emotionally have the recall to do that. It's in some ways this con has leveled the playing field. So they feel now that everybody knows how they feel and it's actually made it so easy for them to avail themselves of the therapy that they eat. 

Dr. Lisa: One of the things that you had mentioned to me was that you miss your colleagues that you actually miss being with the people that you're in practice with. How's that been for you? 

Brooke: Well that's been really hard. I mean I I supervised two psychological assistance right now and sometimes we meet like this and sometimes we meet on the phone but I literally have not seen them for a year. And that's just been it's been painful. I you know  the people and I'm part of a consultation group and we meet in zoom online and thankfully we have that but it's not the same. So it's definitely been an adjustment. 

Dr. Lisa: I know that one of the things that we did during especially during the beginning of COVID when nobody was going anywhere and especially with some of our older and more fragile patients is we would just call them to check in and make sure that there wasn't anything that they needed make sure they knew that they weren't alone maintain that sense of connection.  are you hearing a lot about that from your clients? That that sense of connection is important? 

Brooke: I have been hearing so much about that and especially older people who have been particularly at risk not being able to be with their families, and grandchildren especially, has just been a theme.  So, it's been a very difficult time and it will be. The other thing that's been happening here in California is that we've really been ravaged by flier every year. We've had these terrible wildfires. So, I now have multiple people in my practice who have lost their homes. So, in this last year we had fires from the South. We have fires in the North. And so in addition to COVID you know people are choking.  the air has been really bad. And, one of my strongest memories of this last year was that I had purchased this painting (by Ann Sklar) from the gallery and it arrived. And when I opened it up it was literally like getting to take big gulps of fresh air in. It really had that effect. It was wonderful. So no, it's been a time of a lot of grief, a lot of letting go of the way things used to be, not knowing how we're all going to reenter and what that will look like.  And balancing that with something like this painting where I had that experience of "I can breathe again."

Dr. Lisa: Yes. You raise a really interesting point because I think obviously COVID has been has impacted all of us but not all of us have been impacted by these external forces of fire. And I think that sense that, for an even an additional reason, you're forced to stay inside your home. And it's a matter, really, of being able to continue to breathe and stay alive. So one thing I've noticed with patients of mine in my family medicine practice is that, especially with my older patients, when they don't have the connection, or they don't have the stimulation, when they aren't able to get out and do what they normally do it actually causes them to have challenges with things like memory and it causes them to  have a decline in their cognitive function, their ability to kind of pull thoughts together. Is that something you've seen with your clients? 

Brooke: Yes, I have.  For some of them. I have one older client who gets to live with her family.  I'm working with a couple and so they've been literally in total lockdown for a year together. So their relationship has also had to stretch in new ways.  But yes, I have definitely seen people just having more difficulty tracking. Depression is having a much more profound impact on interrelationships. So, it shows up in the therapeutic relationship and has offered something to work through. 

Dr. Lisa: You're saying something that makes a lot of sense that it's simultaneously very challenging but also offers an opportunity. It's something that does allow people in relationships to stretch. 

Brooke: That's right. I am known as the quintessential silver lining miner. I go looking for them. I have seen this time as really being so rich with opportunity.  And it's really how I keep my own practice alive and enlivened. I've looked for those things and help my clients look for them, too. 

Dr. Lisa: You spent some time when you were younger in Germany with your family and you ended up coming back to California, in part, because you had a pretty significant family trauma. 

Brooke: It was, absolutely. That's a great way of describing it. 

Dr. Lisa: So, do you think that having that past experience with really dealing with something that caused you to stretch, even those many years ago, do you think that has led to your ability to continue to stretch now and to see things with the silver linings? 

Brooke: Well, I've had so many life experiences by now. I'm sort of cracking a very important milestone and so, yes, I'm sure that that's all layered in there.  I think all of our life experiences feed us in a certain way and really allow us to create new lenses constantly for the experiences that we're having. So, I'm sure that that early experience definitely challenged me. And, I was always a pretty sensitive and, I would say, a poetic child.  I took things in very deeply and so I I know that it must have had some impact on me but everything has so it's hard to know what was more impactful than something else. 

Dr. Lisa: You spent quite a few years working in the legal field which seems like it would be very different from the type of work that you're doing now. 

Brooke: So different. And it was really an accidental match up because I moved to Seattle and I needed to work. I found a job and suddenly I was being promoted and I was staying with the job. I had grown up with my dad working as an attorney. And so, I was pretty familiar and comfortable in that field and with people who use language in a certain way and move about the world in a certain way. It really afforded me an opportunity to do some of the things that I've wanted to do. I wanted to buy a little home and fix it up. It allowed all of that to happen but it was definitely not who I was at heart.  I was not going to go to law school.  I was doing a lot of exploring and, I'll be honest, there were times where I'm sure my family was just ripping their hair out saying what is she going to end up doing? So everybody's happy about things now but I think it took a while for me to really grow into my my my current path. 

Dr. Lisa: It's so interesting that you're describing this and the family concerns because the first thing I thought when I looked at your background, and looked at the variety of experiences that you've had, and the fact that you went and pursued this additional education within the past you 15 years was wow. What what an interesting person that that she was able to give herself the space to follow these paths, to take the next path. And I don't think that's something that everybody feels comfortable giving themselves the space to do. 

Brooke: Well, I felt compelled and I do think my family was concerned. I'd left school. I mean, I really left school.  I kept returning to school and chipping away at things but I was leading a life that I felt pulled into. And so there were times when it was really challenging to trust that I was doing things that were enriching me and were genuine directions. That they weren't just accidental. So yes, I feel really so fortunate that my life experiences have unfolded the way they have. 

Dr. Lisa: It does take a certain amount of strength and belief in oneself to acknowledge other people's concerns and also move forward on one's own path. That is not easy to do. There are a lot of external influences that that can, as you say, pull you in a direction. How do you think that you had that strength or what did you draw upon so that you kept going? 

Brooke: I have amazing parents. Even though they weren't always very happy with what I was doing, I think they always believed in who I was as a person. I always had very strong emotional support at core. I had good friends that I maintained also this love of art and writing and books and all of these all of these pieces of my life have really been there all along the way. 

Dr. Lisa: It's interesting. When you start to talk about your love of art and books, I can actually see you physically come alive again. I can see your hands actually start to move again. And they were moving in the Kabuki theater reference. So there is something that's deeply inside of you that is like "Here I am. I'm coming out." And it seems like your ability to tap into that is really pretty integral to who you are. 

Brooke: I think you're so right. Yes. Thank you for noticing that.  

Dr. Lisa: I'm looking back through some of the art that you've been interested in.  I know that you have at least one or two pieces by (Maine artist) William Crosby. There are a couple of pieces behind me that are his; a style of art  which is an abstract landscape with very rich colors.  But you also have (Maine artist) Sheep Jones and hers is a very different style.  You also own paintings by (Maine artist) Missy Dunaway and that takes you in a different direction. Some people will go entirely with one style and other people will be more eclectic and you seem to be the latter. 

Brooke:  You know my relationship with the gallery started with William Crosby because I had found one of his small pieces here at a Sonoma County art gallery. I want to also just back up and say that when all of this started (Covid),I really felt I really had to, I wanted... I felt so grateful that I was able to work and I knew how much of a struggle some people were going to be in. So, I really consciously made a decision "I'm going to support artists and I'm going to support independent bookstores and I'm going to continue to support the Marine Mammal Center."  I just I had my list. And so,  in that initial reaching out to galleries through the virtual world, I found a piece by William Crosby and I was looking for another one and I stumbled onto the Portland Art Gallery and it was in Maine. I have this relationship with Maine and I think Kevin Thomas was the person I talked to when I wanted to initiate purchase. And he was so kind, and friendly, and grateful. It was just a really nice beginning of that connection. So  you're right. I I think I'm moving more into the abstract arena.  But there are parts of my home that  are devoted to nature. Missy Dunaway's work, her beautiful feather paintings and really exquisite loving attention to all those details, has really  been so lovely to live around. 

Dr. Lisa: Tell me about your love of books. As somebody who loves loves books, also. I feel very passionately about books.  I go through books like I'm drinking water.  You have a lot of, obviously, you have a lot of  things on your shelf behind you books and other things. Tell me about what you like to read. 

Brooke: Well, right now, just because of my work, I read a lot of books about psychology.  One of my pulls into this field is that I could continue to learn and grow and expand for the rest of my life. It's not a finite field; it just keeps building. So, I I'm reading a lot of books about psychology and I just finished an online course on Carl Jung. And last year I  had I completed a course on psychoanalytic theory and the body.  I've been reading a lot in those areas and I also really appreciate and like to read  books about real things . Right now, I'm reading books about Indian basketry so I have a pretty broad taste. I'm not a big fiction reader right now. Maybe it's because I feel like life is so short and it gets shorter and shorter. The further along I go, I just want to learn more and more. Books are really important to me. 

Dr. Lisa: I recently read a book I believe it's called The Body Keeps Score. Yes exactly. Yes. 

Brooke: Yes, I know that book. Well, that's a really good he's one of our most gifted clinicians around trauma. 

Dr. Lisa: And and so I think there's a lot of crossover between the work that you and I each do because I I do believe that in our bodies whether we realize it kind of  cognitively or not we do continue to hold on to things that have occurred to us in the past. And sometimes kind of untangling what those things have led to is an interesting challenge because it's something that takes us beyond our mind and our thoughts. 

Brooke: Absolutely. And you know some of my work is getting people to reground into their physical selves and I've had people say "Why are you asking me about my health? I thought we were talking about this?" and I have to explain that we're all just one person so your health is going to affect your psyche and your psyche is going to affect your health. So, I agree. It's really integrated. We're fully integrated systems. 

Dr. Lisa: And I have the opposite experience where I have a patient who will come in and tell me about their health and I'll ask them well what happened to you last September when your blood pressure started to go up. They'll say,  "well my aunt passed away and I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to her because of COVID. And it really broke my heart."  But that's not a medical thing. That's an emotional thing. And they'll say this to me as if it is disconnected. So it's interesting to pull that out a little bit without actively re-traumatizing someone. 

Brooke: Yes. It really is. Trauma work is very delicate and  so many people need it. 

Dr. Lisa: And I think that  more and more people will need it as we come out of this pandemic because I believe that we probably will be experiencing trauma both personally but also as a culture in ways that we don't quite understand yet.

Brooke: I completely concur. I can see it happening already. Re-entry doesn't feel exciting to everybody.  It's fearful. We now have completely new ways, and different ways, of being with each other. We have to stay apart. We have to wear a mask.  People seem more dangerous for health reasonsr. So I think you're right. I think that there's a lot to anticipate going forward. 

Dr. Lisa: And at the same time, I've noticed in my patients there really many of them that are craving touch especially people who are touch-oriented. So, I'll have older people, I haven't known them very long because I haven't been in my current practice very long, but they'll say "I can't wait until I can give you a hug." And so it's heartbreaking in a way because you know that despite their fear over contracting COVID they just really want that physical connection to someone. 

Brooke: That's right. Yes. That's so true. I think that's been one of the most profound difficulties of this time is people having to separate from one another. And it's the antithesis of what we want when we're feeling blue and low. We want that connection. 

Dr. Lisa: You have a 30 year connection to Moosehead Lake here in Maine? 

Brooke: Yes. I think I mentioned in some notes to you that my family started traveling to Maine when I was maybe 13 or 14 years old. We would come in the summer. We came from California. We'd drive.  It was always a long family drive. My parents really loved Maine. My dad was an attorney in San Francisco and for a while he really entertained leaving it all behind and becoming a writer in the North Woods. And you know, he really is probably the role model that I base my venturing on.  That never did happen.  But the trips continued.  Then I kind of dropped out of those trips and my parents and my younger brother continued. And then, about about 30 years ago, just before my nephew was born, my brother and mother were in Maine looking for a piece of property to buy. They really wanted a place to bring family and they found this incredible falling apart log lodge right on the edge of Moosehead Lake. 

Brooke: It had just gone into foreclosure. It was about to go to auction. I mean it was like kind of a miraculous fine. And so we all traveled to Maine to look at it and to participate in that auction. And my mother was able to obtain that property which and my brother who was an architect really was you know he he was able to restore it so beautifully. So it's now a gathering place or family  his family and my mother will be traveling there in just a few weeks actually. And  to open it for the season it's just a smer place. It's not really winterized but there's nothing like it there you know the sound of the rooms and the sound of a Lake and the people in that town of Greenville it's just been a wonderful and huge addition to our lives. And I got to know Portland because in the part of my life when I had dogs and would bring them with me  fly them we always fly into Portland you know get out and or on the way back from moose head going back home we'd come into Portland. The dogs would get to go out. They you know we'd walk along the and it's just that  such a wonderful place. I love Portland. 

Dr. Lisa: There is  something healing about coming to Maine and and possibly as as something that will cause people as the pandemic  hope hopefully eases away from us. We'll seek out. 

Brooke: I do. I think more and more people are are because they've been unfettered from their desks. You know they don't have to do their work from home. They can really many people can work anywhere they want to. And so why not work in a place where there's space and air to breathe and  you know wilderness to be in.  I think that absolutely can happen. And I know that you know I I always think of landscape as it's almost becomes like a tap to an inner pap T so that when you're with it you feel so familiar. It feels so like part of you and I don't name it's been like that for everyone in my family hard to it's hard to to leave me until it's something you take inside of us wherever we go 

Dr. Lisa: Brooke is there anything that you would recommend to people who are listening to our conversation who may be struggling with  coming back out of COVID and trying to reconnect with the greater world based on the work that you do? 

Brooke: Well everybody is so different. It's really hard to make a generalized statement but I would really encourage people to not be afraid to talk about their feelings and to  it's makes thought about having a therapist as being sort of a sign of weakness or disability or anything like that. So just put that aside and to really take the courageous step of connecting with somebody who can hold with you the feelings you're having can help you understand the comp the complexity of the feelings you're having and partner with you as you move back into the world. So the idea is to connect. 

Dr. Lisa: I think that art could in any way be a part of that. 

Brooke: I think art for me has absolutely been a part of that. Yes. I think the gallery is open. So if people live in in the area, they should walk through the gallery or, as I do, take a virtual walk through the gallery every Friday afternoon  It has become a lovely ritual for me, this connection to this gallery, and to be part of this online community of artists and people who are talking about ideas and art. It is really lovely. 

Dr. Lisa: Well I appreciate your taking the time out of your very busy schedule of caring for people out in California. And I've enjoyed my conversation with you today. I've been speaking.  my pleasure I've been speaking with Dr. Brooke Jackson who is located out in California and she is a lover of art and sounds like really an artist herself in many different realms. And I I really  I'm so grateful to you for continuing to help take care of our committee. 

Brooke: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. It's just been such a pleasure to talk to you today.