why I don’t like the term “Recovery”

Disclaimer: If you find it empowering, that’s fantastic! I don’t want to shake that. Your mental health and well-being are much more important than my opinion. This is post is about my personal relationship with the term.

CW: potentially ableist language, references to death, descriptive imagery of quasi-suicidal feelings

I don’t like the term “Recovery” because it suggests that there’s something to recover.

Which works if it’s like: “Last week I sprained my ankle and for a day it hurt too much to put weight on it. Over time I was able to start moving it around and whatnot… and now I can get around the house no problem. Though to be honest it’s still a bit swollen and painful.”

That is recovery because I remember a time when my ankle didn’t hurt, wasn’t stiff, and I could walk normally. I have a sense of there being something I had, then lost, and an idea of what getting it back would be like.

And for some mental health experiences I think that might make sense. If it were just a matter of my father and both my grandmothers and my dog who was like a brother to me dying within 5 years of each other during my adolescence, then maybe there would’ve been something there before those traumatic experiences fucked everything up that I could try and recover!

But there’s not.

Because my parents didn’t know how to parent me in the ways I needed. Which isn’t really their fault. They didn’t get the parenting they needed. Probably because my grandparents didn’t get the parenting they needed either. Because… well, there are reasons why my great-grandparents left their homelands and came to the U.S., possibly with small children – or in the case of one of my great-grandmothers, completely alone. I don’t know the specifics, but I can look into what was happening during that time.

This isn’t about that. “Recovery” isn’t about that. It’s about my life and experiences.

Which were shit.

Not all of them. But the term “Recovery” suggests to me that I should be looking back at my life before those traumatic experiences to find something I want to recover. Most of what I see is darkness. Most of what I feel is pain. And the moments that aren’t are ones I can’t get back, because the people they belong to are dead. And to be honest they’re overshadowed by the pain. The sorrow. Grief? Anger? that horrible sensation of being alone and hungry gazing into the Abyss while some terrifying monster eats you from the inside and you’re drowning and all you can hear are your own cries…

Or we can go with the language my therapist used: she called it Complex PTSD. There’s not one or more easily identifiable traumatic experience(s) I could pinpoint and say yeah, before that was good, let’s recover that. Instead there was a childhood of emotional abuse and neglect.

When I look back at what I had, I’m grateful that on a material level there was never anything I needed and couldn’t access. Food, clothes, shelter, and healthcare were all there. I was safe for the most part, physically speaking. There were aspects of my education that could’ve been better, but they were offset by things that were better, so… I dunno. I’m just trying to acknowledge that I’ve always had financial security, and that’s extremely important. And my grandmother was awesome. And my mom did what she could – at least, she meant well, she just… I’d say she could’ve done better, but if that were true she probably would’ve done better, is all I’m saying.

My point is: I don’t see anything that I want to recover.

I see things I wish I could go back in time and change. I see things that make me sad, angry, wistful, nostalgic, grateful, or glad that part of my life is over. I see strengths and areas for growth and things I’m proud of and things I regret and experiences I’ve learned from.

And I see myself hanging on through all of it – yes, loving people supporting me (including my mom), that’s very important – but it’s the choices I make that guide me from one place to the next.

The choices I’ve made are why I’m breathing today.

So there really isn’t anything to recover. The things that would be worth recovering are still there – are more there now than they were in the past. There have been things for me to discover, maybe – like being able to acknowledge my own resilience – but not recover.

It feels more like I’m BUILDING something. It’s constructive. I’m in Constructory.

I’m looking back at all this pain and realizing it didn’t kill me. And if I could live through that, I can live through just about anything. I’m giving myself permission and acknowledging my ability to recognize when I need to “just hang on” for a while, and trusting myself to do it, and to get my feet back under me when there’s something to stand on again. I’m learning to reach out for help when I need it, (and figuring out who and how to ask,) and actually using that help constructively.

I’m looking back at the things that have made me feel alive – and the things that haven’t – and choosing what to keep, what to discard.

And unlike with my ankle, where I know what it’s like to walk normally, and I’m trying to get that back, I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M BUILDING. It’s not something I had before, it’s something new and it’s both exciting and terrifying. For example, I was freaking out for much of the semester because I’d never felt so happy and it was great but it was also overwhelming. Like in April when I had a fantastic meeting with my advisor and he told me I was getting an A in music theory… then I sat on the stairs for an hour crying… and then I went to the library to do my homework.

I’m embracing and building upon my love of music. Composing. (and theory!)

I’m composing myself.

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Remember back in July when I said “If it’s even possible to switch to composition, I could probably satisfy the requirements in a heartbeat, and love it.”?

Well, it turns out I was right. If by ‘heartbeat’ I mean about another year – that is, assuming I’m formally accepted to the program; I need to submit a new portfolio by July 1st. But this semester has been absolutely amazing! I feel happier and more alive than I’ve ever been! And more motivated than ever to do my schoolwork…

It is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, and I’ve spent a good deal of the semester feeling overwhelmed. But it’s manageable, and it’s mostly positive if that makes any sense? And I love it, the subject matter, the people, the sense of accomplishment when I figure something out… it’s all wonderful! Absolutely wonderful! And I’m always being inspired and getting new ideas.

Today program coordinator told me “When I talk to you about composing you’re happy. When I talk to you about theory you’re giddy.” He’s encouraging me to go for a doctorate in music theory. I’m kinda torn between “let me finish my master’s first” and “omg you mean I get to study more theory?!!!!” And, well, it could put me in a good position to teach, which I think I’d enjoy a great deal… I’d probably be able to ‘give back’ by teaching educators and therapists… But whatever happens with that, the point is RIGHT NOW I get to compose and analyze pieces over the summer and thoroughly enjoy school again!

The icing on the cake is that when we spoke with the person in charge of courses and registration and all that in the music department, she suggested ways some of my music therapy coursework could satisfy requirements for the composition degree. For example in this improvisation course we were making music all the time so that can count for 3 of the 4 credits of applied music that I need. I’m hoping also that all the composing we did in these other 2 courses will count for the independent study in composition – as much as I would love to actually do the study, the potential of having stuff I’ve already done count for it feels awesome! There’s one other requirement I want to see if I can substitute for, and then yeah I should be able to finish the degree in a year!

Well, assuming I can get someone to perform my piece in public and pass the comprehensive exam. But we’ll worry about that when the time comes. I still need to get in 😛


Update

Gods it’s been a while.

Okay… I guess I’ll start by saying I’m still friends with the person who’d originally asked me to join his entrepreneurial project (EP). That didn’t work out for me and then we fell out of touch for a few months. I called him today and the conversation went well. He’s still working on the EP, seems optimistic. We were able to talk a bit about that and other things and just connected as two people who care about each other. I feel very blessed.

Speaking of being blessed, my mom paid off one of my student loans. In full. It was at a(n approximately) 6.8% interest rate and the way they wanted me to be paying it (or not, they seemed very happy to put it in deferment as soon as I started classes again) I would’ve been paying it for the rest of my life. But… yeah, my mom was and is fortunate, and worked really hard, and chose to use it to help me. Because she’s awesome!

Right, I’ve complained a lot about my mom on this blog. She’s not perfect (no one is) and she still does stuff that’s annoying, even harmful. I have to work a bit more than I’d like to maintain boundaries sometimes. But overall things are going really well. She’s been working hard and I feel like between both our efforts we’ve developed a good healthy parent – child relationship. I love hanging out with her and talking with her, etc. She’s gotten really into being active – mostly walking, stretching, and chair yoga – and she seems so happy and energetic, it’s very inspiring.

I haven’t technically changed my major (yet), but I’m taking music theory and composition courses; we’re about halfway through the semester. It is… a whirlwind. I’m learning all these new things, apparently the U.S. is way behind the rest of the world when it comes to new developments in music moving away from tonal harmony and exploring other ways of understanding it. So we’re not exposed to a lot of the newer music that’s out there; we barely touched on it when I was in undergrad. Among other things, I get to write a paper about a living composer who makes music and instruments from things she finds in nature, it’s pretty fascinating.

To be honest I don’t think a lot of this new music stuff sounds good, but the ideas behind it fascinate and inspire me. It’s taking me way outside my comfort zone into a world I didn’t even know existed! And challenging me to listen more actively and understand things in new ways. It’s all very overwhelming but also freeing in a way because I don’t feel pressure to be like an expert or anything. I just get to learn. And I’m learning so much, writing weird music I never would’ve thought to otherwise, exploring what music means to me. And hearing my instructors and classmates talk about this stuff is… love, I’m in love. With myself and the world and the people I’m meeting and… everything.

It’s a really great community. I tend to be a bit hesitant in new social situations, so I guess I’m still kinda figuring out if this is for me? I think it would be wise to apply to multiple programs and possibly branch out a bit, learn some computer programming. Then I’ll have more diverse skills because let’s face it, I need to find a job. And I saw a listing for something that combines music composition and AI, it sounds amazing! – but I don’t have the programming skills it requires (yet). So we’ll see. It’s all very exploratory.

… and then the shooting in New Zealand happened. From what I’ve heard the New Zealand government is actually moving in the direction of meaningful gun control that will make it a lot harder for someone to do this again – like banning semi-automatic weapons. That’s a good start. But are they addressing the extremist views that led to this act of terrorism? White supremacy has been devastating the world for centuries, there’s so much inequality, the way Western media portray Arabs is unconscionable, it encourages people to do this (or look away when it happens) and it all seems to be getting worse.

And I… I needed to get away from politics, and to be honest I still question the effectiveness of the activism I was engaging in, but clearly it’s not right for me to be sitting on the sidelines. There has to be something I can do to help stop this – because we all know it’s going to happen again. Maybe a mosque or a church or a movie theater or a nightclub or a school or anywhere people gather, especially if they’re a marginalized community… white men keep terrorizing people and no they’re not “lone wolves” they have an entire global system actively encouraging them. We need to shut it down. The responsibility for that falls on white people (myself included). Because we’re the ones with the privilege and the power and the numbers to hold each other accountable.

I’m just not sure what to do. I’m saddened by what happened and I feel small and powerless, and guilty. Today I found it hard to focus on anything. But I guess a good start might be to see about re-joining a couple of the activist groups I’d gotten involved with. And keep talking about it and keep looking for answers. Because the world is gonna move on, then act surprised the next time it happens. We can’t let that happen.


It’s really because of the friendship thing. Him, me, it doesn’t matter. I’m just mourning the loss.

This was a dream. I loved listening to him talk about it, loved all the awesome ideas he came up with for it. I wanted to be part of that dream.

but for some reason I couldn’t? or i didn’t… I don’t know, I mean I complained about having to pay for parking but honestly I could’ve done it at least a couple times to hang out with a friend. I’ve done crazier things.

I never got to see how he set up the office. never got to hang out with him playing video games. never got to have the sense of camaraderie while struggling to meet a deadline on one of those stupid (or not-so-stupid) articles. it seems exceedingly unlikely I’ll ever get to be in one of the videos… all the stuff we’d talked about, gone.

and there is something I could have done to prevent this. I could’ve gone into the office, just once. but I didn’t. “because I needed to compose.”

well now I can’t focus on composing.

(can’t? or won’t? because if it’s won’t for the love of everything…)

I emailed him saying I was saddened by the termination with no discussion, but we’re still friends, right? … no response. I should probably call. dunno if I want to.

I just need to acknowledge the loss.

and we’re coming up on the 18th anniversary of my grandmother’s death. that one was particularly painful because near the end she stopped recognizing me. I was trying to help her and all I saw in her eyes was fear – not the kind, loving woman who’d helped raise me. so in her final days I couldn’t even give that back. And I guess I missed my chance to say goodbye…

gods I hate this time of year

alright, back to composing.

Terminated

(for some reason my brain wants to go “pew pew!!!“)

I’ve been “in crunch time” for my current composition project for a couple weeks now. During Thanksgiving week I accepted 3 articles for the entrepreneurial project (EP) and ended up spending Mon-Wed writing them instead of composing. Then I spent 3 days straight with family – and when I wasn’t with family I was too exhausted to do anything. I didn’t fully explain all of this to the Editor in Chief (EiC), etc. when I said I couldn’t take a 4th article – twice – but I kinda feel like I shouldn’t’ve had to.

What I did do was talk to my friend / the CEO, who told me to talk to the EiC, who proceeded to ignore the message I sent her saying I couldn’t write 3 articles about frankly stupid topics every week because I need to focus on composing. (All unpaid, by the way. If this were a paid gig I would’ve handled it differently.) Last week I flat-out said “no.” This week I accepted the articles but realized I wouldn’t be able to meet the deadlines, so I said “I’m sorry I can’t do these.” Well to be honest I think I should’ve also resigned at that point in time but I dunno, I’ve been feeling ambivalent about this for months now…

They made the decision for me. In the form of an email notifying me I’d been “terminated.” No explanation, and there was certainly no discussion – at least not with me. I was upset for a while, but then I told a friend who was like “wait a minute: you were terminated from a volunteer position that wasn’t even what you wanted to do?” I laughed. And I will be laughing still, in the end… except that something about it is still bothering me.

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it’s never really gone

dunno… ever since I went all-in with composing things just seemed to be… fantastic. I loved what I was doing. I was getting so much love and support from the people close to me. there were a few blissful days when everything just felt right, and I was genuinely happy. like not 100% happy 100% of the time, I still felt the full range of human emotions. I still got frustrated, and doubted myself, and felt guilty about composing while other people (e.g. Fox) work soul-crushing jobs to put food on the table… but for once when people asked how I was I could honestly say that my life is good.

for once I wanted to talk about my life. and people seemed to enjoy watching my face light up when I did so.

and every day I’ve been loving my husband more and more, appreciating him more and more. (especially since he’s being so super supportive!) we went away last Friday to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary, just a night at a bed and breakfast, and it was wonderful. tbh we hadn’t been sleeping together – in either sense – for quite a long time, and we both wanted to change that. well, it seems all we really needed to do for the more entertaining interpretation of that phrase was spend some time cuddling in a comfortable bed with the intention of being close. no distractions. no technology. just our love for each other. it was amazing!

we had gaming on Sunday, which was awesome and fun [and interestingly enough involved one of the other player characters (PCs) getting married. among other things, my character coordinated with a third PC and some intelligent animals to incapacitate mercenaries who had stolen dishes and kidnapped part of the catering staff. I had a blast sneaking around, shooting arrows past the mercenaries’ ears, throwing things to mislead them regarding my location, and scaring the pants off one of them – ironically enough, while naked (to make better use of my character’s camouflage mutation). then some intelligent flying squirrels volunteered to serve food at the wedding, and somehow most people were okay with that…] gaming went on for a long time though, with kibitzing afterward, so by the time Fox convinced me to get off Discord and go to bed I was completely emotionally exhausted. like ready to cry exhausted.

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Living… for fun and profit?

Long story short, I wasn’t able to enroll in composition lessons this semester after all. I was upset for a while, but then I started thinking about what I could do. Maybe I could find a private instructor elsewhere, for example. Someone not tied to an academic schedule. Who might be willing to do, say, 6 lessons over the next month and a half, ending by Yule, for a fair price. So I could make some progress between now and next semester. I sent the composition program coordinator an email updating him on the situation and requesting a referral – 5 days ago. Nada.

So I decided to go all-in.

I’ve brainstormed a business plan for being an independent composer / content creator – drawing on what I’ve learned from the EP, actually (I’ve been enjoying my role in that, by the way). What platforms do I want to be on? What do I want and need for a professional website? How do I copyright my music? Do I want to let people use my music in their works, and with what stipulations? (Generally speaking I have no problem with individuals as long as they credit me – tbh I’ll be honored! – though I do need to make money somehow. I just don’t want corporations profiting off my work without my consent.) What should my Patreon reward levels be? Etc. There’s still a lot that needs to be worked out, a ton that I need to learn, but it feels good to be moving in that direction. People have been super supportive. And Fox even agreed to be my webmaster!

Which so far has been good for our relationship, as we get to talk about and plan something that’s meaningful to both of us. I’m a bit torn between relying on his skills as a web developer to create something custom but without the bells and whistles of, say WordPress… and going with a platform that will let me post and edit all my own content directly with fancy widgets and SEO tools and all that, but with limits on how much I can customize the precise look and feel. (None of the themes I’ve seen quite fit.) The thought occurs that if Fox is managing the website for me I will have more time to focus on composing. He’s willing to learn new skills to accommodate my needs. And I think WordPress costs money, whereas Fox is willing to do this for… well, we share whatever money we make. Plus he’ll be able to include my site in his portfolio. Win-win!

So far I have the possibility of composing for the EP, though I need to meet with my friend (the CEO) to work out details. Ron’s running for public office, so ze asked me to compose the music for zir campaign video(s). And another friend (jokingly?) said he might need me to help him come up with a song. So I already have multiple potential projects that I’ll be able to point to as examples of people using my work. But none of them are in progress yet.

After a while brainstorming – and struggling to focus on, you know, actually composing – I now have a specific project in progress. It’s an arrangement or orchestration of a traditional Christmas song, but I’m writing my own… I’ve been calling it a ‘countermelody,’ not sure if that’s the correct term… to weave with it. My goal is to have it ready by December. Ideally I’ll be able to post it and a couple other songs, so folks looking for holiday music will find my channel. Maybe they’ll share and subscribe, possibly even support me on Patreon? I dunno, right now it feels like a bit much to ask, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Right? Everyone’s gotta start somewhere.

And where I am feels absolutely amazing! I’ve been brainstorming like crazy. found a piano score online. orchestrated it for strings. experimented with different sounds. put all the instruments I like the timbre of in one score omg I hope I can narrow that down! scribbled all over the front and back of a page in my giant sketchpad, sorting out the feel I want. figured out what steps I need to take. came up with what I want the structure and story to be. suddenly sang a gorgeous 2 minute countermelody! which I interrupted notating to write this post. Because I want to shout it from the rooftops: I feel fantastic!

It’s kinda like being in love, only better, because it’s not focused or dependent on someone else. I feel fully alive, in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever felt before. Alive and whole and powerful and happy. This deep wonderful contentment. Like everything’s right – in my personal bubble at least. I don’t mean to discount what’s been going on in the world, but right now I’m writing about me. My internal state of being is one of joy and creativity!

About 7 weeks ago I wrote about putting my portfolio together for that initial application to the composition program:

It felt so good starting with something I was already proud of, seeing how I could make it better, carefully patiently meticulously caressing it like a sculptor working with wet clay, and then the magic when it sounds right… oh, by the gods, to do that for a living…

That would be living…

and I ended the post with:

If composing is my idea of living then I should live, and have fun with it.

That’s exactly what I’ve been doing! and I love it!