What If …

“I am in the present. I cannot know what tomorrow will bring forth. I can know only what the truth is for me today. That is what I am called upon to serve, and I serve it in all lucidity.”
– Igor Stravinsky (1936)

Igor Stravinsky’s quote above expresses a major component of what I aim for this blog to be: a kind of snapshot of how I’m doing on a particular day, what I’m thinking about or struggling with … or how I’m succeeding. If depression has taught me anything, it is to live one day at a time. The joy I feel today might be replaced by anguish tomorrow. A day it takes all my strength to get through (probably because I didn’t get enough sleep the night before) might be followed by one of the best days of my life.

My emotions are intense, but they are also temporary. In the worst moments of my life, survival can take the form of remembering, “This too shall pass.”

from dreamstime.com

from dreamstime.com

In the moment I might feel like ripping off my skin, but knowing it is (probably? … hopefully!) temporary allows me to be in it. I can breathe. I can keep myself from doing something impulsive and stupid and … irreversible. I might even be able to learn from the experience.

There is great power in feeling the full force of one’s emotions, including the compulsion to act on them, and knowing that – as unpleasant as it may be, and that’s a terrible understatement – it’s okay to feel this way. I don’t have do whatever it takes to make the bad feeling go away. I might hate it – that’s okay too – but I can be in it. And if I can be in it, then I can get through it … whether through my own strength, or by calling out for help, or by going to sleep and hoping things are better in the morning.

But on Wednesday I read something, and now the “What if …” bug is buzzing around in my head. I asked for feedback on the look and feel of my blog on The Daily Post‘s post, Branding Your Blog: Let’s Get Visual. In one day I had 86 visitors to and 154 views of my blog, blowing my previous records out of the solar system!

I want to thank everyone who dropped by, particularly international visitors, and especially those who signed up to follow my blog, commented, or liked a post. Your engagement means the world to me!

It's so inspiring to know people from all over the world are reading my blog!

It’s so inspiring to know people from all over the world are reading my blog!

I would especially like to thank two fellow bloggers who helped me out with a day with depression. Wander One Day suggested that I change the background color to the lovely bluish-grey it is now. She also put into words an aspect of my experience that I wanted to convey through my title, but hadn’t quite put into these terms:

I think the fact that it is a “day” with depression, rather than “life” with depression or something more permanent, shows that you are not content to live with it forever – it is something that is transient.

Somehow I doubt it’s realistic to expect to walk away from depression completely, but I can come to a point where it no longer has a significant impact on my daily life. I need to develop and will need to maintain better habits, such as my efforts to overcome codependency and getting 8 hours of sleep every night. I might have to be on medication for the rest of my life. But yes, my hope and my goal is for my current experience of depression (as an illness that limits my engagement in society and sense of self-actualization) to be transient. This is what I mean by my (current, as of writing this post) tagline, “… and hope for recovery.”

from focusonrecovery.org

from focusonrecovery.org

In a somewhat similar but more provocative vein, Sandra Conner really got me thinking about what I’m striving for – and succeeding in. Her reply to my request for feedback is a bit long to quote in its entirety here, so I’ll share the parts that inspired the “What if …” bug:

[…] As I read over some of your posts, I feel [that] your sense of taking hold of life bravely and moving forward at every opportunity are two very strong elements in your personality and character. They seem to identify you much more than the depression. I keep feeling you should focus on your success in moving forward toward recovery.

[…] what I read on your site indicates that you are well on your way to not being imprisoned by depression at all. I would let the title celebrate that fact.

[In a follow-up comment:] I definitely do see in your writing and your lifestyle a great deal that is positive and indicative of having overcome depression.

I don’t always see myself in such a positive light, so it’s very helpful, inspiring, and motivating to receive this kind of feedback. It’s easy to get trapped in seeing the aspects of my lifestyle that are unhealthy, to the exclusion of the ways in which I’m doing the things Sandra describes.

What if  instead of seeing myself as a person who struggles with depression, I see myself as a person who successfully lives with depression – one day at a time?
(This is a component of narrative therapy.)

Somehow, suddenly, “the road to recovery” seems a lot shorter! I’m already doing what I just said I want to be able to do … perhaps just not quite as consistently as I would like. That is to say, some days I live with depression more successfully than others; I’d like to – and can! – increase the percentage and frequency of “good” & “okay” days.

Which brings about another question; this one is a bit more hypothetical. But we’re in the land of “What if …” – where anything is possible!

What if  I have recovered from depression?
(This is kind of like the “miracle question” in solution-focused therapy.)

… … …

My shoulders relax; it is as though a weight has been lifted from them. The corners of my lips creep upward – a hesitant, but growing, even glowing smile. I feel a sense of peace come over me as I breathe in more deeply. I am tired, but not sad.

I know I will be able to handle whatever tomorrow brings … especially since I’ll be practicing my maintenance habits and getting 8 hours of sleep tonight!

… … …

Now that’s a good feeling …

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Daily Prompt: Burning Down the House – What Cannot Be Replaced

Daily Prompt: Burning Down the House | The Daily Post.

Today, The Daily Post has set fire to my house! All the people and animals are safe and I have time to grab – and save – five items.

I glance around quickly at all the things that will be lost: my furniture, clothes, beloved books, countless nicknacks. My eyes tear up as they fall upon the bead curtain my friends and I have been working on since college. But all these things, as painful and expensive as it may be to lose them now, can be replaced. The air is filling with smoke; it’s getting harder to breathe. I must act quickly.

The very first thing I grab is my viola; if I’m lucky it is already packed, with its bow, in its case. My viola is not an inanimate object, it is a beautiful musical instrument with a unique personality and with which I have a very meaningful relationship. To lose it would be to lose a part of my soul.

Next I grab my guitar, also already packed in its case – which I can sling fairly easily over my shoulder. I knew this was My Guitar the moment I first strummed it. There is no way I could leave it behind.

Choking, I run over to my desk. I grab the external hard drive that houses the only copy of some of my older files, most notably music I composed in college.

Once that is secure, I unplug all the wires from the back of my desktop computer. This baby was custom-built three years ago and my only complaint about it is that my security software somehow manages to slow it down – nothing some extra RAM couldn’t fix. More importantly, it has the only copy of some irreplaceable files on it. There is no way I will willingly leave it behind.

Finally, I am torn as to what my last item should be. Do I try to wrangle the bead curtain? Grab my digital camera, which likely has some pictures on it I have yet to transfer to a computer? What about my sketchbook? It has my unique drawings in it … but the ones I care about most have been scanned.

I check my left hand – yes, I’m already wearing my engagement ring.

The air is thickening; I can barely see. My eyes fall on my laptop. It is one of the most valuable items I own, and it also has irreplaceable files on it. Though I’ve had the desktop longer, the laptop – because I can use it in bed, take it anywhere with me, etc. – feels more like I have a special relationship with it. I grab it and run for my life.

I escape just in time, running from ground zero as my home collapses behind me. Ashes, smoke, and flames billow into the air. Somewhere in the distance, sirens are sounding.

I am so relieved to join my loved ones in safety. We hug, we cry, we tremble, but we’re all here, safe. I think about all the stuff that I have lost … but it is precisely that: stuff. What I really need is what’s around me: Love.

*****

As a hoarder, especially a hoarder who is transitioning between spaces, I find it exceptionally useful to respond to this kind of prompt. It can be so hard to get rid of things. As crazy as the clutter drives me, it’s also comforting. Each item I get rid of is like throwing away a part of myself. It hurts.

But they’re just things! This prompt has me thinking about which of my things are really important, and which I could live without. Ultimately, the answer is that the items I need most enable me to express myself. My computer hard drives contain some of my most meaningful self-expressions.

Yes, I need things like clothes. Yes, I want to keep all my books and other media. But most of this stuff is just stuff. The emotions, the memories, they all live inside me. I can be whole without this stuff! And that means I can let some of it go …

Lean on Me – But Just the Right Amount

Wakana pulled back, standing squarely on her own two feet again. I felt my body relax.

“It’s like your mother,” she said. “She needs you to be dependent on her in order to have a sense of herself. But you can’t lean on her too much – I don’t think she could handle it.”

“You’re right,” I replied. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to figure out how much to lean. I feel safer not trusting her than risking that we’ll both collapse, or that she’ll use whatever I confide in her against me.

“But it hurts! She’s my mother!”

Wakana was huddled in her chair, arms and legs crossed, like the lost abandoned child crying inside me. Her eyes seemed to have a grey cloud over them – likely reflecting what she saw in my eyes. Her lips were turned downward in a frown. I was staring at my own pain.

“She’s also a person,” Wakana explained. “People can’t always be what we want them to be.”

The silence was broken only by the flood in my eyes.

“It’s disappointing.”

My mom just can’t be the mother I’ve always wanted her to be. I need to accept that about her and relate – as my real self – to the person she is. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry. I’ve been chasing a dream … and living a nightmare!

I need to get my needs met elsewhere: other family members, friends, and by caring for myself. And I need to establish and enforce boundaries between Mom and me. We can’t lean on each other anymore! It’s too dangerous for me.

But I’m not sure what “boundaries” entail! It’s one thing to talk about this stuff with my therapist – quite another to get it to work in my real, imperfect, living and breathing relationship with my mother. I’m paying Wakana to spend an hour every week being whatever I need her to be; she’s had decades of training and experience in helping clients heal lifelong emotional wounds. My mother … to be fair, I’m sure she’s tried her best. But that hasn’t been enough – often, it’s actively hurt me! I don’t trust her to respect my boundaries; nor do I trust myself to get it right when I try to establish and enforce them.

Should I say “no” her her requests? Refuse to listen to her stories? Avoid expressing any vulnerability? Should I schedule times when we are allowed to talk about a limited, predetermined list of topics? Set a timer and when it goes off she has to stop speaking and listen to me?

When does it stop being about boundaries and become about control? How can I let her be her without it hurting me?

WHERE IS THE MIDDLE GROUND?!

Blog for Mental Health 2013

I was so excited to learn about the Blog for Mental Health 2013 Project on A Canvas of the Minds! It is an effort to raise awareness about what it is like to live with mental illness, from the perspectives of people with mental illness. It is also an effort to end suffering in silence, bringing people with mental illness together in a community of dialogue and support.

In other words, it’s pretty much exactly what I want my blog, a day with depression, to be: sharing my experiences, both for my own healing and to help others – whether through educating them about mental illness, or by letting them know they are not alone. By sharing our experiences and insights, perhaps we can help each other heal – or at least cope. Perhaps we can create a world that works with people who have mental illness to help us live fully in society.

blogformentalhealth20131And so I pledge my commitment to the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Project.  I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others.  By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health.  I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

I chose to take the pledge after reading about it on Disorderly Chickadee.

My Mental Health Biography

I remember a childhood that included having anger management issues, feeling like I couldn’t express my emotions safely and effectively, and feeling isolated from my peers. I often daydreamed as a coping mechanism; later I would have difficulty paying attention even when I wanted to. My father physically abused me at least once; I have carried the guilt, shame, and fear of others’ anger with me, believing he was justified in how he treated me until very recently. His fight with lung cancer and death 15 years ago left me devastated.

I received psychotherapy / talk therapy a couple of times as an adolescent. I don’t remember it being very effective. I focused primarily on my schoolwork and had some friends and extracurricular activities; I was functional but often felt grumpy, out of place, and misunderstood. Around the same time, my mother started depending on me to fill her emotional needs, often at the expense of my own.

My freshman year of college had its ups and downs, but mostly I remember it as a good time in my life. When I returned for my sophomore year, I felt like something was wrong. I felt sad, isolated, like I wasn’t ready to be back. Spring 2005 was the first time I was diagnosed with depression; that fall was the first time I took medication for it (Wellbutrin). The medication seemed to help; I decided to stop taking it and terminate therapy the following spring. Despite the depression, I tend to think of my college years as the best time of my life.

I graduated magna cum laude and worked for almost 2 years before matriculating as a graduate student. At work, supervisors noticed that I had low energy. I felt tired, sad, and frustrated much of the time (at least partially because of work, but I believe there were mental health issues as well). I felt another depressive episode coming on in early Spring 2010 – my second semester of graduate school – and though it has waxed and waned, it has never fully lifted.

I began receiving music therapy as a client in Fall 2010. My work has focused mostly on self-esteem, assertiveness, expressing emotions (especially anger), and overcoming anxiety. The first psychiatrist I saw in late July 2012 diagnosed me with dysthymia and prescribed Wellbutrin; my current psychiatrist (whom I’ve been seeing since mid-December) diagnosed me with a major depressive episode and prescribed Zoloft. The Zoloft, continuing music therapy, and writing in this blog seem to be helping.

Take the Pledge!

Participating bloggers are encouraged to pledge 5 other people to the project. I’m not sure whom to pledge, so consider this an open invitation.

Visit the Blog for Mental Health 2013 post on A Canvas of the Minds for instructions on how to pledge, including how to be included in their official blogroll.

If you decide to take the pledge, please comment with a link to your “Blog for Mental Health 2013” post and I’ll gladly feature it here. If you do so, please consider using this post as your link to the person who pledged you.

My Efforts to be Codependent No More – Part One: What’s Codependency and Who’s Got It? (Me!)

I look over at Fox; he is sleeping. Anger rushes through me; I feel my shoulders and jaw tense. Why does he sleep so much? Doesn’t he want to spend time with me? Maybe he doesn’t love me. Maybe he’s taking advantage of me … coming here, just to sleep in my bed! Maybe it’s my fault he sleeps so much, I should be a better partner. He shouldn’t stay up so late! Doesn’t he care about his health? About me? And if I’m up late he should ask me to come to bed! It’s not fair that I wake so early and he gets to sleep!

I just wish I could get him to sleep and be awake at the same times as me! That way I wouldn’t be sitting here, unsure what to do with myself and feeling guilty for wanting to wake him. I feel sad and alone, abandoned again …

That’s a typical experience for me, especially since I tend to wake earlier than Fox. Until recently, I was convinced his sleeping was my problem; what I needed was to get him to change.  It wasn’t until I wrote Using Words to Say What They Cannot that I first separated the effects of Fox’s behavior on my quality of life from his actual behavior and intentions. Creating that separation helped me to see how, possibly, the problem may lie in how I am perceiving and reacting to his behavior – not the behavior itself.

I’ve started reading Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie. The first four chapters – which make up Part One – clarify what codependency is and help the reader identify aspects of codependency in hirself. Chapters 2-4 end with written activities; I would like to share and reflect upon my responses in this post.

I Can Relate

The activity for Chapter 2 asks the reader which codependents’ stories ze identifies with and why. Without posting the stories for context (and possibly violating copyright), it seems most meaningful to share the aspects of the stories that I identify with the most. Some of them appear in more than one story.

  • losing friends, hobbies, and love for life after entering a committed relationship
  • feeling guilty
  • feeling depressed
  • feeling like I lost myself
  • feeling angry and unappreciated while trying to make others happy
  • endlessly caring for others
  • getting caught up in and trying to control others’ emotions
  • feeling lost or enmeshed in others’ emotions and concerns

These issues come up the most in my relationship with my Mom, followed closely by my relationship with Fox, and to a lesser extent (I think) with Banji – in other words, with the people I’m closest to and who are the most central to my life.

Defining Codependency

There are many different definitions of codependency, each of which explains different aspects of a complex problem. Beattie provides a brief history of codependency to put these definitions into context and convey the meaning(s) of the word more accurately. I encourage interested readers to learn this history.

At the end of Chapter 3, Beattie asks the reader to define codependency for hirself. I combined multiple definitions from throughout the chapter into one:

Codependency is a habitual system of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors directed toward myself and others that cause me pain (p. 38). It arises from allowing another person’s behavior to affect me and wanting/trying to control that person’s behavior (p. 36). It is a result of living much or most of my life with unspoken, silent, oppressive rules that limit my expression of emotion and open, direct discussion of problems (p. 32).

Codependency is why I feel like Fox is controlling me and why I want to change certain aspects of his behavior. It is why I feel so guilty and angry all much of the time. It’s why I find the time I spend with Mom so draining – even when our interactions and endeavors go well! I’m codependent.

But it’s not my fault, it’s essentially how I was raised! My parents and other family members kept secrets and avoided expressing emotion. They didn’t deal with conflict well – they either tried to avoid it, or erupted into screaming arguments that terrified me as a child. They taught me to hide my problems; they didn’t take me seriously.

My responsibility now is to do something about it – not by trying to change anyone else (including my mom, as much as I really wish I could), but by changing myself.

It is time for me to unlearn my codependency.

How Am I Codependent? Let me count the ways …

Chapter 4 is essentially a list of characteristics codependents tend to have. It’s very long, and the majority of items apply to me at least somewhat; many to a strong degree. They are organized into categories: caretaking, low self-worth, repression, obsession, controlling, denial, dependency, poor communication, weak boundaries, lack of trust, anger, sex problems, miscellaneous, and progressive.

The activity at the end of the chapter invites the reader to mark each characteristic with a 0 if it does not apply at all, a 1 if it is “occasionally a problem,” and 2 if it is “frequently a problem.” As I did the activity, there were some items for which I wished I could apply a 3!

This was not part of the activity, but I wanted an easier way to see which categories I need to focus on most to overcome my codependency, so I developed a scoring system. I added my 1’s and 2’s to determine how many “points” I “scored” for each category, then divided it by the maximum possible “points” (number of items, times 2) to learn my percentage. Some of the results surprised me:

  • I scored highest in Anger (91%), followed by Repression (83%), Lack of Trust (79%), and Controlling (75%).
  • Caretaking (68%), Low Self-Worth (67%), and Dependency (67%) did not score as high as I thought they would.
  • Somehow, I scored 66% in Denial. I don’t see how …
  • I only scored 50% in Obsession and Weak Boundaries; I only scored 47% in Poor Communication! These were categories where I would have expected to score much higher!

Preparing to Change (Myself)

I’m scared to change myself. I don’t want to let go of how I’m used to understanding myself, or my old familiar comfortable habits (even when they hurt me). I don’t want to risk people I love liking me less because of the change.

But I know I really need it and I think I can do it – if I try really hard and allow myself to make mistakes, while remaining committed.

If I begin to change I hope I’ll start to feel better and be happier, more confident, and more capable. Maybe people will like me more – or, at least, I’ll find social interactions easier.

Changing won’t be easy, especially since it’s scary and I think the people I’m closest to and need the most support from will try to keep me the same. But maybe I can tell them what I’m trying to do and ask them to be understanding / try not to take it personally if I’m more assertive, etc. I’m doing what I need to get better!

So Now What?

Part 2 of Codependent No More is comprised of 16 chapters with information and written activities intended to teach the reader how to care for hirself. If I want to do it right, it will take quite a while for me to get through the rest of the book. I’m inclined to do the chapters in order; I might blog about some, most, or possibly all of them.

What are your thoughts on codependency? Do you think you might be codependent? Do you think anyone you know is codependent? Do you have any advice?

Maybe Sleeping 8 Hours a Night is My Key to Success

Today (Thursday) was a good day. I turned off my computer around 1:00 am and started reading Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. After reading a couple chapters and doing the first written activity, I went to bed around 2:30 am. I didn’t sleep particularly well, but I did sleep until about 11:00 am – over 8 hours. Then I got up and started my day, including: feeding rats, having breakfast, emailing the instructor for the class I missed on Tuesday, defining “codependency” for myself, and calling on-campus psychological services.

I was even able to juggle baking stuffed Cornish hens for the first time ever (stuffing them was kind of awesome!) with getting ready for class. I took a very quick shower and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. The water hitting my skin felt more amazing than it ever has before!

I was on task, cleaning up after my cooking and getting dressed more quickly and easily than usual. I devoured about a third of a stuffed Cornish hen, savoring even the white meat! I usually find white meat to be too dry, but this was glorious, tender and moist. I was exceedingly pleased.

I packed up the hens in the fridge and ran out, hoping that I might still manage to be on time for class despite the traffic I anticipated hitting. As I drove I reflected on the day and all the awesome things I had accomplished – and how much I enjoyed doing it! I even found pleasure in handling something as gross as raw poultry!

I was just thinking that, after everything I’d done, maybe being late for class wouldn’t be so bad …

When my car suddenly started making a very strange and ominous noise. It was loud and low pitched and kept repeating, like a wide heavy leather flap on a conveyor belt kept hitting something. It became louder and more frequent when I accelerated.

At first I thought I had hit a nail or something and damaged a tire, but when I checked my tires were fine. I looked under the car but didn’t see anything hanging down. If I opened my hood I’d be proud of myself for finding the place where you put windshield wiper fluid; the only way I’d be able to tell what was wrong with the engine is if a fuzzy purple creature hissed at me from atop its nest and eggs. Then, I think I’d have more problems with my car than an ominous noise! (And I’d probably still need to ask someone else for help.)

Ziya's Understanding of Car Engines

Ziya’s Understanding of Car Engines

So I called a tow truck and proceeded to WAIT. I called Mom and Fox. I alternated between running the car for warmth and sitting in the cold to preserve gas. Of course, my phone took that opportunity to complain about low battery, so I took the opportunity to charge it when the car was running. And I wrote this blog post by hand in my school notebook.

When the tow truck finally came and I sat in its passenger seat, watching my car get hooked up onto the bed, that is when I felt sad about what was happening. I was disappointed from the moment I realized I was going to miss class, but I accepted it very quickly. It was a little bit harder to accept and allow myself to feel my sadness about my car needing to be towed somewhere. The Dark Horse (images; explanation) whinnied and shook its head and reared and stomped in the dirt. And snorted. Visualizing the Dark Horse doing those things gave me a safe outlet for my feelings.

Finally, over three hours after first hearing the noise, I arrived at Mom’s house safe and sound; the car is at a shop nearby. The person at the shop said they’d look at the car first thing in the morning. There is a plastic piece hanging down in front that I hadn’t seen when I’d first checked. I hope that’s the (only) problem, and that it can be fixed easily, inexpensively, and quickly!

I was inconvenienced, but suffered no harm. In the realm of what could happen on the road, I consider myself fortunate.

And I handled the whole situation very well. There were brief moments when I doubted my decision to get a tow truck; I thought I was “making a big deal out of nothing” and using the first opportunity that presented itself to avoid having to go to class. But I reminded myself that I didn’t know what was going on and I would rather be safe than risk doing catastrophic damage to my car! I made a decision and defended my right to stick to it despite the doubts that arose; it might not have been the best decision, but that’s okay too. I made it, I followed through, and I am safe. No disasters.

I really think getting the amount of sleep I need, even if it wasn’t the best quality, set me up to have a good day. I was able to direct and focus my energy, accomplish most of my goals, and handle a very stressful situation with grace. I wasn’t dependent on the events of the day or others’ behavior to feel good about myself – at least, not to the degree that has been my norm. This is definitely a habit worth developing.

Using Words to Say What They Cannot

Playing The Sims 3 too late Monday night all but ruined Tuesday. My plan had been to pick up textbooks from the bookstore on campus, leave from campus to go to my music therapy session, then return to campus for my evening class, attend class and come home. Instead, I overslept by 45 minutes. I was sluggish, groggy, and disorganized. I left an hour later than I’d intended. When I got to the bookstore there was a long line; I was worried about being horribly late for my session, so I left without accomplishing what I’d gone to campus to do. 😦

I was late for the later time to which I’d pushed back my session when I realized I was running late, but my therapist (Wakana) was very nice and actually allowed it to go on longer than our usual hour. Fox came with me, per my request, so we could work on some stuff together:

The Issue

I’ve been feeling very trapped in our relationship, like I can’t express myself fully. It’s fueling the depression. Sometimes I feel like he’s trying to shape my thoughts regarding a topic (e.g. saying we know my pet rats are smart) or change some aspect of something I’ve said (e.g. repeating it with an inflection that suggests a different emotion/meaning, or changing the wording). He (almost) always has a response for (nearly) everything I say and most of what I do; that response always seems to convey either approval (like I need it) or the suggestion that I should do/think/say something different. When he doesn’t respond, I worry that I’ve broached upon an unapproved topic.

Other times, I feel like his actions (e.g. opening a drawer for me) or reactions (e.g. shrinking away when I express anger) limit my ability to be an active agent in accomplishing my goals. I feel like he doubts my abilities when he helps without me asking him to. I feel unsafe expressing anger – and harnessing that energy to complete tasks – when he shrinks away from it. I worry that I’m being too aggressive. I almost never practice music when we’re together because I know he doesn’t like hearing the same thing repeated over and over again. I waited almost an hour and a half to call Banji Monday night because I felt uncomfortable excusing myself from Fox to do so.

I don’t know whether these are red flags suggesting an unhealthy dynamic to our relationship (as my mother seems inclined to suggest), or whether I’m taking his behavior too personally. One of the mental distortions in depression is perceiving others’ neutral behaviors as somehow negatively directed toward oneself – for example, as disapproval. Knowing this can help me quiet the Critic enough to get through a day, but it might also cause me to doubt instincts that I really need to trust. Do I need to just be myself, assert myself, do what I need or want, and leave it to him to express his needs directly? Or is something more sinister going on here?

The last thing I need is an abusive relationship.

What Words Can’t Say

I am distressed by the impact of Fox’s actions on my quality of life, but just as distressing is my impulse to ask him to change his behavior and speech patterns to better suit my needs. How is that not limiting his ability to express himself fully? Don’t we both have that right?

I feel horrible bringing it up, especially since he’s done so much to show his love for and dedication to me. He’s stuck by me through some very rough times, shown me more respect than I was once inclined to show myself (and still have trouble requesting from others), and even remained supportive and present while terrified by the strength of my anger. (I think it helps that I was not angry with him at the time.) How dare I question his motives?

I worry about falsely accusing him, controlling him until he’s forced to become someone he’s not, hurting his feelings, and/or driving him away. The anxiety steals my voice and silences my thoughts. I have trouble coming up with the words to express how his behavior is affecting me – or, how I feel in response to his behavior. If I manage to think the words, I can’t bring myself to say them. My mouth and vocal cords refuse to work.

If I manage to say something, I don’t communicate it clearly. I think it comes across as nitpicking about this instance of the behavior instead of trying to address the broader pattern. Fox becomes defensive. I get frustrated and fall into a cold, hostile silence full of pain, anger, and guilt. At some point we both let it go. Rinse and repeat.

Tuesday morning was particularly bad because we were both cranky from lack of sleep, and on a schedule. It didn’t help that (as he expressed later) he was trying to navigate the thin line between giving me the nudge I need (and have requested) and being overbearing; I felt like he was guilty of the latter. I was convinced he was controlling me and I hated him for it. Even when he went to take a shower and I was putting our breakfast dishes in the dishwasher, these thoughts were running through my head. I felt abused, unappreciated, neglected.

Finding a Voice

I talked to Fox about feeling trapped on our way to the music therapy session. I told him I hoped we could use music to work through some aspects of our dynamic that I was having trouble understanding and expressing in words. He agreed to try. We also talked about what happened Tuesday morning to try and find better ways of interacting. I suggested we work together as a team, with a routine and different jobs we each know we need to do, to make mornings run more smoothly. He suggested we have a technology curfew – no computer/internet use after midnight or too soon after waking – to help us get the sleep we need and start the day focused on reality.

(I’m breaking the technology curfew to write this, ironically. But he’s not here to be affected by my choice; he’s at his own home near his campus. I’d probably benefit from maintaining it whether he’s here or not, though. There’s just one problem: late night is my favorite time to write!)

The music therapy session was the one part of the day that went well. Wakana opened it by asking what our objective was, so I explained my perspective of what was going on and desire to use music to work through it together. We showed Fox how to play a variety of instruments, then he and I selected several to improvise with. He played the djembe (African hand drum held between the knees/thighs). I started with the cymbal, but when I saw that it was interfering with his music-making, I switched to the “nicer” and “quieter” malimba (African thumb piano).

If I’m making music with one or more other people, I listen to and might watch them, but the majority of my attention is on my own playing. This time, most of my focus was on Fox: his playing, facial expressions, and other body language. I tried to give him time to find a rhythm and play something that made sense with it. I got frustrated and even once played loudly on his drum when he played very quietly around the edges.

It was only when I backed off and became engrossed in the melody I was playing on the malimba that he was really able to join me. We responded to each other in the music and smiled at each other. He started to play with more confidence and volume. Where before my cymbal playing had interfered with his ability to play anything, I found I could punctuate and to some extent respond to his rhythmic patterns with it … then go back to playing the malimba. We connected and had a lot of fun.

Using Words

I was a bit annoyed when it seemed like Wakana was focusing mostly on Fox’s experiences, but listening to Fox speak was actually very helpful. I learned that, like me, he feels like he is putting a lot into our relationship and not getting as much out of it as he would like; his needs aren’t getting met. He expressed that he’s trying very hard to support me in dealing with my depression, all the transitions that are happening in my life, and day-t0-day stress. Sometimes it’s hard for him to figure out how to fit in his own needs, particularly because he doesn’t want them to have an adverse effect on me. It reminded me so strongly of what I’ve learned about the therapeutic relationship – the therapist should never use the session to meet hir own needs at the expense of the client – that I actually told him very firmly “You are not my therapist.”

I think sometimes we both need to remember that his job in our relationship is not to meet my needs. We are two individuals, equals, both of whom have needs that need to be met in a mutual and reciprocal way. I can’t meet all his needs and he can’t meet all of mine; we each need to find ways of taking care of ourselves and reaching out to other people for support. I think a lot of my anger toward him comes from forgetting this.

I’ve also finally come to acknowledge that, whether he is intentionally or subconsciously controlling me or not, I am putting stupid amounts of energy into trying to control him. Let me say that again: I am controlling him. For a while I was reading a book Wakana had recommended, titled Codependent No More: How to stop controlling others and start caring for yourself by Melody Beattie. As soon as I read the subtitle I denied that I could possibly be guilty of controlling others. My mother did that to me, Fox was doing it, even Banji. Everybody else. Not me! I was the victim.

Now I’m thinking maybe I should give this book another read with the understanding that maybe more of it applies to me than I had thought. Maybe Fox and I can read it together – codependency is something we both struggle with and a significant, 2-way issue in our relationship.

Wakana also gave us a valuable tool we can use to better assert our needs to one another, while still respecting each other and being polite. She suggested that if one of us wants to talk to the other about something, we set a date – it could be “in half an hour” – so we both have time to prepare mentally. Then no one’s activity gets interrupted and everyone’s needs can be discussed, hopefully addressed to the satisfaction of all parties.

A New Vocabulary

Wakana and Fox also helped me find the words to better explain something that’s been happening to me that is very distressing, interferes with my functioning, and has yet to be addressed by mental health professionals despite my attempts to bring it up. Sometimes I freeze up (I used to say “get stuck”): I feel like I either can’t or really don’t want to move; sometimes my head is swimming with thoughts. Sometimes I can’t think at all. All I can do is hold still and feel my body.

From my subjective experience it seems similar to my understanding of catatonic episodes, though for me it usually only lasts a few or maybe several minutes. I’m afraid to use that word with mental health professionals, though, in case I’m wrong. My understanding is that, even in the context of depression (vs. schizophrenia), catatonia is considered a severe psychotic symptom. One of my major goals in life is to avoid being involuntarily committed to inpatient psychiatric care – or needing it, for that matter. Applying inaccurate labels to myself around authority figures does not seem conducive to that goal.

Wakana didn’t use that word, though, she put it in the context of trauma response. There are 3 typical responses to a traumatic experience: fight, flight, or freeze. She noticed that, in my suddenly-much-clearer-than-usual explanation of the symptom, I said I feel overwhelmed by my (often self-deprecating) thoughts and conflicting emotions. “It’s anxiety,” she said, “probably linked to a past trauma.” There have been several times when I’ve frozen up to varying degrees – from feeling like I couldn’t move to completely shutting down emotionally – in response to trauma, such as: hearing my parents argue (as a child); learning my father had just died (as a preteen). Those responses seem sensible. Freezing in response to my own thoughts as an adult is a bit of a concern. Clearly I have a significant anxiety disorder that coexists with and feeds into my depression.

Well, now I have the words to describe one of my most distressing symptoms, and a nudge from Wakana to address it with Psychiatrist B.

But It Comes with a Cost

The downside to the extra session time Wakana gave us is that I left her office too late to make it to my class on time. I was beating myself up mentally for being late, especially because I did not have the book the instructor had emailed us three times saying to bring!

I tried checking my email to see if the order had been filled, so I could at least get the book and keep up with assignments, but I didn’t have an internet connection. I was too exhausted to deal with showing up significantly late for class without the book, never mind attempting to learn anything (and driving home afterward).

I went home with the Critic angrily lecturing me about the extra money I’d wasted on transportation to campus and how irresponsible it was/looked to miss the first day of class – especially as a graduate student! It went so far as to tell me I’m not allowed to spend an equivalent amount of money on other things! (Suggesting maybe I shouldn’t would be reasonable. Saying I’m not allowed is a bit harsh.)

I told the Critic that I’d made my choice and to shut up, but the guilt lingered. It only faded when I decided to make an appointment to meet with the instructor during her office hours. I’m also thinking I should look into filing for official disability accommodations with the school; it might be the difference between graduating and being forced to withdraw – i.e. give up my dream career – “for medical reasons.”

If I were given a choice between that and being involuntarily committed for inpatient psychiatric care, I’d take the latter – at least temporarily.