Re-Igniting the Spark

I randomly decided to re-join SparkPeople today, and it was so worth it!

One of the first things I did was join “teams” focused on dealing with depression and anxiety, which I’m hoping might provide some additional information and social support. I also joined 7 other teams, set a plethora of goals, and proceeded to track everything I ate. And guess what – it’s telling me I need to eat more – calories and protein, to be exact.

Fox and I made an epic grocery shopping trip, during which we spent way too much money and – by conservative estimates – walked for at least an hour! Boom! That’s 1/3 of my exercise goal for the week! Booyah!

We came home with plethora of fresh fruits and veggies, yogurt, frozen veggies, and minimally-processed meat. I had a delicious apple (“Oh Spock! This is amazing! Why don’t I eat apples every day?”), and a little bit later, we cooked.

Namely, we made delicious tacos: ground beef, cheese, and bell peppers in spinach wraps. And Fox made a huge Caesar salad, which we enjoyed before the tacos. It was actually too much food – I doubt I’ll be hungry again in time to eat that last bit the tracker is saying I need. I loved every bite and felt really good eating it – in part because it was fresh and in part because I’d done half the work to make it. (When we cook, we cook as a team.)

I’d forgotten how much I love cooking. It’s so much fun, and so rewarding. šŸ˜€

Best of all, we have leftovers, so we get to enjoy our delicious cooking again!

And something about getting points for doing basic things I should do anyway (such as taking a few minutes for relaxation) makes them seem so much easier. “Yeah, sure, I can do that. It’ll only take a few minutes, and it will feel good.” That’s what I really like about SparkPeople – it’s not just about losing weight. You don’t have to make it about weight at all (though the weight-loss ads are kind of overwhelming). My goals are to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night and listen to music at least once per day and actually go tend to my garden each day and cook at least 3 times a week (and so on …).

And if it kicks my butt to exercise, all the better. If it inspires me to make healthier food choices, all the better. I’m feeling really good about this decision, really hopeful. Today felt wonderful – and it was just an ordinary day in which we ran some errands. Nothing special.

I know from experience that I’m high from starting something new. Over time – probably before long – my enthusiasm will wane. I wasn’t planning to get too involved in the community aspect of the site, but maybe I will. If I make friends, then they can encourage me to stick with it when I don’t want to be bothered, and I can do the same for them.

You’re welcome to visit my Sparkpage – and friend me, if you’re on SparkPeople. Let’s see where this rabbit hole goes!


Measuring Recovery: Part 2 – More Burns Depression Checklist

I reviewed my overall daily and weekly scores on the Burns Depression Checklist in my previous post, Measuring Recovery: Part 1. I’ll be taking a look at daily scores for subcategories of the Checklist today.


Thoughts and Feelings

The first category consists of 10 items describing one’s subjective experience, including: “feeling unhappy or blue,” “feeling hopeless,” “criticizing yourself or blaming yourself,” and “difficulty making decisions.” Criticizing/blaming and other items related to self-perception seem to be causing me the most difficulty. On a scale from 0 to 4, I tend to rank criticizing/blaming from a 2 to 4 – moderate to extreme.

Activities and Personal Relationships

The second category consists of 7 items that describe behavior and subjective experience related to work/hobbies and social life. Although I do seem to feel worse on days when I withdraw from my social network, the items I see myself struggling the most with are “motivation” and “loss of interest in work or other activities.”

Physical Symptoms

There are 5 items related to sleep, appetite, sex, and “worrying about your health.” This is the category I seem to consistently score the highest in. Even on really good days when my thoughts, feelings, and behavior would suggest otherwise, my body seems to be depressed. I guess this is why it’s so important to exercise.

Suicidal Urges

The final category asks 3 questions: thoughts? desire? plan? Fortunately this is the category I score the lowest in – usually a 1 in thoughts and 0s in desire and plan.

My Scores

Scores for the Burns Depression Checklist are determined by ranking each item from 0 to 4, where 0 means you didn’t experience the symptom at all during the given time frame (1 day to 1 week) and 4 means it was “extreme.”

Instead of tracking each item separately, I decided to look at my scores for overall categories. To standardize the scores, I divided the total score for each category by the number of items in said category. As a result, all the scores represented on the chart/graph below are between 0 and 4.

My (standardized) scores on the subcategories of the Burns Depression Checklist from July 29, 2013 through August 24th, 2013. The gap represents 2 days when I did not complete the checklist.

My (standardized) scores on the subcategories of the Burns Depression Checklist from July 29, 2013 through August 24th, 2013. The gap represents 2 days when I did not complete the Checklist.

What a Mess!

Although at first glance the graph/chart above appears to be chaotic, there are a few noticeable trends.

* First, with rare exceptions, all 4 lines tend to move in the same direction. If one line is going up, the other three most likely are as well, though the angle might be different. (One or more scores may stay the same.) Same is true if they’re going down. In other words, on good days (low score) I feel betterĀ and perceive myself in a better light and am more active and have less suicidal urges than on bad days (high score).

burnschart01a_0811-0814* The blue line (thoughts and feelings) starts out with a noticeably different shape from the other 3. By the end of the 4 weeks, however, it is moving in better unison with them. The “thoughts and feelings” subcategory seems to be more internal, while the other categories relate self to body and self to outside world – if such a dichotomy is truly relevant. I’m inclined to say there was a disconnect between these two aspects of my experience that has been (at least temporarily) resolved.

Another way of looking at it is that the biggest disconnect between the blue line and the others is around August 11-14, when I was grieving the death of my undergraduate mentor. It makes sense that I would experience increased sadness, crying, even guilt during such a time, without necessarily having a comparable increase in other depression symptoms.

* Whereas near the beginning of the 4 weeks there are noticeable vertical gaps between the lines, by the end of the 4 weeks the lines tend to overlap. This is especially true of the blue line and the red line, representing thoughts/feelings and activities/personal relationships respectively. How I think and feel is very closely related to my engagement with the world; I’m not sure whether the closeness of that relationship has actually increased or I’ve just become more aware of it. (This is, after all, a self-report measure.)

The Valley and the Peak

There are 2 days in particular that I think deserve some special attention.

burnschart01a_0816The first is Friday, August 16th, when we went to visit the bed & breakfast / potential wedding venue. It was a wonderful vacation; I felt energized, socially and otherwise engaged, I was active, and there was little room for self-criticism, sadness, and so on. I swam until I was completely physically exhausted – but felt amazing – and then enjoyed s’mores with my loved ones and friendly new acquaintances. Fox and I got to spend some time in a beautiful secluded outdoor area and be romantic. I felt so much more alive than I had for so long …

And yet, while I was swimming, I couldn’t help but think about drowning. For one day I was relatively free from depression, but a nagging voice remained, reminding me that all is not right in my brain. Is this a common thing, for someone who loves swimming but only does so when on vacation to think about how easy it would be to drown? I seem to remember a time when all I cared about was the feeling of the water rushing past my skin, the exhilaration as I propelled myself forward using my own energy, bursting through the surface of the water to fill my lungs with life-giving air, and the glorious feeling of weightlessness. Sure, it’s important to take safety precautions. But I always trusted myself to take them. This time I was less sure.

I should also point out that I completed my checklist for the 16th a day later, from memory. I like focusing on the positive aspects of that day, but there was some frustration and anxiety related to getting there, waiting for Fox’s parents (who hit traffic), and learning it was more expensive than we’d expected. I can’t know for sure whether or how my scores might have been different if I’d completed the checklist that night. I can say with certainty that, even with the frustration and anxiety, it was a much better day than I’ve come to consider “normal.” I woke the next morning feeling alert and refreshed – how wonderful!

burnschart01a_0819The second day I want to focus on is Monday, August 19th. I’ve noticed a tendency for my symptoms to oscillate, bad days (high scores) followed by good days (low scores) and vice-versa. It makes sense that, not long after such a good day (such low scores) I was bound to have a bad one (high scores). This turned out to be the worst day since I started my self-assessment.

I don’t really want to repeat what I’ve already said about this day, so I invite anyone interested to read No Space for Me (the post I wrote that day) and the paragraphs near the fourth picture under “Context is Everything” in Measuring Recovery: Part 1.

Suffice it to say – perhaps combining with the “natural” oscillation that would have occurred anyway – my experiences that day contributed to a very dangerous mental and emotional state, which is reflected neatly in that day’s Checklist scores. My scores on Thoughts and Feelings and Activities and Social Relationships both averaged a 3 (“severe”); my senses of agency, social belonging, and satisfaction in life were shattered. I was exhausted and slept during waking hours because that was the only relief I could find from my pain (Physical Symptoms average score 2.8). Not only did I think about taking my own life, but I wanted it to end and I even began contemplating a plan (Suicidal Urges average score 2). I think my fears were what kept me from going any further with it – particularly because I would have had to make noise, which increased my chances of getting caught doing something that definitely wasĀ not allowed.

While I’d much rather never feel like that again, I’m grateful for that fear.

Especially since all 4 scores dropped pretty dramatically after that day, and have been staying in the 0-2 range (for the most part) since. I have concerns about my lifestyle, things I want to change or do differently; those kind of require me to be alive. So do my long-term goals.

And the people I love … sometimes I need space from them, sometimes they drive me batty, and yes sometimes I forget they are here … but they’re way too important to just abandon so suddenly. I can’t live for them – I’ll be miserable – but I want to live because I want to spend time with them. I want to share joy with them; to be connected to something bigger than myself. I don’t know what comes after death, but I know what can happen in life because I’ve already experienced a decent chunk of it. And yeah, there are not-so-good moments, but there are also moments that can be wonderful.

The days when I lose sight of this are the worst days, the ones when I score the worst (highest) in all 4 subcategories. I don’t know how realistic it is to try and keep believing in it, blindly, when everything I’m experiencing (through that horrible depression filter) says otherwise. But I can look at this chart/graph and see how the scores oscillate. A bad day will be followed by a good – or at least not-so-bad – day. I just need to give myself a chance to wake up to it.

Measuring Recovery: Part 1 – Burns Depression Checklist

Completing the Burns Depression Checklist on a regular basis helps me to understand my depression better. However, it doesn’t include everything I believe is important to consider when assessing my mental health (such as symptoms of anxiety). In this post, I’ll review my scores on the Checklist and reflect on what I think they mean. My goal is to eventually develop a way to keep track of changes in various indicators of mental health, including signs that I am becoming more healthy (e.g. laughing and smiling, feeling at peace) and not just less diseased.

Checklist Scores: The Big Picture

My scores on the Burns Depression Inventory for the past 4 weeks. Daily scores are marked in blue, while weekly averages are marked in red. Although the severity of my depression symptoms can change drastically from day to day, there has been a steady decline in weekly averages from July 29, 2013 to August 34, 2013.

My scores on the Burns Depression Checklist for the past 4 weeks. Daily scores are marked in blue, while weekly averages are marked in red. Although the severity of my depression symptoms can change drastically from day to day, there has been a steady decline in weekly averages from July 29, 2013 to August 24, 2013.

I think the most noticeable thing about this graph/chart is that my daily scores oscillate. If I have a bad day (indicated by a higher score), things seem to get better soon afterward (causing the score to drop). Unfortunately the same is true if I have a good day (indicated by a lower score); in the days following, the symptoms that had been absent on my good day return (causing the score to rise). While I’m inclined to consider some oscillation normal, I think a reasonable goal would be to try and get to the point where scores are consistently low, with less day-to-day variation and only occasional bad days.

I’ve been tracking the average score for each week by adding up the daily scores for the week and dividing by 7 (6 for the first week). Admittedly it’s not the most statistically accurate method, but I believe it suffices for my purposes. Despite the daily oscillations – including some very difficult days – the weekly scores have been decreasing. I take that as a good sign.

Context is Everything

It’s important to put at least some of the scores into the context of what was going on for me at the time.

burnschart01wk1 In the first week I’d had enough of being severely depressed and felt motivated to finally take charge of my own life. I came up with a plan for taking care of myself and felt optimistic that it would help me beat the depression. I hit some rough patches though, particularly in regards to sleep. There were aspects of the self-care plan I needed to adjust. I was also still on the fence about whether to continue my seemingly futile efforts to make an appointment with a psychiatrist. Finally, I had just started taking SAM-e, a supplement to help my brain produce important neurotransmitters such as serotonin.

burnschart01wk2 Monday and Tuesday of the second week were bad enough that I didn’t even feel up to completing the Checklist. I repeated my scores from the Sunday for purposes of my chart/graph (particularly, to keep the average for that week from being too low) – though, I suspect the scores would have been much higher if I had completed the Checklist on those days.

I was coming down (arguably, crashing) from a high-energy social weekend, struggling with wedding-and-gender-norm-related family drama, and panicking over my pending loss of health insurance. Somehow, in the midst of all this, I was able to resume tracking my finances. The “return to functional humanity” did wonders for my mental health.

burnschart01wk3 On Sunday of the third week I learned that a mentor from my undergraduate years had died. Prior to learning the news I’d been having a rather good day, relatively free from depression symptoms. Afterward, understandably, I was very sad and angry.

I needed a few days to process the sudden change and grieve, resulting in higher scores on the Checklist as that was pretty much all I did. To some degree I believe the rise in scores is normal/healthy – anyone would experience some depression symptoms following the death of someone important to them. Mine were just more severe because my baseline is much higher (worse depression symptoms are “normal” for me).

I felt absolutely horrible the night of August 13-14, but with Fox’s help I was able to channel the immense energy of my emotions into creativity and efforts to change my environment for the better.

The very low score on August 16th was the result of visiting a beautiful bed and breakfast, where I was able to relax, savor delicious food, enjoy wonderful company, and reconnect with nature. I didn’t have my laptop with me, so I completed the Checklist the next day from memory.

Unfortunately, our visit to the bed and breakfast was not purely in the interest of getting away and enjoying a nice vacation. We were considering it as a potential wedding venue. Saturday August 17th was the beginning of horrible wedding insanity as we learned the venue we’d fallen in love with was much, much more expensive than we’d anticipated. Long story short, Mom, Fox, and I now have regular nightmares related to wedding planning. It’s become a horrible monster!

burnschart01wk4The monster posed a very, very serious threat to me on August 19th. That peak for week 4 is a score of 71, only 4 points away from “extreme” depression. Wedding-related family drama hit me especially hard on this day – but it’s really not anyone’s fault I responded this way.

The things that were said were a catalyst for something much deeper and darker in me: a sense that my existence as an autonomous sentient being is tenuous at best. Feeling like I need permission to do everyday things, even to breathe. I felt so trapped, like the Warden would come in any moment to punish me for daring to have my own thoughts, my own will – never mind to assert myself or act on my needs! Even just to write about it is terrifying.

Yes, I need people to respect my boundaries. But more than that, I need to know in my heart, to fiercely believe with every fiber in my being, that I am worthy of having boundaries. That it’s worth enforcing them. That if someone hurts me forĀ any reason, I have every right to feel angry and to defend myself. That if someone hurts me, it doesn’t mean I did something wrong.

Sure, this brought out a lot of depression symptoms, but I don’t think “depression” really explains what’s going on. And sure, it involves fairly severe anxiety symptoms, but I’ve never heard anxiety described or explained like this. I felt like I wasn’t allowed to do anything, and if I made a noise I’d be caught, and if I was caught …

I don’t know, maybe it’s PTSD? Call it “Barbie” for all I care! The point is, it’s a serious problem for me, an underlying cause or component to all my mental health issues. Perhaps it is my mental health issue.

Fortunately, I was able to rebound from that day. Writing No Space for Me definitely helped because I was able to express what was going on, assert myself, and realize that Fox does respect my boundaries. I also did more wedding-related research on my own terms and learned that the venue we’d fallen in love with isn’t actually that much more expensive – and might even beĀ less expensive – than the other options we’d consider. It helped me feel empowered to make decisions instead of feeling obligated to follow someone else’s rules.

Now What?

I’d intended to write about my daily scores on the 4 subcategories of the Burns Depression Checklist – Thoughts & Feelings, Activities & Personal Relationships, Physical Symptoms, and Suicidal Urges – but I think it would make this one post a bit too long. Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I shall examine these components of depression as they manifest themselves for me.

Good News

Fox and I have been comparing costs at different venues, including one we have an appointment to visit next week. We’ve decided an a la carte wedding is a bit more of a headache than we’re up for, and that local inclusive packages aren’t really that much less expensive than the venue we fell in love with last weekend (Too Good to Be True). If we’re going to spend ridiculous amounts of money on a wedding, we might as well have it at a positively gorgeous location with really awesome amenities and a superb day-of coordinator, where we know we’ll be the only event happening that weekend. To me, that’s worth some extra cash – and it might even be worth asking nearby family and friends to come out to a “destination” wedding as well!

We’ve found a number of ways to cut over $2,000 off the budget.

* The owner of the venue offered us an exclusive, very generous room rate specifically for the weekend of our wedding. Although we’ll be leaving it to guests (including bridal party) to pay for their own rooms, we’re still saving hundreds of dollars on the rooms we’ll need for Fox & me, my mom, his parents, and his sister. (Our parents are helping to pay for the wedding, so it seems only fair to include their hotel rooms in the budget.)

* We’re telling the caterer it’s an “anniversary party,” not a “wedding.” In a way that’s true – if all goes according to plan, it’ll take place about a year after our legal marriage ceremony. We’re still waiting to hear back from them, but based on the information available online we’ll save at least $1,000 – for the exact same service and food.

* I found a beautiful dress that happens to come in white but isn’t technically a “wedding dress.” It’s a lot more practical than I’d been going for – no lace, no train, no beading. But it has long flowing sleeves, that should make up for it! The dress itself is less than $100; I’ve budgeted an additional $100 in case I need to have a professional make some minor adjustments (e.g. reducing the bust measurement). It’s a grand total of $1,000 less than I’d originally planned to spend on my dress!

To be honest I’m a bit torn about this decision. My inner little girl who wants to be a princess keeps yelling at me and stamping her feet. This was the one time I had an excuse to get and wear such a dress, and now I’m blowing it! I don’t know if it’s possible to get her to see the practical perspective (after all, she specifically wants a dress that isn’t practical), but I’m hoping maybe we can come up with some kind of compromise. Maybe we can play dress up more often – and yes, we’ll do it right – but with clothes that don’t cost $1,200 and then you can never wear them again. And this dress is quite different from what I usually wear, and I genuinely like it (at least as much as others I’ve seen with much heftier price tags). It will be special and mark me as special – which is what I think she‘s truly going for.

And it will be comfortable. I have an outfit in the same material and I love the way it feels against my skin. I’ll be able to move in the dress without catching on things. I’ll be able to use the restroom without an attendant. I won’t have to worry about the shenanigans stores pull when you buy a “wedding dress” from them (such as adding wedding accessories to the bill that you didn’t buy!). I won’t have to wait months for the dress to arrive. If there’s something wrong with it I can return it no questions asked and buy a new one. It just makes so much more sense. I’ve liberated myself from perhaps the most crushing part of the bridal industry. It feels good!

Or at least it would, if Miss Princess would stop glaring at me!

* Another thing that’s really nifty about our venue of choice is that we’ll have access to a grill and fire pit for the “rehearsal” dinner, which will really be the OMG We Haven’t Seen You In Forever Let’s Catch Up! dinner. I priced barbeque foods for about 50 people online and it came to about $250. Good luck finding a restaurant or caterer that will let you get away with that price!

[Update: Oops, I forgot to include drinks in the barbeque budget. There are other foods we might want to add, too. So it’ll be a bit more than I expected – but most likely still a lot less than a more traditional dinner!]

In other news, I’m starting to get a bit antsy. I want to be more active – physically, creatively, and so on. I keep feeling motivated to get a job, then doubting whether I’ll be able to find and keep one. It’s hard for me to follow through on my thoughts that it would be good or fun or interesting to engage in favorite hobbies. But I want to do them, and I no longer think there’s no point to doing them, and I no longer think I can’t do them. It’s more a matter of getting up the energy and convincing myself I don’t need permission to do them.

As frustrating as wedding planning number crunching has been, it’s shown me that I can feel motivated to do a task, remain focused on it, keep trying despite frustrations, and have at least some success. That’s a good feeling. And it’s forced me to question long-held assumptions (e.g. I’m going to wear a traditional wedding dress; we have to say it’s a wedding and pay wedding prices) and to be more creative in my approach to problem-solving.

My score on the Burns Depression Checklist has dropped dramatically since I wrote Planning A Head, even with some very painful experiences thrown in. I’m hopeful that this trend will continue.

Preventing Violence through Courage and Compassion

I was so inspired to read about Antoinette Tuff, who prevented a mass shooting at her school by talking to the gunman – both trying to understand him, and trying to help him relate to her. She was terrified, but she did it anyway, and saved over 870 lives. Meet Antoinette Tuff.

copyright Every Joe / Antoinette Tuff

copyright Every Joe / Antoinette Tuff

Buy My Book…Please

I’m very happy to have pre-ordered Raising My Rainbow. Please join me in supporting a fellow blogger and very awesome mom raising a gender-creative child. All the best to you, Lori!

Raising My Rainbow

This is the awkward post that I knew Iā€™d have to publish one day.Ā  The day is here.

My book, Raising My Rainbow, goes on sale in exactly two weeks.Ā Ā  So, here I am officially asking you to please buy my book.Ā  Not just buy it, but preorder it.

Why?Ā  Because preorders increase the chance that the book will make it onto local and national bestseller lists, which will help immensely in (hopefully) inspiring a conversation that raises awareness of, understanding about and acceptance for gender creative kids.

I am the kind of person who hates asking for help.Ā  If I can find a way to do something myself and not bother anybody else, I always will. Ā I canā€™t do this by myself.

I never thought that Iā€™d be an author or advocate, but here I am ā€“ thanks to you all ā€“ and I fully intend to useā€¦

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No Space for Me

Sad person with phrases all around

I spent yesterday searching for potential wedding venues that were similar to, but closer to home and theoretically less expensive than, the one we’d visited over the weekend (Too Good to Be True). I found a handful that I really liked and contacted them.

One got back to me today; I learned that their minimum number of guests was much higher than the number of people we would want to invite. The per-person cost was so high we couldn’t afford it even if we only invited the number of people we’re prepared to. I emailed back, asking if there was any room for negotiation. No. They need to “make the most of their time” – which apparently means turning up their noses at my (sane) budget. To put things into perspective, for about the same amount of money we could either a) have the wedding at the venue we visited over the weekend – including clothes, gifts for key people, a photographer, flowers, a website, save-the-date magnets, invitations, and a short honeymoon – or b) have the wedding at this new venue, naked and with no guests, because we couldn’t afford invitations.

I didn’t even get to finish telling Fox the disappointing news; he finished my sentence for me with a cutting finality. They’re off the list. They have to be, I know that, but I would like to finish my sentence, thanks. (And express my indecision about whether to respectfully decline, or just never respond to the most recent email.)

Fox’s mom supports us in our decision to get legally married at the courthouse within the next few months (with the intention of throwing a big party later) – but wants to invite her many siblings. A sort of reasonable request, I suppose – except that some of her siblings are close enough to just pop down for dinner, but none of my mother’s are. It kind of sends the message that my family is less important in this whole affair than Fox’s family is, and that just kills me. She wouldn’t listen to me – to either of us – when we said we just want to bring our witnesses and immediate families, no more than 10 people total. And then Fox’s sister took it upon herself to tell me how to think!Ā  :-/

My mom thinks we should wait 1 year to get legally married (2014) and 2 years to throw the big party (2015). I’m not really crazy about that idea. Either we wait a year to get legally married so we can realistically invite everyone, or we go to the courthouse now (we could just go with our witnesses, but we’re being nice and inviting our parents) and throw the big party when we can afford it (and give people enough time to make travel arrangements). I’d prefer to have the party next year, but I’m willing to wait 2 years if that’s what it takes to get what we really want.

Fox and I decided over 2 years ago that we want to spend the rest of our lives together. We’re eager to acquire the legal and other benefits that come with being recognized as a married couple. I plan to change my surname; I’d like to be able to begin using my new name within the next few months. Especially as we’re hit over and over again by the insane prices of the bridal industry, we find it more and more tempting to enter legal marriage sooner. It’s a choice we can make – and act on! – without spending tens of thousands of dollars … as long as we’re willing to do so without our giant family physically present.

Though, to be honest, I’m torn. I feel like I’m giving up my identity. The new identity I’d be taking on is my choice, but I guess I’m starting to question it a little bit. I’m happy to join Fox’s family and I see taking their name as a symbol of that affinity. But I don’t want to be eaten up by them, given no say in my own life and told how to think. We’re a family, not the Borg. I need them to respect my boundaries.

I need everyone to respect my boundaries. They all seem to think I’m a doormat. Telling me what to do, what to think, finishing my sentences for me. You say the word “wedding” and the vultures all swoop in. You have to do these things in this order. You have to pay thousands of dollars for this and that – never mind whether you want or need it. You have to drown all your guests in insanely expensive food and booze. You have to invite everyone I want to have a party with; if you don’t I’m going to guilt trip you. By the time we’re done talking you’ll fear that if you don’t to what I say, no one in either of our families will ever want to speak to you again, because “they’ll be hurt.” Suddenly it’s not our wedding anymore. It’s the industry’s wedding first, our parents’ second, and if we’re lucky then maybe we’ll get to make our own decisions about what to wear.

(To be fair, something just came up for Fox’s family that would stress anyone out; as my mom said, Fox’s mom usually isn’t like this. She’ll probably be more reasonable once she’s had some time to breathe.)

It got to the point today where I felt like I couldn’t do anything – not because I’m incompetent (I’m perfectly competent, thank you), but because it’s not allowed. Fox is here, so he became the embodiment of some hostile authority. If I left the bedroom to get something, if I became visible to him, if I even made a sound, he would be there. Questioning me. Judging me. Making me question myself and feel guilty. I felt like I had no privacy. I was under a microscope. And all I wanted was permission to live.

But if I wanted to live, I’d have to do so on his terms. And whatever they were (I didn’t know) they didn’t leave much room for me to express myself. I was lucky they allowed me to breathe!

All I could do was sit on the bed and cry. (“The” bed. It used to be my bed! But now I don’t even have that to myself!) I texted Banji; she did her best to assure me that I’m loved and that she’s here for me, but I couldn’t internalize her kind words. I had an overwhelming urge to hurt myself; finally I gave in by scratching my arm with my fingernails. All it does is leave a slight mark that fades within a few hours; it doesn’t even break the skin. The pain rushed up and calmed me down to an almost alarming degree. While I was crying it felt like I was struggling against something, fighting for my right to live. But the pain, the calm, it subdued me. It suppressed me. It told me I didn’t need to fight, there was no point to fighting, I should just accept my fate. And then I fell asleep.

The real Fox came in, put a blanket over me, kissed my hand, and left so I could rest. When we talked later he expressed that he’d wanted to come in and comfort me while I was crying. But I had said I wanted to be alone.

He respected my boundaries.

I don’t know what to do. I want to keep planning the wedding but I’m afraid that, the way my mind has been working and with the horribleness it’s bringing out in people, it just isn’t safe right now.

Too Good to Be True

Fox, his parents, Mom, and I spent the past 2 days at a potential wedding venue – a wonderful bed & breakfast on absolutely beautiful grounds. Fox’s mom had recommended it, believing it would be an affordable alternative to more traditional wedding venues.

The place was magnificent and we fell in love with it almost instantly. A cozy but open atmosphere, comfortable furniture, a wonderful heated pool, breakfast included, and the most breathtaking views from every room. The owner was extremely nice and friendly. She seemed to love our ideas and expressed a desire to work with us to make a wedding on her property affordable, as long as she’d still make the profit she needs. We all had a positively wonderful time. I’d recommend the place to anyone who needs (and can afford) to get away.

And therein lies the rub: money. I had been under the impression that renting the venue for the weekend (Fri-Sun) would cost $X (where X is a multiple of 1,000). When we sat down to talk with the owner, I asked about the rental, how much it would cost, and what was included. I was unpleasantly surprised to learn that the cost was 175% what I’d initially thought. It included the owner’s services as day-of coordinator – which I wasn’t expecting – but it still came as a bit of a shock. I’d already been worried about being able to afford anything else after we paid for catering (a separate expense) and the venue at $X – never mind $175%X!

I asked for the information in writing, which the owner provided this morning. As we were going over it, I learned something that inspired me to want to take my business elsewhere. I grew quite angry, though I don’t think it showed.

Not only is the actual cost to rent the venue $175%X + $500, but weĀ also have to fill all of the rooms in the bed and breakfast at (a reduced) cost. We had thought this would be a great deal because (we thought) the cost of accommodations for members of the bridal party and other important family members was included in the cost to rent the venue for the weekend. Instead, we learned we’d have to ask those guests to pay more to stay at the bed & breakfast with us than other guests would pay for other accommodations in the local area. There’s no way we can afford to pay for all the rooms in the bed & breakfast for 2 nights at the rates the owner is charging, on top of the rental fee and everything else we need to make the wedding a success! The most we could do is maybe split the cost with some of the key people.

Talk about a slap in the face!

The owner has said she’s willing to work with us; this week she will determine how much she can reduce the price of the rooms. We’ve been brainstorming ways to make the entire affair more affordable. The venue is so beautiful we really don’t need to worry about decorations. We could only serve non-alcoholic beverages. We don’t really need a DJ. We could give ourselves an extra year to save up the money. Etc. etc. etc.

We can’t go cheap with the caterer – delicious food is essential – but we can try to be smart about who we go with, what we get, and knowing what we’reĀ actually paying for. Decorations, alcohol, and a DJ are things I’m willing to drop, though with differing levels of enthusiasm: I’m set against hiring a florist, but I think it’s nice to have the option of alcoholic beverages at a wedding, and I’m on the fence about the DJ. With a little bit of extra effort, we already have the equipment and technical expertise we need to provide an awesome personalized auditory experience. All we need is to ask a member of the bridal party to announce things. Maybe I can let go of the DJ after all …

I’m also not that crazy about waiting another year to have the wedding. I like the energy I feel while planning, and I don’t want that to dissipate. At the same time, we’re going to need more money than our parents are able to provide; taking the time to save gives us a lot more options and financial stability. Just to clarify, we’d be pushing back the giant party, not acquisition of the marriage license. If there’s some way to still have the energy from planning while taking all the steps it will take to save the money, I might be able to make this compromise. But right now it’s a hard one.

I think what really appeals to Fox and me about this venue is the possibility of having our wedding / family reunion be a 3-day affair, with plenty of time to spend with our loved ones. We don’t want to feel rushed through the mill that is the wedding industry. But I think this particular venue is just too expensive; we can see if there’s someplace similar that’s closer to home and more affordable. Spending less on the actual venue will allow us to do more with our guests, whether it’s part of the “official” (catered) wedding or takes place in the time surrounding it. I love the idea of going back to the place we just visited for our honeymoon; if we’re smart about spending for the wedding, we can escape for at least half a week at that glorious place and enjoy some of the extra amenities. And just because we start looking at other possibilities doesn’t mean we can’t decide this venue is actually worth all the extra cost and effort and compromises we’ll need to afford having our wedding there.

Spring – er, Late Summer – Cleaning

Today was positively gorgeous. A tad chilly, with a very invigorating wind, just a handful of clouds in the sky. I couldn’t have asked for a better day.

I wanted to get outside; while I was out I took the opportunity to clean up the plants in our garden. Most of the leaves on the basil have turned white, so I cut them away. This allows more resources to go to the healthy green leaves near the tops of the plants, and allows more sunlight to reach the newer, healthier-looking sprouts that have emerged. When I was done with the basil, I similarly cleaned excess, dead-looking stuff off the cucumber plant.

Once I was done pruning away the dead or sickly stuff, all that was left were (mostly) healthy plants, full of life. I thought, I wish I could do that for myself. Get rid of all the dead stuff, the clutter, and just keep what fills me with vitality.

So I went back in the house, opened all the windows so it would be full of fresh air and sunlight from this beautiful day, and proceeded to clean. I started with the bathroom and cried as I scrubbed the bathtub. I fought the mean voices that told me I was either in my rightful place as a woman (on my knees cleaning) or that I was demeaning myself by doing housework. I reorganized items so the sink looks presentable and the contents of the medicine cabinet are useful, not past their expiration date. I got that picture I don’t like off my wall, and cleaned up the stains it was covering (using white vinegar diluted in water, a paper towel, and some elbow grease).

When I was done, I moved to the kitchen. I started by reorganizing all the plastic containers we keep for storing leftovers, so they’re mostly on one shelf, sorted by shape and size with lids readily available. They look neat and there’s most of a cabinet free for storage of additional items – which is good, because the house as a whole is still intolerably cluttered. Soon after Fox got home he took care of the dishes, while I sorted through trash and recycling, found homes for items we wanted to keep, and cleaned surfaces. Before long we were sitting together in a very pleasant, relatively clutter-free kitchen, sharing a simple but delicious dinner. It felt so good to finally be at peace with my environment while in that room.

I did a lot of good work – quite the accomplishment, especially considering I didn’t see much point to getting out of bed this morning. But I’ll admit, I’m a bit disappointed that the only cleaning I got to in the living room and bedroom was trying to remove the dirt from the windowsills. (Seriously, how does dirt get on windowsills? It’s not dust, it’s dirt, like the stuff on the ground with grass growing in it outside! And it’s thick and hard to pick up. Gross!) I really wanted to change this space, make all of it more liveable. But I guess I just need to be patient with myself. Patient, and persistent.

It drives me nuts that unless we make a constant, conscious effort to maintain this, it’s just going to get intolerably gross again.

I don’t know how to assess my depression. Fox thinks the SAM-e is making me more irritable and anxious; I think he has a point. Last night I almost cried myself to sleep because I saw no point in living, no reason to care about sleep, waking, no point to even trying to do anything … and I felt trapped. I can’t end it, there are too many people who would be hurt. The thought of just going on, suffering horribly, my whole life pointless, just so my loved ones would be protected from the pain my death would cause … it was too much to bear. I couldn’t help crying.

Fox heard me, of course, and asked what was wrong. I started telling him all this stuff and somehow the conversation turned to composing music. I said, “I really like exploring different sounds. That could be a good reason to live.” Next thing I knew, I had a melody in my head that wanted out. I got up and started writing; a few hours later I had the melody written down, a list of instruments with timbres appropriate to the mood I want, some ideas for harmony and counterpoint, and the beginnings of a composition in Notion. It felt so good to be intentional in making choices that created the effects I was looking for, while also allowing for spontaneous creativity (e.g. a second melody that practically wrote itself).

So I have severe symptoms of depression and anxiety – including some suicidal ideation – alternating with incredible energy that I can consciously direct: last night into a new piece of music; today into improving my environment.

It doesn’t make any sense. It seems horribly contradictory. … or is it?

Unpleasant as they may be, those intense emotions are overflowing with energy. At their core is an intense desire for (possibly mixed with a fear of) change. “I can’t live like this anymore!” really amounts to “I want all these things – maybe evenĀ everything – to change!” And what greater change is there, than death?

We have to admit, looking our fear in the face and accepting it, taking direct action to cause such a huge change – THE huge change we are wired to do everything in our power to avoid – that is an incredibly powerful act. Not a good or desirable or advisable act, mind. But a powerful one, nonetheless. Like Voldemort.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I’ve had the support and force of will to take that power, that immense energy, and channel it into something less self-destructive than suicide. Even something creative. Last night, for better or worse, a new musical being entered the world. In the past I’ve sculpted and drawn and improvised music. Today I removed a lot of gross dead stuff that was standing between me and the life-giving sun.

If the price of such power is suffering, well, I guess I’m willing to pay it – as long as I can still have my moments of joy, which I do. I’ll take this power and put it toward making the world a better place. For myself by cleaning my house, and beyond by doing Spock knows what. I have the power – the raw energy – to do it. I just need to get better at using it instead of feeling overwhelmed.