Hole

The friendlier of my & Fox’s two rats, Schmoozer, struggled with respiratory symptoms for much of the time we had him. Sneezes and coughs developed into chirping noises and what I would call asthma attacks, until eventually it was a constant, fully audible effort for him to breathe. We tried treating him with antibiotics and an immune booster, but it wasn’t enough. And in the last weeks of his life, I was too caught up in struggling with severe depression to take him to the vet. The compassionate voices (both in and outside my head) keep saying that if I had gotten him to the vet in a more timely manner, all she could have done is prolong his life and therefore his suffering; there is no treatment that would have cured his disease. It doesn’t help to dwell I what I should have done or even what I wish I’d done, what would have been better or worse.

The reality is that we rushed him to the animal hospital at 2am last Sunday morning, fighting fatigue, depression, and one of the worst anxiety attacks I’ve ever had. As we passed a very serious car accident I thanked God that we hadn’t been in it and prayed for the people involved and their families. My anxiety got much, much worse. It took all my concentration to stay focused on the road, pay attention to driving, keep my mind from torturing me with crushing guilt and paralyzing catastrophic thoughts. I kept having this internal dialogue: “What’s my goal?” “To get my rat to the vet.” “Is this thought helping to achieve that goal?” “No.” “Then let it go. What will help?” “Focus on driving.” “Then do that.”

They took him almost immediately and worked all day to try and stabilize him. An incubator with extra oxygen. Three different antibiotics. A nebulizer like a human would use to treat asthma. Steroids to try and open his airways. Nothing worked. He kept trying to hide, he wouldn’t eat, he couldn’t sleep. All he could do was breathe.

They called us in time for us to visit with him. He perked up as soon as he saw us, and though the last thing he wanted was to be picked up he perched on my shoulder for a short time. We hugged and pet and talked to him; he got to taste a little bit of apple sauce. But it was clear that the most compassionate thing for us to do was to let our sweet furry companion go.

So it was with broken hearts that we agreed to euthanasia.

We brought the body home and spent Monday digging a hole in the back yard, so we could give our furry friend a proper burial. It was difficult physical labor, the perfect outlet for the anger that kept threatening to eat me alive in the form of guilt.

hole

When we’d dug the hole as deep as we could get it, we had Schmoozer’s funeral. Simple reminiscence about what an awesome pet he was, some of our favorite memories of him, and wishes for him to be at peace. The ratty heaven we constructed for him sounds so wonderful, I wish I could visit. Plenty of treats, furry and large fur-less companions, lots of interesting places to explore and warm, soft places to sleep.

Then we placed him in the hole and piled the dirt we’d removed back in. I cried more freely – and loudly – than I ever have before. Fox was crying too. And as we stood there holding each other, looking at the large barren area where there had once been grass – and under which our beloved pet now lay – I began to hear a rustle in the trees. It grew louder, until every visible leaf was waving and a cool breeze flowed across our faces. When it had passed I said, “I think that was Schmoozer, promising to watch over us and make sure nobody steals our food. He’s at peace.”

The past week has not been easy. Most of my work with Wakana has revolved around freeing me from my overwhelming guilt. At our first meeting we talked about him; at our second we used a very large toning bowl that made the whole floor vibrate. Humming along with it helped me to feel whole in a way that I haven’t felt in so long … And after the last vibrations of its massive sound faded away, I started putting the things I’d loved about and learned from Schmoozer into it, each represented by a different colored scarf. Then Wakana asked if she could add something, and when I agreed she put in a white scarf, representing spirit. “For all these things to be integrated in you, and for him to be at peace.”

We’ve made some changes around the house over the past week. The first occurred Sunday night, as soon as we got home from the animal hospital: we moved our remaining rat, Trouble, from the big wooden cabinet-style cage we’d built into a smaller wire cage that had been their travel cage. According to the vet who tried to save Schmoozer, the wooden cage did not allow for enough air flow and that probably exacerbated the respiratory symptoms. The wire cage is a better size for a single rat and allows air to flow freely through 5 of its 6 sides – much better than the wooden cage, which only had ventilation on one side. Trouble has adapted the cage to his liking and seems quite content.

The second change has taken place over the course of the week and will be an ongoing process: Fox and I are both more committed to keeping our home clean. Schmoozer isn’t the only one who’s been suffering from the dust we’d allowed to build up; Fox and I have also been sneezing frequently and struggling to breathe through our noses. At times I worry that whatever is causing these symptoms may have moved to my lungs.

So on Monday we stocked up on cleaning supplies. I’ve already dusted a few times, with satisfying results. Yesterday we moved several items off the floor and into better homes; this made it possible for Fox to vacuum – and had the added benefit of making our home less cluttered. I’m determined to maintain this momentum toward a healthier home environment for myself, Fox, our current and future pet(s), and our someday children.

We’re also making more of an effort to spend plenty of quality time with Trouble, especially when he seems to be interested in socializing. Without a cage mate, we’re the only socialization he gets. In most situations it is better for rats to live in groups of at least 2 because they’re very social creatures who need to interact regularly with their own kind. But in this case the vet urged us not to acquire any additional rats until at least a few months after Trouble dies, to avoid spreading the disease. To be honest I think he’ll be happier living alone with plenty of attention from us, than if we tried to introduce new cage mates allowed new rats to invade his territory.

I’m quite sure, and the vet confirmed, that Schmoozer suffered from a disease common in rats called mycoplasma. According to the Rat Health Guide, practically all pet rats are born with the bacteria mycoplasma pulmonis, which can cause the chronic disease murine mycoplasmosis. (The bacteria are not harmful to humans.)

Murine mycoplasmosis may have been present in Schmoozer before we even adopted him, but the symptoms developed so gradually we had no way of knowing. There’s no way to eliminate the bacteria, but it is possible to prevent symptoms (and the secondary infections that often contribute to murine mycoplasmosis) by providing a stress-free environment with minimal dust, good ventilation, frequent removal of urine & feces, safe bedding, and early treatment. We just weren’t able to do that well enough for Schmoozer to live a long life, but we did our best and I think we succeeded at providing him a happy one. He certainly brought us a lot of joy, and for that we will always be grateful.

Rest well, little one.

Third 3-Month Review

I’m proud to say that I’ve stuck with this blog for 9 months. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster but I’m still hanging on, and so is Fox.

I’ve written 140 posts; you are welcome to read my First and Second 3-Month Reviews. This post will pick up where the second 3-month review left off – in late June.

Fox has written 3 posts (in chronological order):

  1. Masculinity, Tools of Violence, and Embracing Femininity (01/15/13)
  2. From a Supporter’s Point of View (05/22/13)
  3. When Supporting Starts to Hurt (06/29/13)

Most of my posts for the past 3 months have been focused on my efforts to take care of myself – or at least develop a plan for doing so.

Continuous knotwork panel designed by Ziya.

Continuous knotwork panel designed by Ziya.

At first I needed to allow myself some room to breathe. I took a step back and allowed Fox to decide what to keep and what to dispose of when he moved in with me; this made the entire process much easier on both of us. I also gave myself permission to leave projects unfinished and to make my own decisions without feeling like they are unhealthy or morally wrong. This empowered me to take control of my own treatment and recovery.

The first thing I did with my new-found agency was decide to stop seeing my psychiatrist and taking my medications, both of which weren’t helping and were probably making my symptoms worse. (Prescription by Dr. Ziya and my reply to its first comment.) I also learned about how inactive ingredients in generic “equivalents” of brand-name medications can limit the effectiveness of the active ingredient and/or have other adverse effects. I became determined to find a psychiatrist who would take inactive ingredients into account and, most importantly, whose sole concern would be helping me to find the best medication(s) for me.

frustrated woman holding cell phone to ear

why me?

Unfortunately, trying to find help turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. All it really did was make my symptoms worse. I barely had the energy and motivation to take steps to try and make an appointment with a psychiatrist, which required me to overcome my distaste for talking to strangers on the phone. When I finally mustered up the energy to do it, 2 psychiatrists never got back to me and the 3rd played phone tag with me until I got so pissed off at him I doubted our ability to develop a functional therapeutic relationship. I wished someone else could make the appointment for me, but I’m pretty sure health care providers require competent adult patients to make their own appointments. I don’t think anyone involved was ready to have me declared incompetent, even if it would have gotten me the help I needed.
(Stop having Cancer so you can Find a Doctor; Holistic Treatments; Crossroads)

While I was trying to find a psychiatrist, I was also trying to find a way to continue having the health insurance I needed to afford said psychiatrist and the psychotropic medications ze would prescribe. I thought I could continue receiving coverage from my school, but then I learned they no longer offered insurance for part-time students. I was able to find two alternatives. I could switch to the first right away but it cost $400 per month and as far as I could tell did not include prescriptions. The other was $320 per month and included prescriptions but I was confused as to whether and when I’d be able to pick it up. Then I learned that in October I’ll be able to search for affordable health insurance on Healthcare.gov. I made the difficult decision to wait until October to explore my health insurance options, leaving myself without coverage until January. At that time I also decided against continuing my search for a good psychiatrist. (Healthcare Headache; The Healthcare Headache Continues…)

pill bottleFreed from the American headache “healthcare” system, I created my own plan for how to take care of myself: Planning A Head. To be honest, the only part of it I’ve been consistent with is taking 400mg of SAM-e, an Omega 3 supplement, a vitamin B complex, and vitamin D every day. The plan also includes listening to a playlist of songs that help me feel energized and ready to face the day – as well as a variety of activities that involve self-care, enrichment, and/or just having fun. Some of the activities are very easy to do every day, such as spending quality time with Fox and our pets. Others require a bit more organization and forethought; I just don’t have enough structure in my life right now to engage in them regularly.

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 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 24, 2013.

I decided to use the Burns Depression Checklist to keep track of the severity of my depression symptoms from day to day and week to week. I took a look at overall daily scores and weekly averages in Measuring Recovery: Part 1, and analyzed my daily scores on the subcategories of the checklist in Part 2.

I’ve been less consistent in using the checklist in September, but from what I can tell the oscillations in daily scores have continued. The weekly average score actually went up in the first week; it’s hard to say anything useful about the second week because I only tracked on Friday and Saturday, which both had scores in the teens. I’ve been visiting with Banji and her parents, which has been a pleasant break from the norm.

I also joined SparkPeople in hopes that it will help motivate me to take better care of myself, including exercise and better nutrition. To be honest I lost interest in that pretty quickly; I’ll log in every so often and occasionally track, but I’m nowhere near as active with it as I’d intended. But it’s sitting there, waiting for me to sign in, ready to reward me with points for any efforts I do make toward living a healthier lifestyle.

The Dark Side
(trigger warning)

There has been a darker thread running through my posts in the last 3 months; I wouldn’t be upholding the purpose of this blog if I didn’t at least try to write about it in this review.

In More Celtic Design Knotwork I wrote about how I often lack the passion and energy to express my emotions, and use coping mechanisms to suppress them so I’ll come across as calm (often for the benefit of others). “I just want a day off” more often than I care to admit; you can almost say there are times when I don’t want to be bothered with my whole life! Then I retreat into video games, which give me a space where I feel in control and can vicariously experience the benefits of getting out of the house and doing things in a fantasy world with no real consequences. Most importantly, in those games I can accomplish my goals with minimal interference by other people; if the characters in the game get annoying enough I can kill them; if that causes the game to become very difficult to play I can go back to a recent save. (Invasion)

Fingers with strings tied to them, controlling a puppet.I simply cannot do that in real life and it’s very annoying. I have to compromise with somebody in order to accomplish anything. It’s driving me nuts! My mother especially has been making things very difficult by trying to control me. She undermines my confidence by criticizing my appearance (Mother-of-the-Bride Zilla) and causing me to question my decision to marry Fox, never mind all the decisions we’ve made regarding the wedding. When I wrote No Space for Me I felt like Mom, Fox, his mother, and his sister were all against me, completely disregarding my boundaries and right to have and state my own opinion. That was the first time I recognized the Warden (though I didn’t write about that persona in the post) – the voice in my head thought process that says I’m not allowed to do anything of my own will, to dissent, to assert my needs and rights. It’s positively devastating; it leads me to suicidal thoughts.

I mentioned that “the images of knives cutting into me are coming back again” on August 12th, when I wrote about my undergraduate mentor’s Death. That imagery has not been coming up with much frequency, but there have been a couple times (other than those I wrote about) when I’ve scratched myself as a kind of punishment / refocusing. Thanks to Fox, I was able to channel the immense energy of suicidal ideation into making music on August 14th (Spring Cleaning). I’m pretty sure my crisis on August 19th (No Space for Me, link above) was the most recent, but it’s still rather terrifying.

tomboy holding up prom dress and looking at self in mirror

Contrasting Views on Norman Rockwell’s America

Similarly terrifying is the difficulty I’m having thinking of myself as an employable person, someone capable of holding down any (preferably meaningful) job. It started in Career Person? when I realized that striving for a meaningful career outside the home was no longer a crucial part of my identity. Then I allowed anxiety to completely undermine my chances of being offered the job I’d applied for, using every doubt and insecurity hidden in my mind. It finally won by preying on my insecurities around weight and fashion, particularly in the context of being female in this society. I don’t have any confidence in my ability to make myself look attractive – and therefore employable – to the mainstream; I’d much rather wear sweat pants and avoid it. (Oh No! Interview?!)

If I can’t pull off a career … that thought is too devastating. I could be a stay-at-home parent but that feels just as if not even more empty than having a career but no kids. I need to feel like I’m having a meaningful impact on society; having some kind of income would be wonderful. (It will also be necessary if Fox and I ever want to move out of my mother’s house.) I’m trying to be hopeful but mostly I’m afraid. And sad. It’s not even that I can’t see any open doors, I don’t see any doors at all. Only windows.

And I don’t know how to talk about it. I spent a whole week not knowing how to talk about it, before I wrote Update. As much as I wish I could take care of myself the truth is I can’t; I need help, and I need that help to include some kind of vocational guidance, training, and employment.

The Flashlight

This weekend has given me some hope (even though I chose to end it by staying up too late writing about my most painful thoughts and experiences for the past 3 months). It started with Banji’s parents showing me respect on our way to visit with her (Creating a Space for Me). I’ve spent the weekend making a conscious effort to assert myself more, with satisfying results. It hasn’t exactly been my ideal weekend – I’ve been cold, awake when they’re sleeping and sleeping when they’re awake, and going online while Banji finishes unpacking. Dad kicked my ass at the same board game twice. But it has been a good weekend, what one could call a corrective family experience. As much as I might be tempted to isolate myself, I’m part of this group. My views are respected, my needs taken into consideration, my self valued. All I have to do is speak up – and more importantly, I know it’s safe to do so!

Fenix-RC15-Flashlight-Beam

I know I can assert myself around other loved ones, too. I’ve seen positive results from doing so in the past. I needed this opportunity to practice in a different setting, a group with a (generally) much calmer and slower dynamic. I needed to see and feel their respect for me; sometimes I have a lot of trouble doing that in other groups. Maybe now that I’ve had this experience, I’ll be able to request the help I really need – and deserve.

Creating a Space for Me

I had every intention of getting to Banji’s parents’ house on time. I packed the night before, set an alarm, even got up in a reasonably timely fashion (largely due to Fox’s insistence), had breakfast, etc. But by the time I was out the door, it was almost the time I was supposed to arrive.

I pushed through feeling light headed and nauseous, overcame my guilt-driven urge to use my non-hands-free cell phone while driving, and got there in one piece. I moved quickly, expecting them to be ready to rush out the door, and prepared my apology.

But as I came in, I was greeted by smiles and open arms, as though I had just come home. There was no need for apology (they weren’t quite ready to go yet, either). We had a pleasant conversation, transferred my stuff to their car, and hit the road to Banji’s house.

Conversation was intermittent, especially later in the drive when I kept falling asleep as soon as the car started moving. But during the conversation, whenever I started to say something, Dad would turn down or even turn off the radio so I could be heard.

These little things – the warm greeting, them making an effort so I could be heard, never being rushed at rest stops – helped me to feel valued & respected. That means so much to me, especially when I find it hard to value and respect myself.

Update

I kind of fell apart after Thursday. I got a new world for The Sims 3 and began playing yet another new family. They started out as a young couple sharing an apartment in the city (Bridgeport), and eventually saved enough money to move into a rather unique house in the suburbs (Dragon Valley – the new world I just acquired). Their son (born in-game) just grew up into a child and had his first day of school.

The wife/mother is having a midlife crisis because her career/passion (trying to become a hit movie composer/mastering violin) takes up so much time she’s missed many of the milestones in her son’s development. The husband/father is quite happy with his life despite giving up his dream of becoming a “fashion phenomenon” (i.e. reaching the top of the fashion/stylist career). He’s been a stay-at-home dad for most of his son’s life.

I think the above scenario reflects what I fear happening to me in real life, especially if I pursue a career in music therapy. I question whether I can develop the piano and especially guitar skills I’ll need to successfully audition for an internship, never mind sustain my career. If I do manage that, I’m afraid I’ll be too busy working and practicing to really be present for my (someday) children. Being a good parent is important to me, but I don’t really have a model for how to make that work with a full-time job.

Alternatively I guess I’m also afraid that I’ll never find a career I find satisfying and can be successful in. Of the two adult sims, the stay-at-home dad actually seems to have the better life … but there’s a reason I haven’t had the working wife/mother quit her job (even though they have enough money that she could). She’s well on her way to her goal, and I want her to achieve it. I need to see her have a successful music-centered career; to do no less than climb to the very top of that career ladder.

I’m also hoping she might find a way to balance work and family life. Is that even possible?

I’ve also been having a bit of an existential crisis regarding marriage. All of a sudden I feel like I’m running headlong into something I don’t really understand. Fox keeps saying we’re already living like we’re married, but signing the license turns our personal agreement into a legal contract. Do I really want to be legally bound to help make living together work? Am I ready for any financial repercussions that might result? Am I ready for my identity to change, not only in the name I go by but in my status under the law? What will my new email address be?

And, as if all this weren’t enough, I’m stressed out by wedding planning. We’ve decided to go with the venue we visited on Monday; we’re just waiting to hear back from our contact person so we can book our date. I tried to schedule an appointment to meet with him in person, but he said that wasn’t “immediately” necessary and that he could answer my questions about pricing over the phone. Not really a fan but I need the information before I can feel comfortable signing a contract. Another contract! So I’ve given him my number and now I get to spend a day with my fingers crossed that he won’t call when I’m in the bathroom or something.

Finally, my mother is driving me crazy. (What else is new?) We need to spend at least $50 per person to book the room we want, so we were looking over the menu to select “premium” items we might want to add. The prices for these items aren’t listed on the menu, so we need to ask our contact person over the phone (since they refuse to give numbers via email). Mom took over the conversation; she selected which non-premium items we’re going to have, insisting on a selection neither of us like (but are willing to have because it’s popular among our families) and all but vetoing at least one selection we’ve been seriously considering. All this, months before we actually need to determine our menu! – before we’ve even reserved our date!

Then she asks me if this is what I really want. NO!!! I want to decide that I like a potential venue, then find out her opinion of it. (she likes it. good.) I want to talk to the contact person at a time that is convenient for me, when I feel prepared to go over the information, ask intelligent questions, and make note of the answers. I want to have final say over important things like what goes on the menu. I want to feel like my voice is being heard during conversations about MY wedding! When someone asks what I want, I want to be able to answer them, not feel so overwhelmed all I can say is, “I don’t know.” Because I do know, but I lose my sense of myself as a person with opinions that matter during these conversations and it hurts like hell.

And now I’m questioning everything, including whether I really want to spend the rest of my life with Fox … even though the thought of asking him to leave is unbearable. I made this decision two years ago and yeah, people change, but we made a commitment that we will work together as we change and grow to keep our relationship healthy. We can go for premarital counseling and couples therapy, we can get advice from other married couples, we can make mistakes and learn from them, we can even get into arguments. And sure, yeah, we – or at least I – can question this decision every day … and renew our commitment to each other every day. What matters is that it’s done in love.

And as much as I’d love to end on that hopeful note, I need to share something that’s been scaring the carp out of me. Today, with much encouragement and prodding, was the first time I’ve been able to talk about all this. I’ve wanted to update this blog many times, but found myself unable to get the words to come, unable to even try and let them come. It’s anxiety. I don’t know what I think will happen if I let it out but I’m afraid to do so. I feel my muscles tensing, my throat tightening, my voice shriveling away. I open my mouth but there’s nothing. It’s too painful, I need to get away …

In other words, some internal process is keeping me from speaking up for myself, and I don’t like it. I want it to stop!

Oh No! Interview?!

Applying for a job at the tea shop near Wakana’s office had an unexpected consequence: I was called to schedule an interview. I didn’t recognize the number so I let it go to voicemail, then panicked when I heard said voicemail. They actually want me to come in for an interview?! To be honest, I hadn’t really been expecting anything to come of this.

The rational part of my mind is saying I should do the interview for practice. If I’m offered the job, I’ll then have a choice as to whether to accept – in other words, I can still say “no.” If not – well, I went into it not really caring about the job anyway. That actually frees me to just use this as a practice interview. An opportunity to learn.

But the rest of me is having a mild panic attack. I can feel my chest constricting; it’s harder to breathe. There was some pain a little while ago. I feel dizzy, almost faint, and/or like I might be ill. There’s no way I can make a phone call under these conditions, it will have to wait.

The Critic is berating me. I should have thought this through before applying. I don’t really want this job, do I? I’ll never get a job! I thought I didn’t want to be helping other people, but that will be all I do all day if I get this job. I’ll spend most of my waking hours serving tea – is that what I really want? It will eat my life! It will be harder to schedule gatherings with friends and other fun activities – especially with Banji. How will I be able to stand for so many hours at a time? My feet will be killing me! I won’t make enough money to justify the resources I’ll have to put in. Do I really think I could enjoy it enough to justify the sacrifices?

I can hear the panic in the Critic’s voice. Ze’s terrified.

And then there’s the interview itself. I can go in and be professional enough and otherwise be myself and do well enough. Maybe not fantastic, maybe not impress them enough to get the job, but okay. As long as I’m not too anxious … the point is, I won’t spontaneously combust!

But I need something nice to wear. I made the mistake of letting my mind run through all these things in the shower; I wouldn’t even know where to begin trying to stop them. Everything came crashing down on me afterward, when it was time to get dressed. I don’t remember the last time I went clothes shopping, and a lot of the clothes I have don’t fit me anymore; mostly I’ve been getting by with comfortable items appropriate to lounging around the house. On rare occasions I can and will dress up a bit. But I don’t think I have anything clean right now that would be appropriate for an interview.

That was the final straw. I felt ready to fall apart.

I thought I would cry or something, but instead I feel incredibly tired. I’m having trouble staying awake to write this post. Granted, I didn’t get enough sleep last night and I’ve been tired all day; I even tried to take a nap and was mostly plagued by anxiety-filled dreams that weren’t restful at all.

But it feels like there’s some kind of alien force that really doesn’t want me to proceed with confidence in pursuing this or any job, or doing anything that might draw attention to myself. If it can’t distract me with video games and other forms of entertainment, if it can’t make me feel too horrible about myself to apply for a job, if it can’t squash any motivation I do manage to muster with overwhelming anxiety, then it will simply put me to sleep. I’ll admit it’s very tempting; the rats and Fox are snoozing, so why shouldn’t I join them?

The answer is: Because I don’t want to. I want to do something interesting, even if it isn’t particularly working toward my goals. I want to use what energy I do have. I want to go to bed at a decent time tonight and wake up tomorrow feeling refreshed.  I want to live my life. I just need … something … to get me started.

Career Person?

Some strange and unexpected things happened to me today. I’m not quite sure what to make of them, but I’m optimistic.

During my music therapy session, Wakana asked whether I thought Fox and I could live on just his salary. I thought about it for a short while, then gave my answer: “I think, in order to maintain the comfort level we’re used to, we’ll need to have two incomes.”

This might not seem that extraordinary – these days, what couple/family doesn’t need 2 incomes? – but from my perspective it’s a huge change in my self-perception. I’ve always seen myself as a career person, there was never any question about it. I couldn’t imagine myself not working outside the home. I would feel as though something were missing in my life if I didn’t pursue a career, like I wasn’t fulfilling my potential. I’ve worked my butt off in school so I could have a meaningful, satisfying, (preferably decent-paying) career. Part of why I entered my field of choice – why I started my Master’s degree – is because I see it as one with a lot of room for growth, where I could become well-known and make a serious impact.

I never thought I could have tolerated someone implying that I could or might consider not pursuing a career. To suggest such a possibility would be an affront to who I am, and all I’ve worked for. How dare anyone suggest that I stay home while my spouse works to support our family financially?

Yet, at the time, these thoughts didn’t even cross my mind. I didn’t even get mildly angry. I just thought about it from a purely practical perspective: Fox isn’t entering his field for the money. He’s entering it because it’s his calling, what he wants to dedicate his life to. We might be able to get by on what he’s likely to make, but we wouldn’t be able to afford much more than basic necessities. To live the lifestyle I’ve always taken for granted and that I want to be able to provide our children – never mind to be able to afford their education – we’re going to need more income. My income.

Even that may not be enough, because I refuse to enter a career simply because it pays well. I need something I’m passionate about, something I find fulfilling in its own right.

I thought I’d found that in music therapy – a field with plenty of decent-paying jobs, but not one to enter if your goal is to become wealthy. It’s all about developing a genuine (therapeutic) relationship with clients; connecting and communicating and building on their existing strengths through and in music; being and experiencing human creativity not as an art form or as entertainment, but as a means of healing and growth. I couldn’t imagine anything I’d rather do and yet, sometimes, I question my decision. Whether it’s my calling or not I have a choice: Is it really what I want to do?

Or did I choose to enter a helping profession because helping other people is the only thing I know how to do?

Since I’ve been so focused on my own healing, I’ve felt like I want – and need – my music to be for me. Something I do because I find it fun and fulfilling, a way to express my emotions and channel my creativity. I would love for it to be a source of income, as long as I’m always making music because I love to do so and not just for the money. All the better if my music does some good in the world, whether by brightening someone’s day, helping them overcome mental illness, or changing how millions of people think about relationships. There’s so much power in a handful of notes, a simple melody. But if I’m going to make those notes sound, I need them to do something for me.

I’m not sure that works with music therapy. The therapeutic relationship requires that every action the therapist does is primarily for the benefit of the client. That doesn’t mean the therapist can’t benefit from it, too – mostly, it means the therapist should never do anything to help zirself at the expense of the client. But if I want and need my music to be for me, I think there’s too much risk that I’ll neglect the client’s needs in my efforts to meet my own. Or, alternatively, that I’ll fall back on my old habit of ignoring my needs while trying to help the client. That might lead to me resenting the client, my employer, the field, myself.

A huge part of why I’m feeling better is because I’m freed from most if not all of that resentment. I don’t need to feel resentful because I’m able to assert myself and meet my needs (well, at least somewhat). That frees so much energy for interacting with my loved ones as equals, growing as a person, and feeling joy. It’s wonderful.

It’s also wonderful to know that I don’t have to make my decision right now. I have to wait until 2015 to re-take the classes I still need to complete my degree, anyway. A lot can change between now and then, and if it doesn’t I can pursue other options. Whatever I decide in the near future, I might – and can – choose to change my course later on. It’s easy to freak out because I’m almost 30 and apparently there’s lots of things we’re supposed to do my then. But then I hear our parents talking about the new directions they want to take their lives, and I realize that there’s plenty of time for growth and change. I’ve barely begun my journey.

We stopped in a tea shop on the way home. The customer service was as excellent as the tea was delicious. I saw something about careers, so I checked online and sure enough there was an open position that required less than a year of experience.

So I applied.

I don’t know if I’ll get the job and to be honest I don’t really care that much about this specific job. But that enabled me to “put myself out there,” to create the possibility of becoming employed. And it gave me an opportunity to look at some of my credentials, to see past accomplishments and responsibilities I was trusted with in the past and things I know I’m capable of doing. That felt really good.

And now I’m wondering: What other jobs are out there? What do I want to do?