Listening to Myself – Part 1

Visiting Banji for a week was the best thing I could have possibly done for myself. I was so happy to get to spend time with my best friend, sharing in some of our favorite activities together (including staying up all night talking). She made a point of asking me what I wanted to do and engaging in a 2-way conversation where we each expressed our views and then compromised to find a solution we could both be happy with. It took some time, but I grew more comfortable recognizing and expressing what I wanted.

It also provided me some much-needed space from Fox, during which time I could think about our situation more clearly. I realized that I want to continue our relationship; there is still a lot of room for both of us to learn and grow from it. But in order for that to happen, I need to assert myself. Wakana says I need to become Aware of how I feel and what I need, Accept it, and Act on it. I’m starting to get the awareness and acceptance; the action is taking some work but I’m moving in that direction. A lot of good has happened since I tried to break up with Fox and kick him out of the house: he’s been working hard to make it a more pleasant place to live and to get his life back on track and generally be a better spouse. I find myself attracted to and happy to spend time with him again. (He still does things to annoy the hell out of me, but I’m working on being able to set boundaries that should help with that.) It’s a really great feeling.

I also need to address that feeling of something being “off” with our relationship that I mentioned in Reactionary. I can’t really say what concerns came up before I started this blog in December 2012 (about 2 years into our relationship); I’m sure there were some but overall I was happy with our relationship and busy focusing on school, trying to become less enmeshed with my mother, addressing my mental health issues, and navigating the effects Banji’s move was having on our friendship.

Since starting the blog, however, there have been a plethora of times I’ve expressed concerns and then never followed up on them, including outright saying I wasn’t ready to get married! I didn’t have nearly as many followers at the time I wrote these posts as I have now; I hope that if I’d had more followers then, someone would have called me out on some of these things. I’ve reviewed the posts leading up to our legal marriage ceremony last November and quoted passages that really should have prompted some kind of action (most likely communication) on my part. Please remember that they are quotes of out of context… but even so, I’m disturbed by my failure to take my own concerns and needs seriously for so long. This can’t happen again.

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My Worst Fear is Suicide

TW: suicide, self harm

I used to say that I did not fear my own death. I was thinking I would die – hopefully peacefully – “when my time comes.” It might be painful, it might be scary, but there would be something beyond. I expected to find peace in death, or if not peace, a new life to live. Or a new form of existence. Somewhere deep inside, I still hope that’s what death will mean for me.

I used to say my biggest fear was losing the people I love. But then 3 of the 4 people I lived with and loved as a child died. My grandparents died. My father’s side of the family abandoned me. My friends moved away and I lost contact with them. The classmates I once felt a connection with have moved on with their lives. I broke up with the first person I thought I’d spend my life with (not Fox, we’re still together). I came to realize that my mother has never been able to truly meet my emotional needs because she’s hurting too much. My uncle died, my college mentor died, and Schmoozer (my pet rat) died – all in the same year. I came to realize that, although my remaining family may love me, I don’t really have a connection with them most of the time. I don’t reach out to them enough and they don’t reach out to me enough, either. We all have separate lives.

It’s painful. It’s scary. But I know I can survive losing the people I love. I don’t want to lose them. I will work very hard to strengthen and maintain what connections I can. But I’ve accepted that people move in and out of my life and I need to let them go.

In a nutshell, what I fear the most is that I will give up on myself. I sort of did it for a while and got lost in video games. I was isolated, miserable, with no job, no outside activities or responsibilities, and I’d stopped making music. But people could – and did – pull me back from that. I had to do something: answer the phone, drive to where they were, invite them over … but they were there. Wakana has been there, lighting a fire under my butt whenever necessary. I haven’t really given up on myself. Not yet.

Now I’m slightly less isolated, considerably less miserable, with no job, minimal outside activities, motivation to complete my degree program and enter my career of choice, and I’m making music again. I’m also facing an illness that, left to its own devices, will only get worse. I have my ups, but the downs are murder. I hate the thought of taking medication and I want to pretend I don’t need to… but I’m clinging to every good or decent day in fear of having a truly bad day / week / month / quarter/ year again. I need some semblance of stability.

Then I get up the courage to reach out to psychiatrists and the only one who responds isn’t available until July 31st. I wasn’t even trying to reach the person I have an appointment with on purpose; the practice Fox and I set up our marriage counseling with offered to schedule individual psychiatric evaluations. I have no idea how I’ll be in a month. How I feel, what I can remember, the affect I show on that day will determine the diagnosis and thus medication I receive; it could be months or years before we figure out what I actually need and will benefit from. And in the meantime, my whole life is washing down the drain…

I think about hurting myself regularly. At least once most days. On days when I’m not thinking about or feeling an urge to hurt myself, there is often at least one point when I’m frustrated, angry, tired, and/or bored enough to visualize a knife piercing my skin. I become more aware of the underside of my left forearm; on good days I rub it with my right palm and hug myself. On some level it’s really that I want to break – or, well, cut – my way out of a feeling (or lack of feeling) that I don’t want to tolerate. But brain, come on! We need to come up with better, less painful imagery. Other times I think it’s at least partially an expression of what I feel is happening to me: someone/thing is cutting into me and hurting me, violating my final and most basic boundary. There are days when I think Mom and Fox would cut me open and climb inside me if they could.

If I hurt myself, my body will heal. There may be a scar, but honestly I don’t think I’d self-harm in a way that would do lasting damage or risk limiting my ability to do the things I love. If I’m self-harming, I still have a sense of self-preservation. I still intend and expect to live; I wouldn’t do anything to myself that I couldn’t imagine living with.

What I fear the most is that, on one of the horrifically bad days, I will actually try to kill myself. I will decide that there is nothing worth living for, not even the little things that have kept me going before. Not even composing. Not even love. I will decide that I am incapable of achieving any of my dreams. I will decide that I can never experience joy again. I will decide that I am not worth the air I breathe. I will decide that I do not deserve to be part of the Universe. That I do not deserve to be connected to anyone or anything. That I’m worse than nothing. That I never should have existed.

And worse than deciding all these things, I will act on that decision.

From what I’ve heard it won’t be one of the days when depression has sapped all of my energy and I can’t get out of bed. Then I’ll just be miserable, and it will suck. I fear I will commit suicide on a day when I have the energy to do something drastic, probably when I’m very, very angry. I’ll have to have stopped caring, not just about myself (that’s too easy) but about my loved ones as well. Or, more realistically, I’ll have to have a lapse in caring; it could be a moment when my impulses take over. (Which is why I’ll never own a gun.) Or maybe I’ll decide that, despite the pain and serious psychological issues my suicide would cause, my loved ones would be better off without me. To the point where pushing them away is not enough. To the point where I have enough days thinking like this to make and carry out a plan.

It’s a dark, terrifying place. I imagine anyone would be afraid to imagine someone else feeling and thinking this way. I imagine most people have never thought about themselves feeling and thinking this way. It’s just too horrific. Too painful.

I live close to the edge, clinging to whatever I can so I don’t look down and lose my grip. I’ve never attempted suicide and I’d really like to keep it that way. I fear a suicide attempt could result in lasting damage, impairments that would limit my ability to do the things I love. I fear the stigma people who attempt suicide face.

I fear becoming a statistic. Another sad story. Another “we never saw it coming.” Another thing for people to “survive.” Another piece in a puzzle that will never be solved as long as the only voices that are heard regarding suicide belong to people who have never stared it in the face.

Worse than all of that, I fear trapping myself in the very nightmare I would (ostensibly) commit suicide to escape. We don’t know what happens when we die; we might cease to exist. Some people think that’s terrifying and come up with alternatives; those alternatives have just as much chance of being true as far as anyone alive can tell. I’d much rather cease to exist – in comparison, that possibility is actually comforting – than trap myself in the misery and self-hatred that lie in the darkest and most wounded depths of my depression. That is my true worst fear: that I will commit suicide and not receive the peace and/or new possibilities I expect death to provide.

As long as I’m alive there’s still the possibility of experiencing happiness, even if it’s only for a moment. I can give and receive hugs. I can find ways to turn my painful experiences into creative endeavors that feed my soul and might inspire others to do something good for themselves and their communities. I can work on healing some of these wounds. And when I’m still and focus on my breath, I can know peace.

In response to Writing 101, Day Seventeen: Your Personality on the Page

My Thoughts on Menstrual Products

I drove for 5 hours to visit Banji, then realized I was due to  menstruate soon – but I had forgotten my menstrual cup at home. I have to use tampons for the first time in years, and I’m not happy about it. I’ll admit I’m not in love with my cup or menstruating in general: my cramps are mild but can still be annoying, and emptying the cup can get a bit messy. I’ll be the first to admit that menstrual cups are not for everyone. But I’d gotten used to mine; using tampons again is just weird.

For anyone who doesn’t know, a menstrual cup is a small, flexible, medical-grade silicone cup that one inserts into one’s vagina to collect menstrual fluids. Five huge advantages of a cup over tampons are:

1. The cup only needs to be emptied once every 12 hours (as opposed to every 8)
2. Menstrual cup use is NOT associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome
3. It is reusable, and therefore better for the environment
4. It is reusable, and therefore saves one money
5. It is safe to insert before menstruation begins, protecting clothes from stains

There is an added advantage I hadn’t really thought about until I was forced to use tampons again: a menstrual cup allows one to be more in touch with one’s body. I’m finding the plastic applicator and convenient pull string of the tampons to be just a little bit too sanitary. All this pushing and pulling and fibers rubbing against my mucus membranes just doesn’t feel right; the silicone cup was much gentler. I actually kind of miss getting some blood on my hands, seeing how much had collected, even smelling it. I miss using the muscles around my vagina to push the cup out just far enough to grab the bottom with my fingers. It was a process; I had to be slow, gentle, and deliberate. I had to feel and respond. I had to touch myself *gasp* down there!

I’m finding that, for me, staying clean is not the be all and end all of this part of my cycle. It’s important, especially because I still need to participate fully in society. But it’s not enough on its own, not for me.

Menstruation is a potent, messy reminder of my creative potential – both biologically speaking and otherwise. My ability to create, nourish, and nurture a new life. That raw, primal power that rushes through my veins, filling every part of me. My connection with the generative forces of the Universe. The Muse that guides my artistic endeavors. It is an inescapable part of being alive. I want the product I use to reflect my acceptance of it.

I want to take this time – when I’m continually reminded of it by cramps, cravings, and an added process in the restroom anyway – to honor this sacred cycle, without which humans would cease to exist. I send positive energy to all people who menstruate, will menstruate, or have ever menstruated. May you be safe, healthy, and free to use (or not use) your creative energies as you see fit.

Blessed be.

Bipolar and Anxiety Links

Anxiety and Depression Association of America – includes useful information about bipolar, indications it might be comorbid with anxiety, guidelines for treatment, and questions to ask potential doctors

PsychEducation.org – explains anxiety as a symptom of bipolar and as a separate disorder that can be co-morbid with bipolar

BP Magazine – how understanding anxiety as part of (and/or a precursor to) bipolar can help one receive the treatment one needs and real relief

Mayo Clinic – an in-depth look at bipolar

Everyday Health – kind of redundant, but I thought the different ways the information is presented might be helpful:

I have an appointment for a psychiatric evaluation on July 31st; I’d love to make one for sooner but it seems like a lot of the mental health care providers that are covered by my insurance have really long waitlists. Who’d have thought that people would actually need, want, and attempt to use mental health services once they were made affordable?!

Anyways, reading these articles has given me some idea what to expect and some questions to ask to make sure I receive the best care possible.

Diagnosis and Identity

A trusted friend who has bipolar and works in a mental health setting pulled me aside the other day; he said he’s observed some possible symptoms of mania in my behavior. He presented the information as something that might help explain some of what I’m going through, and more importantly as a tool I can use in my creative endeavors. Use the unbridled, chaotic energy to create; edit when the mind is calmer. I don’t think I want to edit when I’m depressed because then I’ll probably get rid of a lot of good material, but I digress.

To be honest I’ve been wondering about the possibility of there being a manic – or, more likely, hypomanic – component to my… madness. I do seem to have times when the depression lifts – just enough that I think I’m starting to get better, but not enough to say I’m “in remission” or “have recovered.” These times are often accompanied by a whirlwind of energy in which I become engulfed in a new project – which I tend to abandon completely when the next wave of depression hits.

I never really pursued the possibility of mania/hypomania being part of my madness for a few reasons:

  • I thought it required elevated mood; to the degree that my mood becomes “elevated” it would probably fall within the range of “normal” non-depressed emotions.
  • Questions on screening tools that explore the possibility of mania/hypomania tend to begin with “a period when you were not yourself and…” I’m always myself.
  • I’m not comfortable talking about some of my experiences with mental health professionals because I don’t want them to pathologize experiences I consider(ed) to be spiritually meaningful.
    • Some of the voices in my head may become abusive, but others can be supportive. It might be different, but I often find it adaptive. I’d be lonely if they all went away.

But now I’m thinking this is a possibility worth looking into. I pulled out the DSM-IV-TR and reviewed the relevant symptoms with Fox. (We don’t have a copy of the DSM-5 and I’m inclined to keep it that way, considering the concerns people have raised about it.)

The DSM-IV-TR clarifies that the mood in mania/hypomania can be elevated, expansive (?), or irritable. We’ve both noticed that I seem to have some of the additional symptoms: (3) more talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking, (4) flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing, (5) distractibility, (6) increase in goal-directed activity. Additionally, it is possible for depressive symptoms to be present at the same time as manic/hypomanic symptoms. Hypomanic episodes can be as short as 4 days and do not require there to be marked impairment in functioning (e.g. taking huge risks) to be diagnosed.

I’m not really in any rush to ask a professional to put a stigmatized label on me, but I do think this is important. It can help me understand myself and navigate my life and experiences. Awareness of it might help me find useful ways to channel the energy when it hits and possibly even cope better when it dissipates.

If I pursue treatment, particularly medication, it changes what I need; Fox said that medications for bipolar disorders are better understood and tend to be more effective than those available for unipolar depression. I’d need to do some research, but I do feel more hopeful about finding something that works for me (preferably with minimal side effects / other health risks).

Finally, it’s very important to me to represent myself as accurately as I can on this blog. One of my goals is to give people who have never experienced madness / mental illness an insider’s perspective of what it’s like (for me). If I say I have one disorder but I “really” have something else, I’m misrepresenting the first disorder and doing a disservice to everyone involved.

For now I just want readers to know that I’m not sure what my diagnosis should be. At the end of the day we’re all people with dynamic issues and behaviors that don’t really fit into neat categories.

Reactionary

Mom: “You know that book you’re reading, Codependent No More? Well, I need it! I’m codependent and I’m enabling the two of you!”

Me: “I already ordered you a copy. You’ll have it on Wednesday.”

I’ve finished reading the book and intend to do the activities from the chapters about self-care as they call out to me. You’re welcome to read my post from last February about Detachment; ironically, I had written about wanting Mom to read this book and now she’s asked for it… literally only an hour or two after I decided to (be codependent/controlling and) order a copy for her.

Fox has also expressed interest in reading it, but wants the updated (2008) version – which I’ve already ordered because I’m thinking I might benefit from the updates. I’m tempted to send copies of this book to my whole family, but for now I’ll be happy to have the two people I live with detach from me. Maybe Mom will proselytize for me if she finds the book helpful.

In the meantime, I need to respond to the activity for Chapter Six: Don’t Be Blown About By Every Wind. It’s about the plethora of times “ze made me feel _____.” For example, “Mom made me feel guilty and question my decisions” or even, “Mom drained me of all my energy.” Talking Listening to Mom is often exhausting; my emotional life is, in general, a roller coaster; living with both Mom and Fox is a nightmare.

But it’s not just them, it’s pretty much everyone I interact with – in other words, it’s me. I can’t talk listen to someone without feeling strong uncomfortable emotions (e.g. anger) and/or feeling responsible for that person. I need to fix their emotions and problems. I need to watch what I say to avoid upsetting them. I walk around on eggshells and second-guess basic interactions like handshakes and hugs, thinking I might have accidentally done something to hurt or offend the other person.

For now I want to focus on my reactions to Mom and Fox, because they are the people I react to the most strongly and consistently. Best of all, I feel like they are determined to “protect” me from / pit me against each other.

I react to Mom by feeling defensive, anxious, frustrated, resentful, insecure, agitated, guilty, ashamed, and drained. I react to Mom by trying to help her solve her problems, offering advice (or my opinion of what whomever she’s talking about “should” do), offering to “save the day,” agreeing to do things I don’t want to do, doing something else while she’s still talking, shutting up and repressing my own emotions. I try to avoid or find ways to shorten the time I spend with Mom. I also try to withhold information from her; I’d probably outright lie to her if I could do it without her knowing I’m lying. Sometimes I withhold information to avoid hurting her, sometimes to avoid confrontation.

I react to Fox by feeling angry, resentful, disappointed, annoyed, angry, anxious, guilty, embarrassed, disgusted, angry, sad, and ashamed. I react to Fox by growling, roaring, baring my teeth, tensing my whole body, becoming a dinosaur, poking him, and biting him. I have hit him out of anger a couple of times and that terrifies me. I complain about all the things he does that I find annoying; the list just keeps on growing.

I react to Fox by interrupting him, letting him interrupt me, misinterpreting his intentions, criticizing the way he speaks, letting him oversleep and then giving him a hard time for sleeping so late, finding distractions when we’re supposed to be doing something together, telling him what to do, agreeing to do things I don’t want to do, agreeing with whatever he says, and silencing myself. I react to Fox by eating food I don’t want at that particular moment. I react to Fox by cuddling with him, saying I love him, trying to revive a passion I don’t feel, thinking he needs to learn how to kiss, wishing I were in a relationship with someone I found attractive, and thinking I would be happier with a female-bodied person. I react to Fox (and Mom) by feeling compulsions to self-harm or play video games.

So many items on that list are unhealthy! I don’t think continuing our relationship is healthy, or safe for either of us. I don’t see how we can fix this relationship; even if we could, I don’t really want to. Why does that not seem to factor in? Why do I keep feeling like I do want to make it work with him?

If I had a choice, I wouldn’t react to either of them in these ways. I would be able to talk to Mom and feel listened to and supported. I could receive her advice and wisdom without feeling like I have to act on it or I’m a bad person for not doing so. I would be able to listen to her and provide some empathy and support without feeling compelled to “save the day.” I would be able to be honest with her and not try to avoid or protect her. I wouldn’t feel responsible for her emotions, problems, etc. I’d probably spend less time suspecting her and other people’s motivations, too.

If I had a choice, Fox would have left when I told him he had to move out and I’d have the place to myself. And I’d probably be lonely. And my mother would probably be more invasive. And the kitchen would be full of dirty dishes.

If I had a choice, I could be fully myself and in love with Fox. I wouldn’t feel so angry. I wouldn’t be annoyed or embarrassed by everything he does. I’d find him attractive and fun to be with. I wouldn’t feel the need to tell him what to do. I could be honest with him, disagree with him, tell him I don’t want to do _____. I wouldn’t be aggressive or walk on eggshells or withdraw from him. I’d find our relationship to be a source of strength, vitality, comfort, and healing. I’d feel like we had a special connection I couldn’t imagine sharing with anyone else, like he understood me in ways no one else could.

He doesn’t understand me, and I don’t think he can. I like to think that I’ve got him figured out, but clearly I don’t if I keep thinking he’s doing or saying something for one reason and it’s really the opposite. I don’t think we’ve ever really understood or shared a special connection with each other. There’s always been something that felt “off” about our relationship – a way in which it was rushed and/or a little bit disappointing – but I wasn’t listening to myself enough to stop and consider what I truly wanted. I was reacting.

I wonder if my decision on Sunday to actually work on this relationship “for my growth” was reacting.

Can we learn to understand and have that special connection with each other and fill our relationship with healing energy that benefits both of us? Or was it a mistake to marry him? To get married at all? To want to be married at all? To want to be in relationship…

Who’s really afraid of relationships? Me? Or have I internalized my mother’s fear of me having other meaningful relationships because they pull me away from her?

We had this conversation while hugging:

Mom: “Remember, you come first. Well… after me.”

Me: “No, you come first for you. And I come first for me.”

Father’s Day

Fox and I visited his parents for Father’s Day. I decided to go because I like them and want to have a relationship with them, and I’ve been avoiding them. They know about our situation from my perspective, and they were both eager to show their love and support regardless of the decision we make. They are two of the awesomest people I’ve ever met.

We had a wonderful time and stayed up way too late last night, so I ended up sleeping over. Fox went to church this morning and his dad has work (which is why we celebrated Father’s Day yesterday), so it’s just been me and his mom. We had a heart-to-heart sharing our stories and family baggage and wants and fears, including what’s going on between me and her son.

“I’m sensing a pattern: there’s a lot of loss in your life, and you cope with it by pushing people away or withdrawing. You’re pushing him (Fox) away and he’s anxious and that’s why he’s being so clingy.

“I see you in a place in your life where you need to make a decision. Either you are going to use this relationship to learn how to be in healthy relationships with yourself and others, or you are going to keep pushing people away. You need to decide: either try to work with him to learn and grow together, or let him go.

“You need to either give yourself wholeheartedly to this relationship (and life in general) so you can learn and grow from it, or you have to walk away from it. Either way, the worst thing that will happen is you’ll get a divorce – and you’re already willing to do that. But if you keep doing what you’re doing – if you stay connected to him while simultaneously pushing him away – you’re both going to be miserable.

“So decide.”

I’ve had my quills out for too long. I’m poised, my hood spread, ready to strike. I was actually snarling at other motorists on my way here yesterday. I’m tired of being so tense. I’m exhausting myself and wasting my energy – energy I could put to much better use.

When I’m connected with people – open, honest, vulnerable – that’s when I feel the most alive. Listening to their stories, sharing in the creative process with them, enjoying a delicious meal, giving and receiving hugs… these are the things I thrive on. I need relationships; the most painful thing about the way I’ve been living with Fox is that our relationships with other people have become so limited. We’re disconnected. I’ve disappeared inside myself; I almost did that again by trying to drive home while exhausted last night.

“Yes I’m alone, but I’m alone and I’m free. Just stay away and you’ll be safe from me.”
“Actually, we’re not.”

~ Frozen: “For the First Time in Forever (Reprise)”

Everything comes down to one innate need: the need to be fully myself in relationship with other people. I’ve spent most of my life learning that I can have one or the other: I can be myself when I’m alone, or I can sacrifice myself and become enmeshed with others. To this day my mother actively teaches me to hide part of myself to be more acceptable to others (her).

Neither of those options is acceptable anymore. I can have periods of time when I’m alone, that’s not a problem. It’s healthy and necessary. But I need to be connected with other people; I can’t have being alone be a requirement for being myself. I need the people I care about to see me – all of me, not the mask and armor I’ve been hiding behind and trapped within. To feel safe doing that, I need to be able to see myself.

So whatever decision Fox and I make regarding our marriage, I choose to let go and throw myself wholeheartedly into our relationship – even though I find it terrifying. Not for him, but for myself. Worst case scenario I get the thing I’ve been leaning toward anyway and maybe I learn something useful I can build upon for future growth. Best case scenario I grow and I get an awesome life partner – with an equally awesome family – who can help me continue to grow. I think it’s worth a bit of risk to shoot for that.

I’ll close with a bit of wisdom from my father, one of the ways he’s still alive in me after all these years: Be honest. I choose to be honest with myself and with others, even (especially) when it’s scary. I love you. I need ______. No, I don’t want ______. I’m not sure if I want _____ but I think it’s worth considering. I’m sick and tired of _____. I’m sad I’m scared I’m angry. I can’t live like this anymore! I don’t want to talk about this right now. I feel _____ when you _____. Please give me some time to process. Please respect this boundary. Please listen.

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

I was decluttering when I found some pages I had photocopied from Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie. They include a list of things codependent people tend to do; I had written a number next to each item to represent how often it is a problem for me.

This discovery inspired me to dig up this post from January 2013. If anything, my codependency has gotten worse since I wrote it. I’ve decided to re-post it as a means of re-committing to what I’d started then but never finished: reading and doing the exercises in the book in order to help myself become less co-dependent.

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!

[June 10, 2014 Update]

I’m kind of in denial about my new scores for these categories; clearly I was too quick to give “2”s to items that should have received “1”s and “1”s to items that should have received “0”s.

I scored 100% in Repression (+17%), 88% in Controlling (+13%) and Anger (-3%), 85% in Dependency (+18%), 82% in Low Self-Worth (+15%), 79% in Lack of Trust (no change) and Progressive, 72% in Caretaking (+4%), 69% in Weak Boundaries (+19%), 63% in Denial (-3%), 60% in Poor Communication (+13%), 56% in Miscellaneous, 50% in Obsession (no change), and 47% in Sex Problems.

[/Update]

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?

Musings of a Ping-Pong Ball

Friday morning. I knew what I wanted and needed to do, I just needed to know how. I was looking forward to my meeting with Wakana, in which I knew she would help me develop an effective plan. But as I was getting ready, Fox followed me into every room; I asked him to do laundry while I was out, so he started talking about it and folding sheets to put away while I was trying to get dressed. I noticed him scratching his face and asked if he wanted to shave so he decided to shave when I needed to wash my hands. Later he pulled out his katana to admire its blade, grinning at me, and cold terror rushed down my spine. I was shaking as I finished getting ready, thinking: how many times have I thought my anxiety was keeping me from leaving the house, when in reality he was causing it through his actions?

It was the first time I was ready to leave so early to get to a meeting with Wakana. I wanted nothing more than to get out of the house!

On the way to my session I put into words something I’ve probably been aware of for some time, but didn’t want to acknowledge consciously: it doesn’t really matter how much he wants our relationship to continue, or whether he’s willing to put in the work, because I’m not. I don’t want to continue our relationship. I want it to end, and I want him out of my house ASAP.

Wakana helped me solidify what I was going to do, gave me some words to use, and helped me feel strong. She also voiced the fear in the back of my heart: that as soon as Fox is gone, my mother is going to swoop in and gobble me up and we’ll be completely enmeshed again. She’s already been monopolizing a lot of my time, being supportive yes but also making her opinion of the situation very well known and chewing my ear off about things that frankly seem so minor and petty compared to ending my first marriage.

Friday night. I come home and Fox has two of our mutual friends over. We play a game in 2 teams and actually do a very good job of working well together. I have a good time. But then he and Friend A are obsessing over Pokemon, leaving Friend B and me out of their interactions. I try to start a conversation with Friend B and we are about 2 exchanges into it when Fox cuts through us: “[Friend B], if you need something to do, there’s a book behind you I think you’d find interesting.”

He cut me off to tell the person I was trying to interact with to look at a book – an activity that excluded me!

After our friends left we were hugging and he kissed me. I let him, hoping that maybe I would feel some of our romance return or something. To say I felt nothing is too generous. I felt like I wanted to get away. I felt hurt because he seemed to be enjoying it and the feeling was not mutual. Thank god he stopped and suggested we enjoy a dessert and started talking about video games. I could enjoy a conversation about video games.

Finally, I decided to go to bed. He tucked me in; I felt like a child. As soon as we said goodnight and he left the room, I cried. I cried for myself and for the pain I had to inflict on him: he had no idea.

I spent most of Saturday on the phone with Banji, gaining strength and resolve and confidence and figuring out exactly what I wanted to say. I had a plan: get in, say my piece, get out. I rehearsed it a few times, took a deep breath, and went in.

I have never seen anyone look so scared and devastated in all my life. It was painful to watch. It took every last ounce of my strength to say the words I had resolved to say; if I hadn’t had them memorized they would have gone unsaid. He asked me to stay so we could talk right then and there; I agreed. He said he had nowhere to go, no one who could take him in. He said he needs me if he’s going to get better; his mother has been trying to get him to go for therapy for years but I can motivate him to actually do it. He said he doesn’t want to discount our vows, or all we’ve been through together, or go for years never knowing if we could have made it work. He asked what I wanted in a life partner that he wasn’t fulfilling; I told him. He said he can be all of that if I stay with him. He said he doesn’t think separating is what’s best for us.

I believed him, because I wanted to. I saw all my own pain and dashed hopes and fears and desires in him in that moment. I held his hand and cried with him.

He said, “I’m willing to do the work. If, in two months, things haven’t gotten better, then I’ll accept that we need to separate. But I need to hope that we can make it work.”

I told him if he wanted to do this we needed marriage counseling and he should be the one to set it up. I told him I’ve been holding a lot back because I didn’t want to hurt him, and I need to be able to speak my mind. Sometimes he might feel hurt by what I have to say; sometimes we might fight and I need him to be okay with that. I expanded the idea of enthusiastic consent beyond sex and asked him to check in with me if I seem to be agreeing to something, but I’m not, well, enthusiastic about it. I told him that if he’s willing to separate if it doesn’t work out, then I’m willing to be open to the possibility that it might.

I also said these words out loud, because they are what my heart was screaming: “If you truly love me, then let me go.”

I felt better, because at least we were in the same chapter (if not on the same page) regarding our relationship. We were both painfully aware that it’s a mess and likely to fall apart. We were both mourning the (potential) loss of our shared goals and dreams and the breaking of our vows. We were two emotional wrecks, clinging to each other for dear life. It was the most raw, genuine interaction we’ve had in months. We were fully with each other.

Last night I just couldn’t sleep. My mind kept playing the piece I’m composing, which I haven’t touched since Tuesday night. Mom had said I could sleep in her guest bedroom if I needed to, so I went to take her up on that offer. We ended up talking; I’d kind of expected that and realized that part of why I couldn’t sleep was because I wanted to talk to someone (besides Fox) about our conversation.

My mother doesn’t understand the concept of active listening. She “listened” to what I said, then spewed her opinion all over me. She did it this morning, too. She thinks I’m being too nice to him and compromising my needs for his benefit. She’s worried that things will seem to get better just enough so I will stay with him allow him to stay here, and then they’ll go back to being unlivable. She’s concerned that I have a lot of things I need to be focusing on, but I’m not because of this. She thinks that I should end it now and move on with my life.

Frankly, she’s right. And so is he. And I’m somewhere in the middle, bouncing back and forth between the two of them. I keep thinking, “It’s only 2 months, I can get through it.” But it’s two more months of my life. I have things I need to do! And deadlines I need to meet. I can’t be stressed out like this.

But I also… It’s a process. I’m nowhere near perfect, otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten myself into this situation. I see it as a victory that I said the words and got him not only to see and understand but to fucking feel where I am in our relationship. And I totally understand him not being ready to let go, it’s taken me quite a while to get to this point with a ton of help and support from Wakana. He has a lot more to lose when this relationship ends. I know it’s not my job to save him; I have to save myself.

But I also have to live with him until he leaves, whether it’s by his own will or by force. I need to navigate the path that’s best for me. I need to resolve my need to end this relationship with all the things that have kept me in it for this long. I need room to breathe, and tons of support.

I need my mother to let go just as much as I need him to.

a lost note
exactly what I needed
but, to whom?

…..

Walking, a wind blows
paper against my forehead.
All things stop;
there is silence.

The words lift me out of where I am
to all I can become
and my soul fills
the whole world.

A whole earth, glowing.
But I cannot find you,
whose name
is on this letter.

…..

Oh wow!
This
is exactly what I needed!
Maybe the author
just didn’t know my name?

…..

In response to Writing 101, Day Five: Be Brief