Priorities and Letting Go

I’m having some serious problems with my computer. I think I got a virus or other malware that made harmful changes to my operating system until it wouldn’t load correctly. Long story short, my efforts to repair it seem to have made a bigger mess. I’ve backed up all my essential files and made sure I can reinstall important programs (e.g. the software I use to compose music). The next step is to format my hard drives, then reinstall my operating system. If all goes well, it will be like having a new computer.

Which means I’ll lose all the progress I’d made in The Sims 3 and other favorite games. If I ever want to play The Sims 3 again, I’ll need to reinstall the base game, several expansions, tons of additional content, and all the updates. It will take several hours – possibly days. Then my only choice will be to start a new game, completely from scratch…

Or I can just walk away…

I’ll be honest, I’m not happy about this. I’d prefer for my computer to run smoothly and never have problems. But I’ve had this computer for over 5 years. The hardware is still in good shape, but the software is getting clunky. There are programs I don’t use (one of which interferes with The Sims 3 and other games), I’m way overdue to defragment my hard drive, and my files are kind of disorganized. I had a ton of bad, blurry, or redundant photos taking up space, things I meant to sort or delete and never did, a plethora of downloads… It’s a mess.

I actually welcome the opportunity to start anew, with a clean uncluttered desktop. I can be intentional regarding what I install, how I organize my files, etc. I can build a tool that will help me accomplish my dreams instead of distracting me from them (as much?).

With all the things I’ve been angry and anxious about lately, I’m grateful for my ability to be at peace with this. It’s not a medical, emotional, or financial crisis. I’m not going to lose important files I worked hard to create. And it’s provided some good opportunities. I spent the last few days going through old pictures and reminiscing. I watched the video from my wedding and found the sermon & vows to have even more meaning than they did on that day. I’ve learned a lot about how to protect oneself from malware and other unwanted software. I’ve started focusing more on my priorities: wellness, family, my career, making the world a better place.

Now I just need to let go. To trust that I have everything that’s important, I can live without (or replace) the files that will be erased, and I’m making the right decision for me based on what I know now. If I regret something later, I will have the resources and support I need to work through and release that regret. It’s okay, I’m okay. The world is so much more than this.

Advertisements

How Social Anxiety Fuels My Depression

I haven’t just been “out of sorts” the past couple of weeks. I’ve been moderately depressed. Tired, sad, unfocused; I spent an entire day watching The Legend of Korra on KissCartoon because I couldn’t get myself to do anything else (and I wanted to know what would happen next; it’s a great story). I’ve also been isolating, having self-harm urges, and occasionally thinking I don’t deserve to live. The abusive voice is back; when he’s feeling kind he just tells me I’m worthless.

I feel like I’m right back where I started: feeling depressed and overwhelmed by the prospect of applying for internships. (And jobs, but if I have to choose between a job and a music therapy internship, I’ll pick the internship. It’s the last major obstacle to starting my career.) There’s nothing else for me to do, nowhere else to run, no excuses. But everything feels wrong. I haven’t been practicing my instruments, it’s been over 4 years since I last worked with real clients, and I don’t have appropriate attire for an interview. I know there are relatively easy ways to fix at least two of those issues, but I’m finding it hard to get myself to do even something as simple as stepping outside for a few minutes to enjoy the sunshine.

It doesn’t help that I’ve been fighting with my health insurance since mid-June. This is a huge trigger for me; I feel like they’re threatening my very existence. We were a couple days late re-applying for our program, so there was actually a temporary lapse in coverage while our information was being processed. Fox was taking half his dosage to make his medication last for as long as possible while we waited to regain our benefits; that made it harder for him to cope with stress and he came home from work even more exhausted than usual. When we finally got our letter confirming eligibility, I rushed to the pharmacy to refill his prescription – only to discover that our HMO wouldn’t resume prescription benefits until August 1st. I didn’t know we could have our medication paid for directly by our state’s program, and I didn’t have his card with me anyway. I got ridiculously angry, started yelling, and had to use all my willpower not to become violent.

The eligibility letter was followed closely by a letter requesting proof of my citizenship and identity. I was furious – for two reasons. First of all, they required Fox to certify my identity and used the term “child” on the form; I found this exceptionally insulting because I’m the one who’s been doing everything to get and keep health insurance for us both. More importantly, the only reason I could think of why they would have trouble confirming my identity (but not Fox’s) is because I changed my last name when we got married. I updated Social Security and got a new driver’s license over a year ago, but for some reason they couldn’t make the connection themselves. It really wasn’t much of an inconvenience to send them copies of my certificates and IDs, but I felt threatened by it anyway. I was born here, I’ve lived here my whole life, we clearly marked that I am Fox’s spouse, and it’s a long-standing tradition for one partner to take the other’s last name when a couple gets married. They should have no trouble connecting my current name to my pre-marriage identity, it should be a normal part of their procedure.

I did nothing wrong, why should anyone question my right to be here?

That’s my problem: I question my right to be here. Bullying; physical and emotional abuse; living in a world that doesn’t want to admit non-binary pansexual people exist; having a body that is hyper-sexualized, censored, stigmatized, and discriminated against; persistent invasive media promoting impossible beauty standards… It’s hard to avoid internalizing messages that I don’t have a right to be here – or, at least, that if I want to exist I must do everything both inside and outside my power to conform. I feel like simply existing day to day (and being honest about who I am) is a radical act of defiance.

Radical acts of defiance take a lot of energy.

I’m tired.

This latest return of my depression – especially so soon after I thought I’d overcome it – proves to me that I must do something to directly address my anxiety. No matter how well I feel in terms of the depression, as soon as I try to start doing things again, my anxiety fairs up. It’s so bad I can’t do anything, so I don’t do anything; the depression sets in again.

It isn’t part of my official diagnosis (yet), but I’m pretty sure I have social anxiety disorder – which is described as “extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations.” It explains most of my functional difficulties that lead to some of my worst depressive symptoms, particularly being late for class and the couple of times I’ve chosen not to show up for job interviews. Even just going for a walk outside is difficult: I don’t want to be seen by anyone because I expect them to judge me harshly.

Fortunately, I have an appointment with my prescriber on Tuesday. She has offered to refer me for individual therapy – I think within the clinic where I meet with her. I can will ask her to refer me to someone who specializes in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for social anxiety disorder. (CBT is more effective than medication for treating social anxiety.) Hopefully I’ll be able to start with that person right away and gain the confidence I need to finally move forward with my life.

I’m not a sidhe, I’m a dragon

I’ve been out of sorts since last Thursday. Mom and I went to visit with her brother’s family for the weekend; overall we had a very good time, but it took a lot out of me. We went to my cousin’s baby shower, a giant social gathering where I didn’t know most of the people and there weren’t assigned seats. I felt myself freezing up and becoming overwhelmed by anxiety. Somehow the anxiety took me by surprise; I guess since the depression is (mostly) better, I expected to feel less anxious, too? Thank goodness my (other) cousin introduced me to people. I got to meet 2 musicians and talk with them about music therapy – that was a lot of fun!

For some reason people – especially my mom – feel the need to talk about me in third person when I’m literally right next to them, even if they’re talking to me. I don’t get it. All I heard all weekend was “she,” a wall of it with razor sharp spikes flying right at me. When Mom and her siblings talk, there is no getting a word in… and I really really hate interrupting people to correct them on their pronoun use. I’ve learned that people don’t like being corrected on how they’re saying something, they want you to hear what they’re saying and respond appropriately. That makes it harder for me to stand up for myself.

illustrations of a masculine-presenting person being crowded out by feminine words (e.g.

cartoon by sleepyllama

If I thought I felt nervous at the baby shower, it was nothing compared to how anxious I get about trying to tell people I’m non-binary and “prefer” gender-neutral pronouns: they/them/their or ze/zir. My throat tightens and my jaw clenches, making it physically impossible for me to say anything.

Worse, there’s no opening for it in most social situations. I mean I guess when people ask me how I’ve been I can say, “Great! I’ve come to accept my non-binary gender identity and I’ve decided that I want people to refer to me using gender-neutral pronouns.” But other than that, it’s hard to figure out when and how to bring it up. People are used to assuming – from their perspective, “knowing” – a person’s gender based on appearance. It’s not something people usually talk about.

I wish I could have this conversation!
(image by Tony Toggles)

Between the baby shower and another cousin bringing his 2 young children to visit, there were a lot of interactions going on based on binary gender. Fox wasn’t invited to the baby shower, but people were surprised he didn’t come to hang out at the house with the other men. (If I’d wanted to hang out at the house with the men, there probably would have been some confusion and “encouragement” to go to the shower.) When we got back, the women assured the men that the “games” we played at the shower “wouldn’t have interested” them. I think guys are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves how interested they are in unscrambling words, thinking about things related to babies, and watching people open presents.

We don’t know what sex organs the new baby has yet, so there’s talk about “whether it’ll be a boy or a girl” and “if it’s a boy this; if it’s a girl, that.”

2-tier cake with the text

found on pinterest

Referring to my cousin’s two-year-old child, my aunt actually said, “He’s a boy, so he’ll need to toughen up.” We have no way of knowing how this child will identify by the time he’s an adult. Regardless of whether he’s a boy/man, gender norms that require him to be “tough” only hurt him and increase the likelihood that he might hurt others.

My aunt, uncle, cousins, and mom are awesome, friendly, kindhearted people. I went out of my way to spend a weekend with them – clearly I must like them, at least a little bit. Yet I didn’t feel safe asking them to change the ways in which they think and talk about me, even – especially! – when it was causing me emotional distress. My “coming out” would be too at odds with everything they were expressing about gender.

I’m not sure how I expected them to respond. Asking me to explain myself? Reasserting the gender they’ve assigned to me? I don’t think they’d be physically violent – but maybe annoyed? Saying they don’t understand? I tend to expect people to say they’ll try to use my pronouns but they might make mistakes; what’s important to me is that they’re willing to try.

image by Solomon Fletcher – shared here because it’s true of me, too

I tried to talk to Mom about it. I asked her to use my name instead of pronouns, as a sort of compromise. She said “I’m just talking, I’m not really thinking about it.” That hurt a lot, because to me it felt like she was prioritizing her ability to “babble” (her word, not mine) over respecting me as a person.

Then on Tuesday she started talking to me when she knew I had to leave for an appointment, wouldn’t leave me alone so I could finish getting ready, and almost made me late! I was furious with her and did my best to avoid her for over a day. I’ve been shutting out the world, feeling very grumpy. I felt so bad I couldn’t even go to a meeting for trans* people of all genders (at which I wouldn’t have known anyone). There were multiple factors (including concern about my safety) but the bottom line was I didn’t want to meet new people and otherwise be social, nor did I have the energy. I’m very disappointed because I really need a community right now and I’d rescheduled my music therapy session so I could go.

On Thursday Mom lured me out of hiding by offering me food. We talked a bit and agreed to respect each other more. She asked me to make more of an effort to respond when she tries to talk to me and to show appreciation for the help she gives me. And I was able to tell her that I need her not only to respect and use my pronouns, but to be an ally. During the conversation she talked to me about me (?) and used the wrong pronoun no less than 5 times.

“Ze,” I corrected, and she apologized.

Conflicting Emotions in a Professional Setting

Today I met with my academic adviser to discuss local internship opportunities. It… didn’t go quite the way I’d hoped. My goal has been to work with an adult psychiatric population, but most of the internships I could currently commute to are in medical settings, hospice, or adults with developmental disabilities. There is one adult psychiatric location, a VA (veterans affairs) hospital. It’s far enough away that my adviser suggested temporarily relocating.

I thought our conversation was going pretty well. We established a plan: I’ll pick four sites, contact the internship directors to ask questions and make a good first impression, and apply – “casting as broad a net as possible.” He spoke highly of several sites, answered my questions, and gave me some useful advice. Best of all, he seemed certain that I’ll be able to complete my internship without having to further extend my matriculation. He seemed supportive and understanding the whole way through. He even asked about the paper I submitted last month, that still needs a grade…

By the end of the conversation, I was feeling very overwhelmed. I couldn’t figure out if I was sad, anxious, angry, disappointed, grateful… I didn’t know what to do or say that might help. And he was just sitting there watching me, waiting for a comment, question, or some other response. I kept apologizing and giving the old “I’m tired” excuse. I told him that I wish I could take more music therapy classes because I enjoyed this past semester; that I’m looking forward to working in our field and doing thesis, but that it’s also big and scary.

He said you do one piece at a time, so while it is big and scary it’s also more manageable than it currently seems. That was helpful, but I still felt awkward. I almost always feel awkward in our conversations, like neither of us knows how to end them. Like there’s something that always goes unsaid – at least on my end – and everything we do say needs to dance around it. We were saved by a knock on the door: “That’s my next appointment.”

Ugh. Feels. Sometimes – often – I wish I could turn them off. Just temporarily. Just long enough to have a conversation. For all I know he didn’t even notice that I was struggling with my emotions – no, he’s a therapist, he has to have noticed. That’s what therapists do.

My main problem was that I thought I should be happy about meeting with my adviser and learning about internship sites, but that’s not how I honestly felt. It brought up anxiety, painful memories, guilt, disappointment. I didn’t get what I wanted – what I needed, yes, and what I asked for. But the perfect internship site just doesn’t exist. (And maybe that’s for the better, because if it did I probably wouldn’t be offered the internship, anyway.) (I thought I’d moved past thinking like this.)

“You need to have a thick skin for this process. Be persistent, and if you can re-apply to a site, do. It’s difficult for everybody.”

My skin feels as thin as gossamer.

Anyway. I looked up the various sites on Google Maps and they all take a comparable amount of time to get to. The question really isn’t “How long am I willing to spend commuting?” – it’s “Do I want to spend 2-4 hours each day driving, or on public transportation?” I’m inclined to lean toward driving, but I might not even get to make that decision.

How do you deal with conflicting or difficult emotions when they come up in a professional situation?