TW: verbal, emotional, & sexual abuse; transphobia; description of manic symptoms
I should not have allowed Ron to drive home at 2am two weeks ago. I should have talked zir into going to the hospital.
I just … I’ve read about how traumatic mental health hospitalization can be. I volunteered on a locked adult psych ward – and I was terrified they’d figure out I should be there as a patient and prevent me from leaving. Ron talked about how horrible being hospitalized was, I’m not sure if that was before or since the last time I wrote about zir. On a personal level I’m generally inclined against seeking medical help – especially going to the hospital – unless absolutely necessary, like life or death … But I shouldn’t have fallen back on that. I risked Ron’s life, allowed zir to go untreated for another week – during which zir symptoms got worse and zir behavior became a risk to zirself and others – and allowed it to get to the point where ze was involuntarily committed (by someone else).
Worse, I subjected myself to nearly 48 hours of being ranted at, manipulated, and abused. I feel like it’s set me back at least a year, maybe two, in terms of my own mental health. I’ve spent the past week on an emotional roller coaster, replaying the most painful moments over again in my mind, and debating whether I have any right to describe someone else’s symptoms on my blog. Well, those symptoms interacted with my mental health issues to make it so there are times when I feel dead inside. I’m having self-harm thoughts and urges again. That’s mine to write about!
I guess I should describe my own disorder first. My official diagnosis is Mood Disorder NOS. My understanding is that I have primarily depressive symptoms, but sometimes they’re mixed with hypomanic symptoms (racing thoughts, rapid speech, starting ambitious projects and never finishing them, trying to do too much, irritability). I don’t know if I’ve ever had a distinct hypomanic episode – honestly I’m so used to being depressed, anything I might point to as a possibility is probably just a time when I was what non-depressed people would describe as “normal.” I know antidepressants don’t work for me, though; I’m on lamotrigine (an anticonvulsant that also functions as a mood stabilizer) and clonazepam (for anxiety). I guess you could say my meds take the edge off, help me maintain functionality most of the time – but the main reasons I’ve been doing better are because I’ve been busting my butt in therapy, and I have a great support network, and I’ve found (volunteer) work that I love.
So I thought, having dealt with this stuff and volunteered in an acute adult psych setting (in which some of my clients were manic) and read the DSM-IV-TR, that I would be able to identify and properly respond to a manic episode. And you know what, I could identify it just fine, but I didn’t trust my instincts because “I’m not qualified to diagnose anyone.” Bull. Shit. It wasn’t my place to make a diagnosis, but it was my place to grab some of the red flags that were waving around in my face and drag them to a mental health professional.
My point is, typical descriptions of manic symptoms, such as WebMD’s “What Are Hypomania and Mania in Bipolar Disorder?” “How to Recognize Bipolar Disorder” and “Bipolar Episodes with Mixed Features” are a great starting point, but they did nothing to prepare me for an extended encounter with someone in a serious manic episode. I need to process my experience, and I also hope that reading this might help others pick up on signs that might be a bit more subtle or different from what one might expect based on how the symptoms are typically described.
The major thing I want to point out about Ron’s behavior is how chaotic it was. Ze was talking loudly, rapidly, and forcefully, almost nonstop – but the topic and zir demeanor changed unpredictably. One second ze was angry at someone else; the next ze loved me and I was wonderful; the next ze was vulnerable, even submissive, and needed my support; the next ze was describing zir grand plan to change the world; the next ze was angry with me; etc. I couldn’t keep up, I couldn’t process, I couldn’t cope, I couldn’t respond quickly enough – and when I didn’t respond zir speech became more intense.
The behavior was also very demanding. I constantly felt like I needed to agree with something or empathize or provide comfort or advice or make a decision or say something I didn’t know how to put into words or walk faster or wear less or be more forceful or be completely vulnerable – and everything in between.
And then there was the manipulation and abuse …
The very first thing ze did was yell at me for missing zir driveway, even though ze was standing in it. Okay, so you yell a one-liner and we laugh and hug great to see you whatever let’s have fun. Right? Wrong. Ze kept going on about “how could you miss me standing in my driveway were you even looking yada yada. What took so long? I’ve been waiting here for hours like a lost puppy I didn’t know what to do without you …” “Dude, I’m fifteen minutes early!” “Really? What time is it? I’ve just been waiting for you I even forgot to eat …”
Then ze told me off for holding zir hand in zir backyard, saying the neighbors were watching. Ze asked where I wanted to eat, then belittled my choice and said ze’d rather eat somewhere else. Ze started ranting about a bear that’s been getting into zir garbage and said ze’s going to decapitate it by dual-wielding machetes (which would be awesomely badass – in a movie or video game thank-you-very-much, not against a real live bear that could tear you apart).
We went inside. Ze showed me around the house and complained about zir parents. I thought, “dude, they’re not here. I am, I thought you wanted to spend time with me” but didn’t say anything, probably because I couldn’t get a word in. Ze said we could play music together or make out, my choice. Can we make out now?
This was why we were both looking forward to the weekend: it was our first opportunity to have our own private space, uninterrupted, to relax and enjoy each other’s company. I’d imagined a slow, romantic, loving exploration – much like what led up to our first kiss, or the times we’d hold hands while driving somewhere, or when ze hugged me from behind when we were hiking. But in those moments, ze had been in control of zirself. I … I either couldn’t see it or … people keep telling me I’m being too hard on myself. Now I can look back and see all the signs for what they were, but at the time I was just happy to be with Ron and I was in the moment and frankly I wouldn’t have survived as long as I have if I stood up for myself every time someone said something hurtful to me. I’ve learned to just kind of let it roll off me – except that on some level it still hurts.
Basically “let’s make out” became “you will make me cum NOW!” and I just couldn’t handle it. I’d been there maybe a couple hours at most and already I had it in my head that what Ron wanted should happen, and it was my job to meet zir needs – not zir responsibility to make reasonable requests and respect my boundaries. Maybe it was because ze wouldn’t stop talking, and said things like “this is all for you” and “you can do whatever you want to me” and was able to pleasure me somehow, in the middle of all this chaos, so I wanted to reciprocate. But Ron was in near total control of the situation and telling me that I had dominated zir because I “wouldn’t let” zir orgasm. I was aware of the reality but I also believed Ron; I’ll admit I felt a little powerful but that only added to my feelings of guilt, like I should reciprocate, and it was wrong of me not to do it.
We did have some good times. Jamming. Enjoying a short while when ze was calmer and we were able to gently explore each other, which felt really good. Having dinner together. Discovering alternate uses for coconut oil. Cuddling.
But we also didn’t sleep much – if at all – and the next morning ze was cooking pancakes bright and early. Ze wanted to pay a quick visit to a friend’s house, but ze didn’t tell me this, ze just asked me to go for a walk – in the cold and rain. Ze admitted zir true plans after we’d passed where ze said we were going to stop. “How much farther?” “We’re about halfway there.” I knew I was in no condition to socialize – especially not with strangers in a new setting – so I insisted we turn back.
Ze said it was okay, but proceeded to inform me that none of the people we volunteer with believe I’m truly nonbinary, and they’re annoyed with me for making such a big deal about gender. Ze said I’ve already won because people include pronouns in introductions and emails; I should stop “pronoun checking” everyone. And ze called me a trans [the gender I was assigned at birth] and wouldn’t listen while I got all upset and tried to explain that the opposite is true. When ze finally relented – because I was rather distraught – ze offered to hold my hand as a comforting gesture. “Are you sure?” “Yeah, I want to love on you.” “Thanks.” “Do you know how much of a risk I’m taking, walking down my street holding hands with you?”
When we got back to the house, ze offered to throw our wet things in the dryer but (I found out later) actually just dumped them on the floor. Ze said ze needed to meet with someone and disappeared. A mutual friend arrived and we had a sort of awkward conversation until Ron returned and it was time to carpool to a meeting (which was the excuse for me sleeping over the previous night). We were half an hour late to the meeting. Ron ranted for a total of about 20 minutes, talking about problems and plans I’d heard from zir a million times, but that seemed to make little sense outside the worldview ze’d shared with me. Ze got annoyed with me for keeping time. The highlight of the meeting was getting to interact with anyone else. I had a nice conversation with Carl, who seemed supportive and caring and offered to help me with my job search.
We went for dinner afterward and Ron did not stop talking the entire time. Ze was describing people and happenings in zir area that are stressing zir out, often repeating the same things. Ze also kept saying horrible things about one particular person we both know, painting him to be someone who doesn’t deserve to live. Somehow, instead of being horrified by this, I found myself taking Ron’s side. It was intense enough that our mutual friend (whom we’d carpooled with) expressed concern. But when we got back to the house he left; he didn’t say anything when I announced that I planned to stay another night because I was too tired to drive home.
Ron was furious because ze missed an annual event that’s important to zir in order to attend “that stupid meeting.” Ze had me write down hashtags used by political opponents while ze was supposed to be taking a shower, but instead kept coming back downstairs to continue ranting at me about them. Ze wanted me to sleep with zir (like literally sleep) but I couldn’t get comfortable or sleep with zir snoring in my ear. Ze was furious with everyone but took a break from ranting about them to yell at me “and don’t pronoun check me!” even though I hadn’t said anything about zir continuously misgendering me for the past several hours. Ze fucking left me at 2am to go confront the horrible person who doesn’t deserve to live at his house. Ze came back raving about how ze’d shown him up. Then ze wanted to cuddle and “be vulnerable” with me, which basically meant being naked. Ze tried to touch me in places I didn’t want to be touched, without permission, and I had to physically stop zir.
Can we have sex now?
Ze had stripped me down to my final boundary: absolutely no sex without a condom. It was the only boundary Fox had set on this relationship. I was exhausted. I’d been torn down and built back up so many times I didn’t know who I was anymore. I was frustrated as hell. I kinda wanted to, though not really under these conditions. But I thought maybe, just maybe, it would help Ron finally relax, at least a little bit. At least enough to get some sleep. I was willing to compromise on just about anything, by that point, but I would not disrespect my husband (and risk throwing our lives into even more chaos).
Only if we use a condom.
I hate condoms.
That’s a hard boundary.
It was okay. It didn’t hurt or anything. We couldn’t get the angle quite right. Then just as I was starting to find something that worked and maybe sort of get into it, ze started ranting about other people again. “Seriously!?” “Now do you see why I want to die?” Yet Ron was the one who asked “Can we stop now?” and I said sure. “What do you want to do now?” “Sleep.” I felt like a complete and utter jackass, how could I just want to sleep after that? “Join me in the shower.” “Okay.”
I took an entire shower, communicating only so we could move around each other, while ze expounded upon the ways in which ze had control over zir entire county – which ze’d described only a few hours earlier as overrun with people and politics that were stressing zir out so much, ze was suicidal. Then I stepped out, dried off, and went back to bed – without zir even noticing. It was a stronger version of a tactic I’d learned to get at least some of my needs met while my mother was talking at me, and I used it very intentionally, feeling horrible about it the whole time. When Ron joined me later ze said the shower had been a “thank you for the sex.” If my self esteem hadn’t been thoroughly crushed before, it was then.
Ze wanted something else from me, I seem to remember zir kissing me, and I finally exasperated, “I can’t do this anymore!” Ze stopped. “Are you seriously breaking up with me?” Shit, this was the real deal. “I don’t want to, but I just …” “Did you talk to Fox about this?” “We talked, but not specifically about this.” “You can’t make a decision like this without talking to your husband first. I’m going out. If you’re here when I get back we can talk, otherwise it’s over. Actions speak louder than words.”
Ze left. I stayed … until ze called saying family members had “ambushed” zir and they were coming to the house and I should get out of there, we could talk later. So I gathered my stuff, straightened up a bit, packed my car, and drove away as fast as I could.
The “horrible person who doesn’t deserve to live” was the first person who reached out to me, expressing concern about Ron and asking if I was okay. We talked about what he had actually said and done that Ron had made seem so unforgivable, and I confessed that I owed him an apology. (I suspect the truth is somewhere between their descriptions.) Most potently, he said he’s willing to be “the bad guy” if that’s what it takes to keep Ron safe.
Ron was escorted to the emergency room by law enforcement later the same day.
When I told Wakana about what had happened, I said the other committee members had forgiven me and were supporting me. They’d told me that, under such extreme pressure, it made sense that I would fall back on what I’d spent most of my life being trained to do, rather than being able to use skills I’d only been developing for what, 7 years? Part of my justification was that, “I don’t know, if I hadn’t agreed to sex with a condom, ze might’ve forced it without one. I was actually protecting myself, in a way.”
“That’s not a normal response to this kind of situation. It sounds like something someone who’s been a victim of sexual abuse might say.”
I’ve had a couple experiences that I quietly and reluctantly labeled “rape” – and that I don’t talk about – as well as people I’ve “lost touch with.” I’ve never identified as a survivor of sexual abuse. But I told Wakana details of my life that I’d kept secret from her for almost seven years.
Since that session, all the chaotic emotional energy – mostly anger – has dissipated, and I’m left feeling sad and empty inside, kind of on the edge of how I felt when I was suicidal. There’s a different quality to it, maybe because of the meds? One major difference is that where I would’ve isolated myself even a year or two ago, my instinct has been to reach out to people.
The worst is when my mind replays the most painful memories from the weekend. Not the sex. The verbal abuse that led up to that point, that made it so the only boundary I could maintain was the one Fox had set for me. In particular, the attack on my gender, the language ze used to refer to trans people, the venom in zir voice. I thought ze understood me in a way few people could, I thought we were in this together. I felt utterly betrayed.
I want to think that was the mania talking, ze would never say those things if ze was … lucid is a term I’ve heard used, it seems applicable. But I fear that those are thoughts and feelings ze holds but hides deep down, maybe even from zirself, that came out because ze was uninhibited. And if they’re any indication of how ze truly feels about me being trans, then … well, I guess it’s over.
Granted I have internalized bigotry that results in thoughts I’d rather not share, that I would never express to anyone, and that I suppress whenever possible. If I were to have a manic episode and lose all my filters and some of that stuff came out, I hope people would forgive me.
So, I don’t know, ze’s still in the hospital and still manic. All I can do is trust that ze’s safe and hope ze’ll get the help ze needs. I try to be supportive when we talk on the phone, and I’m grateful that the conversations are brief. I’m a bit apprehensive about when ze gets out. I want to see if we can get back to how things were before all this happened, but it’s going to take a lot of time and hard work on zir part to earn my trust. Fox has become very protective of me, which is awesome of him but also kinda uncomfortable, like I can’t take care of myself, which apparently I can’t, and I hate feeling so vulnerable.
Other activists admire me. They think I’m so strong. They say I inspire them. But I need my husband to set and enforce my boundaries.