Choices

I got to spend several hours with Ron today, mostly just relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. We went for a brief walk on a nature trail and got a late lunch. Ze told me ze has been super busy and very stressed, not getting enough personal time and rest, and everything feels “raw.” I could see the pain in zir eyes and wanted to do something, anything, to help … if I couldn’t take away the pain, to at least be there with zir in it.

“You’re not zir therapist,” a committee member reminded me. I’m having trouble naming ‘her’ – I think it’s a ‘her’ – but she’s kind of motherly, kind of authoritarian, the one who ‘encourages’ me to do the stuff on my to-do list and wants me to get my act together professionally. The one who’s willing to go along with the whole entrepreneurship thing for now, but won’t call it a career until we start making money. In addition to being an important personal boundary, it’s also unethical to provide therapy to loved ones. She was getting at both of those concerns with her comment. “And I thought you didn’t want to do this kind of thing, anyway…”

“I don’t want to do it professionally,” I thought back curtly, “but I have learned these skills. I want to use them to help people I care about. How can I do this without crossing that boundary?”

I basically told Ron I could relate, asked if there’s anything ze can do to create a(n emotional) space for zirself, and listened.  I tried to be as supportive as I could. I chose my words carefully, and it took some effort, but it wasn’t draining or anything. It actually felt good. And I hope it helped… but whether it did (in the way I’d intended) or not, it was a moment of connection that we were able to share. It was real.

If the work I did in graduate school enables me to love the people I care about better, in ways that support my mental health as well, then it’s worth every penny.

I listened and sang along to the Moana soundtrack on my way home, getting into character and dancing and reveling in all the sensations. I thought about how awesome it must have been creating that music, and I can do that too, and even if I don’t do it professionally I can do it for the sheer joy. “My music is for me,” I thought, “I want and need it to be for me.” I felt myself connecting again to the passion I felt for music in undergrad, playing in the orchestra, studying theory, composing – back when I was focusing on the music for the music itself, not so I could ‘use it’ to ‘help’ others. And I felt grounded in who I was a decade ago, who I am now, who I’ve always been… maybe even who I will be. I felt whole.

“You should share your gift. You would make a great therapist.”

Maybe you’re right. But I don’t want to – not now at least. You can call me selfish, but it’s my choice to make.

It feels good to make that choice. I’m grateful that I can, and for the journey, and to everyone who supported me in getting here.

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Transgender Tuesday: Closets

content note: brief description of thoughts about self-harm

I’ve been very depressed lately. I was woken up on Wednesday by the phone call informing me that my request for periodontal treatment had been denied. When I called to make my appeal, the person neutralized my language so “I’m in a lot of pain” became “I’m experiencing discomfort.” I felt powerless to advocate for myself because no matter what I said, she could submit whatever she wanted on my behalf and I wouldn’t even know. (I hadn’t yet received the letter with information on submitting a written appeal.)

I walked into Wakana’s office later that day, outwardly very calm and personable – but inwardly ready to explode! I told her I was scared of how calm I was and urged her to insert earplugs before allowing me to play on the drums and cymbal. We were all set up to make music when I told her I felt like cutting myself because I didn’t know how else to express the anger: I couldn’t kill people, I’d regret breaking things, but my skin would eventually heal. I said I wanted to get a tattoo in the spot I always think about cutting on; then I’d be less tempted to cut because I wouldn’t want to risk messing up the tattoo.

She said she thought I needed to make a statement… and that my feelings had little to do with my tooth. We talked for a while before I expressed my (ongoing) frustration with Mom: “I’m trying to have a healthy relationship with her, but she keeps hurting me! Even when I think things are going well between us, she always says or does something to hurt me. I can’t take it anymore!”

She told me, “Saying ‘can’t’ makes you a victim. Try saying ‘I won’t take it anymore.'” I tried it and felt a lot more powerful. Whether I allow my mother to continue abusing me is a choice; I can continue to take it – but I am unwilling to accept the consequences of that choice. I don’t want to take it anymore, so I won’t.

The consequences of that choice are terrifying. I was finally straightforward and honest with her on Sunday; I told her how I feel when she goes on and on talking about trivial matters, doesn’t listen to me, asks me to do random things for her she could do on her own, dumps all her emotional garbage on me, doesn’t respect my boundaries when I try to end a conversation. (Well, maybe I didn’t talk about all those things. I wanted to list my major complaints here.) She actually said, “So I’m a horrible person!” and hung up on me! Then she called me back. I told her she’s a wonderful person, and I want her to stop doing all this other crap so I can spend time with who she is beneath it all. She said I was wrong for telling her she could use the computer at the library (hers had just died), she didn’t raise me to be like that, if it were anybody else I’d be falling over myself to help them, etc. She said she thinks the problem is she’s doing too much for me and she’s going to cut me off and I have to pay rent and…

I realized why I let her do all this shit to me. If I don’t, I’m a horrible person and I might end up homeless, without a car, unable to afford therapy, etc. The next thing I knew, Fox had found a new computer for her online and I had agreed to accompany her when she went to the store to buy it. I spent the whole day with her yesterday, first getting the computer, then running a couple errands she hadn’t told me about before I was trapped in her car, then helping her set up the new computer. I was tired, cranky, and starving, but I remained pleasant and even got Fox to help after a long day at work. When it was time to go our separate ways, I said “I love you. Good night” and gave her a hug. She said “Good nigh… we need to…” I repeated “I love you, good night.” and left. Boundaries.

Today I woke up hating the world. I always wake up hating the world. I’m tired of waking up hating the world. I couldn’t get myself to go to the LGBTQIA+ groups on campus. I was too focused on my fight for something remotely resembling adequate healthcare. I’m too busy training to be my own lawyer to get dressed, drive places, talk to other human beings, eat, or do schoolwork.

I hate it. All of it. I want to see it burn.

The above has nothing to do with being transgender, except that I was misgendered in every single interaction that involved another person. (Except Fox and Banji.) At my piano midterm on Thursday I had 3 people using the wrong pronouns to talk what a pleasure I am to work with. (if only that had helped my grade!) Even in interactions that didn’t involve another person, I was asking an imaginary witness questions that required me to describe myself as the gender I was assigned at birth. It’s inescapable!

People don’t seem to see or hear me, they see and hear whatever fits with their expectations (or what’s convenient for them).

The Whole Truth of Coming Out of the Closet – In Comic Form explains the concept of closets quite well: “Closets are created by social and structural expectations about who we are supposed to be, and the consequences of defying that.” It shows how coming out is not a straightforward process, nor is it the same for everyone. There are some links after the comic that are great further reading.

It inspired me to draw this:

putting someone in the gender closet based on secondary sex characteristics - original artwork by Ziya

putting someone in the gender closet based on their appearance

The most important point – from my perspective at least – is that people don’t go into the closet. We don’t start out with everyone seeing and accepting us as we are, then decide (for whatever reason) that we’re going to hide some aspect(s) of our identity/identities. Other people build closets around us.

Sometimes even after we’ve come out to them.

Let It Go

One thing I’m really bad at is letting things go when they make me angry. I become kind of obsessed with them; I keep ruminating on the situation, what should have happened, why I’m right and the other person is wrong, etc. Occasionally I allow it to ruin my whole day.

Sometimes it’s a situation where Wakana would express concern if I weren’t getting angry – a situation that needs to be resolved. The anger gives me the energy and motivation to take action on it. I need to be assertive in making sure my needs are met – firm enough that the other person knows “I mean business,” but not verbally abusing them or otherwise ignoring their rights and needs. Sometimes I have difficulty finding the balance.

A prime example is trying to get treatment for my Endangered Molar, which has an infection that is causing “extensive” bone loss. (In other words, something is eating part of my skull.) My dental insurance took forever to approve a consultation with a periodontist, and then neglected to inform me of their decision. I had to call them – to learn it had been approved a month earlier!

I went for the consultation on January 22nd; the authorization for treatment was submitted on January 26th. The weeks went by… nothing.

I called multiple times and was told a variety of things, from “we never received that” to “it’s been escalated to a supervisor.” Last week I was told that no authorization for treatment had been received, but I had been approved to see the periodontist for a consultation. It had been escalated and approved just the day before.

I was furious! I told the person I was talking to that I had already been to the periodontist for a consultation and they should have an authorization for treatment. She insisted that what had been received was a referral for a consultation; the authorization was a different thing, the periodontist had to submit a “narrative,” etc. We kept saying the same things to each other over and over, with more and more frustration in our voices. I caught myself starting to slip into some inappropriate language; I knew that if the conversation continued it would likely result in me saying some very mean things. I made every effort to end the call as soon as possible without “hanging up on” the person.

I was fuming for the rest of the day. I couldn’t focus on anything else. I couldn’t enjoy being intimate with my husband. I just wanted to break things – including the skulls of the people responsible! It didn’t help that I was in a lot of pain from having Root Canal Molar extracted. I was miserable.

I thought I had to wait for the periodontist to come back from vacation to submit the “narrative,” so I decided to wait until Tuesday to pursue the matter further. After rehearsing my questions a million times – as though preparing to represent the plaintiff in court – I called my insurance. I learned that the “narrative” is basically the diagnosis and treatment plan. The person I spoke to seemed very reluctant to provide useful information … almost as though it was against company guidelines… I noticed we were starting to repeat ourselves, so I ended the conversation before I could become so angry I’d be stuck dwelling on it for the rest of the day.

On Wednesday I called the periodontist’s office and spoke to a very helpful individual who not only clarified what happened, but forwarded me the email that had been submitted to my dental insurance. To be honest, I could see how they might have misinterpreted it: the file name for the attachment was “referral,” the form filled out was a “referral” form, and the periodontist’s office also offers general dentistry. I had to (wait for it!) read the content of the form to see that treatment was being requested. I was also able to verify that it met the criteria I’d been given for a “narrative:” two specific treatments were requested by name and reference number, and it was clearly indicated that I have “extensive bone loss” in the area. I’m not sure there is any additional information that would be relevant, except that I HAVE BEEN IN PAIN FOR SEVEN MONTHS MAKE IT STOP!!!!

This time, when I called my dental insurance, I immediately asked to speak to someone who had the authority to make a decision regarding my treatment. I was connected to a supervisor – who couldn’t authorize treatment, but could work with me more efficiently. I was able to be specific regarding the treatment requested, state that the x-rays and periodontal chart were included, and explain that it was on a “referral” form but was a request to cover treatment. The supervisor offered to call the referrals department, find out what they had received, and call me back.

On Thursday I received a call saying that they have the information I’ve been trying to convince them they’ve had for weeks!!! and it will be sent to the claims department on Friday. The supervisor suggested waiting until Wednesday to follow up regarding the actual decision.

For now I’m calling that a success – because if I don’t I’ll go even more crazy.

… But sometimes it’s a situation that I don’t have any control over and it’s not really worth following up on. Most of the examples I can think of have to do with disagreeing with someone on the Internet.

I think I got myself blocked from someone’s Facebook post … or maybe the whole post got deleted? Someone else had made a comment (tangentially related to the original post) about “transgender men” being allowed in women’s locker rooms at Planet Fitness; I interpreted it to be derisive. I felt compelled to clarify that the person in the women’s locker room was a trans woman and that Planet Fitness had defended her right to use the locker room that corresponds with her gender, free from harassment. Perhaps some of the (additional) points I made could have been worded a bit better. Perhaps some of my anger came through. It’s kind of hard to say; I can maybe see how part of it could be misinterpreted…

(Or I could be making a big deal out of nothing.)

At first I was able to see the post and all the comments leading up to mine, but there was an “error loading” at the bottom of the page. Then the notifications I had received regarding the post disappeared. The post no longer appears in my feed or where it was originally posted. It’s as though it never existed… which might be for the better, but it’s annoying the hell out of me!

I could private message the original poster, apologize for anything that was offensive, and ask what happened… but I’m not sure it’s worth it. We’re acquaintances who haven’t been in the same physical space for years; I’ve never even met the other people who had commented.

I think the best thing to do is let it go and move on with my life. Focus on something else. Do something else. I wish I could switch off the thought patterns that keep fixating on this relatively insignificant experience – or delete them. The post doesn’t exist anymore, so why should my memory of it?

But if I had an easy time letting things go and switching my focus to something else, I wouldn’t have written this blog post. Anyone have any ideas? What works for you?

Dr. Jekyll Experiments with Whole Tones

I’m taking a course in piano improvisation for music therapy, which is both really cool and nerve-wracking. We get to go far beyond the conventions of traditional Western music, to explore musical expression more broadly. We’re simultaneously learning to appreciate the emotional effects of intervals (the specific sound created by playing two particular notes simultaneously or consecutively) and developing a working knowledge of “alternative” modes and scales. It’s nerve-wracking because one never knows when one will be called upon to do this brand-new thing in front of the entire class, and I tend to lack confidence in my piano skills.

The solution is, of course, to practice – both to improve my skills and confidence, and to play with all the new toys that are being handed to me each week! I was feeling rather bored yesterday, alone in my messy apartment without Fox to help me focus my energy. I’d already played The Sims 3 for a few hours and wanted to do something different, so I decided to improvise on piano for a while.

I practiced the whole tone scale, which does not have any half-steps and creates a very dream-like feeling. On the piano it can be played by choosing a key to start on (e.g. middle C), then skipping a key between each one you play. There are two basic whole tone scales; you can start and end on any pitch in either of them.

Whole tone scales for piano starting on C-natural and D-flat. Together they use every key within a minor 9th on the piano.

Whole tone scales for piano starting on C-natural and D-flat. Together they use every key  on the piano within a minor 9th.

I started out by just playing the scale that starts on C-natural, first in the right hand and then in the left. My right hand began to try making more creative melodies, while my left searched for some kind of accompaniment (which in my mind means playing at least two notes simultaneously, preferably with a rhythmic pattern). I made the conscious choice to avoid intervals that are considered consonant (peaceful) in Western music, prioritizing dissonance (tension) and sounds that were unfamiliar.

That led my music to become quite harsh, expressing a mix of anxiety and anger that was almost completely nonverbal. I abandoned the whole tone scale and other ways of organizing pitches (specific audible frequencies) into what is conventionally considered music, relying more and more heavily on tone clusters. There were rhythmic elements and patterns in my playing, but no real meter (a way of organizing rhythm). In other words, I was literally banging on the piano with open hands and had very little intentional control over individual fingers. As time went on, the improvisation became increasingly chaotic.

Themes emerged in the music such as a “rumbling” in the lowest register that I sometimes played with both hands, sometimes with the left hand only. The right hand would flee from this dark ominous rumbling and scramble “up” the piano into the high register, where the sequences of pitches I played were rather frantic. I had the mental image of struggling to climb a slippery rocky incline where I couldn’t find a secure grip. The abyss and/or some horrible monster waited below. At times there was a call-and-response structure to the music, in which one hand would play something (while the other hand was silent), then the other would respond with similar rhythmic patterns (while the first hand was silent).

I quickly interpreted the dark ominous rumbling to be the voice I hear when my depression symptoms are at their worst, telling me I’m worthless, alone, etc. The self-destructive urges that at best undermine my short-term goals and at worst tempt me toward suicide. My inner demon, my true mental illness, my internalization of the abuse I’ve experienced, etc. etc. etc. It has no redeeming qualities, yet I allow it to seduce me.

The right hand could only scramble so far up the keyboard before it had nowhere else to go, so it would come back down toward the rumbling, sometimes joining it. There was no rest, no slowing down and organizing, no creating intentional patterns, no stability. I think my attempt to explore beyond Western music became an excuse for avoiding it, thus depriving myself of most if not all of techniques I currently have in my repertoire for restoring stability, calm, and a sense of wholeness (which I should be using music to promote). I was “up the creek without a paddle” – because I’d intentionally left both my paddles at home.

There was a part of my mind that urged caution, reminding me that I was alone with no one to pull me out of the abyss if I needed them to. I was not with Wakana in therapy, where an exploration like this might prove useful – and could be done safely. It urged me not to go too deep, to come back, to be careful and compassionate toward myself.

But another part was fascinated. It wanted to sit back and observe and analyze everything that was happening. It assured my cautious mind that I could handle this, that it would pull me back when necessary. This is the part that’s enabling me to write about my experience like an objective researcher writing a case study. I think it’s the part of the human psyche that finds serial killers so fascinating. – and, admittedly, part of why I study psychology.

I found the whole experience so interesting, I decided to intentionally cause it to happen again so I’d have an audio recording. If only I hadn’t deleted the file when I hit my first obstacle to transferring it from my phone to my computer. I’d really love to hear what I played, and to analyze it…

The title of this post is a reference to the musical Jekyll & Hyde, which is based on the novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. In the musical, Dr. Jekyll begins experimenting on himself in order to find a way to remove the evil in his father’s soul. He instead creates Mr. Hyde, an alter-ego who embodies and acts upon all of Jekyll’s “evil” urges – unchecked by morals or concern about his standing in society.

A double exposure image featuring Richard Mansfield as both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, taken by Henry Van der Weyde circa 1895. Public domain image downloaded from the Wikipedia Commons.

A double exposure image featuring Richard Mansfield as both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, taken by Henry Van der Weyde circa 1895. Public domain image from the Wikipedia Commons.

I’d be tempted to say I write about my “Mr. Hyde” on this blog all the time, but I only disclose part of it. I can admit to suicidal thoughts, habits I know are unhealthy, the temptation to give up on everything, frustration in relationships, anger, guilt, etc. I don’t use this blog to share my thoughts that are racist, wish dishonorable death upon certain politicians, objectify others for my own sexual gratification, devalue other people’s perspectives, etc. To do so would be inappropriate and harmful. I only mention these things now because I believe they are some of the human tendencies Mr. Hyde represents – and we each have our own version of him. We can’t separate him from the “good” part of our psyche, but we can limit his influence on our behavior. Perhaps we can even help him change to be less “evil.”

I think the more important character to examine is Dr. Jekyll, the one who unleashes Mr. Hyde. In the musical his stated intention is to cure his father, who is comatose. He isn’t allowed to experiment on other humans due to the risks involved, so he experiments on himself instead. The song “This is the Moment” reveals that his motivations aren’t really all that altruistic; he’s motivated by pride. He wants to prove himself, to prove “them” wrong. He’s not really being heroic. He’s being reckless.

Watch Robert Cuccioli perform “This is the Moment” on YouTube

Okay, so maybe the first time he transforms into Mr. Hyde it’s an accident. He had no way of knowing that would happen, right? Fine. The problem is that he keeps doing it, over and over, until he loses control. He prioritizes his research over his Self – and the safety of others.

You’re probably wondering what all this has to do with whole tones. Well I started out by practicing whole tone scales, then trying to improvise with them, but I was reckless. I didn’t do anything to ground myself, like going ahead and using a consonant interval (C and E) or playing one of the ostinati we’d practiced in class. (“Ostinati” is the plural of “ostinato,” a short musical phrase played over and over.) Without a predictable pattern, comforting intervals, something to keep me calm and ordered, I had no protection from the chaos.

Okay, so I banged on the piano for a while and made a lot of noise. It was during the day. Anyone who heard it was probably just a bit annoyed by it, then went on with their lives. I might have been the only one who heard it.

The problem is that I knew it was risky to allow my musical improvisation to become so chaotic, but I did it anyway. I felt unsafe – otherwise I wouldn’t have had thoughts urging caution; it wouldn’t have mattered that I was alone. I knew I was unleashing powerful forces I wasn’t prepared to deal with on my own. But instead of stopping the improvisation and moving on to something safer, I decided to go back, to go deeper into the abyss.

I’ll admit, it was kind of fun to romp around. When I needed to come back, I moved myself more and more toward consonant intervals. I played a G-major chord, regained conscious intentional control over my fingers, and explored tonal music for a while. I don’t remember exactly how I felt when I ended the improvisation, but I thought I was okay.

I wasn’t okay. My mind was in utter chaos. The light was too bright. There were too many colors and sounds. The clutter in my apartment that I can usually block out (or even find comforting) was overwhelming. Every thought splintered into several more. Each word brought on an association: an image or a song. That association would lead to another and another and another… it was all going too fast! I couldn’t focus my energy. I could barely move. All I could do was sit and put my head down and try to find something that wasn’t stimulating.

I texted Banji and told her: “I feel like I’m in the middle of a crowded room with hundreds of conversations going on around me, ten TVs set to different channels and blasting, ten radios also set to different stations and blasting, and there’s no escape!” She replied, “hugs,” and I sent her more texts describing how it had happened. I felt the tension melting away as I did so. Eventually I decided to take a shower, which provided sensations I find comforting (and pleasurable) and that brought me back into my body: in a word, grounding. My mind picked one (or maybe two?) thing(s) to focus on. I was even able to read a chapter of Yalom (The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy) during a Skype homework session with Banji.

I’m going to take it as a learning experience. At first I thought maybe whole tone improvisation was contraindicated (not a good idea) for me, but I think the more important lesson is the importance of grounding. There needs to be some kind of home base that can be referenced at any time and provides the foundation for the music experience.

More importantly, I can’t experiment on myself – no matter how much what I learn might benefit my future clients, or how “fascinating” it is. My safety has to come first; I need to recognize and respect my own boundaries.

Relationship Triangles

My mom bought a card for me to give to my aunt for her birthday and has been nagging reminding me to mail it. She says she wants to make my aunt feel good/special on her birthday and it’s very important, etc. etc. etc.

Which is all well and good. I get where she’s coming from. But I’m an adult now; I need to have adult relationships with my family members. I wasn’t thinking of getting my aunt a card, to be honest – I just planned to write “happy birthday” on her Facebook. However that might have made influenced her to feel is – or at least should be – between my aunt and me. But with my family, that’s not always the case…

I’ve noticed a pattern with how my mother and I relate, and I’ve finally figured out a concrete way to express it. In the image below, “Aunt A” could really be replaced with just about anyone, including my husband.

relationship triangle

ways of relating with my mom and a third person

The first (left) triangle simply illustrates that there are 3 people involved. Notice that Mom and I are closer to each other than to whomever the third person happens to be. This represents our enmeshment.

The second (middle) triangle shows what healthy relationships would look like. I have a 2-way relationship with my mom, independent of the third person. Mom and I each have a 2-way relationship with the third person, independent of each other. This is what I want, what seems most natural and logical to me, what I tend to see happening regardless of what the reality may be.

The third (right) triangle shows what’s been happening; I’ve noticed it in this case and when she nags encourages me to remind/help/coerce Fox (my husband) to do certain things. She has the healthy 2-way relationship with the third person (blue line), whether she chooses to use it or not. (She uses it with Aunt A – her sister – but I think she tends to ignore it when dealing with Fox.) And she uses me to influence the third person. I represent this in the image with a line that literally covers most of the word “Me,” making me invisible. The line is a shade of green that I consider repulsive, to demonstrate that this way of relating is unhealthy.

the third relationship triangle by itself

the third relationship triangle by itself

I didn’t draw the line representing my healthy 2-way relationship with Aunt A in the third triangle. If I had, then Mom’s green line would be obscuring that, too. She’s not just extending her power in her relationships by using me – she’s also controlling my relationships. I think this is the more important point – at least for me.

I’ve tried talking to her about it. I set a boundary by telling her that if she has an issue with Fox, then she should talk to him about it and not me. I told her that I would rather pick out my own card to send Aunt A for her birthday. I even told her I felt like I was being controlled.

But I’m not sure how to get to the root of what’s going on, except perhaps to show her this post. The boundary I truly need to set goes so much deeper than birthday cards or even in-person conversations about important things that Fox should be doing on his own without reminders from Mom or me. It has to do with me as a separate person, me with my own relationships. It’s saying she can’t use me as a way of relating to or influencing other people. She has to rely on her own (abundant) resources. She has to be honest with them.

And it’s taking responsibility for my own relationships. I get a lot of my family news from her (e.g. “How’s my godmother doing?”) and rely on her to convey messages (e.g. “Tell her I love her.”). I need to communicate directly with people I care about. I know that; it’s a work-in-progress.

But at least I’m honest about it. I don’t put her in the position of having to pretend she’s not conveying a message from me.

To be fair, I guess the most accurate relationship triangle with my mom and a third person would look something like this:

a more accurate relationship triangle with Mom and another person

a more accurate relationship triangle with Mom and a third person

That’s a lot of a repulsive shade of green being pointed at someone Mom and I both care about! It’s obscuring both Mom and me and hurting all our relationships – especially our relationship to each other (double whammy!). That’s not okay.

But now I can see it, and that’s the first step toward doing something about it. This is one of the many resources I’ve gained from therapy.

… Covered in Bees!

content notes: bee and wasp phobia, boundary issues

I couldn’t sleep last night. First, I didn’t want to go to sleep, even though I was tired and needed to be well-rested to have my first session of the new year with Wakana. I played a puzzle game on my phone until I was too tired to think, then switched to an app that’s supposed to help with relaxation and “stress relief.”

I usually drift off very easily while listening to the app’s guided meditation and complex background sounds, but last night was different. In short, I didn’t feel safe. There was a malicious voice, an ominous presence, like a demon. He twisted all the imagery in the guided meditation to be threatening. The deserted beach I had all to myself was deserted because no one wanted to be with me, so I was alone and no one was there to help me if I got hurt. The ocean I was sailing across was turbulent from a storm and full of dangerous creatures. My eyelids and muscles were relaxing and getting heavy so I’d be trapped there with him, completely helpless. The “low bed in the earth” – that’s how it was described, don’t ask me how that’s supposed to be relaxing – was a coffin!

I jerked myself out of the “relaxation,” turned off the recording, curled up in fetal position, and wept. I don’t know how much time passed, or how I finally fell asleep. But this is the dream I remembered when I awoke:

I was in a room like a college dorm room, with two beds. One was large – at least a full, maybe a queen – and covered in memory foam and very comfortable. Fox said he wanted that bed, and I agreed because I had a comfortable place of my own to sleep. I don’t remember exactly what it was, maybe a recliner or air mattress or something; I was content with it.

I set my sleeping place up next to another bed – which was like the extra-long twin beds in college dorm rooms – and looked around the room. I saw a dresser and a nightstand and thought, “I would really like to have someplace to put my water within reach while I sleep.” (In real life I have to sit up to reach the surface that functions as my nightstand.) I thought the nightstand would fit well at the foot of the dorm bed and be in just the right spot for me to use while resting on whatever it was I’d brought. However, before I could move the nightstand, something inspired me to check out the dorm bed – just in case I thought it might be a more comfortable place to sleep.

One end of the bed was raised off the floor as beds typically are, but the other was on the floor and the mattress formed a sharp angle. There was a large lump in the middle of the bed, like a foam wedge one might put under one’s knees to sleep more comfortably. It was under the sheet so I couldn’t really make out exactly what it was, but based on the available information I was thinking I didn’t want to sleep in that bed…

Then I saw a bee – more accurately, a wasp – perched at the peak of whatever was under the sheet, in the middle of the bed. It was a brown-red color. I think all wasps look menacing, so this one did, too. I tried to back away slowly, but it flew toward me. I knew it was going to sting me, it was only a matter of time. No matter what I did, how I moved, it wouldn’t go away. If I tried to swat or otherwise redirect it, it would just get angry and sting me more. I was terrified, helpless.

I awoke with a start – still exhausted, tense, anxious, and angry. But I made a connection I hadn’t noticed before: in all my nightmares about bees (wasps, yellow jackets, etc.) they are always attracted to me as soon as I notice them. They keep coming toward me no matter what I do, and it’s only a matter of time before I will get stung. I don’t think I’ve ever actually been stung in the dream – I wake up before it can happen. It’s the thing I dread. Overwhelming, paralyzing anxiety. To me it takes the form of a menacing insect. I think there’s usually only one in my visual field, but knowing they can swarm makes it much, much worse…

Right, the connection: bees represent my lack of boundaries.

I didn’t feel safe last night because the malicious being that was menacing me was in my head. No boundaries.

If I open my door to talk to Mom, Dog is likely to walk in (without acknowledging me) and sniff every centimeter of my apartment looking for something to eat. I usually remember to keep food out of his reach, but he likes to take dirty tissues (and other unsavory items) out of the garbage. The things I don’t want anymore, that are supposed to be discarded, unseen, are strewn across the floor in broad daylight. It feels like there’s no stopping him. No boundaries. I’m vulnerable.

When Mom comes in she notices the cluttered wreck my life has become (who wouldn’t?) and comments on it. She talks about rearranging the kitchen and says I need to get rid of this and that and offers to help me go through things, without asking me what I want to do about the mess. She compulsively picks up hair and dust off the floor while I watch awkwardly, feeling helpless and angry and ashamed. She asks questions about and tells me what to do in my relationship with my husband – all unsolicited. I think she’s been offering to help me clean because she’s bored.

Even when I enjoy spending time with Mom, then it needs to come to a close. We’re both getting tired, she’s said “let me go eat” about a gazillion times, and yet she keeps coming up with something new to talk about. “What else?” she asks over and over, like this is the last chance we’ll ever have to talk so we need to say everything to each other. She pushes and worms her way in and clings until I can’t take it anymore. Sometimes she leaves and then comes back. If I try to get her to leave more quickly she just clings even more. I feel like there’s no escaping her, and I’m going to get stung.

I’m having boundary issues with Fox, too. He moved my phone charger without telling me, so I was panicking that I’d lost it somehow – not hard to do with all the clutter. He’ll take heavy things from me (because I somehow lost all my physical strength as soon as I met a man?), move my stuff without asking, leave empty bottles all over the place, and let his alarm go off several times before he gets up. Food keeps going bad because we don’t eat it in time; often it gets shoved to the back of the fridge. I usually try to keep that from happening (e.g. when putting groceries away) so I think he’s at least partially (mostly) responsible. It makes me so angry! Sometimes he asks me not to eat something because he wants it and then it goes bad. Or, I go to eat something and it’s all but gone. I feel out of control.

We’ve been staying up too late and getting up too early and even though he tries to be considerate he wakes me multiple times when he’s getting ready for work. I can’t sleep with him because I don’t have enough room to relax fully and I can’t stand the sound of his snoring. When we sleep in different rooms he always needs to get or do something in the room I’m in (if he’s awake first). He calls me multiple times on his way home from work, which interrupts whatever I was doing.

He doesn’t drive, so he’s dependent on what public transportation is available in our area. It’s not the best, but it’s usually reliable; it’s also a bit of a walk from home. Mom tells me I should drive him there and back, so I feel obligated to do so and guilty when I don’t – even though he seems to think of it as me doing him a favor and not a service he’s entitled to. So it’s not just waking up earlier than I’d like, it’s having to get up and drive him somewhere. He tends to wait until the last minute, too, so it’s rushing and worrying about whether he’ll be on time. It’s not just being interrupted when he gets home, it’s having to stop what I’m doing and drive somewhere to pick him up. Occasionally he gets stranded somewhere and I have to go rescue him in the middle of the night. Then when we get home I want to be considerate and interact with him, but he wants to go on the computer.

I’m grateful that at least he’s working and he’s doing his best to be considerate and all that jazz. It’s just… frustrating. Especially when I can’t sleep. Even moreso when the thing I’m using to try and help myself sleep backfires. I could have been sleeping the past few hours but I feel like it’s wrong to sleep through the precious few daylight hours we get this time of year.

Sort of connected to lack of boundaries, perhaps my subconscious is trying to warn me about dependency. In college dorms, the beds are provided to students; they (especially the one in my dream) are not of the best quality, but they’re better than nothing. I’m currently dependent on my mother for housing. This apartment (like a twin bed) is nice for one person, but way too small for two.

In my dream I had my own place to sleep and was going to rearrange my environment using my own strength to meet my needs – without consulting or getting unsolicited advice from anyone. But then I wanted to see if I’d be more comfortable with the bed that was provided – dependency. Only then did the wasp become a threat – it might not have even existed before I approached the bed! I could have slept soundly on whatever it was that I’d brought into the room myself, with the nightstand I’d moved within easy reach. Instead, I considered being dependent on what was provided to me – even though I could tell from a distance that it was less than ideal. Only then did the wasp appear. It never actually stung me; it just prevented me from approaching the bed.

Maybe the wasp isn’t really the threat, maybe it’s a warning.

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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