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.

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.

Continue reading

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.

Does This Mean I’m Getting Better?

I’ve been taking some baby steps toward (finally!) completing my master’s degree and starting my career. It started with taking guitar and piano lessons during the Spring 2014 semester. Though I didn’t practice anywhere near as much as I would have liked, I did learn some useful things, acquire valuable resources for continuing my development on both instruments, and benefit from attending lessons semi-regularly.

If nothing else, being on campus enabled me to learn about two opportunities to compose music with clear guidelines, a deadline, and a chance of having the work performed. I’ve found composing to be very challenging but also very rewarding, well worth the effort for its own sake… and I look forward to hearing my first piece performed. The challenge I’m facing is not writing music that sounds good – sometimes that comes too easily – but using organized sound to evoke in the listener the difficult and complex emotions I’m trying to express… while also sounding good enough that the listener will want to continue listening. Right now this is the big thing that keeps me going: I can’t compose if I’m decomposing.

I’ve also been paying attention to emails from my academic adviser. Two were about new internship opportunities that both sound like they’d be excellent training for working with populations I’d be interested in. One is a little bit more in line with my interests, while the other involves an opportunity to work with someone I already know to be an excellent supervisor. I’m so tempted to apply for them both and (hopefully) start an internship in the Fall… but then I look at the requirements and my anxiety flares up.

Part of me just wants to get on with my life already, but the other doesn’t want to rush things. When I push too hard against my anxiety, it pushes back and the next thing I know I’ve been playing Skyrim (or The Sims 3, or another video game) for the past two days, and it’s the only thing I can think about for weeks. I’ve been telling my adviser I want to wade slowly back into the field with some supervised experience that, frankly, doesn’t require me to compete with others to get it. From my perspective, it’s an extension of the field experience that had been part of my training until it was time for me to apply for internships and I started having difficulty continuing my studies. (It was around the same time my current depressive episode hit hard and Banji moved several states away.)

Pursuing that option is a bit less straightforward and means it will be longer before I can get paid to work in my field, but I also perceive it as less risky. I can’t convince a potential internship supervisor who thinks someone else is a “better fit” to work with me instead, but I can keep emailing and calling my adviser until he’s set up a placement (something he has to do for other students, anyway). I expect we’ll set up clear requirements and any written work will make sense with what I’m already doing on-site, so I’ll have the structure I need to succeed. Then it’s just a matter of doing the work; I wish I could say with confidence that it’s totally under my control and of course I’ll stay on top of things, but experience dictates otherwise. What I can say is that I’ll work hard and learn from the experience and probably earn at least a B. Hopefully I’ll be able to work with my adviser and supervisor to overcome (or accommodate) any difficulties that come up as a result of my anxious depression or otherwise. Worst case scenario I’ll try and withdraw by the deadline to prevent it from hurting my GPA.

My adviser’s other email was about an online course I intend to take over the summer, primarily for its on-site experiential component. I wish I could benefit from that experience and then apply for the internships mentioned above, but their application deadlines are much too soon. I’m hoping that in addition to “getting my feet wet” again (and networking!), this course will help me set up some kind of adaptive schedule/routine for myself. Class won’t be meeting in person, but I can decide on days and times to take my laptop (a nice privilege) to the library and do schoolwork. Maybe I can even contact the other students about setting up a study group?

There’s also the pesky need for a paying job… I think I’m going to have to bite the bullet, apply everywhere that’s hiring regardless of whether the job description makes me want to vomit, be a different (upbeat and energetic!) person at interviews, and see who hires me. It’s about as far from appealing as you can get but I need the money and I keep telling myself any amount of income will feel better than no income. Anyways I’d really like to be working or at least have a job lined up by September, but that first composition deadline (see above) is actually a higher priority.

By the way, have I mentioned how frustrating it is that everyone wants upbeat and energetic employees? Being downbeat and lethargic doesn’t sell, I get that, but they might as well advertise that they discriminate against people with depression and/or social anxiety. It really feels like I need to become a different person – or at least pretend to be one – in order to have any shot at finding a job. Certainly there are other attributes, such as ability to learn/follow directions, ability to listen, knowledge in a certain field(s), ability to count money, understanding of word processing and spreadsheets, etc. that contribute to employability. If you want me to mop the floor I can mop the floor, hell I’ll even smile at any customers who meet my eye while I’m doing so. They’d probably prefer I didn’t start conversations with them or pull them into some sort of energetic dance routine while they’re trying to do… whatever they’re doing. Not everyone likes upbeat, energetic people; some relate better to calm, quiet people or knowledgeable, straightforward people or active listeners or compassionate people. I can do any or all of those; sometimes I can even pull off upbeat and/or energetic, just not all the time.

Anyways, I’ve been putting in some nice work: the above and continuing to see Wakana regularly. Meanwhile, Fox has been sleeping on the couch, watching YouTube videos, and playing Skyrim. To be fair, he also does the dishes (mostly – I help sometimes), heats up food, and if I remind him enough times he’ll do the laundry (and complain about it).

I was feeling very resentful toward him because now my mother is supporting both of us, I’ve burned through my resources feeding him that would have lasted a lot longer if I’d only spent them on myself, and any progress I’m making is despite his rather depressing influence on me. I had resolved to give him a deadline by which he must either A: show he’s putting in significant work toward advancing his career goals and our goal of raising a family together, or B: move back in with his family of origin (which would be inconvenient for them as well as him, but they’d be better able to support him financially as well as in making the progress he needs).

Then we talked, and I just couldn’t be that confrontational; the only way I could get the words out was by expressing concern for his well-being and that I want/need him to work on improving his health, starting his career, and contributing financially. Even if it means asking me to help him with things, I’m happy to help where I see him showing interest at the very least. He listened and expressed wanting to contribute more and agreed to make an effort; we hugged and felt better. I guess time will tell if the conversation changes anything.

To be honest I’m inclined to keep asking him to move out on the back burner as a possibility, but I want to do my best to be supportive of him. It goes against everything I’ve been reading, writing, and talking to Wakana about detachment, but I did vow to stay with this guy through thick and thin. Despite everything logic would dictate, I still love him (and I recognize that part of loving him is not enabling him, but pushing him to work toward the goals he’s had since before he met me). The worst part is the effect the situation has had on our relationship: we’ve lost nearly all our passion and emotional intimacy. Sometimes I still feel some of it when I make a real, concentrated effort to engage him in conversation and/or an activity we both enjoy. I hope it will come back if we both nurture it enough.

I guess on some level I blame his current level of depression on myself because he – we both – seemed a lot more functional when we first met. I can point to other factors that have contributed to my current difficulties, but for him there’s whatever he had going on before we met, some family stressors that may or may not be bothering him – he doesn’t really talk about how they impact him emotionally, so I’m not sure how big a role they play – and, well, me: coping with my anxious depression symptoms, adapting to my reduced sex drive and emotional withdrawal from him, supporting me emotionally, distancing himself (farther) from his friends, moving to a new location, living with my mom… honestly, it’s gotta be hell. Maybe we’d both be better off if he moved out and we waited to live together until we can both get the mental health care and raise the money we need to have a healthy, mutually-supportive relationship living in our own house.

As it stands, I see our roles changing. Since we met I’ve increasingly been taking on the “sick role,” a sociological concept originally developed by Talcott Parsons in the 1950s. I’m the one who has a serious illness, I’m the one who needs support and comfort and help accessing healthcare, me me me. Everyone must drop their entire lives to help me. Fox was thrust into the role of caregiver (or “supporter,” as he put it) and our relationship skewed so most of our collective energy went to trying to help me (and was ultimately sucked into the black hole that is anxious depression).

And the painful thing is, most of it wasn’t even about him! It was about wanting my mother to finally stop doing the very same thing to me and, well, be a mother. She’s finally become emotionally independent enough and started providing me with enough helpful support (and I’ve gotten enough of it from loved ones and Wakana) that I don’t feel the need to flail and cry at the top of my lungs anymore. I still need support from loved ones, therapy, and possibly meds, but I don’t want to be in this role anymore. I’ve seen what it does to caregivers (Mom, Uncle “D”, Aunt “A,” my cousins, myself, my ex, and now Fox) and to relationships. And I’ve found it so stifling, especially when I think I’m “doing my job” and “getting better” just to “relapse” the next day. I just want to be a person, and perhaps I have some needs that are different and maybe even a bit more intense than other people’s, and that’s okay. We can all handle it. No more black holes.

Now I’m stepping out of the “sick role” and Fox – I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt – has fallen into it. I want to be helpful and supportive but I can’t risk this being a yo-yo cycle of one of us becoming just better enough to keep the other from committing suicide, then that person gets just better enough to keep the first from committing suicide, rinse and repeat. We each need to be a healthy, capable, functioning, whole person, because that’s what we each need. When we come together, I want us to make magic. It doesn’t really matter to me whether we’re living together or not while we work toward becoming whole, though I’ll admit to crying as I write this. What matters to me is that we both get there… even if it means separating.

Detachment

My mom’s side of the family is having a reunion, which will be over tomorrow when we all go our separate ways again. It’s been a crazy hectic experience and I’m glad I got to spend time with them… and I’ve had enough of them to last a lifetime until the big family wedding celebration Fox and I are planning for November.

Over the course of our time here, I’ve realized that Mom is the sane one among her siblings, and I’m about on par with my saner cousins. My relationship with Mom is the epitome of functionality compared with the relationships my cousins have with their parents.

Let’s just take a moment to let that sink in.

This whole thing has really put a lot into perspective for me. I’ve seen (and heard my cousins comment on, with a calm acceptance) our complete and utter lack of effective communication. I’ve been cut off in the middle of my sentence a million times, as though the person I was talking to had no idea I was even speaking. I’ve heard so much about everyone else’s anger, anxiety, and dissatisfaction with their relationships and the relationships of others that I’ve lost touch with my own emotions and relationships. I’ve silenced myself to avoid contributing to the mess of negativity because I realized that adding my opinion won’t help or change anything. I’m completely avoiding one of my aunts, and my uncle as a result, because I just can’t deal with all the negativity surrounding the two them. I don’t think they’ve even noticed.

I’ve also had my mother stand up for me, asking what I’d said or repeating it to make sure others heard and accommodated my needs. She also said she was proud of me for standing up for myself when I wanted to do something Fox was unsure about. Fox has done his best to be supportive and avoid adding to my stress, but this trip has been overwhelming for him. He’s not used to the level of insanity that’s normal for this family and he hasn’t been able to get enough sleep. Yesterday he was saying he needs a vacation from our vacation.

If I could do it all over again, I’d bring my audio recorder so I could play back highlights from this reunion for Wakana.

Before I share some of them, here’s a visual reference so you have some idea whom I’m talking about and how they’re related to me. Circles are females; squares are males. I’m highlighted in red and have a weird shape because I’m gender queer. An X through a shape means the person is deceased. Two parallel diagonal lines means the couple is divorced. The gray dashed line means the couple was never married but live together and have a “romantic” relationship. The numbers (e.g. 70s) and the word “teen” refer to the approximate ages of the people they’re near. I didn’t include family members who weren’t present for the reunion.

 

a series of circles and squares connected by horizontal and vertical lines to show family relationships on Ziya's mother's side of the family

part of Ziya’s family tree

On Wednesday, my cousin “M” brought my aunt “A”, Mom, Fox, and me downtown and we went to a bar that had dueling pianos. We were all stressed from traveling and “A” had had a particularly hard time, but we were able to relax and enjoy ourselves. The music was fantastic and I loved observing how the pianists were engaging the crowd while singing familiar feel-good songs at the top of my lungs. We decided to leave about the time I got tired of people bumping into me (and started feeling anxious because Mom had said we were giving the bar a bad reputation by being old and taking forever to finish one drink.)

On Thursday we went back downtown to see the art, hear the music, and visit the shops. “M” drove my cousin “U”, Fox, and me; “A” drove in her car with her boyfriend “B” and Mom. First “A” was saying she needed gas, then she didn’t want to stop where “M” suggested, then “B” started pressuring her to get gas after we passed the last convenient stop so she insisted that we find some as soon as possible. We ended up driving several hours out of our way, relying on “U”‘s GPS to find our way downtown; the trip took more than twice as long as it should.

“M” kept saying “A” was going to be mad at her for this and that, adding to the stress. I wanted to tell her I do that too and how I cope with it, but every time I opened my mouth I got interrupted. I decided it just wasn’t worth the effort to try and have a meaningful conversation with either of my cousins.

By the time we got to our destination, “A” was too pissed off at the world and in too much pain to enjoy being downtown. She and “B” sat on their own while the rest of us did our best to enjoy ourselves. I got to do most of what I wanted and Mom did her best to support me in having a good time, but I was weighed down by negativity. I didn’t like the pictures she took of me and I felt judged for buying souvenirs and I was judgmental toward some of the establishments we passed.

We stopped in an outdoor area with excellent live music where I wanted to sit and enjoy myself, but I was also dehydrated. While we were buying bottled water Fox decided to get an additional item; that took some extra time. We came back into the area where we could listen to the music near the end of “What a Wonderful World”; I’m so glad I stopped to listen because it was excellent. The singer even did the Louis Armstrong voice “oh yeah” at the end and he was spot on.

We settled down next to the rest of the group and Mom said it was time to leave. We all thought the musicians were going to take a break, so leaving made more sense than waiting around for them to start up again. I was overcome with frustration: I was angry that I’d missed the music and angry at myself for wasting what time I could have spent listening to it buying something. I just wanted to get out of the situation; there was no more enjoyment in it for me. But the musicians started playing another song, so when Mom asked if I wanted to stay I said that I did. We listened to the one song and then left. I appreciated everyone’s willingness to stay, but felt very embarrassed about losing control and guilty for imposing on them. Hi, shame.

Thursday night the cousins, including “O” (“U”‘s sister) and “J” (“M”‘s son), convened. We bonded over playing Apples to Apples and talking about our parents. “U” said that “A” and “B” were just like his and “O”‘s parents (“C” and “D”); that’s about when I realized that Mom is the sane one among her siblings.

On Friday we were supposed to go to “M”‘s house early and take pictures with her son “S” before attending his high school graduation. We were waiting for our ride when we found out “C” (who is blind, has mobility issues, is accident prone, willfully fails to follow directions, and has a reputation for falling on purpose) had fallen in the shower. She was sitting on the handicap seat engaging in normal shower activities when the seat disconnected from the wall, causing her to fall and hit her head.

So my uncle “D” and cousins “O” and “U” had to take “C” to the hospital. My concern for her (along with everyone else’s, far as I could tell) was tainted by anger that she was drawing attention to herself and away from “S” on his big day, anxiety that we wouldn’t get to see “S” graduate, and confusion regarding when we were going to leave (if ever.) On top of all that, “M”‘s husband “K” was stranded on the way home from his daughter’s graduation in another state, so we weren’t sure whether he’d be back in time to see “S” graduate.

“D” left “C” at the hospital so he could drive “A”, “B”, Mom, Fox, and me to the graduation. Fox and I had to sit in the far back of the vehicle as we drove in bumper-to-bumper traffic, which made me feel dangerously nauseous. The graduation was great (if a bit loud) and leaving was about half as stressful as getting there had been. “D” tried to back out of his spot while “A” was still getting into her seat behind him. Once that crisis had been resolved and “D” could back out safely, his sisters kept yelling frantically at him about everything. My attempts to calmly warn him about people walking behind us went unheard.

Finally we were creeping along and I was making every effort keep my heart in my chest and my lunch in my stomach. I don’t even want to know what my mom and her siblings were saying to each other. There was no room in the conversation for me, nothing I said would have made a difference (or been heard), and listening to it was doing nothing but hurting me.

And then I remembered one word: Detachment. That word has saved many lives on this trip. “M” and “O” try to remember not to “engage;” when they all start in I just tell myself, “Detachment.” Detachment allows me to maintain some sense of myself, even if it’s as the eye of the storm that is my dysfunctional family. They’re all going to do what they’re going to do and say what they’re going to say and feel how they’re going to feel. It doesn’t matter what I think they should do, and saying something isn’t going to make any difference. I can’t stop them from barging into my room and loudly spouting negativity all over the place with no regard for my existence, the fact that they’ve interrupted whatever I was doing, the fact that Fox was trying to sleep, etc.

All I can do is try to remain aware of what I need. When “O” walked in and started yelling in my mother’s direction about how her parents were treating each other, I asked her to take the conversation somewhere else or at least give me a chance to get out of the room before continuing. She decided to leave; I felt horrible because I realized I’d be horribly stressed if I were in her situation and I’d prevented her from venting. We later apologized to and forgave each other; it felt good to have an honest respectful conversation where both sides listened to each other. (I’d had a similar one with Mom earlier, too.)

Saturday was the graduation party, which was fun. “U” bought my beverages of choice on the way there. There were kids and adults playing, tasty new foods to try, a very nice older woman with a soothing voice and interesting stories to tell, and I actually got to spend some time with my uncle “D”. We watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes as the party slowed down and people went their separate ways. Once it was just the family again we played Phase 10. Fox won, “J” came in second, and I came in third. The only thing that truly upset me the whole game was that “A”, who complains incessantly about everything, was giving Fox a hard time for being frustrated when he got stuck with a lot of points. Who wouldn’t be?

Yesterday we attended a festival that would have been a lot more fun if I’d known where the interactive activities were, instead of just wandering around in the hot sun looking at interesting items I really shouldn’t buy and waiting for people. I made the most of it by dancing to the live music that was playing loud enough to hear it from just about anywhere. That was fun. Mom bought me the souvenir that I’d been seriously considering.

We went downtown again so “O” would have a chance to explore, unhindered by her parents. It was a short excursion, for which my feet were grateful. I took advantage of the opportunity to “fill in some of the gaps” in my previous experiences downtown and would say I’ve had my fill for this trip. I hope “O” and “U” (and everyone else who was with us) also enjoyed themselves.

It’s very upsetting because “C” can’t do what she keeps saying she wants to without a lot of assistance. In my opinion it’s not safe for “C” to go to the areas we’ve explored because the sidewalks are uneven and riddled with dangerous holes. But when I suggested to “O” that she look up a guide for tourists with disabilities, she calmly informed me that “C” is too stubborn for anyone in her immediate family to benefit from such a resource. They are all stuck catering to “C”‘s every whim and risking their own health and safety by taking her around an area that lacks the accommodations she needs. And she won’t listen to them when they try to, say, guide her away from the random hole in the middle of the street where a person with excellent balance and coordination could still fall and break their leg. It’s a nightmare.

I decided then and there that I wanted to have nothing to do with “C” going downtown, even though it left me with nothing to do on my last day here. “M” is with them, “K” is working, “J” has school, “S” is on vacation with his friends, I need some space from Mom, “A”, and “B”, and Fox and I don’t have access to transportation other than our own feet. Now that I’ve vented I want to go to the pool and swim for a while, or at least go outside and enjoy the fresh air.

I have a few hours before dinner, when the shit will probably hit the fan again. At least I found my riot gear.