Back to School

I still haven’t received feedback regarding my portfolio, so I don’t know what classes (if any) I’ll be taking this coming semester. So I don’t know what my schedule will be. So I don’t know if I can do certain things that I would like to do, etc. My whole life is in limbo right now, and it sucks.

eff that shit

I’ve decided I’m going back to school. Even if somehow I’m not taking classes (I’ll probably end up taking something) I can come on campus and use the facilities. Like practice rooms to play around with musical ideas I can use while composing. Or the library. Or even the rec center.

And I dunno maybe if I do these things it’ll put out the energy I need to make what I want happen. We can be optimistic, right?

I decided to try it today. The music building was practically empty so it was easy to find a practice room (that simply does not happen during the semester!). I did some warm-up exercises on the piano, then started to play. I ended up recording something weird and kinda fun and jazz-like? Then I listened to it and decided to play around with the audio files…

And then I was completely and utterly exhausted. Like quite possibly from lack of food – I just kinda grabbed a snack on the way out the door and hadn’t eaten in a few hours. But even munching some extra food I kept in my bag didn’t help much. Now I’m in the library not being particularly productive (I tried! but I couldn’t focus) and feeling like I want to go to sleep.

Which wouldn’t be an issue except that there’s an Italian conversation group I joined last month that I haven’t been back to. I really want to go, but like last week I completely forgot about it and this week I’m too tired to drive almost an hour, and I feel a bit awkward if I’m the only one who gets something to eat, and I had trouble hearing people last time? (which makes conversing in one’s native language hard enough, never mind a second language) and I don’t really want to talk to new acquaintances about “well I’m trying to go back to school but I don’t know if it’s gonna happen and in the meantime no I’m not working I just kinda sit around all day maybe playing games but not being particularly productive.”

My therapist suggested trying to steer the discussion in the direction of “things we’re interested in” and I could talk about music and composing and storytelling… but I dunno if I have the energy to steer anything. I just want to take a nap.

Not Okay

He said I needed to submit my composition portfolio by July 1st. So I scheduled the email for 8am.

Okay, I was having some trouble figuring out what to do with the last piece. I probably could’ve done a lot better. But I thought the stuff I pulled together was interesting, at least?

At first I just wanted a break from composing like non-stop, and getting so anxious over the deadline I couldn’t focus. So for a few days to a week I played Skyrim.

And I didn’t hear back. I was still anxious. So even though I “should” do this and that, I’ve had trouble getting myself to. I’ve emailed him 3 times asking him to at least confirm that he’s received the portfolio. Nada.

And it’s just gotten worse, and worse. I started doubting whether I actually have what it takes. I imagined him saying I suck at this. I kinda feel like I suck at this. And I feel guilty for not writing a single note since I submitted my portfolio on July 1st.

I mean, if it’s living, then wtf am I doing?

Then Fox lost his job because the idiots running his company couldn’t make enough money to keep his store open (HR outright admitted that the employees were doing great, corporate screwed up). So he’s been dealing with unemployment and applying for jobs… but mostly we’re both just kinda at a loss.

I dunno, I did the dishes today, that counts as something, right?

Oh and I got a call from people fundraising for a local police association. I listened to their spiel, then asked what the association is doing about police violence toward people of color. The salesperson forwarded me to his supervisor, who said she’s just a paid fundraiser and gave me the number of the association. I found their deer-in-the-headlights response… interesting. I’m kinda undecided whether to call the number. On the one hand I’m genuinely curious about the answer. On the other I’m anxious about cold-calling anyway and I don’t know if the person will be nice and explain things or hostile or manipulative or what. But I’m kinda hoping getting questions like that will put pressure on police organizations to do something – like training cops to treat POC the same way they treat white people. Right?

I dunno, I talk big but I’m finding it very hard to do anything.

Fortunately one thing that was kinda hanging over my head has been resolved, so that helps me feel a bit freer to look into new possibilities. And I’m gonna follow up with whats-his-face (you know I’m mad at someone when I call them whats-his-face) on Monday. Depending on his answer – or if I don’t get an answer – I might start composing again out of spite. And possibly looking into other programs, or other careers. (I feel like a lot of the jobs I’ve seen and thought “hey that could be cool” require computer programming.)

Oh and Duolingo has an Arabic course. It’s… entertaining, at least, with some of the stuff it teaches you to say. So I got into that and now I can recognize all the characters and (mostly) associate the right sounds with them. My reading is very slow if I’m trying to sound things out, but I’m starting to recognize specific words as a whole. I can also sing the Arabic lyrics in “Beyond the Stars” by Myrath. And my library provides card holders free access to Rosetta Stone, so I’ve started its Arabic course. If I’m accomplishing anything lately it’s… basically that.

And tabletop RPG collective storytelling. I’ve GM’d a couple sessions recently, experimenting with different levels and types of preparation. I tend to write out guides for myself kinda like the pre-created adventures in D&D? To be honest it’s a lot of work and you end up having to improvise a lot anyway. (Pro Tip: If you want players to learn about a location by exploring it, do not tell them it has a library, or a hall of records. :facepalm:) But, I gotta admit, part of me is wondering whether that’s something I could find a way to get paid to do.

I forgot to refill my prescriptions until I ran out – of course on the day I was running late and had to rush out the door. I tried to put in the refill request for the clonazepam first, but was unsuccessful; somehow my prescriptions got de-synchronized so I was out of refills with that Rx number and I didn’t have the new one to put in. I was in crazy anxiety rush mode, so I didn’t try refilling the lamotrigine – even though it had 2 more refills with that Rx number.

I asked Fox to go to the pharmacy for me and he did, because he’s wonderful. He said (they said) they didn’t have anything in the system for me. I was tabling at a pride event and he had to leave for work and it was Sunday, so there wasn’t really any opportunity to follow through on anything.

On Monday I realized I should’ve tried to refill the lamotrigine, better to have one of my meds than neither, right? That was no problem, but I had to speak to a pharmacy representative to deal with the clonazepam. The person I talked to at the pharmacy had an irritating tone to her voice and was too nonchalant, like there was no problem with them not having the information necessary to make sure I have access to a medication that keeps me alive. She didn’t even try to be polite like saying ‘sorry’ – but she did offer to fax my prescriber. And she explained that the clonazepam prescription had expired because it’s a controlled substance, so it has to be filled within 30 days.

I walked to the pharmacy with my inner voices screaming, an irritable mess, barely holding myself together. By the time I got the lamotrigine my ears were ringing and my eyes were so full of static everything was in a darkened haze and I couldn’t think straight and everything felt completely WRONG. That was after missing one dose – and it’s not even that high a dose. I took the dose – better to at least take one of my meds, right? and everything cleared within minutes. The difference was noticeable to Ron over the phone.

I had to play phone tag with my prescriber for a couple days, but I was able to refill the clonazepam today. I didn’t notice as much as an effect when I took it, except that maybe I’m a bit calmer? And I was rather sleepy, I attributed it to waking early from a bad dream, but the medication is known to make people drowsy. Ron seemed surprised I’m able to function at all taking [my dose] of it every day.

To be honest, between what ze’s been telling me about it and what I’ve read online, I’m a bit wary about staying on the clonazepam. Apparently it’s habit forming and it’s better not to take it for extended periods of time. But my prescriber added it for a reason – I think because even with my mood stabilized I was still struggling with anxiety. And I don’t know if I wrote about this yet, but my prescriber is retiring, so I need to find a new one within the next month or two. I’d rather not change my meds until I’ve developed a good rapport with the new prescriber.

So, yay, I’m back on my meds! I anticipate that going a day without lamotrigine and two days without clonazepam will have thrown my levels off; it might take a while for them to get back to normal. And I’m a bit shaken by how profound my (withdrawal?) symptoms were before I took the lamotrigine. I’d come to accept that I’ll probably be taking these medications for the rest of my life, and I’d rather do so consistently than risk going back to how things were before I started taking them. Still, this was a rough reminder of how dependent I am.

TW: verbal, emotional, & sexual abuse; transphobia; description of manic symptoms

I should not have allowed Ron to drive home at 2am two weeks ago. I should have talked zir into going to the hospital.

I just … I’ve read about how traumatic mental health hospitalization can be. I volunteered on a locked adult psych ward – and I was terrified they’d figure out I should be there as a patient and prevent me from leaving. Ron talked about how horrible being hospitalized was, I’m not sure if that was before or since the last time I wrote about zir. On a personal level I’m generally inclined against seeking medical help – especially going to the hospital – unless absolutely necessary, like life or death … But I shouldn’t have fallen back on that. I risked Ron’s life, allowed zir to go untreated for another week – during which zir symptoms got worse and zir behavior became a risk to zirself and others – and allowed it to get to the point where ze was involuntarily committed (by someone else).

Worse, I subjected myself to nearly 48 hours of being ranted at, manipulated, and abused. I feel like it’s set me back at least a year, maybe two, in terms of my own mental health. I’ve spent the past week on an emotional roller coaster, replaying the most painful moments over again in my mind, and debating whether I have any right to describe someone else’s symptoms on my blog. Well, those symptoms interacted with my mental health issues to make it so there are times when I feel dead inside. I’m having self-harm thoughts and urges again. That’s mine to write about!

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Hypomanic and Depressed at the Same Time

I read an article today and now my world makes so much more sense. In a Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) “Ask the Doc” article, Dr. Mark Bauer, MD states that:

“[T]he most common mood state in bipolar disorder is a mixture of hypomanic/manic and depressed symptoms. In fact, the classic picture of bipolar disorder having a course alternating between the poles of high and low moods is an over-simplification.”

He goes on to explain mania and hypomania more clearly, basically describing them as hyperactivation – feeling “sped up” and driven. This can feel good (e.g. grandiosity), bad (e.g. irritability), and everywhere in between. In other words, mood and activation level are two different things.

Ergo, we can think of bipolar disorder as

“a condition of recurring depressive periods punctuated by periods of hyperactivation – and sometimes these periods of hyperactivation alternate with slowed down, depressed periods, but at other times they overlap.”

That. Is. My. Life. It’s very rare for me to experience a period of time with no depressive symptoms; at best my symptoms become few and mild enough that I don’t meet the criteria for clinical depression for a couple days to a few weeks. But periods of hyperactivation… just look through my blog and you’ll see my posts about “I’m going to do this new thing that will change the world,” staying up all night composing, “now I’m getting better and I’m mad at Fox all the time,” and most recently “Let’s Play Skyrim!”

I usually feel better during my periods of hyperactivation because 1) I have energy to do things and 2) I’m hyper-focused on something that’s meaningful to me, at least while the hyperactivation lasts. Sometimes I don’t feel so good because I want to Do All The Things!!! but I can’t focus on one thing to do, so my mind is a jumbled mess. I’ve also tried to be a part of too many different groups at once, which invariably results in me feeling overwhelmed, backing out, feeling guilty, and my depression symptoms becoming more severe. As far as I can tell, all of my periods of hyperactivation have occurred at times when I also met the criteria for mild depression. (Possibly also moderate depression.) In other words, I’ve never had a discrete hypomanic or manic episode.

I try not to put too much importance on labels; what’s really important is that the needs of the person with a mental health issue are being met. But having a label creates a container for my experience; I can understand it and talk to other people about it and know I’m not the only one who’s had that experience. Finding labels that accurately describe my experiences helps me feel safe. I obviously can’t diagnose myself, but the label “bipolar disorder” seems to become more accurate the more I learn about the experiences it’s intended to describe.

I know I’ve been “depressed” lately because I’ve been feeling sad and/or grumpy, isolating, having trouble eating full meals, apologizing for my existence, and thinking “I want to die” when I’m tired. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before my world starts unraveling (again): I worry about Fox’s safety, our rats’ health, my own health, the house burning down, etc. Calling these experiences “depression” helps me separate a bit from them, accept them, and engage in self-care.

Let’s Play Skyrim

Welcome to a repeat of my post from April 2014! I like to think I’ve come a long way since then: I’m hopeful regarding my future. I feel a strong positive connection with Fox (my husband) and other loved ones, especially when we express our mutual affection. I have been playing video games, but for reasonable periods of time and without allowing them to interfere with living my real life. (It’s been several months since the last time I played Skyrim.)

On Tuesday my prescriber told me that I’m doing great, switched my prescription to one dose per day, and said to come back in 3 months. I’ve started addressing my social anxiety with help from my music therapist, Wakana. The last couple days have been a fun reunion with dear college friends. Honestly, the only not-so-awesome thing going on for me right now is the problem with my computer… and even that seems close to being resolved.

I’m doing this re-post because I’ve started obsessively practicing lines for the first couple episodes if I ever do a Let’s Play of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It’s kind of annoying because I’ve already said the same things many times, and yet I still feel compelled to repeat them over and over. It’s better than having a panic attack because a bee bounced off my windshield while I was driving, imagining wasps attacking me, or being afraid to look in the mirror at night because I was traumatized by a movie I watched as a pre-teen, though.

My anxieties – social anxiety, general feelings that something horrible will happen, and my bee/wasp/hornet phobia – have been flaring up like crazy lately. It kind of makes sense that my defense would be to concentrate on a fantasy world, where I can load from a recent save if I don’t like what happens. The lines I’ve been practicing focus almost exclusively on character creation, the one part of the game over which the player has nearly total control.

There are a lot of parallels between my current situation and the context for the original version of this post (below). I was feeling good about my life, being active and social, trying new things, and acting like a responsible adult then, too. My anxiety was flaring up then, too – driving my mind to grab onto whatever it could as a security blanket:

I had an epic day of being awesome on Thursday, so I was exhausted on Friday. I spent what part of the day I wasn’t sleeping practicing Zentangles and hanging out with friends. Saturday was similarly low-key. After drawing my Zentangle for the day, I was itching to play a video game: something beautiful and epic and new…

So I started a game of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on PC. Next thing I knew, the sun was rising. I took a nap and basically spent all of Sunday playing thoroughly immersed in that fictional world. I’m enjoying the game and want to experience the story, but to be honest there are aspects of it I find rather stressful. Melee combat, for one – especially since the default difficulty was too high for me and I kept dying. I’ve been doing much better since I dialed it down a notch, but I still prefer to avoid melee combat when possible.

The other thing I find stressful is that, whether a character is attacking me physically or not, they’re talking at me. The physical attackers hurl insults that can hurt more than their blades (except that they’re obviously wrong, because I end up killing them.) Other characters I pass might say something mean, ask me for something, or randomly tell me their life story.

Some of the other characters in Skyrim say very mean things to the player character, especially if you’re playing one of the less popular races. […] I’m still concerned that hearing negative talk consistently for hours at a time can be harmful… at least for me.

[…]

Anyways, as much as I want to just play the game and have fun with it – learning things as I come across them and making decisions spontaneously – my mind wants to plan out a Let’s Play. The most basic definition of a Let’s Play is a video that combines actual gameplay footage with simultaneous audio commentary by the player; it can be a walkthrough, a challenge run, friends goofing off (whether playing competitively or collaboratively), even a talk about a topic that has nothing to do with video games. Fox’s favorite Let’s Player (LPer) is HCBailley.

I love the idea of Let’s Plays and have wanted to do one for a few years now. I had a couple false starts, but on some level I’m convinced it’s only a matter of time before I get one going that I can be consistent with (and get all the YouTube followers!). It’s an opportunity to do some video editing – which I enjoy for the process at least as much as the product – and share my thoughts about the game. I want to share the story, be witty and entertaining, and give a feminist critique.

I’m trying to convince my mind to put the Let’s Play idea on the back burner for now. Let me learn to be consistent with things that are important to my real life before I start a project that requires me to play a long and involved video game on a regular schedule (and in manageable doses). […]

The thing is, if I think about the game when I’m not actively playing it, there isn’t much to say. I have my character. I’d like to improve my smithing and melee combat abilities. I’m really glad I can mute the voices and determine when subtitles appear. I’m not entirely sure it was wise to drop all of my gold on a house this early in the game, but it’s a place to keep the dragon bones and scales I’ve been collecting. It also enabled me to adopt a child; interacting with her causes me to feel warm and fuzzy inside. I could think about which quest to start next, but they’re all in a nice convenient log for me so I can just decide next time I play.

The above don’t give my mind much to grab onto, and it doesn’t like that. Moving forward with my real-life career goals, dealing with real-life people (especially strangers in positions of authority), and even just being fully present in the moment are all things that provoke my anxiety. My mind needs something to grab onto, something to think about so incessantly there isn’t room for thoughts about the real world in general and my own life in particular.

It was hoping the Let’s Play would provide such a security blanket; it wants to lure me into thinking about my ideal character build instead of actually developing skills I need in real life. It wants me to direct my creative energy into witty commentary about the game instead of into composing original music, creating original art, or writing anything worth reading. It wants me to feel good about earning virtual money to make a virtual home pleasant and cozy… instead of finding a real job, earning real money, decluttering my real home, and raising a real family.

Oh, Mara, I thought I’d gotten past this. I should have known! How could reading a few chapters of a book once truly change the way I think about and perceive myself? How could it counteract a lifetime of internalized messages reinforced by my perception of my experiences?

[…]

I thought I was doing better but then… I don’t know! Did I push myself too hard and need some downtime to recover? Did I relapse? Am I making any progress, or am I just walking in circles completely lost? I hate being unable to trust my own perception of reality.

Conflicting Emotions in a Professional Setting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My skin feels as thin as gossamer.

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

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

Sometimes I Just Need to Sleep on You

Allow yourself to feel your emotions, she said. You’ll feel less tired when you’re not repressing them, she said.

Bull. Shit.

Okay, I let the sadness up. Happy? I even admitted to a pain that’s been brewing inside me for over half my lifetime (the fuck). What else do you want from me? Cotton candy? Let’s go, I’ll buy you some right now. I’m sick of this shit.

There is a thing gnawing on my insides. My stomach and my heart and my lungs. It’s big and ugly and it keeps growing. It’s turning my whole body nasty colors, from the inside out. It causes a deep ache and sometimes it stings and it’s always there.

Maybe I’m just hungry. I eat, it gets the food, but it’s still gnawing on me. Let’s go for a walk. Okay, I walk. Maybe I’m distracted from the pain for a while. It’s still there. You tell a joke. I laugh. It feels good. Maybe it loses its grip for a moment. But then I stop laughing, and it goes back to gnawing. When I cry, that’s it gnawing so loudly you can actually hear it. When I sleep it keeps me from resting fully and fills my mind with all sorts of crazy thoughts and dreams. When I wake – you guessed it! – still there.

I just want it out of me. Can you do that? I’ll give you anything. I’ll do anything. Just make it stop!

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.

Oh! How It Burns! (depression checklist)

I have now been tracking my scores on the Burns Depression Checklist for four months straight! Go me!
(July-August, August-September, September-October)

This month, my average score was 18. My scores for more than half the days were in the teens (the low end of mild depression); I had an unprecedented 5 days when my score dropped below 10, into the “normal but unhappy” range. To put things in perspective, my usual level of functioning is mild-to-moderate depression; “normal but unhappy” days are the best days of my life! This month’s scores are a huge improvement over previous months (linked above), when I was moderately depressed on most days.

Ziya's scores on the Burns Depression Checklist from October 17, 2014 to November 18, 2014.

Ziya’s scores on the Burns Depression Checklist from October 17, 2014 to November 18, 2014.

Ziya's (standardized) scores on the subcategories of the Burns Depression Checklist from October 17 to November 18, 2014. The subcategories are Thoughts and Feelings (blue), Activities and Relationships (red), Physical Symptoms (green), and Suicidal Urges (purple).

Ziya’s (standardized) scores on the subcategories of the Burns Depression Checklist from October 17 to November 18, 2014. The subcategories are Thoughts and Feelings (blue), Activities and Relationships (red), Physical Symptoms (green), and Suicidal Urges (purple). I only had suicidal urges (mostly just thoughts) on 6 days this month!

The Lamictal / lamotrigine I’m taking definitely seems to be helping. I’ve consistently taken it around 4:00pm every day, starting September 29th. My dose doubled from 25 mg to 50 mg on October 27th (purple vertical line). I’m very pleased with the benefits I’ve been receiving from it and especially the lack of side effects. It also seems to be helping with my anxiety symptoms, and I feel less irritable (though to be honest I haven’t been tracking those symptoms).

There are definitely environmental / situational factors that influence my depression symptoms (not to be confused with situational depression). For example, on Election Day (red vertical line) my score shot up from below 20 to 43 and I experienced my first suicidal urges in 2 weeks. To be honest, I think that’s the only sane response to the new Congress that – among other things – has vowed to repeal the reason I can afford medication! I don’t want to know what else they plan to do, but none of it is good for the vast majority of the people in this country.

There was also my and Fox’s big family wedding on November 9th (green vertical line). I felt really good leading up to that day and had a ton of important things to do. I got to be creative and problem solve and collaborate with Mom and get my hair done at a salon full of awesome people I enjoy talking to and wear a gorgeous dress and be congratulated about a million times. Sure, there were some aspects of it that were stressful, but a lot of it was fun. I was proud of myself for running the rehearsal on the night before as well as I did. I got to forget about all the stress at the combined bachelor/bachelorette party our friends threw for us; that was a fabulous time! And then there was the day itself… I’ve already written about it twice!

My scores on the depression checklist increased gradually from 6 on the 8th and 9th (OMG, 2 consecutive days with such a low score! That’s heaven for me!) to 34 on Monday (eww). I felt every point of increase and it was incredibly painful. I didn’t have the energy to connect with Fox and I’d cry when he left for work each day. I’d cry for no obvious reason. I had no motivation. I just wanted to fade away and stop existing. The worst part is I knew that if I stopped playing The Sims 3 and went out to socialize I’d feel better. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it!

Finally, yesterday (Tuesday) I dragged myself out of bed to go see Wakana for our regularly-scheduled music therapy session. Just being able to do that felt awesome. She witnessed me expressing how I felt through words, body language, and music. She empathized. She helped me address some of the things that are really getting me down. For example, Mom had brought up how much it costs each month to see Wakana, with the very strong implication that I should stop draining her of that money. She doesn’t seem to get how much I need and benefit from it, and I feel like that matters less to her than “getting ahead” financially. Sometimes it seems like she sees my whole life as a financial transaction; she’s “investing” in me and losing all her money. I can’t repay her – at least not financially. My love, the joy in my life from experiences like getting married and having children someday, whatever academic success I can muster, even the financial security I’m still striving for … these things cannot be a repayment of some debt! I owe her my whole life, but I can’t live it for her. I have to live it for me.

Wakana heard and understood and strongly encouraged me to apply for jobs. She also said I could invite Mom to one of our sessions. I’m kind of dreading it – assuming I can convince her to come – but I think it may be necessary.

Jobs. I signed up to be a tutor, which is kind of hit or miss depending on whether students decide to contact me. I think I’d be okay in the subjects I said I could teach. Today I was going to apply for a job I found yesterday that sounded awesome, but when I went to look at it the listing had been deleted. That undermined any motivation I had to do useful things.

Anyway, I decided to hang out at a nearby cafe after my session yesterday and enjoyed myself quite a bit (including saving potential job listings to apply for later). The food and drinks were good, it was a pleasant atmosphere, it got me out of the house and away from The Sims 3, and best of all I got to socialize a little bit. Even just being surrounded by people who were all doing their own thing was energizing. I’m still coming to grips with this whole being an extrovert thing. I like being around people. I need to stop isolating!

But how?