Priorities and Letting Go

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

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

Or I can just walk away…

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

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

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

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

Progress

Last night’s class was great! Whereas in the past I’ve been terrified to show imperfection and extremely critical of myself, last night I was eager to receive feedback. I was uncomfortable about the class watching last week’s video of me acting as therapist in my small group, but the instructor pointed out something I’d facilitated without being aware of it. This element had been very effective in supporting the goals for the group: free expression and interaction among members.

Then we broke up into groups for hands-on experience, with the task of dealing with “problem group members.” The instructor recommended lyric analysis; for once(!) I immediately knew which song I wanted to use. Another group member was a bit better prepared and group consensus seemed to be for her to go first, so she did. I’m kind of wishing I’d gone first because the instructor came in while she was leading and gave a lot of useful feedback. The whole thing got video recorded, which meant (unbeknownst to us) that there was not enough memory left on the device to record a second mini-session. (Spoiler: So there’s no video of me leading.)

I left plenty of room for one of the other group members to go next, but there was an awkward silence as we all looked at each other. So, I volunteered. Perhaps I could have been a bit more direct about my desire to take a turn leading, but that’s working against an entire childhood, much of my adolescence, and even some of my (young) adulthood spent learning to step back and “give the other kids a chance.” (Including teachers refusing to call on me unless I tricked them into thinking I wasn’t paying attention.) I may have taken it to a bit of an unhealthy extreme, but I’m working to correct that…

I felt so good to go because I wanted to go, not because I had to. I felt ready. I presented the song in the way I felt comfortable with and that left me free to focus on connecting with the group members as we sang. I facilitated a verbal discussion that helped one of the group members come to her own conclusions that were supportive of her therapeutic goals, despite initial rejection of the primary imagery in the song. I tried several strategies to engage a silent group member without losing the ones who were participating. Even though she was quite successful in remaining disengaged, I felt good about the creativity I’d employed and eager to keep working. She later told me that it had been very difficult for her to resist engaging with the group, and that the only way she’d managed was by diligently avoiding eye contact with everyone.

Best of all, I felt accepted by and connected with my small group-mates, and comfortable in the class as a whole. I feel like I’m back on track and more alive than ever!

Blog for Mental Health 2014

When I learned of the Blog for Mental Health pledge last year, I thought, “Perfect! This is exactly what I intended my blog to be!” I’m so excited that I get to take the pledge again; it seems like an awesome way to begin 2014.

So, without further ado:

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

Blog for Mental Health 2014 badge acanvasoftheminds.com art by Piper Macenzie

the Blog for Mental Health 2014 badge
from acanvasoftheminds.com
art by Piper Macenzie

I’ve been writing about my experiences with mental health – particularly coping with anxious depression – all year. The biggest trend I’ve noticed is a movement away from viewing my mental illness as something separate from myself that I must fight against, and toward accepting it as part of who I am.

This isn’t to say that I allow myself to be defined by my anxious depression and give up on my goals, relationships, and responsibilities – though I will admit it is sometimes tempting to do so. Rather, it allows me to have a more consistent experience of reality, despite fluctuations in the severity of my symptoms. These fluctuations can be drastic over a short period of time and completely change my perception of my abilities, situation, interpersonal relationships, etc.

When I accept my mental illness as part of who I am, I can treat myself with compassion and do what I need to take care of myself – whatever that means in the moment. Sometimes it means remembering that yesterday I was viewing the world through “depression goggles” (and/or “anxiety goggles”) and choosing to celebrate what I was able to do, instead of criticizing myself for having difficulties. Sometimes it means allowing myself to fully feel difficult emotions and express them, even though I can’t explain why I’m feeling them. Often it means reaching out to loved ones for help, support, and hugs.

Taking care of myself has recently meant reminding my inner critic that I appreciate its company, but need it to use nicer words and a gentler tone to help me learn from my mistakes. Occasionally it means clinging to the knowledge that the severity of my symptoms fluctuates and the hope that tomorrow will be better, just to get through today. And on good days – those wonderful, rare, precious good days – it means being fully present and soaking in every glorious moment to make the best possible memories.

I’m trying to move toward using relatively good days to set up some kind of support structure that will make the not-so-good days easier – not just to get through, but to live within. If I can accept my mental illness as part of myself, then I can use my strengths on the days when I have the most access to them, to create accommodations for myself to use on the days when I feel the weakest.

Please visit the original Blog for Mental Health 2014 post for more information about the campaign and instructions for taking the pledge. I hope to see you on the official blogroll!!!

The Calm Before the Storm – Um, Wedding

Well, I guess this is it. We’ve got everything together for our legal marriage ceremony (including the license). We contacted the people we needed to; I had a rather awesome conversation with my aunt. It was the kind of conversation I’d hoped to have with my mom on the eve of my wedding, but she said she “hasn’t been thinking about it” almost like it’s a bad thing. I give up, I’m not going to go out of my way to try and have anything special with my mom. Maybe someday she’ll wake up and realize that she’s missing out on me.

My aunt was hurt that she couldn’t come to the legal ceremony, but made every effort to express her love and well-wishes for us to have a long, happy, and successful life together. It was so uplifting! I apologized and explained and thanked her a million times and I’m pretty sure the hurt was healed. We talked about some interests we have in common, and she taught me some things I didn’t know about cooking. It felt so good to connect with her, to hear her say “I love you” and say it back and really mean it. I’m thinking this is something I’d like to do more often.

Another aunt sent flowers, and we received two cards with generous gifts addressed to “Mr. & Mrs. Fox Tamesis.” I needed to stomp around roaring for a while before I could encourage Fox and his female alter ego to open the cards. Fox’s mom explained that it’s the old-school etiquette way to address something to a married couple, and if we keep sending them things from “Fox and Ziya Tamesis” they’ll eventually get the hint. I really hope so because I’ve been fighting against the popular notion that taking your husband’s last name is somehow giving up your identity; addressing things to both of us using just his first name is taking things a bit far! We’re still two people with two identities, we’ve just joined to form a family.

I’m going to write this, just for shits and giggles: Mr. and Mrs. Ziya Tamesis.

Mmm, it has a ring to it.

Anyways, now everything is quiet and peaceful and all we have left to do is sleep. I have no idea where this new adventure will lead, but I finally know for sure that it’s what I want to do. That certainty feels amazing.

Fox and I have faced a lot of challenges in our relationship so far and we’ve only grown as a result of each of them. I look forward to whatever is yet to come, knowing he is by my side.

Mother-of-the-Bride Zilla

Fox and I have had our eye on a potential venue for some time now. It seems like a great deal, near a delicious and affordable caterer, with places to stay nearby … pretty much everything we could want in a wedding venue, plus breakfast at no additional cost. We just need to visit the place, ask some questions, and make a decision: yay, nay, or let’s look at some other venues and compare.

I’ve been itching to go check it out. Planning a wedding might not be the wisest decision right now, but it’s something that helps me feel energized and motivated. It gives me something concrete to look forward to in the foreseeable future. An outlet for my creativity. A goal. We need to secure a venue, so we’ll have a definite date, so we can do everything else.

Fox’s folks asked to come with us when we go visit the venue, which is a couple hours’ drive away, figuring we could make a mini vacation out of it. That sounded wonderful to me, I just wanted to invite my mother to join us – largely so she wouldn’t feel left out. Based on past experience, she’d be quite miffed if she found out we’d gone to see a potential venue with Fox’s parents but without her. She’s my mother, I want to try and have a healthy relationship with her, so I figure part of that is reaching out and including her in important things like this. She might even have something useful to contribute – she’s smart and has a lot of experience in the world, so I value her opinion highly.

Mother of the Bride and Bride arguing

idoidoweddingplanning.com

But when I asked Mom about her availability on Sunday, all hell broke loose. She didn’t seem to want to commit to a date and time at first. She raised a myriad of concerns:

  • Was this really my idea, or was I just going along with Fox and his parents (who suggested the venue)?
  • What about the venue she had suggested? We should get an updated quote from them.
  • Can they accommodate our entire guest list, even if it rains?
  • What’s really included in the deal? Are there extra expenses we’re not aware of?
  • Who’s paying for this and how?
  • Pretty much everyone will have to travel a distance; most people will want/need a place to stay. That will reduce the amount they’re willing to spend on gifts and/or give directly to us – if they come at all.
  • The places to stay near the venue are small; the nearest big-name hotel is 20 miles away.
  • What do I mean I don’t plan to wear makeup?! I don’t want my face to look red and splotchy in my wedding photos, do I?
  • My new haircut is too short. There aren’t enough layers.
  • We should call and ask questions before taking a long, expensive trip out to the venue location.
foal hugging mom

too cute not to share

I think some of her concerns are legit and I appreciate her raising them.

  • Getting an updated quote from the other venue is a good idea, but there were a few things about it that rubbed me the wrong way.
  • The wording on the website is a bit ambiguous, so it wouldn’t hurt to ask whether the indoor space alone can accommodate our whole guest list.
  • Always ask about additional expenses. Tax and tip can make the difference between “affordable” and “too expensive.” And I intend to get as much in writing as I possibly can.
  • We’ll need to make extra-specially sure there are sufficient accommodations for guests near the wedding venue; we intend to look into securing a group discount from one or more of the closer inns, possibly also the big-name hotel.
  • She definitely has a point about calling to ask questions first. It can save us a lot of time and money, especially if we don’t like the answers we get.
    • But I hate making phone calls and really want to see the place in person. Road trips can be fun and worth the expense, if you do them right. Fox’s Mom is treating us and she already called to make reservations.

I think some of Mom’s concerns are actually an attempt to manipulate me, regardless of whether that is her conscious intent.

I’d be more inclined to take her concern about whether this is really what I want – not just what Fox and his folks want – seriously, if she weren’t also trying to control what I put on my face. How can she claim to support me in making my own decisions and acting on them, if she’s choosing to interrupt a discussion about an important decision I need to make (and want her input in!) so she can criticize my appearance? That’s the last thing I need to be worrying about right now. It hurts extra because I had just stopped beating myself up over (my warped perception of) my appearance; just chosen to love and accept myself as I am and to focus on healthy things that are important to me.

I’m choosing to accept my face as it naturally looks instead of just going along with society’s obsession with female “beauty” – which is all about covering up one’s natural appearance with expensive products. Why do I have to wear makeup if Fox will be next to me in the exact same photos, his face naked? If Mom can’t support – or at least quietly accept – my decision to passively stand up against a faceless nameless “society” by not wearing makeup, how can she support me in actively standing up to people I love and admire?

Money is a very serious concern. Fox and I don’t have much of it; we need to be careful and we need to budget. But there is money set aside for the wedding – mostly promised by Mom and Fox’s folks. In the meantime we’re working on what we need to do be able to support ourselves financially. There are better ways to bring this up and have a conversation about it that might help us instead of undermining whatever hope and determination we’ve managed to muster. When I don’t have the answers I feel anxious and guilty; those emotions quickly turn into discouragement, the last thing I need if I’m going to get anywhere.

People will do what they need to do and will give what they’re willing and able to give. It’s important to Fox and me that people come and have a good time. We can use all the help we can get, but we’re not inviting our loved ones to the wedding because we want them to give us stuff. We’re inviting them to celebrate something that’s really important to us, and giving people who rarely see each other an excuse to come together. I really don’t want to exclude anyone because they can’t afford a hotel room – that’s why we plan on looking into group discounts. But the bit about expenses reducing the amount we get back in gifts just seems manipulative: it pokes at a basic human instinct (wanting to get stuff) and distracts from the bigger picture, for the purpose of making me question a decision I’m considering making.

Fingers with strings tied to them, controlling a puppet.

By the time we were done, I thought I didn’t want to do any of the wedding planning if it’s going to be like this. I felt completely wiped out and discouraged, all the energy and excitement I’d had gone.

I’m past obsessing over the tiny details that the bridal industry blows way out of proportion, so you think the fate of the entire universe rests on you picking the right design for your customized napkins. My goal is to throw an amazing party – which means we need a nice accessible venue, a variety of delicious food so everyone has something to eat, music people can dance to, some organization of the time (e.g. ceremony, first dance, etc.), access to places where guests can meet their basic needs (e.g. sleep), and clear communication about all of the above (e.g. invitations, a website). Everything else is icing on the cake.

This perspective is my armor in the battle that is navigating the bridal industry. But I don’t have armor to protect against what Mom threw at me. Her criticism of my appearance was an especially “low blow” because, try as I might to assert the contrary, I have internalized society’s messages about how important it is for a woman to be “beautiful.” I want to look good in my wedding photos, but there are other ways I can do that – such as wearing clothes I find comfortable so I’m not grimacing in pain, hiring a competent photographer, and having a genuine smile on my face because I’m enjoying myself. If my mother thinks all that isn’t enough, I still need makeup on top of it to prevent people from being tempted to burn my wedding photographs, what value does my life really have? If I can’t stand in front of the people I love and trust the most in the world and be accepted as I am – if the people I’m choosing to share this amazingly huge and meaningful transition with can’t wholeheartedly celebrate it with me – because I’m not wearing makeup … either she has a devastatingly low opinion of me, or she thinks the people on our guest list are incredibly shallow.

This wedding is a really big deal. It’s going to be the first, and very likely the last, time I’ll be in the limelight in the middle of a very large family (especially if you combine my and Fox’s families). It brings up a lot of anxiety. Will I be accepted as I am, having made the choices I’ve made – from as big as the building in which we’re celebrating, to as small as naked pores on my face? The whole wedding is a reflection of Fox and me: the people we associate with, our taste in food, music, fashion, our consideration of people’s needs and preferences, the degree to which we’re willing to perpetuate heteronormativity.

I think Mom’s scared because she sees everything I do as a reflection of her; from her perspective I am her reflection – she doesn’t seem to see me. She wants the model of what a daughter and her wedding should be, so she’ll be accepted by a family she’s afraid of disappointing. For some reason she finds it too painful to look at who and what I truly am. And often – far too often – so do I.

Maybe Sleeping 8 Hours a Night is My Key to Success

Today (Thursday) was a good day. I turned off my computer around 1:00 am and started reading Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. After reading a couple chapters and doing the first written activity, I went to bed around 2:30 am. I didn’t sleep particularly well, but I did sleep until about 11:00 am – over 8 hours. Then I got up and started my day, including: feeding rats, having breakfast, emailing the instructor for the class I missed on Tuesday, defining “codependency” for myself, and calling on-campus psychological services.

I was even able to juggle baking stuffed Cornish hens for the first time ever (stuffing them was kind of awesome!) with getting ready for class. I took a very quick shower and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. The water hitting my skin felt more amazing than it ever has before!

I was on task, cleaning up after my cooking and getting dressed more quickly and easily than usual. I devoured about a third of a stuffed Cornish hen, savoring even the white meat! I usually find white meat to be too dry, but this was glorious, tender and moist. I was exceedingly pleased.

I packed up the hens in the fridge and ran out, hoping that I might still manage to be on time for class despite the traffic I anticipated hitting. As I drove I reflected on the day and all the awesome things I had accomplished – and how much I enjoyed doing it! I even found pleasure in handling something as gross as raw poultry!

I was just thinking that, after everything I’d done, maybe being late for class wouldn’t be so bad …

When my car suddenly started making a very strange and ominous noise. It was loud and low pitched and kept repeating, like a wide heavy leather flap on a conveyor belt kept hitting something. It became louder and more frequent when I accelerated.

At first I thought I had hit a nail or something and damaged a tire, but when I checked my tires were fine. I looked under the car but didn’t see anything hanging down. If I opened my hood I’d be proud of myself for finding the place where you put windshield wiper fluid; the only way I’d be able to tell what was wrong with the engine is if a fuzzy purple creature hissed at me from atop its nest and eggs. Then, I think I’d have more problems with my car than an ominous noise! (And I’d probably still need to ask someone else for help.)

Ziya's Understanding of Car Engines

Ziya’s Understanding of Car Engines

So I called a tow truck and proceeded to WAIT. I called Mom and Fox. I alternated between running the car for warmth and sitting in the cold to preserve gas. Of course, my phone took that opportunity to complain about low battery, so I took the opportunity to charge it when the car was running. And I wrote this blog post by hand in my school notebook.

When the tow truck finally came and I sat in its passenger seat, watching my car get hooked up onto the bed, that is when I felt sad about what was happening. I was disappointed from the moment I realized I was going to miss class, but I accepted it very quickly. It was a little bit harder to accept and allow myself to feel my sadness about my car needing to be towed somewhere. The Dark Horse (images; explanation) whinnied and shook its head and reared and stomped in the dirt. And snorted. Visualizing the Dark Horse doing those things gave me a safe outlet for my feelings.

Finally, over three hours after first hearing the noise, I arrived at Mom’s house safe and sound; the car is at a shop nearby. The person at the shop said they’d look at the car first thing in the morning. There is a plastic piece hanging down in front that I hadn’t seen when I’d first checked. I hope that’s the (only) problem, and that it can be fixed easily, inexpensively, and quickly!

I was inconvenienced, but suffered no harm. In the realm of what could happen on the road, I consider myself fortunate.

And I handled the whole situation very well. There were brief moments when I doubted my decision to get a tow truck; I thought I was “making a big deal out of nothing” and using the first opportunity that presented itself to avoid having to go to class. But I reminded myself that I didn’t know what was going on and I would rather be safe than risk doing catastrophic damage to my car! I made a decision and defended my right to stick to it despite the doubts that arose; it might not have been the best decision, but that’s okay too. I made it, I followed through, and I am safe. No disasters.

I really think getting the amount of sleep I need, even if it wasn’t the best quality, set me up to have a good day. I was able to direct and focus my energy, accomplish most of my goals, and handle a very stressful situation with grace. I wasn’t dependent on the events of the day or others’ behavior to feel good about myself – at least, not to the degree that has been my norm. This is definitely a habit worth developing.