Be Our Guest

[CW: description of thought processes that can trigger hoarding]

Fox and I spent pretty much every available second cleaning in preparation for Ron’s visit on Friday. It was quite the workout, and somewhat intense … but not quite as intense as I thought it might be. Maybe because I knew Fox was cleaning, too, and I’ve developed coping mechanisms. For example, I found a calendar with beautiful images that I might’ve been tempted to keep, but it’s obsolete (and damaged). So I looked through the images, showed one particularly beautiful one to Fox, then tossed the calendar. Minimal stress.

I’ve also decided to treat clutter like an addiction. Part of recovery (from what I’ve gathered, I’m not an expert by any means) is recognizing that while others may be able to engage in a certain behavior safely – even to their benefit – I cannot. For example, I’ve heard tips about reusing things like wrapping paper – but for me that’s a recipe for disaster. If I let myself think “I can reuse this” I will angst over every decision of what to/not to keep, hoard random items I don’t need, and drown in clutter. No. Maybe it would be ideal to reuse this wrapping paper, but I cannot keep it. Into the trash it goes. End of story.

I lost track of how many bags of garbage we filled, somewhere around 8. Maybe 12?

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A New Milestone in Therapy: Part 2

[CW: descriptions of ways alcoholics and people under the influence of alcohol behave that can be harmful, especially to others]

In my last post I described 3 of the people I’ve been working with, ways in which some of their behaviors are reflective of (and/or caused by) the influence of alcohol, and weird psychological dynamics I’ve been experiencing with them. Today’s session with Wakana, which just ended, expanded on that discussion.

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The Curse of the Dragonborn

“Let’s play Skyrim” – by which I mean: “Let’s repeat the same sequence 7 times before we’re satisfied with the footage we recorded, then discover that the video and audio have become unsynchronized, so we have to do it again!” (I’m actually not exaggerating.) Then let’s do a great job editing the footage together and record some kick-ass post-commentary (which tends to also require several takes, and editing).

I’ve been working on this Let’s Play for a little over a week now; I’ve felt just about everything one could possibly feel about it:

I’m frustrated with how time-consuming and repetitive the process is. I’m angry at myself for how much time I’m putting into it, and feeling guilty about the things I’m not doing as a result. I’m thoroughly obsessed with it and gain a lot of satisfaction from thinking about it – but I would also like to occasionally not think about it. I’m devastated when I turn my back on it to spend time with Fox, but we’re both too exhausted to do anything. I feel better when we talk about Skyrim.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done so far and I want to share it. I’m concerned no one will watch it. I’m unsure whether I’ll be able to keep it up – and whether doing so is healthy. I feel very powerful when I play well. I feel very anxious when I’m unsure about a decision while recording. I want to show off my fantastic skills and wow viewers with my insightful commentary. I even like the way my voice sounds. I want to know what others think of it – mostly.

I think I should delete everything and start over. I think I should delete everything and stop playing Skyrim. I think I would be very sad if I deleted or otherwise lost my completed episodes, which are quite good – especially after putting so much time and energy into them.

I think it’s a fun hobby and good long-term project, assuming I can take breaks from it without abandoning it entirely. I want to join the Let’s Play community. I’m happy that so far I’ve prioritized opportunities to socialize in person and going to my therapy session over playing Skyrim. I’d much rather play Skyrim than do chores, apply for jobs and internships, run errands, exercise, do other leisure activities, etc. I really need to move forward with my life. I’m being creative, really!

My pet rats are adorable, make everything better, and are completely dependent on me. They are a million times more important than Skyrim.

… they also sleep a lot.

Resolutions shMEHjzolutions

Trigger Warning: video game addiction, particularly RPGs (role-playing games) and The Sims 3

I hadn’t played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim since August 15th. Four and a half (4.5) months!!! That’s not to say I was abstaining from video games; I have been playing The Sims 3 a lot, to the point where my first generation of sims born in-game are elders and the second will be young adults soon. But Skyrim had practically become a thing of the past…

Then a friend posted about it on Facebook, and I started wanting to play again. She was talking about a quest line I thoroughly enjoyed, but have already completed. Other people have talked about the game since, increasing my tendency to think about and want to play it. My desire to do a Let’s Play of Skyrim has resurrected itself; I’d like to say “against my will” but I’m not entirely convinced that’s true. To make matters even worse, the new expansion for World of Warcraft (WoW) has a close friend of mine playing and talking about that game again; I think to some extent the discussion of WoW by a handful of friends at our New Year’s Eve celebration pushed me over the edge.

I had a mixed Holiday Season: there were a number of good things that happened but it was also very stressful, perhaps more so than usual. I tried to acknowledge Yule but I’m not entirely happy with the extent to which I did so. Christmas sneaked up on me somehow and I failed to decorate for it. My godmother almost suffocated on Christmas Eve (while I was celebrating with Banji) and is still in the hospital. I had some very enjoyable gatherings with friends and family over the past two weeks, but it was a lot of socialization all at once, without much of a break in between. I became very irritable – possible manic symptoms? – leading up to New Year’s Eve. I haven’t been getting satisfactory sleep and I’ve been eating a ton of sugar, salt, and fat in lieu of the nutrients my body actually needs. Fox and I had been planning to enjoy today as a chance to sleep in and have a restful time to ourselves – but then he learned a that cousin he rarely sees is visiting with his parents, and decided to go see them instead.

So, the first thing I did when I got home yesterday was load my old game of Skyrim. I was extremely tempted to start a new game (again) but I really want to experience the stuff I haven’t gotten to do yet. I put in several hours of gameplay yesterday and have already played for an additional 4 hours today. It’s been surprisingly easy to just pick up my old game where I’d left off, thanks largely to the quest log. If only it were so easy to just dive back in to real life…

Part of me is upset because the whole point of New Year’s Resolutions is that you’re supposed to start working on them the first day of the new year… right? “A new year, a new you!”? I could have worked on at least one of the resolutions yesterday, but I didn’t. Well, I guess I was socializing in a group for a decent chunk of it, and I was interacting with people I care about. I guess I need to accept that I can’t do all of my resolutions every day, but I regret not at least trying to get in 10 minutes of physical activity.

The rest of me says: let’s be honest. Midnight on January 1st marks the beginning of a new year because we say it does (and ostensibly because the earth has begun a new revolution around the sun – but we could put the point at which revolutions begin and end anywhere along our orbit). It’s a cultural construction that has everything to do with what we want to do – have a clean slate on which to draw our ideal lives – and nothing to do with reality.

In reality the earth making a full revolution back to a particular point on its orbit associated with January 1st is no different from it making a full revolution back to a particular point on its orbit associated with any other month and day. In reality, time is continuous. It is cyclical, but each cycle is affected by events during the cycles preceding it. The cycles do not begin and end at preset points, but flow continuously from one into the next. The way we divide time is arbitrary.

I might have decided that midnight on January 1st, 2015 marked the beginning of a new year, and here are some things I want to focus on. To be honest, I think that’s healthy. It’s important to live life with intention. Saying it’s a new year helps with that: I can forgive myself and the universe for whatever I didn’t like about last year, and focus on what I want to do going forward.

But in reality, my life and my Self have continued on without the luxury of being wiped clean, over countless arbitrary culturally-determined divisions of time and at least thirty new years. I’m still the same person I was at 23:59:59 on December 31, 2014. I still have all the same habits, the same very cluttered apartment, the same mental health issues, the same worry and guilt about what’s going on with my godmother, the same need to have some time to rest before I move on with Life After the Holidays. I’m still clinging to floating debris trying to figure out where I should put my feet.

That’s not going to stop because I’ve decided it’s a new year, as of midnight on January 1st, 2015. Just like I can’t arbitrarily decide that now I’ve recovered and I no longer have depression and anxiety, or bipolar, or episodic mood disorder NOS, or whatever the hell it is. I just live. I need to take care of myself always – not “starting” at x point in time. I can’t do it continuously without fail; I’m going to mess up and backtrack and have another episode and need another break. I’m going to have times when I become obsessed with something and use it as an escape from reality. It just is. I forgive myself preemptively.

What I can do is accept that and do my best to love myself. “Okay, we’ve played Skyrim for four hours, let’s take a break.” I was feeling hungry as I wrote about neglecting my nutritional needs, so I decided to go eat some leftover vegetables. I’ve been having trouble getting a restful night’s sleep, so last night I listened to a guided meditation – that worked perfectly. My resolutions reflect my needs, so it’s important that I do my best to stick to them. But I let go of the temptation to want to do them all perfectly every day. It’s just not realistic. I can celebrate what I do. If there’s something I consistently don’t do, I can try to figure out why and address that need.

That’s what this post comes down to. I made a bunch of resolutions, then proceeded to ignore them in favor of not just playing Skyrim, but becoming obsessed with starting a project that would eat up all my time. In other words, I chose was am severely tempted by a path that would make it impossible more difficult for me to do what I need to create the life I want for myself. Why? What is all this really pointing to? What am I trying to communicate to myself? What needs aren’t being met?

I’m not sure I’m ready to answer that directly, but I’m reminded of a post from last March: Whose Goals are These Anyway?

All I Want for Christmas Is to Breathe

trigger warning: nicotine/cigarette addiction, hospitals, life support, potential anxiety medication side effects

My godmother is addicted to smoking cigarettes, struggles with depression and anxiety, and is socially isolated. She’s been doing less and less and getting tired very easily. She’s been in and out of the hospital with respiratory issues, but this time was extremely scary: at one point on Christmas Eve she was actually turning blue!

I hate hospitals. I watched my father deteriorate when he was dying from lung cancer in a hospital. I was powerless. I could do nothing to help him, my other family members, or even myself. The environment inside (traditional) hospitals is the worst for healing. There’s a whole awesome movement – arts in healthcare – to transform hospitals into healing environments with natural light, curved surfaces, open spaces, pleasant colors, nature scenes, less toxic noise… but I don’t think they’d even started researching that stuff when my father was in the hospital. And the hospital where my godmother currently is has never heard of it, either. This hospital is a contender for a version of Hell. We would have wandered lost in a maze of spaghetti box hallways in drab colors with ominous doors and incomprehensible signs for hours if the nurses hadn’t decorated the area around their station for the holidays. When I saw that I said, “Let’s go toward the bright colors before I have a panic attack.”

When we arrived on Christmas afternoon, my godmother was on her back with a mask suctioned to her face, practically forcing her to breathe. I wasn’t sure if she was conscious. She squeezed my hand with a pulse. When she tried to talk I couldn’t even make out syllables, never mind words. She sounded so small and scared. We told her we were here and we loved her and spoke to each other in hushed voices. I tried to find a song on my phone that she might like, but my data connection was limited and the songs that came up weren’t exactly conducive to healing – for her nor anyone else in the room. I felt foolish as well as powerless.

The hospital staff were talking to her father, brother, and son about putting a tube down her throat that would require her body to make even less of an effort to breathe. Life support. I don’t know what her or their views on life support are, but in my mind it’s worse than death. If a person dies they can be at peace and the family can mourn. Existing for god-knows-how-long on life support is just torture for everybody. There’s no peace, no healing, no recovery, no closure. Just life-destroying medical bills.

I didn’t even need to express my views; the family members with the right to make such a decision made it clear that it was unacceptable. Her brother and son told her she needed to try breathing on her own, it was the only way she could recover so they’d be able to take her home. She was scared, but they convinced her to switch to a mask that would just provide extra oxygen – without forcing air into her lungs. We were asked to leave the room; I was an emotional wreck.

I don’t even know how long I was folded in the cocoon of Fox’s arms, while he worked some kind of magic, before I was able to relax. It was amazing! When I stepped back and looked at him I felt calm, grounded, like my whole world wasn’t shattering.

With the new mask my godmother was awake and able to speak coherently. She wanted to sit up – to stand even! The nurse and everyone else kept telling her she’d exert herself too much and she was fine lying in bed, but she wouldn’t hear it. I asked her why she wanted to stand and she said the wires and tubes they had attached to her were pressing on her chest and neck. As far as we could see they weren’t, but she insisted. After some more back-and-forth, she sat up – practically without assistance.

Only then did her complexion approach normal and she said she was feeling better. She asked for water and talked with us, even smiled at our jokes. I felt connected with her and inspired by her determination as I watched her work to hold a seated position – without back support – and to breathe. In a whirlwind of “you need to do this” and “you look like this” and “are you sure you don’t want to do this” I did my best to remain the voice of empathy. “How do you feel?” “What do you want?” “Is this helping?” “I can relate.” She really seemed to appreciate it.

Physically, she was working to breathe and she said she felt like shit, but otherwise everything was normal. Her lungs are okay considering how long and how heavily she’s been smoking. Her resting heart rate and blood pressure were a bit high, but not enough to cause concern; her blood had plenty of oxygen in it.

But her anxiety was through the roof, to the point where if we weren’t there comforting her it would have interfered with all the physical stuff. In the moments when she was able to retreat into her own thoughts, we could see the pain they were causing her on her face. Guilt. Self-hatred. Anxiety. The realization that she could have died. Knowing she has to give up the one thing that’s been consistently there for her through loss and change and loneliness and the most difficult times. She’s tried to quit smoking and failed because overcoming the chemical addiction to the nicotine isn’t enough. She needs emotional support. She needs something to replace the role the cigarettes play in her life.

The solution she was handed was “Don’t be anxious.” I looked her in the eye and said, “Yeah, but how?” I told her about anxiety goggles, the idea that sometimes it’s like someone has put these goggles on me and everything seems overwhelming and I’m lost and I don’t know what to do and I can’t imagine how the world would look without the anxiety… but if I remember that I’m wearing the goggles I can think, “Maybe it isn’t as scary as it looks right now. Maybe that thing that seems so horrible isn’t as bad as I think. These goggles are distorting my view.” and I can try to separate myself from it. I wanted to suggest meditation or something she could do to channel the anxiety out somewhere or something, any of the number of measures people have suggested to me and I’ve found helpful. But it was hard to think in that room, hard to get my voice in among the people saying “Don’t be anxious,” and I felt a bit self-conscious about it, too. Would my contribution be taken seriously? More importantly, would she actually find it helpful?

My godmother requested a particular medication for anxiety – not the one the hospital staff seemed to want to use because that interferes with her breathing – so a doctor came in to talk about it. He said something to a nurse about giving the patient her medication when the family leaves, because that’s when she becomes the most anxious. When my godmother told him about the medication she wanted, he expressed concern because “it could cause your stomach to expand and force anything in it to come up and you could choke on it.” “Well, that’s not a problem, I haven’t eaten in three days.” “It’s still a concern. You could suffocate on your own secretions.” A doctor seriously told his patient who was struggling to breathe moreso due to anxiety than any physical ailment that she could suffocate on her own secretions! I don’t even have the words.

Self-consciousness be damned. I raised my voice to make sure he could hear me. “Let’s lower the anxiety in the room please!” I asked if they had any interventions for anxiety other than medication. He said he’d have the psychiatrist evaluate her. I backed off, mostly because I didn’t know what my godmother wanted so I didn’t feel comfortable trying to speak for her. I also didn’t know if the kinds of interventions I could think of would cost the family more than they could afford. But I don’t think – and I didn’t at the time – that she needs a psychiatrist. I learned later that the psychiatrist had already seen her and clearly wasn’t helpful. In the time since that moment, I’ve refined what I wanted to advocate for: someone to calmly inform her of any available alternatives to medication for managing her anxiety while in the hospital, and to follow through on whatever she said she thought would be the most helpful. Bonus points if they could also give her resources for when she leaves the hospital. Someone to listen to her. Why oh why would no one else listen to her?

Hours later, after she had decided she wanted to lie down and we had left to go have dinner, I learned that her son had been permitted to stay with her overnight. The nurse had advocated for it. I was so relieved to know that at least one need could be met: he was better than all the rest of us at noticing when she was retreating into her mind’s torture chamber. He could pull her back out of it.

Overall, I actually consider it to be a relatively positive Christmas experience. I got to connect with family members I’ve been feeling disconnected from, talking and joking and being honest with each other. We didn’t have TV or other convenient distractions; we were each other’s distraction from the hospital. We were there for each other.

Music was supposed to make me invincible, but it didn’t. My cousins’ compassion and determination – and her courage – were what got my godmother breathing on her own again, sitting up and conversing with us. All my years of schooling – and maybe even the lifelong involuntary therapist training – were worth it, because in the middle of hell with all of everyone’s (especially my own) anxiety I was able to help someone by empathizing with her. By being with her in that moment. By being honest about my own vulnerability. And by speaking up. It was a valuable learning and healing experience for me.

All I’ve heard since is that she’s still in the hospital. She texted hugs and kisses to Mom; when Mom asked if she could talk she replied “no.”

Escape to Dragon Valley Pt. 1

I feel like I should write about the rest of the time I spent with Banji at her aunt’s house, but the words just aren’t coming right now. There was a lot of crying and other emotional vulnerability. We also had a lot of fun connecting (especially through music) and watched the entire first season of Elementary. The single best day IMHO was the one we spent outside around a fire talking, cooking hot dogs, and making s’mores.

As the visit came to a close, I found myself thinking more and more about my game in The Sims 3. I packed too much into the day I returned home, so by the end of it I had little energy (especially emotional energy) for anything social – even just talking or cuddling with Fox. I dove back into the game and haven’t really left it since. I’ve been playing it even more since Wakana gave me a list of things I need to do to get myself living life and interacting with people more; she asked me to call her at the start and end of each play session. I swear I didn’t lie when I agreed to do those things, I just promptly decided not to do them.

One thing Wakana asked me to do that I am inclined to follow up on is to write about my active game and what I get out of it. This post is the first of … some number, I have no idea … that will address the issue. I suppose I should mention that I’ve also been feeling very pressured to move more quickly on preparations for my legal marriage ceremony in less than a month. I want people (especially Mom) to back off but that doesn’t seem to be happening, so I hide in The Sims 3 instead of dealing with any of it.

My The Sims 3 family consists of a stay-at-home dad who’s going to become an elder very soon, an orchestra conductor who is painfully close to achieving her lifetime goal, a high school senior in a promising relationship who also has an imaginary friend, and a child genius. I’m at the point where I have a habit of abandoning my current game in favor of a new set of young adults, but I’m hoping that maybe I’ll stick with this family for multiple generations. Yet at the same time part of me thinks the best thing I could do for myself is drop The Sims 3 cold turkey, uninstall it and everything. There I typed it but I don’t want to do it, okay? I’m still holding out for a solution that lets me keep playing, just without sacrificing my whole life.

Last night I took a break from actually playing to create a timeline that combines all four sims’ memories into a sort of rudimentary narrative. This was more important to me than sleeping last night / this morning or doing anything useful today. There’s no point to creating something like that just to keep it to myself, so, well, enjoy. Please don’t hesitate to tell me what you think.

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