it’s never really gone

dunno… ever since I went all-in with composing things just seemed to be… fantastic. I loved what I was doing. I was getting so much love and support from the people close to me. there were a few blissful days when everything just felt right, and I was genuinely happy. like not 100% happy 100% of the time, I still felt the full range of human emotions. I still got frustrated, and doubted myself, and felt guilty about composing while other people (e.g. Fox) work soul-crushing jobs to put food on the table… but for once when people asked how I was I could honestly say that my life is good.

for once I wanted to talk about my life. and people seemed to enjoy watching my face light up when I did so.

and every day I’ve been loving my husband more and more, appreciating him more and more. (especially since he’s being so super supportive!) we went away last Friday to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary, just a night at a bed and breakfast, and it was wonderful. tbh we hadn’t been sleeping together – in either sense – for quite a long time, and we both wanted to change that. well, it seems all we really needed to do for the more entertaining interpretation of that phrase was spend some time cuddling in a comfortable bed with the intention of being close. no distractions. no technology. just our love for each other. it was amazing!

we had gaming on Sunday, which was awesome and fun [and interestingly enough involved one of the other player characters (PCs) getting married. among other things, my character coordinated with a third PC and some intelligent animals to incapacitate mercenaries who had stolen dishes and kidnapped part of the catering staff. I had a blast sneaking around, shooting arrows past the mercenaries’ ears, throwing things to mislead them regarding my location, and scaring the pants off one of them – ironically enough, while naked (to make better use of my character’s camouflage mutation). then some intelligent flying squirrels volunteered to serve food at the wedding, and somehow most people were okay with that…] gaming went on for a long time though, with kibitzing afterward, so by the time Fox convinced me to get off Discord and go to bed I was completely emotionally exhausted. like ready to cry exhausted.

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Just Lamotrigine

… yeah. I didn’t take the trazodone Wednesday night, nor Thursday, nor last night. And I’m doing better. I feel like I’ve woken up from a bad dream. And speaking of dreams, I’m back to my usual anxiety dreams – which I KNOW are dreams once I wake up. So much better.

My anxiety is kinda overwhelming tho. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to feel like this. I have a thing I need to be not only present at but act in a professional capacity. I think I can deal with it, but I’d wanted to go to a cultural event at my local library – no pressure there, just show up have fun and leave. But I was kinda freaking out about it – especially the leaving and getting to my later commitment on time part – so I guess I’m not gonna go. It’s just easier that way. There will be other opportunities … right?

*sigh*

I’m kinda doubting whether I’ll ever be able to find and maintain gainful employment.

I don’t want to stay on just lamotrigine, and either way I’ve been thinking for a while that it would be good to increase my dose slightly. I’m debating whether I should ask to go back on fluvoxamine or clonazepam. The former was a rocky start, but I got used to it and I think staying on it might’ve been good for me. The latter … I don’t think I ever had any problems with it – I don’t remember any. It helped with my anxiety. It’s not the safest med in the world but you know what, fuck it. I’d rather be functional while I’m alive than live longer.

Something tells me getting my prescriber to agree to this won’t be easy. I’m writing her a letter in hopes that will prevent me from ‘acting irrationally’ at our next appointment.

Quit Playing Games with My Brain

Disclaimer: Anytime I write about medications, I’m sharing my own thoughts and experiences. This is NOT medical advice.

I had a rough time on the fluvoxamine maleate, at least initially. September was a stressful month anyway, though. So, it’s kinda hard to determine whether the problems I faced were a response to stress, a reaction to my meds, or some combination. All I know is I started occasionally mispronouncing words that normally I’d have no problem pronouncing correctly. I had to stop most of my Green Party activity because I was getting too overwhelmed. And I was suicidal.

I visited with Banji the first weekend in October and felt much, much better by the end of it. But I’d already told my prescriber about being unhappy with the fluvoxamine, and she’d already switched me to a new medication. Almost reluctantly, I weaned myself off fluvoxamine this past weekend and started taking trazodone.

The only things I’m happy about on trazodone are that 1) I’ve stopped mispronouncing words, and more importantly 2) I had the good sense to make sure I wouldn’t be driving for 5 hours on a new med!

Since I started taking trazodone Sunday night, I’ve had weird, vivid, disturbing dreams that it’s taken me a while to realize (once awake) were dreams. I’m having a harder time falling asleep, in part because the occasional involuntary muscle movements are becoming more frequent. I feel like I’m having trouble staying asleep, but that could be because my sleep cycle is shifted later than it should be. I feel groggy and tired. I’m anxious and having trouble concentrating and following conversations. On Monday while driving I couldn’t see the sign for the place we were going until we were practically there. When people gave me directions I heard “right” and thought “left” until the last moment. When I speak I’m too aware of my mouth movements and I feel like I’m listening to someone else.

When I told Ron about this stuff, ze said, “If you feel like your brain is broken, the trazodone is doing its job. It’s a hospital med used to shut down the brain of a patient who is psychotic and make them sleep. As an outpatient, if you are not psychotic, you have no business taking those meds.”

Ze urged me to find a new prescriber. I … I can’t. Not like this. And even if I were 100% on top of everything, I’d probably have to make my first appointment at least a couple months in advance. And that’s assuming the places I called even had mental health prescribers available – most are already overwhelmed with too many clients.

IF I remember our conversation correctly, my prescriber said I could try this med for a few days and stop taking it if I didn’t like it. I’m sure I remember her telling me I don’t have to wait a whole month, and I don’t think she said I should call before stopping. But I’ve been thinking for a while that I’d rather take just the lamotrigine if that’s what it takes. Maybe all I need is another slight increase, I’m on a pretty low dose.

Being on clonazepam wasn’t perfect, and I know there can be risks – particularly addiction. I feel like my sleep was more satisfying on the fluvoxamine. But I miss the way my brain worked on clonazepam. I rarely felt anxious – that’s probably the most important thing. I might’ve felt depressed, but I was functional. I knew I could do what I needed or wanted, and when I tried I would usually succeed. Now …

When I was feeling energized by my volunteer efforts, I couldn’t help thinking: “This isn’t going to last, and when I crash it’s gonna hurt. So I’m gonna make the most of it.” And, well, the crash has come. I’m exhausted. I’m starting to let the naysayers get to me – either dragging me down, or making me angry. And sometimes it feels like there’s no point….

I’m not sure when the transition started, but yesterday I had a huge anxiety attack that prevented me from going to the march I’d planned on attending. It really took me by surprise because I’d gotten used to being much more confident, almost like my anxiety had melted away. I almost felt like a different person… and yet there I was, back to panicking and sabotaging any possibility that I might have made it on time. Once I got to the office things went well. K was there being his usual ridiculous self and I finished the turf I’d been canvassing. I’d even recruited a couple new volunteers!

Today I’m just exhausted. I showed up feeling exhausted and made volunteer recruitment calls… they went okay. Then a couple of volunteers came so I tried to get them set up with phone banking. I felt bad because I was kind of ignoring Volunteer A to help Volunteer B. The latter had technical issues and decided to go home – ostensibly to phone bank using his own computer, but I have no way of knowing.

Volunteer A made calls for a little while, then asked if I would join him to canvass, “show him the ropes.” I agreed and we went out and I made a bunch of wrong turns and it was generally awkward – though he was fun to talk to and I think he felt the same about me. We didn’t get the best reception once we started knocking on doors, though.

And then there was one very nice older couple who support Bernie and are going to vote for him in the primary, but don’t think he’s going to win the nomination. (?) They were wonderful to talk to… until the wife asked me if I’ll vote for Hillary in the general election.

I made the mistake of answering honestly, and then all hell broke loose. They took back everything nice they’d said. They told me I don’t care about the direction of this country. They insulted me to my face. And worst of all, they refused to listen when I tried to defend myself. I got very angry and joined in their yelling match. It took me quite a while to calm down afterward.

I might have yelled some obscenities once we reached the sidewalk.

I feel horrible. So hurt that they attacked me like that, embarrassed that it happened right in front of a fellow volunteer, worried that our interaction might have turned them away from Bernie, and angry with myself for losing control. I might also be questioning… everything. All this passion, and where has it gotten me?

I did some phone banking after coming home. Mostly wrong numbers, no answers, and not homes. A couple of people laughed at me; one even said he felt sorry for me. (!) I identified some Bernie supporters, though, and a couple more volunteers. I hold on for the supporters and volunteers. I don’t know how much longer I can keep it up though.

It seems like I’m going to be running the office for the rest of the week. That basically means answering the door, signing volunteers in, training them, setting them up to phone bank, and sending them out to canvass. When I’m not doing those things I should be recruiting more volunteers or finding something else useful to do… but I think instead I’ll bring earbuds and watch YouTube videos.

Transformation

Wow. I spent 2 days totaling 12 hours registering voters outside my town’s public library. 4 new democrats, 7 unaffiliated (who can declare party affiliation at the polls). I handed out several additional registration forms and information about my state’s and town’s upcoming primary.

Okay, the not-so-great stuff first:

  • I got a mild sunburn even though I was in the shade the whole time.
  • I spent most of my shift yesterday having a conversation with someone who talks like a Bernie supporter but actually supports Trump because she hates immigrants and people in the US who are undocumented. Despite being an otherwise reasonable, educated person, she would not listen to rational arguments about why a Trump presidency would be disastrous for her and “[her] people.”
    • That person seemed to be manipulating my voter registration efforts, worst of all by saying bad things about Latinos while people who looked like they might be Latino/a were walking by.
    • She said stuff about LGBTQIA people that made me feel uncomfortable – and misgendered me.
    • I didn’t know how to ask her to leave.
  • I seem to have developed a cyst in a most awkward location as a result of sitting for too long wearing tight jeans. It’s painful enough to affect how I walk. I’m reluctant to go to the doctor because 1) I might have to wait a long time for them to be able to see me 2) I don’t know if I’ll be able to set the boundary that I only want them to deal with that specific problem 3) the word “surgical” was included in the description of how the cyst is typically treated. (If you’re so inclined, please pray, send positive energy, etc. for it to heal on its own.)
  • I seem to have forgotten what “regular meals” are.

In much better news, I feel like I’ve transformed overnight. I had been “developing agoraphobic tendencies,” feeling unmotivated to do anything, intimidated by the idea of contacting voters or recruiting volunteers, and depressed that I was “wasting my life.”

Then I started working with the current regional manager for the campaign and everything changed. I spent 2 days outside where anyone could see me calling out to random strangers and talking to them about the primary. I dealt gracefully with people who said weird things to me, like implying that my efforts were futile or that I had “nothing better to do” with my time. (grr.) I received a number of compliments from people who were grateful for the convenience, found my information sheet informative, or found me helpful. I even got the satisfaction of knowing that high school students who are too young to vote are interested in it. I’d love to recruit some of them for Bernie’s campaign! (Dunno where/whether it’s legal for me to do that, though.)

After my shift yesterday, instead of being exhausted and wanting to get away from people, I was eager to get back to work for Bernie’s campaign. When doing voter registration I couldn’t represent the campaign – at least not officially – so I couldn’t wait to shed the illusion of “impartiality” and go talk to people who aren’t walking contradictions. I got to the office late because I needed to eat something, but then I spent a couple hours recruiting volunteers – many of whom were enthusiastic to have the opportunity to go knock on doors of potential voters.

Remember when I said knocking on the doors of strangers was the last thing I wanted to do? Now I can’t wait!

I also figure I should do it myself at least once before I get to be the one training people and sending them out Monday night.

I am so happy I’m alive because I get to do all this stuff! I love feeling so energized. I get to do something about all the things I’ve wanted to change in the US for years now; I get to act on the things I’m most passionate about. There’s a real, meaningful role for me to play – and I’m doing it right now.

I’m also thinking a bit about my career: The leadership opportunities I’m engaging in will look great on my resume. My current and upcoming regional managers, as well as the co-leader for my town, may be willing to serve as references. Resume and whatnot aside, the experience I’m getting is fantastic for my personal and professional growth. I feel so much more confident that I can do this stuff – because I’m doing it!!! This is fantastic!!!

I’m very fortunate in that I can decide this is the most important thing for me to do, and I can choose to pour all my time and energy into it. I’m determined to make a difference!

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?

Healer, Heal Thyself

I came up with a music therapy intervention that not only meets the criteria for at least one part of my piano improvisation midterm, but is also useful for me in my everyday life! I was playing an ostinato (repeated musical pattern) in Mixolydian and kept thinking: “this wants to be a movement intervention, but it’s so tranquil.” I kept imagining myself slowly raising my arms above my head and inhaling, then lowering them and exhaling – like one might do as part of a warm-up for yoga.

Everything I’ve been learning about improvisation, psychotherapy, music therapy, and improvisation points to the same essential guideline: Work with what the client is giving you. My mind was giving me a movement, so I decided to go with it. I played the ostinato in my left hand, used my right arm to do the movement, and sang instructions with the melody that felt most natural. I added turning to one side, back to the center, to the other side, and then back to the center again.

Then I changed up my playing and added my right hand. Initially the music (including my vocal melody) had been very flowy and tranquil, “holding.” I changed it to be more like playing a drum, with shorter sharper notes and pauses between chords, “driving.” It also became slightly faster.

I sang instructions to step side to side and clap, similar to what one might expect in step aerobics. There is an option to increase the tempo (speed), depending on the client’s response and how much time there is for repetition (I need to keep it short for the midterm). I suppose other directions, such as forward and back, and possibly even turning one’s body as one steps, can be added.

After a short time, I returned to the original “holding” music (including vocal melody). I sang instructions to turn to one side and then the other first, then ended with the instructions to raise and lower arms. This gives the exercise a nice symmetry and is intended to help the client remain calm and focused. The whole thing takes about 2 minutes.

Music therapy students are encouraged to be specific regarding which clients would benefit from an intervention, what needs it addresses, and how it meets those needs. It didn’t take me long at all to realize that a simple movement activity like this would be very helpful for me: an able-bodied individual with anxiety and depression, who can follow verbal directions and typically lacks the energy and motivation to exercise.

Everyone (including scientific research) says that physical activity is a highly effective “treatment” for depression, possibly the most effective. I’ve experienced its benefits firsthand, when my symptoms have been mild enough to allow me to do it. The problem is, an intervention doesn’t work if it’s inaccessible to the client (for example, I’d need to modify my instructions – or even come up with a whole new activity – for someone who uses a wheelchair). So, even if exercise could cure depression it doesn’t, because the symptoms of depression prevent exercise.

Which is where my intervention comes in. I could totally see Wakana doing something like this, particularly on a day when my energy and motivation are so low I ask to meet via Skype. I can hear her voice saying, “Stand up, we’re going to do something about this;” I can feel myself groaning as I drag myself out of my chair and scowl at her – annoyed, but secretly hoping that whatever she “makes” me do will provide some relief.

It starts out holding, comforting, with very simple movements that don’t take a lot of energy and can feel good as soon as I start doing them. It’s meeting me where I am: in need of emotional support. The amount of movement, energy, and coordination required increases gradually. When used as a live intervention, the therapist can adjust the level of challenge to meet what the client is capable of at that time. It can be recorded and used by the client (e.g. me) as a daily movement activity that is a million times easier than going to the gym, taking a walk, or even playing Wii Fit. Hopefully it will provide enough energy to encourage additional exercise.

Physical movement aside, I believe listening to the musical intervals (the specific sound created by playing two particular notes simultaneously or consecutively) in my intervention can be intrinsically healing. The Anthroposophical Concept of Intervals describes them in terms of 1) inner or outer focus, 2) movement or stillness, and 3) balance or tension. I find that my musical self-expression, especially when my symptoms are at their worst, tends to involve mostly intervals that are associated with inner focus and tension. There is definitely a place for these elements – in life and in music – but sometimes we need a break from them!

When I was creating this intervention I intentionally chose intervals that are associated with 1) both inner and outer balance as well as 2) active movement outward. Whether I move my physical body or not, use of these intervals reassures me that I am safe and I can direct my energy outward. In other words, these intervals directly contradict the distortion at the core of my mental illness. They free me to be the healthy Self I always am.

All that, in two minutes! I love music therapy.