Assertiveness

I had my long-awaited periodontal treatment yesterday! It was surprisingly straightforward: she accessed the inside of my gums, flushed the area with water, did the bone grafting, and stitched me up. I estimate the whole thing took maybe 45 minutes. The worst part was getting the local anesthesia.

I was very proud of myself. The radio was on when we were first setting up; it sounded to me like people were yelling at each other. I found it was amplifying the anxiety I already felt about having the procedure and anticipated feeling while people were working in my mouth. So, I requested that it be turned off “to help me manage my anxiety.”

(I think my mom was the one who actually got the staff to comply with my request – not the doctor. I don’t think she would have done that if I hadn’t said something. I’m grateful that she advocated for me.)

As soon as the radio was turned off, I instantly relaxed. It was like I had been naked under a thick, heavy blanket made of an abrasive material that covered my whole body and shrouded me in darkness. When the shouting (on the radio) ended, it was like someone had removed the blanket; I was suddenly wearing comfortable clothing in a room with just the right amount of light. I could breathe easier – literally. It was amazing.

I tensed up to varying degrees throughout the procedure, but was reassured when the periodontist checked in and told me what she was doing. The worst was when she needed to give me an extra shot of painkillers. There was adrenaline in the mixture and it made my heart start racing. I managed to communicate my distress; she told me to breathe deeply, counting to five, and exhale slowly. That made the rest of the procedure much easier to endure – even when my sensitivity returned before she was done with the stitches. (I decided I’d rather endure that discomfort than the pain of another needle.)

I was irritable and out of sorts afterward and actually told my mother I needed her to stop talking to me about stressful things. I took the medications they’d prescribed and relaxed for a couple hours.

And then I went to class. Not only did I exist in class, but I was fully present. I took notes and contributed to class discussion. I did my best to support a group member for whom the material hit close to home and disclosed that I am actively struggling with depression. My group mates acted like it was no big deal; I’m simultaneously relieved that this revelation probably won’t impact their acceptance of me… and annoyed that I didn’t get more attention! But perhaps they handled it in the way that’s best for everyone involved. I need to be just another person in this big scary world, not someone who’s considered different, deficient, “other.”

I even role-played a member of the most difficult population for me to face: cancer survivors. I’m very fortunate in that I’ve never had cancer myself, but it has had devastating effects on my family – and, as a result, my mental health. I have mixed feelings about survivors: of course I wish them well and support them in their efforts to overcome a horrible illness – especially the social pressure they face to “stay positive” during an extremely stressful time. I also… experience them as a painful reminder of what – who – I’ve lost. Some of my most painful memories.

I consciously and very actively set up mental blocks to protect myself emotionally. (e.g. “I have no idea what cancer survivors are going through.”) The blocks prevented me from getting – and staying – in character, but it was what I needed at the time. I saw a threat, made a conscious decision, established and maintained a boundary. Yet I was able to talk about it with my group mates, remain present with them, contribute to their learning (I hope), and learn quite a bit in the process.

The periodontist said the prognosis for my tooth is poor due to the location of the bone loss (between the roots).

I say eff that! I want to keep this tooth, so I will! I’m going to make a full recovery.

To Lose a Tooth

I went ahead and had Root Canal Molar removed today. It was surprisingly straightforward: I went in and said I wanted the tooth extracted. They sent me for an emergency examination, during which the student dentist asked me about my previous visits, etc., then called the instructor over to review the case. It was the same instructor from the first time I’d been examined at this facility. He looked over the information, then said they shouldn’t have sent me to emergency and that he was going to expedite the process. (I assume he called my insurance.) Several awkward minutes later, I was on my way to oral surgery.

The instructor who examined me made some comments about “people sometimes change their minds” and “it’s a shame, all the other teeth are present” that were… awkward. Whatever her intentions were, it seemed to me like she was sticking her nose in my business and trying to manipulate me. I’m really not happy about having my tooth pulled; I would have preferred to save it. But the root canal just wasn’t viable; the endodontist couldn’t access the tooth well enough to do the work. And I couldn’t continue living with the problems it was causing. I needed to do something about it, and this was the option that was available to me. After living with intolerable pain for 7 months, receiving even this less-than-ideal treatment is a positive thing!

I won’t go into gruesome detail. Suffice to say the extraction was unpleasant and felt wrong on some fundamental level, like part of me was being ripped out… oh, wait, it was! I was pleasantly surprised that not only could I close my mouth during the procedure, it was actually beneficial and relieved uncomfortable pressure on my jaw. (I thought I’d have to hold my mouth open.) It didn’t take long at all; the assistant described it as “atraumatic.” When it was over I got to see my tooth, complete with some goo on the tip of the root that the assistant said was the infection. I felt relieved to have that out of my skull.

I felt a bit shaky and woozy immediately after the procedure, but I was glad to have it done. I became somewhat irritable as time went on, particularly because I had to bite on gauze to stop the bleeding and that was causing my jaw to hurt quite badly. Then the adrenaline and anesthetic wore off, leaving me feeling drained and in a lot of pain. It’s like a part of me is missing, and there’s a gaping wound in its place. (Actually, that’s exactly what’s going on….)

I eventually decided to remove the gauze; it seems to have stopped bleeding. I took some ibuprofen and am sipping warm black tea (without sugar). It’s very soothing. Now instead of an obnoxious dull ache that spreads from the area, causing jaw pain, ear aches, and headaches, I get to experience a wide variety of pain. The gum is irritated. The jaw is sore (but not particularly stiff – we’ll see how it feels in the morning). There is an occasional throbbing pain that’s sharper and more interesting than the dull ache was. The ibuprofen is taking the edge off, so I notice the pain but I’m not overwhelmed by it. Hopefully I’ll be able to sleep tonight.

It’s kind of ironic. Originally I didn’t even know there was a problem with Root Canal Molar. Especially when my gum infection worsened, I wanted Endangered Molar out of my mouth! But it’s still there, and (according to the dental insurance representative I talked to on Friday) the periodontal referral has been sent to a supervisor to expedite its review. Contrary to what they told me two weeks ago, my dental insurance received the referral on January 26th and just let it sit around for a month, while my jaw bone continues to rot. I should have a decision by tomorrow – something tells me I’ll have to call them to find out what it is.

My hope is that I’ll be able to receive treatment and get to keep that tooth. Now that I know what it’s like to have one tooth missing, I really don’t want to lose two right next to each other! But, in the end, there’s only so much we can do. “What will be will be” and all that.

Dr. Jekyll Experiments with Whole Tones

I’m taking a course in piano improvisation for music therapy, which is both really cool and nerve-wracking. We get to go far beyond the conventions of traditional Western music, to explore musical expression more broadly. We’re simultaneously learning to appreciate the emotional effects of intervals (the specific sound created by playing two particular notes simultaneously or consecutively) and developing a working knowledge of “alternative” modes and scales. It’s nerve-wracking because one never knows when one will be called upon to do this brand-new thing in front of the entire class, and I tend to lack confidence in my piano skills.

The solution is, of course, to practice – both to improve my skills and confidence, and to play with all the new toys that are being handed to me each week! I was feeling rather bored yesterday, alone in my messy apartment without Fox to help me focus my energy. I’d already played The Sims 3 for a few hours and wanted to do something different, so I decided to improvise on piano for a while.

I practiced the whole tone scale, which does not have any half-steps and creates a very dream-like feeling. On the piano it can be played by choosing a key to start on (e.g. middle C), then skipping a key between each one you play. There are two basic whole tone scales; you can start and end on any pitch in either of them.

Whole tone scales for piano starting on C-natural and D-flat. Together they use every key within a minor 9th on the piano.

Whole tone scales for piano starting on C-natural and D-flat. Together they use every key  on the piano within a minor 9th.

I started out by just playing the scale that starts on C-natural, first in the right hand and then in the left. My right hand began to try making more creative melodies, while my left searched for some kind of accompaniment (which in my mind means playing at least two notes simultaneously, preferably with a rhythmic pattern). I made the conscious choice to avoid intervals that are considered consonant (peaceful) in Western music, prioritizing dissonance (tension) and sounds that were unfamiliar.

That led my music to become quite harsh, expressing a mix of anxiety and anger that was almost completely nonverbal. I abandoned the whole tone scale and other ways of organizing pitches (specific audible frequencies) into what is conventionally considered music, relying more and more heavily on tone clusters. There were rhythmic elements and patterns in my playing, but no real meter (a way of organizing rhythm). In other words, I was literally banging on the piano with open hands and had very little intentional control over individual fingers. As time went on, the improvisation became increasingly chaotic.

Themes emerged in the music such as a “rumbling” in the lowest register that I sometimes played with both hands, sometimes with the left hand only. The right hand would flee from this dark ominous rumbling and scramble “up” the piano into the high register, where the sequences of pitches I played were rather frantic. I had the mental image of struggling to climb a slippery rocky incline where I couldn’t find a secure grip. The abyss and/or some horrible monster waited below. At times there was a call-and-response structure to the music, in which one hand would play something (while the other hand was silent), then the other would respond with similar rhythmic patterns (while the first hand was silent).

I quickly interpreted the dark ominous rumbling to be the voice I hear when my depression symptoms are at their worst, telling me I’m worthless, alone, etc. The self-destructive urges that at best undermine my short-term goals and at worst tempt me toward suicide. My inner demon, my true mental illness, my internalization of the abuse I’ve experienced, etc. etc. etc. It has no redeeming qualities, yet I allow it to seduce me.

The right hand could only scramble so far up the keyboard before it had nowhere else to go, so it would come back down toward the rumbling, sometimes joining it. There was no rest, no slowing down and organizing, no creating intentional patterns, no stability. I think my attempt to explore beyond Western music became an excuse for avoiding it, thus depriving myself of most if not all of techniques I currently have in my repertoire for restoring stability, calm, and a sense of wholeness (which I should be using music to promote). I was “up the creek without a paddle” – because I’d intentionally left both my paddles at home.

There was a part of my mind that urged caution, reminding me that I was alone with no one to pull me out of the abyss if I needed them to. I was not with Wakana in therapy, where an exploration like this might prove useful – and could be done safely. It urged me not to go too deep, to come back, to be careful and compassionate toward myself.

But another part was fascinated. It wanted to sit back and observe and analyze everything that was happening. It assured my cautious mind that I could handle this, that it would pull me back when necessary. This is the part that’s enabling me to write about my experience like an objective researcher writing a case study. I think it’s the part of the human psyche that finds serial killers so fascinating. – and, admittedly, part of why I study psychology.

I found the whole experience so interesting, I decided to intentionally cause it to happen again so I’d have an audio recording. If only I hadn’t deleted the file when I hit my first obstacle to transferring it from my phone to my computer. I’d really love to hear what I played, and to analyze it…

The title of this post is a reference to the musical Jekyll & Hyde, which is based on the novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. In the musical, Dr. Jekyll begins experimenting on himself in order to find a way to remove the evil in his father’s soul. He instead creates Mr. Hyde, an alter-ego who embodies and acts upon all of Jekyll’s “evil” urges – unchecked by morals or concern about his standing in society.

A double exposure image featuring Richard Mansfield as both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, taken by Henry Van der Weyde circa 1895. Public domain image downloaded from the Wikipedia Commons.

A double exposure image featuring Richard Mansfield as both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, taken by Henry Van der Weyde circa 1895. Public domain image from the Wikipedia Commons.

I’d be tempted to say I write about my “Mr. Hyde” on this blog all the time, but I only disclose part of it. I can admit to suicidal thoughts, habits I know are unhealthy, the temptation to give up on everything, frustration in relationships, anger, guilt, etc. I don’t use this blog to share my thoughts that are racist, wish dishonorable death upon certain politicians, objectify others for my own sexual gratification, devalue other people’s perspectives, etc. To do so would be inappropriate and harmful. I only mention these things now because I believe they are some of the human tendencies Mr. Hyde represents – and we each have our own version of him. We can’t separate him from the “good” part of our psyche, but we can limit his influence on our behavior. Perhaps we can even help him change to be less “evil.”

I think the more important character to examine is Dr. Jekyll, the one who unleashes Mr. Hyde. In the musical his stated intention is to cure his father, who is comatose. He isn’t allowed to experiment on other humans due to the risks involved, so he experiments on himself instead. The song “This is the Moment” reveals that his motivations aren’t really all that altruistic; he’s motivated by pride. He wants to prove himself, to prove “them” wrong. He’s not really being heroic. He’s being reckless.

Watch Robert Cuccioli perform “This is the Moment” on YouTube

Okay, so maybe the first time he transforms into Mr. Hyde it’s an accident. He had no way of knowing that would happen, right? Fine. The problem is that he keeps doing it, over and over, until he loses control. He prioritizes his research over his Self – and the safety of others.

You’re probably wondering what all this has to do with whole tones. Well I started out by practicing whole tone scales, then trying to improvise with them, but I was reckless. I didn’t do anything to ground myself, like going ahead and using a consonant interval (C and E) or playing one of the ostinati we’d practiced in class. (“Ostinati” is the plural of “ostinato,” a short musical phrase played over and over.) Without a predictable pattern, comforting intervals, something to keep me calm and ordered, I had no protection from the chaos.

Okay, so I banged on the piano for a while and made a lot of noise. It was during the day. Anyone who heard it was probably just a bit annoyed by it, then went on with their lives. I might have been the only one who heard it.

The problem is that I knew it was risky to allow my musical improvisation to become so chaotic, but I did it anyway. I felt unsafe – otherwise I wouldn’t have had thoughts urging caution; it wouldn’t have mattered that I was alone. I knew I was unleashing powerful forces I wasn’t prepared to deal with on my own. But instead of stopping the improvisation and moving on to something safer, I decided to go back, to go deeper into the abyss.

I’ll admit, it was kind of fun to romp around. When I needed to come back, I moved myself more and more toward consonant intervals. I played a G-major chord, regained conscious intentional control over my fingers, and explored tonal music for a while. I don’t remember exactly how I felt when I ended the improvisation, but I thought I was okay.

I wasn’t okay. My mind was in utter chaos. The light was too bright. There were too many colors and sounds. The clutter in my apartment that I can usually block out (or even find comforting) was overwhelming. Every thought splintered into several more. Each word brought on an association: an image or a song. That association would lead to another and another and another… it was all going too fast! I couldn’t focus my energy. I could barely move. All I could do was sit and put my head down and try to find something that wasn’t stimulating.

I texted Banji and told her: “I feel like I’m in the middle of a crowded room with hundreds of conversations going on around me, ten TVs set to different channels and blasting, ten radios also set to different stations and blasting, and there’s no escape!” She replied, “hugs,” and I sent her more texts describing how it had happened. I felt the tension melting away as I did so. Eventually I decided to take a shower, which provided sensations I find comforting (and pleasurable) and that brought me back into my body: in a word, grounding. My mind picked one (or maybe two?) thing(s) to focus on. I was even able to read a chapter of Yalom (The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy) during a Skype homework session with Banji.

I’m going to take it as a learning experience. At first I thought maybe whole tone improvisation was contraindicated (not a good idea) for me, but I think the more important lesson is the importance of grounding. There needs to be some kind of home base that can be referenced at any time and provides the foundation for the music experience.

More importantly, I can’t experiment on myself – no matter how much what I learn might benefit my future clients, or how “fascinating” it is. My safety has to come first; I need to recognize and respect my own boundaries.

Relationship Triangles

My mom bought a card for me to give to my aunt for her birthday and has been nagging reminding me to mail it. She says she wants to make my aunt feel good/special on her birthday and it’s very important, etc. etc. etc.

Which is all well and good. I get where she’s coming from. But I’m an adult now; I need to have adult relationships with my family members. I wasn’t thinking of getting my aunt a card, to be honest – I just planned to write “happy birthday” on her Facebook. However that might have made influenced her to feel is – or at least should be – between my aunt and me. But with my family, that’s not always the case…

I’ve noticed a pattern with how my mother and I relate, and I’ve finally figured out a concrete way to express it. In the image below, “Aunt A” could really be replaced with just about anyone, including my husband.

relationship triangle

ways of relating with my mom and a third person

The first (left) triangle simply illustrates that there are 3 people involved. Notice that Mom and I are closer to each other than to whomever the third person happens to be. This represents our enmeshment.

The second (middle) triangle shows what healthy relationships would look like. I have a 2-way relationship with my mom, independent of the third person. Mom and I each have a 2-way relationship with the third person, independent of each other. This is what I want, what seems most natural and logical to me, what I tend to see happening regardless of what the reality may be.

The third (right) triangle shows what’s been happening; I’ve noticed it in this case and when she nags encourages me to remind/help/coerce Fox (my husband) to do certain things. She has the healthy 2-way relationship with the third person (blue line), whether she chooses to use it or not. (She uses it with Aunt A – her sister – but I think she tends to ignore it when dealing with Fox.) And she uses me to influence the third person. I represent this in the image with a line that literally covers most of the word “Me,” making me invisible. The line is a shade of green that I consider repulsive, to demonstrate that this way of relating is unhealthy.

the third relationship triangle by itself

the third relationship triangle by itself

I didn’t draw the line representing my healthy 2-way relationship with Aunt A in the third triangle. If I had, then Mom’s green line would be obscuring that, too. She’s not just extending her power in her relationships by using me – she’s also controlling my relationships. I think this is the more important point – at least for me.

I’ve tried talking to her about it. I set a boundary by telling her that if she has an issue with Fox, then she should talk to him about it and not me. I told her that I would rather pick out my own card to send Aunt A for her birthday. I even told her I felt like I was being controlled.

But I’m not sure how to get to the root of what’s going on, except perhaps to show her this post. The boundary I truly need to set goes so much deeper than birthday cards or even in-person conversations about important things that Fox should be doing on his own without reminders from Mom or me. It has to do with me as a separate person, me with my own relationships. It’s saying she can’t use me as a way of relating to or influencing other people. She has to rely on her own (abundant) resources. She has to be honest with them.

And it’s taking responsibility for my own relationships. I get a lot of my family news from her (e.g. “How’s my godmother doing?”) and rely on her to convey messages (e.g. “Tell her I love her.”). I need to communicate directly with people I care about. I know that; it’s a work-in-progress.

But at least I’m honest about it. I don’t put her in the position of having to pretend she’s not conveying a message from me.

To be fair, I guess the most accurate relationship triangle with my mom and a third person would look something like this:

a more accurate relationship triangle with Mom and another person

a more accurate relationship triangle with Mom and a third person

That’s a lot of a repulsive shade of green being pointed at someone Mom and I both care about! It’s obscuring both Mom and me and hurting all our relationships – especially our relationship to each other (double whammy!). That’s not okay.

But now I can see it, and that’s the first step toward doing something about it. This is one of the many resources I’ve gained from therapy.

… Covered in Bees!

content notes: bee and wasp phobia, boundary issues

I couldn’t sleep last night. First, I didn’t want to go to sleep, even though I was tired and needed to be well-rested to have my first session of the new year with Wakana. I played a puzzle game on my phone until I was too tired to think, then switched to an app that’s supposed to help with relaxation and “stress relief.”

I usually drift off very easily while listening to the app’s guided meditation and complex background sounds, but last night was different. In short, I didn’t feel safe. There was a malicious voice, an ominous presence, like a demon. He twisted all the imagery in the guided meditation to be threatening. The deserted beach I had all to myself was deserted because no one wanted to be with me, so I was alone and no one was there to help me if I got hurt. The ocean I was sailing across was turbulent from a storm and full of dangerous creatures. My eyelids and muscles were relaxing and getting heavy so I’d be trapped there with him, completely helpless. The “low bed in the earth” – that’s how it was described, don’t ask me how that’s supposed to be relaxing – was a coffin!

I jerked myself out of the “relaxation,” turned off the recording, curled up in fetal position, and wept. I don’t know how much time passed, or how I finally fell asleep. But this is the dream I remembered when I awoke:

I was in a room like a college dorm room, with two beds. One was large – at least a full, maybe a queen – and covered in memory foam and very comfortable. Fox said he wanted that bed, and I agreed because I had a comfortable place of my own to sleep. I don’t remember exactly what it was, maybe a recliner or air mattress or something; I was content with it.

I set my sleeping place up next to another bed – which was like the extra-long twin beds in college dorm rooms – and looked around the room. I saw a dresser and a nightstand and thought, “I would really like to have someplace to put my water within reach while I sleep.” (In real life I have to sit up to reach the surface that functions as my nightstand.) I thought the nightstand would fit well at the foot of the dorm bed and be in just the right spot for me to use while resting on whatever it was I’d brought. However, before I could move the nightstand, something inspired me to check out the dorm bed – just in case I thought it might be a more comfortable place to sleep.

One end of the bed was raised off the floor as beds typically are, but the other was on the floor and the mattress formed a sharp angle. There was a large lump in the middle of the bed, like a foam wedge one might put under one’s knees to sleep more comfortably. It was under the sheet so I couldn’t really make out exactly what it was, but based on the available information I was thinking I didn’t want to sleep in that bed…

Then I saw a bee – more accurately, a wasp – perched at the peak of whatever was under the sheet, in the middle of the bed. It was a brown-red color. I think all wasps look menacing, so this one did, too. I tried to back away slowly, but it flew toward me. I knew it was going to sting me, it was only a matter of time. No matter what I did, how I moved, it wouldn’t go away. If I tried to swat or otherwise redirect it, it would just get angry and sting me more. I was terrified, helpless.

I awoke with a start – still exhausted, tense, anxious, and angry. But I made a connection I hadn’t noticed before: in all my nightmares about bees (wasps, yellow jackets, etc.) they are always attracted to me as soon as I notice them. They keep coming toward me no matter what I do, and it’s only a matter of time before I will get stung. I don’t think I’ve ever actually been stung in the dream – I wake up before it can happen. It’s the thing I dread. Overwhelming, paralyzing anxiety. To me it takes the form of a menacing insect. I think there’s usually only one in my visual field, but knowing they can swarm makes it much, much worse…

Right, the connection: bees represent my lack of boundaries.

I didn’t feel safe last night because the malicious being that was menacing me was in my head. No boundaries.

If I open my door to talk to Mom, Dog is likely to walk in (without acknowledging me) and sniff every centimeter of my apartment looking for something to eat. I usually remember to keep food out of his reach, but he likes to take dirty tissues (and other unsavory items) out of the garbage. The things I don’t want anymore, that are supposed to be discarded, unseen, are strewn across the floor in broad daylight. It feels like there’s no stopping him. No boundaries. I’m vulnerable.

When Mom comes in she notices the cluttered wreck my life has become (who wouldn’t?) and comments on it. She talks about rearranging the kitchen and says I need to get rid of this and that and offers to help me go through things, without asking me what I want to do about the mess. She compulsively picks up hair and dust off the floor while I watch awkwardly, feeling helpless and angry and ashamed. She asks questions about and tells me what to do in my relationship with my husband – all unsolicited. I think she’s been offering to help me clean because she’s bored.

Even when I enjoy spending time with Mom, then it needs to come to a close. We’re both getting tired, she’s said “let me go eat” about a gazillion times, and yet she keeps coming up with something new to talk about. “What else?” she asks over and over, like this is the last chance we’ll ever have to talk so we need to say everything to each other. She pushes and worms her way in and clings until I can’t take it anymore. Sometimes she leaves and then comes back. If I try to get her to leave more quickly she just clings even more. I feel like there’s no escaping her, and I’m going to get stung.

I’m having boundary issues with Fox, too. He moved my phone charger without telling me, so I was panicking that I’d lost it somehow – not hard to do with all the clutter. He’ll take heavy things from me (because I somehow lost all my physical strength as soon as I met a man?), move my stuff without asking, leave empty bottles all over the place, and let his alarm go off several times before he gets up. Food keeps going bad because we don’t eat it in time; often it gets shoved to the back of the fridge. I usually try to keep that from happening (e.g. when putting groceries away) so I think he’s at least partially (mostly) responsible. It makes me so angry! Sometimes he asks me not to eat something because he wants it and then it goes bad. Or, I go to eat something and it’s all but gone. I feel out of control.

We’ve been staying up too late and getting up too early and even though he tries to be considerate he wakes me multiple times when he’s getting ready for work. I can’t sleep with him because I don’t have enough room to relax fully and I can’t stand the sound of his snoring. When we sleep in different rooms he always needs to get or do something in the room I’m in (if he’s awake first). He calls me multiple times on his way home from work, which interrupts whatever I was doing.

He doesn’t drive, so he’s dependent on what public transportation is available in our area. It’s not the best, but it’s usually reliable; it’s also a bit of a walk from home. Mom tells me I should drive him there and back, so I feel obligated to do so and guilty when I don’t – even though he seems to think of it as me doing him a favor and not a service he’s entitled to. So it’s not just waking up earlier than I’d like, it’s having to get up and drive him somewhere. He tends to wait until the last minute, too, so it’s rushing and worrying about whether he’ll be on time. It’s not just being interrupted when he gets home, it’s having to stop what I’m doing and drive somewhere to pick him up. Occasionally he gets stranded somewhere and I have to go rescue him in the middle of the night. Then when we get home I want to be considerate and interact with him, but he wants to go on the computer.

I’m grateful that at least he’s working and he’s doing his best to be considerate and all that jazz. It’s just… frustrating. Especially when I can’t sleep. Even moreso when the thing I’m using to try and help myself sleep backfires. I could have been sleeping the past few hours but I feel like it’s wrong to sleep through the precious few daylight hours we get this time of year.

Sort of connected to lack of boundaries, perhaps my subconscious is trying to warn me about dependency. In college dorms, the beds are provided to students; they (especially the one in my dream) are not of the best quality, but they’re better than nothing. I’m currently dependent on my mother for housing. This apartment (like a twin bed) is nice for one person, but way too small for two.

In my dream I had my own place to sleep and was going to rearrange my environment using my own strength to meet my needs – without consulting or getting unsolicited advice from anyone. But then I wanted to see if I’d be more comfortable with the bed that was provided – dependency. Only then did the wasp become a threat – it might not have even existed before I approached the bed! I could have slept soundly on whatever it was that I’d brought into the room myself, with the nightstand I’d moved within easy reach. Instead, I considered being dependent on what was provided to me – even though I could tell from a distance that it was less than ideal. Only then did the wasp appear. It never actually stung me; it just prevented me from approaching the bed.

Maybe the wasp isn’t really the threat, maybe it’s a warning.

a day with depression turns 2!

Yesterday (December 12th) was my two-year anniversary blogging on WordPress! They sent me this lovely notification:

"Happy Anniversary! You registered on WordPress.com 2 years ago! Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging!"

A “W” with a laurel wreath around it in a circle, shades of blue. The text above and below the image reads: “Happy Anniversary! You registered on WordPress.com 2 years ago! Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging!” Created by the wonderful people at WordPress.com

I’m very happy with how my blog has been doing! So far it has 357 followers and has been viewed over 16,620 times by people all over the world! Here are some images from my stats page:

A bar graph showing monthly visitors (dark blue) and views (light blue) from December 2012 through 1:29pm EST on December 13, 2014.

A bar graph showing monthly visitors (dark blue) and views (light blue) from December 2012 through 1:29pm EST on December 13, 2014.

A map of the world showing countries color-coded according to how many views were by people in that country. Colors range from pale yellow (least views) to bright fushia (most views). Countries are listed on the left side of the image in order from most to least views. Most views of this blog are from the U.S. (10,323) the U.K. (1,446), Canada (1,196), and Australia (781).

A map of the world showing countries color-coded according to how many views were by people in that country. Colors range from pale yellow (least views) to bright fushia (most views). Countries are listed on the left side of the image in order from most to least views. Most views of this blog are from the U.S. (10,323) the U.K. (1,446), Canada (1,196), and Australia (781).

So much has happened over the past 2 years, I really don’t think I could do it justice if I tried to write a summary. I do want to point out that my very first post – which I broke into 3 parts – was about my not-so-successful attempts to find the right medication to help manage my symptoms. I later realized that what I really needed was to find the right psychiatrist, then eventually learned that the best person for me to see (whom I could afford and access) was actually an advanced practice nurse. Her willingness to listen to me and trust me as an expert in my own needs and experiences saved us both a lot of time and headache, and I think I’m now on a very good if not the best currently-available medication for me (Lamictal/lamotrigine). We’re slowly increasing my dose to a therapeutic level and I’m already seeing some benefit, with minimal side effects. Finally!

I wrote quarterly reviews during my first year of blogging; they express my slightly-longer-term perspective on what was going on at the time. I suppose you could say 2014 has been less efficiently documented. I started out the year by making a resolution to remember that, whether I’m having the best day of my life or the worst, I’m always the “real” me. I think I did a good job of keeping to that resolution. I also renewed my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health Project.

In February I let go of the emotional burden I’d been carrying around since my father died 16 – now almost 17 – years ago. It was a great healing experience but I still miss him; sometimes I think I miss him more. In March I announced that I aim to misbehave when it comes to talking about depression – that is, to talk and write about it as honestly as I’m able when I’m experiencing my symptoms at their worst, not just “after the fact” when I can put it all in a neat, “sane” package. I also allied with the part of me that fears “recovering” – getting a job, raising a family, all the stuff we’re supposed to strive for – because of the risk that I’ll stop taking care of myself. That theme has recurred during the year, including quite recently, as I struggle to be responsive to my own emotional and other needs and also get back into the activities and goals that were (are?) important to me. To be honest, I think I need to let the storm that is the “holiday season” blow over before I can really focus on such things.

In May I wrote a bit about shame and how it is addressed in Frozen, particularly in the song “Fixer-Upper.” During a family reunion I also wrote about my need to detach emotionally from the intense emotional chaos that was going on around me. Later I realized that a lot of the not-so-savory emotions I was feeling were “borrowed” from one of my aunts; had I taken a step back to say, “that’s how she feels. How do I feel?” the whole experience probably would have been a lot less intense.

June was a difficult month, particularly for my marriage. I was feeling more energized and motivated to pursue my career goals, and very frustrated with Fox for not being on the same page. I actually broke up with him – or at least tried to do so, but he convinced me to give him a chance to make things better. I realized I needed to separate myself from Mom, who I’m sure meant well but was encouraging my feelings toward separation from Fox more than I needed – not providing the balance that would help me figure out what I really wanted. Toward that end I revisited addressing my codependency and the ways in which I’m a reactionary. I realized that my worst fear is that I will give up on myself and commit suicide. Finally, I decided that I needed to listen to myself and went back through blog posts leading up to my legal marriage ceremony in November 2013 to find places where I expressed problems in our relationship, doubt, or insecurity. Now I’m thinking it’s probably not very helpful to dive into all that negativity without also looking at the positive aspects as well – a key tendency in depression – but at the time it was what I needed to do. It helped me find and assert myself and, most importantly, address those issues.

In July we started the marriage counseling that has not only revitalized and strengthened our marriage, but also benefited our mental health as individuals immensely. Most of my posts from that month have to do with taking time to figure out what I want and asserting myself in my interactions with others. Very importantly, this includes expressing my emotions even – especially! – when I think they will be difficult for others to hear. I had my first meeting with my advanced practice nurse (APN) on July 31.

August. The good news is, Fox started seeing a psychiatrist (part 1, part 2) and taking the medication (Wellbutrin/bupropion) that has been helping him a great deal over the past four months. I also started tracking my depression symptoms / severity on the Burns Depression Checklist – something I was able to do consistently for 3.5 months (and only stopped because I’ve found something better!). The bad news is, Robin Williams committed suicide… I still don’t think I’m ready to write about how that has affected me. The month ended soon after our pet rat, Trouble, was having so much difficulty breathing the only humane thing we could do was put him to sleep.

In September I went to my first (and so far only) depression / bipolar support group meeting, but was more frazzled by it than anything else. It’s good to know that it’s there for if and when I decide I’m ready to try it again. I also (finally) read The Drama of the Gifted Child, which helped me face the reality of my own childhood and commit even more strongly to nurturing and expressing my true self – emotions, needs, wants, etc. I started taking Lamictal/lamotrigine on the 29th. On the 30th something extraordinary happened: the persona who had been controlling my interactions with the rest of the world – often if not practically always at the expense of my true self – resigned, allowing zir adaptive aspects to be integrated without the not-so-desirable consequences. That left, well, me – the true self – in charge.

In October I recognized that the (now deceased/integrated) persona I’ve taken to calling the Censor, and my “mental illness” in general, are a collection of once-adaptive behaviors I developed to ensure my own survival. That’s a far cry from them being separate from or imposed upon me, and much much closer to that original resolution I made back in January. It helps me to be much kinder to myself and more engaged in the process of healing, becoming whomever I want and/or need to become. Speaking of need, I decided that the next step in the process is to get out and interact with people in groups and develop my social skills, but so far I haven’t been able to face my fears. Finally, October marked the first time in way too long that I was able to go for multiple days – even multiple weeks – without having any suicidal thoughts.

By early November my emotional norm was to be considerably less depressed, in the “mild depression” and even “normal but unhappy” ranges according to Burns. It was quite a nice place to be, I’d like to get back there. On the first anniversary of our legal marriage, Fox and I reaffirmed our commitment to each other in front of our combined family and friends. Then we threw the best party ever! I had an absolute blast and will enjoy reminiscing about the experience, well, hopefully for several decades. I needed some time to process and integrate the not-so-good aspects of the experience, but I think I’ve accepted them… adequately. It was a very complex, intensely emotional experience, and I’m so glad I got to have it and share it with the people closest to me.

I’ve been in a difficult low since the wedding. At first it was exhaustion from the event, and over time I became more and more frustrated with not being able to do the things I’d hoped I could, riding the energy from all the planning and joy of the event itself. I lost my motivation. Now, with the holidays looming, I feel like I’m hanging onto a raft in the middle of a raging sea; I need to find solid ground before I can try to build anything. At least the work Mom was having done on the roof is finished, so I’m able to get a decent night’s sleep and wake (more or less) on my own terms. I enjoy spending time with people I care about and try to get a healthy dose of social interaction every day. It seems the healthiest thing I can do right now is just accept that I need to focus on my emotional needs and “take care of myself,” as Wakana put it.

In short, I’ve grown a whole lot over the past year, and my first year of blogging definitely helped set me up to be able to do it. This blog has benefited me immensely. I hope it has helped others as well.

Here’s to the beginning of year #3…

I wanted today to be the start of something new and uplifting. I would start a Coursera course and actually stick with that for the full 4 to 5 weeks that it runs. But the courses that are available are insufferably boring! And, well, they’re on entrepreneurship. I’m not sure whether the idea I have is worth pursuing, or another grandiose project I’m going to abandon in a week or less. I guess, just by thinking that, I’ve already abandoned it…

I would start exercising every day. I would start tracking with a new wellness tracking app that I found. Well I did track but it wasn’t as satisfying as the Burns Depression Checklist. I wanted to share the checklist on the site by the way – so anyone who’s interested can use it to benefit their own mental health – but my request for permission to republish it was denied due to risk of piracy. It’s copyrighted material and all that jazz.

I wanted to write a blog post – well I guess I’m doing that. I would actually clean the apartment – well, I cleared some stuff from around and on my desk. It’s an improvement I can build upon, I guess.

I don’t know! something new, something interesting, being social for a change, making some kind of progress of my life… but I just don’t feel any of it.

The things I’ve tried, I’ve run into brick walls. I called the dentist and found out that the referral for the periodontist was denied, so I waited five weeks for a referral for nothing! My only option is to lose the tooth the dentist wanted to save because “I’m so young” and she didn’t want to “feel guilty.” Well it’s time for me to lay on the guilt! I’m in a worse situation now than if it had been pulled a month ago.

I shouldn’t have agreed to trying to see the periodontist, I should’ve just said that that tooth needs to be pulled and it could be out of my mouth already! I still have to wait for the referral to see an oral surgeon; I don’t even know how long it’s going to take! I hate not having any control over my own health. This is ridiculous!

It was a nice day today but I didn’t get outside while it was still daylight because I was looking at Facebook. and then it got dark and cold and I just… I know that I should try to listen to upbeat music and exercise is something that might help me, but I just don’t feel it! I feel like my limbs are made of lead, like I don’t have the energy to move my body, like maybe I should just go to sleep. Maybe if I go to bed now, tomorrow will be better. But I can’t even go to bed because Fox is coming home soon! He’ll wake me and I kind of want to hang out with him, kind of don’t. I’m not sure whether it’s that “I need some space” or “oh no I’m isolating, raise the red flags!” Maybe it’s a little bit of both.

Actually, I think I know what it is. He’s kind of running my life. I support him in getting to and from work each day. My schedule revolves around him. When he left for work he “encouraged” me to clean the house – like it’s something I’m doing for him. I ran an errand for him yesterday. He let his government-issued ID expire, so now Mom keeps lecturing me about how important it is for him to get a new one. He’d rather have off from work on a day when we can hang out with friends than during normal business hours so he can take care of this. She asks me about it and then gives me a hard time when I repeat what he said.

It really shouldn’t be my problem but somehow it is. I’m going to tell Mom this is my thing to talk to him about, and if she wants to talk to him about it she’s welcome to, but she’s not allowed to talk to me about it anymore because I’m not the one who has to do something, he is. It’s past time for her to get her nose out of my marriage!

I was going to say that I feel like I need to slow down, figure out where I am, and decide what I want to do. Like stopping at a rest stop, relieving myself, refueling, and looking at a map. I can do those things, but more importantly I need to fire my navigator.

And, well, I think it’s time to tell the hitchhiker he needs to drive his own car. I can’t focus on the stuff I need to do – for both of us! – if I make it my job to help him be an adult. I certainly can’t do it because my mom is all but forcing me to. I can barely take care of myself, never mind taking care of both of them!

I know what new thing I’m going to start this month: practicing mindfulness. Even just a few minutes a day should help me center myself and focus on what’s important to me, Ziya. I can even do it right now!

Exhausted

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my mother lately, mostly doing things for the wedding (or talking about them). It feels good to be productive and my social activities score on the Burns Depression Checklist has been extremely low (which is good). Things are getting done, it’s all coming together, and for the most part I’m happy and optimistic.

On top of wedding stuff, I’m doing my best to be supportive of Fox: giving him massages, making sandwiches, doing my best to be responsive to his needs. It can’t be all I am, but for now I find it empowering because I can make a difference for someone I care about and he appreciates it. (He’s working full time in a job that has him on his feet all day to support both of us.)

The only catch is, all this stuff doesn’t really leave a lot of time for me.

The time with Mom usually starts out good. She gives useful suggestions and feeds me and we talk and we get stuff done (admittedly, more than I probably would if left to my own devices – but don’t tell her that!).

But over time she gets to me. She’s freaking out about every little thing – and freaks out even more if someone tells her she’s stressed and she needs to calm down. From what she’s told me, they send mixed messages: “You have to do this! Actually you can do whatever you want, stop worrying about what people say you have to do.” Something about goodie bags for hotel rooms, I tell her “don’t sweat it,” she thinks I mean don’t do it and gets angry because she’s already gotten all the stuff and I have to explain myself. (It’s great she’s doing them and what she has is overly generous, so she can just do what she’s planning and not worry about it – i.e. please stop talking about it.) This person’s saying this to her and that person’s afraid of that and I don’t have any of the context so I freak out because I want everyone to show up and have a good time and congratulate me.

She’s talking about it constantly and she can do whatever she wants for the wedding, but I can’t do this idea because it’s not appropriate for the type of event I’m hosting or that idea because it’s “too much” or whatever. It’s my fucking wedding, what I want should be law, but that’s just now how it works in the real world (or at least my world). She thinks we should list the buffet selections on the program, Fox thinks it’s tacky, I don’t even know what I want except for him to happy with it. Finally she agreed to make separate menu cards and we adjusted the spacing on the program so now it’s perfect. Let’s move on!

I feel like it’s her wedding and she’s constantly telling me what to do for it. I feel like my life is her life and she’s constantly telling me what to do for it. I say “I need to ______” and she says “You need to ________” like I don’t know or “Well? Why aren’t you doing it?!” – the answer is usually “because you’re in the middle of a sentence.” Planning my own wedding shouldn’t feel like I’m constantly being assigned homework.

There’s so much going on and so much that’s been done I don’t even know what I need to do anymore! I feel like I’m going to forget the most important thing, like writing my vows. By the time she decides to call it a night and stop randomly invading my space to talk about this and that, I can’t think anymore. I’m literally too exhausted to think. I kind of want to… oh please don’t say “die,” I’ve gone 13 days without any suicidal urges and I want to keep up my streak! Have some time when I don’t need to think, especially not about wedding stuff. Time when I can just exist, rest, relax … maybe meditate?

On a related note, my whole experience of life has shifted quite a bit. I’m a lot less depressed, and despite being stressed out about everything above and more I think I’m less anxious and irritable and whatnot, too. Okay, maybe not less irritable, I have been fighting with my mother quite a bit – but I consider that an improvement over being a doormat. Well, okay, I’m kind of still a doormat. I’m a doormat with at least one corner that rolls up and trips people. But I have reasons to fight with my mother, I’m not just angry at the people closest to me for no reason. That’s definitely an improvement.

I used to be depressed pretty much all the time, except for really good days when I was considerably less depressed. Now I think there are times during the day – occasionally, whole days – when I’m not depressed at all. (There might be some symptoms of depression, but not enough or severe enough to be problematic.)

Ironically, I notice my depression more because it’s a significant change in my functioning: sadness I can’t explain or that comes on stronger than I’d expect, feeling like all my energy has drained away, losing interest in engaging with other people and the world, trouble concentrating or focusing (nor not wanting to think anymore because I’m so exhausted)… I can almost say, “at about noon I was feeling happy and I had energy and I was focused on doing this and that and asserting myself and knew I could achieve what I was setting out to do, etc. … but at 6pm I felt depressed.” I’d feel a lot more confident saying that – and especially giving specific times – if I were writing down significant shifts in my mood throughout the day.

I still kind of hesitate to attribute the improvement to the Lamictal, but I am pleased to say that I’ve been taking it consistently at about the same time every day. Continuing to do so is important to me, especially with all the stress around the wedding and the crash I expect to happen afterward (based on past experience; multiply that by about a million). My scores on the Burns Depression Checklist in the week after the wedding will be the real indicator of whether this medication is helping me. In the meantime, I’m encouraged by the improvement in my scores since my dose was increased and the lack of significant side effects.

If you’re in the U.S. and you haven’t voted yet, please do so!

Good to See You… but I Wish You Weren’t Here

I just got back from my fourth visit to the APN. I told her the Lamictal seemed to be helping; I’ve been less depressed, my lows haven’t been as low, and my mood is more stable – even with the stress of adjusting to Fox’s new job and wedding planning crunch time and health issues, etc. She decided to increase my dose to 50mg daily and encouraged me to find things to do that would give my day structure and social opportunities.

Someone else was coming in for an appointment as I was making future appointments to see the APN once a month; after a short time I noticed that person was waving to me. It took a few moments for me to recognize her: a former classmate! She started asking how I was and when I was done making my appointments she came over to give me a hug. I was glad to see her but concerned: she seemed stressed and anxious and was clearly going through a rough time – otherwise why would she be at a community mental health center? I wanted to ask questions to show interest in her well-being, but I didn’t want to ask anything that might make her feel uncomfortable. And then she had to go in for her appointment.

On the one hand it was kind of encouraging to know I’m not the only one from my school / program needing to take some time for self-care. It’s kind of normalizing? And I’m glad she’s able to access at least some of the help she needs. I like my APN and I’m pretty sure that’s who she was there to see; I feel fairly confident that she’s in good hands.

On the other hand, I’m kind of shaken. I wasn’t expecting to be in a peer social situation with someone from school. We’d had some opportunities to bond as classmates but I see her more as a “friendly professional acquaintance” than a friend. I’m used to doing everything in my power to hide my mental health issues from friendly professional acquaintances; now one has seen me at a community mental health clinic! I don’t think she’d tell anyone – just like I’m disinclined to tell anyone who might know her – but it’s still awkward!

And my first response is to try and figure out what I can do to help her. What would be appropriate to say to help her feel more comfortable? How can I reach out to her to try and offer some support? I need to be careful how I proceed so I don’t risk outing her. Maybe I shouldn’t even be writing about this!

I guess it’s good that I’m so compassionate. But I need to think about how I feel and what I need. I kind of needed to be in and out of my appointment without unexpected socialization. I also need to socialize with peers other than Fox and the all-too-occasional rendezvous with other friends. I kinda want to reach out to her – “Maybe we can meet at a cafe or diner that’s convenient for both of us? Are you free during the week?” And I kinda want to hide in my shell, try to pretend this didn’t happen.

Depression Bipolar Support Group Week 1

I had a kind of awesome experience: I was getting frustrated trying (and failing) to find a support group or group therapy for people with depression and anxiety, so I asked for help. Within 20 minutes of my request, Mom suggested a local group by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. I canceled my plans with Fox so I could attend group, which had the added bonus of giving me a blissful day to myself; I spent most of it writing the equivalent of 5 blog posts in my paper journal. There’s so much that’s been going on in my head but I haven’t been able to express it because we spend so much time in the same room… I literally can’t do anything without him being aware of it and vice versa. I… this was the third “blog post” I wrote in my journal; I don’t want it to derail my train of thought right now.

So I had a lovely day of reflection and brain-reorganization and then I went to this group. I was really looking forward to it as an opportunity to spend some time with people like me. No need to wear the mask. I could just arrive as I was, exist for 90 minutes, and respond spontaneously to whatever was going on around me. Kind of like what I do with my friends, actually, but with strangers.

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I like being around people like me. They don’t make good eye contact and their lives are really difficult and they’re sad and anxious. They speak in monotone and their body language is weird and they look bored or tired. Sometimes they have trouble listening with empathy. The guy sitting next to me had something to say, loudly and energetically and with grand sweeping hand and arm gestures, in response to everything. And he touched me multiple times before I finally told him “I don’t like being touched” – which isn’t really true, but strangers randomly feel the need to touch my arms and it drives me crazy. You may only touch me if I gesture that I want a hug or put out my hand to shake. Common courtesy.

*spends a few minutes hugging the touched arm to zir chest, protecting it*

The facilitator passed a laminated piece of paper with the group goals written on it around the room, so each person had a turn to read one of the goals. They were things like “to create a supportive environment,” “to keep what is said here confidential,” and “to understand that this is a support group and not therapy.” We each had a minute (more or less) to talk about how we’ve been feeling; I and another new person were welcomed to the group. I talked about having to slow down because I’m having trouble balancing my mental health and school and it’s difficult for me to go into a helping profession while I need so much help myself. Joining the group is an attempt at self-care.

I wasn’t really able to say much else, mostly because of Mr. Response for Everything sitting next to me. I was very tempted to ask him to stop and give others a chance to talk, but I thought the facilitator would do that if he thought it was problematic and he said nothing. I was new, trying to get a feel for how the group operated, and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I fell into my habit of waiting for permission to speak up, and it never came.

Typical.

When we were putting our chairs away one of the other group members came over to talk to me. He thanked me for coming and said he was sorry I didn’t get a chance to share. He encouraged me to come back next week – I guess I looked like I wasn’t going to. Anyways, I appreciate him reaching out to me and I really hope I was able to communicate that. I felt overwhelmed and like I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. On the way home I said a bunch of things to my car that would have been really helpful to say in group; maybe the other people there would have been able to, you know, support me.

There was so much going on that I could relate to, all too well. I almost didn’t have to say anything because in a way it was said for me, and I still got to listen to how others responded to it. Financial issues, mental health issues interfering with career development, feeling as though my peers are doing so much better than me even though I’m just as intelligent and knowledgeable (maybe moreso, in some instances), loss, coping with changes I can’t control, feeling like I have no motivation, no direction in life, being afraid to go to the doctor, trouble getting the healthcare I need… I’m sure there’s something I’m forgetting.

It was… not really what I’d hoped it would be. But it got me out of the house interacting with people, even if I wasn’t very effective at letting them know I was responding to what they said. I think I gained some benefit from it. And it felt good to be welcomed by a group and the individuals who reached out to me (even Mr. Touchy-Feel-y). I’m willing to let the experience be what it was, and see it as the beginning of a process (that will continue next week).