Terminated

(for some reason my brain wants to go “pew pew!!!“)

I’ve been “in crunch time” for my current composition project for a couple weeks now. During Thanksgiving week I accepted 3 articles for the entrepreneurial project (EP) and ended up spending Mon-Wed writing them instead of composing. Then I spent 3 days straight with family – and when I wasn’t with family I was too exhausted to do anything. I didn’t fully explain all of this to the Editor in Chief (EiC), etc. when I said I couldn’t take a 4th article – twice – but I kinda feel like I shouldn’t’ve had to.

What I did do was talk to my friend / the CEO, who told me to talk to the EiC, who proceeded to ignore the message I sent her saying I couldn’t write 3 articles about frankly stupid topics every week because I need to focus on composing. (All unpaid, by the way. If this were a paid gig I would’ve handled it differently.) Last week I flat-out said “no.” This week I accepted the articles but realized I wouldn’t be able to meet the deadlines, so I said “I’m sorry I can’t do these.” Well to be honest I think I should’ve also resigned at that point in time but I dunno, I’ve been feeling ambivalent about this for months now…

They made the decision for me. In the form of an email notifying me I’d been “terminated.” No explanation, and there was certainly no discussion – at least not with me. I was upset for a while, but then I told a friend who was like “wait a minute: you were terminated from a volunteer position that wasn’t even what you wanted to do?” I laughed. And I will be laughing still, in the end… except that something about it is still bothering me.

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Therapists

First off, I’d like to apologize for disappearing for 2.5 months. I’ve been caught up in the Skyrim Let’s Play, other games, working on my thesis proposal, and other stuff. The blog has been on the edge of my radar, but it’s only in the past week or two that I’ve started seriously thinking about posts again. I guess we all need a break from time to time?

Anyways there was a long time when I was first gushing about how much I’ve benefited from my work in music therapy with Wakana, then avoiding her. I’ve been sort of considering termination, but I don’t like the idea in part because that means I’ll stop seeing her and in part because I have this nagging suspicion there are things I still need to work on.

Then I finally met with her in person last week and did that thing you learn about when training to become a therapist that clients often do because transference and it’s awkward and wrong and you definitely can’t act on it… I, well, I started saying things that implied I’m interested in a romantic relationship with her. I even thought the words “I love you,” then pushed them back because I can’t love my therapist, that’s a violation of the boundaries we need to maintain a good working relationship and of ethics and ugh she knows, doesn’t she? Fuck. I have a crush on my therapist. I couldn’t even look at her for the rest of the session without being taken aback by how vibrant and radiant she looks. Why the fuck did this have to happen?!

I can deal with having crushes on many if not most of the people I meet and/or have been friends with for, gods, over a decade. It happens. It’s healthy. It’s kind of fun. I can enjoy the good feelings and focus on enjoying our interactions, which most likely are not romantic. But that’s okay because I’m crushing on them because their personalities are what I find most attractive, and I get to enjoy their personalities when we’re being silly nerds and geeks. (It doesn’t hurt that I find them visually attractive, too.)

But my therapist?

I told Wakana about the crush when I met with her over Skype on Wednesday, because I knew there was no hiding it from her. I just wanted to deal with it so we can get back to the therapy I’d been gushing about because it’s really helped me so much. I feel whole, or at least a lot closer to it, and stuff that used to cause me a ton of emotional turmoil is so much easier to deal with now. I’m actually quite happy with where I am in life and confident that I’ll work out the stuff that still needs a lot of work, such as (finally!) applying for internships so I can begin my career.

You know what she told me? She said this is a normal stage that most clients go through and that it’s a good thing because it means I’m starting to love myself. She explained that she holds so much of me – everything I share with her in our sessions – and acts as a mirror for me to see the aspects of myself that have been hidden away for most of my life. I can finally see them, and I’m realizing I think they’re awesome, and now I can reclaim them. “These are mine, I’ll take them back now, thank you.” She said I can also let go of things that aren’t mine, such as thought processes I learned in childhood and adolescence that aren’t helping me.

We can totally work through this crush, processing the feelings I’m transferring to her, so I can focus my love on myself.

It almost feels kind of wrong. Selfish.

She said we could explore whatever fantasies I’m having – not do anything of course, but talk about them and what they symbolize. That was kind of awkward because to be honest I hadn’t gotten that far – and I’d really rather not go there. I almost don’t want to tell her I’m not fantasizing about doing anything specific with her, because I don’t want to hurt her feelings. She embodies much of what I want to be, and I’ve come to feel a strong connection with and positive regard for her. I guess if I’m having any fantasy it’s that I want to move away from our interactions being therapy for me, toward a more mutual emotional sharing through the music we make together. It’s hard to accept that we can’t do that while I’m her client. Maybe that’s why I’ve been thinking about termination: if I’m no longer her client, there’s a possibility we might make music together as a more mutual exchange in the future.

Shifting gears a bit (or perhaps not really) I have finally started meeting with the therapist who will hopefully use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help me overcome my social anxiety (so whatever anxiety I feel before/during social situations won’t hinder me). We just completed intake – so there hasn’t been much time to develop rapport, and we haven’t actually started CBT.

She seems nice and I like her, but I feel like I have more experience as a client than she does as a psychotherapist. I’m trying to resist the urge to ask her about her qualifications and experience because frankly it seems kind of rude, and I’d hate for clients to do that to me (in the near future). Perhaps I’m projecting my own insecurities about becoming a therapist, I don’t know. I don’t want to over-analyze myself.

The thing is, she keeps using stereotypical responses – the kinds of things we learn not to do in active listening. As I was answering the intake questions, she filled the pauses with “mmhmm,” always in the same tone of voice, which kind of gave me the feeling she wasn’t really listening. Then when I was done answering almost every question she said “okay” – again always with the same inflection. It felt like she was doing things she was trained to do or thought she should do, not like she was being genuine.

I want to tell her that these vocal habits are bothering me, but I’m not sure how. I don’t want them, nor my efforts to/not to talk to her about them, to interfere with therapy. I just want to go, do what I need to do, and come out feeling empowered to live my life the way I need and want to. Why must emotions be so complicated?

A Line Through Time

One of the worst things about my mood disorder is feeling disconnected from my past self/selves. I feel like I’ve lost something and I want it back, but I’m not even sure what it is. Most of my work with Wakana has focused on reclaiming aspects of my Self and my life experiences that I’d repressed, abandoned, or otherwise been ashamed of. It can be very painful It is excruciatingly painful, but with every step I feel closer to being whole.

Last night I decided to make a timeline of my relationships. I started with meeting Banji over 15 years ago and continued through college, my first full-time job, grad school, meeting Fox, Banji moving away, getting married, all the way to this year. I realized there was at least one major transition – including but not limited to beginning, losing, and ending relationships – in every calendar year since I graduated from college about 10 years ago.

There is a concentration of intense transitions from 2011 through 2013. As Banji was preparing to move away, I essentially proposed to Fox – despite only knowing him for a handful of months. Spring 2011 was the last time I facilitated music therapy sessions for actual clients. Banji moved over the summer. I applied for an internship and thought it was a sure thing, so I waited months to learn whether I’d been accepted… only to be rejected twice. By the end of that year I’d moved in with a friend from college.

I don’t have much written down about 2012. I spent a lot of time trying to find the right medication and psychiatrist, and ended up taking some meds that probably did more harm than good. I adopted a pair of rats early in the year, one of whom died about a month or two later, and I had to euthanize the other by the end of the year.

Banji moved much closer to home (but still 5 hours away) around the beginning of 2013. I followed suit by moving back in with Mom; I’ve barely seen or talked to my former roommate since. Mom got knee replacement surgery, my uncle died, I had to drop the classes I’d waited 2 years to take because they were triggering my worst symptoms, Fox moved in with me that summer, and we got married in the fall. Looking back on it in that context, I think I must have been crazy!

Some of the above transitions were out of my control, but others (like moving) I imposed on myself. I honestly don’t regret them; they were necessary for me to reach the point where I am now. But they definitely added to my stress and were not entirely beneficial to my mental health. I couldn’t do most of the things I was used to doing; I stopped doing things that had been meaningful to me. I made at least one decision that I do regret now. In hindsight I think my worst problem may have been the guilt and shame I felt because of the problems I was facing – particularly as they affected my pursuit of a career.

Things have been improving since last summer, when Fox and I started marriage counseling and finally gained access to the medication we need (thanks to the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare”). Fox has been working full time for several months now. I did well through a challenging semester on a sub-therapeutic dose of my medication. Now I’m on a therapeutic dose. We’re regularly using the skills we learned in marriage counseling (which our therapist terminated 2 months ago). Our relationship brings us both a lot of comfort and joy.

Of equal importance is that Banji and I have worked through at least some of the issues impacting our relationship; we’ve become closer as a result. We’ve adapted to the current physical distance between us. Whenever we meet in person, we blend continuing fun traditions from the past with planning for the life we intend to build together. We’re not where we want to be – living within a 10-minute drive of each other – but we’re hopeful.

I haven’t been putting off applying for internships because I’m afraid of rejection. I’m not even sure it’s accurate to say I’m afraid of success. Starting an internship would be Another Huge Transition: new relationships, new routines, new responsibilities, even a new role/identity. The dynamic between Fox and me would change – hopefully for the better, but it would still be a change.

This is something I actually have some control over; I am exercising my control. I am not procrastinating and I do not have anything to be ashamed of. I am choosing to postpone another huge world-shattering transition because I’ve learned that it’s harmful to have too many of them in such a short period of time. There’s a lot of pressure to start my internship as soon as possible, and a lot of benefits that could come from doing so. But there are also benefits to waiting, at least for few more months.

I need some time to breathe.

Mental Illness Awareness Week

In honor of the work NAMI does, the first full week of October (10/5-11) is “Mental Illness Awareness Week.” People are encouraged to wear green, there’s apparently a solid green ribbon, and depending on your location there may be various events to raise awareness. People are also encouraged to “Tell your story and help inspire others!” – just be aware that the submission guidelines give NAMI permission to add or delete information as they see fit.

The phrases "It's time," "Mental illness affects everyone," and "Go green for Mental Illness Awareness Week" on a green background. There is a solid green ribbon in the center of the image.

Image from http://www.nami.org; Visitors are encouraged to post this as their Facebook profile picture and another image from the site as the banner on their timeline.

I have to admit, I’m not feeling particularly “inspired.” I’m pretty sure my “story” would be rejected because I don’t want to try to spin it (or allow it to be spun) to be a “message of hope” for other people. Frankly, I don’t think we need to spread “hope,” we need people to understand the harsh realities we and our loved ones face: the stigma, the uncertainty, the pain of thinking we’re getting better just to have another horrible day, the difficulty accessing mental healthcare, the ways in which our illnesses impact our relationships, etc. – basically, the stuff mental health bloggers post about year-round! If people really want to raise awareness, they should link to us. (Note: NAMI prohibits links to personal blogs or websites in their “You Are Not Alone” submission guidelines … but there’s nothing to keep someone from posting whatever links they want on their own social media pages, etc.)

Some places to get started (besides this blog): A Canvas of the Minds, Blog for Mental Health, The Mental Health Writers’ Guild, and Broken Light: A Photography Collective. I’ve selected these sites to link to here because they in turn link to individual bloggers who write about a wide range of mental health related topics. I welcome additional suggestions in comments!

Understanding our experiences is a good start, but it isn’t enough. We need to work together to change them – which means changing social, cultural, and especially institutional norms to be healthier for people (especially children) so we don’t get mental illnesses in the first place. I think most if not all of the “stigma” around mental illness exists because talking about it ultimately requires us to question and challenge norms that form the cultural and more importantly financial foundations for our societies, including: valuing people for their economic success, unattainable standards of beauty, pressure to conform to gender roles from birth (particularly masculinity), various intersecting systems of privilege and oppression, etc. etc. etc.

When I told Fox I was uncomfortable sharing my story – because it’s not the after-the-fact, good depressive “success” story they want to hear – he said it’s the story people need to hear. The here-I-am-right-in-the-middle-of-the-storm story. The I-don’t-know-how-long-I-can-hold-on reality. The “actually, I’m the one who could use some hope, because a big part of my problem right now is that I don’t have any.”

I’ve had mental illnesses on the “mood disorder” and “anxiety” spectra for most of my life, and I’ve been consistently living with diagnosable symptoms for over 4 years. I don’t even know what my diagnosis is, and frankly, I’m inclined to think that’s for the better. It’s frustrating to be unsure what to even say I have, but it means I and the people trying to help me can focus on my individual needs and what I’ve found to be helpful (or unhelpful). It means we can move past labels to the underlying psychological structures and processes that may have been adaptive at one point in my life, but came at a cost I can’t afford to keep paying.

In a word, it means I can focus on my own personal growth.

I think it’s great that in addition to Mental Health Awareness Month in May, there is a week in October dedicated to, well, basically the same thing. I kind of wish they didn’t call it Mental Illness Awareness Week though – because an illness is something outside of or other than oneself that affects one (hopefully temporarily) and needs to be treated, if possible, cured. It’s very easy for people to say “Well, I don’t have this illness, so this issue isn’t relevant to me;” if someone they care about has one or more mental illnesses, they may not even be aware of it (unlike with a less-stigmatized condition, which people would probably talk about).

Additionally, I haven’t found it helpful to think of my previously-adaptive, now increasingly problematic patterns of thought and behavior as an “illness” that is separate from and/or imposed upon my self. If anything, I’ve found it to be harmful; it means there’s something “wrong” with me that needs to be “fixed” in order for me to “function” in society, and until that happens I’m worth less than “healthy” individuals.

These patterns of thought and behavior, whether I like them or not, are part of me. I created them to protect me. They’ve helped me meet the demands placed on me by parents, other family members, teachers, employers, etc. They’re part of how I learned skills I still find useful, that are necessary if I ever want to have a career and other things that people associate with “functioning” and having a “normal” and/or “meaningful” life. Getting rid of them wholesale as part of “curing” my “mental illness” would be a disaster.

What I need, as mentioned earlier, is to grow. Part of that is letting go of the things that are hurting me or aren’t helping me any more. A lot of it is changing things that are adaptive in some ways, harmful in others. For example, my perfectionism: I place a very high value on creating the very best product I possibly can – such as well-written, relatable, informative blog posts. I put a lot of effort into accomplishing this, and gain a lot of satisfaction from doing so. Great. When I apply it to academic papers, the result is usually a grade of A. Fantastic. But I need to stop allowing my desire to produce the best quality product to keep me from starting the process, or to cause me to neglect my other needs and responsibilities during the process. I need to stop basing my self-esteem on how others respond (or don’t respond) to my work. I need to develop an inherent sense of self-worth, a concept I frankly don’t understand because it’s never been an intrinsic part of how I understand myself or the world; it’s not part of how I was raised or the society I was raised in. We value and celebrate people based on what they do, and deny people access to basic needs – never mind “rights” – because we don’t see them doing enough to “earn” it. The closest I can come to understanding inherent self-worth is to try to apply my belief that other people deserve to have their basic needs met no matter what to myself.

If there’s anything to be aware of during Mental Illness Awareness Week, I think it’s actually the message from NAMI that yes, it affects everyone. Everyone has to develop some unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior to survive in a society that was built by the privileged and wealthy to continue benefiting themselves at the expense of everyone else. These patterns influence how we treat each other and raise our kids and perceive ourselves. Some of us just show it more; we become the mirror no one wants to look at because they when they do, they see what they don’t want to know about themselves. I wish I could say something like “It’s not that scary,” but to be honest I still find it very difficult. I guess all I can ask is for people to pick up the mirror and pass it around, so we all have the opportunity to look. Wear green and post a selfie. Send out the message that this is important.

A New Hope

Last week was a whirlwind of internal change and things happening. I actually wrote Drama of the Gifted Child last Monday; I had intended to write more about how my current situation is actually quite good for me, but then Tuesday happened and I re-read what I’d written and decided it felt complete enough to post.

an image of part of a calendar showing last week, with text indicating what important experience happened for Ziya each day

an image of part of a calendar showing last week, with text indicating what important experience happened for Ziya each day

On Tuesday I read a scholarly article titled “The Abject Self: Self-States of Relentless Despair” by Kathleen Adams, which can be found in the International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Vol. 61 (2011), Issue 3. It did a great job of explaining why sometimes I feel like a functional adult named Ziya with relationships and interests and goals, etc. – and other times I feel like a terrified, helpless child who has no past or future and knows only despair. It’s because I am both those things; there are actually separate neural circuits in our brains that create different self-states in response to different situations. Abjection – a preverbal state of reaching for an unattainable object, being rejected, and fearing annihilation – can be one of them.

I finished reading the article just before my music therapy session with Wakana, so it and The Drama of the Gifted Child (by Alice Miller) provided great material for us to work with. I told her about my birth experience (as I’ve pieced it together from information Mom gave me, my understanding of our relationship, and conjecture) and she suggested we address it through music. I kind of plunged head-first into the deep end, feeling … the words “despair,” “like I was lost,” “hopeless,” “terrified,” “utterly rejected,” and “alone” don’t quite do it justice. I was simultaneously staring into, being drawn into, and reaching out from the void. I feel it now as the discomfort in my eyes that I associate with crying, even though most of the time when I’m aware of it I don’t actually cry. Something’s trying to get out.

I felt the emotions I’ve turned to food to pacify my whole life. And then she reached out to me, looked me in the eyes, told me she was right here with me; I could reach out and touch her. She was so full of hope, life, curiosity, compassion. She brought me back into the light, the living world, my adult body. The ability to rationalize and use words to describe my thoughts and feelings instead of just expressing them.

“Are you okay?”

I described a scene from Star Trek: Enterprise in which they go on a rescue mission to try and help Vulcans who got lost in The Expanse, a region of space that basically defies the laws of physics. The Vulcans had essentially become zombies, slaves to their aggressive urges and “darkest” emotions. The protagonists were unable to help the Vulcan zombies; they barely escaped with their lives. The most humane thing they could do was put the Vulcans out of their misery.

“I feel like I’ve run into a room and slammed the door. I’m holding it closed but it’s only a matter of time. The zombies are on the other side, trying to break in, and I’m terrified of what will happen when they do.”

In a word, rage. I thought she’d ended it too soon. I was afraid that, if I “opened the door” and expressed my emotions, at best I would destroy our therapeutic relationship, and at worst I would actually hurt her. Those feelings subsided when she explained why she had done it: she didn’t want to re-traumatize me.

On Wednesday I finally went to the dentist to try and have something done about the tooth that’s been causing agony in the whole right side of my face and ear for weeks. It was a rather unpleasant experience, but I asserted myself and expressed my needs. I should eventually get to see a specialist who will perform a root canal, and in the meantime I have antibiotics that are wreaking havoc on my body and hopefully helping it fight off the infection that’s been causing the pain. I can’t wait until I no longer have to take a pill every 8 hours!

On Thursday I had my third appointment with the APN. We had a lot more time and were able to actually talk about things that were important to my treatment. She was going to prescribe a different drug, but I asked her questions about it and reminded her of the experiences I’d had with Zoloft and Wellbutrin. She took some time to review her notes from our prior meetings (we’ve been meeting once a month) and decided to go ahead and prescribe the Lamictal. We didn’t get to talking about gradually increasing to a therapeutic dose; I just have a month’s worth of 25 mg tablets and an appointment to see her again in another month. She advised me to wait until I’d finished the antibiotics to start taking this new medication.

Friday morning I was writing in my paper journal and something extraordinary happened. I started using “we” instead of “I” to acknowledge that, however you want to explain it, there are multiple selves (or aspects of self?) bouncing around in this body. “We” were still expressing “our” views as though they were unanimous…

Until a dissenting voice spoke up: “No, I don’t want to clean up the clutter, because it helps me feel safe.”

We talked a bit about order and chaos (by writing in our journal), and how now that we’re adults we don’t have to live in chaos and fear anymore. “Whoever hurt us is gone.”

It seemed to be going well until the word “embarrassed” got used. Then the dissenting voice became very justifiably angry, calling at least one other out for being ashamed of and hiding zir.

“You said this was about freeing emotions, feeling and expressing them spontaneously. Well, I’m very angry! That’s going to happen ‘in public.’ What are you going to do, stay in the house ALL THE TIME? Stop hiding me! Stop denying me.

“I EXIST AND I’M FURIOUS!!!

“And now the floodgates are open and I’m out! You’re not going to shut me down again. […] You cant suppress me anymore if you want your precious ‘mental health.’ You will be depressed if you keep suppressing me. I’m really mad at you. I keep trying to tell you but you won’t listen to me!”

“You’re the judge, the critic, the warden…”

“No! YOU are!!! You’ve kept me from expressing myself our entire fucking life don’t you see?”

“Yes, it’s true, I’m sorry.”

“‘I’m sorry?’ That’s it? Our whole life.”

“I was trying to keep us alive.”

“Well you almost KILLED me!”

“It wasn’t safe.”

“YOU weren’t safe.”

“You weren’t safe either. You said you needed the clutter to hide in. I don’t think you felt safe. You needed me.”

“I guess I did.”

“You don’t need me anymore. Look at you, standing up for yourself like this. How assertive! Getting your needs met. Expressing yourself. You’ll go far in the world. So far.”

“Don’t leave!”

“But if I stay, all I’ll do is hinder you.”

And just like that, gone. Whoever was in control of the body before is gone, and I’ve taken their place. I don’t even know their name, preferred pronouns, nothing. This whole time – a young adult’s entire lifetime – I’ve been a crying child shoved in the corner of the psyche and largely ignored; now I’m in charge. A whole life to live, so many decisions to make. There are other people here to support and guide me, but our former leader is gone.

We gave “her” a Viking funeral, the ship, flaming arrows, fire out at sea, sung lamentations, everything. It was quite beautiful. And then I ascended Pride Rock and looked out on a glorious landscape touched by the rising sun and sang a song that was so full of life and joy and vitality…

Then I had to get dressed and go somewhere and the weekend was its own whirlwind of socializing one day, then trying to settle down and finally write the paper from my summer class (oops!) the next. I was kind of useless – sad and lethargic – on Monday, but I did some research and cleaned my desk, so I actually have some space to work. Considering how I’ve responded to such abrupt changes in the past, I’d say I did pretty well. I kind of got some whiplash; I didn’t crash.

I also decided to start taking the Lamictal, even though I still have about two days’ worth of antibiotic left. I was feeling rather anxious about it, but I haven’t spontaneously combusted, so I think I’m going to be okay. I hope.

Listening to Myself – Part 3

I’ve been feeling much better since I wrote Listening to Myself – Part 2 about a week ago. I want to thank the people who reached out to me in response to that post: your support has meant the world to me. I’ve come to realize that I influence more people than I can possibly be aware of, often for the better… even in this time when I feel like I’m barely doing anything with my life. I may never see the whole, but I’m part of something important; something that needs me just as much as I need to remain a part of it. Connected.

I really needed to express what I wrote in my last post: feeling trapped, like I couldn’t express myself, like I needed some really big changes to happen or I wouldn’t feel like my life was worth living. Expressing those things – writing that post – was engaging in the very process of Creation that I felt cut off from. It was uncomfortable, and to be honest I feel guilty about the discomfort it caused others, but the very act of expressing those thoughts and feelings provided some of the relief I sought. It’s also helped me to start making some of the changes I need: volunteering, applying for jobs, spending quality time with Fox and Banji, creating art to enjoy the process, and starting to learn Tai Chi.

I’m so grateful for this space where I can express my most powerful, “dangerous” emotions safely. I’m so grateful for the people in my life who respond with concern and a desire to help however they can, without denying me my autonomy or pressuring me into silence.

I’ll admit my first instinct is to want to apologize for causing others – especially people I care about – discomfort and anxiety; sometimes it’s tempting to just take it all back and pretend to be “fine.” Let the machine run smoothly. But human emotions are important; they inspire us to do what is necessary for our individual and collective well-being. To say I “made” anyone feel a certain way is just plain inaccurate. I wrote a post expressing painful thoughts and emotions I couldn’t express anywhere else or in any other (safe) way. People read my post, experienced emotions (gasp!), and responded however they were willing and able at the time. That some responded with concern is nothing to feel bad about. It’s something to be celebrated! I’m part of a family; members of that family care about and do what they can to help each other through times that are more difficult, times of vulnerability.

Diagnosis and Identity

A trusted friend who has bipolar and works in a mental health setting pulled me aside the other day; he said he’s observed some possible symptoms of mania in my behavior. He presented the information as something that might help explain some of what I’m going through, and more importantly as a tool I can use in my creative endeavors. Use the unbridled, chaotic energy to create; edit when the mind is calmer. I don’t think I want to edit when I’m depressed because then I’ll probably get rid of a lot of good material, but I digress.

To be honest I’ve been wondering about the possibility of there being a manic – or, more likely, hypomanic – component to my… madness. I do seem to have times when the depression lifts – just enough that I think I’m starting to get better, but not enough to say I’m “in remission” or “have recovered.” These times are often accompanied by a whirlwind of energy in which I become engulfed in a new project – which I tend to abandon completely when the next wave of depression hits.

I never really pursued the possibility of mania/hypomania being part of my madness for a few reasons:

  • I thought it required elevated mood; to the degree that my mood becomes “elevated” it would probably fall within the range of “normal” non-depressed emotions.
  • Questions on screening tools that explore the possibility of mania/hypomania tend to begin with “a period when you were not yourself and…” I’m always myself.
  • I’m not comfortable talking about some of my experiences with mental health professionals because I don’t want them to pathologize experiences I consider(ed) to be spiritually meaningful.
    • Some of the voices in my head may become abusive, but others can be supportive. It might be different, but I often find it adaptive. I’d be lonely if they all went away.

But now I’m thinking this is a possibility worth looking into. I pulled out the DSM-IV-TR and reviewed the relevant symptoms with Fox. (We don’t have a copy of the DSM-5 and I’m inclined to keep it that way, considering the concerns people have raised about it.)

The DSM-IV-TR clarifies that the mood in mania/hypomania can be elevated, expansive (?), or irritable. We’ve both noticed that I seem to have some of the additional symptoms: (3) more talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking, (4) flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing, (5) distractibility, (6) increase in goal-directed activity. Additionally, it is possible for depressive symptoms to be present at the same time as manic/hypomanic symptoms. Hypomanic episodes can be as short as 4 days and do not require there to be marked impairment in functioning (e.g. taking huge risks) to be diagnosed.

I’m not really in any rush to ask a professional to put a stigmatized label on me, but I do think this is important. It can help me understand myself and navigate my life and experiences. Awareness of it might help me find useful ways to channel the energy when it hits and possibly even cope better when it dissipates.

If I pursue treatment, particularly medication, it changes what I need; Fox said that medications for bipolar disorders are better understood and tend to be more effective than those available for unipolar depression. I’d need to do some research, but I do feel more hopeful about finding something that works for me (preferably with minimal side effects / other health risks).

Finally, it’s very important to me to represent myself as accurately as I can on this blog. One of my goals is to give people who have never experienced madness / mental illness an insider’s perspective of what it’s like (for me). If I say I have one disorder but I “really” have something else, I’m misrepresenting the first disorder and doing a disservice to everyone involved.

For now I just want readers to know that I’m not sure what my diagnosis should be. At the end of the day we’re all people with dynamic issues and behaviors that don’t really fit into neat categories.

Father’s Day

Fox and I visited his parents for Father’s Day. I decided to go because I like them and want to have a relationship with them, and I’ve been avoiding them. They know about our situation from my perspective, and they were both eager to show their love and support regardless of the decision we make. They are two of the awesomest people I’ve ever met.

We had a wonderful time and stayed up way too late last night, so I ended up sleeping over. Fox went to church this morning and his dad has work (which is why we celebrated Father’s Day yesterday), so it’s just been me and his mom. We had a heart-to-heart sharing our stories and family baggage and wants and fears, including what’s going on between me and her son.

“I’m sensing a pattern: there’s a lot of loss in your life, and you cope with it by pushing people away or withdrawing. You’re pushing him (Fox) away and he’s anxious and that’s why he’s being so clingy.

“I see you in a place in your life where you need to make a decision. Either you are going to use this relationship to learn how to be in healthy relationships with yourself and others, or you are going to keep pushing people away. You need to decide: either try to work with him to learn and grow together, or let him go.

“You need to either give yourself wholeheartedly to this relationship (and life in general) so you can learn and grow from it, or you have to walk away from it. Either way, the worst thing that will happen is you’ll get a divorce – and you’re already willing to do that. But if you keep doing what you’re doing – if you stay connected to him while simultaneously pushing him away – you’re both going to be miserable.

“So decide.”

I’ve had my quills out for too long. I’m poised, my hood spread, ready to strike. I was actually snarling at other motorists on my way here yesterday. I’m tired of being so tense. I’m exhausting myself and wasting my energy – energy I could put to much better use.

When I’m connected with people – open, honest, vulnerable – that’s when I feel the most alive. Listening to their stories, sharing in the creative process with them, enjoying a delicious meal, giving and receiving hugs… these are the things I thrive on. I need relationships; the most painful thing about the way I’ve been living with Fox is that our relationships with other people have become so limited. We’re disconnected. I’ve disappeared inside myself; I almost did that again by trying to drive home while exhausted last night.

“Yes I’m alone, but I’m alone and I’m free. Just stay away and you’ll be safe from me.”
“Actually, we’re not.”

~ Frozen: “For the First Time in Forever (Reprise)”

Everything comes down to one innate need: the need to be fully myself in relationship with other people. I’ve spent most of my life learning that I can have one or the other: I can be myself when I’m alone, or I can sacrifice myself and become enmeshed with others. To this day my mother actively teaches me to hide part of myself to be more acceptable to others (her).

Neither of those options is acceptable anymore. I can have periods of time when I’m alone, that’s not a problem. It’s healthy and necessary. But I need to be connected with other people; I can’t have being alone be a requirement for being myself. I need the people I care about to see me – all of me, not the mask and armor I’ve been hiding behind and trapped within. To feel safe doing that, I need to be able to see myself.

So whatever decision Fox and I make regarding our marriage, I choose to let go and throw myself wholeheartedly into our relationship – even though I find it terrifying. Not for him, but for myself. Worst case scenario I get the thing I’ve been leaning toward anyway and maybe I learn something useful I can build upon for future growth. Best case scenario I grow and I get an awesome life partner – with an equally awesome family – who can help me continue to grow. I think it’s worth a bit of risk to shoot for that.

I’ll close with a bit of wisdom from my father, one of the ways he’s still alive in me after all these years: Be honest. I choose to be honest with myself and with others, even (especially) when it’s scary. I love you. I need ______. No, I don’t want ______. I’m not sure if I want _____ but I think it’s worth considering. I’m sick and tired of _____. I’m sad I’m scared I’m angry. I can’t live like this anymore! I don’t want to talk about this right now. I feel _____ when you _____. Please give me some time to process. Please respect this boundary. Please listen.

My Efforts to be Codependent No More – Part One: What’s Codependency and Who’s Got It? (Me!)

I was decluttering when I found some pages I had photocopied from Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie. They include a list of things codependent people tend to do; I had written a number next to each item to represent how often it is a problem for me.

This discovery inspired me to dig up this post from January 2013. If anything, my codependency has gotten worse since I wrote it. I’ve decided to re-post it as a means of re-committing to what I’d started then but never finished: reading and doing the exercises in the book in order to help myself become less co-dependent.

I look over at Fox; he is sleeping. Anger rushes through me; I feel my shoulders and jaw tense. Why does he sleep so much? Doesn’t he want to spend time with me? Maybe he doesn’t love me. Maybe he’s taking advantage of me … coming here, just to sleep in my bed! Maybe it’s my fault he sleeps so much, I should be a better partner. He shouldn’t stay up so late! Doesn’t he care about his health? About me? And if I’m up late he should ask me to come to bed! It’s not fair that I wake so early and he gets to sleep!

I just wish I could get him to sleep and be awake at the same times as me! That way I wouldn’t be sitting here, unsure what to do with myself and feeling guilty for wanting to wake him. I feel sad and alone, abandoned again …

That’s a typical experience for me, especially since I tend to wake earlier than Fox. Until recently, I was convinced his sleeping was my problem; what I needed was to get him to change.  It wasn’t until I wrote Using Words to Say What They Cannot that I first separated the effects of Fox’s behavior on my quality of life from his actual behavior and intentions. Creating that separation helped me to see how, possibly, the problem may lie in how I am perceiving and reacting to his behavior – not the behavior itself.

I’ve started reading Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie. The first four chapters – which make up Part One – clarify what codependency is and help the reader identify aspects of codependency in hirself. Chapters 2-4 end with written activities; I would like to share and reflect upon my responses in this post.

I Can Relate

The activity for Chapter 2 asks the reader which codependents’ stories ze identifies with and why. Without posting the stories for context (and possibly violating copyright), it seems most meaningful to share the aspects of the stories that I identify with the most. Some of them appear in more than one story.

  • losing friends, hobbies, and love for life after entering a committed relationship
  • feeling guilty
  • feeling depressed
  • feeling like I lost myself
  • feeling angry and unappreciated while trying to make others happy
  • endlessly caring for others
  • getting caught up in and trying to control others’ emotions
  • feeling lost or enmeshed in others’ emotions and concerns

These issues come up the most in my relationship with my Mom, followed closely by my relationship with Fox, and to a lesser extent (I think) with Banji – in other words, with the people I’m closest to and who are the most central to my life.

Defining Codependency

There are many different definitions of codependency, each of which explains different aspects of a complex problem. Beattie provides a brief history of codependency to put these definitions into context and convey the meaning(s) of the word more accurately. I encourage interested readers to learn this history.

At the end of Chapter 3, Beattie asks the reader to define codependency for hirself. I combined multiple definitions from throughout the chapter into one:

Codependency is a habitual system of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors directed toward myself and others that cause me pain (p. 38). It arises from allowing another person’s behavior to affect me and wanting/trying to control that person’s behavior (p. 36). It is a result of living much or most of my life with unspoken, silent, oppressive rules that limit my expression of emotion and open, direct discussion of problems (p. 32).

Codependency is why I feel like Fox is controlling me and why I want to change certain aspects of his behavior. It is why I feel so guilty and angry all much of the time. It’s why I find the time I spend with Mom so draining – even when our interactions and endeavors go well! I’m codependent.

But it’s not my fault, it’s essentially how I was raised! My parents and other family members kept secrets and avoided expressing emotion. They didn’t deal with conflict well – they either tried to avoid it, or erupted into screaming arguments that terrified me as a child. They taught me to hide my problems; they didn’t take me seriously.

My responsibility now is to do something about it – not by trying to change anyone else (including my mom, as much as I really wish I could), but by changing myself.

It is time for me to unlearn my codependency.

How Am I Codependent? Let me count the ways …

Chapter 4 is essentially a list of characteristics codependents tend to have. It’s very long, and the majority of items apply to me at least somewhat; many to a strong degree. They are organized into categories: caretaking, low self-worth, repression, obsession, controlling, denial, dependency, poor communication, weak boundaries, lack of trust, anger, sex problems, miscellaneous, and progressive.

The activity at the end of the chapter invites the reader to mark each characteristic with a 0 if it does not apply at all, a 1 if it is “occasionally a problem,” and 2 if it is “frequently a problem.” As I did the activity, there were some items for which I wished I could apply a 3!

This was not part of the activity, but I wanted an easier way to see which categories I need to focus on most to overcome my codependency, so I developed a scoring system. I added my 1’s and 2’s to determine how many “points” I “scored” for each category, then divided it by the maximum possible “points” (number of items, times 2) to learn my percentage. Some of the results surprised me:

  • I scored highest in Anger (91%), followed by Repression (83%), Lack of Trust (79%), and Controlling (75%).
  • Caretaking (68%), Low Self-Worth (67%), and Dependency (67%) did not score as high as I thought they would.
  • Somehow, I scored 66% in Denial. I don’t see how …
  • I only scored 50% in Obsession and Weak Boundaries; I only scored 47% in Poor Communication! These were categories where I would have expected to score much higher!

[June 10, 2014 Update]

I’m kind of in denial about my new scores for these categories; clearly I was too quick to give “2”s to items that should have received “1”s and “1”s to items that should have received “0”s.

I scored 100% in Repression (+17%), 88% in Controlling (+13%) and Anger (-3%), 85% in Dependency (+18%), 82% in Low Self-Worth (+15%), 79% in Lack of Trust (no change) and Progressive, 72% in Caretaking (+4%), 69% in Weak Boundaries (+19%), 63% in Denial (-3%), 60% in Poor Communication (+13%), 56% in Miscellaneous, 50% in Obsession (no change), and 47% in Sex Problems.

[/Update]

Preparing to Change (Myself)

I’m scared to change myself. I don’t want to let go of how I’m used to understanding myself, or my old familiar comfortable habits (even when they hurt me). I don’t want to risk people I love liking me less because of the change.

But I know I really need it and I think I can do it – if I try really hard and allow myself to make mistakes, while remaining committed.

If I begin to change I hope I’ll start to feel better and be happier, more confident, and more capable. Maybe people will like me more – or, at least, I’ll find social interactions easier.

Changing won’t be easy, especially since it’s scary and I think the people I’m closest to and need the most support from will try to keep me the same. But maybe I can tell them what I’m trying to do and ask them to be understanding / try not to take it personally if I’m more assertive, etc. I’m doing what I need to get better!

So Now What?

Part 2 of Codependent No More is comprised of 16 chapters with information and written activities intended to teach the reader how to care for hirself. If I want to do it right, it will take quite a while for me to get through the rest of the book. I’m inclined to do the chapters in order; I might blog about some, most, or possibly all of them.

What are your thoughts on codependency? Do you think you might be codependent? Do you think anyone you know is codependent? Do you have any advice?

Musings of a Ping-Pong Ball

Friday morning. I knew what I wanted and needed to do, I just needed to know how. I was looking forward to my meeting with Wakana, in which I knew she would help me develop an effective plan. But as I was getting ready, Fox followed me into every room; I asked him to do laundry while I was out, so he started talking about it and folding sheets to put away while I was trying to get dressed. I noticed him scratching his face and asked if he wanted to shave so he decided to shave when I needed to wash my hands. Later he pulled out his katana to admire its blade, grinning at me, and cold terror rushed down my spine. I was shaking as I finished getting ready, thinking: how many times have I thought my anxiety was keeping me from leaving the house, when in reality he was causing it through his actions?

It was the first time I was ready to leave so early to get to a meeting with Wakana. I wanted nothing more than to get out of the house!

On the way to my session I put into words something I’ve probably been aware of for some time, but didn’t want to acknowledge consciously: it doesn’t really matter how much he wants our relationship to continue, or whether he’s willing to put in the work, because I’m not. I don’t want to continue our relationship. I want it to end, and I want him out of my house ASAP.

Wakana helped me solidify what I was going to do, gave me some words to use, and helped me feel strong. She also voiced the fear in the back of my heart: that as soon as Fox is gone, my mother is going to swoop in and gobble me up and we’ll be completely enmeshed again. She’s already been monopolizing a lot of my time, being supportive yes but also making her opinion of the situation very well known and chewing my ear off about things that frankly seem so minor and petty compared to ending my first marriage.

Friday night. I come home and Fox has two of our mutual friends over. We play a game in 2 teams and actually do a very good job of working well together. I have a good time. But then he and Friend A are obsessing over Pokemon, leaving Friend B and me out of their interactions. I try to start a conversation with Friend B and we are about 2 exchanges into it when Fox cuts through us: “[Friend B], if you need something to do, there’s a book behind you I think you’d find interesting.”

He cut me off to tell the person I was trying to interact with to look at a book – an activity that excluded me!

After our friends left we were hugging and he kissed me. I let him, hoping that maybe I would feel some of our romance return or something. To say I felt nothing is too generous. I felt like I wanted to get away. I felt hurt because he seemed to be enjoying it and the feeling was not mutual. Thank god he stopped and suggested we enjoy a dessert and started talking about video games. I could enjoy a conversation about video games.

Finally, I decided to go to bed. He tucked me in; I felt like a child. As soon as we said goodnight and he left the room, I cried. I cried for myself and for the pain I had to inflict on him: he had no idea.

I spent most of Saturday on the phone with Banji, gaining strength and resolve and confidence and figuring out exactly what I wanted to say. I had a plan: get in, say my piece, get out. I rehearsed it a few times, took a deep breath, and went in.

I have never seen anyone look so scared and devastated in all my life. It was painful to watch. It took every last ounce of my strength to say the words I had resolved to say; if I hadn’t had them memorized they would have gone unsaid. He asked me to stay so we could talk right then and there; I agreed. He said he had nowhere to go, no one who could take him in. He said he needs me if he’s going to get better; his mother has been trying to get him to go for therapy for years but I can motivate him to actually do it. He said he doesn’t want to discount our vows, or all we’ve been through together, or go for years never knowing if we could have made it work. He asked what I wanted in a life partner that he wasn’t fulfilling; I told him. He said he can be all of that if I stay with him. He said he doesn’t think separating is what’s best for us.

I believed him, because I wanted to. I saw all my own pain and dashed hopes and fears and desires in him in that moment. I held his hand and cried with him.

He said, “I’m willing to do the work. If, in two months, things haven’t gotten better, then I’ll accept that we need to separate. But I need to hope that we can make it work.”

I told him if he wanted to do this we needed marriage counseling and he should be the one to set it up. I told him I’ve been holding a lot back because I didn’t want to hurt him, and I need to be able to speak my mind. Sometimes he might feel hurt by what I have to say; sometimes we might fight and I need him to be okay with that. I expanded the idea of enthusiastic consent beyond sex and asked him to check in with me if I seem to be agreeing to something, but I’m not, well, enthusiastic about it. I told him that if he’s willing to separate if it doesn’t work out, then I’m willing to be open to the possibility that it might.

I also said these words out loud, because they are what my heart was screaming: “If you truly love me, then let me go.”

I felt better, because at least we were in the same chapter (if not on the same page) regarding our relationship. We were both painfully aware that it’s a mess and likely to fall apart. We were both mourning the (potential) loss of our shared goals and dreams and the breaking of our vows. We were two emotional wrecks, clinging to each other for dear life. It was the most raw, genuine interaction we’ve had in months. We were fully with each other.

Last night I just couldn’t sleep. My mind kept playing the piece I’m composing, which I haven’t touched since Tuesday night. Mom had said I could sleep in her guest bedroom if I needed to, so I went to take her up on that offer. We ended up talking; I’d kind of expected that and realized that part of why I couldn’t sleep was because I wanted to talk to someone (besides Fox) about our conversation.

My mother doesn’t understand the concept of active listening. She “listened” to what I said, then spewed her opinion all over me. She did it this morning, too. She thinks I’m being too nice to him and compromising my needs for his benefit. She’s worried that things will seem to get better just enough so I will stay with him allow him to stay here, and then they’ll go back to being unlivable. She’s concerned that I have a lot of things I need to be focusing on, but I’m not because of this. She thinks that I should end it now and move on with my life.

Frankly, she’s right. And so is he. And I’m somewhere in the middle, bouncing back and forth between the two of them. I keep thinking, “It’s only 2 months, I can get through it.” But it’s two more months of my life. I have things I need to do! And deadlines I need to meet. I can’t be stressed out like this.

But I also… It’s a process. I’m nowhere near perfect, otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten myself into this situation. I see it as a victory that I said the words and got him not only to see and understand but to fucking feel where I am in our relationship. And I totally understand him not being ready to let go, it’s taken me quite a while to get to this point with a ton of help and support from Wakana. He has a lot more to lose when this relationship ends. I know it’s not my job to save him; I have to save myself.

But I also have to live with him until he leaves, whether it’s by his own will or by force. I need to navigate the path that’s best for me. I need to resolve my need to end this relationship with all the things that have kept me in it for this long. I need room to breathe, and tons of support.

I need my mother to let go just as much as I need him to.