Just Say ‘No’ to Telepathy: Part 2

After the high that was Monday, I’ve spent the past couple days feeling completely exhausted. Physical tiredness I could deal with. Aches and pains are to be expected: my body isn’t used to me being so active, and I’m not exactly “young” anymore. What’s got me concerned is that I feel emotionally exhausted, like someone sucked a year of my life away. For a while I was wondering if maybe I’m sick (again) but no, that’s not it. I might get sick if I don’t take care of myself, but this is definitely emotional exhaustion.

The exhaustion is bad enough that I stayed home from my music therapy on Tuesday, and ended up doing a phone session with Wakana. She listened to me talk about how great it was to be surrounded by so many awesome people, and reflected my joy that I’ve “found my tribe” – and (possibly) my calling. (If only I could make money doing it.)

Then she, being my therapist, took the conversation in the last direction I would’ve liked it to go in. “I seem to remember you complaining that you don’t feel that connected with Fox lately. You’re both just kind of coexisting, you’re not connecting.”

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Just Say ‘No’ to Telepathy: Part 1

I participated in a May Day rally on Monday; it was fantastic! The people, the energy, the solidarity, hours of being active outside, getting to practice public speaking (by introducing someone, nothing major), connecting with some of my Green Party friends and other activists, … (very briefly) hanging out with Ron, Carl, and Mo all at the same time …

Yeah. I thought Mo was gone. But suddenly he was walking toward me, arms outstretched, a giant smile. It was like seeing a ghost. I was so happy to see him! I gave him a warm hug; I asked him about his recent experiences, how long he’s gonna be around, if he wants to get together …

He and Carl were both kind of there but not there. They each seemed more interested in talking to other people. I keep telling myself it wasn’t really the place to try to connect with anyone on a meaningful level – I myself was bouncing from one person or small group to the next. But I had some great conversations with people, friends and acquaintances – maybe I was able to appreciate those interactions more because I was focusing on what was, not what I would’ve liked? I don’t know.

Well, it was good to at least smile, say “hi,” and hug them. I think the feeling was mutual.

Ron and I continued hanging out after everyone else had left. Ze taught me how to throw a football, emphasizing that it’s about feel, not brute force. I approached it like a meditation: feeling the movements of my body, putting my intention into every muscle. My best throws were made with eyes closed.

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New Theme

Since I’ve come back to blogging, I’ve felt like the “Dusk to Dawn” theme no longer feels right. It’s … well … too dark. I’m pleased to say that darkness no longer dominates my daily experience. I feel hopeful, connected, like I’m doing something meaningful with my life and my efforts are appreciated …

Most of the time.

Lately I’ve been feeling really down. It’s hard to focus on anything useful, so I’ve started playing The Sims 3 again, after several months of barely touching video games. Yesterday I went to an event intending to represent an organization I’m a leader in … but I feel like the only useful thing I did was provide some moral support to one of the speakers. I couldn’t sleep last night because I kept thinking about everything I did “wrong.”

I’m gonna blame it on my friend moving. It turns out I was right about why, except that it’s really only focused on one particular person, and they were both responsible for what happened. The last time I saw my friend in person – possibly ever – he asked me to give and say some things to her. It seemed innocuous, but when I found out the context, I was horrified; if I’d followed through with his request, I could’ve seriously hurt someone who’s already hurting, and possibly destroyed any chance I’d have of forming a friendship with her. (Right now I’d say we’re “friendly acquaintances.”)

I’m furious, and I feel betrayed – even violated. I trusted this person, confided in him, went out of my way to be supportive and comforting toward him, gave him the benefit of the doubt when others turned their backs on him. He tried to draw me into a conflict that is none of my business, and he tried to use me to lash out at someone – without my knowledge or consent. And I feel like all the pieces of the puzzle were there, scattered about through various conversations we had over the course of a month, usually after he’d had a few beers. But I didn’t see the connections until after he’d gone …

Codependency. People suck me into their problems, I take on their feelings and perspectives, and I’m always walking a fine line to remain myself through all of it. I … I fell off the line this time, but I managed to grab onto it.

I hate to say it, but I’m glad my “friend” moved. I need my space from him. I hope he heals from this. And if we ever meet again … well, hopefully he’ll be in a better place, less destructive to everything and everyone around him. And I’ll have my guard up emotionally.

I guess I always need to keep my guard up emotionally. How exhausting!

So now I have a new, lighter theme. It’s serene, neutral, a blank canvas. And I love the header image of the shoreline – that was one of the default options, actually. Emotions, moods, ebb and flow like the tide. Seemingly peaceful waves can have a powerful undertow. We may heal, we may grow, we may live fulfilling lives, but the depression is always there, under the surface. I’m learning to ride the waves.

Transformation

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

Okay, the not-so-great stuff first:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being a Good Client

I’ve noticed a pattern: I spend a significant portion of my sessions with Wakana celebrating the progress I’ve made so far. On Wednesday I spent a third of our time together raving about my new, androgynous haircut; telling her I was able to separate myself from the agitation my mom was expressing; and taking about times I’ve been assertive. At one point I felt dangerously close to suggesting that maybe we’re reaching the end of our work together and should start talking about termination.

The thing is, I’ve been exhausted. Under my excitement, energy, and good news, a deep weariness was waiting; as soon as I relaxed, it would devour me. I felt it, resisted it, but couldn’t deny it.

She found a way in when I shared the insecurity that was keeping me from joining a new social group: I’m afraid I won’t be accepted as I am. I verbally connected it to childhood experiences; this was no gain in insight but a defensive, almost academic wall I constructed with each word I said. “Keep it intellectual. Don’t feel.”

Wakana is a music therapist. She’s all about the feels.

Somehow she got me to talk about what’s going on for me now: whenever I’m in a social situation, I feel like I have to adapt to the norms and expectations of whomever I’m interacting with. If I don’t know what those are going to be, I feel very anxious. If I can avoid the situation, I probably will.

The whole adapting to social norms thing is just reality to some extent, but I think I take it to a bit of an extreme. I hide who I am, presenting myself as a sweet, quiet, perhaps a bit reserved, easygoing person who is happy to listen and will comply with most requests. I let people touch my arms and shoulders even though I hate it. I smile and avoid interrupting people and don’t tell them when what they’re saying is factually inaccurate or logically flawed … or I just plain disagree with it. I feign interest in topics I couldn’t care less about and fade into the shadows when I can’t find an opening in the conversation. I’m basically the opposite of how I am on this blog. (The more comfortable I am with a group, the less likely I am to fall into this pattern.)

Getting my new haircut was an act of rebellion against most of what my mother trained me to be. And yet, the pictures she took of me the day I got it are identical to every other picture she’s ever taken of me: I look like a demure pre-teen.

Practically everyone I interact with projects their interpretation/expectation of my gender onto me and uses the wrong pronouns, even if I’ve “come out” to them. The exceptions are Fox and Banji. Fox is generally awesome at using the correct pronouns, but he goes with the gendered terms that require the least explanation when in public. Banji respects my preferences by avoiding pronouns. I appreciate their efforts. Also, the LGBTQIA+ organization on campus includes pronouns in introductions, so it provides an opportunity to be authentic without singling myself out as “different” or “other.”

I made the conscious decision not to correct people the last couple times they used the wrong pronouns because I felt too anxious about it. However, the reduction in anxiety came at a high price. Such a basic part of my identity that most people take for granted, and I feel like it’s invisible – even with the hair!!! It’s exhausting.

(My pronouns are ze and zir. As in: “Ze wrote in zir blog that people regularly misgender zir.”)

Wakana finally seems to accept it; when I realized that it was a huge relief.

She beckoned me to the piano so we could vocally venture forth into the unknown. She asked what modality I wanted; I asked for Major. I sang a pretty melody about… something related to being myself or being assertive or whatever. Wakana’s accompaniment diminished, her head dropped, and then she stopped playing all together. It looked like she’d fallen asleep.

I poked her shoulder and said, “c’mon, it’s not that boring!”

That’s when she asked if I was feeling very tired, and I admitted that yes, I was. She was picking up on that so strongly she fell into a trance – and not for the first time during our sessions. I attributed my chronic fatigue to undiagnosed sleep apnea, but she said she thinks it’s because I’m repressing my emotions.

She got me to admit I was mad at my mom for telling me how I should style my hair and which picture I should use as my profile pic on Facebook! We banged on the keyboard and yelled things like “I’m not you!” and “leave me alone!” It was very intense.

I finally broke down crying. “I don’t want to be left alone. I want to be accepted as I am.” I sang about walking my own path and wanting someone to walk with me for a time – but without pulling me onto their path or invading mine.

Wakana yelled some more but then it hit me: I was treating her the same way I treated my mother. All the stuff about how far I’ve come in therapy… Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made a lot of progress and I’m proud of it! All the time I spent talking about it was an effort to assure her that she is a good therapist… while simultaneously keeping her at a distance. I was hiding my vulnerability. This happened as I sang, “I don’t need you to accept my emotions because I accept them.”

In a flood of tears I finally confessed: “I haven’t been doing better. I’ve been feeling sad and lonely and exhausted and I’ve been spending a lot of time playing The Sims 3. I didn’t want to tell you because you get so angry when I do; I didn’t want to hear it!”

She said I shouldn’t have waited until the end of the session to bring this up. I didn’t tell her, but I needed the work we did in the session to enable me to bring it up.

She conceded that perhaps it’s unfair of her to get so angry when I say I’ve been playing The Sims 3; she asked me to write down the themes that have emerged in my game so we can work with them.

She also said: “depression isn’t feeling sad. Depression is not feeling at all. You need to stop repressing your emotions and dissociating. It’s okay to feel sad; let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling and express it.”

I said I hate the cold emptiness of depression and would rather feel sad… but I also despise being sad for no reason. And crying. Ugh. I hate crying.

… but not quite as much as I hate being chronically exhausted.

The End of the Semester (and other boundaries)

I’m very happy to report that I got a B on my Piano Improvisation final. More importantly, I worked very hard to master the skills I needed, went into the final feeling confident, and felt good about what I’d accomplished. That class was the most difficult music therapy course I’ve ever taken; it’s in the top 5 most difficult courses I’ve taken in my lifetime. Now I’m done with it (including the paper)! I gained a lot of useful techniques and insights, and the inspirations for my two compositions-in-progress. I call that a win!

On Wednesday, I confronted Wakana about her growing tendency to either not be fully present with me, or to interact with me in ways I’d expect of a friend or a parent, during our sessions. I told her, “I’m your client and I’m here so let’s work; I like you and would love to be friends with you, but you’re my therapist.” She apologized and explained that she’s been trying to do too much; now that it’s the end of the semester she can be a better therapist to me (she teaches at a different university from the one I attend). It took us a while to find an appropriate focus for the rest of the session, but with her support and guidance I was able to do some good work:

I’d been feeling guilty about needing to ask for an “incomplete” in Group Music Therapy (I still haven’t finished that paper). Talking to Wakana helped me realize why: I was projecting my childhood relationship with my parents onto the instructor of that course, who is also my academic adviser (and a generally awesome person). I’ve known him for almost six years(!), taken several courses taught by him, been honest with him about my mood disorder, crushed on, admired, and respected him. I’ll admit, I tend to subconsciously(?) blur the boundaries necessary to maintain an appropriate, professional, student-teacher relationship with him; I want us to have a more personal relationship. (I think I’ve managed to keep that from slipping noticeably into our real-life interactions…)

Anyway, the point is, I felt like I needed to be a model student to help him feel good – kind of like how, as a child, I felt like I needed to be a straight-A student to keep my family from falling apart. Handing in my paper before the end of the semester was “the least I could do” to “repay” him for being so supportive all these years.

Then I realized that (I’m an adult now and) my instructor/adviser/mentor’s self-esteem is his business. Also, it’s his job to work with students to help us succeed in school – including being supportive in times of difficulty. Asking for the “incomplete” was the most appropriate, responsible thing for me to do: I clearly communicated my intent to complete the paper, as well as my inability to do so before he was required to submit grades for the course. That’s where my interpersonal responsibility ends. I have an academic responsibility to complete and submit the paper as soon as possible. This responsibility is ultimately to myself: I need to complete the paper so I can earn credit for the course so I can be one step closer to graduating and beginning my career of choice.

Wednesday was also the last meeting of my Group Music Therapy class. I role-played clients for my classmates’ skill demonstrations, then did my own despite feeling anxious. I was able to ground myself, be present in the moment with my “clients,” tune in to what they were feeling, and adapt my intervention to meet their needs.

At one point during verbal processing I felt uncomfortable and wanted to stop. The instructor asked what I noticed going on in the group at that time. I said, “I feel tense and I don’t know what to say.” He replied, “that’s a great intervention! Sometimes, the best thing you can do is just be honest about your uncertainty.” After receiving some additional feedback and suggestions, I asked, “Can I try that now?” That was a huge change for me; in the past I would make mental notes of suggestions with the intention of “using them later,” not applying them to my current situation.

We re-entered the role play and I used my “great intervention.” The “clients” started talking about how they were feeling and expressing dissatisfaction with the music we’d been creating. I remembered what we’d discussed in class about giving the group room to find its own solutions and asked, “What can we do to make it sound better?” Some more discussion led to a “client” explaining that she was rocking back and forth because she was nervous; I asked “What does that nervousness sound like?” She played rapid, intense 8th notes on her drum; after giving her some time to play I invited the group to play with her. This intervention used the suggestion to bring our verbal discussion back into the music; it also incorporated what I’d learned from research for my paper: drumming the same rhythms causes people to move the same way, thus feeling the same sensations. This improves empathy and feelings of group cohesiveness – my main goal.

The next thing I knew, the whole group was playing loudly together. The tension had dissipated. I was so focused on the group, I completely forgot there were people observing us… until the instructor said, “We need to end the role-play.” If I could change one thing, I would have been less concerned with following the plan I’d had for the demonstration and more in tune with what was going on – in other words, better able to just sit back and feel good about what I had accomplished.

More positive feedback and useful suggestions, an opportunity to let my inner child dance around with a shaker – I mean, “role play” for one last classmate – and I was done. I had dreaded this class, but I stuck with it and grew so much from it. The end was bittersweet. I’ll miss spending time with my classmates and especially my small group… and I’m very proud of what I accomplished! I look forward to putting what I’ve learned into practice.

Since then, I’ve been taking some time to feel good about the end of the semester, relax, and compose. I love being able to focus on something I find intrinsically rewarding, not having to worry about deadlines or grades. Fox and I have been spending quality time with each other and our pet rats; it’s really satisfying to feel like we’ve created a family together. I’m happy and optimistic about the future.

… except that early this morning, after Fox’s alarm had gone off, I had a nightmare:

It’s the middle of the night. I’m cleaning the liners for the rats’ cage in a large plastic bin full of water. The rats are in the bin. At first the water is shallow enough for them to stand in it comfortably, but suddenly it is far over their heads.

I’m aware of them, but focused on my work. Periodically I notice that they’re staying under the water; one of them seems to be struggling and the other hasn’t been moving much. Finally, I catch the one that has been struggling and pull him out of the water. He clings to me, dripping and terrified. I worry that, since it still gets cold at night, he might get sick.

Then I remember that the other rat is underwater and not moving. I pull him out, but too late – his body is cold. I feel between his arms/front legs but there is no heartbeat. I try to do CPR (yes, on a rat!) but it’s actually one of the rat stuffed animals Fox got me before we adopted our current pets; the mouth is embroidered onto fabric. I’m aware of this, too, but I try anyway.

After struggling for some indeterminate amount of time, I realize the painful truth: I drowned my rats, and I was only able to save one of them. The other is dead, gone forever. His brother might not live long, and the time he does have will be very lonely…

I woke, devastated, then dragged myself out of bed in hopes that seeing my real, live rats would help me feel better. One was resting – clearly alive – and the other was standing near the door, climbing the wall of the cage, sniffing toward me, and otherwise being adorable in an attempt to attract my attention treats. That cheered me up, but I still can’t shake the guilt from the nightmare.

After reassuring myself that the rats were okay, I saw that Fox was still asleep. I helped him wake up just in time to avoid being late for work! I’m trying to convince myself that’s why I had the nightmare: my unconscious needed something that would force me to wake up enough to help my husband. But somehow I don’t think it’s that.

The vet gave the rats a clean bill of health, but they seem to cough (or hiccup?) and sneeze fairly frequently. Last night their cage was overdue for a cleaning; we replaced their litter, wiped everything down, and today I put the liners (sans rats) in the washing machine. But still. We suck at keeping our space clean, so there’s dust that can affect their lungs; trying to get Fox to help me clean – including their cage – is like pulling teeth. (Getting myself to clean is also like pulling teeth…) I feel like it’s completely on me to keep them healthy – including being vigilant for signs that they might be getting sick. If rats do get sick, their condition can deteriorate rapidly.

Mom’s also been putting pressure on me… in a variety of areas, but particularly regarding the decision of whether to go to my cousin’s wedding. If it were within a couple hours’ drive we would go, but it’s not – and the airfare for 3 people is ridiculous. It’s an 11-hour drive without traffic and/or rest stops. We have to factor in gas, tolls, multiple nights in different hotels, food, Fox taking time off from work, and who’s going to care for the rats? They need human contact and supervised playtime outside the cage at least once per day. My cousin and her immediate family are the only people we’ll know at the wedding (or in the area), and we have no idea whether we’ll get to spend any time with them besides the event itself. It seems unlikely we’ll even have the opportunity to sight-see, use the hotels’ amenities, or otherwise make a vacation out of it.

Fox left the decision in my hands. The three of us talked about it, I thought about it, and I decided that, given the circumstances, the only reason why I’d go to my cousin’s wedding is because she came to mine, so I want to reciprocate. Honestly, I think a better way to reciprocate would be to send her a particularly useful gift. I told Mom my decision and it seems we all assumed that if I’m not going, then she isn’t either.

She seemed happy to be free from the stress of figuring out travel logistics, but expressed concern about how this will affect her friendship with my cousin’s grandmother. (She said she “might” be going.) We conspired for a while to come up with an explanation she thinks her friend – and, likely, their larger group of friends – will find acceptable. Finally, she said she would think about it and asked us to give her until Monday to decide.

Now I’m hoping she’s not going to try to force me to change my mind because she’s that concerned about what her friends – not my cousin whose wedding it is – will think of her. I’m trying to relieve myself of being responsible for my mother’s emotions. I don’t need to be responsible for her relationships, too.

What it all comes down to is: things are going well for me. I’m happy with my life. I just took a huge step toward completing my master’s degree. I’ve been focusing on what’s important, working hard, emphasizing the positive, and asserting myself. I love asserting myself; it feels wonderful to just say what I want or need! Most of the time, people seem willing to help; if they don’t want to – or can’t – they just say so and I can focus on other possibilities. It’s so freeing!

But it all feels so fragile; one wrong move and my whole life will shatter and I’ll be too depressed to get out of bed (or worse). I just want to know things will be okay, and that it’s not entirely on me to keep them from falling apart. Is that so much to ask?

Transgender Tuesday: Closets

content note: brief description of thoughts about self-harm

I’ve been very depressed lately. I was woken up on Wednesday by the phone call informing me that my request for periodontal treatment had been denied. When I called to make my appeal, the person neutralized my language so “I’m in a lot of pain” became “I’m experiencing discomfort.” I felt powerless to advocate for myself because no matter what I said, she could submit whatever she wanted on my behalf and I wouldn’t even know. (I hadn’t yet received the letter with information on submitting a written appeal.)

I walked into Wakana’s office later that day, outwardly very calm and personable – but inwardly ready to explode! I told her I was scared of how calm I was and urged her to insert earplugs before allowing me to play on the drums and cymbal. We were all set up to make music when I told her I felt like cutting myself because I didn’t know how else to express the anger: I couldn’t kill people, I’d regret breaking things, but my skin would eventually heal. I said I wanted to get a tattoo in the spot I always think about cutting on; then I’d be less tempted to cut because I wouldn’t want to risk messing up the tattoo.

She said she thought I needed to make a statement… and that my feelings had little to do with my tooth. We talked for a while before I expressed my (ongoing) frustration with Mom: “I’m trying to have a healthy relationship with her, but she keeps hurting me! Even when I think things are going well between us, she always says or does something to hurt me. I can’t take it anymore!”

She told me, “Saying ‘can’t’ makes you a victim. Try saying ‘I won’t take it anymore.'” I tried it and felt a lot more powerful. Whether I allow my mother to continue abusing me is a choice; I can continue to take it – but I am unwilling to accept the consequences of that choice. I don’t want to take it anymore, so I won’t.

The consequences of that choice are terrifying. I was finally straightforward and honest with her on Sunday; I told her how I feel when she goes on and on talking about trivial matters, doesn’t listen to me, asks me to do random things for her she could do on her own, dumps all her emotional garbage on me, doesn’t respect my boundaries when I try to end a conversation. (Well, maybe I didn’t talk about all those things. I wanted to list my major complaints here.) She actually said, “So I’m a horrible person!” and hung up on me! Then she called me back. I told her she’s a wonderful person, and I want her to stop doing all this other crap so I can spend time with who she is beneath it all. She said I was wrong for telling her she could use the computer at the library (hers had just died), she didn’t raise me to be like that, if it were anybody else I’d be falling over myself to help them, etc. She said she thinks the problem is she’s doing too much for me and she’s going to cut me off and I have to pay rent and…

I realized why I let her do all this shit to me. If I don’t, I’m a horrible person and I might end up homeless, without a car, unable to afford therapy, etc. The next thing I knew, Fox had found a new computer for her online and I had agreed to accompany her when she went to the store to buy it. I spent the whole day with her yesterday, first getting the computer, then running a couple errands she hadn’t told me about before I was trapped in her car, then helping her set up the new computer. I was tired, cranky, and starving, but I remained pleasant and even got Fox to help after a long day at work. When it was time to go our separate ways, I said “I love you. Good night” and gave her a hug. She said “Good nigh… we need to…” I repeated “I love you, good night.” and left. Boundaries.

Today I woke up hating the world. I always wake up hating the world. I’m tired of waking up hating the world. I couldn’t get myself to go to the LGBTQIA+ groups on campus. I was too focused on my fight for something remotely resembling adequate healthcare. I’m too busy training to be my own lawyer to get dressed, drive places, talk to other human beings, eat, or do schoolwork.

I hate it. All of it. I want to see it burn.

The above has nothing to do with being transgender, except that I was misgendered in every single interaction that involved another person. (Except Fox and Banji.) At my piano midterm on Thursday I had 3 people using the wrong pronouns to talk what a pleasure I am to work with. (if only that had helped my grade!) Even in interactions that didn’t involve another person, I was asking an imaginary witness questions that required me to describe myself as the gender I was assigned at birth. It’s inescapable!

People don’t seem to see or hear me, they see and hear whatever fits with their expectations (or what’s convenient for them).

The Whole Truth of Coming Out of the Closet – In Comic Form explains the concept of closets quite well: “Closets are created by social and structural expectations about who we are supposed to be, and the consequences of defying that.” It shows how coming out is not a straightforward process, nor is it the same for everyone. There are some links after the comic that are great further reading.

It inspired me to draw this:

putting someone in the gender closet based on secondary sex characteristics - original artwork by Ziya

putting someone in the gender closet based on their appearance

The most important point – from my perspective at least – is that people don’t go into the closet. We don’t start out with everyone seeing and accepting us as we are, then decide (for whatever reason) that we’re going to hide some aspect(s) of our identity/identities. Other people build closets around us.

Sometimes even after we’ve come out to them.

Blessed Imbolc

Monday, February 2nd was the Pagan holy day (or sabbat) known as Imbolc, Imbolg, Candlemas, (Saint) Brigid’s Day, etc. My understanding is that it is a festival of lights celebrating the strengthening of the sun (e.g. days getting longer) and looking forward to  spring. In some areas the first signs of new life are beginning to show; where I live it is (I hope) the coldest and most wintry part of winter. This sabbat is a very well-timed reminder of the life that still thrives buried underneath all the snow, waiting to burst forth when the time is right. The Wheel of the Year continues to turn, and seasons will change.

My observance of Imbolc has thus far been limited to taking a few moments out of shoveling to just Be in the silently-falling, surprisingly peaceful, and beautiful snow. I felt the Child so full of wonder inside me, bursting with joy just to breathe in the cold air and see how everything sparkled. I used to love winter when snow meant a day off from school that I could spend building igloos and snowpeople, then come inside for hot chocolate. Now by the time the shoveling is done I’m usually too tired, achy, and grumpy to enjoy additional time in the snow. But I’m trying to get back some of that joy.

There’s been a lot of change in my life lately.  Classes starting up again is one of the best things that could have possibly happened for me. It’s given me structure, purpose, motivation, and a reason to get out of the house. I have opportunities to socialize with my classmates before, after, and sometimes even during class. I find that my attitude toward the classes has changed: where in the past I’ve felt self-conscious and deficient, I now feel like I have something unique to offer as well as opportunities to be creative and to learn. Being on campus opens other opportunities as well. In addition to the extracurricular social/support groups I plan on joining, there is also a psych counseling group for people who are in the process of “coming out” as LGBTQ+. It seems like it could be really helpful right about now, for multiple reasons.

I’ve also started decluttering and cleaning the apartment. I put old clothes aside to be donated and reorganized the rest of my wardrobe to fit in drawers instead of being thrown on the floor. I recycled and reorganized the kitchen to make it a pleasant place to cook and eat. I even cleaned part of the living room!

The process isn’t just about physical cleaning, it is an emotional restructuring and reclaiming of a space I’ve felt like I’ve had no control over. I needed Banji (my best friend) to witness all of it over Skype: the ambivalence, the temper tantrums, the catharsis of throwing things away, the pride in looking around the newly-cleaned space. I needed her encouragement to keep going. I needed her to hear my stories, to commiserate and celebrate with me. In return I did my best to be supportive of her doing schoolwork. I think I got the better end of the deal.

some backstory: About 5 weeks ago, I had a conversation with Wakana (my therapist) that I feel speaks for itself. I had been talking about how much more alive I feel when Banji is around, and how we’ve come to appreciate each other more since she moved away.
Wakana: “Are you in love with her?”
Ziya: “Yes. I have been for years…”

I remember being aware of such feelings even back in high school; the amount of attention I paid them kind of waxed and waned over the years. We’ve always been very close and valued our friendship highly. Even though we don’t express particularly romantic feelings toward each other, I’m pretty sure they’ve always been there. This was the first time I used that kind of language to talk about it with another person, though.

It’s been a bit of a landslide. I feel like a part of me that’s been hidden and silenced is finally bursting forth, fully alive! For the longest time I felt confused and guilty about valuing my time with Banji more than my time with Fox (my husband). I’ve wished there were traditions in our culture to give the same recognition and importance to close friendships as to romantic/sexual relationships. I’ve felt like I’m not being fully honest by calling her my “best friend” and making a huge deal out of my relationship with Fox in front of all our friends, both our families, the government, and Facebook. I feel like I slapped her in the face by telling her she was my “maid of honor” when I decided to marry Fox, instead of asking her to marry me.

Now all these feelings finally make sense! While I can’t take back my years of being dense, I can be more self-aware and genuine in the present and future. To be clear, that includes continuing my relationship with Fox: I love him and find joy, comfort, and opportunities for growth in our marriage. He accepts me as I am – even when I find it difficult to accept myself – and was actually the first to bring up an interest in polyamory. He wasn’t surprised or upset when I told him about being in love with Banji.

Taking to her about it was a bit more difficult because I was afraid of losing her (again). Above all I want our relationship to be a safe place where we can just relax and be fully ourselves, without any weird expectations that might come up if someone starts talking about “love.” Among the holiday insanity I tried talking about the importance of our relationship and the life I want to have with her – basically expanding on plans she initiated and that we’ve been talking about for years now – all without mentioning “love.” She said she sees the three of us as a polyamorous V with me in the middle, so I took it to mean we were on the same page. But were we really?

Finally, on Saturday – when I’d decluttered most of the kitchen and could no longer put off finding a home for some of the stuff from the wedding – I decided I just had to be honest about it. I told her I love her as a lifelong partner and that I don’t need anything about the way we relate to each other to change, but it’s important to me that she knows. She said she loves me too (squee!!!) and that she’s known for a while now (*facepalm*).

We talked a bit more but weren’t able to get into too deep a conversation because she had a lot of homework and a tight deadline. She said that in the past she hasn’t been sure whether to envy me for having boyfriends… or my boyfriends for the relationship they got to have with me. She also kept saying “it’s complicated.” I could hazard some guesses about what might make it complicated – beyond the obvious fact that polyamorous family structures are more complex than monogamous ones (oh, yeah, and we currently live a 5-hour drive apart) – but I’d rather talk with her about it. I worry that I might assume things that aren’t true, so I’m trying not to get too preoccupied with all of this. (oops)

In some ways it’s big and scary and new. It definitely flies in the face of dominant cultural norms. She’s expressed not caring what people think, nor feeling anyone needs to know. I don’t have to shout it from the rooftops (just my blog, lol) but I don’t want to hide it, either. I’ll admit to some anxiety about being discriminated against and/or ostracized from my recently-expanded family. I care about others’ approval – perhaps moreso than is healthy for someone as ‘outside the box’ as me. “But if that’s love / it comes at much too high a cost.” (Elphaba in Wicked: “Defying Gravity”) One of the things I’ve been working on in therapy is experiencing myself as someone who is worthy of my own love, without the need for others’ approval.

And, well, it has us talking about our relationship in ways we haven’t really before. She’s dropped some hints here and there, but I was being dense to escape feeling guilty about what she was – or kind of wasn’t – saying. *facepalm* Now I need to be more honest. I can’t be so enmeshed with her, primarily requesting her support in dealing with my other relationships (like Mom does to me). I respect her as a separate, awesome person with whom I’m dedicated to maintaining and growing our meaningful relationship.

In some ways I find it all very comforting. The earlier cognitive dissonance about these relationships has been resolved. I feel whole – or at least a lot closer to being whole. I feel secure knowing I don’t have to navigate whatever happens next on my own. I’ve got my two favorite people on either side of me. ❤

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.