NewProjects

With only 11 days until the Out of the Darkness Overnight, it’s seeming less and less feasible for me to participate. I haven’t been training, I’m nowhere near the $700 I’m required to raise, and I haven’t made any travel plans or hotel reservations. Mom keeps saying, “Maybe this isn’t the year for you to do this.” It hurts like hell to hear it, but at least half the reason why it hurts is because at least part of me thinks she’s right.

I was finally able to express how her feedback is affecting me: “When you say things like that, I feel depressed. I feel like I suck.”

“I don’t think you suck. I just think you have a lot going on right now, and maybe trying to do this on top of it isn’t the best idea.”

She has a point. A lot of things have been going on to get in the way of my preparations for the Overnight:

  • my response to the 15-year anniversary of my father’s death
  • moving back in with Mom
  • moving back in with Mom
  • the extreme self-deprecation and anxiety that forced me to drop the last 2 pre-thesis classes I need to complete my master’s degree because they increased my self-harm risk
  • lack of social support
  • midterm and end-of-the-semester stress
  • anxiety over Mom’s surgery
  • Mom’s surgery
  • visiting Mom after her surgery
  • taking care of Dog and rats
  • turning to the computer (rather than walking or other forms of exercise) for escapism
  • depression symptoms
    • fatigue
    • lack of motivation
    • self-harm ideation and thought imagery
  • social anxiety; not wanting to be seen

Yes, I could have made different choices. But I think blaming myself for not preparing for the Overnight would be like blaming someone for losing a poker match in which the best hand ze was dealt was a pair of deuces. Sometimes, your best option is to fold.

When I expressed all this to Fox, he suggested a brilliant compromise: instead of attempting the overnight walk in Washington, D.C., I can do my own, shorter, walk locally. I can time it for when Banji and other people I love and trust can make it. Mom can come – even if she can’t walk the full route, she might be able to walk part of it. Just her physical presence as a supporter would mean the world to me!

I can even still ask people to chip in what they can to donate to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). We might even raise some awareness; I can wear the shirt I received for raising $100 for the Overnight and maybe my supporters can wear matching shirts in a similar color (ooh, getting together to decorate them might be fun!) … that kind of thing usually gets people to wonder what’s going on; even explaining our shenanigans to just one person might make a difference.

The AFSP even has tools for creating your own campaign that I can use! They offer a variety of ideas; endurance events (e.g. walks) are only one option.

I’m thinking of making a campaign I could link to from this blog, actually. One idea I have is to invite readers to commission posts on topics of their choice related to my experiences with mental illness, mental health care, and possibly other topics – all with the caveat that I will only share information I feel comfortable and safe sharing. What do you think?

Another project I’m planning is an herb and vegetable garden. Fox is on board with it; I love the idea of having someone to garden with. We’ve done some research and decided to start small, just a handful of plants in a few pots, preferably raised off the ground so we don’t have to bend too much. It’s a way for us to get outside in the fresh air and sun, do something that resembles physical activity, connect with nature, and possibly even grow our own fresh (preferably organic) produce! – that is, if the squirrels don’t eat it all …

Sculpture

I decided to make therapeutic use of my modeling clay after waking up from a nap at midnight. The results were completely different from what I was expecting.

Mother’s Day

Despite staying up stupidly late playing Faster Than Light on Saturday, I dragged myself out of bed Sunday morning in time to join Mom for a Mother’s Day brunch at the rehabilitation center (where she’s recovering from double knee replacement surgery). It was, in the grander scheme of things, a relatively pleasant experience. I enjoyed spending time with her and was pleased to see how well she’s doing: she spent a good portion of our time together walking (albeit slowly and with much effort) with a walker. I was even able to talk to her a little bit about my frustration with Psychiatrist B (and mental health care in general). She was supportive, encouraging me to look into finding a new psychiatrist and telling me I “need to take charge of [my] life.”

mothers day card quote copy

It was when I was leaving that things got a bit messy. She asked me to wait until she’d used the bathroom so I could help her back into her wheelchair. Then she wanted me to take her shoes off and put her special, non-slip socks on. Once I was done helping her with that, she started attaching ice to her knees and running through a laundry list of things she needs me to do and talking about when she comes home. Apparently they can randomly tell her she needs to leave by 10am the next morning, “so you might get a phone call from me” to this effect. Finally, I’d had too much.

“Mom, I need to go. We can talk about this stuff later.”

“Okay, bye.”

“I love you.”

(Still futzing with the ice) “I love you too.”

Father’s Day

On the way home, I reflected on my Mother’s Day experience. Then my mind shifted to Father’s Day, a day that tends to be very difficult for me because it’s a nice slap-in-the-face reminder that my (biological) father DIED. The less-than-ideal (i.e. emotionally and physically abusive) nature of our relationship, of which I’ve been becoming more aware, doesn’t particularly help matters. Nor does the fact that I can never develop a healthy adult relationship with him (that’s 2-sided) because he’s DEAD.

“And on Father’s Day I’ll commit suicide.” An image of a knife slitting my throat appeared in my head.

Terrified, I called Fox. He was awesome.

cry

Rehab

IT’S NOT FAIR!!! There are a lot of parallels between my and my mother’s situations. We’ve both been in pain for a long time. We’ve both found ourselves limited in our ability to enjoy things we used to do, or just completely unable to do them. We’ve both had aspects of our social relationships and self-concept affected by our respective problems. We’ve both (finally) decided to seek treatment.

Mom paid someone to cut her open, remove part of her body, and replace it with metal. She’s in even more pain than she was before, but she’s slowly, with a lot of effort and support, getting better. She’s in the (near-)perfect environment for what she needs, making friends with others in similar situations, surrounded by friendly supportive and very caring staff. She’s getting visitors and phone calls. Her desk is completely covered in get-well cards.

getwellsoon

I am plagued by disturbing images of my body being cut open. I’m in a lot of pain and it’s hard to say whether I’m getting better – certainly not at the rate I’d like to be. I have loving support, but it’s a bit dispersed. My environment is far from conducive to my recovery: I am caregiver for 3 pets and will have to take the place of the transportation, laundry, dining, and nursing services she’s been receiving from professionals for the past 2 weeks. Only a couple of people seem to care about my situation; friends don’t so much come to visit me as want to hang out, so I either have to host the gathering or travel. Nobody sends me get-well cards. I’m concerned that if I start coming out about my severe, life-threatening illness now, people will think I’m trying to “steal the spotlight” from Mom.

And the Walk is only 3 weeks away.

warning-signs-of-caregiver-stress

I wish I could have an experience like she’s having, but with better food – and preferably without having to be (physically) cut open first. Go someplace, be taken care of, receive therapy, be able to talk to people who can relate to my experiences, be surrounded by supportive staff. I mean, one of the nurses at Mom’s rehab center cheerfully hugged me and said, “You better get used to me, I’ve been adopted into your family.”

But I don’t know if such a place exists for people with mental illness. I don’t want to go to the hospital. “Over my dead body.” (Which is kind of ironic, people generally go to the hospital to try and delay their death.) I want a kind of halfway place, a rehabilitation center, a step up from outpatient therapy. But even if such a place does exist and we can get past all the practical considerations (expense, who’s going to take care of Mom and our pets, did I mention expense?) there’s the stigma involved. Sure, family members might send me get-well cards … but what will they say about me behind my back?

Surgery

I woke up from my nap at midnight to an imagined experience of someone stabbing me in the middle of my chest, cutting open my torso, ripping out my vital organs, and throwing them on the floor. I think I felt more or less the same emotions I would feel if someone were to actually (physically) do that to me.

Sculpture

My initial intent was to enact that “fantasy” on my modeling clay – a much safer outlet than my own flesh. I got up, pulled out the modeling clay, and started making the head to go on the body I intended to mutilate. Early on, I realized I could actually sculpt a face, and got caught up in making a well-defined, relatively realistic nose. I left the eye sockets as cavities. I intentionally left out the mouth, but sculpted jaw line, chin, forehead, hair.

Once I was done with the head, I moved on to the torso. I had to chop a new chunk out of my block of clay – once complete, the torso required 2/3 of what had been remaining (after I made the head with the same clay I’d used for the pieces featured in The Bloody Arms Project). I hacked at the block of clay multiple times using my wooden sculpting tools, a process that enabled me to physically act out the violence that so far as been wreaking havoc on my emotions.

Then there was the matter of getting the stuff to take the form I wanted. I had to use all the muscles in my upper body, especially in my hands, to shape the clay. I panted and grunted with the effort. I laughed and cried. I was channeling, directing my energy. I was making decisions (e.g. “I need twice as much clay to make the body in realistic proportion to the width of the head.”) and acting intentionally. I was using the various tools available to me. I was discovering new details I could flesh out, such as collar bones and belly button. I was paying almost as much attention to realistically shaping the back as the front. I was happy the clay was so difficult to shape, because that meant I could make relatively minor changes (such as smoothing the surface of a curve) without messing up a feature I had worked very intentionally to create. I was creating a realistic 3-dimensional image of a human body, complete with wrinkles and cellulite. I was having fun!

I sat back and looked at the result of all that aggressive energy: a realistic and beautiful human head and torso. A work of art. Something I could be proud of. It only took 2 hours. And it was … no, not really easy – I had to work at it. It was frustration-free. I was pleasantly surprised by how directly I was able to shape the clay with my will (and my body).

Fox woke up to me verbally redirecting Dog away from my food. He sat near me on the couch and we started talking; I told him about the process that culminated in me having a work of art to show off. I also expressed a solution that had occurred to me; our conversation confirmed that it was the least I should do.

Recovery

Mom is … “asking” isn’t strong enough, and “demanding” is a little bit unfair … requiring me to play a very large role in her recovery. When she comes home she will need me to:

  • take her to physical therapy 3 times a week
  • do her laundry
  • do her grocery shopping
  • continue taking care of Dog
  • help her in and out of the knee immobilizers she has to wear when she sleeps
    • That essentially means I’ll be on call all night and early-mid morning!

My initial thought was to make transport to physical therapy (including helping her in and out of the car, driving her there and back, and waiting while she receives the actual therapy) contingent upon her engaging in family therapy with me. It would only be once a week, I’d still be driving and helping her in and out of the car, and she stands to benefit from it as well. If she refuses, she’ll have to get someone else to provide transport – probably the least socially awkward of the items on that list. If she agrees, she’ll also be playing an active role in my recovery.

handshake-drawn

After talking to Fox, I’m adding a few more items to my counter-requirement:

  • Since I’d probably end up ordering groceries for us both online anyway, she can order her groceries herself. I don’t mind helping her put them away, especially if we can then cook and eat a meal together.
  • We’ll split taking care of Dog: she feeds him, I let him out, and we both spend time with him as works out best for all three of us.
  • Just so we’re clear, “do her laundry” means taking it to the basement, putting it in the washer, transferring it to the dryer, and bringing it back upstairs. I don’t fold or hang things. (Really, I don’t. Ask Fox – he’s the one in charge of our laundry.)

My Treatment Plan

I don’t really have a coherent treatment plan and I think it’s time I get one. So far I’ve got individual music therapy with Wakana twice a week and meds that may or may not be having at least part of their intended effect. I guess I’m between psychiatrists.

I’m going to check out a depression support group that meets a few hours after I finish my session with Wakana. It’s inexpensive and within walking distance.

I need to make a list of possible family therapists; that will help show Mom that I’m serious about my request. It will be a process in which I’ll have to grow and change and work on the way I treat her, too – added stress. But if we can be healthier, if I can spend time with her without feeling violated afterward, it will be well worth the added effort. Even if all I get out of it is about half an hour once a week where she is supported in making the effort to truly see and listen to me, it will make a huge difference. That’s really … barely anything to ask.

Banji, I think a trip to the arts and crafts store is in order. I’m going to need more clay!

Semi-Collaborative “Ticket to Ride”: An Unexpected Consequence

“Ticket to Ride” is a very fun, challenging, competitive board game by Days of Wonder. Each player has 45 plastic train cars to lay along tracks connecting different cities in a country, such as the United States, or a continent (Europe, Asia, Africa). In order to lay cars on a track, the player must collect and discard the right number of cards that are the same color as the track. The goal is to complete as many routes connecting distant cities (e.g. Los Angeles to New York) and score as many points as possible. If a player is unable to complete a route, ze loses the amount of points it would have been worth.

Fox and I have been playing this game like crazy: first with Banji and her dad; then against each other with our own, newly-purchased set; and this past weekend with Fox’s immediate family. We’ve had a lot of fun and gotten quite good at it.

5-player game with Fox (green), his mother (red), his sister (yellow), his dad (black) and myself (blue).

5-player game with Fox (green), his mother (red), his sister (yellow), his dad (black) and myself (blue).

Tonight, we decided to take on a new challenge: The two of us played a 3-player game. We each played for ourselves – Fox as black and myself as red – and we collaborated on the moves for a third, disembodied player who was Green. We looked at Green’s cards together, discussed what the best course of action would be, and cooperated to complete Green’s turn.

At the beginning of the game, I selected 3 routes that seemed to connect in a challenging and slightly crazy, but certainly doable way: San Francisco – El Paso – Santa Fe – Duluth – Winnepeg – Atlanta. After I had done that, Fox and I looked at routes for Green, one of which included a stop in Santa Fe. I was trying to keep my routes secret, so I agreed to attempt all 5 of Green’s routes (including the one through Santa Fe). Unfortunately, the most sensible track for Green to use was the same one I needed to connect Santa Fe to Duluth. I decided to take the more circuitous route through Phoenix in an attempt to use longer tracks (worth more points) and maintain one continuous line (also worth more points: 10 to the player with the longest one).

I (red) gave up the track that would have made the most sense to take, in an attempt to create the best route for Green and avoid disclosing my plans.

I (red) gave up the track that would have made the most sense to take, in an attempt to create the best route for Green and avoid disclosing my plans.

Now that I’m removed from the situation, I can see alternatives to my course of action. I could have used 4 less cars – cars I desperately needed, but did not have, at the end of the game – by connecting El Paso to Oklahoma City along the yellow track, then continuing Oklahoma City – Kansas City – Omaha. Or, I could have taken the track connecting Santa Fe directly to Denver and allowed Green to take the more circuitous route, saving myself 6 cars! Green had little to no chance of having the longest continuous line, so branching off to Santa Fe wouldn’t have hurt it, and it certainly had the 2 extra cars it would have needed to take the red track from Denver to Oklahoma City.

Previous image altered to show what I wish I had done: red takes a more direct route, while green only has to go a little bit out of its way.

Previous image altered to show what I wish I had done: red takes a more direct route, while green only has to go a little bit out of its way.

This was the only place I really compromised during the game, but it cost me dearly. I had bad luck when I tried to pick up more routes later in the game. Usually I can get at least one additional route I’ve already completed or can complete very easily, but this time all my options were unattainable. I got stuck with 2 routes that I could not complete because I was one car short for each of them!

Fox had also made compromises for the benefit of Green throughout the game. As a result, he almost got stuck with a route he couldn’t complete because he was also one car short. We agreed to both add one of the extra cars to our individual pools (my red one and his black). This enabled him to complete all of his routes and me to complete all but one of mine, only losing 7 points instead of 15 (23 if you count the 8 points I gained from the extra route I completed).

3-player game between Fox and Ziya: end game. Green (played collaboratively) blew us both out of the water with 10 routes completed and 172 points. Fox (black) completed 7 routes and scored 136 points. I only completed 4 routes and scored 122 points.

3-player game between Fox and Ziya: end game. Green (played collaboratively) blew us both out of the water with 10 routes completed and 172 points. Fox (black) completed 7 routes and scored 136 points. I (red) completed 4 out of 5 routes, had the longest continuous line, and scored 122 points.

So what was the unexpected consequence? Well, for one thing, each of us was hurt in our individual game by the compromises we made for the benefit of the third player, whom we played collaboratively. Looking at the situation metaphorically, I wonder what compromises we make in our relationship that hurt us as individuals – particularly as a result of withholding information or otherwise not talking a situation through. I also find it interesting that I was the one hurt more by the sacrifices I voluntarily made. That fits in with a pattern I’ve already noticed in my life and am working to remedy.

Another significant consequence is that we were both very mad at Green for winning, especially by such a huge margin! In other words, we were angry with ourselves for playing so well as a team that we did not stand a chance at winning as individuals. We each still wanted to win as an individual; we related to our collaboration as a “third player” that was separate from ourselves and our relationship. We ended up feeling like we both had lost (to ourselves!) rather than celebrating our collective achievement.

Neither of us was happy with the outcome of the game. We felt disappointed and turned to sharing chocolate for mutual comfort. Part of playing games is learning not to allow the outcomes to affect one’s relationship with others; we both have enough experience with this not to hold a grudge after a game has ended. But I still want to express my happiness that, as annoyed as we both were with the result of our attempt at partial collaboration within a competitive game, we did not take our anger out on each other. We remained united, expressing positive regard toward one another, sharing each other’s victories and defeats – even as we competed against each other (and against our collaborative effort!) for individual success.

There’s still a place for playing this game competitively, as it was intended. But if we want to “break the mold” again, we’ll play a fully collaborative game. I imagine that will feel completely different from the one we played tonight. Without striving to win as individuals, we’ll be better able to appreciate the awesome things we can achieve when we work together!