Still Abusive

TW: full text of a conversation with my mother, in which her responses are abusive (gaslighting)

It started with an online swimsuit sale. I’m not sure why my mother decided I need a new swimsuit – I think the ones I have are fine – but she “strongly encouraged” me to take advantage of the sale… and have her buy the items for me so she can get “points” (credit card reward program?). I haven’t completely overwritten my programming, so I agreed to do the online shopping in her apartment, even though I knew I should have known better.

Clothes shopping has always been triggering for me, and swimsuit shopping is the worst. I’ve been working hard to love my body the way it is, but the internalized fatphobia and body size-related insecurity that tortured me my whole life springs up anew when I simply cannot find clothing in my size.

And then there’s the whole being non-binary thing. At least with everyday clothes it’s possible to do some gender-bending: no one needs to know I wear “men’s” boxer-briefs and an undershirt instead of a bra. T-shirts are considered unisex. Socks and shoes – who cares?! So far I haven’t ventured into trying to find “men’s” pants that might fit me, mostly because they’re simply not designed for hips that are considerably larger than the attached waist. But finding a pair of jeans shaped to my body feels so good, I can keep wearing “women’s” pants without too much dysphoria. For now.

Swimsuits are very gendered. Just the fact that men are expected to run around bare-chested and women have to cover up sends my brain into a dysphoric frenzy. Ideally I would love to just swim naked – I had the opportunity to do that once and it was glorious! No gender performance, just diverse bodies. Everything floats when it’s not tied down by a swimsuit. I loved the sensation. I felt so free!

So I’m swimsuit shopping online with my mother. She’s sitting at the computer with me mostly behind her, looking at what she thinks I’ll like. Fortunately, we agreed that the “women’s” swim shorts this company offers are far superior to typical “women’s” swimsuit bottoms… but she was going to get a shorter length than I wanted (so I had to argue with her about that) and the ones I wanted were out of stock in my size (of course). I convinced her to add the swim leggings (way more coverage than I’d like, but still better than the alternatives). And I don’t remember if we added a couple pairs of “men’s” swim trunks together or I added them myself later, but either way they’ve been ordered. Maybe they’ll even fit! (A bit of a long shot, since the measurements are smaller than my hips.)

Then we started looking at tops. I would have been happy with a simple “shelf bra” tankini thing. They all have underwire or soft cups. Ugh. We get in an argument about it. I’m concerned because with a tankini one has to consider both chest (“bust”) and hip measurements, and mine are too different to have one size fit both properly. I think everything I own is too big on the bust and too small on the hips – I just try not to worry about it. We have another fight, I get her to let me sit at the computer and look at stuff myself, without having to try and convince her to click on each item for me. Nada.

I decided to look at bikini tops, thinking it might solve the hip-bust ratio problem. Bad idea. They’re all basically bras. I don’t know what I was expecting – maybe something more like a sports bra at least? But no, my dysphoria went through the roof. I eventually found and selected a couple “men’s” rash guards, which as far as I can tell are essentially fitted t-shirts designed for swimming?

Again, way more coverage than I wanted, but probably a million times more comfortable than the weird boob-obsessed gendered performance nonsense Mom probably would have bought for me.

So, it was pretty cool that this company/site had these options. And Mom was pretty cool about “letting” – god, I’m an adult, who they hell is she to decide what I’m “allowed” to wear or buy? – me get mostly “men’s” swimwear.

But look at me, writing over 700 words about swimsuit shopping! Throughout our interaction she kept saying little things that were bothering me: “You really need to give yourself more time to get places.” “I went in your apartment and thought ‘I just have to help them out,’ so I did your dishes.” “I don’t know how you’ve been handling your finances.”

That last one was the last straw. I used to keep my checkbook perfectly balanced. I used to have my own income, so I could save money every month and otherwise be a financially-responsible adult. But I don’t have my own income, and I haven’t figured out how to consistently track finances for two people (especially since Fox is the one who makes all our money and spends most of it). I’ve been reduced to checking our bank account balance once a month, to make sure we have enough in there to pay our credit card bill. I’m not happy with the situation; it feels wrong; I’m embarrassed by it. But between my mental health issues, the work I’ve been doing in therapy, volunteering full-time for the Bernie Sanders campaign (which I love), and being primary caregiver to our pet rats, I consider it an accomplishment that I manage to pay the credit card bills on time. And eat, occasionally. That requires constant vigilance.

So I walked out. “Please don’t walk out on me.” I barely even looked at her. I’d fallen mute. I couldn’t say or do anything. My legs just carried me out the door and down the stairs and into my apartment.

A little while later she was leaving the house, so I hugged her and apologized and told her I love her. She told me that she wasn’t pushing the bra-like tankini innards on me because of gender, but because she likes to have support for her anatomy. “You want some support,” she said to me. “No, you want some support,” I told her. “That doesn’t mean it’s what I want.” I escape the conversation – mostly because she needs to leave. Everything seems peachy.

She even called on her way wherever she was going to say she’s proud of me for all the work I’m doing on the campaign.

Wednesday.

On Wednesday she posted one of those image-with-text meme-like things on my Facebook wall:

I am not your friend. I am your parent. I will stalk you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare, & hunt you down when needed – because I love you.

I got very angry, hid it from my timeline, and proceeded to send her multiple text messages:

Posting threats on my Facebook wall is not going to improve our relationship – quite the opposite. You and dad and your in-laws and other family members already drove me insane; that’s why I’ve needed to work my ass off in therapy for the past 6 years.

You’re not my friend, you’re my parent – so ACT LIKE ONE. Get the therapy you need to be able to do it properly. Stop using me as your therapist. I’m not your friend or your therapist I’m your adult child. Respect that I’m an adult and respect my boundaries. Help me in the ways I ask you to; give me the advice I ask for; listen to me and support me! And think about how what you say might impact me before you say it.

I’m grateful for everything you do for me and I understand that it’s not easy. But enough is enough. If you think it’s okay to stalk me and knowingly do things to “drive me insane” then you need to make some effort to learn how to parent responsibly.

“I do these harmful things because I love you” is what abusers say.

The rest of the conversation proceeded in a rather alarming fashion (from my point of view) during which she did not apologize.

M: “I do not abuse you. You are taking things too seriously.”
Z:  “No, YOU are not taking me seriously enough. You never have.”
M: “Stalk you?”
Z:
M: “Not a threat. I thought it was cute. And told you that I love you. Something parents always say. We make many sacrifices for our children. We should talk later. Take things lighter. Love you.”

I freaked out and called Wakana. She got so upset with my mom, I had to ask her to stop yelling. She told me about a million times that I was not overreacting, I was having a healthy response, I need to separate emotionally from my mother, and I should unfriend my mother on Facebook. So that’s what I did, and that’s the text I sent Mom.

The next text I got from Mom was telling me I needed to move my car. We haven’t spoken since. No apology.

I’m not talking to her until she apologizes to me.

In the meantime, I got a nice short androgynous haircut that I love and everyone has complimented me on. I have a street to canvass and volunteers to call this afternoon. I’ll be working in the campaign office for a handful of hours this evening. And then we begin our GOTV (get out the vote) efforts in earnest. 9am-9pm Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. And, I imagine, the full time polls are open Tuesday. I signed up to be part of the voter protection team on Tuesday, so I will either be doing that or juggling it with work in the campaign office. It’s finals week on steroids. Crunch time.

If you can help us out go to map.berniesanders.com for local events and/or berniepb.com to phonebank. If your state’s primary is on Tuesday, visit canivote.org to look up your polling place and/or other useful information.

This is what’s been keeping me going. I need Bernie to win on Tuesday.

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.

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?

Let It Go

One thing I’m really bad at is letting things go when they make me angry. I become kind of obsessed with them; I keep ruminating on the situation, what should have happened, why I’m right and the other person is wrong, etc. Occasionally I allow it to ruin my whole day.

Sometimes it’s a situation where Wakana would express concern if I weren’t getting angry – a situation that needs to be resolved. The anger gives me the energy and motivation to take action on it. I need to be assertive in making sure my needs are met – firm enough that the other person knows “I mean business,” but not verbally abusing them or otherwise ignoring their rights and needs. Sometimes I have difficulty finding the balance.

A prime example is trying to get treatment for my Endangered Molar, which has an infection that is causing “extensive” bone loss. (In other words, something is eating part of my skull.) My dental insurance took forever to approve a consultation with a periodontist, and then neglected to inform me of their decision. I had to call them – to learn it had been approved a month earlier!

I went for the consultation on January 22nd; the authorization for treatment was submitted on January 26th. The weeks went by… nothing.

I called multiple times and was told a variety of things, from “we never received that” to “it’s been escalated to a supervisor.” Last week I was told that no authorization for treatment had been received, but I had been approved to see the periodontist for a consultation. It had been escalated and approved just the day before.

I was furious! I told the person I was talking to that I had already been to the periodontist for a consultation and they should have an authorization for treatment. She insisted that what had been received was a referral for a consultation; the authorization was a different thing, the periodontist had to submit a “narrative,” etc. We kept saying the same things to each other over and over, with more and more frustration in our voices. I caught myself starting to slip into some inappropriate language; I knew that if the conversation continued it would likely result in me saying some very mean things. I made every effort to end the call as soon as possible without “hanging up on” the person.

I was fuming for the rest of the day. I couldn’t focus on anything else. I couldn’t enjoy being intimate with my husband. I just wanted to break things – including the skulls of the people responsible! It didn’t help that I was in a lot of pain from having Root Canal Molar extracted. I was miserable.

I thought I had to wait for the periodontist to come back from vacation to submit the “narrative,” so I decided to wait until Tuesday to pursue the matter further. After rehearsing my questions a million times – as though preparing to represent the plaintiff in court – I called my insurance. I learned that the “narrative” is basically the diagnosis and treatment plan. The person I spoke to seemed very reluctant to provide useful information … almost as though it was against company guidelines… I noticed we were starting to repeat ourselves, so I ended the conversation before I could become so angry I’d be stuck dwelling on it for the rest of the day.

On Wednesday I called the periodontist’s office and spoke to a very helpful individual who not only clarified what happened, but forwarded me the email that had been submitted to my dental insurance. To be honest, I could see how they might have misinterpreted it: the file name for the attachment was “referral,” the form filled out was a “referral” form, and the periodontist’s office also offers general dentistry. I had to (wait for it!) read the content of the form to see that treatment was being requested. I was also able to verify that it met the criteria I’d been given for a “narrative:” two specific treatments were requested by name and reference number, and it was clearly indicated that I have “extensive bone loss” in the area. I’m not sure there is any additional information that would be relevant, except that I HAVE BEEN IN PAIN FOR SEVEN MONTHS MAKE IT STOP!!!!

This time, when I called my dental insurance, I immediately asked to speak to someone who had the authority to make a decision regarding my treatment. I was connected to a supervisor – who couldn’t authorize treatment, but could work with me more efficiently. I was able to be specific regarding the treatment requested, state that the x-rays and periodontal chart were included, and explain that it was on a “referral” form but was a request to cover treatment. The supervisor offered to call the referrals department, find out what they had received, and call me back.

On Thursday I received a call saying that they have the information I’ve been trying to convince them they’ve had for weeks!!! and it will be sent to the claims department on Friday. The supervisor suggested waiting until Wednesday to follow up regarding the actual decision.

For now I’m calling that a success – because if I don’t I’ll go even more crazy.

… But sometimes it’s a situation that I don’t have any control over and it’s not really worth following up on. Most of the examples I can think of have to do with disagreeing with someone on the Internet.

I think I got myself blocked from someone’s Facebook post … or maybe the whole post got deleted? Someone else had made a comment (tangentially related to the original post) about “transgender men” being allowed in women’s locker rooms at Planet Fitness; I interpreted it to be derisive. I felt compelled to clarify that the person in the women’s locker room was a trans woman and that Planet Fitness had defended her right to use the locker room that corresponds with her gender, free from harassment. Perhaps some of the (additional) points I made could have been worded a bit better. Perhaps some of my anger came through. It’s kind of hard to say; I can maybe see how part of it could be misinterpreted…

(Or I could be making a big deal out of nothing.)

At first I was able to see the post and all the comments leading up to mine, but there was an “error loading” at the bottom of the page. Then the notifications I had received regarding the post disappeared. The post no longer appears in my feed or where it was originally posted. It’s as though it never existed… which might be for the better, but it’s annoying the hell out of me!

I could private message the original poster, apologize for anything that was offensive, and ask what happened… but I’m not sure it’s worth it. We’re acquaintances who haven’t been in the same physical space for years; I’ve never even met the other people who had commented.

I think the best thing to do is let it go and move on with my life. Focus on something else. Do something else. I wish I could switch off the thought patterns that keep fixating on this relatively insignificant experience – or delete them. The post doesn’t exist anymore, so why should my memory of it?

But if I had an easy time letting things go and switching my focus to something else, I wouldn’t have written this blog post. Anyone have any ideas? What works for you?

To Lose a Tooth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Disappointment is Necessary

I crashed and burned after the wedding, there’s no way around it. I was a whir of energy leading up to that day, emotions all over the place, a near-constant stream of goal-directed activity. It felt fantastic. The celebration itself was fantastic. Being surrounded by so many people I love and who love me …

Now it’s gone. It’s been gone. I didn’t get enough sleep and it left me exhausted. Over a week later, I’m still exhausted. I felt so good; I thought I could build on the energy and do things to improve my life. Clean the apartment, find a job, join a group, get out and socialize more, even just maintain some kind of contact with some of the people who came out to see me. Anything…

I’m too tired to do anything. I’m pouring what energy I do have into The Sims 3. I think it appeals to me because my sims can go out on the town and have vibrant social lives that I control and accomplish their goals in a much shorter amount of time than in real life: combine control, vicarious living, and instant gratification. After I restarted my current game for the second time I realized that my perfectionism was taking over, forcing me to give up progress in a game that was going really well because there was one thing I didn’t like and couldn’t fix.

I think part of why my perfectionism is taking over is because of how much I had to suppress it to cope with the reality of the wedding. There were a lot of things that didn’t go the way I wanted; I’ve been trying really hard not to dwell on them because if I focus on them I’ll feel like it was a complete disaster. But keeping the focus on the positive is exhausting, and to be honest I’m not entirely sure it’s healthy. We need to acknowledge the not-so-good aspects of our lives, even if we can’t do anything about them.

The thing that’s bothering me the most is that, because of how the space was set up and where my bridal party ended up standing, it was very difficult for my guests to see what was going on during the ceremony. I felt doubly bad about that because we hadn’t invited the majority of the guests to the legal ceremony last year, so this was their chance to see us ‘get married’. At least they were able to hear it?

Worse, I completely forgot about the audio recorder I’d brought specifically to record the ceremony and especially our vows – a compromise so we wouldn’t have to pay for a videographer. I don’t have the audio recording, and no one was able to take video because they couldn’t see it, and my memory of audio input leaves much to be desired… So, in short, the only record of the most important aspect of the entire affair – our vows – is written notes that exclude the parts we improvised.

I don’t know if I would have remembered to set up the audio recorder if things had gone differently, but we could have at least had the bridal party positioned so the guests could see. (Then maybe someone would have taken video!) We didn’t have time to have a rehearsal because we were late getting to the venue and then I lost track of time and I don’t even know where everyone was, so I probably would have had a difficult time getting them together. And some people – mostly members of Fox’s family – came early and started talking to us. So no rehearsal, and bridal party pictures had to be taken during the reception … but at least the space was partially cleaned and the handicap-accessible restroom didn’t smell of cigarette smoke.

Part of why we were late getting to the venue was because it took longer to get things together than I’d been expecting, and part was because I got in an argument with the bridesmaid who’d been kind enough to do our centerpieces. She wanted to get them from her parents’ car (which would be at the venue a little bit later), but I knew we wouldn’t have time for her to find her parents, get their key, unload the centerpieces, and reload them into Banji’s car. We were both butting heads for a stupid amount of time before I realized I could (and should!) just go. Then I felt bad for leaving Banji to deal with the situation, and I thought we were an hour later than we actually were because I’d forgotten to set my car’s clock back, so I was a furious raging mess. People kept telling me to calm down but to be honest I was glad I could express myself, and I needed to do so; it was what was healthy at the time. Can you imagine if I’d kept all that in? It would have been a nightmare.

No rehearsal meant that random things happened during the procession and introductions that weren’t what I wanted, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. “The show must go on.” For the most part it was fine; none of the guests have complained. No one has even said anything about not being able to see the ceremony. I think, really, they’re just happy to have come together and enjoyed themselves for an afternoon. That was my goal, the rest of it was just details.

I had a nice long conversation with Mom in the middle of writing this. We talked about all the things that went wrong before and during the wedding and complained to each other about annoying things that people did. We both expressed how we felt about all these things. She assured me that no one’s upset about not being able to see the ceremony. We also talked about some of the things that went well – mostly good ideas she had. I found the conversation to be helpful and energizing; I meant it when I said I enjoyed talking to her (as we hugged goodbye for about the 5th time).

I think I just really needed to process this stuff. Now that I’ve done it, I might still need a while to get my energy back and get back on my feet doing useful things, but at least I don’t have to waste energy suppressing part of my experience. There were some things that were disappointing, that I wish had gone differently. I accept that and you know what, I allow myself to feel disappointed that they didn’t go the way I wanted. That’s okay. It’s natural and healthy.

But I also choose not to dwell on them. I choose not to focus on them at the expense of the important things. I’m missing a couple of items I’d brought to the venue with me; finding them is very important so that’s a good way to direct my energy. Going forward, I choose to focus more on the stuff that went right: most importantly, that I got my big family wedding and everyone had a great time – including me. I choose to remember dancing with my loved ones, seeing them having fun, goofing off with my friends, and the love, all the love! Feeling so fully and vibrantly alive. That’s what’s worth remembering.

Exhausted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Ways Parents Teach Kids that Consent Doesn’t Matter

The issue of consent has been a recurring theme on my blog, even though I haven’t always used that word to address it. (I’m using “consent” in a broader context than safe positive sex – an important issue in and of itself.) Whenever I’ve written about feeling like my wants and needs don’t matter, or my difficulty setting and enforcing boundaries, in a sense I have been expressing lack of consent in my relationships.

Dictionary.com defines consent as “permission, approval, or agreement; compliance; acquiescence” or “agreement in sentiment, opinion, a course of action, etc.” I’m concerned about the inclusion of “compliance” in the first definition because it is usually used in situations where a person, corporation, or other entity has power over an individual person, and the latter person is required to obey rules, regulations, etc. set forth by the former – or face some kind of undesirable consequence (e.g. being laid off, disciplinary action, fines, etc.). This definition does not reflect the meaning I intend to convey in my discussion of consent. The second definition, “agreement in sentiment, opinion, a course of action, etc.” is much closer to the meaning I intend; it implies or at least allows for equality among the people who are in agreement.

The thing is, I find it all too easy to express (and I often feel pressured to express) such agreement, even when I don’t agree or haven’t made up my mind yet. There are often times when I want something but only under certain conditions, which I may not feel comfortable expressing nor have the opportunity to express. There are also times when I don’t feel comfortable saying “no,” whether it’s because a) I don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings, b) I haven’t made up my mind yet and I don’t want that possibility to be gone forever, or c) my mother will give me a hard time if I say “no” and try to manipulate me into saying “yes,” so I might as well just agree to whatever she wants to get the interaction over with. (That last possibility is pretty much exclusive to interactions with my mother.)

Expressing agreement when one feels pressured or coerced into doing so, or when one is afraid not to do so, is not consent. Definitions of consent in the realm of safe, positive sex emphasize that the person giving it must be “free,” “willing,” “active,” and “informed;” the best definitions encourage clear verbal communication.

In her article on Everyday Feminism, Shannon Ridgway encourages the person seeking consent to also consider the other person’s nonverbal communication:

  • Look for visual clues – Does the other person seem excited or happy? Are they smiling? Or do they seem scared or unsure?
  • Check body language – Is the other person seem to be in a positive mood or have high-energy? Or do they seem tense and uncomfortable?
  • See if they’re engaged in the sexual act – Is the other person proactively kissing or touching you? Or are they still and only move if you ask them to?

And lastly and most importantly,…

  • Just ASK and watch for if the answer is said with fear or joy. If it’s a “yes” said in a small or fearful voice, wait before progressing and find out what’s going on.

As much as I would love for the people who are closest to me to apply the above guidelines whenever I seem to be agreeing to something, I can’t rely on that for my own safety and well-being. At best, I can show them the guidelines and ask them to consider the above questions, then follow up with me if something seems amiss. Whether they’re willing to try or not, they might not always be able to read and respond to my nonverbal cues. We all make mistakes.

I need to ask these questions of myself, before expressing agreement or willingness to do ______. Am I excited about this possibility? Or do I feel unsure? Is there any tension or discomfort when I think about ______? Do I proactively take steps to make sure ______ happens, or do I only move when asked? Do I feel pressured to agree to ______? What would I choose if I could choose freely? What questions or concerns do I have? Do I need more time to consider? What can I say right now, besides “yes” or “no”?

To be honest, I tend to be painfully aware of my responses to these questions, even if I’m not consciously asking them per se. (I still think it’s worth reminding myself to ask and answer them, though.) The true difficulty I face lies in acting on them (e.g. expressing disagreement or uncertainty), largely because I have been raised to believe that my feelings, opinions, desires, and needs matter less than those of other people. I don’t think my parents, other caregivers, and family members intended to convey that message; they just didn’t understand how their actions might affect me. They were coping (often poorly) with their own problems. And yes, at times they were too focused on themselves to consider my needs. Without knowledge of alternatives, they were repeating the lessons they had been taught, the imperfect ways in which they were raised… even when they meant to do what’s best for me.

It hurts.

But there is hope in that pain. For one thing, it’s easier to forgive them for the mistakes they made, knowing that the pain they caused me was unintentional. Then I don’t have to waste energy being angry or resentful and can instead focus on taking better care of myself. I also don’t have to blame myself, but can instead ally with myself to make sure my needs are met, my opinions heard, etc. going forward.

And I have access to resources that were not available to the people who raised me. This whole post was inspired by a video I wish my parents could have watched when I was a young child. I can’t bring it back through time, but I can use it as a tool in my own healing and incorporate its messages into how I parent my own (someday) children. I hope others will find it to be a valuable resource as well.

(content note: includes mention of sexual and other abuse; quotes potentially-harmful things parents may say to their children)

watch on YouTube: “4 Ways Parents Teach Kids that Consent Doesn’t Matter” by Parenting Gently

Marriage Counseling

If I was “better” (“normal” and/or hypomanic) when I wrote some of my most recent posts, I have since crashed back into a depressive state. One major trigger was working on my entry for a composition contest for a few days straight (getting minimal sleep), then having the results be completely out of my hands. I’m not even sure they received it because they didn’t send me any confirmation. I’m thrilled with how the piece came out and I’m very proud of it and I can’t wait to share it with the world! The trigger is the lack of response – any response, even just an acknowledgement that I submitted an entry. I hate not having any control over the outcome, especially after working so hard on something! I don’t even know how long I’ll have to wait.

Another major trigger was coming home (from visiting with Banji) to a cluttered house, trouble sleeping, chronic pain (that contributes to trouble sleeping), and the same codependency issues I’ve been having with Mom and Fox. This environment really isn’t good for me.

Fox and I have been working on our communication; I’ve been practicing being more assertive and he’s been trying to encourage that while also making efforts to interact and create a healthier environment for us to live in. There have been days when he’s been out of the house helping people he knows with odd jobs to make some money. I haven’t made the best use of that “alone time,” but I have appreciated it; time alone in the privacy of my own home is vital to my emotional well-being. We’ve been able to enjoy our time together and support each other and even share moments of wonderful intimacy. We’ve also been making an effort to spend time with our friends, which helps a great deal. There are times – such as today – when I think that our relationship is actually just fine; if only we had jobs and didn’t live with my mother and could get a good night’s sleep, I’d be very happy with him.

But frustration, lack of motivation, and lack of energy often get the best of both of us. Sure, I could clean the house or apply for jobs or practice the skills I need for my career, but it seems pointless. The house will get messy again and chances are I won’t get the job. Why would anyone want to hire me, when there are scores of other qualified job-seekers out there who are cheerful and have more relevant experience? I haven’t done anything worth putting on my resume (except perhaps for this blog, but I need to keep it anonymous) for the past three years!

My mother isn’t helping. Instead of encouraging me when I told her about the composition contest, she said it was a “big dream” as though I was wrong to think I had any chance of winning it, or even for wanting to enter it. More recently, when she called and I told her I was working on my resume, instead of supporting or encouraging me or hanging up so I could focus on it, she started gossiping. Apparently I’m not allowed to have times when I don’t want to be disturbed – which would be a serious problem anyway and gets extra awkward because I’m married… It’s very frustrating. She tends to want to talk when Fox and/or I are in the middle of something; if I ask her to leave us alone she feels hurt; if I take the time to talk to her, Fox tries to help me end the conversation in a timely manner – which gets very awkward and leaves all three of us feeling unhappy. I feel like I’m constantly being undermined. (So does Fox!)

I suppose part of the problem is that I want approval from Mom – particularly when I make the effort to find a job so I can stop being financially dependent on her, a situation she has expressed dissatisfaction with and concern about! But I’ve lived with my mother my whole life; I should have learned by now that nothing I do will ever be good enough for her. I could do the Biggest Bestest Thing Evar and she would criticize me on my looks or complain that I left my socks on the floor or complain about something Fox did or insist that I listen with rapt undivided attention while she described in intimate detail everything she had for lunch that day. It’s like there’s a fog around her head – at least when it comes to me. Every so often the fog lifts and she can be happy for me or support me or even listen to me, but the majority of the time I’d be better off if I didn’t exist. I guess, what I’m trying to say is: if I didn’t want approval from her, then these behaviors would still be annoying, but they wouldn’t wreak such havoc on my self-esteem.

Which brings us to today. Fox and I had our first marriage counseling session. I wasn’t particularly thrilled. It was at the same practice where my psychiatrist at the time interrupted me in the middle of saying I was suicidal to take a phone call from billing – but they’re the only place in the area that takes our insurance where we were able to make an appointment. They made Fox fill out paperwork before the licensed marriage therapist could see us; Fox wasn’t feeling well so he was becoming confused by some of the questions and frustrated with others. When I asked if they needed anything from me they said “no;” I felt as though they thought I was being overbearing. Eventually I realized they perceived Fox to be the client and I just so happened to be there with him. The therapist seemed surprised that we both wanted to participate in the session, even though Fox had explicitly requested marriage counseling.

To be fair – especially since I’m viewing the world through “depression goggles”* – the therapist was professional and made an effort to hear and reflect both our perspectives as equally as possible. We both liked his focus on depression as “lack of energy” rather than as a medical condition that requires diagnosis and medication. He asked good questions that helped me clarify my thoughts on an issue that’s important not only to our relationship but also my own safety. He expressed willingness to help us work through whatever we needed, without judgment.

* (“depression goggles” = the tendency to overemphasize the negative and interpret neutral stimuli as negative that is characteristic of depression)

The therapist also gave us something new to work with, even though it was a very short session: he asked us what our vision is for our relationship and the life we want to create together. I focused on the here-and-now: here and now (or, at least, in the very near future), I want our relationship to be a mutual source of support and comfort. Fox focused on the distant future: many decades from now, he wants us to be old together surrounded by our children, grandchildren, and possibly even great-grandchildren. I think we each also want what the other expressed wanting, but to be honest the focus on being old kind of scares me: I want to focus on living my life, not where I’ll be near the end of it.

After the session, I asked Fox if he was willing to compromise by focusing our vision on the near-ish future, say 5 to 10 years from now. We both agreed that we want to be employed, have our own house, and have children; we may not agree on all the details but those will be largely dependent on the realities we face as we work toward these goals (e.g. what houses are available within a reasonable commute of our workplaces and/or the community where we choose to live). I’m hopeful that having a shared vision of what we want to achieve together – that we are both comfortable with – will help us in our everyday interactions and therapeutic work.

So what bugged me? Well, there was the paperwork and not being perceived as a client; I was very concerned that the therapist would take Fox’s side in any areas where we might disagree. Near the end of the session the therapist had to do more “paperwork” – asking Fox a series of questions and marking his answers in a form on the computer. At one point he paused to encourage Fox to purchase a nutritional supplement from a website that would generate revenue for a nutritionist he knows. That seemed kind of sketchy.

The therapist had to rush the “paperwork” because there was another client waiting – which wasn’t too big of an issue given Fox’s current mental health, but could have been very problematic if Fox had been feeling suicidal or engaging in self-harm. Those aren’t exactly the kinds of issues one can effectively address in the last minute or so of a session, and I imagine (based on my own experience) that a lot of people who feel suicidal or engage in self-harm would be uncomfortable answering those questions honestly, given the situation. These are complex issues that need to be understood from the perspective of the person experiencing them, not binary conditions that can simply be marked present or absent. I don’t mean to come down too hard on the therapist because he was probably just doing what’s required of him, but I do have a bit of a bone to pick with whoever designs and requires these questionnaires.

Finally, the therapist’s body language concerns me. Fox suggested that he might have just been tired and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but he broke all the rules I learned at the undergraduate level about how to use body language to help clients feel comfortable and listened to. He slouched, he looked bored, he crossed his legs. At one point his body language clearly indicated that he was very uncomfortable with the topic we were discussing – which concerns me because we need someone who can support us in navigating its impact on our relationship. He hunched his shoulders, looked at the floor, and oscillated in his chair – avoiding eye contact – when he said he was willing to help us address the topic. I didn’t feel safe – kind of like how a mountain climber wouldn’t feel safe putting their weight on a support that shifted under pressure. I’d prefer if he had said he wasn’t comfortable addressing the topic but could refer us to someone who could, or he needed time to do some research, or if there was otherwise some connection between his verbal and nonverbal communication in that moment.

Unfortunately, we’re very limited in our ability to seek help elsewhere. Most of the licensed marriage counselors we found in the area in our network are part of this same practice! The ones that aren’t part of this practice never got back to us; we have no reason to believe they would if we were to try again. And even if they did, it could be weeks or even months before we could have our first appointment! If we want professional help working on our relationship, we need to make the most of what we’ve got.