What I Need is What I Fear is What I Need

Wakana (my music therapist) has been helping me learn to assert myself, particularly in the realm of acknowledging, accepting, and acting on my emotions. I’ve learned to express my needs and wants, politely disagree, and set boundaries. I’m still working to develop these skills; it will probably be a lifelong process. But the foundation is there, and I feel pretty good about building on it.

The thing is, most of my work has been in the realm of one-on-one interactions. I have individual music therapy with Wakana. Our marriage counselor helps Fox and me have more intentional, supportive interactions with each other. I’m learning to assert myself in conversations with my mom, or situations in which Mom is accompanying me as I interact with another person (such as my dress fitting), or appointments with healthcare professionals.

I get lost in group situations. Even spending time with friends, there’s usually some point during our time together when I feel overwhelmed, overlooked, and unheard. I was barely able to participate in that one support group meeting I went to (no, I haven’t been back yet). Forget about being heard and acknowledged when my family is involved. I think about having most of my and Fox’s families all in one room just over a month from now and it seems like the worst idea I’ve ever had. If it’s not a disaster, it will definitely be overwhelming. I will probably be disappointed by at least some of them. What was I even thinking?

I really need to develop social skills. It’s not just me, people with psychiatric and/or mental health issues tend to have underdeveloped social skills. I’m inclined to believe that lack of a healthy home environment, same-age siblings or cousins, and appropriate modelling interfered with my ability to develop my social skills – particularly when it came to interacting within a group. I was also bullied and ostracized at school, which further limited my ability to practice social skills in a peer group. This in turn had a harmful impact on my mental health. I don’t know to what extent this hypothesis can be generalized, but we’re social creatures and society is the environment we have to adapt to.

Lack of social skills means we need group therapy and opportunities to practice interacting in structured group activities, so we can have some semblance of support in developing those skills. Actually, part of why I like tabletop gaming so much is because most games structure group interactions and lend themselves to turn-taking, so everyone gets some opportunity to be the center of a attention – seen and heard – for a short time.

Most of the psychological services I’ve been able to find in my area focus on the individual. Individual therapy, opportunities for individuals to submit their creative works to be posted online, classes individuals can attend and learn from that may provide some opportunity for group interaction, but that isn’t the primary focus. I have enough individual stuff going on, I really need to work on my social skills in a group. Why can’t I find one?

The answer is: because I’m afraid to find one. There’s a support group that meets weekly that I could be going to, but I keep finding some excuse not to go. I have briefly joined and enjoyed participating in at least 3 additional groups I can think of right now, I but stopped showing up after just one or two meetings, even though I’d had a positive experience.

I don’t know if it’s that I don’t fit in or I don’t want to fit in, or something else entirely. Maybe I want to abandon the group before it has the opportunity to abandon me – or worse, consume me. I don’t want being part of a group to mean losing my autonomy.

Being in a group situation takes all of my energy; I feel like I need to be at my best to come out of it feeling anything other than drained. To put it in terms of Spoon Theory, interacting in a group takes so many of my spoons that I can only do it on days when I have more spoons to begin with; most of the time it requires me to borrow spoons from the next day. Just getting out the door on time looking presentable can take several spoons. Sometimes, by the time I’ve introduced myself, I just don’t have the spoons I need to follow a conversation, navigate the complex thoughts and emotions that fill the room to the point where I don’t know which ones are actually mine, formulate responses, and get people to pay attention and listen to what I have to say. How can I develop social skills for interacting in a group if I don’t have enough spoons to exist in that group, never mind trying to learn something?

I need a group activity that restores spoons, such as creating music or art. Music in particular is a completely different way of interacting: you’re listening and “speaking” simultaneously, so everyone gets heard. You are a part of something bigger than yourself, you can hear it and that makes it so much easier to feel and internalize. Every part matters, even – no, especially! – the supportive, “background” parts.

I have less experience with art, but being creative is energizing. Focusing on my own artwork gives me a socially acceptable way to back out of the group activity a little bit to recharge without leaving it completely. It opens up the possibility of positive interactions, such as commenting on an aspect of someone else’s artwork (e.g. use of color) that I like. People are more likely to have and express more positive emotions that I don’t find overwhelming – I might actually get a high off them. I can also communicate something visually, so I don’t have to rely quite so much on the verbal communication I find so challenging.

Trying to find an arts-based group geared toward mental health in my area has been like hitting my head against a brick wall. Either I don’t know where to look, or they just don’t exist. I could reach out for help; that might be my best chance of actually managing to find something.

There are quite a few art-related groups in my area on Meetup.com; the difficulty I’m facing is selecting one I feel comfortable joining and might actually go to. Looking at some that seem promising, I feel like I’m going to cry because I simultaneously want to join in the fun and question my ability to do so. Will I be accepted?

My Thoughts on Menstrual Products

I drove for 5 hours to visit Banji, then realized I was due to  menstruate soon – but I had forgotten my menstrual cup at home. I have to use tampons for the first time in years, and I’m not happy about it. I’ll admit I’m not in love with my cup or menstruating in general: my cramps are mild but can still be annoying, and emptying the cup can get a bit messy. I’ll be the first to admit that menstrual cups are not for everyone. But I’d gotten used to mine; using tampons again is just weird.

For anyone who doesn’t know, a menstrual cup is a small, flexible, medical-grade silicone cup that one inserts into one’s vagina to collect menstrual fluids. Five huge advantages of a cup over tampons are:

1. The cup only needs to be emptied once every 12 hours (as opposed to every 8)
2. Menstrual cup use is NOT associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome
3. It is reusable, and therefore better for the environment
4. It is reusable, and therefore saves one money
5. It is safe to insert before menstruation begins, protecting clothes from stains

There is an added advantage I hadn’t really thought about until I was forced to use tampons again: a menstrual cup allows one to be more in touch with one’s body. I’m finding the plastic applicator and convenient pull string of the tampons to be just a little bit too sanitary. All this pushing and pulling and fibers rubbing against my mucus membranes just doesn’t feel right; the silicone cup was much gentler. I actually kind of miss getting some blood on my hands, seeing how much had collected, even smelling it. I miss using the muscles around my vagina to push the cup out just far enough to grab the bottom with my fingers. It was a process; I had to be slow, gentle, and deliberate. I had to feel and respond. I had to touch myself *gasp* down there!

I’m finding that, for me, staying clean is not the be all and end all of this part of my cycle. It’s important, especially because I still need to participate fully in society. But it’s not enough on its own, not for me.

Menstruation is a potent, messy reminder of my creative potential – both biologically speaking and otherwise. My ability to create, nourish, and nurture a new life. That raw, primal power that rushes through my veins, filling every part of me. My connection with the generative forces of the Universe. The Muse that guides my artistic endeavors. It is an inescapable part of being alive. I want the product I use to reflect my acceptance of it.

I want to take this time – when I’m continually reminded of it by cramps, cravings, and an added process in the restroom anyway – to honor this sacred cycle, without which humans would cease to exist. I send positive energy to all people who menstruate, will menstruate, or have ever menstruated. May you be safe, healthy, and free to use (or not use) your creative energies as you see fit.

Blessed be.

Spring – er, Late Summer – Cleaning

Today was positively gorgeous. A tad chilly, with a very invigorating wind, just a handful of clouds in the sky. I couldn’t have asked for a better day.

I wanted to get outside; while I was out I took the opportunity to clean up the plants in our garden. Most of the leaves on the basil have turned white, so I cut them away. This allows more resources to go to the healthy green leaves near the tops of the plants, and allows more sunlight to reach the newer, healthier-looking sprouts that have emerged. When I was done with the basil, I similarly cleaned excess, dead-looking stuff off the cucumber plant.

Once I was done pruning away the dead or sickly stuff, all that was left were (mostly) healthy plants, full of life. I thought, I wish I could do that for myself. Get rid of all the dead stuff, the clutter, and just keep what fills me with vitality.

So I went back in the house, opened all the windows so it would be full of fresh air and sunlight from this beautiful day, and proceeded to clean. I started with the bathroom and cried as I scrubbed the bathtub. I fought the mean voices that told me I was either in my rightful place as a woman (on my knees cleaning) or that I was demeaning myself by doing housework. I reorganized items so the sink looks presentable and the contents of the medicine cabinet are useful, not past their expiration date. I got that picture I don’t like off my wall, and cleaned up the stains it was covering (using white vinegar diluted in water, a paper towel, and some elbow grease).

When I was done, I moved to the kitchen. I started by reorganizing all the plastic containers we keep for storing leftovers, so they’re mostly on one shelf, sorted by shape and size with lids readily available. They look neat and there’s most of a cabinet free for storage of additional items – which is good, because the house as a whole is still intolerably cluttered. Soon after Fox got home he took care of the dishes, while I sorted through trash and recycling, found homes for items we wanted to keep, and cleaned surfaces. Before long we were sitting together in a very pleasant, relatively clutter-free kitchen, sharing a simple but delicious dinner. It felt so good to finally be at peace with my environment while in that room.

I did a lot of good work – quite the accomplishment, especially considering I didn’t see much point to getting out of bed this morning. But I’ll admit, I’m a bit disappointed that the only cleaning I got to in the living room and bedroom was trying to remove the dirt from the windowsills. (Seriously, how does dirt get on windowsills? It’s not dust, it’s dirt, like the stuff on the ground with grass growing in it outside! And it’s thick and hard to pick up. Gross!) I really wanted to change this space, make all of it more liveable. But I guess I just need to be patient with myself. Patient, and persistent.

It drives me nuts that unless we make a constant, conscious effort to maintain this, it’s just going to get intolerably gross again.

I don’t know how to assess my depression. Fox thinks the SAM-e is making me more irritable and anxious; I think he has a point. Last night I almost cried myself to sleep because I saw no point in living, no reason to care about sleep, waking, no point to even trying to do anything … and I felt trapped. I can’t end it, there are too many people who would be hurt. The thought of just going on, suffering horribly, my whole life pointless, just so my loved ones would be protected from the pain my death would cause … it was too much to bear. I couldn’t help crying.

Fox heard me, of course, and asked what was wrong. I started telling him all this stuff and somehow the conversation turned to composing music. I said, “I really like exploring different sounds. That could be a good reason to live.” Next thing I knew, I had a melody in my head that wanted out. I got up and started writing; a few hours later I had the melody written down, a list of instruments with timbres appropriate to the mood I want, some ideas for harmony and counterpoint, and the beginnings of a composition in Notion. It felt so good to be intentional in making choices that created the effects I was looking for, while also allowing for spontaneous creativity (e.g. a second melody that practically wrote itself).

So I have severe symptoms of depression and anxiety – including some suicidal ideation – alternating with incredible energy that I can consciously direct: last night into a new piece of music; today into improving my environment.

It doesn’t make any sense. It seems horribly contradictory. … or is it?

Unpleasant as they may be, those intense emotions are overflowing with energy. At their core is an intense desire for (possibly mixed with a fear of) change. “I can’t live like this anymore!” really amounts to “I want all these things – maybe even everything – to change!” And what greater change is there, than death?

We have to admit, looking our fear in the face and accepting it, taking direct action to cause such a huge change – THE huge change we are wired to do everything in our power to avoid – that is an incredibly powerful act. Not a good or desirable or advisable act, mind. But a powerful one, nonetheless. Like Voldemort.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I’ve had the support and force of will to take that power, that immense energy, and channel it into something less self-destructive than suicide. Even something creative. Last night, for better or worse, a new musical being entered the world. In the past I’ve sculpted and drawn and improvised music. Today I removed a lot of gross dead stuff that was standing between me and the life-giving sun.

If the price of such power is suffering, well, I guess I’m willing to pay it – as long as I can still have my moments of joy, which I do. I’ll take this power and put it toward making the world a better place. For myself by cleaning my house, and beyond by doing Spock knows what. I have the power – the raw energy – to do it. I just need to get better at using it instead of feeling overwhelmed.