On Being Wrong

I’ve been feeling more depressed than usual since my tooth was extracted on Monday. I’m more socially withdrawn, sad a lot of the time, with low energy and motivation, and more muscle aches that aren’t immediately attributable to the physical effects of the extraction. The constant dull pain is grating on me, making me irritable and impatient. I had to drag myself to class on Wednesday, had trouble concentrating, and role-played the “very loud client who remains disengaged from the group” fairly well. I’ve spent a lot of time improvising on piano in preparation for my midterm; everything I play sounds sad, melancholy, dark, surreal, and/or angry – even scales! It makes coming up with an intervention other than “Let’s sing about the crappy situation you just described” very difficult.

(In my defense, singing about crappy situations can be extremely therapeutic. Not only does it allow expression of repressed or taboo emotions, it helps one look at the situation and oneself differently, assert oneself, and heal. It is safest to do with the assistance of a certified music therapist.)

The primary reason why my symptoms have worsened can be found in this line from my post on Monday:

The extraction “felt wrong on some fundamental level”

I think anyone would feel depressed if they were constantly being reminded of something they considered fundamentally wrong!

Part of me remains convinced that “I had a perfectly healthy tooth pulled for no good reason” – even though that wasn’t the case at all. Multiple examinations revealed the tooth to be dead. The x-rays showed that there was a problem in that area. The dental professionals who examined me noted swelling in my gums and attributed it to that tooth. I saw the infection on its roots with my own eyes!  The tooth needed a root canal; I saw an endodontist who attempted the procedure but only succeeded in causing me more pain. Instead of risking a repeat experience, I chose a treatment that would be faster, easier, and possibly even more effective. At the moment I’m not happy with the results because I’m in even more pain. (I keep reminding myself that Mom regretted her knee replacement surgery when she was first recovering from it, but has since experienced improved quality of life and recommends the procedure to others.) Time will tell whether this has helped at all, or only caused more problems…

The point is, the belief that “I had a healthy tooth pulled for no reason” is irrational and factually incorrect. The tooth was not healthy, and I had justifiable reasons for getting it pulled. Extraction may not have been the recommended treatment or even the best treatment, but it was MY decision to make. Others may disagree with my decision, I may even regret my decision, but none of that makes it wrong.

I know this rationally but can’t shake the feeling that not only have I done something wrong, I am wrong. I was supposed to keep going back for endodontic treatment and thank the endodontist for hurting me, regardless of whether she was able to solve the problem that brought me to her in the first place. (Because that’s what she suggested, what Mom seemed to want, and what I agreed to at the time.) That I even thought to do anything other than conform to the protocol “you are a patient; you comply with whatever treatment your healthcare provider recommends” is proof that there is something wrong with me!

When I talked to Wakana about this on Wednesday, she asked if there was anyone in my life who taught me that I was wrong in some way. Thinking about it now, there are a lot of people whose behavior may have given rise to that belief: family members, peers, teachers and other school officials, mainstream media… but we ended up talking about our favorite topic: my mother.

I mentioned one way in which Mom has communicated to me that I am wrong: by telling me I’m like the “opposite” gender from the one I was assigned at birth, as an insult. She’s been doing it since I became a teenager. Wakana urged me to write about how that might have influenced the development of my queer gender identity. Part of me wants to comply and learn that I’m actually cisgender, which would make my life a million times easier. (I suspect it’s the same part that insists I gave up a “perfectly healthy” tooth.) Part of me thinks my desire to be cisgender purely so I can access the associated privilege is evidence that I am, indeed, transgender. Otherwise I would just identify as the gender I was assigned at birth, decide how I want to deal with some of my behaviors not conforming to my mother’s expectations, and move on with my life. Right?

I explored the topic somewhat and came to the conclusion that my mother’s expectations for the gender I was assigned at birth are limiting; I’m pretty sure her expectations for the “opposite” gender are just as limiting. I could not conform to them even if I were cisgender; if I’d somehow managed to do so she probably would have expressed disapproval anyway (of that or something else).

The problem isn’t my gender identity (which I’d really like people to accept), it’s that my mother doesn’t see me as a complete human being who is separate from her and has the right to make independent decisions. She sees everything I do through the lens of her expectations and me not meeting them. It often seems as though she goes out of her way to express disapproval, over whatever else she might be feeling. This problem originated long before my early teenage years, possibly when I was born!

Actually, I think she’s learning to see me as a separate person and respect my right to make independent decisions; our relationship has improved quite a bit since I’ve been in therapy. She hasn’t given me a hard time for deciding to have my tooth pulled; all the criticism of that decision has come from my own mind. The real problem is that I’ve internalized her (and others’) disapproval and feel on some fundamental level that it’s wrong for me to make my own decisions. I’ve internalized the belief that I must conform and go along with what other people seem to want from me.

Regarding my gender: I’m pretty sure I’ve always perceived the division of people into “men” and “women” as arbitrary. I know what the expectations for the two widely-recognized genders are – and I know that a lot of people are trying to weaken or even eradicate those expectations, so men and women can just be themselves (these people are called feminists). I know that a lot of men and women defy those expectations, to the point where one can’t use behaviors, interests, aptitudes, beliefs, or even biology to define “men” and “women” as two mutually-exclusive categories. As far as I can tell, the only universal difference is that all men identify as “men,” and all women identify as “women.” This isn’t to say that gender is a choice – if that were the case, I think we’d all be men and reap the numerous benefits. Gender is an inherent sense of self that may change over time but can’t be intentionally altered.

So, doing things that Mom associates with the “opposite” of the gender I was assigned at birth is not the basis of my queer gender identity. I could say “I am a [the gender I was assigned];” that would make things at lot easier for me, and everyone around me. No one would question it. I doubt anyone would even ask me to change my behavior to meet their expectations. I could be myself and use that label and let people refer to me using pronouns they already know…

But I’d be lying. I don’t identify as a “man” or a “woman,” I identify as a “person outside of the gender binary.” I am not a man, nor a woman; I am a person outside of the gender binary. I could allow you to categorize me as, well, whatever you’d like! for your comfort and convenience… but I can’t inherently identify with whatever you choose. It’s just not in my nature – any more than it’s in my mom’s nature to identify as a man or in Fox’s nature to identify as a woman. All I’m asking is for people to respect that.

Unfortunately, people are going to perceive and treat me the way they want, no matter what I do. They may express opinions about the decisions I make. This applies to so much more than gender and dental treatments; it’s just a universal fact of life. There comes a point where I just need to decide that I am what I am, that I make whatever imperfect decisions I make, and that other people’s perceptions of me are their business, not mine. Whatever they send my way need not impact how I perceive or treat myself.

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.

Zen and the Art of Letting People Make Their Own Decisions

Today Fox and I cleared out the last of his stuff from his apartment. I spent most of the time bringing things either to the car or to the trash, while he sorted through and packed his belongings. Every time I was taking something not obviously garbage to the trash, I was filled with anxiety. He was getting rid of a thing that might be useful! Maybe he would regret getting rid of it. Maybe I wanted it. Should I pack it for him?

There were a couple of times when I said something, but for the most part I was able to talk myself out of it. I remembered how my mother could be about me getting rid of things: whether it was her intention or not, I tended to feel guilty about getting rid of whatever item she was commenting on. (“Oh, you’re getting rid of that?” “This is nice, if you don’t want it maybe I’ll take it.” “I remember when so-in-so gave that to you!” Etc.) It really doesn’t help the process, which I find difficult and stressful anyway. I need to be able to make a decision – and not second-guess it – if anything is going to get done.

Once I realized I was “being my mother” I was able to make the choice to stop. “He’s an adult. He can make his own decisions about what to and not to keep.” “We’ve been living without this thing for how long? You didn’t even know it existed! We really don’t need it now.” “There’s no way all this stuff would fit in the car, never mind finding space for it at home.” Whatever form the rationale took, I used it to try and ease my anxiety.

There was no need for me to make decisions about what to keep or trash, because Fox was the one moving; the one all the stuff belongs to. The decisions were his to make; part of my job was to trust him to make them. I was just helping him out by expediting the process of packing the car and tossing the trash, which had the added benefit of clearing out the space where he was working.

As I realized this, a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. I was already doing more than enough just by transporting stuff. I could easily do that – satisfying my need for exercise – and let go of any sense of additional responsibility. (Trusting that, if Fox needed me to do more, he would have asked.)

Living Together

Fox recently learned that he is very likely to have to move out of his current housing at the end of the semester; yesterday he brought up the possibility of moving in with me (and my mom, though we occupy different parts of the house and have a good deal of privacy). I like the idea of moving in together – I did decide to marry him, after all – and over all I feel good about the idea of him joining me in my current home. There is always ambivalence, though, and I just want to try and work some of it out.

Number One Thing I Know For Sure

The end of the semester is way too soon for me to move again. Moving is insanely stressful and my most recent move (largely because I didn’t prepare for it properly) almost killed me. I am nowhere near the right emotional and mental state to move again. I haven’t even fully finished settling in here – but I have become emotionally (re-)attached to the space.

Ideally, Fox and I would find a home together and move in there, relatively independent from our respective parents. That’s always been how I envisioned things happening. It will happen eventually. But now is NOT the right time. For better or worse, whatever he decides to do, I need to stay where I am.

Ambivalence

ambivalence

I originally wanted to separate “concerns” and “positive factors,” but that’s too artificial a split. The two are so intertwined with each other, I really need to write about them both together. As they say in motivational interviewing: “You get a lot of satisfaction from playing The Sims 3 AND you need to focus more on living your own, real, life.” The AND in that sentence is the most important part: the two factors exist together and are inextricable.

I’ve gotten used to having this space to myself; my stuff is spread all around it. We’ll need to move things to get his stuff to fit, but I think that should be doable. It just messes up what order I do have – admittedly, nowhere near as much as I’d like. It also requires me to go through and likely get rid of things I’ve so far had mixed feelings about keeping in boxes and piles of clutter. It’s easier to just leave the not-fully-unpacked mess I’ve gotten used to, AND the mess conflicts horribly with the order I want for my living space and my life. I’ll admit, I hope that if Fox does move in, we‘ll go through my stuff and organize it together as part of the process of figuring out where and how his stuff can fit in. I don’t really want him controlling any aspect of anything belonging to (and therefore an extension of) me. But I do feel like I need help.

We’re both hoarders, prone to allowing our space to become cluttered and comfortable with a certain amount of clutter. We tend to reinforce that habit in each other. I’m not a fan. But this is something we’ll have to deal with eventually anyway. The question is, can I/we deal with it now – full time, without separate spaces to retreat to? Can we work together and support each other without becoming too enmeshed, without each giving up too much of ourselves in the effort to help each other? Just because we want and need to get to that point eventually doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to jump in and start trying to pull it off now. There might be other work we need to do, together and separately, before we can get to that point.

But then … the Deserter does long for stability; maybe granting it will help. The reality of my senses and emotional response will match what I know in my mind: that we have a good, real, stable, loving relationship that can withstand whatever life decides to throw at it as long as we are willing to work together through the hard times. The Deserter is furious that Fox is only visiting for a couple of days, then leaving again; no peace will come from the knowledge that we’ll see each other again soon. Whatever living together brings up, perhaps the stability of being with him every day will soothe the Deserter and help that part of me to heal.

I also love having his company. I feel more alive when he’s here. He’s more on top of chores I struggle with, such as dishes and laundry and daily hygiene. He’ll pull me out of my depressive stupidity and get me to engage in the pleasures of real life, draw my attention to my rats who are adorable and bring me so much joy, remind my tense muscles to relax, and remind me that I am loved. Even hearing him breathe this morning helped me pull myself out of dreams that were frustrating and doing me absolutely no good; to start my day in this physical reality.

I’m concerned about having to share my food. When he’s here it feels like I expend more of my (limited) resources than he does his in order to feed us both. I don’t like sharing.

If he lives here full time he can use the resources he’d spend on food for himself to help get food for both of us. He’ll be sharing, too. We can each have things we don’t share with the other – as long as it’s agreed upon and the one who gets the item uses their own resources to acquire it. And he’ll help with cooking, something I’ve been extremely lazy about. (Or we’ll be lazy together, mwahahaha!!!)

We need to each have our own separate blanket. I’m going to insist on that tonight. Sharing blankets just isn’t working for me. I’m also a bit ambivalent about sharing my bed full time; there are pros and cons. I like quiet and having more space to spread out and being able to do whatever I want with all four pillows. I also like knowing he’s there, being able to cuddle, seeing his face first thing in the morning. I’m also infinitely more relaxed / less anxious (or, not anxious at all) when it’s time to fall asleep – if he’s there. (At least that held true last night.) I suppose there’s always the option of the couch/couch bed, air mattress, etc. as a temporary solution if either or both of us really need(s) a separate space to sleep. Again, these are things we’ll have to work out eventually.

Timing

swirly-clock

The question is, is now the right time? And by “now” I mean over the course of the next couple months, culminating with his actual move in early summer – not, say, tomorrow. I’m dealing with a lot of crazy shit in my own life – and often not dealing with it, as evidenced by the massive amounts of time I spend playing The Sims 3. I was dreaming the game last night. I’m grieving my uncle and the old deaths I still haven’t fully grieved. I’m grieving all the things I never got in my childhood. I’m trying to help my inner child understand that she/we will NEVER get what she wants and needs from our biological mother; we/I need to get those needs met elsewhere. I’m struggling with the emotions that reality evokes. I’m struggling to allow myself to cry. I’m struggling to remain engaged in my own therapy, and to be kind to myself. It’s harder than a full-time job. I need to give myself a break from time to time. I’m struggling to celebrate my small victories, such as recognizing and asserting that need.

Relationships

I need the space to do all this, but I also need support. I’ve been really hurting from lack of support. Banji has been awesome, texting or calling me to check in and chat. On Saturday we played music together – no pressure, just fun and camaraderie – and watched Doctor Who and talked about some important things. I was able to be more honest with her than I sometimes am with myself. We have a special relationship that nothing else can touch; our goal is to live within walking distance of each other so we can enjoy each other’s company more consistently. But for now our reality is still that we need to take opportunities as they come, even if they do come quite frequently. I need more than I can get from our relationship – in terms of stability – right now.

The three of us also need to work out the complexities of me having 2 equally important, equally emotionally intimate, but qualitatively different relationships with 2 different people. That’s all I’ll say for now because 2/3 of the story isn’t mine to tell. But I’ve noticed tension, and it’s adding to my stress. It certainly doesn’t help that society values one type of relationship over the other, and I sometimes find it hard not to fall into the trap of following the herd.

Baaaa! Moo! etc.

Maybe Sleeping 8 Hours a Night is My Key to Success

Today (Thursday) was a good day. I turned off my computer around 1:00 am and started reading Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. After reading a couple chapters and doing the first written activity, I went to bed around 2:30 am. I didn’t sleep particularly well, but I did sleep until about 11:00 am – over 8 hours. Then I got up and started my day, including: feeding rats, having breakfast, emailing the instructor for the class I missed on Tuesday, defining “codependency” for myself, and calling on-campus psychological services.

I was even able to juggle baking stuffed Cornish hens for the first time ever (stuffing them was kind of awesome!) with getting ready for class. I took a very quick shower and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. The water hitting my skin felt more amazing than it ever has before!

I was on task, cleaning up after my cooking and getting dressed more quickly and easily than usual. I devoured about a third of a stuffed Cornish hen, savoring even the white meat! I usually find white meat to be too dry, but this was glorious, tender and moist. I was exceedingly pleased.

I packed up the hens in the fridge and ran out, hoping that I might still manage to be on time for class despite the traffic I anticipated hitting. As I drove I reflected on the day and all the awesome things I had accomplished – and how much I enjoyed doing it! I even found pleasure in handling something as gross as raw poultry!

I was just thinking that, after everything I’d done, maybe being late for class wouldn’t be so bad …

When my car suddenly started making a very strange and ominous noise. It was loud and low pitched and kept repeating, like a wide heavy leather flap on a conveyor belt kept hitting something. It became louder and more frequent when I accelerated.

At first I thought I had hit a nail or something and damaged a tire, but when I checked my tires were fine. I looked under the car but didn’t see anything hanging down. If I opened my hood I’d be proud of myself for finding the place where you put windshield wiper fluid; the only way I’d be able to tell what was wrong with the engine is if a fuzzy purple creature hissed at me from atop its nest and eggs. Then, I think I’d have more problems with my car than an ominous noise! (And I’d probably still need to ask someone else for help.)

Ziya's Understanding of Car Engines

Ziya’s Understanding of Car Engines

So I called a tow truck and proceeded to WAIT. I called Mom and Fox. I alternated between running the car for warmth and sitting in the cold to preserve gas. Of course, my phone took that opportunity to complain about low battery, so I took the opportunity to charge it when the car was running. And I wrote this blog post by hand in my school notebook.

When the tow truck finally came and I sat in its passenger seat, watching my car get hooked up onto the bed, that is when I felt sad about what was happening. I was disappointed from the moment I realized I was going to miss class, but I accepted it very quickly. It was a little bit harder to accept and allow myself to feel my sadness about my car needing to be towed somewhere. The Dark Horse (images; explanation) whinnied and shook its head and reared and stomped in the dirt. And snorted. Visualizing the Dark Horse doing those things gave me a safe outlet for my feelings.

Finally, over three hours after first hearing the noise, I arrived at Mom’s house safe and sound; the car is at a shop nearby. The person at the shop said they’d look at the car first thing in the morning. There is a plastic piece hanging down in front that I hadn’t seen when I’d first checked. I hope that’s the (only) problem, and that it can be fixed easily, inexpensively, and quickly!

I was inconvenienced, but suffered no harm. In the realm of what could happen on the road, I consider myself fortunate.

And I handled the whole situation very well. There were brief moments when I doubted my decision to get a tow truck; I thought I was “making a big deal out of nothing” and using the first opportunity that presented itself to avoid having to go to class. But I reminded myself that I didn’t know what was going on and I would rather be safe than risk doing catastrophic damage to my car! I made a decision and defended my right to stick to it despite the doubts that arose; it might not have been the best decision, but that’s okay too. I made it, I followed through, and I am safe. No disasters.

I really think getting the amount of sleep I need, even if it wasn’t the best quality, set me up to have a good day. I was able to direct and focus my energy, accomplish most of my goals, and handle a very stressful situation with grace. I wasn’t dependent on the events of the day or others’ behavior to feel good about myself – at least, not to the degree that has been my norm. This is definitely a habit worth developing.