why I don’t like the term “Recovery”

Disclaimer: If you find it empowering, that’s fantastic! I don’t want to shake that. Your mental health and well-being are much more important than my opinion. This is post is about my personal relationship with the term.

CW: potentially ableist language, references to death, descriptive imagery of quasi-suicidal feelings

I don’t like the term “Recovery” because it suggests that there’s something to recover.

Which works if it’s like: “Last week I sprained my ankle and for a day it hurt too much to put weight on it. Over time I was able to start moving it around and whatnot… and now I can get around the house no problem. Though to be honest it’s still a bit swollen and painful.”

That is recovery because I remember a time when my ankle didn’t hurt, wasn’t stiff, and I could walk normally. I have a sense of there being something I had, then lost, and an idea of what getting it back would be like.

And for some mental health experiences I think that might make sense. If it were just a matter of my father and both my grandmothers and my dog who was like a brother to me dying within 5 years of each other during my adolescence, then maybe there would’ve been something there before those traumatic experiences fucked everything up that I could try and recover!

But there’s not.

Because my parents didn’t know how to parent me in the ways I needed. Which isn’t really their fault. They didn’t get the parenting they needed. Probably because my grandparents didn’t get the parenting they needed either. Because… well, there are reasons why my great-grandparents left their homelands and came to the U.S., possibly with small children – or in the case of one of my great-grandmothers, completely alone. I don’t know the specifics, but I can look into what was happening during that time.

This isn’t about that. “Recovery” isn’t about that. It’s about my life and experiences.

Which were shit.

Not all of them. But the term “Recovery” suggests to me that I should be looking back at my life before those traumatic experiences to find something I want to recover. Most of what I see is darkness. Most of what I feel is pain. And the moments that aren’t are ones I can’t get back, because the people they belong to are dead. And to be honest they’re overshadowed by the pain. The sorrow. Grief? Anger? that horrible sensation of being alone and hungry gazing into the Abyss while some terrifying monster eats you from the inside and you’re drowning and all you can hear are your own cries…

Or we can go with the language my therapist used: she called it Complex PTSD. There’s not one or more easily identifiable traumatic experience(s) I could pinpoint and say yeah, before that was good, let’s recover that. Instead there was a childhood of emotional abuse and neglect.

When I look back at what I had, I’m grateful that on a material level there was never anything I needed and couldn’t access. Food, clothes, shelter, and healthcare were all there. I was safe for the most part, physically speaking. There were aspects of my education that could’ve been better, but they were offset by things that were better, so… I dunno. I’m just trying to acknowledge that I’ve always had financial security, and that’s extremely important. And my grandmother was awesome. And my mom did what she could – at least, she meant well, she just… I’d say she could’ve done better, but if that were true she probably would’ve done better, is all I’m saying.

My point is: I don’t see anything that I want to recover.

I see things I wish I could go back in time and change. I see things that make me sad, angry, wistful, nostalgic, grateful, or glad that part of my life is over. I see strengths and areas for growth and things I’m proud of and things I regret and experiences I’ve learned from.

And I see myself hanging on through all of it – yes, loving people supporting me (including my mom), that’s very important – but it’s the choices I make that guide me from one place to the next.

The choices I’ve made are why I’m breathing today.

So there really isn’t anything to recover. The things that would be worth recovering are still there – are more there now than they were in the past. There have been things for me to discover, maybe – like being able to acknowledge my own resilience – but not recover.

It feels more like I’m BUILDING something. It’s constructive. I’m in Constructory.

I’m looking back at all this pain and realizing it didn’t kill me. And if I could live through that, I can live through just about anything. I’m giving myself permission and acknowledging my ability to recognize when I need to “just hang on” for a while, and trusting myself to do it, and to get my feet back under me when there’s something to stand on again. I’m learning to reach out for help when I need it, (and figuring out who and how to ask,) and actually using that help constructively.

I’m looking back at the things that have made me feel alive – and the things that haven’t – and choosing what to keep, what to discard.

And unlike with my ankle, where I know what it’s like to walk normally, and I’m trying to get that back, I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M BUILDING. It’s not something I had before, it’s something new and it’s both exciting and terrifying. For example, I was freaking out for much of the semester because I’d never felt so happy and it was great but it was also overwhelming. Like in April when I had a fantastic meeting with my advisor and he told me I was getting an A in music theory… then I sat on the stairs for an hour crying… and then I went to the library to do my homework.

I’m embracing and building upon my love of music. Composing. (and theory!)

I’m composing myself.

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it’s never really gone

dunno… ever since I went all-in with composing things just seemed to be… fantastic. I loved what I was doing. I was getting so much love and support from the people close to me. there were a few blissful days when everything just felt right, and I was genuinely happy. like not 100% happy 100% of the time, I still felt the full range of human emotions. I still got frustrated, and doubted myself, and felt guilty about composing while other people (e.g. Fox) work soul-crushing jobs to put food on the table… but for once when people asked how I was I could honestly say that my life is good.

for once I wanted to talk about my life. and people seemed to enjoy watching my face light up when I did so.

and every day I’ve been loving my husband more and more, appreciating him more and more. (especially since he’s being so super supportive!) we went away last Friday to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary, just a night at a bed and breakfast, and it was wonderful. tbh we hadn’t been sleeping together – in either sense – for quite a long time, and we both wanted to change that. well, it seems all we really needed to do for the more entertaining interpretation of that phrase was spend some time cuddling in a comfortable bed with the intention of being close. no distractions. no technology. just our love for each other. it was amazing!

we had gaming on Sunday, which was awesome and fun [and interestingly enough involved one of the other player characters (PCs) getting married. among other things, my character coordinated with a third PC and some intelligent animals to incapacitate mercenaries who had stolen dishes and kidnapped part of the catering staff. I had a blast sneaking around, shooting arrows past the mercenaries’ ears, throwing things to mislead them regarding my location, and scaring the pants off one of them – ironically enough, while naked (to make better use of my character’s camouflage mutation). then some intelligent flying squirrels volunteered to serve food at the wedding, and somehow most people were okay with that…] gaming went on for a long time though, with kibitzing afterward, so by the time Fox convinced me to get off Discord and go to bed I was completely emotionally exhausted. like ready to cry exhausted.

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To Live…

I reached out to the graduate music composition program at my school about 3 weeks ago. They asked me to email my portfolio and said we need to schedule an interview, during which they’ll test my theory and aural skills. I took about a week and a half to prepare my portfolio, which unfortunately meant that the fall semester was already starting by the time I emailed it. Until recently I was still hopeful that I might be able to make the transfer in time to start taking classes, and I was getting very anxious about it.

On Tuesday I let go of starting this semester, mostly because Wednesday marked the end of the add/drop period. That helps somewhat: I actually prefer the idea of starting in the spring and not having to rush. It would be rather stressful to jump into graduate courses after missing the first meeting or two, especially since 1) I’ll be getting used to a new approach to music, new professors and new classmates and 2) it’s been a couple years, I’m feeling a bit rusty…

I’m still anxious about whether I’ll be accepted, though (reading into the lack of response and lack of indication that they’ve listened to my recordings, which I’d posted online, and which were produced by my notation software – will they judge me for that?) and second-guessing my decision (I have literally 2 requirements left to finish the music therapy degree, but I actively don’t want to do them, but it seems irresponsible not to… and even more irresponsible to incur more student debt when I haven’t earned any income in, gods, almost a decade…)

If I’m not careful I start going down the what-if spiral and getting depressed. What if this doesn’t work out? What if I don’t have what it takes? What if I can never find gainful employment? Etc… I’ve started a new game of Skyrim, in part because I love the game but also to distract myself from existential dread (well that’s a bit melodramatic) worrying about something I can’t control. (Thought occurs that studying theory and practicing my aural skills would be a good use of my time, but I’ve been having trouble getting myself to do it… I want to know I’ve passed this first hurtle and scheduled the interview first…)

Speaking of not having control over things, I’m still kinda feeling things out with the entrepreneurial project (EP) I’ve mentioned a couple times. I thought I was going to be one of the people in charge but 1) I feel a bit out of my league 2) I feel very out of the loop and 3) my friend is calling all the shots (which I can’t really complain about since he’s the one who’s actually gotten it off the ground). We’ve butt heads a few times – especially when stuff got posted that can be interpreted in ways I’m uncomfortable with – and I thought I was supposed to be an editor but people don’t seem to respect or appreciate my input and I don’t know whether they consider me a valuable member of the team or a pain in the ass and it’s agitating my anxiety and depression.

It doesn’t help that helping Banji move followed by over a week of basically composing full time+ to prepare my portfolio essentially derailed my level of involvement and status in the EP.

Part of me is saying I should run now, but another part of me keeps hoping it will get better (and doesn’t want to miss out on the profits, should they happen… eventually). And part of me actually does enjoy doing this – especially certain aspects of it – and the people seem pretty cool… when we agree on things…

Maybe once we’re in our office and have x y z set up and I can focus on q and…

I dunno, I’m kinda worried this might end up being like the Green Party all over again. Complete with serious ideological disagreements about how to handle something we’re all passionate about causing me to question what I thought/hope were/are meaningful friendships. Or maybe my appraisal of the friendship isn’t what matters, it’s whether it can survive these disagreements. My friend has gone from “I want you to be my business partner and keep everything on track” to “if you want to be part of the board all you have to do is invest capital…”

He’s known from the beginning that I don’t have capital – I’m investing my time, energy, and talents… that’s “appreciated” but somehow less meaningful? I dunno I respect that actually putting money into this is a big deal – and very necessary for success – but money isn’t everything. It on its own shouldn’t give one person more authority than another person earns through their labor – and we’re all putting in a lot of unpaid labor. (So basically I think we all should be the board, unless someone doesn’t want to be on it, but that’s not in line with the laws governing the type of company he decided to make – they require at least some “liquid” investment to be on the board… does “liquid” by any chance include blood, sweat, and tears?)

Ugh. Why do I do this to myself? (Because the alternative is either living in fantasy or working a job you hate… and there’s drama everywhere at least have it be drama you’re passionate about…)

I. don’t. know.

I do know that the week and a half I spent preparing my composition portfolio was amazing! I got to revisit and rework pieces I wrote back in college and the years since, going through the creative process. A lot of them were in a program that outputs midi, meaning low audio quality and inaccurate feedback regarding things like relative dynamics (to oversimplify, volume). I copied my compositions into another program that uses samples from live musicians playing real-world instruments, made some major edits to most of them (including re-orchestrating one) wrote some new material for some if not most of them, and playing with dynamics… oh, wow, that was a trip! It felt so good starting with something I was already proud of, seeing how I could make it better, carefully patiently meticulously caressing it like a sculptor working with wet clay, and then the magic when it sounds right… oh, by the gods, to do that for a living…

That would be living…

The only thing is, I need to have some kind of snack food by my desk (or wherever I’m composing) so I don’t starve. And I should really watch my caffeine intake, and make sure I sleep decent hours. I learned the hard way that the extra energy and high and creative fervor isn’t sustainable, and the crash sucks…

If I switch programs I’ll basically be restarting my degree: I only have like 3 classes that I’m fairly certain will transfer over. And I’ll have to take another version of research methods and learn a new writing/citation style. And it’ll probably take at least 3-4 semesters to graduate, no idea how much money but almost definitely adding significantly to the student debt my mother has been amazingly wonderful about paying down for me.

On the plus side, the ‘big bad requirement’ that could possibly pose a barrier to graduating is that I’m required to have one of my compositions performed… you mean have my dream come true!!!

And then there’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to make money doing it.

But oh, to do it… I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything this badly.

One thing the EP and composing have in common is that they both point to online content creation. The EP involves it directly, while composing probably doesn’t require it but the program coordinators did ask me to post my recordings online and send them links, rather than emailing audio files… It got me thinking about composing and recording the compositions however I can and posting them online and who knows? with things like Patreon maybe that’s all I’ll need to make enough money to live on. and/or I might get commissions. and/or someone might want to hire me for a longer-term project and/or…

I dunno, somehow the depressive what-if spirals are easier to maintain. Like I have to actively stop myself from going down them, whereas with the positive/hopeful ones I think “woah I’m getting ahead of myself” and just… stop.

“This is all wishful thinking. Go get a day job.”
“In what? My B.A. is in music and psychology…”
“Something soul crushing like everyone else.”
“That would probably kill me…”

And besides, ‘everyone else’ is trying to get out of their soul crushing job…

Ah, well, the composition program will email me when they email me. In the meantime I have stuff to do and look forward to with the EP. Banji’s parents want me to sell some stuff for them, that could be a way to at least make some spending money (and get my butt in their house more often, they’re good people). There’s no reason I can’t/shouldn’t compose just because I feel like it – especially if that will help me practice my theory and aural skills. I can post stuff online and who knows? maybe that will help with my application… it will definitely be adding to my portfolio!

If composing is my idea of living then I should live, and have fun with it. And of course there’s still gaming and my friends and my family and and and… so much good in my life, I choose to focus on that.

Vulnerability is Strength

As much as I love writing potential scenes between my and another character in my friends’ Exalted (tabletop role-playing / collective storytelling) game, I feel like I’ve been getting too far ahead of what has actually happened in the game. It’s been a difficult temptation to resist, so I tried to compromise by initiating a conversation with the player of the other character – in which I intended for us to discuss how the bond between our characters might develop. I figured if I’m gonna keep getting ahead of things, it’s better to do so with the other player’s input instead of allowing myself to become overly attached to an alternative / inaccurate version of his character.

Instead we ended up having an awesome, rather long conversation that included the friend who pulled him into the game and mostly had nothing to do with Exalted. We geeked out, laughed at ridiculous YouTube videos, and were otherwise very silly together – which was just what I needed, honestly; it was so much fun! At one point the conversation took a surprisingly personal turn, considering it was like maybe my fourth time talking to this individual and the first time that wasn’t primarily focused on gaming. We touched briefly on some of the trauma / loss we’ve each experienced, were honest and supportive of each other, and agreed that it’s important to be vulnerable. I shared that that’s something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember: whether it was needing to suppress my grief in order to function in school, trying to “be strong” for my mom because (I thought) she couldn’t handle my emotions, or otherwise just wanting to ignore my depression and have a “normal” life, I have fairly consistently fallen into the trap of what my friends called stoicism and I’ve seen referred to online as toxic masculinity.

Vulnerability is a theme that’s gaining prominence in the scenes I’ve been writing between the two characters. My ‘healer’ character initially wants to ‘fix’ the ‘wounded’ character; they avoid touching this individual because doing so evokes overwhelming emotions that make them feel vulnerable, and that terrifies them. But even in the earliest scenes I wrote they tell their story and literally show their wounds (scars), revealing that in a way the two characters aren’t that different. In one scene they instinctively reach for the ‘wounded’ character’s hand as the latter leads them through the Underworld; the ‘wounded’ character responds by squeezing the ‘healer’ character’s hand reassuringly (and it works). In another scene my ‘healer’ character braves their fear of touch and vulnerability to hug the ‘wounded’ character, with the intention of supporting them through a particularly difficult and absolutely essential milestone. Both characters end up holding / supporting each other while crying on each other’s shoulders; in that moment the two characters are both simultaneously ‘wounded’ and ‘healer.’ It becomes a milestone in both characters’ growth, as well as the development of the relationship / bond.

In the most recent scene I’ve written, the ‘healer’ character is severely wounded in battle and ends up unconscious. The ‘wounded’ character holds them until they awake because that is the only way to keep them safe, warm, and relaxed enough to get the rest they need to heal. Upon waking, the ‘healer’ character is able not only to accept but to enjoy the touch, and is finally honest regarding their ambivalence toward intimacy / vulnerability with the ‘wounded’ character. While explaining this they begin to consciously acknowledge that they trust in the ‘wounded’ character as a result of that character’s actions, which are more important than the character’s status as a Deathknight instead of a Solar. The two are finally able to enjoy being close without the ambivalence / awkwardness that has defined their relationship up to this point. (Of course the scene is getting way, way ahead of the game and relies on my – not necessarily the other player’s – interpretation of how the ‘wounded’ character may develop.)

For so long my whole inner Committee has perceived the Wounded One as needing protection, incapable of fending for themself or really doing anything. We – especially the Healer – haven’t considered the Wounded One’s agency or strengths, to the point that they may not even be aware of them. But the Wounded One was the first out of all of us; they created many if not all of us. Maybe we need to trust them more.

Loving Shadow – Part 3

This is Part 3 of a rather long journal entry I wrote recently and decided to break into 3 parts. Part 1 provides some background information that may be helpful for understanding this and the previous part. Part 2 introduces 2 characters who seem to represent aspects of my psyche that need to learn to work together: the Healer and the Wounded One. In this post I describe how I would like to see their relationship progress, particularly in terms of my character’s (the healer’s) role and development.

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20 years

I’m too young for it to be 20 years since my dad died.

I’m sad.

I’m angry. At the cancer. At tobacco companies. At the hospital. At Dad.

I’m angry about how the new chair of my state Green Party is treating me, and I’m about ready to be done with it all together, but I care too much about the people in my local and resigning feels like abandoning them. And I don’t know whether my feelings like I’m not a very good chair and they’d be better off with someone else are a realistic assessment of the situation, or the depression, because it’s been really bad lately.

I’m not sure to what degree the two are related, but they’re happening at the same time, and it’s frustrating the hell outta me.

20 years and I’m still trying to squash my emotions and continue with business as usual, and when that fails I’m playing video games until my eyes bleed. And when I do want to focus on this ridiculous mess of emotions, I can’t help thinking about what certain people in the state party leadership have said to me, how they’re slandering Ron & me, how they’re disrespecting me and my local.

I need space for me but I’m struggling to create that space.

I’m tired. I’m sad. I’m angry.

I’m grateful for my mom stepping up as a single parent to raise me. She’s been there through thick and thin. She’s still supporting me and Fox. And she’s been working hard, learning a lot, coming to respect me more as a person and an adult. Whatever my relationship with my dad (and my mom) could have been, I kinda mourn it but it also doesn’t really matter (and I get the impression it would be worse).

My relationship with Mom, now, is what’s important. It’s something we’ve struggled with, something we’ve fought through, something we’ve cried and argued over, something I’ve dragged kicking and screaming out of the mud, something we’ve both worked our asses off for … and we’ve come out the better, closer, for it. And there’s still a lot of work and growth and that’ll probably be a lifetime effort … but it’s there and it’s REAL and it’s OURS.

Each year I’ve been counting how long it’s been, and I think it was last year that I realized I wasn’t really mourning missing wishing I still had him in my life … I’ve been celebrating. 20 years of survival. 20 years of LIFE. 20 years of me and my mom not killing each other, lol. 20 years of us CREATING our own relationship and our own lives.

In my last music therapy session Wakana got me to sing about all this. I sang/said that I had pulled myself together from the ashes, and when they say ‘rise from the ashes’ they don’t say how hard it is to pull each individual ash in and make something new from it. But it’s what I do, it’s my nature, even though it hurts and even though I’m tired. Whatever happens, I rise. I rise. I rise. I rise.

And it’s not just her it’s my wonderful family and friends. Fox & Banji were both here for me big time yesterday. My uncle & aunt (Mom’s brother & sister-in-law) came to visit while Mom was away; they took me to dinner and lunch the next day and we had some wonderful conversation. And over the holidays it was so wonderful to spend time with my family and friends.

I felt alive in a way I hadn’t since getting caught up in all this political bullshit.

I felt whole again.

5 Years!!!

a day with depression turned 5 years old on Tuesday!

Happy Anniversary with WordPress.com! You registered on WordPress.com 5 years ago. Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging.

I’ll admit I haven’t gone back to look through my 5 years of blogging, and I’ve been posting a lot less regularly as of late, but this blog has been a real help for me. I’m glad I have a space to share experiences that people don’t always talk about (though it’s getting better), that can be rather isolating. I’m grateful for the community I found on WordPress, particularly other mental health bloggers. I miss Blog for Mental Health, maybe we can pick that up again.

In the time since starting this blog I have …

  • had the pleasure of “parenting” 3 pairs of rats
  • learned a great deal about intersectional feminism
  • socially transitioned from the gender I was assigned at birth to nonbinary / enby
  • gotten married
  • become a zillion times more confident and assertive
  • healed a great deal
  • come to accept that mental health “recovery” is a never-ending, nonlinear process
  • made some absolutely amazing friends
  • become engaged in activism and politics
  • learned so much
  • learned that I have so much more to learn
  • figured out what meds work for me – including that I don’t need the clonazepam
  • developed kickass coping skills for anxiety and depression

There’s been a lot of drama in the Green Party as of late, throughout the US and unfortunately also in my state. It breaks my heart, really, because we have much much more important things to focus on. I’ve been feeling incredibly overwhelmed and not focusing on what I need to do to live a fulfilling life.

(Ironically – or perhaps not – the latest drama in my state party is uncannily similar to what happened to someone else back in March:

it has to do with people he loved betraying him, and feeling powerless to change what’s going on in an organization he’s supposed to be a leader of. An organization he led very well, and changed for the better, but that’s not what some of its most powerful leaders – his former and my current friends – are focusing on.

(These same people – my “friends” – are now verbally wrecking the latest person they’ve forced to leave: Ron.)

So, I’ve decided to end my involvement in my state party. I will probably continue to help organize locally, and engage in nonpartisan activism, but I need to take a step back from this stuff and pick up the life I’ve put on hold for a year and a half. I’m grateful for the actual friendships I’ve made, my relationship with Ron, the experiences I’ve had, everything I’ve learned, the skills I’ve developed, all of it.

Now it’s time to start a new chapter.