Two of Fox’s friends came over Wednesday evening. I enjoyed spending time with them, particularly connecting with one whom I’ll call “T”. The thing is, “connecting with” ended up meaning “listening to,” largely in the supportive role I seem to enter automatically, regardless of whether that’s healthy for me at the time. I know some mutual support in conversations is good and expected, the problem is that I have trouble setting and enforcing the boundaries I need to keep the support mutual. Sometimes I feel like everyone just wants me to be their shrink … and I’ll admit that feeling came up several times Wed. & Thurs.

Fox’s other friend, “D”, was on call for work. D got calls after midnight. He got calls from people who didn’t leave a message or didn’t call back. He got calls from people who wanted him to wake a coworker up in the middle of the night for emergency service. He missed the fireworks on Thursday because he was dealing with a customer who blamed his company for serious damage to their house. He was understandably stressed out, and so was I. I find it very hard not to get caught up in someone else’s anger and feel like, somehow, it’s my responsibility. That’s the last thing I need right now.

Other friends (whom I know through Fox) came over Thursday and for the most part we had a very good time. Good food and good conversation; I even learned a few things.

But they made me act as navigator in search of an open supermarket at the last minute on a national holiday “because you’re the only one who knows this area.” And I had to hear their frustration with businesses closing at a sane-for-a-holiday time because where they’re from you can always find someplace that’s open, within walking distance, no matter what day and time it is. WE HAD FOOD COMING OUT OUR COLLECTIVE EARS. There was really no need to get additional stuff to put in the salad. I think the lettuce I’d picked up (at a sane time to be in the supermarket on a national holiday – Fox and D needed to pick up a few things and had let me know of their plans in advance) would have been enough for everyone to have a small, simple salad. The extra stuff they insisted on getting is now sitting in my refrigerator – along with other leftovers. I resent being dragged out against my will to get things other people claimed were important to them and then didn’t even eat.

The fireworks were spectacular. We were able to sit on my front lawn and see 3 different shows, for free. There were times when they were a bit too bright and/or too loud, but for the most part I had no problem enjoying them. No funky sensory stuff provoking anxiety reactions like when we went to see Into Darkness.

I was able to be completely in the moment, joy exploding with each burst of light and washing over me in a rain of changing colors. The booms and crackles and fuzzy visual texture of some of the fireworks practically tickled me, causing additional happiness as I laughed.

I knew it wouldn’t last. But for those precious moments I was free, and I cherished every one of them. Even through the negative commentary from the peanut gallery that made part of me want to fly into a murderous rage – or at least tell everyone to shut up or leave – I had my fireworks. My own internal demons were silent. No worries, no guilt, no second-guessing, just fireworks. Big bold loud gorgeous colorful fireworks. All I had to do was sit there and watch them.

And Fox got to see me happy.

By the time everyone left we were both completely exhausted. We dedicated Friday to being bums; I spent most of it playing Oblivion and you know what that’s okay.

Then yesterday happened. I’d made plans to go out with Banji, who’s in the area for the holiday weekend, and her parents. I couldn’t get ready to leave in time to get to her parents’ house by the time they wanted to head out, so I cancelled. She invited and encouraged me to join them later in the day, but I couldn’t deal with my own emotions. Thoughts about harming, maybe even killing myself. Crushing guilt because I cancelled on my best friend who’d said she really wanted to see me, and whom I’d really wanted to see. Guilt for staying in and repeating the same pattern I could any day instead of getting out, seizing the moment, doing the thing that’s special and new and different with someone I love. Fear that I’ll never get out of this mess. Hopelessness. Sorrow. Bone-melting grief.

And underneath it all, a simmering anger. If she wanted to see me so badly and knew I was having trouble, why couldn’t she come to me? Why should I have to go out?

More guilt for feeling that way, thinking those forbidden thoughts. Mom’s “advice” echos in my head: “You need to force yourself.” But what if I can’t? Am I so horrible? Incompetent?

I ran into Oblivion to escape all these thoughts and feelings. There I could focus on completing a task; I organized my decisions around training certain skills and earning money so I could buy furnishings for my character’s house. I felt tense or even angry while fighting enemies, but there was an outlet for the emotion and I could be sure it would pass. I could even murder an entire room full of guards (one of whom had insulted me), somehow survive to tell the tale … and then load a recent save to escape the game-breaking consequences of my actions. That was the most fun I had all day. Fox seemed annoyed with me for doing it.

I’ll admit I felt guilty about playing Oblivion – instead of, say, spending time with Banji – but I thought it was the most adaptive thing I could handle at the time. While I was focused on the game I was not having self-harm and suicidal thoughts. I was making decisions, focusing my energy into something other than actively destroying myself. (Whether I’ve been passively destroying myself is up for debate.) I was even – though admittedly to a lesser extent than I would like – having fun. Imagine that! Is it allowed? For Ziya to have fun? Oh no, this is an offense that cannot be forgiven. Let the flogging commence.

And Fox. Poor Fox. I don’t know how he can tolerate living with me. I’ve been such a horrible fiancee. It really doesn’t help that the TV is so big and commands such a presence in the room and doesn’t have a headphone jack, so if he’s in the living room he kind of has no choice but to be at least minimally involved in me playing Oblivion – even if I could somehow manage not to make comments, whether directed at him or not, he’d still have to hear the inane “dialogue.” (Seriously, Bethesda, hire some writers – or anyone who’s ever witnessed a real-life conversation. Please!) I don’t envy him at all for having to put up with me, nor do I blame him for trying to have some control over what he’s forced to witness – whether on screen or sitting next to him. Never mind that he could go to another room or leave the house. This is where he’s comfortable, where his stuff is, and where there’s a chance that I’ll pause the game for a moment to make eye contact with him.

But he’s driving me nuts. I want to play the game – whether that means fixing up “my” house just so, running around jumping off rocks like an idiot, seeing how many guards I can kill before I run out of health potions, carefully choosing the ingredients for a potion based on their effects, sneaking everywhere, or going on a mission that seems interesting. He keeps giving me advice on how to “optimize” my character. Don’t do that quest yet because the reward for it gets better the higher level you are, so you’ll benefit more from it if you wait to do it later. You need to raise Endurance so you’ll gain more health points each level; the most efficient way to do that is to raise your Heavy Armor skill (which is ridiculously low in comparison to my other skills, so it will go up more quickly than the skills I’ve been using regularly). You have no interest whatsoever in doing anything with heavy armor, so why not get a set of it, put it on, go out to a cave, and let enemies beat on you? The Heavy Armor skill will rise quickly, and your Endurance will go up, and you’ll gain more health points each level. And be bored to tears while “playing” a game.

I’m playing that game because I want an escape from reality and I want to be in control. I want to try random crazy things knowing that the consequences 1) don’t have any effect on real life and 2) are avoidable if I have a recent save to load. I want to practice making decisions and exercising agency. I want to forget that I’m a generic human living in the 21st-century United States and become immersed in the fantasy world of the game, where I’m spell-casting combat-capable stealthy problem-solving money-earning humanoid lizard who can breathe underwater and isn’t afraid of anything doesn’t suffer from guilt, indecisiveness, and social anxiety is confident in her ability to make a positive difference in the world and motivated enough to get out of the house and do things.

I’ll admit that I do ask for advice – or at least information – about what to do next, particularly along the lines of “will I get a truly useful reward if I do this quest now, or should I wait on it?” Maybe it would be better if I stopped asking Fox for his input and just looked up the information I need to make the decision myself. Or maybe I should be clearer about what I want/need from him. Yes, please do answer this specific question as accurately and honestly as you are able (or decline and I’ll look up the info I need to make my decision myself). Yes, please do point out if you think I missed something important. No, please do not tell me the solution to this puzzle. I suppose it’s reasonable to remind me to save before acting on a decision you disagree with, but please don’t try to get me to change my mind. I’m the one playing my game.

That’s what it comes down to in real life. I’m not even sure what “my game” is, but I wish everyone would take a step back and let me decide how – or whether – I want to play it. And by “everyone” I largely mean the voices inside my own head, who amplify their interpretations of messages from loved ones and society, until there’s no room left for Ziya.


Wakana and I had a very productive conversation yesterday, perhaps one of our most therapeutic sessions yet. She was completely straightforward and down to business; she wanted to know what was going on last Friday and why I didn’t feel comfortable talking to her – at the very least, letting her know I was still alive. Most importantly, she asked what it is I need from her that I feel like I’m not getting.

Friday. It’s like something is actively trying to block my access to what was going on that day. In a nutshell, I just didn’t want to be bothered – with her, or anyone, or anything. That’s not entirely true: I wanted to spend time with Fox and I did. But he came to me. I didn’t want to face the world, reality. I really didn’t want to go out in it. I didn’t want to put on shoes; none of the shoes I own were quite right for the weather that day. And I didn’t want to face whatever we’d reveal about myself.

And yes, I was more interested in focusing on The Sims 3. My escape. She’s really concerned about all the time playing that game, and the narrowing of my world. On some level, I’m concerned about it, too. But on some level I feel like it’s what I need all I can handle right now. Anything else requires me to wear the mask, and it’s just too heavy.

What do I need from her that I’m not getting? Music. I need to spend more time making music – and, more importantly, using the music to get at the heart of the matter. It’s hard, it’s painful, I don’t really want to do it most of the time. I guess I need her to push me a little more, or pull me, or … do more to help me feel safe. And to help me put my armor back on before I have to leave her room and face the world again. I hate being so vulnerable. But I think I can do it in front of her, as long as it’s contained within the session.

It felt good to be able to have that conversation with her. It was extremely uncomfortable, but just the fact that she really wanted to know and understand my experience – without judging it or telling me what to do – meant the world to me.

Being Carrie Marin

Meet Carrie Marin, my newest sim:

TS3W 2013-03-23 22-04-13-11Carrie is an adventurous bookworm who loves to travel and write about her experiences. Her goal in life is to reach the highest possible Visa level (3) for all three countries featured in The Sims 3: World Adventures. So far, she’s doing great! – she has attained Visa Level 1 in Egypt and is currently completing quests to try and do the same in China.

Carrie achieves Visa Level 1 in Egypt

Carrie achieves Visa Level 1 in Egypt

I created Carrie because I was getting frustrated with the family I had been playing in The Sims 3. It is currently comprised of 3 adults, 2 teenagers, a child, and 3 horses – quite the headache! One of the adults has been ignoring his life goal of completely exploring 6 tombs in each of the 3 World Adventure destinations; I’m concerned he’s going to be unable to achieve it. Another adult randomly had her progress toward her life goal reset, which makes me question whether it’s worth the effort to bother with that goal at all.

(The Jockey: my sim still has her levels in the Riding skill, but lost the progress she’d made toward winning/earning $40,000 with her horses. I’m disinclined to try and get it back because I’m frustrated with how the game handles equestrian competitions and don’t find them particularly fun, anyway.)

And I’m saddened because one of the teenagers has been neglecting the horse she adopted as a child, to the point where they have lost their friendship. There just isn’t really much room for the horses in any of the sims’ lives anymore. I find myself too caught up in keeping the sims’ needs met and getting them to school/work on time and perhaps occasionally fulfilling a wish or two to play that game the way I’d like to. I’m not having fun with it anymore. There’s just too much going on at once: too many different goals and needs and relationships, etc. to juggle. It’s very disjointed!

So, I’ve gone to the complete opposite extreme: one young-adult sim with no children and no pets. The pro is that there’s a lot less to juggle, less risk of something like an important relationship slipping through the cracks. The con is that I spend most of my time playing the game on fast-forward, often waiting for her to finish sleeping or to get out of work.

Carrie's workplace.

Carrie’s workplace.

Pretty much everything Carrie does is focused on achieving her life goal. She works in the Journalism career, currently as a Professional Blogger (level 4). She has 3 close friends, all of whom she met and maintains a relationship with at work. She also writes novels for extra income. Her home is small and simple, her meals light and inexpensive, and she rides a bike instead of spending money on a car. If something in her house breaks she fixes it herself, simultaneously saving money on the repair and improving the Handiness skill she’ll need to disarm traps and complete future quests successfully. You can bet that as soon as she’s saved enough money to go on vacation, she’ll be on the next plane abroad!

Carrie's simple yet cozy home in Riverview.

Carrie’s simple yet cozy home in Riverview.

And once she arrives, Carrie hits the ground running by taking whatever work is available. She easily befriends the locals, making much-needed connections and learning the information she needs to complete quests. She’s never lonely because she feels comfortable talking to pretty much anyone. She doesn’t have a significant other, children, etc., so she can make her own choices – including when and with whom and how she wants  to socialize.

I wish I could say I play this game because it’s fun, but at best that’s only part of it. My “reason” for playing Carrie the way I am is because I actually want to play World Adventures, including all the built-in quests and tomb exploration and so on – it’s a nice touch, different from my typical experience playing The Sims 3 (and 2, and the original).

But it’s also an escape: when I’m playing The Sims 3 I don’t feel. I’m caught up in what’s going on for my sims, and I can ignore reality: the fact that after over a month I’m still not fully unpacked and I’ve been neglecting things I once considered my biggest passions in life (e.g. music) and I have to medicate my rats even though all three of us hate it, etc. etc. etc. Like the game I abandoned (temporarily, or so I’d like to claim) my life feels too disjointed, too many different interests and goals and relationships to juggle them all. Something ALWAYS falls through the cracks. I feel completely unmotivated to try to do any of it – either my heart isn’t in it, or I can’t imagine myself being successful. The weight of my anxiety about not doing schoolwork and my depression from doubting whether I’ll ever achieve my life goals and feeling isolated is unbearable.

So, I play The Sims 3 instead.

And what am I playing? A single sim who focuses her energy on one thing, and uses her different interests to support each other. Her job funds her travel. Her travel gives her something to write about. Reading is fun, relaxing, and educational – and relatively inexpensive (as long as she doesn’t decide to buy the book). Reading also helps her be better prepared to travel, better able to make connections with others, and a better writer. Forming interpersonal connections meets her need for socialization and supports her goal of gaining Visa levels – essentially, being accepted into diverse communities. Add a knack for photography and martial arts (two skills one can and kind of needs to learn while in Egypt and China, respectively) and Carrie Marin is unstoppable!

Carrie enjoys some delicious falafel.

Carrie enjoys some delicious falafel.

Carrie swims in the public pool with several other sims from her neighborhood.

Carrie swims in the public pool with several other sims from her neighborhood.

Carrie spends the afternoon reading at the library.

Carrie spends the afternoon reading at the library.

The Deserter

The Deserter is the last part of myself that I revealed in my post: Ending a Life. Represented by a young girl, it is the part of me that finds life too painful to keep living, that wants to escape, that wants to cease being real. The Deserter feels alien to this world, to embodied reality. It tries to sever me from everything, especially my emotions. But as Wakana said during our session on Tuesday, I need my emotions in order to be connected to reality.

Yuan cannot even bear to be present at her grandfather's funeral. She escapes to the kitchen and plays with her imaginary friend instead.

Yuan cannot even bear to be present at her grandfather’s funeral. She escapes to the kitchen and plays with her imaginary friend instead.

We walked through the darkness, the Deserter and I, and had a little chat. I didn’t try to convince it of anything, I just tried to understand – and to allow myself to feel. The walk in darkness gave me the safe space I needed to focus on this aspect of myself, with few distractions.

A major theme that came up was stability: knowing that the people in my life are reliable, both emotionally and otherwise. I have not had a lot of stability. The Deserter is angry and hurt because of the chaos, the volatile emotions, the abuse, the neglect, and most of all by people leaving my/our life. The Deserter asks, “If they are not going to be there for me, why should I be there for them?” It would much rather walk away. At least in solitude I can be miserable on my own terms.

I miss my friends who seem to have all gone their separate ways, with new friends, careers, homes, spouses, etc. People don’t randomly contact me just to say “hi,” and I feel awkward contacting them. If they do contact me, I don’t always get back to them. :-/

My mom has followed a pattern of engulfing or smothering me, then withdrawing, so I really don’t know what to expect from her. I think she’s trying to show me support and caring and give me space, but sometimes it’s hard for me to trust her – and sometimes she makes mistakes, so I withdraw my trust.

I had a really great weekend with Fox and Banji! On Friday, Banji and I went back to our undergraduate alma mater. We had dinner in town at a place we used to frequent, then walked around on campus reminiscing. Afterward we returned to my home and looked at some music I had composed, including a beautiful viola solo I’d completely forgotten about. Fox joined us on Saturday for dinner at Banji’s parents’ house; that evening I said ‘goodbye’ to Banji and returned home to enjoy a couple more days with Fox. I was feeling the healthiest I’d been in over a month. Then, on Monday, I had to say ‘goodbye’ to Fox, too.

I “woke” Tuesday morning feeling dead. I was exhausted and haunted by the anxiety dreams I’ve been having for at least a few nights now. I felt like I was going through the motions. Wakana brought up the possibility that I was sad about Banji going home, but I didn’t want to listen. She’s only 4 hours away; we can see each other again before the end of the month!

But the Deserter is not a rational being; it is purely emotional. It feels abandoned by the two people I most want to have a stable, mutually-loving relationship with for the rest of my life.

On one level my relationships with Banji and Fox are stable: I know I can trust each of them with my deepest and darkest emotions, that they will accept me as I am, that they understand me (at least to some degree), and that they want to remain in close relationship with me.

On another level – the level on which the Deserter operates – my relationships with Banji and Fox are very unstable: we spend short times together that are intensely intimate, and then they disappear. The Deserter can’t understand why I woke up alone Tuesday morning, why Banji hasn’t called me, etc. It’s angry and sad and beyond tired of playing this game! It thinks if I can’t trust the two of them, there’s no way I can ever trust anyone else – so it keeps me from making new friends.

I wrote a poem that I’d like to share, to give the Deserter a voice. I’m going to put it behind a link, though, because I’m concerned it might be a trigger for some people. Writing it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.

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