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.