When I was feeling energized by my volunteer efforts, I couldn’t help thinking: “This isn’t going to last, and when I crash it’s gonna hurt. So I’m gonna make the most of it.” And, well, the crash has come. I’m exhausted. I’m starting to let the naysayers get to me – either dragging me down, or making me angry. And sometimes it feels like there’s no point….

I’m not sure when the transition started, but yesterday I had a huge anxiety attack that prevented me from going to the march I’d planned on attending. It really took me by surprise because I’d gotten used to being much more confident, almost like my anxiety had melted away. I almost felt like a different person… and yet there I was, back to panicking and sabotaging any possibility that I might have made it on time. Once I got to the office things went well. K was there being his usual ridiculous self and I finished the turf I’d been canvassing. I’d even recruited a couple new volunteers!

Today I’m just exhausted. I showed up feeling exhausted and made volunteer recruitment calls… they went okay. Then a couple of volunteers came so I tried to get them set up with phone banking. I felt bad because I was kind of ignoring Volunteer A to help Volunteer B. The latter had technical issues and decided to go home – ostensibly to phone bank using his own computer, but I have no way of knowing.

Volunteer A made calls for a little while, then asked if I would join him to canvass, “show him the ropes.” I agreed and we went out and I made a bunch of wrong turns and it was generally awkward – though he was fun to talk to and I think he felt the same about me. We didn’t get the best reception once we started knocking on doors, though.

And then there was one very nice older couple who support Bernie and are going to vote for him in the primary, but don’t think he’s going to win the nomination. (?) They were wonderful to talk to… until the wife asked me if I’ll vote for Hillary in the general election.

I made the mistake of answering honestly, and then all hell broke loose. They took back everything nice they’d said. They told me I don’t care about the direction of this country. They insulted me to my face. And worst of all, they refused to listen when I tried to defend myself. I got very angry and joined in their yelling match. It took me quite a while to calm down afterward.

I might have yelled some obscenities once we reached the sidewalk.

I feel horrible. So hurt that they attacked me like that, embarrassed that it happened right in front of a fellow volunteer, worried that our interaction might have turned them away from Bernie, and angry with myself for losing control. I might also be questioning… everything. All this passion, and where has it gotten me?

I did some phone banking after coming home. Mostly wrong numbers, no answers, and not homes. A couple of people laughed at me; one even said he felt sorry for me. (!) I identified some Bernie supporters, though, and a couple more volunteers. I hold on for the supporters and volunteers. I don’t know how much longer I can keep it up though.

It seems like I’m going to be running the office for the rest of the week. That basically means answering the door, signing volunteers in, training them, setting them up to phone bank, and sending them out to canvass. When I’m not doing those things I should be recruiting more volunteers or finding something else useful to do… but I think instead I’ll bring earbuds and watch YouTube videos.

Therapists

First off, I’d like to apologize for disappearing for 2.5 months. I’ve been caught up in the Skyrim Let’s Play, other games, working on my thesis proposal, and other stuff. The blog has been on the edge of my radar, but it’s only in the past week or two that I’ve started seriously thinking about posts again. I guess we all need a break from time to time?

Anyways there was a long time when I was first gushing about how much I’ve benefited from my work in music therapy with Wakana, then avoiding her. I’ve been sort of considering termination, but I don’t like the idea in part because that means I’ll stop seeing her and in part because I have this nagging suspicion there are things I still need to work on.

Then I finally met with her in person last week and did that thing you learn about when training to become a therapist that clients often do because transference and it’s awkward and wrong and you definitely can’t act on it… I, well, I started saying things that implied I’m interested in a romantic relationship with her. I even thought the words “I love you,” then pushed them back because I can’t love my therapist, that’s a violation of the boundaries we need to maintain a good working relationship and of ethics and ugh she knows, doesn’t she? Fuck. I have a crush on my therapist. I couldn’t even look at her for the rest of the session without being taken aback by how vibrant and radiant she looks. Why the fuck did this have to happen?!

I can deal with having crushes on many if not most of the people I meet and/or have been friends with for, gods, over a decade. It happens. It’s healthy. It’s kind of fun. I can enjoy the good feelings and focus on enjoying our interactions, which most likely are not romantic. But that’s okay because I’m crushing on them because their personalities are what I find most attractive, and I get to enjoy their personalities when we’re being silly nerds and geeks. (It doesn’t hurt that I find them visually attractive, too.)

But my therapist?

I told Wakana about the crush when I met with her over Skype on Wednesday, because I knew there was no hiding it from her. I just wanted to deal with it so we can get back to the therapy I’d been gushing about because it’s really helped me so much. I feel whole, or at least a lot closer to it, and stuff that used to cause me a ton of emotional turmoil is so much easier to deal with now. I’m actually quite happy with where I am in life and confident that I’ll work out the stuff that still needs a lot of work, such as (finally!) applying for internships so I can begin my career.

You know what she told me? She said this is a normal stage that most clients go through and that it’s a good thing because it means I’m starting to love myself. She explained that she holds so much of me – everything I share with her in our sessions – and acts as a mirror for me to see the aspects of myself that have been hidden away for most of my life. I can finally see them, and I’m realizing I think they’re awesome, and now I can reclaim them. “These are mine, I’ll take them back now, thank you.” She said I can also let go of things that aren’t mine, such as thought processes I learned in childhood and adolescence that aren’t helping me.

We can totally work through this crush, processing the feelings I’m transferring to her, so I can focus my love on myself.

It almost feels kind of wrong. Selfish.

She said we could explore whatever fantasies I’m having – not do anything of course, but talk about them and what they symbolize. That was kind of awkward because to be honest I hadn’t gotten that far – and I’d really rather not go there. I almost don’t want to tell her I’m not fantasizing about doing anything specific with her, because I don’t want to hurt her feelings. She embodies much of what I want to be, and I’ve come to feel a strong connection with and positive regard for her. I guess if I’m having any fantasy it’s that I want to move away from our interactions being therapy for me, toward a more mutual emotional sharing through the music we make together. It’s hard to accept that we can’t do that while I’m her client. Maybe that’s why I’ve been thinking about termination: if I’m no longer her client, there’s a possibility we might make music together as a more mutual exchange in the future.

Shifting gears a bit (or perhaps not really) I have finally started meeting with the therapist who will hopefully use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help me overcome my social anxiety (so whatever anxiety I feel before/during social situations won’t hinder me). We just completed intake – so there hasn’t been much time to develop rapport, and we haven’t actually started CBT.

She seems nice and I like her, but I feel like I have more experience as a client than she does as a psychotherapist. I’m trying to resist the urge to ask her about her qualifications and experience because frankly it seems kind of rude, and I’d hate for clients to do that to me (in the near future). Perhaps I’m projecting my own insecurities about becoming a therapist, I don’t know. I don’t want to over-analyze myself.

The thing is, she keeps using stereotypical responses – the kinds of things we learn not to do in active listening. As I was answering the intake questions, she filled the pauses with “mmhmm,” always in the same tone of voice, which kind of gave me the feeling she wasn’t really listening. Then when I was done answering almost every question she said “okay” – again always with the same inflection. It felt like she was doing things she was trained to do or thought she should do, not like she was being genuine.

I want to tell her that these vocal habits are bothering me, but I’m not sure how. I don’t want them, nor my efforts to/not to talk to her about them, to interfere with therapy. I just want to go, do what I need to do, and come out feeling empowered to live my life the way I need and want to. Why must emotions be so complicated?

Another Kind of Loss

I hate Father’s Day. The commercialism, especially, and the obligation to be cheerful and celebratory of something that has caused me so much pain… Fox’s dad invited us to a special restaurant in honor of Father’s Day and I wouldn’t miss it for anything, but thinking about it and listening to Fox talk about it is ripping my heart to shreds.

I know some people whose fathers died, but it happened when they were adults. Others whose dads left them, who never knew their father, who are estranged from their dads… But I can only think of one person I know whose father died when she was a child – I’m pretty sure she was a child – and to be honest I’m not sure she’d be willing to talk to me about it. We’re not that close.

I feel like there isn’t anyone who can really understand the grief Father’s Day brings up for me – the deep, aching loneliness of watching others celebrate something that has been lost to me for most of my life, and knowing they cannot possibly understand how I feel about it.

To make matters worse, I threw away a perfectly good friendship with the one person I’ve ever met who understood what I was going through.

This person joined my class in school a mere seven months after my father died. He was an orphan, living with a relative. I don’t remember how we got to know each other, or even if we ever talked about our experiences, just that we became very close. We shared an understanding with each other that neither of us could share with anyone else in the school. At recess and lunch we would spend as much time as we could together, just talking. Connected.

People made assumptions about our relationship that I thought were completely unfounded… but that had a kernel of truth: he had a crush on me. I did not share those feelings, but I agreed to a romantic relationship anyway. It lasted a weekend; the bullies descended upon me almost as soon as I set foot in school. I panicked and broke up with him. Then summer came, and we went our separate ways.

I’ve thought back on that parting with regret, but I’ve never really mourned it. Today may be the first time I’ve ever talked about this person with anyone. I think I can forgive myself: I was much younger then, and less assertive. I prioritized romantic relationships to a degree that was probably unhealthy, and I hadn’t yet learned how to salvage a friendship from disappointment. He may not have been able or willing to work with me, even if I had made the effort. It’s gone, it’s done, all that’s left to do is mourn.

I’m recognizing that I lost something that was important to me, and that would be even more valuable now: a friend who understands the pain of having lost a parent when I was very young.

To be honest, I’m not sure I want to try to get back in touch with this particular individual. I doubt I’d have much to say, other than “I’m sorry.” But I do want to find a group – at the moment I’m leaning toward online – for adults who lost one or both parents when they were young. Maybe then I’ll feel less isolated.

The End of the Semester (and other boundaries)

I’m very happy to report that I got a B on my Piano Improvisation final. More importantly, I worked very hard to master the skills I needed, went into the final feeling confident, and felt good about what I’d accomplished. That class was the most difficult music therapy course I’ve ever taken; it’s in the top 5 most difficult courses I’ve taken in my lifetime. Now I’m done with it (including the paper)! I gained a lot of useful techniques and insights, and the inspirations for my two compositions-in-progress. I call that a win!

On Wednesday, I confronted Wakana about her growing tendency to either not be fully present with me, or to interact with me in ways I’d expect of a friend or a parent, during our sessions. I told her, “I’m your client and I’m here so let’s work; I like you and would love to be friends with you, but you’re my therapist.” She apologized and explained that she’s been trying to do too much; now that it’s the end of the semester she can be a better therapist to me (she teaches at a different university from the one I attend). It took us a while to find an appropriate focus for the rest of the session, but with her support and guidance I was able to do some good work:

I’d been feeling guilty about needing to ask for an “incomplete” in Group Music Therapy (I still haven’t finished that paper). Talking to Wakana helped me realize why: I was projecting my childhood relationship with my parents onto the instructor of that course, who is also my academic adviser (and a generally awesome person). I’ve known him for almost six years(!), taken several courses taught by him, been honest with him about my mood disorder, crushed on, admired, and respected him. I’ll admit, I tend to subconsciously(?) blur the boundaries necessary to maintain an appropriate, professional, student-teacher relationship with him; I want us to have a more personal relationship. (I think I’ve managed to keep that from slipping noticeably into our real-life interactions…)

Anyway, the point is, I felt like I needed to be a model student to help him feel good – kind of like how, as a child, I felt like I needed to be a straight-A student to keep my family from falling apart. Handing in my paper before the end of the semester was “the least I could do” to “repay” him for being so supportive all these years.

Then I realized that (I’m an adult now and) my instructor/adviser/mentor’s self-esteem is his business. Also, it’s his job to work with students to help us succeed in school – including being supportive in times of difficulty. Asking for the “incomplete” was the most appropriate, responsible thing for me to do: I clearly communicated my intent to complete the paper, as well as my inability to do so before he was required to submit grades for the course. That’s where my interpersonal responsibility ends. I have an academic responsibility to complete and submit the paper as soon as possible. This responsibility is ultimately to myself: I need to complete the paper so I can earn credit for the course so I can be one step closer to graduating and beginning my career of choice.

Wednesday was also the last meeting of my Group Music Therapy class. I role-played clients for my classmates’ skill demonstrations, then did my own despite feeling anxious. I was able to ground myself, be present in the moment with my “clients,” tune in to what they were feeling, and adapt my intervention to meet their needs.

At one point during verbal processing I felt uncomfortable and wanted to stop. The instructor asked what I noticed going on in the group at that time. I said, “I feel tense and I don’t know what to say.” He replied, “that’s a great intervention! Sometimes, the best thing you can do is just be honest about your uncertainty.” After receiving some additional feedback and suggestions, I asked, “Can I try that now?” That was a huge change for me; in the past I would make mental notes of suggestions with the intention of “using them later,” not applying them to my current situation.

We re-entered the role play and I used my “great intervention.” The “clients” started talking about how they were feeling and expressing dissatisfaction with the music we’d been creating. I remembered what we’d discussed in class about giving the group room to find its own solutions and asked, “What can we do to make it sound better?” Some more discussion led to a “client” explaining that she was rocking back and forth because she was nervous; I asked “What does that nervousness sound like?” She played rapid, intense 8th notes on her drum; after giving her some time to play I invited the group to play with her. This intervention used the suggestion to bring our verbal discussion back into the music; it also incorporated what I’d learned from research for my paper: drumming the same rhythms causes people to move the same way, thus feeling the same sensations. This improves empathy and feelings of group cohesiveness – my main goal.

The next thing I knew, the whole group was playing loudly together. The tension had dissipated. I was so focused on the group, I completely forgot there were people observing us… until the instructor said, “We need to end the role-play.” If I could change one thing, I would have been less concerned with following the plan I’d had for the demonstration and more in tune with what was going on – in other words, better able to just sit back and feel good about what I had accomplished.

More positive feedback and useful suggestions, an opportunity to let my inner child dance around with a shaker – I mean, “role play” for one last classmate – and I was done. I had dreaded this class, but I stuck with it and grew so much from it. The end was bittersweet. I’ll miss spending time with my classmates and especially my small group… and I’m very proud of what I accomplished! I look forward to putting what I’ve learned into practice.

Since then, I’ve been taking some time to feel good about the end of the semester, relax, and compose. I love being able to focus on something I find intrinsically rewarding, not having to worry about deadlines or grades. Fox and I have been spending quality time with each other and our pet rats; it’s really satisfying to feel like we’ve created a family together. I’m happy and optimistic about the future.

… except that early this morning, after Fox’s alarm had gone off, I had a nightmare:

It’s the middle of the night. I’m cleaning the liners for the rats’ cage in a large plastic bin full of water. The rats are in the bin. At first the water is shallow enough for them to stand in it comfortably, but suddenly it is far over their heads.

I’m aware of them, but focused on my work. Periodically I notice that they’re staying under the water; one of them seems to be struggling and the other hasn’t been moving much. Finally, I catch the one that has been struggling and pull him out of the water. He clings to me, dripping and terrified. I worry that, since it still gets cold at night, he might get sick.

Then I remember that the other rat is underwater and not moving. I pull him out, but too late – his body is cold. I feel between his arms/front legs but there is no heartbeat. I try to do CPR (yes, on a rat!) but it’s actually one of the rat stuffed animals Fox got me before we adopted our current pets; the mouth is embroidered onto fabric. I’m aware of this, too, but I try anyway.

After struggling for some indeterminate amount of time, I realize the painful truth: I drowned my rats, and I was only able to save one of them. The other is dead, gone forever. His brother might not live long, and the time he does have will be very lonely…

I woke, devastated, then dragged myself out of bed in hopes that seeing my real, live rats would help me feel better. One was resting – clearly alive – and the other was standing near the door, climbing the wall of the cage, sniffing toward me, and otherwise being adorable in an attempt to attract my attention treats. That cheered me up, but I still can’t shake the guilt from the nightmare.

After reassuring myself that the rats were okay, I saw that Fox was still asleep. I helped him wake up just in time to avoid being late for work! I’m trying to convince myself that’s why I had the nightmare: my unconscious needed something that would force me to wake up enough to help my husband. But somehow I don’t think it’s that.

The vet gave the rats a clean bill of health, but they seem to cough (or hiccup?) and sneeze fairly frequently. Last night their cage was overdue for a cleaning; we replaced their litter, wiped everything down, and today I put the liners (sans rats) in the washing machine. But still. We suck at keeping our space clean, so there’s dust that can affect their lungs; trying to get Fox to help me clean – including their cage – is like pulling teeth. (Getting myself to clean is also like pulling teeth…) I feel like it’s completely on me to keep them healthy – including being vigilant for signs that they might be getting sick. If rats do get sick, their condition can deteriorate rapidly.

Mom’s also been putting pressure on me… in a variety of areas, but particularly regarding the decision of whether to go to my cousin’s wedding. If it were within a couple hours’ drive we would go, but it’s not – and the airfare for 3 people is ridiculous. It’s an 11-hour drive without traffic and/or rest stops. We have to factor in gas, tolls, multiple nights in different hotels, food, Fox taking time off from work, and who’s going to care for the rats? They need human contact and supervised playtime outside the cage at least once per day. My cousin and her immediate family are the only people we’ll know at the wedding (or in the area), and we have no idea whether we’ll get to spend any time with them besides the event itself. It seems unlikely we’ll even have the opportunity to sight-see, use the hotels’ amenities, or otherwise make a vacation out of it.

Fox left the decision in my hands. The three of us talked about it, I thought about it, and I decided that, given the circumstances, the only reason why I’d go to my cousin’s wedding is because she came to mine, so I want to reciprocate. Honestly, I think a better way to reciprocate would be to send her a particularly useful gift. I told Mom my decision and it seems we all assumed that if I’m not going, then she isn’t either.

She seemed happy to be free from the stress of figuring out travel logistics, but expressed concern about how this will affect her friendship with my cousin’s grandmother. (She said she “might” be going.) We conspired for a while to come up with an explanation she thinks her friend – and, likely, their larger group of friends – will find acceptable. Finally, she said she would think about it and asked us to give her until Monday to decide.

Now I’m hoping she’s not going to try to force me to change my mind because she’s that concerned about what her friends – not my cousin whose wedding it is – will think of her. I’m trying to relieve myself of being responsible for my mother’s emotions. I don’t need to be responsible for her relationships, too.

What it all comes down to is: things are going well for me. I’m happy with my life. I just took a huge step toward completing my master’s degree. I’ve been focusing on what’s important, working hard, emphasizing the positive, and asserting myself. I love asserting myself; it feels wonderful to just say what I want or need! Most of the time, people seem willing to help; if they don’t want to – or can’t – they just say so and I can focus on other possibilities. It’s so freeing!

But it all feels so fragile; one wrong move and my whole life will shatter and I’ll be too depressed to get out of bed (or worse). I just want to know things will be okay, and that it’s not entirely on me to keep them from falling apart. Is that so much to ask?

My Efforts to be Codependent No More – Part One: What’s Codependency and Who’s Got It? (Me!)

I was decluttering when I found some pages I had photocopied from Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie. They include a list of things codependent people tend to do; I had written a number next to each item to represent how often it is a problem for me.

This discovery inspired me to dig up this post from January 2013. If anything, my codependency has gotten worse since I wrote it. I’ve decided to re-post it as a means of re-committing to what I’d started then but never finished: reading and doing the exercises in the book in order to help myself become less co-dependent.

I look over at Fox; he is sleeping. Anger rushes through me; I feel my shoulders and jaw tense. Why does he sleep so much? Doesn’t he want to spend time with me? Maybe he doesn’t love me. Maybe he’s taking advantage of me … coming here, just to sleep in my bed! Maybe it’s my fault he sleeps so much, I should be a better partner. He shouldn’t stay up so late! Doesn’t he care about his health? About me? And if I’m up late he should ask me to come to bed! It’s not fair that I wake so early and he gets to sleep!

I just wish I could get him to sleep and be awake at the same times as me! That way I wouldn’t be sitting here, unsure what to do with myself and feeling guilty for wanting to wake him. I feel sad and alone, abandoned again …

That’s a typical experience for me, especially since I tend to wake earlier than Fox. Until recently, I was convinced his sleeping was my problem; what I needed was to get him to change.  It wasn’t until I wrote Using Words to Say What They Cannot that I first separated the effects of Fox’s behavior on my quality of life from his actual behavior and intentions. Creating that separation helped me to see how, possibly, the problem may lie in how I am perceiving and reacting to his behavior – not the behavior itself.

I’ve started reading Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie. The first four chapters – which make up Part One – clarify what codependency is and help the reader identify aspects of codependency in hirself. Chapters 2-4 end with written activities; I would like to share and reflect upon my responses in this post.

I Can Relate

The activity for Chapter 2 asks the reader which codependents’ stories ze identifies with and why. Without posting the stories for context (and possibly violating copyright), it seems most meaningful to share the aspects of the stories that I identify with the most. Some of them appear in more than one story.

  • losing friends, hobbies, and love for life after entering a committed relationship
  • feeling guilty
  • feeling depressed
  • feeling like I lost myself
  • feeling angry and unappreciated while trying to make others happy
  • endlessly caring for others
  • getting caught up in and trying to control others’ emotions
  • feeling lost or enmeshed in others’ emotions and concerns

These issues come up the most in my relationship with my Mom, followed closely by my relationship with Fox, and to a lesser extent (I think) with Banji – in other words, with the people I’m closest to and who are the most central to my life.

Defining Codependency

There are many different definitions of codependency, each of which explains different aspects of a complex problem. Beattie provides a brief history of codependency to put these definitions into context and convey the meaning(s) of the word more accurately. I encourage interested readers to learn this history.

At the end of Chapter 3, Beattie asks the reader to define codependency for hirself. I combined multiple definitions from throughout the chapter into one:

Codependency is a habitual system of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors directed toward myself and others that cause me pain (p. 38). It arises from allowing another person’s behavior to affect me and wanting/trying to control that person’s behavior (p. 36). It is a result of living much or most of my life with unspoken, silent, oppressive rules that limit my expression of emotion and open, direct discussion of problems (p. 32).

Codependency is why I feel like Fox is controlling me and why I want to change certain aspects of his behavior. It is why I feel so guilty and angry all much of the time. It’s why I find the time I spend with Mom so draining – even when our interactions and endeavors go well! I’m codependent.

But it’s not my fault, it’s essentially how I was raised! My parents and other family members kept secrets and avoided expressing emotion. They didn’t deal with conflict well – they either tried to avoid it, or erupted into screaming arguments that terrified me as a child. They taught me to hide my problems; they didn’t take me seriously.

My responsibility now is to do something about it – not by trying to change anyone else (including my mom, as much as I really wish I could), but by changing myself.

It is time for me to unlearn my codependency.

How Am I Codependent? Let me count the ways …

Chapter 4 is essentially a list of characteristics codependents tend to have. It’s very long, and the majority of items apply to me at least somewhat; many to a strong degree. They are organized into categories: caretaking, low self-worth, repression, obsession, controlling, denial, dependency, poor communication, weak boundaries, lack of trust, anger, sex problems, miscellaneous, and progressive.

The activity at the end of the chapter invites the reader to mark each characteristic with a 0 if it does not apply at all, a 1 if it is “occasionally a problem,” and 2 if it is “frequently a problem.” As I did the activity, there were some items for which I wished I could apply a 3!

This was not part of the activity, but I wanted an easier way to see which categories I need to focus on most to overcome my codependency, so I developed a scoring system. I added my 1’s and 2’s to determine how many “points” I “scored” for each category, then divided it by the maximum possible “points” (number of items, times 2) to learn my percentage. Some of the results surprised me:

  • I scored highest in Anger (91%), followed by Repression (83%), Lack of Trust (79%), and Controlling (75%).
  • Caretaking (68%), Low Self-Worth (67%), and Dependency (67%) did not score as high as I thought they would.
  • Somehow, I scored 66% in Denial. I don’t see how …
  • I only scored 50% in Obsession and Weak Boundaries; I only scored 47% in Poor Communication! These were categories where I would have expected to score much higher!

[June 10, 2014 Update]

I’m kind of in denial about my new scores for these categories; clearly I was too quick to give “2”s to items that should have received “1”s and “1”s to items that should have received “0”s.

I scored 100% in Repression (+17%), 88% in Controlling (+13%) and Anger (-3%), 85% in Dependency (+18%), 82% in Low Self-Worth (+15%), 79% in Lack of Trust (no change) and Progressive, 72% in Caretaking (+4%), 69% in Weak Boundaries (+19%), 63% in Denial (-3%), 60% in Poor Communication (+13%), 56% in Miscellaneous, 50% in Obsession (no change), and 47% in Sex Problems.

[/Update]

Preparing to Change (Myself)

I’m scared to change myself. I don’t want to let go of how I’m used to understanding myself, or my old familiar comfortable habits (even when they hurt me). I don’t want to risk people I love liking me less because of the change.

But I know I really need it and I think I can do it – if I try really hard and allow myself to make mistakes, while remaining committed.

If I begin to change I hope I’ll start to feel better and be happier, more confident, and more capable. Maybe people will like me more – or, at least, I’ll find social interactions easier.

Changing won’t be easy, especially since it’s scary and I think the people I’m closest to and need the most support from will try to keep me the same. But maybe I can tell them what I’m trying to do and ask them to be understanding / try not to take it personally if I’m more assertive, etc. I’m doing what I need to get better!

So Now What?

Part 2 of Codependent No More is comprised of 16 chapters with information and written activities intended to teach the reader how to care for hirself. If I want to do it right, it will take quite a while for me to get through the rest of the book. I’m inclined to do the chapters in order; I might blog about some, most, or possibly all of them.

What are your thoughts on codependency? Do you think you might be codependent? Do you think anyone you know is codependent? Do you have any advice?

Attempt Botched

Yesterday was one of those days a “good depressive citizen” (see last post) just doesn’t talk about. I’d wanted to visit with 2 friends in the early afternoon and overslept. I went online without thinking about it or having breakfast first like a sane person and got eaten by Facebook. Dog started barking at me; my friend texted asking for an ETA. I thought, “shit, I’d intended to get some things done before leaving today.”

I wanted to email my academic adviser but couldn’t figure out what to say. My situation isn’t the kind of thing that can be addressed in a 30-minute advising meeting; those are intended for students who pretty much just need to verify which courses they should take. It’s also not something that can’t wait a week or two – after all, it’s waited this long. I thought (based on his email, which directed students with an urgent concern that needs to be addressed this week to email him) that I’d have to commit to a meeting this week. Trying to think of a time that might work and how to juggle it with my other commitments on the same day was just too stressful.

Dog is medium sized and has a super-sized bark. It makes the oversized wind chimes I have hanging from the ceiling resonate. I’m not afraid of Dog, but when he’s standing right in front of me the bark rattles me. It certainly makes it harder to think straight; I become overwhelmed by anger and an urgent need to shut him up.

I felt guilty about being late but too frazzled to determine and communicate a realistic ETA. I underestimated the time I would need and started trying to get ready. A hasty snack, a much-needed shower, my mind racing with thoughts that had nothing to do with the task I was trying to accomplish. I always seem to think about the stuff I’ve been putting off when I need to go somewhere and can’t do anything about it.

For some reason I thought about my father’s brother, whom my parents had selected to be my godfather. He was supposed to take my father’s place if anything happened to him. Well, my father died, and for a short time it seemed like his brother might at least be able to put a band-aid on the wound. But then I realized he was trying to manipulate me and the shit hit the fan. The closest he’s come to acknowledging my existence since was leaning away from me when I was greeting people at my uncle’s funeral last year.

The anger I feel when Dog barks at me is a drop in the bucket compared to the raging storm that erupted in response to my memory of this old betrayal. I tried to file it away under “things to address with Wakana” – in a red envelope with the word “URGENT” in white letters across the front. But the damage had been done.

I sat on my bed and pulled the last pair of clean sweatpants out of my dresser. I’d decided to wear a T-shirt and throw a sweatshirt over it – nothing fancy, just warm and comfortable. But getting the clothes out of the drawer and onto my body was terrifying. My heart was pounding, all my muscles were tense, my breathing rapid and shallow. I couldn’t move.

I tried to push it all down. I threw my clothes on. I searched for my hairbrush, Dog meandering in front of me when I needed to move quickly and somehow being right behind me when I turned around.

I was about a third of the way through brushing my hair in the bathroom when I realized that I felt like I was running away from a horrible monster. I looked the part, too, except that I wasn’t sprawled on the ground from trying to run in high heels. The tears overwhelmed me; I just couldn’t take it anymore. I sat down on the toilet and cried, angry loud sobs echoing through the room.

My arms brushed my hair, I glanced in the mirror, gave my stamp of approval, and rushed out the door. Both friends were understanding, but one was very loud and that just rattled me even more. We had gathered to play a board game that took several hours the last time we played it, so we set it up as soon and as efficiently as possible.

Fox has a shirt that says “The dice are trying to kill me.” I should have been wearing that shirt, except that it’s an understatement. They were succeeding. I was miserable, but I still wanted to have a chance at winning so I kept taking bigger risks than I should have – and suffering the consequences. It was a gamer’s nightmare.

All the while the loud friend was trying to push the game along. He lectured me for paying attention to what was happening around me instead of planning my next turn – not out of any attempt to help me do better, but because he wanted me to get my turn over with so he could go. At one point he accused the other friend and me of being grumpy. We just looked at each other.

I realized too late that I was starving. Hunger, one of the things I’m supposed to stop and do something about, had gone unchecked for too long. It was almost time for dinner so I decided to wait it out. The not-loud friend won the game. Dinner was delicious and helped me to feel human again.

I got home a bit late but really wanted to watch Frozen, which had arrived in the middle of my efforts to get ready earlier. I didn’t get to go see it in theaters – another thing I’m angry about because it looks like it would be worth seeing in 3D.

I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I will say that I was very angry about how the protagonists’ parents handled the situation and could relate to Elsa all too well. Hide the most powerful and dangerous part of yourself, be a good girl, and learn to control something you don’t understand without any guidance or support. They could have at least given her a realistic definition of the word “control.”

I had 5 mostly good days in a row, and that’s incredible. They involved a lot of socializing. Yesterday, I’m not sure to what extent the weather contributed, but I really needed to spend the day in my ice palace. NOT playing games that take me out of reality, but having some space to explore and express my reality. I could have taken the time to write a very different blog post. I could have found some other way to express my emotions, perhaps through art and/or music. I could have called Wakana.

Which leaves me with today. I’m so tired, all I want to do is sleep and be close to Fox. I have two music lessons scheduled for this afternoon; my thoughts about them are a bundle of contradictions. I want to have the lessons, if nothing else because if I cancel a the last minute I can’t make them up (school policy). I also feel unprepared, guilty about not practicing and embarrassed because I know I won’t be able to play with the level of control I would like to develop. But hiding until I have it won’t work; I need my teachers to help me develop it. I’m so exhausted, all I want to do is sleep – if my mind (and Dog) will let me. It’s so tempting to go ahead and do that, then see how I feel about going to my lessons. The ice palace might build itself today, whether I want it to or not.

What a Wild Week

I couldn’t sleep Wednesday night because I was panicking over my debt and lack of income; I felt like I needed to find a job immediately or the world would end. So instead of sleeping I looked at all the local jobs online; aside from 1 or 2, most of the ones I’m remotely qualified for were unappealing. Still anxious but exhausted, I managed to fall asleep in the wee hours of Thursday morning.

On Thursday I dragged myself to a LGBTQ Safe Space training. I thought it would help me feel more comfortable joining that community and possibly help me get a job I was interested in. I really wish I hadn’t pressured myself to make a good first impression on top of attending the training, because of course it was emotionally intense. I was very anxious just to be there, and just when I was starting to feel safe and accepted by the group we did an activity that ended up being a huge emotional trigger for me. I couldn’t maintain my mask of “sanity” anymore and came out as depressed in front of a potential employer. It was devastating.

But at least I learned about some of the resources that are available to me.

Friday night was game night. The group we were with were mostly older men (age 50+); I was the second-youngest person there and the only biologically-female individual. We played the Game of Thrones board game; I played as Stark trying to defend my snow-covered lands and conquer the lands to the south. Except that I allowed my “ally” next door to talk me out of claiming the nearby territories I needed to have any hope of expansion, and a foe invaded my waters, threatening my homestead! I had to divert resources to defending my lands against possible attack and attempting to reclaim what had once been mine.

But, I found a way to sneak undetected past my “ally’s” lands and waters, to attack a castle that had been claimed by a foolish unsuspecting south-lander! Mwahahaha!!! I took him totally by surprise and won our skirmish quite easily. Shortly afterward, my “ally” finally claimed the castle I’d put off taking as part of our “agreement” and won the game, thus ending it. About time, too – it was after midnight.

As we were packing up the game, the foe whose castle I’d successfully stormed said my move was “sneaky and conniving  – typical of a woman!” I think some flames escaped my nose. (I doubt he would have said my move was typical of anything if he’d perceived me as male.)

“You did NOT just say that!” I replied, my body stiffening in anticipation of a fight.

I could tell everyone was watching us both closely, waiting to see what happened. I had a feeling that anything that did happen would end up being a spectacle for their amusement, possibly to joke about later. I needed to choose my words and actions very carefully.

“I’m going to give you a chance to take that back,” I said.

“It was a very clever move,” he replied, “Well played.”

“Thank you,” I smiled.

The show was over.

Mom and I had intended to leave at 10 am Saturday morning, but were on the road closer to 11:30. She drove through some really nasty weather so we could visit with family members who live about a 4-hour drive away. We got to spend a very pleasant evening with my aunt, uncle, and cousins.

Back to the hotel room late, and I still needed to apply for that job. My inner pessimist – or perhaps it’s a realist – kept saying I wasn’t going to get the job anyway, but I stubbornly ignored it. If I listen to it I’ll never apply for any job. The hours ticked by as I struggled to edit my resume on a tablet; oh, how I missed having a keyboard and mouse! It was so frustrating. But I got it done, and even managed to get a meager amount of sleep.

Up at 9 for free-from-the-hotel breakfast. Time to work on my cover letter (instead of swimming). First of all, I’m not entirely sure what’s supposed to go into a cover letter. Second of all, I was too tired to think, never mind to write a formal letter advertising myself. I got about 2 sentences written. Wasted time fussing over it that I could have spent playing with my cousin’s baby. Yuck. If I could re-live this past weekend, I would decide not to apply for the job, take care of my body, and fully enjoy every moment with my family. (Especially the baby; by the time I see him again he’ll be walking and talking.)

My aunt and uncle have all sorts of crazy health issues and she thinks his purpose for living is to take care of her with no regard for his own needs. I think my aunt feels very threatened by my uncle’s plans to receive double knee replacement surgery because she won’t be able to rely on him as much as she’s used to. (No one’s asking her to help him, just to be less demanding of him.) Mom spent an inordinate amount of time lecturing them both on what he’ll need and what he can realistically expect during recovery. (She didn’t mean to lecture, but that’s how it came across. She’s very concerned about her brother, and so am I.) By the time we left Sunday evening, the “conversation” had degraded into a shouting match and I had a splitting headache.

In the car, Mom couldn’t let it go. She kept repeating the same stuff they’d already been talking about to me. I calmly explained that I was very tired and needed to stop talking about their issues and even got to express some of my own feelings on the matter, and then we dropped it. I spent a good deal of the ride asleep, which was a double-edged sword. On the one hand it was kind of nice to get to rest, but on the other I feel guilty about leaving Mom to drive alone.

Home. Finished the cover letter with a lot of support from Fox. Sent cover letter and resume as PDFs at 1 am.

I basically spent all day Monday sleeping and making not-so-wise food choices. Mom called and said she had been vomiting.

On Tuesday I woke up at 8:30 am feeling queasy and needing to go to the bathroom. About a minute later I was very grateful that I’d run to the bathroom and thought to bring a garbage bag with me. I was also regretting several of my food choices from the day before.

The rest of the day was a lot of sleeping, running to the bathroom, regretting the one time I didn’t run to the bathroom, and being grateful to Fox for buying me some Gatorade. That stuff is amazing.

Yesterday I had a fever, but I was able to eat adult-sized portions of plain pasta without ill effect. I spent a lot of time sleeping and reading. At some point I woke up after a long nap to find my fever had broken. Fox and I were even able to cuddle for a while and watch Voyager. I ended the day by continuing to play a video game I hadn’t touched since early November.

Today I dragged myself out of bed and freshened up a bit in preparation for a Skype session with Wakana that never happened. She returned my call, saying she had overslept and asking if we could reschedule for this evening. I agreed, but I’m disappointed and a little hurt. There’s been a lot of stuff going on that I need to process and this time of year tends to be difficult for me. I need her support, and I need it to be reliable.

Fourth 3-Month Review

I’ve been writing this blog for over a year now – one year and 12 days, to be precise. Wow. I will try to review the whole year before December is over, but for now here’s a look at what the past 3 months have been like.

For your convenience, here are links to my first, second, and third 3-month reviews.

Fox is now up to 5 posts:

  1. Masculinity, Tools of Violence, (etc) (01/15/2013)
  2. From a supporter’s point of view (05/22/2013)
  3. When supporting starts to hurt (06/29/2013)
  4. …and the storm’s energy too. (11/09/2013)
  5. Dancing in the Eye of the Storm (11/10/2013)

I’ve noticed some interconnecting themes in my own posts, namely:

  1. guilt over my rat Schmoozer’s death
  2. frustration with the federal government
  3. getting married
  4. trying to “find a cure” for anxious depression
  5. feeling like my ego/sense of self is under attack
  6. fighting back

Guilt Over Schmoozer’s Death

Schmoozer was a very sweet social rat; I made friends with him as soon as we met. He would eat the treats I gave him right on my lap, hang out on my shoulder, run to me when his brother was bullying him, and willingly do tricks. We had a lot of fun and shared a lot of love with him.

Sadly, he also had respiratory symptoms that got worse and worse. Antibiotics seemed to help the first couple times we tried them, but they eventually became ineffective. I was having a hard time with my depression, wedding planning, adjusting to sharing my apartment with Fox, mourning the death of one of my undergraduate mentors, and lack of healthcare. It made it very hard for me to also cope with his illness.

I became addicted to a new video game at just the wrong time: when Schmoozer’s symptoms started to become severe. Instead of bringing him to a vet right away, I tried to block out the sounds of his labored breathing, wishing they would go away. We tried to get him help, but too late, way too late.
(Hole)

The guilt was horrible, and can still become horrible if I let it. Taking Trouble to the vet when his respiratory symptoms flared up brought on a whole new wave of guilt. We were able to implement a treatment that seemed to help a great deal (his symptoms have been less severe since), but I wished I’d been able to do that for Schmoozer and hated myself for it.
(The Trouble with Feeding Demons)

The past few weeks I’ve started to be able to think about Schmoozer and just reminisce fondly, feeling a little happy remembering the good times while sad that he’s gone. I’ve started being able to forgive myself for not taking the best possible care of him. To accept that we just have one rat now, Trouble, and to bond with him.

Trouble is quite a sweet and loveable little critter himself, and I’m glad I have the opportunity to really get to know and love him. That doesn’t make me miss Schmoozer any less – but it does allow me to be present in the here-and-now, caring for my loved ones and myself. I’m no longer imprisoned by the guilt.

Frustration with the Federal Government

I, along with the rest of the U.S. population, found the government shutdown in October very frustrating. If I could do one thing with my life right now, I’d fix the government to make that kind of irresponsible behavior impossible.

I love my country and want it to be the “land of prosperity” it’s been advertised as, “with liberty and justice for all.” It drives me nuts that the reality of living in the U.S. is so divergent from these ideals, especially since it doesn’t have to be this way. We have plenty of models for how we can make life so much better for 99% of the population, but our “representatives” in government care more about lining their own pockets with diamonds than making sure every citizen of this country is fed. (Diamonds are the most expensive substance it would be practical to line one’s pockets with, according to this site.)

And while they’re playing golf, picking their noses, or making arbitrary decisions about women’s health – and allowing vitally important bills affecting millions of people to rot on their desks – I am in a financial crisis. I have student loans to repay, I’m still waiting to find out whether I’ll have health insurance in January, my savings are basically gone, and I’m lost regarding where to find a job – assuming I can function well enough to successfully apply for and then keep it.
(Shut Down; Running Red)

For sake of argument, let’s say I can. I think I’m much better qualified to represent everyday people and make laws affecting them than most members of the GOP – especially the Tea Party. I would love to have their job; I might even be able to cope with the frustration of having to deal with them directly. At least then I’d be able to take some kind of action (and get paid!) instead of just feeling hopeless. I’m kind of wishing I’d had any success in leadership of school clubs, taken at least one political science course, run for local office, otherwise become involved my community, and/or saved money for a campaign …

But seriously, will someone please pay me a living wage to fix the government via activism or something?

Getting Married

About the only thing that went the way I expected it to was that Fox and I were beaming at each other through most of the ceremony. And the toasts – especially Banji’s – were awesome. If I ever do run for political office, I know who I want to write my speeches.

I was very, very anxious about getting married. In October I spent inordinate amounts of time playing The Sims 3 to try and convince myself that there was, indeed, life after marriage – and that I could still accomplish my goals (including having a successful career while also raising a functional family).
(Aarghle Flarghle Blarghle!!!)

As the day drew closer (and I accomplished necessary tasks such as getting my dress hemmed) I started to feel a sense of peace. I accepted that I didn’t know what would come next, but I felt ready to face it with Fox at my side.
(The Calm Before the Storm – Um, Wedding)

Then I learned that people have their own ideas about what being married means, and at best they will assume that you share (or conform to) those ideals without asking you first. Loved ones condensed my glorious name into “and Mrs.” (Fox Tamesis), put their concepts of the divine in the middle of our relationship, and assigned us gendered roles. My mom’s friend commented on how (she thought) my deceased father would feel about a daughter who never got to develop an adult relationship with him marrying a man he never met. Worse, she was commenting on a picture of my mom and me, inserting him into the memory of a special moment between us.
(Breaking and Entering)

Whatever my wedding meant to me, everyone else saw it through their own lens. Come to think of it, no one has asked what the wedding meant to me, or Fox for that matter. They seem to prefer telling us what it means, what we need to do, etc.

Right now it means that I have to spend The Holidays changing my name on important legal documents because the county clerk’s office waited over a month to certify my marriage. Right now it means I’m wishing I’d elected NOT to change my name, to save myself the headache. I’ll let you know what it means after all this BS is said and done, and I’m not in some weird transition period that NOBODY TALKS ABOUT even though the majority of women who marry in the United States go through it.

(It means that when I’m twitching after writing the above sentence at 1 o’clock in the morning, the love of my life can reach over and touch me and look into my eyes reassuringly, because he lives here, and no one has any reason or “right” to question it.)

Trying to “Find a Cure” for Anxious Depression

It all started with a Daily Prompt by the Daily Post: “If you could create a painless, inexpensive cure for a single ailment, what would you cure and why?”

In my attempt to answer the prompt, I learned that I’m not alone in viewing my anxiety and depression as symptoms of one disorder; there is even a name for the disorder: anxious depression. One article in particular linked anxious depression to a unique biological condition: hyperactivity in the HPA axis. If only there were a way to address this directly through a safe, effective, affordable pill, I wouldn’t have much to write about on this blog.
(A Cure for Anxious Depression)

I know even less about developing medication than I do about being a successful politician, so I’ll leave that to the experts. In the meantime, there are a lot of lifestyle changes I can make to help myself feel better, maybe even fully recover from anxious depression. (Gosh, I’d practically be a different person. I can’t even imagine it.)

Thing is, in case anyone missed the dripping sarcasm in “I Dream of Jarvis,” changing one’s entire lifestyle – and being consistent with it – is really, really hard. Especially when coping with mental illness. Fight maladaptive patterns of thought and behavior by changing your thoughts and behavior – seriously, if we could just do that, we wouldn’t have mental illness.

It seems to be the only viable solution, though, so I decided to try and use technology – affordable, portable, accessible (without having to make phone calls), and did I mention affordable technology – to make it easier. Technology that won’t resent you for making it use all its energy to meet your needs. Technology that won’t care if you curse at it. Technology that won’t have anger or unmet narcissistic needs or mood swings to take out on you. Technology that won’t get sick or oversleep or want a vacation – well, as long as you keep its battery charged.

To be completely honest, I need to go back to my notes (if I can find them) to remember my specific ideas about what this technology should be able to do. But the thing that would make it unique is that it would have a way to pick up on the user’s mood and attempt to help if the user seems anxious, very sad, stuck, etc. It would be able to learn what to say to help the user become unstuck, break the cycle of increasingly devastating thoughts, and focus on whatever is important in that moment. Kind of like the loving mommy voice that’s developed in my psyche, but louder and more reliable.

I’ve started taking a Coursera course about developing Android apps, acquired an Android tablet, and discovered some apps I’ve found quite useful. I’m not always consistent with using the apps and I have some catching up to do in the course, but it’s a start.
(Taking the First Steps; There’s an App for That)

I recently had a few days when I forgot to take my SAM-e, Omega 3, B Complex, and Vitamin D supplements; those days were really horrible. When I realized that feeling horrible coincided with not taking the supplements, I started taking them more regularly. And lo, I’ve felt better – not amazing, but functional, even in fairly stressful situations. I don’t know if they’re as effective as psychiatric medication, but they do seem to be helping.

Under Attack!!!

A second theme in several of the posts I’ve already reviewed is feeling like my ego/sense of self is under attack. The person underneath my strengths, weaknesses, achievements, shortcomings, and quirks is under attack. To be honest I’m not even sure such a person exists, or ever fully developed; “I” feel more like a compilation of emotions, interests, thought patterns, etc. than a coherent whole. Sometimes I even have opposite responses to the same experience at the same time, as though “I’m” two (or more) people with different tastes and perspectives.

In this quarter, the theme first emerged at the end of Running Red, when I wrote about the “gory, unsettling” images that haunted me. They were a part of myself that’s been hidden for some time, that I thought died when I learned my father had passed away. She’s been suffering for a long time, collecting the wounds from all the times I’ve been hurt psychologically, especially the thoughts I’ve had of (intentionally) hurting myself. If anyone is under attack, she most certainly is.

In Escape to Dragon Valley pt. 2 I almost become defensive of one of my sims, Carina, who focuses more on her career than on raising her family. She wants to belong and be a loving mother, but she also has very powerful work-related aspirations. How does one balance those drives? Is it even possible? What do I want, and how can I achieve it? I don’t know.

Mom said some very hurtful things, which I wrote about in The Trouble with Feeding Demons. Hearing that money is more important than my psychological well-being really does not help me feel like a person.

Around the time I wrote The Calm Before the Storm – Um, Wedding I read several “feminist” articles about why a woman shouldn’t change her name when she gets married, arguing that it’s giving up your identity. I think they have a point (especially given how the rest of society seems to perceive the tradition), but what about the opportunity to define one’s own identity? What about personal choice? How about a break from being told what to do?

The truth is, I questioned my choice, after I’d made it and could no longer change it, and that scared me. But I stand behind my reasons for making it and like how my new last name sounds with my first (and middle) name(s). I just wish there was more room for me to get used to it and express what it means to me, without other people imposing their own opinions. I’ve been meaning to write an article titled “Do you want to change your name when you get married?” that makes it clear it’s a personal choice, while providing useful information and perhaps some different perspectives.

Breaking and Entering was all about feeling like my ego was under attack. I don’t really have anything to add to what I already wrote under “Getting Married” – except that I really needed my mother to back off on the ride home and let me enjoy my recently-formed memories.

The theme also comes out quite powerfully in Permission to Be, which describes a lifetime – my lifetime – of hiding who I really am to please (or avoid intimidating) others. It’s really hard to feel like a person when I can’t even fully own my strongest talent.

Fighting Back

I’m (almost) always fighting back in my posts, if nothing else by writing them. Some of the stronger examples of this are:

  • learning from the experiences described in Hole and using them to give Trouble a much better, longer life
  • allying with my hurt inner child in Running Red
  • saying I’m not ready to put my toys away at the end of Breaking and Entering
  • deciding to create the thing I need and wish I had to facilitate recovery in I Dream of Jarvis

Perhaps the strongest way I’m fighting back against the attacks on my sense of self is by taking care of myself. By recognizing that important elements of self care are things I do just for me – not to make life easier for anyone else or because society dictates that I must. If I want a space to exist I need to carve it out and defend its boundaries. There are little things I can do every day to accomplish that and feel good.
(Just for Me)

Thanks for reading, and happy holidays!

Permission To Be

The knots in my muscles
Were my cage armor
But you smoothed them out
Taught sore muscles to relax
And set the demons free

My massage on Thursday was bittersweet. The therapist did a really excellent job of massaging the areas that really needed it. She succeeded in getting muscles to relax that had been clenched for so long, I’d forgotten what it felt like not to be tense.

Physically, and to some extent emotionally, it felt wonderful. But those muscles held thoughts and memories that were too difficult for me to deal with at the time. As they came flooding back, the primary emotion I felt was guilt. I felt guilty for everything.

As I realized this, I tried to figure out who it was I needed to apologize to. Deep, very deep, inside, I found the little girl who is hurting so much. I apologized – for not protecting her, for not listening to her, for siding with the people who questioned and ridiculed her.

And she forgave me.

It’s not your fault. You were hurt just as much as me. My pain is your pain, my anger your anger. We’ve both been wronged.

I find it easier to feel guilty than to accept that reality. If I’ve done something wrong, at least there’s something I can do about it: I can punish myself. Take that away and all I have is sadness and anger. Unquenchable anger I cannot direct at anyone.

To a child, the adults in hir life are gods. Any anger they provoke is best turned inward; better to suffer one’s own wrath than theirs. I learned that one the hard way and spent most of my life thinking I’d deserved to be physically and emotionally abused. I’ve been emotionally, and at times physically, abusing myself.

Fox and I visited with a couple of friends only hours after the massage. We played two board games. Through a combination of luck and (dare I say it?) excellent strategy I won the first game twice. The second game is very complex and challenging and I was struggling with severe depression symptoms, so I (felt like I) wasn’t able to use as good a strategy. I was winning for most of the game and came in second out of four players – despite being on the verge of tears, having trouble making decisions, and thinking I was doing poorly because I hadn’t advanced in certain areas as much as the other players had.

I think, deep down, I was proud of myself for doing as well as I did. I’m proud now, as I write this. But at the time I didn’t – couldn’t – feel it. Instead I felt guilty for winning the first game because my success required that my friends didn’t do as well, and therefore were disappointed.

I started the second game with a strong strategy, but backed off in response to innocuous comments about how it was affecting the dynamics of the game; without that strategy I felt lost, like I was constantly trying to catch up. I couldn’t see how well I’d done or that it was a good thing; when I realized I’d managed to come in second I felt worse.

I noticed a disconnect between my thoughts and emotions / emotion-related bodily sensations that I found very disconcerting. I mentioned it to Wakana during our session on Friday and told her about feeling guilty when I won the games.

She tied it into my experiences growing up (and my relationship with my mother). From what I remember, at least, I really lacked adult advocates. The staff at the after school program punished me when the other kids knocked down the zoo I’d been building (Breaking and Entering). The teachers and principal at my elementary and middle school didn’t know what to do with a gifted female student who consistently got much higher grades than her predominantly male classmates. They tended to penalize me – by not calling on me, taking away the book I was reading because I was bored in class, and raising the other kids’ grades to be comparable to mine without giving me any praise or benefit for doing as well as I did. They didn’t stand up for me when I was bullied by the male students, but punished me when I retaliated.

When I entered high school I wanted to remain as anonymous as possible to avoid the wrath of my peers. I had some friends whom I unfortunately didn’t have many classes with; I didn’t make friends with the other students in my honors and AP classes. That was a mistake; I felt ostracized most of the time and resented by my “friends” for consistently earning first honors.

My experiences in college taught me that I’d focused on academics to the detriment of my social and emotional development; though I still did well enough in school to graduate magna cum laude I feel like I’m wrong for “boasting” about it. I know it’s an accomplishment, but it doesn’t seem like something most people in most settings would appreciate.

The graduate classes I’ve taken so far have been wonderful because I’ve felt about average to perhaps above average among my classmates – definitely not the smartest, most capable, or most talented person in the room. I’ve felt like my contributions have been appreciated AND I’ve learned a lot from my classmates.

The undergraduate classes I took while in graduate school expanded and enriched my understanding of the world a great deal; I feel very fortunate to have taken them. I learned a great deal in them, from the other students as well as the course materials. But I did notice a difference in the level of critical thinking I’ve become accustomed to, compared with what is expected at the undergraduate level. I often felt very different from the other students because of this.

Maybe masquerading as an undergraduate student wasn’t the best idea. It taught me to once again hide a very significant portion of who I am, to deny one of my greatest strengths. I’m smart. I love to be challenged intellectually. I’m very good at learning – not only ingesting knowledge, but thinking critically about it and applying it to situations. I’m also very good at doing research, organizing the information, and drawing conclusions from / making an argument based on it. I have at least 8 years of experience. References available upon request.

So I’ve focused on my academic development to the detriment of my social and emotional development, lacked support in developing healthy, honest relationships with the majority of my peers, and learned to hide the very thing that has been my primary strength in some weird misguided effort to “fit in.” I like to think that I would have done very well in school anyway, because I’m naturally good at learning and take pleasure in producing well-written (and edited!) papers.

But I did most of it – especially in my younger years – because it’s what my parents needed. They needed their daughter to get straight As, so I did. An A was never an accomplishment (until I reached college). It was making ends meet. Getting by. Survival.

Wakana beckoned me to the piano to sing and express how I felt about all of this. She started playing chords and asked if they sounded appropriate to how I was feeling; I just kind of went along with it because I felt like I didn’t have an opinion, and if I did it didn’t matter.

I apologized for not being the perfect daughter. Wakana sang that there is no such thing as perfect, and started repeating “I’m enough” in the defiant, insistent voice that comes out when we’re practicing setting boundaries. She tried to get me to join her, but I couldn’t say it with conviction. I asked it once or twice before breaking down into tears.

The whole world says I’m not enough, and I’m afraid to show them the truth because it goes against the dominant values in society. I don’t want to be further ostracized. I don’t want to be hurt any more than I’m already hurting myself.

I Dream of Jarvis

I’ve been having a difficult time since my and Fox’s legal marriage ceremony. The worst was when I broke down in tears in the shower, plagued by thoughts such as “I’m a waste of resources.” It’s not the words themselves so much as really believing them, not having anything left in me to try and refute them. How does one refute one’s own brain, anyway?

I was lost.

Wakana said it was because I allowed myself to become too enmeshed with Fox, going along with what he wanted and making excuses to neglect my own wants and needs. “You’re acting like Mrs. Fox Tamesis!”

She encouraged me to keep asserting myself, to demand to be recognized as a separate person, to act like a separate person, to prioritize my own needs. She helped me to find a practical outlet for my emotions: writing and performing songs about the things that get me so angry, I finally feel alive and motivated to do something. This would enable me to express myself and practice the music skills I need to develop in order to feel confident applying for internships, while also possibly influencing how others think about the topic. (I have yet to actually act on this, by the way.)

‘Cause that’s the thing, I know how to recover from anxious depression. I’ve written about the different aspects that go into it for almost a year now. I have most of the tools at my fingertips; the only part that might be a bit difficult for me to access is medication because first I need health insurance, then I need a good in-network psychiatrist, then we need to work together to find something that works for me.

But the rest? It’s just a matter of changing my entire lifestyle and staying consistent with it, especially when I want to do it the least. No single thing I can’t do.

Reading books and applying their wisdom about how to change my thought processes, check. Forcing myself to smile when I notice myself frowning (it really feels much better – physically first, then emotionally), check. Taking SAM-e, Omega 3, Vitamin D, and a B-complex first thing in the morning, easy peasy. Exercising until I start to sweat, piece of cake. Eating mostly healthy foods and having dessert foods as a treat … that’s a little bit harder, but I can do it. Going to bed and waking up at decent hours, sure! Thanking the universe for the good things in my life, fun and simple. Listening to music, fantastic. Heck, I can make my own!

Actually, I could probably do all these things in one day and still have time to watch Star Trek: Voyager
with Fox. The problem isn’t knowing what to do or even doing one or all of them.

The problem is doing it consistently. The problem is doing it when I wake up hating the world and myself. The problem is doing it when my brain gets stuck in its awful feedback loop that paralyzes me and leaves me feeling like crap. Whatever I feel the most guilty about (e.g. Schmoozer‘s suffering and death), it makes me relive the moment of my horrendous failure, the crushing guilt, the devastating grief, the simmering anger. It rips me to shreds and leaves me lying there bleeding.

“Exercise is great for treating depression.”

“Think of one positive thing.”

Don’t get me wrong. The people who say these things are trying to help. They care a great deal. And I appreciate that they’re trying to help me. I want to take their advice, not just complain about it.

But they’re not here to remind me of these things when I need them the most, such as before my brain gets stuck. When I just woke up. When I’m on Facebook instead of exercising.

I think I said it best in my reply to someone’s comment on my post, A Cure for Anxious Depression:

I’ve been increasingly feeling like I need someone to get me going in the morning, get me to exercise, make sure I’m eating healthy (including cooking for me when I don’t have the energy) and taking my supplements, remind me to think those positive thoughts. But I can’t ask my mom to do it and I think that would be a lot to ask of Fox, especially since he could use the encouragement, too. Hiring someone to do those things isn’t really an option; I’d practically need the person to live with me.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Even if it is possible to hire someone to live with me (that would get awkward, considering Fox & I have a one-bedroom apartment!) and dedicate all their time and energy to making sure I’m doing what I need to take care of myself, there is no way in hell I’d be able to afford their fee. No way! And besides, it seems a really cruel thing to ask of another human being.

Enter Jarvis, stage left. He’s an artificial intelligence who helps Tony Stark do absolutely amazing things in the Iron Man movies. He helps design Stark’s suits, is essentially their operating system, and is there interacting with Stark throughout his adventures. A constant companion who is calm, provides useful information, never gets angry, never berates Stark, and even reminds him of things like the importance of sleep. He’s always on, always paying attention; he always seems to notice and care when Stark is having a hard time.

Oh how I wish I had something like that! Something that would wake me up in the morning with a reminder of what’s good in my life and encouragement to have a nice healthy satisfying breakfast. Something that would tell me when it’s time to take my supplements and exercise and go to bed. Something that would be able to tell when I was feeling so sad and/or anxious it was interfering with my ability to function. Something that could say just the right thing to stop the feedback loop and bring me back to reality. Something that could come everywhere with me, a constant companion, who would exist solely to meet the needs that weren’t met when I was a child and can’t be met in my current, adult relationships. Something I could program on the days when my brain is working, to compensate for when it isn’t.

I’m pretty sure such a program doesn’t exist – yet. But the pieces are there, scattered about in existing technology, just waiting to be combined and used.

Going back to the metaphor in my last post: There are blocks of varying shapes and sizes; bins full of zebras, giraffes, and lionesses; straight and curved train track pieces that all fit perfectly together; and in the palm of my hand is the engine of the train. I even have some ideas about how to get started.

But this time I’m asking the other kids to build a zoo with me, so we’ll all get to play with it once it’s finished and no one will want to knock it down.

Dear readers, you are the other kids. If any of this sounds at all intriguing, please contact me! The best ways to do so (in this order) are to comment on this post, fill out this web form, or email ziyatam@hotmail.com. I could really use some help from one or more people experienced in computer programming and/or software engineering.

What do you think about using a computer program or app as support for improving mental health?

What would you want such a program or app to be able to do?

How can we make the program or app accessible to everyone?