Sims 3 Legacy: Beyond the Veil

This is the fifth installment of my Sims 3 Legacy; I’m halfway to my goal of 10 generations! Today’s post picks up where Part 4 left off: with Oma pregnant very soon after her high school graduation.

Legacy Family

Oma gave birth to a boy (whom she named Patrick), followed soon after by a girl (Penny).

This served as a sort of wake up call for her uncle Nash: he wasn’t getting any younger, and he wanted to be sure his nieces’ children would have plenty of adults available to care for them. So, he reopened his workshop and built a second simbot, whom he named Kim.

Back-profile view of an older man (left) looking at a silver metal anthropomorphic robot (center).

Kim (right) tells Nash (left) about zir awesome features. Nash’s other, non-sentient inventions are visible in the background.

A man crouches with arms extended to a toddler with long hair, who is standing with hands extended toward the man's face. A robot stands holding a male toddler, who appears to be laughing.

Nash (center) teaches Penny to walk, while Kim (right foreground) tickles Patrick.

Nash died soon afterward, much to his chagrin. His love of inventing had been reawakened, there were new children to help raise… but he was out of time. Though his legacy wasn’t quite as world-changing as he’d wanted, Nash tried to take comfort in the fact that he had created a simbot who outlived him. Death claimed Nash as ze must do to all sims.

Oma had always been uniquely attuned to the reality beyond the grave, so it seemed only natural for her to become a ghost hunter. At first she was called upon to capture simple spirits who had lost their self-identity – and whom her clients found annoying. Most of these spirits turned out to be friendly, scared, or hurting. Oma discovered that, by catching and releasing them, she could enable these spirits to be at peace.

It is nighttime in a clearing surrounded by trees. A young woman in a yellow jumpsuit holds out a container. Above her, a bright green semi-transparent ghost-like shape rises out of the container.

Oma releases a recently-captured spirit into the night.

Oma quickly built a reputation as a successful ghost hunter, which brought a welcome influx of clients. She was increasingly called upon to eliminate ghostly presences that made her clients feel uneasy in their own homes, and that at times even threatened clients’ safety. These ghosts were sentient and took forms similar to the ones they’d had in life. Oma found they simply needed someone to be compassionate and reassure them that it was safe to let go of this existence.

The image features a man (left) who is purple, transparent, and wearing chain mail. He is shaking hands with a woman wearing a yellow jumpsuit (right).

Oma (right) shakes hands with a ghost (left) whom she has convinced to move on.

Meanwhile, Oma’s sister Olive graduated high school and joined a criminal organization in hopes of someday becoming a master thief. She had an affair with her superior (a fairy named Luis Case) and birthed a son (whom she named Paul). Olive has been working hard and rising in the ranks (despite numerous arrests).

A large family poses in front of a beach scene.

Patrick (left), Nicole (holding Paul), Kim (center), Olive, Oma (right), and Penny (seated in foreground) pose for a family photo at the summer festival.

Proud to have 3 grandchildren, Nicole spent much of her time caring for Patrick, Penny, and especially Paul. As the children became more independent, she dedicated increasing amounts of time to alchemy. Nicole created a large stock of elixirs, which should prove useful to current and future generations.

A woman with gray hair uses a long wooden spoon to stir the contents of an opaque cauldron. A large book lies open on a stand to her right.

Nicole stirs one of her many artfully-crafted elixirs.

When Death came for Nicole on Spooky Day, she greeted zir with grace and gratitude. Ze had given her children, who in turn gave her grandchildren. Now, after a long full life, ze offered her rest.

The family, though saddened, has been doing quite well. Kim – inspired by Nicole’s artistic brilliance – has developed a love of painting. Patrick has grown up to be quite the socialite; he loves making new friends and is always ready to throw a party. Penny loves everything having to do with music and works diligently to master a variety of instruments. Paul – brilliant, ambitious, and… a bit odd – is doing well in high school.

Several sims wearing formal wear pose in front of a snowy backdrop.

Paul (seated, front left), Oma (standing, left), Kim, Penny (center), Olive, and Patrick (right) pose for a family photo soon after Penny’s high school graduation.

A woman plays an electronic keyboard outdoors. Behind her, a large excavated area reveals a platform with an ornate door featuring images of the grim reaper.

Penny (center) plays her portable keyboard near the excavation site. A small group of sims (left) listen to her play. In the right background, a tourist converses with Death.

Family Tree

I have expanded the Legata family tree, pictured below, to include the newest generation. On the far left, the symbol for Nash is now crossed out to indicate that he is deceased. Kim is represented by a diamond (filled with black to indicate that ze is a simbot); a blue arrow points from Nash to Kim to show that Nash built zir. The symbol for Nicole is also crossed out to show that she is deceased.

The symbol for Oma (bottom center) is connected to the one for Quintin Beaulieu with a blue dotted line to indicate that they dated briefly. The symbol for Olive (next to Oma) is connected to the one for Luis Case with a pink dashed line to show that they had an affair – that is, Luis cheated on his girlfriend with Olive. The symbols for Luis and his sister Tanesha are filled with green to show that they are fairies. The symbols for their (divorced) parents are filled with gray to show that their supernatural status is unknown.

Finally, the symbols for Patrick, Penny, and Paul (far bottom) are filled with yellow to indicate that they – like their mothers, grandmother (Nicole), great-grandmother, and great-great grandmother (Lisa) – are all witches!

The Legata Family Tree, generations 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

The Legata Family Tree, generations 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

A Place for the Dead

The Legatas expanded Nash’s astronomy tower downward to create their own private catacombs. On the first level they interred Nash and Nicole, whose remains had been cremated. Their urns rest on a table, surrounded by flowers, with their portraits on the wall behind them.

A gray stone wall with two portraits on it, behind a dark table. On the table are two white urns with gold embellishments, one in front of each portrait.

The memorial to Nash (left) and Nicole (right), inside the newly-built Legata family catacombs.

Legacy House

I expanded the legacy house so all the bedrooms – 5 in total – are on the second floor. The bedrooms on the first floor have been converted: the one near the front of the house is now a playroom/nursery and features a porch opening out onto a playground. The bedroom in the right back corner of the house is now an alchemy lab, and the one in the back center is… essentially a hallway. A large addition to the front left of the house features a double staircase going up to the second floor. I added doorways to facilitate movement from room to room.

The first floor of the legacy house, with most walls cut away to show all the rooms. Kim reads in the livingroom (near the center of the house).

The first floor of the legacy house, with most walls cut away to show all the rooms. Kim reads in the living room (near the center of the house).

The second floor features two full bathrooms, five bedrooms, and plenty of hallway space. The hallway has easels for painting and is often the location of impromptu music performances. Two of the bedrooms are intended for one sim, and two feature double beds. The bedroom in the back left has three single beds – one for each of the children born in this generation.

The second floor of the legacy house, with most walls cut away to make all the rooms visible. The back center bedroom is dark because Olive is sleeping in it.

The second floor of the legacy house, with most walls cut away to make all the rooms visible. The back center bedroom is dark because Olive is sleeping in it.

A large 2-story house surrounded by a fence. A two-car garage is visible in the left front. There is a tower in the left rear, surrounded by graves. A fenced-in garden and playground are visible in the far right.

The legacy lot and surrounding countryside.

The Next Generation

Penny has started casually dating the young adult male sim behind and slightly to the right of her in the image where she’s playing piano. It seems likely she might start having children with him the next time I play… 😉

Speaking of which, I’ve been feeling a lot less temptation to play The Sims 3. There’s definitely a correlation: the worse I feel, the more I play. The better I feel, the less I play – because I’m too busy doing other awesome real-world things. I also tend to feel worse as a result of playing The Sims 3, especially when it’s slow and glitching or I’ve made the mistake of giving my sims autonomy. The absolute worst is when I let it eat my whole day (or multiple days…).

So, yeah. I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot with my Sims 3 Legacy; I’m quite proud of it. I might even be able to just end it here: reread my posts, look at the succession of family portraits, pat myself on the back, and walk away. Of course, the more I think about it, the more tempted I am to boot it up as soon as I publish this blog post…

My point is, if I continue playing, it will be for the fun of playing the game. I might continue the Legacy Challenge. I might make a new game so I can explore aspects of my existing expansions that I still haven’t gotten to yet. I might just make ridiculous sims or build incredible houses. That’s kind of the point: it’s a sandbox game.

If I continue this legacy, I’ll definitely post about it. The posts will just be a lot less frequent.

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Sims 3 Legacy: The Next Generation (Reprise)

On Sunday I introduced the founder of my new Sims 3 Legacy family. This post continues her story and introduces her twin daughters.

Legacy Family

Meet the Legata family, pictured below. Lisa (standing, far back) is the legacy founder, the sim I made in Create a Sim. Melanie (seated in front) was the first twin to be born; she is a witch like Lisa. Mira (standing, middle) was the second twin to be born; she is a werewolf like her father (not pictured).

An autumn scene: trees in the background with orange leaves, pumpkins on either side. A woman poses in the middle with 2 children in front of her, one standing and the other seated in the foreground.

Lisa Legata (back) poses for a “Spooky Day” picture with her daughters: Mira (middle) and Melanie (front).

I created the family tree below using Genopro Genealogy Software. I’m using color coding to show how supernatural status (human, witch, werewolf, etc.) is passed down from one generation to the next. The symbols for the twins’ paternal grandparents (top left: Bennie & Lonnie Dean) are shaded gray because their supernatural status is unknown. The X through Lonnie’s symbol indicates that she is deceased. The symbol for the twins’ father (George Dean) is filled with reddish brown to show that he is a werewolf, as is the symbol for Mira (bottom right). The symbols for Lisa (top right) and Melanie (bottom left) are filled with yellow to show that they are both witches.

The line connecting George and Lisa is blue and dotted to show that they had a short-term, uncommitted relationship – in other words, they dated for a while. Melanie and Mira are connected to this line at the same point, forming a bottomless triangle, to indicate that they are fraternal twins. (If they were identical, the triangle would be complete.) Symbols for sims in my active household (the Legata family) are considerably larger than symbols for sims outside the household (Bennie, Lonnie, and George Dean).

a genogram depicting 3 generations of a family

The Legata Family Tree, generations 0, 1, and 2.

Raising the twins on her own was not easy, especially since Lisa was also working full time. She struggled to manage everyone’s needs and teach the toddlers skills essential for their development. Due to their rough start, I was unable to select traits for the twins when they grew up into children. Melanie gained the “grumpy” trait, which has elements similar to my experience of depression (when it’s relatively mild): she can function normally most days, but her mood is lower than it would be for sims without the trait, all other things being equal. At times she feels sad or angry for no reason. It is difficult for her to enthuse about the good things in her life, including her accomplishments. Some days she randomly wakes up feeling “out of sorts,” which affects her entire day (23 hour moodlet). This predisposes her to worse moods and limits her ability to feel happy.

The twins were less dependent as children, so life in the Legata household became much easier. Lisa alternated among progressing her career, developing the magic skills she would need to cure transformed sims (her life goal), and caring for her children. Melanie and Mira did well in school and enjoyed playing dress up and pretend. Mira discovered a lifelong love for transforming into a werewolf and hunting for metals, gems, and insects.

Melanie’s magic abilities didn’t manifest until she was a teenager, but once they did she began enthusiastically learning new spells. Each twin held down a part-time job through high school. Unfortunately they missed a lot of school due to snow days, so they were barely able to pass with acceptable grades (B and higher). I was able to choose a trait for Melanie, who had taken advantage of an opportunity that boosted her grade to A. Mira was assigned a random, relatively neutral trait. They were both thrilled to graduate from high school and enter young adulthood.

An older woman stands with two young adult women wearing graduation caps and gowns. They are surrounded by spring flowers.

Lisa, Mira, and Melanie on graduation day!

As soon as they graduated, Melanie entered politics and Mira joined the military. Their life goals are to become the Leader of the Free World and an Astronaut, respectively. Toward those ends, they have been training and networking relentlessly; Melanie has become quite the expert at hosting fun and profitable campaign fundraisers!

Meanwhile, Lisa continued climbing the journalism career ladder, while simultaneously using magic whenever possible. She magically upgraded every appliance, electronic, and plumbing fixture in the house. She cast good luck charms on everyone she met. She even gave in to the temptation to turn sims into toads! But no matter how much she practiced and experimented and studied, she could not learn the spells necessary to accomplish the kind of magical healing that had been her lifelong goal.

So, instead, she focused on her career (in other words, I used her happiness points to buy the “change lifetime wish” aspiration award) and became a rather prolific writer. Among other things, she wrote: two memoirs, a survey of the supernaturals in Riverview, and an exploration of Possible Solutions to Riverview’s Zombie Problem. Lisa’s dedication (that is, my gaming strategy) paid off: she fulfilled her late-in-life goal of becoming a Star News Anchor! She looks forward to retiring and (hopefully) helping to raise grandchildren.

Three women sit around a fire pit at night, roasting food items. There is snow on the ground and they are wearing heavy coats.

Lisa, Mira, and Melanie roast food items over a fire pit.

Legacy House

To be honest, I probably haven’t been expanding the legacy house as much as I should be: the whole family is still sharing one bedroom. It’s not a particularly large bedroom either; Melanie and Mira never graduated from sharing bunk beds. However, they now have a state-of-the art kitchen, spacious dining room, and outdoor eating area complete with a very nice grill. Each of these rooms has a dishwasher and trash compactor, so there is no excuse for leaving dirty dishes everywhere. I also added a half bath, which is accessible via the dining room. Mira’s garden is visible in the background of the screenshot below; it looks like it’s coming out of the bedroom wall, but it’s actually a separate outdoor space, fenced off to protect her plants from zombies.

The interior of a house at night with the lights on. The house is surrounded by snow. The trunks and lower branches of leafless trees are visible in the background.

The legacy house with some walls cut away to show all the rooms. Picture taken on the diagonal with the front porch/original gazebo to the far right.

The Next Generation

Melanie and Mira have lived through most of their young adulthood; Melanie will become a full-fledged adult in a few game days. Being a werewolf gives Mira a longer lifespan, so she has an additional week to enjoy life as a young adult. My current plan is for Melanie to start having children soon: she was born first, making her the heir; if for some reason she’s unsuccessful, Mira will have more time to step in as heir before she becomes an elder and loses her ability to get pregnant. However, I’m running into some difficulty:

Melanie is having trouble finding a suitable mate. The game assigned her a romantic interest when she was in high school, but she doesn’t want to pass his traits on to her children. She should have asked to “just be friends” a long time ago, but that’s a “mean” interaction and she’s friendly. She’s become romantic interests with someone else, whose traits are ideal, but he doesn’t respond well to her romantic interactions. He’s an elder, but I don’t think age has anything to do with it: the game hasn’t let that hold it back before. (It does impose a time limit, though.)

No, I think the problem is that she kissed another sim once. Despite the fact that they never became boyfriend and girlfriend, and they haven’t had romantic interactions in the sim equivalent of real-life years, my sim has a “naughty” reputation for pursuing a new love interest. The sim she wants to have children with may never consent to it, even if I buy the aspiration award that would clear her reputation (aptly named “clean slate”). She needs to hunt down this guy she hasn’t done anything with in years – who’s probably become involved with at least one other sim since – and tell him she’s no longer romantically interested in him. If that doesn’t work, she has to tell this guy who won’t have romantic interactions with her that she wants to “just be friends” – before she kisses anyone else. Whether she breaks up with them or not, they’ll both be annoyed with her.

I think Mira has a much better idea: she’s in love with her best friend but has yet to become romantically involved with her. Perhaps it’s best to keep it that way… at least until either she or her sister has a daughter.

I find reputations very annoying. I have to admit they’re quite realistic, but the game imposes a double standard that’s driving me crazy. Sims outside my control keep bombarding my sims with love letters and flirting with them, even when my sims are married and have “eternally faithful” reputations. Heck, outside sims will flirt with one member of my active family, then turn around and flirt with another in the same room! But the instant my sim acts on her (or his) romantic attraction – even in the privacy of their own home – they are judged for it. Boo game, booooo.

I guess the lesson is: it’s better to communicate clearly, even if it’s considered “mean.” Riverview is going to be full of broken hearts.

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?

This Post Took Three Days to Write

As I was crafting my last post, I came to understand why I was prioritizing a game over the mountains of important things (some of them very good) that are exploding in my life. It’s a defense mechanism.

I was suicidal last week – or, at least, the voices in my head were. It took everything I had just to pay attention in piano class last Thursday; thank the gods the instructor didn’t call on me to improvise in front of everyone!

Banji came over on Friday and helped me clean the area around my computer desk. I’m amazed by how much better I feel just being in this space now! It was really awesome of her … and it was also incredibly stressful for me. I kinda want to say maybe it wasn’t the best timing, but if I hadn’t done it then the clutter would have just kept making me increasingly miserable. It was the timing we had, so I’m glad we did it. I needed her support.

I visited with her family on Saturday. Her uncle was there; he kept criticizing her cousin and making passive-aggressive comments that were too subtle to respond to appropriately but could be devastating to a child’s self-esteem. I tried to ignore him, to connect with everyone else present, to enjoy our group activities… but it grated on me. Like a mosquito bite in a very awkward place. (It reminded me of how my mom has treated me, my own inner critic, and the cognitive distortions that make depression such a devastating illness.)

After they left, Banji and I were free to enjoy each other’s company. We played duets, sight-read my current composition project on a variety of instruments, and improvised on piano. The piano improvisation became incredibly silly, referencing inside jokes that are over a decade old. It felt so good to laugh with her, especially over shared experiences that helped form our relationship. It helped restore some of the sense of continuity I’ve been missing.

Then we moved to the couch and she decided I make an excellent pillow. We talked for hours. While I was holding her, everything felt right. My worries melted away. I felt whole, complete.

And I had hope for a future where little things like eating dinner together and playing duets and talking on the couch all night can happen whenever we both want them to.

Then Sunday came, and she had to drive home. For 5 hours.

I’m not suicidal anymore. I’m just sad. It’s going to take a lot of work to make our dream of living within a short drive of each other reality. (And even then, everything won’t magically be perfect.) A lot of it is outside our control. I have to include Fox in all my major decision-making. It’s big and scary and overwhelming.

Lately I’ve been trying to do too many things that are big and scary and overwhelming:

I’m re-taking 2 classes I had to drop 2 years ago because they were triggering my worst depression symptoms. In that time I was supposed to do useful things like find a medication that works for me and improve my music skills. Well, if Lamictal/lamotrigine has any chance of working, I need a much higher dose. The APN took me off it, then had me on 25 mg; I got frustrated and stopped taking it, then realized it seemed to help reduce my suicidal ideation so started taking it again yesterday… The point is I’m kind of starting over on it, I need to increase my dose gradually, and by the time I get any clinically significant benefit from it (or a different medication, if the APN puts me on one when I see her in three weeks) the semester will be over. I’m on my own. As for my music skills… they’re not as improved as I’d like, but I’m working on them. They’re serving me better than I’d expected (when I trust them).

The point is, these classes are challenging me in every way imaginable, but I just have to keep struggling through them. If I drop them again I might not be able to finish my degree.

Even if I do everything I need to, my school has a limit for how long you can take to graduate, and I’ve reached it. I’m at the mercy of a stranger who gets to decide whether I can have the extra time I’ll need to finish my degree. My recent experience of strangers making important decisions that affect my life has not been very good.

I’ve also re-structured my personality (in therapy) to the point where I have to change the way I interact with my mom. If I don’t, I’ll just continue doing unhealthy behaviors that ultimately hurt both of us. The ways I interact with my mom have been shaped my whole life to reduce the overt conflict between us and prevent her from abandoning me or falling apart emotionally or having to change the unhealthy behaviors she developed to adapt to live with her parents, etc. Changing them means risking the very things I’m programmed to avoid happening. I don’t always choose the best alternative behaviors, and she doesn’t always react well to them.

Based on our recent conversations, we’re both acutely aware of this and feel threatened by it. We’re afraid of… whatever comes next – but we also want the ways we’ve been relating to each other to change. I don’t know whether what each of us wants is compatible – or healthy. She won’t give me a straight answer when I ask her to join me in family therapy.

On top of this I’m (sort of?) coming out as non-binary. I’m in this really painful place where I’ve fully accepted it as my gender identity, but I’m not fully out to the people I interact with most regularly. They keep using the pronouns associated with my assigned gender; every time it happens it’s like a tiny stab in the heart. I don’t correct them because I’m not sure how to do so constructively. (And somehow it’s almost comforting because it’s familiar?!)

Worse, no one seemed to notice when Fox used my pronouns (in a shining moment of glory that filled me with joy) on Saturday. There was an almost imperceptible pause (that I might have imagined), and then the conversation continued as though nothing revolutionary had just happened. No one asked about the strange way he’d referred to me (“ze”). Their brains probably changed their perception of the phonemes to match their expectations.

Finally, my plan for this semester had been to join social groups on campus that might help me feel better about existing. My contact at counseling services has been respectful of my gender identity and tried to help me join a group that addresses some of my needs. But I just can’t stop thinking of it as yet another place to be misgendered! I feel like withdrawing into what’s safe and familiar, and where I know I can be perceived as I am… not reaching out into something new and scary.

The LGBTQ+ coming out group would probably be perfect… except that it’s a new social situation I’d have to adapt to. I imagine once the conversation started I’d either find it easy to participate, or get something out of listening to other people speak. But when it’s time to leave the house I feel anxious about entering a new, unpredictable social situation. I don’t feel like I can handle those at the moment.

I’m falling back, regrouping, re-prioritizing. This isn’t a matter of entertainment, personal growth, or self-actualization. It’s about survival. (Maybe my brain wouldn’t be in survival mode if my body were consistently getting the nutrients it needs…)

Anyway, priorities. The big 3: food, sleep, and physical activity. Let’s add emotional intimacy to that: hugs are amazingly comforting. Research across psychological disciplines consistently finds that the relationship between therapist and client is the most important part of therapy. Being emotionally available and supportive and non-judgmental heals, whatever the therapist’s orientation(s), modality(ies), and technique(s).

My mental health must be my first priority (followed by my physical health). Without that nothing else matters because I won’t be alive to enjoy it…

My classes come next; it’s very important that I pass both of them. Even if I don’t get the extension I need, I might be able to re-apply to the program and keep the credits I’ve already earned toward the degree – or transfer them to a new school if necessary. I’m so close to finishing, it’s painful.

The groups I wanted to join come last – possibly after video games. I thought they would help me to grow as a person, receive support for the issues I’ve been struggling with, and develop important skills I’ve been lacking … maybe even to make friends? I also decided at the beginning of the semester that it’s okay if I just need to focus on my classes right now. Making that decision – setting that boundary – is a way I can assert myself. That’s putting my hard work in therapy into action!

The nice thing about the LGBTQ+ groups is that they happen every week and I can show up when I’m ready to. I can make the decision of whether to go up to an hour before the group meets; my decision has no effect on whether I’ll be allowed to join in the following week. This week I decided not to go, but by the time one rolls around again I might be up to it. I’m thinking of calling and asking for a basic idea of how the time in group is structured, so it won’t be quite so unpredictable.

The counseling services group isn’t like that. It’s a specific 6-week course (complete with homework) and I’ve already missed the first week. I was invited to join in the second week (that is, today), but I’m feeling very ambivalent about it. On Tuesday I was wondering why I even wanted to be part of this group in the first place. By last night I was thinking maybe it would help me feel more confident and able to focus in my Thursday class (and more likely to go, because I’d already be on campus). The group closes after the second week, so if I miss it again I can’t join. I’ve been asked to let the facilitator know my decision ahead of time.

Perhaps it would be best to tell her I’ve decided against it. I already have a lot that I’m struggling with. I want to send in my own written appeal for periodontal treatment, I need to start working on the request for extended time in my academic program, I have instruments to practice, and I have papers to write. I’m counting primarily on the paper to get a halfway decent grade in piano class. If I don’t join this group, I’ll have more time and energy to dedicate to those things. I won’t have to deal with the social anxiety it’s bringing up. And I’ll have more time to recover from waking up before I have to coordinate getting ready to go somewhere with everything I need for the day, etc.

The main appeal of the group is that it’s an opportunity to practice yoga, meditate, learn ways to calm the nervous system, and cope with difficult emotions. I could do the yoga and meditation on my own … theoretically … but experience tells me I won’t. I need – and crave – structure and social support. I need to get outside my own head and receive feedback from someone other than my inner persecutor.

Just last night I had a great experience in my group music therapy class. I’d decided to show up, take notes, and role play for my group mates to the extent that I felt comfortable, but refuse to take a turn as therapist. Everyone else had taken their turn and I felt very shaken up, on the verge of tears. I felt raw, exposed; the muscles in my body tensed to the point where it felt like I couldn’t move. I sat very still for as long as I was able.

But the co-instructor came in and my group-mates told him I was the only one left who still needed to go. I couldn’t bring myself to come out as having a mood disorder, but I was as honest and vulnerable as possible: I said I’d been having a rough time and was feeling very raw and didn’t think I could lead a group in that emotional state. He asked if there was an experience I thought I could lead the group in, that might also help me to feel better.

I was going to do the intervention I’d come up with for my piano class, but sitting at the piano I had my back to the group and couldn’t find a practical way to remedy that. We were role-playing children, so my group-mates suggested I try a simple children’s song with two chords and play on guitar. I agreed to a song someone suggested, and the next thing I knew I was playing guitar fairly fluently, singing, using the song structure to maintain order while allowing the “kids” to be spontaneous and creative and interact with each other, and having fun. I was even able to take constructive criticism and try some of the suggestions that were offered.

I learned so much from that experience and felt so much better afterward … because I was present and vulnerable with others; I allowed them to support me. And they did. They were awesome! They gave me the push I needed to succeed.

I was hoping to have a similar experience with the counseling services group. We’d all be there to learn to overcome certain insecurities and practice new ways of being with ourselves and others. If I didn’t feel like it’s helping me, I could always drop out. Short of dropping out, I could decide the degree to which I want to participate (including whether to do the homework). It’s only five weeks. I might have made new friends, or at least learned something useful…

… But then I talked to my contact at counseling services, and she suggested I “put it on hold” so I can “focus on stabilizing my depression.” She seems to think it’s not really the kind of group I need right now. Perhaps I can try it in the fall.

I feel empty, deflated, tired, and maybe just a little bit relieved. and thirsty. Maybe I’ll just sit here. Indefinitely.

On Being Wrong

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

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

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

The extraction “felt wrong on some fundamental level”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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