Building a Future Together

Fox and I had a productive marriage counseling session today. We talked about how the stuff we’re doing now is working toward the future we want to create together.

It started with me expressing concern that he comes home from work so exhausted – and has such low energy on his days off – that I’m worried he will never “have the energy” to find an internship. (He needs the internship to complete his degree and enter the career that is his calling.) But he explained that right now working full time is important to him because it provides us with some income and financial stability. When the time is right he will cut back on his work hours to make finding and fulfilling an internship more feasible.

This was very helpful to me because I was seeing the situation as either-or: either he’s pouring all his energy into a dead-end job that’s currently paying less than the local, recently-increased minimum wage… or he’s doing nothing until he manages to find an internship, which might take a while. He helped me see that the situation is more complex: right now he’s pouring all his energy into the job, but over time he can put less energy into the job and more into pursuing his long-term career goals. There can be a more gradual transition; it doesn’t have to be an abrupt ending.

Similarly for me: I don’t have to go from living in Skyrim to taking classes and being in various extracurricular groups and applying for internships and trying to find a job. Right now, taking classes again is enough of a leap. I’ve decided to try joining two LGBTQ+ discussion groups that each meet on campus for an hour once a week. They are the definition of low stress: no homework, show up when you can, have a conversation, and leave. One is for LGBTQ+ students and their allies to socialize. The other is specifically for bisexual, pansexual, non-binary trans*, and other gender-queer people to talk about sexuality and identity. Of the groups offered, it’s the one that sounds like it was designed for me.

In our session I said that I’m taking my classes and I’m going to see how they go, then possibly build on that as seems appropriate. Maybe I’ll love and feel so empowered by my experiences, I’ll decide I’m ready to apply for internships. Same possibility with jobs. Maybe something will come to me once I’m out in the world doing things and interacting with people again. Or maybe I’ll just need to focus on my classes, and setting boundaries around them will help me feel like I’m asserting myself and taking control of my own life. I am in the driver’s seat. It’s up to me where, via what route, and how fast I go.

Individually, we are figuring out what works in terms of current occupational focus and future occupational goals. Together, we are supporting each other and making decisions that move us in the direction of our joint goals. For example, my hormones have been throwing increasingly disruptive temper tantrums demanding that I procreate as soon as possible.  Most recently, they convinced me to decide what I’m naming my first child – so now ze has a name; ze is an entity I’m denying entrance into the world.

I don’t know whether Fox’s hormones are also clamoring for babies, but he remains the voice of reason: “not yet.” It empowers my own, internal voice of reason: “we can’t take care of ourselves, yet. Let’s get really good at doing that before bringing a new life into this world.” Having a baby now would be a complete disaster financially, emotionally, for both our careers… it wouldn’t be healthy for anyone involved.

So together we make the decision to wait. Together we do what we can to meet each other’s needs. Together we build the foundation for our future family.

It felt good to have an idea of what the future might look like, for once. Too often it looks dark and empty, nebulous. I’ve been having trouble being creative and my experiences have taught me that nothing is guaranteed; my wanting something to happen has no influence on whether it will happen. So how can I decide what my future will look like? I can’t. It’s just… formless. A waiting void.

But I can put things in that void. They might not happen how I expect – if at all – but I can put them there and work toward them and feel good about knowing we’re building something together. Kind of like improvising: I know what sound I think should come next, but it isn’t always what my fingers end up playing. When I make a “mistake” I incorporate it into the improvisation, so what was unintentional becomes intentional – possibly a central motif! I might build an entire song out of something I never even meant to play. So with life… it’s not about knowing what exactly will be there, just that something will – and it will be something we work together not only to create, but to continuously shape.

After our session, I noticed that I was becoming very irritable. I kind of snapped at Fox for slamming the car door, and again for being indecisive when it was time to order lunch. He caught public transportation to work and I came home; by the time I got here I felt like I was being subjected to nails on a chalkboard. Cardio exercise helped me clear my mind while I was doing it, but didn’t have any lasting effect on my mood. I was very agitated and all the sounds were making it worse.

I suspected I may have been experiencing symptoms of withdrawal from Lamictal, which from what I read can be quite the nightmare. (I had abruptly stopped taking my 75 mg dose, per the APN’s orders, on Monday.) Part of my mind was clamoring for me to take a 25 mg pill to take the edge off. Part of me was thinking that if this is what withdrawal from such a low dose is like, maybe it’s better for me not to be on it at all.

The thing is, I have my classes, and I have all the stuff I just wrote about. Plus, Fox and I have been talking about adopting a new pair or trio of rats; we want to raise them from as young as possible this time. Last night we learned that a nearby rescue has several newborn babies that will need homes within the next six weeks (once they’re weaned); that gives us time to prepare but also a nice kick in the pants to do so. Our past pet rats brought a lot of joy to our lives, so we’re hopeful about adopting again. (I also hope that having pets to care for might get my hormones to quiet down a bit!)

So I can’t be going through withdrawal symptoms right now. I just can’t. I need to be able to focus and direct my energy at what’s important to me and enjoy my time with Fox. Things snowball and become horrible when I’m irritable toward him (which is different from when I’m justifiably angry – then we can talk and come to a new understanding).

I felt guilty about “bothering” the APN’s office again, but I also felt like I was going crazy and needed to do something about it immediately! The only way I was going to get the help I needed was by asserting myself. So I called and said I needed to talk to the APN about my medication.

I actually got to talk to her right away! and it was very helpful. Ironically, I still don’t know which risk factors prompted her to take me off the lamotrigine – just that she had weighed the risks and benefits and thought I’d be better off not taking it. She asked if I had a rash – so maybe that’s it?

Anyways, I told her that I thought it had been helping me at least somewhat, particularly by decreasing my suicidal thoughts. She said, “Oh, I hadn’t realized it was so helpful to you. I’m glad to hear that.” She instructed me to start taking 25 mg again. I considered arguing for 50 mg, but I didn’t want to push it. Maybe I am better off at the lower dose?

I still have enough of the medication to take 25 mg every day until after our next appointment, so I was able to start taking it again right away. I feel much better – in part, I think, from expressing all this stuff, being listened to, and getting my desired result. I’m calmer, less irritable. I can think more clearly. Life is good.

… Covered in Bees!

content notes: bee and wasp phobia, boundary issues

I couldn’t sleep last night. First, I didn’t want to go to sleep, even though I was tired and needed to be well-rested to have my first session of the new year with Wakana. I played a puzzle game on my phone until I was too tired to think, then switched to an app that’s supposed to help with relaxation and “stress relief.”

I usually drift off very easily while listening to the app’s guided meditation and complex background sounds, but last night was different. In short, I didn’t feel safe. There was a malicious voice, an ominous presence, like a demon. He twisted all the imagery in the guided meditation to be threatening. The deserted beach I had all to myself was deserted because no one wanted to be with me, so I was alone and no one was there to help me if I got hurt. The ocean I was sailing across was turbulent from a storm and full of dangerous creatures. My eyelids and muscles were relaxing and getting heavy so I’d be trapped there with him, completely helpless. The “low bed in the earth” – that’s how it was described, don’t ask me how that’s supposed to be relaxing – was a coffin!

I jerked myself out of the “relaxation,” turned off the recording, curled up in fetal position, and wept. I don’t know how much time passed, or how I finally fell asleep. But this is the dream I remembered when I awoke:

I was in a room like a college dorm room, with two beds. One was large – at least a full, maybe a queen – and covered in memory foam and very comfortable. Fox said he wanted that bed, and I agreed because I had a comfortable place of my own to sleep. I don’t remember exactly what it was, maybe a recliner or air mattress or something; I was content with it.

I set my sleeping place up next to another bed – which was like the extra-long twin beds in college dorm rooms – and looked around the room. I saw a dresser and a nightstand and thought, “I would really like to have someplace to put my water within reach while I sleep.” (In real life I have to sit up to reach the surface that functions as my nightstand.) I thought the nightstand would fit well at the foot of the dorm bed and be in just the right spot for me to use while resting on whatever it was I’d brought. However, before I could move the nightstand, something inspired me to check out the dorm bed – just in case I thought it might be a more comfortable place to sleep.

One end of the bed was raised off the floor as beds typically are, but the other was on the floor and the mattress formed a sharp angle. There was a large lump in the middle of the bed, like a foam wedge one might put under one’s knees to sleep more comfortably. It was under the sheet so I couldn’t really make out exactly what it was, but based on the available information I was thinking I didn’t want to sleep in that bed…

Then I saw a bee – more accurately, a wasp – perched at the peak of whatever was under the sheet, in the middle of the bed. It was a brown-red color. I think all wasps look menacing, so this one did, too. I tried to back away slowly, but it flew toward me. I knew it was going to sting me, it was only a matter of time. No matter what I did, how I moved, it wouldn’t go away. If I tried to swat or otherwise redirect it, it would just get angry and sting me more. I was terrified, helpless.

I awoke with a start – still exhausted, tense, anxious, and angry. But I made a connection I hadn’t noticed before: in all my nightmares about bees (wasps, yellow jackets, etc.) they are always attracted to me as soon as I notice them. They keep coming toward me no matter what I do, and it’s only a matter of time before I will get stung. I don’t think I’ve ever actually been stung in the dream – I wake up before it can happen. It’s the thing I dread. Overwhelming, paralyzing anxiety. To me it takes the form of a menacing insect. I think there’s usually only one in my visual field, but knowing they can swarm makes it much, much worse…

Right, the connection: bees represent my lack of boundaries.

I didn’t feel safe last night because the malicious being that was menacing me was in my head. No boundaries.

If I open my door to talk to Mom, Dog is likely to walk in (without acknowledging me) and sniff every centimeter of my apartment looking for something to eat. I usually remember to keep food out of his reach, but he likes to take dirty tissues (and other unsavory items) out of the garbage. The things I don’t want anymore, that are supposed to be discarded, unseen, are strewn across the floor in broad daylight. It feels like there’s no stopping him. No boundaries. I’m vulnerable.

When Mom comes in she notices the cluttered wreck my life has become (who wouldn’t?) and comments on it. She talks about rearranging the kitchen and says I need to get rid of this and that and offers to help me go through things, without asking me what I want to do about the mess. She compulsively picks up hair and dust off the floor while I watch awkwardly, feeling helpless and angry and ashamed. She asks questions about and tells me what to do in my relationship with my husband – all unsolicited. I think she’s been offering to help me clean because she’s bored.

Even when I enjoy spending time with Mom, then it needs to come to a close. We’re both getting tired, she’s said “let me go eat” about a gazillion times, and yet she keeps coming up with something new to talk about. “What else?” she asks over and over, like this is the last chance we’ll ever have to talk so we need to say everything to each other. She pushes and worms her way in and clings until I can’t take it anymore. Sometimes she leaves and then comes back. If I try to get her to leave more quickly she just clings even more. I feel like there’s no escaping her, and I’m going to get stung.

I’m having boundary issues with Fox, too. He moved my phone charger without telling me, so I was panicking that I’d lost it somehow – not hard to do with all the clutter. He’ll take heavy things from me (because I somehow lost all my physical strength as soon as I met a man?), move my stuff without asking, leave empty bottles all over the place, and let his alarm go off several times before he gets up. Food keeps going bad because we don’t eat it in time; often it gets shoved to the back of the fridge. I usually try to keep that from happening (e.g. when putting groceries away) so I think he’s at least partially (mostly) responsible. It makes me so angry! Sometimes he asks me not to eat something because he wants it and then it goes bad. Or, I go to eat something and it’s all but gone. I feel out of control.

We’ve been staying up too late and getting up too early and even though he tries to be considerate he wakes me multiple times when he’s getting ready for work. I can’t sleep with him because I don’t have enough room to relax fully and I can’t stand the sound of his snoring. When we sleep in different rooms he always needs to get or do something in the room I’m in (if he’s awake first). He calls me multiple times on his way home from work, which interrupts whatever I was doing.

He doesn’t drive, so he’s dependent on what public transportation is available in our area. It’s not the best, but it’s usually reliable; it’s also a bit of a walk from home. Mom tells me I should drive him there and back, so I feel obligated to do so and guilty when I don’t – even though he seems to think of it as me doing him a favor and not a service he’s entitled to. So it’s not just waking up earlier than I’d like, it’s having to get up and drive him somewhere. He tends to wait until the last minute, too, so it’s rushing and worrying about whether he’ll be on time. It’s not just being interrupted when he gets home, it’s having to stop what I’m doing and drive somewhere to pick him up. Occasionally he gets stranded somewhere and I have to go rescue him in the middle of the night. Then when we get home I want to be considerate and interact with him, but he wants to go on the computer.

I’m grateful that at least he’s working and he’s doing his best to be considerate and all that jazz. It’s just… frustrating. Especially when I can’t sleep. Even moreso when the thing I’m using to try and help myself sleep backfires. I could have been sleeping the past few hours but I feel like it’s wrong to sleep through the precious few daylight hours we get this time of year.

Sort of connected to lack of boundaries, perhaps my subconscious is trying to warn me about dependency. In college dorms, the beds are provided to students; they (especially the one in my dream) are not of the best quality, but they’re better than nothing. I’m currently dependent on my mother for housing. This apartment (like a twin bed) is nice for one person, but way too small for two.

In my dream I had my own place to sleep and was going to rearrange my environment using my own strength to meet my needs – without consulting or getting unsolicited advice from anyone. But then I wanted to see if I’d be more comfortable with the bed that was provided – dependency. Only then did the wasp become a threat – it might not have even existed before I approached the bed! I could have slept soundly on whatever it was that I’d brought into the room myself, with the nightstand I’d moved within easy reach. Instead, I considered being dependent on what was provided to me – even though I could tell from a distance that it was less than ideal. Only then did the wasp appear. It never actually stung me; it just prevented me from approaching the bed.

Maybe the wasp isn’t really the threat, maybe it’s a warning.

a day with depression turns 2!

Yesterday (December 12th) was my two-year anniversary blogging on WordPress! They sent me this lovely notification:

"Happy Anniversary! You registered on WordPress.com 2 years ago! Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging!"

A “W” with a laurel wreath around it in a circle, shades of blue. The text above and below the image reads: “Happy Anniversary! You registered on WordPress.com 2 years ago! Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging!” Created by the wonderful people at WordPress.com

I’m very happy with how my blog has been doing! So far it has 357 followers and has been viewed over 16,620 times by people all over the world! Here are some images from my stats page:

A bar graph showing monthly visitors (dark blue) and views (light blue) from December 2012 through 1:29pm EST on December 13, 2014.

A bar graph showing monthly visitors (dark blue) and views (light blue) from December 2012 through 1:29pm EST on December 13, 2014.

A map of the world showing countries color-coded according to how many views were by people in that country. Colors range from pale yellow (least views) to bright fushia (most views). Countries are listed on the left side of the image in order from most to least views. Most views of this blog are from the U.S. (10,323) the U.K. (1,446), Canada (1,196), and Australia (781).

A map of the world showing countries color-coded according to how many views were by people in that country. Colors range from pale yellow (least views) to bright fushia (most views). Countries are listed on the left side of the image in order from most to least views. Most views of this blog are from the U.S. (10,323) the U.K. (1,446), Canada (1,196), and Australia (781).

So much has happened over the past 2 years, I really don’t think I could do it justice if I tried to write a summary. I do want to point out that my very first post – which I broke into 3 parts – was about my not-so-successful attempts to find the right medication to help manage my symptoms. I later realized that what I really needed was to find the right psychiatrist, then eventually learned that the best person for me to see (whom I could afford and access) was actually an advanced practice nurse. Her willingness to listen to me and trust me as an expert in my own needs and experiences saved us both a lot of time and headache, and I think I’m now on a very good if not the best currently-available medication for me (Lamictal/lamotrigine). We’re slowly increasing my dose to a therapeutic level and I’m already seeing some benefit, with minimal side effects. Finally!

I wrote quarterly reviews during my first year of blogging; they express my slightly-longer-term perspective on what was going on at the time. I suppose you could say 2014 has been less efficiently documented. I started out the year by making a resolution to remember that, whether I’m having the best day of my life or the worst, I’m always the “real” me. I think I did a good job of keeping to that resolution. I also renewed my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health Project.

In February I let go of the emotional burden I’d been carrying around since my father died 16 – now almost 17 – years ago. It was a great healing experience but I still miss him; sometimes I think I miss him more. In March I announced that I aim to misbehave when it comes to talking about depression – that is, to talk and write about it as honestly as I’m able when I’m experiencing my symptoms at their worst, not just “after the fact” when I can put it all in a neat, “sane” package. I also allied with the part of me that fears “recovering” – getting a job, raising a family, all the stuff we’re supposed to strive for – because of the risk that I’ll stop taking care of myself. That theme has recurred during the year, including quite recently, as I struggle to be responsive to my own emotional and other needs and also get back into the activities and goals that were (are?) important to me. To be honest, I think I need to let the storm that is the “holiday season” blow over before I can really focus on such things.

In May I wrote a bit about shame and how it is addressed in Frozen, particularly in the song “Fixer-Upper.” During a family reunion I also wrote about my need to detach emotionally from the intense emotional chaos that was going on around me. Later I realized that a lot of the not-so-savory emotions I was feeling were “borrowed” from one of my aunts; had I taken a step back to say, “that’s how she feels. How do I feel?” the whole experience probably would have been a lot less intense.

June was a difficult month, particularly for my marriage. I was feeling more energized and motivated to pursue my career goals, and very frustrated with Fox for not being on the same page. I actually broke up with him – or at least tried to do so, but he convinced me to give him a chance to make things better. I realized I needed to separate myself from Mom, who I’m sure meant well but was encouraging my feelings toward separation from Fox more than I needed – not providing the balance that would help me figure out what I really wanted. Toward that end I revisited addressing my codependency and the ways in which I’m a reactionary. I realized that my worst fear is that I will give up on myself and commit suicide. Finally, I decided that I needed to listen to myself and went back through blog posts leading up to my legal marriage ceremony in November 2013 to find places where I expressed problems in our relationship, doubt, or insecurity. Now I’m thinking it’s probably not very helpful to dive into all that negativity without also looking at the positive aspects as well – a key tendency in depression – but at the time it was what I needed to do. It helped me find and assert myself and, most importantly, address those issues.

In July we started the marriage counseling that has not only revitalized and strengthened our marriage, but also benefited our mental health as individuals immensely. Most of my posts from that month have to do with taking time to figure out what I want and asserting myself in my interactions with others. Very importantly, this includes expressing my emotions even – especially! – when I think they will be difficult for others to hear. I had my first meeting with my advanced practice nurse (APN) on July 31.

August. The good news is, Fox started seeing a psychiatrist (part 1, part 2) and taking the medication (Wellbutrin/bupropion) that has been helping him a great deal over the past four months. I also started tracking my depression symptoms / severity on the Burns Depression Checklist – something I was able to do consistently for 3.5 months (and only stopped because I’ve found something better!). The bad news is, Robin Williams committed suicide… I still don’t think I’m ready to write about how that has affected me. The month ended soon after our pet rat, Trouble, was having so much difficulty breathing the only humane thing we could do was put him to sleep.

In September I went to my first (and so far only) depression / bipolar support group meeting, but was more frazzled by it than anything else. It’s good to know that it’s there for if and when I decide I’m ready to try it again. I also (finally) read The Drama of the Gifted Child, which helped me face the reality of my own childhood and commit even more strongly to nurturing and expressing my true self – emotions, needs, wants, etc. I started taking Lamictal/lamotrigine on the 29th. On the 30th something extraordinary happened: the persona who had been controlling my interactions with the rest of the world – often if not practically always at the expense of my true self – resigned, allowing zir adaptive aspects to be integrated without the not-so-desirable consequences. That left, well, me – the true self – in charge.

In October I recognized that the (now deceased/integrated) persona I’ve taken to calling the Censor, and my “mental illness” in general, are a collection of once-adaptive behaviors I developed to ensure my own survival. That’s a far cry from them being separate from or imposed upon me, and much much closer to that original resolution I made back in January. It helps me to be much kinder to myself and more engaged in the process of healing, becoming whomever I want and/or need to become. Speaking of need, I decided that the next step in the process is to get out and interact with people in groups and develop my social skills, but so far I haven’t been able to face my fears. Finally, October marked the first time in way too long that I was able to go for multiple days – even multiple weeks – without having any suicidal thoughts.

By early November my emotional norm was to be considerably less depressed, in the “mild depression” and even “normal but unhappy” ranges according to Burns. It was quite a nice place to be, I’d like to get back there. On the first anniversary of our legal marriage, Fox and I reaffirmed our commitment to each other in front of our combined family and friends. Then we threw the best party ever! I had an absolute blast and will enjoy reminiscing about the experience, well, hopefully for several decades. I needed some time to process and integrate the not-so-good aspects of the experience, but I think I’ve accepted them… adequately. It was a very complex, intensely emotional experience, and I’m so glad I got to have it and share it with the people closest to me.

I’ve been in a difficult low since the wedding. At first it was exhaustion from the event, and over time I became more and more frustrated with not being able to do the things I’d hoped I could, riding the energy from all the planning and joy of the event itself. I lost my motivation. Now, with the holidays looming, I feel like I’m hanging onto a raft in the middle of a raging sea; I need to find solid ground before I can try to build anything. At least the work Mom was having done on the roof is finished, so I’m able to get a decent night’s sleep and wake (more or less) on my own terms. I enjoy spending time with people I care about and try to get a healthy dose of social interaction every day. It seems the healthiest thing I can do right now is just accept that I need to focus on my emotional needs and “take care of myself,” as Wakana put it.

In short, I’ve grown a whole lot over the past year, and my first year of blogging definitely helped set me up to be able to do it. This blog has benefited me immensely. I hope it has helped others as well.

Here’s to the beginning of year #3…

I wanted today to be the start of something new and uplifting. I would start a Coursera course and actually stick with that for the full 4 to 5 weeks that it runs. But the courses that are available are insufferably boring! And, well, they’re on entrepreneurship. I’m not sure whether the idea I have is worth pursuing, or another grandiose project I’m going to abandon in a week or less. I guess, just by thinking that, I’ve already abandoned it…

I would start exercising every day. I would start tracking with a new wellness tracking app that I found. Well I did track but it wasn’t as satisfying as the Burns Depression Checklist. I wanted to share the checklist on the site by the way – so anyone who’s interested can use it to benefit their own mental health – but my request for permission to republish it was denied due to risk of piracy. It’s copyrighted material and all that jazz.

I wanted to write a blog post – well I guess I’m doing that. I would actually clean the apartment – well, I cleared some stuff from around and on my desk. It’s an improvement I can build upon, I guess.

I don’t know! something new, something interesting, being social for a change, making some kind of progress of my life… but I just don’t feel any of it.

The things I’ve tried, I’ve run into brick walls. I called the dentist and found out that the referral for the periodontist was denied, so I waited five weeks for a referral for nothing! My only option is to lose the tooth the dentist wanted to save because “I’m so young” and she didn’t want to “feel guilty.” Well it’s time for me to lay on the guilt! I’m in a worse situation now than if it had been pulled a month ago.

I shouldn’t have agreed to trying to see the periodontist, I should’ve just said that that tooth needs to be pulled and it could be out of my mouth already! I still have to wait for the referral to see an oral surgeon; I don’t even know how long it’s going to take! I hate not having any control over my own health. This is ridiculous!

It was a nice day today but I didn’t get outside while it was still daylight because I was looking at Facebook. and then it got dark and cold and I just… I know that I should try to listen to upbeat music and exercise is something that might help me, but I just don’t feel it! I feel like my limbs are made of lead, like I don’t have the energy to move my body, like maybe I should just go to sleep. Maybe if I go to bed now, tomorrow will be better. But I can’t even go to bed because Fox is coming home soon! He’ll wake me and I kind of want to hang out with him, kind of don’t. I’m not sure whether it’s that “I need some space” or “oh no I’m isolating, raise the red flags!” Maybe it’s a little bit of both.

Actually, I think I know what it is. He’s kind of running my life. I support him in getting to and from work each day. My schedule revolves around him. When he left for work he “encouraged” me to clean the house – like it’s something I’m doing for him. I ran an errand for him yesterday. He let his government-issued ID expire, so now Mom keeps lecturing me about how important it is for him to get a new one. He’d rather have off from work on a day when we can hang out with friends than during normal business hours so he can take care of this. She asks me about it and then gives me a hard time when I repeat what he said.

It really shouldn’t be my problem but somehow it is. I’m going to tell Mom this is my thing to talk to him about, and if she wants to talk to him about it she’s welcome to, but she’s not allowed to talk to me about it anymore because I’m not the one who has to do something, he is. It’s past time for her to get her nose out of my marriage!

I was going to say that I feel like I need to slow down, figure out where I am, and decide what I want to do. Like stopping at a rest stop, relieving myself, refueling, and looking at a map. I can do those things, but more importantly I need to fire my navigator.

And, well, I think it’s time to tell the hitchhiker he needs to drive his own car. I can’t focus on the stuff I need to do – for both of us! – if I make it my job to help him be an adult. I certainly can’t do it because my mom is all but forcing me to. I can barely take care of myself, never mind taking care of both of them!

I know what new thing I’m going to start this month: practicing mindfulness. Even just a few minutes a day should help me center myself and focus on what’s important to me, Ziya. I can even do it right now!

Pretend that You’re Feeling a Little More Pain

On Friday I was awarded 5 out of 5 possible experience points (XP) for role-playing my (tabletop RPG) character exceptionally well. My secret: I genuinely felt the wide range of emotions she exhibited, from pride to concern to fear to sadness to disgust at the vengeance another player character (PC) took out on an adversary (non-player character / NPC). I was raw and in the moment, responding to what was going on around me with relative ease… while still thinking about how my character would react, what she would say, etc. It was … brilliant, really. I had a lot of other exceptional, long-time role players to, well, play off of. We just get into character and go, and a story weaves itself, and the next thing I know I’m both exhausted and elated having experienced and expressed just about every emotion possible for the past several hours and having accomplished something meaningful… albeit in our collective imagination.

Then Fox and I took the weekend as down-time, which for me meant playing The Sims 3. All weekend. I’m happy with how my game is going and I’m getting to explore aspects of the game that I haven’t already beaten to death, so it’s a mostly neutral-to-positive experience. Except that my body hates sitting at the computer all day and the sims do really stupid, frustrating things and I’m starved for meaningful interpersonal interaction. I know I could pick up the phone or leave my house or actually interact with Fox (not that we haven’t been interacting at all, it’s just been sporadic and not satisfying enough to counteract the effects of staring at a computer screen all day) … but I’m kind of having some issues with intimacy. I don’t want to talk about how I feel or what’s going on in our relationship or my goals and dreams. He gets so angry whenever anything related to his career goals or working comes up that I find it best to just avoid the topic and let him exist on my the couch consuming the internet nonstop. And he comments on so many things that I do – how I’m sitting, whether/what I’m eating, what I’m reading or (heaven forbid) laughing at online, how I’m responding to the sims – that I don’t feel comfortable expressing myself musically or decluttering or otherwise doing anything really noticeable (heaven forbid I should distract him from his videos). If I were to actually go out and do something, then I’d have to explain myself and he might want to come with me so I’d have to wait for him and so on… *sigh* It’s a mess. To make things even worse, I’ll be sexually aroused sometimes but grossed out by the thought of any sexual acts (e.g. “what goes where? eww!” and don’t even get me started on bodily fluids) so I just try not to get too expressive when we are affectionate. Between that and the pain I’m having in my bad tooth and jaw and sinuses and ear (possibly affecting my hearing) I just want to leave my body for a while… but if I could, I might never come back…

Anyways I was playing The Sims 3 yesterday and, out of nowhere, “Cry” by Faith Hill starts playing on repeat in my head. Here’s a link to the official music video on YouTube.

If I had just one tear running down your cheek
Maybe I could cope maybe I’d get some sleep
If I had just one moment at your expense
Maybe all my misery would be well spent

Could you cry a little
Lie just a little
Pretend that you’re feeling a little more pain
I gave now I ‘m wanting
Something in return
So cry just a little for me

If your love could be caged, honey I would hold the key
And conceal it underneath the pile of lies you handed me
And you’d hunt those lies
They’d be all you’d ever find
And that’d be all you’d have to know
For me to be fine

Yeah…. And you’d cry a little
Die just a little
and baby I would feel just a little less pain
I gave now I’m wanting
Something in return
So cry just a little for me

Give it up baby
I hear you’re doin’ fine
Nothins gonna save me
I can see it it your eyes
Some kind of heartache
Darlin give it a try
I dont want pity
I just want what is mine

quoted from AZLyrics.com

At the time I interpreted it to be my frustration at not being able to feel anything while I was playing The Sims 3. The game has a nice numbing effect and I tend to turn to it when I’m feeling miserable. I’m still not ready to cope with the death of Robin Williams and I miss my pet rat Trouble terribly and I’m questioning whether it’s wise to even try to finish my masters’ degree in part because I had to get an extension for my summer class and I still have an F on my transcript from the last time I did that and my finances are in shambles and I can’t keep my act together long enough to take a course never mind finding and keeping a job and I have to wait two weeks before I’ll even be prescribed Lamictal and I don’t know if it will work and the infection in my gum will probably spread to my brain by the time I can have a dentist look at it and I don’t even know what I need to do to plan for my wedding in less than two months that my aunt might not be able to make because of her boyfriend’s health issues and I just want to take a walk outside and enjoy the nice weather and maybe enjoy some of the nice “yay it’s autumn!” activities friends post about on Facebook but I can’t pull myself away from the computer and FOX DOESN’T SEEM TO CARE ABOUT ANY OF IT AT ALL!!! All he cares about are the games he’s playing and what he’s going to eat and maybe the occasional hug, when he wants one. Well, based on our interactions as of late.

It would be nice if he would show that he cared about something like “hey, it’s gorgeous out, let’s go for a walk” or “hey, let’s finally straighten up like we’ve been saying we need to for over a year now” or “you said the mum needs to be watered, would you like me to do that?” or even “I love you, let me massage your feet while reciting Klingon love poetry” … yeah, that’s not going to happen. Once upon a time he was actually romantic but now… Now I don’t really want him to be romantic. The sexiest thing he could do now is get the fuck off the computer and go out with his scores of 7 on the Burns depression checklist since he started taking Wellbutrin / bupropion and earn a steady income we could use to get out of credit card debt (that’s affecting my credit rating, not his) and feed ourselves.

I spent most of the day yesterday numbly playing The Sims 3 and directing Faith Hill’s scathing lyrics at myself instead of him, followed by a couple of hours literally roaring at him. I mean I looked at him and yelled “Roar!” and he yelled back (playfully) “Rawr!” and I got even angrier and yelled “Roar!” and eventually he started sounding angry when he replied, “Roar!” and it felt good to get the anger out but it didn’t do anything useful. And then I went to bed and poured my heart out in my paper journal and had weird dreams about floods and dancing and actually feeling the wind on my skin for once which was awesome. Today I woke cold and alone and in pain. He got angry at me as I was looking online to find him someone else to call because the person he’s supposed to contact about his internship is never in his office and doesn’t have office hours posted and doesn’t reply to emails. He yelled at me and didn’t thank me and didn’t apologize. And he’s content to know this post is “going well.” I can’t live like this.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m better at feeling the emotions of fictional characters than my own emotions because the latter are overwhelming and largely in response to factors I feel I have no control over. I’m angry at Fox for not seeming to care and not taking initiative. He apologized after reading this post and we talked a little, but we’re still having trouble connecting. It’s so tempting to just disappear.

Marriage Counseling

If I was “better” (“normal” and/or hypomanic) when I wrote some of my most recent posts, I have since crashed back into a depressive state. One major trigger was working on my entry for a composition contest for a few days straight (getting minimal sleep), then having the results be completely out of my hands. I’m not even sure they received it because they didn’t send me any confirmation. I’m thrilled with how the piece came out and I’m very proud of it and I can’t wait to share it with the world! The trigger is the lack of response – any response, even just an acknowledgement that I submitted an entry. I hate not having any control over the outcome, especially after working so hard on something! I don’t even know how long I’ll have to wait.

Another major trigger was coming home (from visiting with Banji) to a cluttered house, trouble sleeping, chronic pain (that contributes to trouble sleeping), and the same codependency issues I’ve been having with Mom and Fox. This environment really isn’t good for me.

Fox and I have been working on our communication; I’ve been practicing being more assertive and he’s been trying to encourage that while also making efforts to interact and create a healthier environment for us to live in. There have been days when he’s been out of the house helping people he knows with odd jobs to make some money. I haven’t made the best use of that “alone time,” but I have appreciated it; time alone in the privacy of my own home is vital to my emotional well-being. We’ve been able to enjoy our time together and support each other and even share moments of wonderful intimacy. We’ve also been making an effort to spend time with our friends, which helps a great deal. There are times – such as today – when I think that our relationship is actually just fine; if only we had jobs and didn’t live with my mother and could get a good night’s sleep, I’d be very happy with him.

But frustration, lack of motivation, and lack of energy often get the best of both of us. Sure, I could clean the house or apply for jobs or practice the skills I need for my career, but it seems pointless. The house will get messy again and chances are I won’t get the job. Why would anyone want to hire me, when there are scores of other qualified job-seekers out there who are cheerful and have more relevant experience? I haven’t done anything worth putting on my resume (except perhaps for this blog, but I need to keep it anonymous) for the past three years!

My mother isn’t helping. Instead of encouraging me when I told her about the composition contest, she said it was a “big dream” as though I was wrong to think I had any chance of winning it, or even for wanting to enter it. More recently, when she called and I told her I was working on my resume, instead of supporting or encouraging me or hanging up so I could focus on it, she started gossiping. Apparently I’m not allowed to have times when I don’t want to be disturbed – which would be a serious problem anyway and gets extra awkward because I’m married… It’s very frustrating. She tends to want to talk when Fox and/or I are in the middle of something; if I ask her to leave us alone she feels hurt; if I take the time to talk to her, Fox tries to help me end the conversation in a timely manner – which gets very awkward and leaves all three of us feeling unhappy. I feel like I’m constantly being undermined. (So does Fox!)

I suppose part of the problem is that I want approval from Mom – particularly when I make the effort to find a job so I can stop being financially dependent on her, a situation she has expressed dissatisfaction with and concern about! But I’ve lived with my mother my whole life; I should have learned by now that nothing I do will ever be good enough for her. I could do the Biggest Bestest Thing Evar and she would criticize me on my looks or complain that I left my socks on the floor or complain about something Fox did or insist that I listen with rapt undivided attention while she described in intimate detail everything she had for lunch that day. It’s like there’s a fog around her head – at least when it comes to me. Every so often the fog lifts and she can be happy for me or support me or even listen to me, but the majority of the time I’d be better off if I didn’t exist. I guess, what I’m trying to say is: if I didn’t want approval from her, then these behaviors would still be annoying, but they wouldn’t wreak such havoc on my self-esteem.

Which brings us to today. Fox and I had our first marriage counseling session. I wasn’t particularly thrilled. It was at the same practice where my psychiatrist at the time interrupted me in the middle of saying I was suicidal to take a phone call from billing – but they’re the only place in the area that takes our insurance where we were able to make an appointment. They made Fox fill out paperwork before the licensed marriage therapist could see us; Fox wasn’t feeling well so he was becoming confused by some of the questions and frustrated with others. When I asked if they needed anything from me they said “no;” I felt as though they thought I was being overbearing. Eventually I realized they perceived Fox to be the client and I just so happened to be there with him. The therapist seemed surprised that we both wanted to participate in the session, even though Fox had explicitly requested marriage counseling.

To be fair – especially since I’m viewing the world through “depression goggles”* – the therapist was professional and made an effort to hear and reflect both our perspectives as equally as possible. We both liked his focus on depression as “lack of energy” rather than as a medical condition that requires diagnosis and medication. He asked good questions that helped me clarify my thoughts on an issue that’s important not only to our relationship but also my own safety. He expressed willingness to help us work through whatever we needed, without judgment.

* (“depression goggles” = the tendency to overemphasize the negative and interpret neutral stimuli as negative that is characteristic of depression)

The therapist also gave us something new to work with, even though it was a very short session: he asked us what our vision is for our relationship and the life we want to create together. I focused on the here-and-now: here and now (or, at least, in the very near future), I want our relationship to be a mutual source of support and comfort. Fox focused on the distant future: many decades from now, he wants us to be old together surrounded by our children, grandchildren, and possibly even great-grandchildren. I think we each also want what the other expressed wanting, but to be honest the focus on being old kind of scares me: I want to focus on living my life, not where I’ll be near the end of it.

After the session, I asked Fox if he was willing to compromise by focusing our vision on the near-ish future, say 5 to 10 years from now. We both agreed that we want to be employed, have our own house, and have children; we may not agree on all the details but those will be largely dependent on the realities we face as we work toward these goals (e.g. what houses are available within a reasonable commute of our workplaces and/or the community where we choose to live). I’m hopeful that having a shared vision of what we want to achieve together – that we are both comfortable with – will help us in our everyday interactions and therapeutic work.

So what bugged me? Well, there was the paperwork and not being perceived as a client; I was very concerned that the therapist would take Fox’s side in any areas where we might disagree. Near the end of the session the therapist had to do more “paperwork” – asking Fox a series of questions and marking his answers in a form on the computer. At one point he paused to encourage Fox to purchase a nutritional supplement from a website that would generate revenue for a nutritionist he knows. That seemed kind of sketchy.

The therapist had to rush the “paperwork” because there was another client waiting – which wasn’t too big of an issue given Fox’s current mental health, but could have been very problematic if Fox had been feeling suicidal or engaging in self-harm. Those aren’t exactly the kinds of issues one can effectively address in the last minute or so of a session, and I imagine (based on my own experience) that a lot of people who feel suicidal or engage in self-harm would be uncomfortable answering those questions honestly, given the situation. These are complex issues that need to be understood from the perspective of the person experiencing them, not binary conditions that can simply be marked present or absent. I don’t mean to come down too hard on the therapist because he was probably just doing what’s required of him, but I do have a bit of a bone to pick with whoever designs and requires these questionnaires.

Finally, the therapist’s body language concerns me. Fox suggested that he might have just been tired and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but he broke all the rules I learned at the undergraduate level about how to use body language to help clients feel comfortable and listened to. He slouched, he looked bored, he crossed his legs. At one point his body language clearly indicated that he was very uncomfortable with the topic we were discussing – which concerns me because we need someone who can support us in navigating its impact on our relationship. He hunched his shoulders, looked at the floor, and oscillated in his chair – avoiding eye contact – when he said he was willing to help us address the topic. I didn’t feel safe – kind of like how a mountain climber wouldn’t feel safe putting their weight on a support that shifted under pressure. I’d prefer if he had said he wasn’t comfortable addressing the topic but could refer us to someone who could, or he needed time to do some research, or if there was otherwise some connection between his verbal and nonverbal communication in that moment.

Unfortunately, we’re very limited in our ability to seek help elsewhere. Most of the licensed marriage counselors we found in the area in our network are part of this same practice! The ones that aren’t part of this practice never got back to us; we have no reason to believe they would if we were to try again. And even if they did, it could be weeks or even months before we could have our first appointment! If we want professional help working on our relationship, we need to make the most of what we’ve got.

Listening to Myself – Part 1

Visiting Banji for a week was the best thing I could have possibly done for myself. I was so happy to get to spend time with my best friend, sharing in some of our favorite activities together (including staying up all night talking). She made a point of asking me what I wanted to do and engaging in a 2-way conversation where we each expressed our views and then compromised to find a solution we could both be happy with. It took some time, but I grew more comfortable recognizing and expressing what I wanted.

It also provided me some much-needed space from Fox, during which time I could think about our situation more clearly. I realized that I want to continue our relationship; there is still a lot of room for both of us to learn and grow from it. But in order for that to happen, I need to assert myself. Wakana says I need to become Aware of how I feel and what I need, Accept it, and Act on it. I’m starting to get the awareness and acceptance; the action is taking some work but I’m moving in that direction. A lot of good has happened since I tried to break up with Fox and kick him out of the house: he’s been working hard to make it a more pleasant place to live and to get his life back on track and generally be a better spouse. I find myself attracted to and happy to spend time with him again. (He still does things to annoy the hell out of me, but I’m working on being able to set boundaries that should help with that.) It’s a really great feeling.

I also need to address that feeling of something being “off” with our relationship that I mentioned in Reactionary. I can’t really say what concerns came up before I started this blog in December 2012 (about 2 years into our relationship); I’m sure there were some but overall I was happy with our relationship and busy focusing on school, trying to become less enmeshed with my mother, addressing my mental health issues, and navigating the effects Banji’s move was having on our friendship.

Since starting the blog, however, there have been a plethora of times I’ve expressed concerns and then never followed up on them, including outright saying I wasn’t ready to get married! I didn’t have nearly as many followers at the time I wrote these posts as I have now; I hope that if I’d had more followers then, someone would have called me out on some of these things. I’ve reviewed the posts leading up to our legal marriage ceremony last November and quoted passages that really should have prompted some kind of action (most likely communication) on my part. Please remember that they are quotes of out of context… but even so, I’m disturbed by my failure to take my own concerns and needs seriously for so long. This can’t happen again.

Continue reading

Reactionary

Mom: “You know that book you’re reading, Codependent No More? Well, I need it! I’m codependent and I’m enabling the two of you!”

Me: “I already ordered you a copy. You’ll have it on Wednesday.”

I’ve finished reading the book and intend to do the activities from the chapters about self-care as they call out to me. You’re welcome to read my post from last February about Detachment; ironically, I had written about wanting Mom to read this book and now she’s asked for it… literally only an hour or two after I decided to (be codependent/controlling and) order a copy for her.

Fox has also expressed interest in reading it, but wants the updated (2008) version – which I’ve already ordered because I’m thinking I might benefit from the updates. I’m tempted to send copies of this book to my whole family, but for now I’ll be happy to have the two people I live with detach from me. Maybe Mom will proselytize for me if she finds the book helpful.

In the meantime, I need to respond to the activity for Chapter Six: Don’t Be Blown About By Every Wind. It’s about the plethora of times “ze made me feel _____.” For example, “Mom made me feel guilty and question my decisions” or even, “Mom drained me of all my energy.” Talking Listening to Mom is often exhausting; my emotional life is, in general, a roller coaster; living with both Mom and Fox is a nightmare.

But it’s not just them, it’s pretty much everyone I interact with – in other words, it’s me. I can’t talk listen to someone without feeling strong uncomfortable emotions (e.g. anger) and/or feeling responsible for that person. I need to fix their emotions and problems. I need to watch what I say to avoid upsetting them. I walk around on eggshells and second-guess basic interactions like handshakes and hugs, thinking I might have accidentally done something to hurt or offend the other person.

For now I want to focus on my reactions to Mom and Fox, because they are the people I react to the most strongly and consistently. Best of all, I feel like they are determined to “protect” me from / pit me against each other.

I react to Mom by feeling defensive, anxious, frustrated, resentful, insecure, agitated, guilty, ashamed, and drained. I react to Mom by trying to help her solve her problems, offering advice (or my opinion of what whomever she’s talking about “should” do), offering to “save the day,” agreeing to do things I don’t want to do, doing something else while she’s still talking, shutting up and repressing my own emotions. I try to avoid or find ways to shorten the time I spend with Mom. I also try to withhold information from her; I’d probably outright lie to her if I could do it without her knowing I’m lying. Sometimes I withhold information to avoid hurting her, sometimes to avoid confrontation.

I react to Fox by feeling angry, resentful, disappointed, annoyed, angry, anxious, guilty, embarrassed, disgusted, angry, sad, and ashamed. I react to Fox by growling, roaring, baring my teeth, tensing my whole body, becoming a dinosaur, poking him, and biting him. I have hit him out of anger a couple of times and that terrifies me. I complain about all the things he does that I find annoying; the list just keeps on growing.

I react to Fox by interrupting him, letting him interrupt me, misinterpreting his intentions, criticizing the way he speaks, letting him oversleep and then giving him a hard time for sleeping so late, finding distractions when we’re supposed to be doing something together, telling him what to do, agreeing to do things I don’t want to do, agreeing with whatever he says, and silencing myself. I react to Fox by eating food I don’t want at that particular moment. I react to Fox by cuddling with him, saying I love him, trying to revive a passion I don’t feel, thinking he needs to learn how to kiss, wishing I were in a relationship with someone I found attractive, and thinking I would be happier with a female-bodied person. I react to Fox (and Mom) by feeling compulsions to self-harm or play video games.

So many items on that list are unhealthy! I don’t think continuing our relationship is healthy, or safe for either of us. I don’t see how we can fix this relationship; even if we could, I don’t really want to. Why does that not seem to factor in? Why do I keep feeling like I do want to make it work with him?

If I had a choice, I wouldn’t react to either of them in these ways. I would be able to talk to Mom and feel listened to and supported. I could receive her advice and wisdom without feeling like I have to act on it or I’m a bad person for not doing so. I would be able to listen to her and provide some empathy and support without feeling compelled to “save the day.” I would be able to be honest with her and not try to avoid or protect her. I wouldn’t feel responsible for her emotions, problems, etc. I’d probably spend less time suspecting her and other people’s motivations, too.

If I had a choice, Fox would have left when I told him he had to move out and I’d have the place to myself. And I’d probably be lonely. And my mother would probably be more invasive. And the kitchen would be full of dirty dishes.

If I had a choice, I could be fully myself and in love with Fox. I wouldn’t feel so angry. I wouldn’t be annoyed or embarrassed by everything he does. I’d find him attractive and fun to be with. I wouldn’t feel the need to tell him what to do. I could be honest with him, disagree with him, tell him I don’t want to do _____. I wouldn’t be aggressive or walk on eggshells or withdraw from him. I’d find our relationship to be a source of strength, vitality, comfort, and healing. I’d feel like we had a special connection I couldn’t imagine sharing with anyone else, like he understood me in ways no one else could.

He doesn’t understand me, and I don’t think he can. I like to think that I’ve got him figured out, but clearly I don’t if I keep thinking he’s doing or saying something for one reason and it’s really the opposite. I don’t think we’ve ever really understood or shared a special connection with each other. There’s always been something that felt “off” about our relationship – a way in which it was rushed and/or a little bit disappointing – but I wasn’t listening to myself enough to stop and consider what I truly wanted. I was reacting.

I wonder if my decision on Sunday to actually work on this relationship “for my growth” was reacting.

Can we learn to understand and have that special connection with each other and fill our relationship with healing energy that benefits both of us? Or was it a mistake to marry him? To get married at all? To want to be married at all? To want to be in relationship…

Who’s really afraid of relationships? Me? Or have I internalized my mother’s fear of me having other meaningful relationships because they pull me away from her?

We had this conversation while hugging:

Mom: “Remember, you come first. Well… after me.”

Me: “No, you come first for you. And I come first for me.”

Father’s Day

Fox and I visited his parents for Father’s Day. I decided to go because I like them and want to have a relationship with them, and I’ve been avoiding them. They know about our situation from my perspective, and they were both eager to show their love and support regardless of the decision we make. They are two of the awesomest people I’ve ever met.

We had a wonderful time and stayed up way too late last night, so I ended up sleeping over. Fox went to church this morning and his dad has work (which is why we celebrated Father’s Day yesterday), so it’s just been me and his mom. We had a heart-to-heart sharing our stories and family baggage and wants and fears, including what’s going on between me and her son.

“I’m sensing a pattern: there’s a lot of loss in your life, and you cope with it by pushing people away or withdrawing. You’re pushing him (Fox) away and he’s anxious and that’s why he’s being so clingy.

“I see you in a place in your life where you need to make a decision. Either you are going to use this relationship to learn how to be in healthy relationships with yourself and others, or you are going to keep pushing people away. You need to decide: either try to work with him to learn and grow together, or let him go.

“You need to either give yourself wholeheartedly to this relationship (and life in general) so you can learn and grow from it, or you have to walk away from it. Either way, the worst thing that will happen is you’ll get a divorce – and you’re already willing to do that. But if you keep doing what you’re doing – if you stay connected to him while simultaneously pushing him away – you’re both going to be miserable.

“So decide.”

I’ve had my quills out for too long. I’m poised, my hood spread, ready to strike. I was actually snarling at other motorists on my way here yesterday. I’m tired of being so tense. I’m exhausting myself and wasting my energy – energy I could put to much better use.

When I’m connected with people – open, honest, vulnerable – that’s when I feel the most alive. Listening to their stories, sharing in the creative process with them, enjoying a delicious meal, giving and receiving hugs… these are the things I thrive on. I need relationships; the most painful thing about the way I’ve been living with Fox is that our relationships with other people have become so limited. We’re disconnected. I’ve disappeared inside myself; I almost did that again by trying to drive home while exhausted last night.

“Yes I’m alone, but I’m alone and I’m free. Just stay away and you’ll be safe from me.”
“Actually, we’re not.”

~ Frozen: “For the First Time in Forever (Reprise)”

Everything comes down to one innate need: the need to be fully myself in relationship with other people. I’ve spent most of my life learning that I can have one or the other: I can be myself when I’m alone, or I can sacrifice myself and become enmeshed with others. To this day my mother actively teaches me to hide part of myself to be more acceptable to others (her).

Neither of those options is acceptable anymore. I can have periods of time when I’m alone, that’s not a problem. It’s healthy and necessary. But I need to be connected with other people; I can’t have being alone be a requirement for being myself. I need the people I care about to see me – all of me, not the mask and armor I’ve been hiding behind and trapped within. To feel safe doing that, I need to be able to see myself.

So whatever decision Fox and I make regarding our marriage, I choose to let go and throw myself wholeheartedly into our relationship – even though I find it terrifying. Not for him, but for myself. Worst case scenario I get the thing I’ve been leaning toward anyway and maybe I learn something useful I can build upon for future growth. Best case scenario I grow and I get an awesome life partner – with an equally awesome family – who can help me continue to grow. I think it’s worth a bit of risk to shoot for that.

I’ll close with a bit of wisdom from my father, one of the ways he’s still alive in me after all these years: Be honest. I choose to be honest with myself and with others, even (especially) when it’s scary. I love you. I need ______. No, I don’t want ______. I’m not sure if I want _____ but I think it’s worth considering. I’m sick and tired of _____. I’m sad I’m scared I’m angry. I can’t live like this anymore! I don’t want to talk about this right now. I feel _____ when you _____. Please give me some time to process. Please respect this boundary. Please listen.

Musings of a Ping-Pong Ball

Friday morning. I knew what I wanted and needed to do, I just needed to know how. I was looking forward to my meeting with Wakana, in which I knew she would help me develop an effective plan. But as I was getting ready, Fox followed me into every room; I asked him to do laundry while I was out, so he started talking about it and folding sheets to put away while I was trying to get dressed. I noticed him scratching his face and asked if he wanted to shave so he decided to shave when I needed to wash my hands. Later he pulled out his katana to admire its blade, grinning at me, and cold terror rushed down my spine. I was shaking as I finished getting ready, thinking: how many times have I thought my anxiety was keeping me from leaving the house, when in reality he was causing it through his actions?

It was the first time I was ready to leave so early to get to a meeting with Wakana. I wanted nothing more than to get out of the house!

On the way to my session I put into words something I’ve probably been aware of for some time, but didn’t want to acknowledge consciously: it doesn’t really matter how much he wants our relationship to continue, or whether he’s willing to put in the work, because I’m not. I don’t want to continue our relationship. I want it to end, and I want him out of my house ASAP.

Wakana helped me solidify what I was going to do, gave me some words to use, and helped me feel strong. She also voiced the fear in the back of my heart: that as soon as Fox is gone, my mother is going to swoop in and gobble me up and we’ll be completely enmeshed again. She’s already been monopolizing a lot of my time, being supportive yes but also making her opinion of the situation very well known and chewing my ear off about things that frankly seem so minor and petty compared to ending my first marriage.

Friday night. I come home and Fox has two of our mutual friends over. We play a game in 2 teams and actually do a very good job of working well together. I have a good time. But then he and Friend A are obsessing over Pokemon, leaving Friend B and me out of their interactions. I try to start a conversation with Friend B and we are about 2 exchanges into it when Fox cuts through us: “[Friend B], if you need something to do, there’s a book behind you I think you’d find interesting.”

He cut me off to tell the person I was trying to interact with to look at a book – an activity that excluded me!

After our friends left we were hugging and he kissed me. I let him, hoping that maybe I would feel some of our romance return or something. To say I felt nothing is too generous. I felt like I wanted to get away. I felt hurt because he seemed to be enjoying it and the feeling was not mutual. Thank god he stopped and suggested we enjoy a dessert and started talking about video games. I could enjoy a conversation about video games.

Finally, I decided to go to bed. He tucked me in; I felt like a child. As soon as we said goodnight and he left the room, I cried. I cried for myself and for the pain I had to inflict on him: he had no idea.

I spent most of Saturday on the phone with Banji, gaining strength and resolve and confidence and figuring out exactly what I wanted to say. I had a plan: get in, say my piece, get out. I rehearsed it a few times, took a deep breath, and went in.

I have never seen anyone look so scared and devastated in all my life. It was painful to watch. It took every last ounce of my strength to say the words I had resolved to say; if I hadn’t had them memorized they would have gone unsaid. He asked me to stay so we could talk right then and there; I agreed. He said he had nowhere to go, no one who could take him in. He said he needs me if he’s going to get better; his mother has been trying to get him to go for therapy for years but I can motivate him to actually do it. He said he doesn’t want to discount our vows, or all we’ve been through together, or go for years never knowing if we could have made it work. He asked what I wanted in a life partner that he wasn’t fulfilling; I told him. He said he can be all of that if I stay with him. He said he doesn’t think separating is what’s best for us.

I believed him, because I wanted to. I saw all my own pain and dashed hopes and fears and desires in him in that moment. I held his hand and cried with him.

He said, “I’m willing to do the work. If, in two months, things haven’t gotten better, then I’ll accept that we need to separate. But I need to hope that we can make it work.”

I told him if he wanted to do this we needed marriage counseling and he should be the one to set it up. I told him I’ve been holding a lot back because I didn’t want to hurt him, and I need to be able to speak my mind. Sometimes he might feel hurt by what I have to say; sometimes we might fight and I need him to be okay with that. I expanded the idea of enthusiastic consent beyond sex and asked him to check in with me if I seem to be agreeing to something, but I’m not, well, enthusiastic about it. I told him that if he’s willing to separate if it doesn’t work out, then I’m willing to be open to the possibility that it might.

I also said these words out loud, because they are what my heart was screaming: “If you truly love me, then let me go.”

I felt better, because at least we were in the same chapter (if not on the same page) regarding our relationship. We were both painfully aware that it’s a mess and likely to fall apart. We were both mourning the (potential) loss of our shared goals and dreams and the breaking of our vows. We were two emotional wrecks, clinging to each other for dear life. It was the most raw, genuine interaction we’ve had in months. We were fully with each other.

Last night I just couldn’t sleep. My mind kept playing the piece I’m composing, which I haven’t touched since Tuesday night. Mom had said I could sleep in her guest bedroom if I needed to, so I went to take her up on that offer. We ended up talking; I’d kind of expected that and realized that part of why I couldn’t sleep was because I wanted to talk to someone (besides Fox) about our conversation.

My mother doesn’t understand the concept of active listening. She “listened” to what I said, then spewed her opinion all over me. She did it this morning, too. She thinks I’m being too nice to him and compromising my needs for his benefit. She’s worried that things will seem to get better just enough so I will stay with him allow him to stay here, and then they’ll go back to being unlivable. She’s concerned that I have a lot of things I need to be focusing on, but I’m not because of this. She thinks that I should end it now and move on with my life.

Frankly, she’s right. And so is he. And I’m somewhere in the middle, bouncing back and forth between the two of them. I keep thinking, “It’s only 2 months, I can get through it.” But it’s two more months of my life. I have things I need to do! And deadlines I need to meet. I can’t be stressed out like this.

But I also… It’s a process. I’m nowhere near perfect, otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten myself into this situation. I see it as a victory that I said the words and got him not only to see and understand but to fucking feel where I am in our relationship. And I totally understand him not being ready to let go, it’s taken me quite a while to get to this point with a ton of help and support from Wakana. He has a lot more to lose when this relationship ends. I know it’s not my job to save him; I have to save myself.

But I also have to live with him until he leaves, whether it’s by his own will or by force. I need to navigate the path that’s best for me. I need to resolve my need to end this relationship with all the things that have kept me in it for this long. I need room to breathe, and tons of support.

I need my mother to let go just as much as I need him to.