Entropy

Oh, this is bad. This is really bad.

I’m exhausted but I can’t bring myself to go to sleep. Like, I’m falling asleep, I’m having auditory hallucinations, I feel completely and utterly drained of all energy … but I … it’s not even that I don’t want to go to sleep, I do. And it’s not that I can’t go to sleep. I just … I don’t know, I’m finding whatever else I can do. The computer isn’t helping but I know how to shut it down. There’s something else going on.

And I’m like barely eating. When I eat, it’s smaller portions. I don’t know if it matters that I’ve been drinking a lot of ginger ale lately? Soda, sugar … I dunno. I do know I’m not drinking enough water.

I was outside for much of the day yesterday, walking around. It was pretty awesome. But I had two nights in a row of very little sleep. So I spent most of today exhausted, with sore muscles … not exactly the best motivation to go outside and move around, gorgeous as it was today.

I hate how cluttered this apartment is, especially my desk. I couldn’t tolerate sitting at it today. But I can’t quite bring myself to do anything about it – I kinda feel like what’s the point, it’s just gonna get cluttered again. Mom sent me “4 tips for decluttering your home;” I would’ve laughed if I’d had the energy. They’re like “put a bandaid on your broken arm” or something. (She meant well, it’s just not addressing the real issue.)

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Still Abusive

TW: full text of a conversation with my mother, in which her responses are abusive (gaslighting)

It started with an online swimsuit sale. I’m not sure why my mother decided I need a new swimsuit – I think the ones I have are fine – but she “strongly encouraged” me to take advantage of the sale… and have her buy the items for me so she can get “points” (credit card reward program?). I haven’t completely overwritten my programming, so I agreed to do the online shopping in her apartment, even though I knew I should have known better.

Clothes shopping has always been triggering for me, and swimsuit shopping is the worst. I’ve been working hard to love my body the way it is, but the internalized fatphobia and body size-related insecurity that tortured me my whole life springs up anew when I simply cannot find clothing in my size.

And then there’s the whole being non-binary thing. At least with everyday clothes it’s possible to do some gender-bending: no one needs to know I wear “men’s” boxer-briefs and an undershirt instead of a bra. T-shirts are considered unisex. Socks and shoes – who cares?! So far I haven’t ventured into trying to find “men’s” pants that might fit me, mostly because they’re simply not designed for hips that are considerably larger than the attached waist. But finding a pair of jeans shaped to my body feels so good, I can keep wearing “women’s” pants without too much dysphoria. For now.

Swimsuits are very gendered. Just the fact that men are expected to run around bare-chested and women have to cover up sends my brain into a dysphoric frenzy. Ideally I would love to just swim naked – I had the opportunity to do that once and it was glorious! No gender performance, just diverse bodies. Everything floats when it’s not tied down by a swimsuit. I loved the sensation. I felt so free!

So I’m swimsuit shopping online with my mother. She’s sitting at the computer with me mostly behind her, looking at what she thinks I’ll like. Fortunately, we agreed that the “women’s” swim shorts this company offers are far superior to typical “women’s” swimsuit bottoms… but she was going to get a shorter length than I wanted (so I had to argue with her about that) and the ones I wanted were out of stock in my size (of course). I convinced her to add the swim leggings (way more coverage than I’d like, but still better than the alternatives). And I don’t remember if we added a couple pairs of “men’s” swim trunks together or I added them myself later, but either way they’ve been ordered. Maybe they’ll even fit! (A bit of a long shot, since the measurements are smaller than my hips.)

Then we started looking at tops. I would have been happy with a simple “shelf bra” tankini thing. They all have underwire or soft cups. Ugh. We get in an argument about it. I’m concerned because with a tankini one has to consider both chest (“bust”) and hip measurements, and mine are too different to have one size fit both properly. I think everything I own is too big on the bust and too small on the hips – I just try not to worry about it. We have another fight, I get her to let me sit at the computer and look at stuff myself, without having to try and convince her to click on each item for me. Nada.

I decided to look at bikini tops, thinking it might solve the hip-bust ratio problem. Bad idea. They’re all basically bras. I don’t know what I was expecting – maybe something more like a sports bra at least? But no, my dysphoria went through the roof. I eventually found and selected a couple “men’s” rash guards, which as far as I can tell are essentially fitted t-shirts designed for swimming?

Again, way more coverage than I wanted, but probably a million times more comfortable than the weird boob-obsessed gendered performance nonsense Mom probably would have bought for me.

So, it was pretty cool that this company/site had these options. And Mom was pretty cool about “letting” – god, I’m an adult, who they hell is she to decide what I’m “allowed” to wear or buy? – me get mostly “men’s” swimwear.

But look at me, writing over 700 words about swimsuit shopping! Throughout our interaction she kept saying little things that were bothering me: “You really need to give yourself more time to get places.” “I went in your apartment and thought ‘I just have to help them out,’ so I did your dishes.” “I don’t know how you’ve been handling your finances.”

That last one was the last straw. I used to keep my checkbook perfectly balanced. I used to have my own income, so I could save money every month and otherwise be a financially-responsible adult. But I don’t have my own income, and I haven’t figured out how to consistently track finances for two people (especially since Fox is the one who makes all our money and spends most of it). I’ve been reduced to checking our bank account balance once a month, to make sure we have enough in there to pay our credit card bill. I’m not happy with the situation; it feels wrong; I’m embarrassed by it. But between my mental health issues, the work I’ve been doing in therapy, volunteering full-time for the Bernie Sanders campaign (which I love), and being primary caregiver to our pet rats, I consider it an accomplishment that I manage to pay the credit card bills on time. And eat, occasionally. That requires constant vigilance.

So I walked out. “Please don’t walk out on me.” I barely even looked at her. I’d fallen mute. I couldn’t say or do anything. My legs just carried me out the door and down the stairs and into my apartment.

A little while later she was leaving the house, so I hugged her and apologized and told her I love her. She told me that she wasn’t pushing the bra-like tankini innards on me because of gender, but because she likes to have support for her anatomy. “You want some support,” she said to me. “No, you want some support,” I told her. “That doesn’t mean it’s what I want.” I escape the conversation – mostly because she needs to leave. Everything seems peachy.

She even called on her way wherever she was going to say she’s proud of me for all the work I’m doing on the campaign.

Wednesday.

On Wednesday she posted one of those image-with-text meme-like things on my Facebook wall:

I am not your friend. I am your parent. I will stalk you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare, & hunt you down when needed – because I love you.

I got very angry, hid it from my timeline, and proceeded to send her multiple text messages:

Posting threats on my Facebook wall is not going to improve our relationship – quite the opposite. You and dad and your in-laws and other family members already drove me insane; that’s why I’ve needed to work my ass off in therapy for the past 6 years.

You’re not my friend, you’re my parent – so ACT LIKE ONE. Get the therapy you need to be able to do it properly. Stop using me as your therapist. I’m not your friend or your therapist I’m your adult child. Respect that I’m an adult and respect my boundaries. Help me in the ways I ask you to; give me the advice I ask for; listen to me and support me! And think about how what you say might impact me before you say it.

I’m grateful for everything you do for me and I understand that it’s not easy. But enough is enough. If you think it’s okay to stalk me and knowingly do things to “drive me insane” then you need to make some effort to learn how to parent responsibly.

“I do these harmful things because I love you” is what abusers say.

The rest of the conversation proceeded in a rather alarming fashion (from my point of view) during which she did not apologize.

M: “I do not abuse you. You are taking things too seriously.”
Z:  “No, YOU are not taking me seriously enough. You never have.”
M: “Stalk you?”
Z:
M: “Not a threat. I thought it was cute. And told you that I love you. Something parents always say. We make many sacrifices for our children. We should talk later. Take things lighter. Love you.”

I freaked out and called Wakana. She got so upset with my mom, I had to ask her to stop yelling. She told me about a million times that I was not overreacting, I was having a healthy response, I need to separate emotionally from my mother, and I should unfriend my mother on Facebook. So that’s what I did, and that’s the text I sent Mom.

The next text I got from Mom was telling me I needed to move my car. We haven’t spoken since. No apology.

I’m not talking to her until she apologizes to me.

In the meantime, I got a nice short androgynous haircut that I love and everyone has complimented me on. I have a street to canvass and volunteers to call this afternoon. I’ll be working in the campaign office for a handful of hours this evening. And then we begin our GOTV (get out the vote) efforts in earnest. 9am-9pm Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. And, I imagine, the full time polls are open Tuesday. I signed up to be part of the voter protection team on Tuesday, so I will either be doing that or juggling it with work in the campaign office. It’s finals week on steroids. Crunch time.

If you can help us out go to map.berniesanders.com for local events and/or berniepb.com to phonebank. If your state’s primary is on Tuesday, visit canivote.org to look up your polling place and/or other useful information.

This is what’s been keeping me going. I need Bernie to win on Tuesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Music and Metaphor

I had one of my most intense and effective sessions ever with Wakana last week. She supported me by alternating between A Major and A minor chords on the piano, adjusting her style & chords to complement the emotions I was expressing. I sang, nonverbal melodies at first and words as they came to me – statements and images and raw expressions of anger, grief, triumph… She sang too, reflecting and supporting and occasionally making suggestions. It was very intense; we peeled back most of my defenses as I became more and more relaxed.

It’s one thing to know, cognitively, that one’s self-judgment is the result of early, most likely pre-verbal, experiences of being judged and found lacking. Of not having one’s emotional needs meet sufficiently, and so on. It’s relatively easy (now, after studying psychology for over a decade) for me to connect my current emotional difficulties and insecurities to past experiences. (And yet I’m still surprised how often certain ones come up in therapy.) I’ve built this narrative about my life that organizes the chaos, giving it purpose and meaning; I can reflect on it and pat myself on the back for all the things I’ve overcome.

Yet, time and time again, Wakana tells me the same thing: “You’re too hard on yourself.” She asks what it is I dislike so much about myself. And other than this nonverbal sense of being Wrong, I can’t really answer her. Not in straightforward prose, anyway.

It’s another thing entirely to go through the process of seeking the cause of my self-judgment as it exists deep within my psyche, much as one might search a room for an item one has lost. Several years ago I moved into the other apartment in my mom’s 2-family house; she had been using its closet and cabinets for storage but was happy to have me move back in with her. As Banji helped me clean and re-organize, we identified items that were not mine. Then we moved the items to a space where Mom could sort through them without entering my apartment. We called the items “someone else’s problem,” which made it easier to remove them from my space.

I felt like I was doing that again as I searched for what could possibly be so “wrong” about me. What did I find? The Single Thing I most want to change about myself is this feeling like there’s something inherently wrong with me, which makes me depressed and anxious and keeps me from fully living my life. It keeps me from loving myself. I judge myself for judging myself for judging myself.

… Or so I thought during the session last week. The judgment is definitely what I want and need to change, but I’m still judging something about myself… Perhaps something that doesn’t need to change after all. As I wrote and re-read the above, I realized that I judge myself for having intense emotions – especially when they come up at inconvenient times. The sadness, grief, anger, fear, anxiety, etc. take over my body all too often, usually at times when my “rational side” considers them to be utterly inappropriate.

Today I tried to acknowledge and accept how I was feeling without judging or fighting it. I felt anxious while getting ready to leave the house and considered taking the medication my nurse practitioner prescribed, but decided instead to accept that I felt anxious and continue getting ready. I felt tears welling up in my eyes during conversations and let them flow, inwardly acknowledging why they were there while continuing to share my ideas and experiences.

The problem isn’t my emotions. The problem is that it is risky to allow one’s emotions to show in most social situations. It’s that I have been judged and punished from a young age whenever I expressed strong emotions – especially if my doing so inconvenienced the adults in my life. It’s that, until recently, I haven’t had the support and tools I need to express and manage my emotions in healthy ways, instead of suppressing them.

My emotions are inextricable parts of me that serve vital functions, even if they’re often not what I want or (think I) need at the time. The judgment isn’t mine. It belongs to cultural norms that should be obsolete and caregivers who internalized those norms. As humans we both create and adapt to our environment (society)… and we have an uncanny knack for creating unhealthy environments for ourselves and our children. Self-judgement and internalized stigma are two related ways in which we adapt to some of the most toxic elements in our environment.

(I feel the need to include that not everything in Western society is toxic; some aspects are actually quite awesome. Also, just as we create our environment, we can change it for the better.)

The thing is, it’s one thing to know that cognitively, to think it and talk about it with other people. It’s something else entirely to, as in the movie Inception, delve deep into one’s own mind and find something that was placed there by someone else. Wakana helped me do that last week; now I’m looking for the “someone else’s problem” box.

Therapists

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

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

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

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

But my therapist?

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

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

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

It almost feels kind of wrong. Selfish.

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

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

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

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

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

Sims 3 Legacy Challenge: Orlanna Faust

Orlanna Faust didn’t remember much about her childhood or adolescence, except that they had been unpleasant. Whenever she tried to access memories from even her late teenage years, she became overwhelmed by feelings of loneliness and grief.

All she could remember clearly was a surreal and yet vivid dream – it had to have been a dream – in which she had begged for a new life far from her mundane, dreary world. A sim-like being in a long, black, hooded cloak had answered her. She could not make out the being’s features, nor understand their words, and yet she had the sense she had agreed to… something. Then she awoke, alone in an empty field, overlooking a valley unlike anything she’d ever seen…

A light-skinned, female-presenting sim sits cross-legged in the grass. There is a thought bubble above her head with an image of a black bird. She is outdoors on a sunny day on a grassy hill, with trees, mountains, and a waterfall in the distance.

Orlanna contemplates her current situation.

I’ve decided to try the Sims 3 Legacy Challenge one more time. I created a new founder and moved her into one of the 64×64 lots in Dragon Valley, then used the “familyfunds” cheat to reduce the family funds to $1800.

For an overview of the challenge and its rules, visit the Sims 3 Legacy Challenge website. In short, the challenge is to play for 10 generations without using cheat codes, extending your sims’ lifespans, raising them from the dead, etc. You start with just one sim on a very large empty lot and $1800 starting cash.

I decided to alter some of the rules for my challenge run:

  1. I added a total of 10 days to the “normal” sim lifespan.
  2. I decided that the camera in the founder’s inventory at the start of the game may not be sold.
  3. I added “No Bills Ever,” “Fireproof Homestead,” and “Young Again” to the list of forbidden Lifetime Rewards.
  4. Updated: I set up my own rules governing the traits I choose for sims that are born in-game (instead of requiring them all to be random):
    1. They must have the family trait.
    2. There is a 50/50 chance that female descendants of the founder will be born with the “Lucky” trait. When present, the “Lucky” trait takes the place of one of the requirements below:
    3. One trait must be from the mother.
    4. One trait must be from the father.
    5. One trait must be random.
    6. I have unrestricted choice of one trait.
    7. If the sim acquires an additional trait (e.g. from completing a degree) I will keep whichever one is suggested by the game.
  5. I’m playing a matriarchal family: I have a female founder and “only female children may become the heir to bring in the next generation.” Males born into the family may (but are not required to) stay to help take care of their nieces and nephews.
  6. My goal is for each heir to have children with whichever unrelated male sim(s) she chooses – without the need for marriage or other committed romantic relationships. (This way I don’t have to take control of non-player characters.) In fact, I’ve chosen “Commitment Issues” as the family trait to support this play style.
  7. I’m going to try to make additions to the legacy house without altering the existing structure. That means existing walls, exterior wall coverings, doors, and windows will remain whenever possible.

Founder: Orlanna Faust

A light-skinned female-presenting sim dressed in firefighters' pants, boots, and hat stands with one hand on her hip in front of autumn foliage and a barrel of pumpkins.

Orlanna dresses up as a firefighter for Spooky Day!

Orlanna began her life in Dragon Valley with no coherent memories, a digital camera, a high school diploma with the name of a school she did not recognize, and $1800 – hardly enough to buy or build a house. She wandered the town somewhat aimlessly at first, awed by the strange appearance of the locals… – were they… elves?

Fortunately for her, it was not long before Orlanna learned that the fire department was hiring, “no experience necessary.” The job description stipulated that applicants must be willing to live at the fire house during the workweek; that was perfect. In exchange for risking her life to save strangers, Orlanna gained a home that satisfied her basic needs.

Left: Two female-presenting sims - one of whom has white skin, purple hair, and pointy ears - shake hands. There is a fire truck in the background. Right: The same individual sleep in twin beds with "zzz" over their heads.

Left: Orlanna joins the fire department. Right: Orlanna sleeps in the fire house dormitory.

Fighting fires was hard work, but Orlanna found it rewarding. She began to make a name for herself around town. Yet – although people applauded her bravery, thanked her for saving their lives, and even seemed to like her – Orlanna struggled to make and keep friends. Try as she might to adapt to the local customs, she was prone to accidentally offending people – which caused her to lose their trust. Orlanna was often lonely; she turned to brooding to fill the void.

Left: A firefighter sprays the contents of a fire extinguisher on a large fire in someone's living room. Right: A male-presenting sim with yellow skin, blonde hair, and pointy ears covers his mouth and stares wide-eyed at the firefighter, who has a speech bubble over her head with a bouquet of flowers in it.

Left: Orlanna attempts to extinguish a large, dangerous house fire.
Right: A townsperson is impressed by Orlanna-the-firefighter’s dedication and courage.

Over time, Orlanna learned to tread more carefully in social situations. She made a friend or two and began to feel less lonely. And then she met Orion Lawless, a concession stand vendor at the winter festival. They fell in love almost instantly…

A booth with a cash register and menus on either side fills the foreground. Behind it, a female-presenting sim embraces a male-presenting sim with off-white skin and purple hair.

Orlanna and Orion embrace at the winter festival.

Legacy House

By working hard and spending wisely, Orlanna saved up enough money to build and furnish a small house in the field where she had first entered Dragon Valley. Far from the center of town, it served as a sanctuary where she could be fully herself.

A small one-story house with a porch. Icicles and holiday lights hang from the roof. It is covered and surrounded by snow.

Orlanna’s cozy little house on a snowy day.

It was with great joy that Orlanna hosted her first gift-giving party, which turned out to be a huge success!!!

A large open room with kitchen furnishings in the foreground, a couch in the left background, a table with chairs and bedroom furniture in the right background. Male- and female-presenting sims sit or stand around a large pile of presents near the center of the room. One male-presenting sim is opening a present.

Orlanna’s friends and acquaintances gather in her home to open presents.

Thanks for reading!

Still Here

I haven’t posted in 3 weeks, so I thought I’d just mention that I’m still here. I’m taking Thesis Seminar this semester; so far my topic has been approved and I’ve got some ideas bouncing around regarding it. I’ve been rather preoccupied with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, – not just my Let’s Play, but mods as well. I’m also concerned/depressed about my health. I might have some kind of neurological problem (besides my psych issues) that’s affecting my visual perception and giving me headaches. To make things worse I’m between HMOs and my state’s program sent Fox a “reminder” to verify my citizenship, even though I’d addressed that 2 months ago. I’m trying to get myself to spend some time outside in the beautiful weather we’ve been having, but lately I’ve been more inclined to hide in my nice dark nerd cave. Basically hanging on to my life preserver, trying not to get seasick, and praying for this storm to pass.

Hypomanic and Depressed at the Same Time

I read an article today and now my world makes so much more sense. In a Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) “Ask the Doc” article, Dr. Mark Bauer, MD states that:

“[T]he most common mood state in bipolar disorder is a mixture of hypomanic/manic and depressed symptoms. In fact, the classic picture of bipolar disorder having a course alternating between the poles of high and low moods is an over-simplification.”

He goes on to explain mania and hypomania more clearly, basically describing them as hyperactivation – feeling “sped up” and driven. This can feel good (e.g. grandiosity), bad (e.g. irritability), and everywhere in between. In other words, mood and activation level are two different things.

Ergo, we can think of bipolar disorder as

“a condition of recurring depressive periods punctuated by periods of hyperactivation – and sometimes these periods of hyperactivation alternate with slowed down, depressed periods, but at other times they overlap.”

That. Is. My. Life. It’s very rare for me to experience a period of time with no depressive symptoms; at best my symptoms become few and mild enough that I don’t meet the criteria for clinical depression for a couple days to a few weeks. But periods of hyperactivation… just look through my blog and you’ll see my posts about “I’m going to do this new thing that will change the world,” staying up all night composing, “now I’m getting better and I’m mad at Fox all the time,” and most recently “Let’s Play Skyrim!”

I usually feel better during my periods of hyperactivation because 1) I have energy to do things and 2) I’m hyper-focused on something that’s meaningful to me, at least while the hyperactivation lasts. Sometimes I don’t feel so good because I want to Do All The Things!!! but I can’t focus on one thing to do, so my mind is a jumbled mess. I’ve also tried to be a part of too many different groups at once, which invariably results in me feeling overwhelmed, backing out, feeling guilty, and my depression symptoms becoming more severe. As far as I can tell, all of my periods of hyperactivation have occurred at times when I also met the criteria for mild depression. (Possibly also moderate depression.) In other words, I’ve never had a discrete hypomanic or manic episode.

I try not to put too much importance on labels; what’s really important is that the needs of the person with a mental health issue are being met. But having a label creates a container for my experience; I can understand it and talk to other people about it and know I’m not the only one who’s had that experience. Finding labels that accurately describe my experiences helps me feel safe. I obviously can’t diagnose myself, but the label “bipolar disorder” seems to become more accurate the more I learn about the experiences it’s intended to describe.

I know I’ve been “depressed” lately because I’ve been feeling sad and/or grumpy, isolating, having trouble eating full meals, apologizing for my existence, and thinking “I want to die” when I’m tired. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before my world starts unraveling (again): I worry about Fox’s safety, our rats’ health, my own health, the house burning down, etc. Calling these experiences “depression” helps me separate a bit from them, accept them, and engage in self-care.

A Line Through Time

One of the worst things about my mood disorder is feeling disconnected from my past self/selves. I feel like I’ve lost something and I want it back, but I’m not even sure what it is. Most of my work with Wakana has focused on reclaiming aspects of my Self and my life experiences that I’d repressed, abandoned, or otherwise been ashamed of. It can be very painful It is excruciatingly painful, but with every step I feel closer to being whole.

Last night I decided to make a timeline of my relationships. I started with meeting Banji over 15 years ago and continued through college, my first full-time job, grad school, meeting Fox, Banji moving away, getting married, all the way to this year. I realized there was at least one major transition – including but not limited to beginning, losing, and ending relationships – in every calendar year since I graduated from college about 10 years ago.

There is a concentration of intense transitions from 2011 through 2013. As Banji was preparing to move away, I essentially proposed to Fox – despite only knowing him for a handful of months. Spring 2011 was the last time I facilitated music therapy sessions for actual clients. Banji moved over the summer. I applied for an internship and thought it was a sure thing, so I waited months to learn whether I’d been accepted… only to be rejected twice. By the end of that year I’d moved in with a friend from college.

I don’t have much written down about 2012. I spent a lot of time trying to find the right medication and psychiatrist, and ended up taking some meds that probably did more harm than good. I adopted a pair of rats early in the year, one of whom died about a month or two later, and I had to euthanize the other by the end of the year.

Banji moved much closer to home (but still 5 hours away) around the beginning of 2013. I followed suit by moving back in with Mom; I’ve barely seen or talked to my former roommate since. Mom got knee replacement surgery, my uncle died, I had to drop the classes I’d waited 2 years to take because they were triggering my worst symptoms, Fox moved in with me that summer, and we got married in the fall. Looking back on it in that context, I think I must have been crazy!

Some of the above transitions were out of my control, but others (like moving) I imposed on myself. I honestly don’t regret them; they were necessary for me to reach the point where I am now. But they definitely added to my stress and were not entirely beneficial to my mental health. I couldn’t do most of the things I was used to doing; I stopped doing things that had been meaningful to me. I made at least one decision that I do regret now. In hindsight I think my worst problem may have been the guilt and shame I felt because of the problems I was facing – particularly as they affected my pursuit of a career.

Things have been improving since last summer, when Fox and I started marriage counseling and finally gained access to the medication we need (thanks to the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare”). Fox has been working full time for several months now. I did well through a challenging semester on a sub-therapeutic dose of my medication. Now I’m on a therapeutic dose. We’re regularly using the skills we learned in marriage counseling (which our therapist terminated 2 months ago). Our relationship brings us both a lot of comfort and joy.

Of equal importance is that Banji and I have worked through at least some of the issues impacting our relationship; we’ve become closer as a result. We’ve adapted to the current physical distance between us. Whenever we meet in person, we blend continuing fun traditions from the past with planning for the life we intend to build together. We’re not where we want to be – living within a 10-minute drive of each other – but we’re hopeful.

I haven’t been putting off applying for internships because I’m afraid of rejection. I’m not even sure it’s accurate to say I’m afraid of success. Starting an internship would be Another Huge Transition: new relationships, new routines, new responsibilities, even a new role/identity. The dynamic between Fox and me would change – hopefully for the better, but it would still be a change.

This is something I actually have some control over; I am exercising my control. I am not procrastinating and I do not have anything to be ashamed of. I am choosing to postpone another huge world-shattering transition because I’ve learned that it’s harmful to have too many of them in such a short period of time. There’s a lot of pressure to start my internship as soon as possible, and a lot of benefits that could come from doing so. But there are also benefits to waiting, at least for few more months.

I need some time to breathe.

The Way of the Voice

Working on my Let’s Play has the potential to help me become more intentional in how I use my voice. Creating an episode is a process that I’d estimate is about 1/4 recording and 3/4 editing, the latter of which involves a significant amount of time listening (and re-listening) to my commentary. It gives me the opportunity to hear my voice as someone else might: without the lower frequencies I’m used to hearing and containing unintentional fluctuations that can be interpreted in a variety of ways.

When I said I like the way my voice sounds in my last post, I meant that the absence of the lower frequencies doesn’t bother me. I’ve also learned to speak with a deeper, more adult-sounding voice – well, most of the time. My voice as it’s recorded for the commentary usually sounds like a me I want others to perceive. I consider that to be a rather awesome accomplishment.

As I’ve been listening to my commentary, I’ve come to notice unintentional fluctuations in the volume, energy, pitch, and rhythm of my voice. It tends to get softer and its rhythm more erratic at points that are unscripted, so my focus is diverted to figuring out what I want to say and how to word it. Sometimes the volume – at least as it’s measured by my audio editing software – will be the same, but my voice will sound… smaller, perhaps more child-like. The pitch can be all over the place and too often rises at the end of statements, which drives me crazy because it sounds like I’m constantly asking questions.

I don’t know if others would interpret these fluctuations the same way, but to me they all come together to make it sound like I’m uncertain about what I’m saying, perhaps seeking validation or approval. If I do this in my real-life interactions, people might think I’m incompetent or lack confidence or I’m asking them for help; this might contribute to others (including Wakana) “taking over” and telling me what to do. That’s not how I want to be treated, but it’s how I’m unintentionally asking people to treat me. I need to figure out how I want people to treat me (like an equal? like a competent adult?) and learn to present myself that way.

I’ve tried to mitigate this, with some interesting effects. In one episode I noticed that my request to “please subscribe” sounded like a plea, as though I were desperate for followers. In a later episode I intentionally tried to drag the pitch of my voice downward, in hopes of at least providing some variety. When I listened to the recording I thought I sounded like a bitchy teenager, complete with huffing and rolling my eyes. I immediately deleted both of these atrocities out of their respective episodes. (Thank goodness we can do that!)

I recognize that 1) I’m probably being more critical of myself than others would be of me, 2) I might be looking at myself through depression and/or anxiety goggles, and 3) different people might not even notice these fluctuations, or might interpret them in different ways. Ideally I can ask others for feedback – actually, Wakana would be the perfect person to ask; as a music therapist whose voice is her primary instrument, she is the one most likely to notice the fluctuations in my voice. Perhaps she can teach me to be more intentional in how I use them to communicate.

With and without Wakana’s assistance, I can use my Let’s Play commentary as an opportunity to listen to my voice in a variety of situations:

  • when I’m intentionally trying to convey certain emotions as part of role-playing my character
  • when I’m sharing my thoughts about strategy, the plot, gameplay mechanics, etc. – basically, talking about stuff with a focus on the content of what I’m saying
  • when I’m directly addressing the viewer, e.g. “thanks for watching”

I can also experiment with making my voice sound different and listen to the results. Does intentionally lowering the pitch at the end of sentences help me sound more confident? What happens when I try to put more energy into my voice? When I’m role-playing, do the inflections in my voice accurately express the emotion I’m trying to portray?

Of course, I can’t act my way through life: trying to convince others I’m more capable and worthy than I actually felt is what got me into this mess in the first place. I need to continue the work I’ve been doing with Wakana, which essentially comes down to learning that I have the right to exist and I’m worthy/”good enough” just the way I am. As I do that, the ways I present myself will change, and so will the ways people treat me, and that will help further improve my self-esteem.

Or, maybe the changes in how I present myself aren’t quite keeping up with my changes in self-perception. In other words, I feel more worthy and confident than I convey to others. So, I choose to intentionally improve my ability to communicate my confidence and worthiness, so others will see it and respond accordingly… which will help further improve my self-esteem.