Choices

I got to spend several hours with Ron today, mostly just relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. We went for a brief walk on a nature trail and got a late lunch. Ze told me ze has been super busy and very stressed, not getting enough personal time and rest, and everything feels “raw.” I could see the pain in zir eyes and wanted to do something, anything, to help … if I couldn’t take away the pain, to at least be there with zir in it.

“You’re not zir therapist,” a committee member reminded me. I’m having trouble naming ‘her’ – I think it’s a ‘her’ – but she’s kind of motherly, kind of authoritarian, the one who ‘encourages’ me to do the stuff on my to-do list and wants me to get my act together professionally. The one who’s willing to go along with the whole entrepreneurship thing for now, but won’t call it a career until we start making money. In addition to being an important personal boundary, it’s also unethical to provide therapy to loved ones. She was getting at both of those concerns with her comment. “And I thought you didn’t want to do this kind of thing, anyway…”

“I don’t want to do it professionally,” I thought back curtly, “but I have learned these skills. I want to use them to help people I care about. How can I do this without crossing that boundary?”

I basically told Ron I could relate, asked if there’s anything ze can do to create a(n emotional) space for zirself, and listened.  I tried to be as supportive as I could. I chose my words carefully, and it took some effort, but it wasn’t draining or anything. It actually felt good. And I hope it helped… but whether it did (in the way I’d intended) or not, it was a moment of connection that we were able to share. It was real.

If the work I did in graduate school enables me to love the people I care about better, in ways that support my mental health as well, then it’s worth every penny.

I listened and sang along to the Moana soundtrack on my way home, getting into character and dancing and reveling in all the sensations. I thought about how awesome it must have been creating that music, and I can do that too, and even if I don’t do it professionally I can do it for the sheer joy. “My music is for me,” I thought, “I want and need it to be for me.” I felt myself connecting again to the passion I felt for music in undergrad, playing in the orchestra, studying theory, composing – back when I was focusing on the music for the music itself, not so I could ‘use it’ to ‘help’ others. And I felt grounded in who I was a decade ago, who I am now, who I’ve always been… maybe even who I will be. I felt whole.

“You should share your gift. You would make a great therapist.”

Maybe you’re right. But I don’t want to – not now at least. You can call me selfish, but it’s my choice to make.

It feels good to make that choice. I’m grateful that I can, and for the journey, and to everyone who supported me in getting here.

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“Life takes you to unexpected places. Love brings you home.”

Right after I’d recommitted to finding an internship and completing my music therapy degree… a friend called and asked me to partner with him in a new business he had been laying the groundwork for for several months, and felt ready to launch. It’s a great opportunity to make a living writing about things I’m passionate about, and he seems to think it has the potential to be quite lucrative. I’ve already enjoyed writing a couple articles for it, and everyone I tell encourages me to go for it (well, except my mom, but she’s skeptical about pretty much everything). I’ll be honest, I’m a bit wary regarding the whole entrepreneurship thing myself – and I’ve made it clear I don’t have the funds to invest in this endeavor financially – but I’m also hopeful: it’s a chance to make more money than I probably would as a (beginning) music therapist, doing something I enjoy, without performing emotional labor. Well, at least it would involve considerably less emotional labor.

Around the same time this happened: my godmother was (still is) slowly recovering from complications from bariatric surgery (there’s a reason spell check wants to change that to “barbaric”); Banji’s dad was (still is) dealing with health issues brought on or exacerbated by treatment for yet another type of cancer (he’s had a few); Fox’s dad fell and had bleeding on the brain; and my mom was diagnosed with stage 1 uterine cancer. I could have maybe dealt with all the other bullshit, but my mother having cancer, after everything else, was the last straw. Since being diagnosed she’s had a hysterectomy and they’re confident they got everything and she’s recovering well enough… but we’re both still scared – or at least I am. My mother had (we’re gonna keep this past tense) my mother had cancer, WTF!!!

I just… can’t. I emailed my academic advisor, thanked him for the work he’d started trying to help me find an internship, and told him I need to put it on hold again because I’m dealing with family health issues. I feel like every time I’m starting to make progress on this, something happens to fuck with my head, I’m on an emotional roller coaster, I’m not ready to start this career that’s all about supporting people emotionally… and finally – FINALLY – I realized that maybe I’ll NEVER be ready. There’s no reason for me to believe things won’t keep happening to rock my boat, and I’ve found the best thing I can do is hang on until the storm passes… I can’t support people through shit like that on a professional level while I’m struggling with it myself. I mean I guess I could, but what would it do to me?

Maybe… and it’s still new enough that part of me doesn’t want to let go, but I think it’ll come around, eventually… maybe I don’t want to become a music therapist, or work in any “helping profession.” The idea of working in a field where I can just perform intellectual labor (maybe some physical labor, but minimal emotional labor) has never been more appealing. There have been signs, like when I flat out didn’t do an assignment for one of my graduate psychology classes because I realized it wouldn’t hurt my grade too much, and I didn’t feel like dealing with the personal/emotional shit it was bringing up. Or when I stopped working on my degree for 2 years to dabble in third-party politics. Or when people started telling me I come alive when I talk about this entrepreneurship opportunity (but not when I talk about finding a music therapy internship). When I think about it I’m like “but damn, I want to finish this degree, have the M.A. after my name that I went tens of thousands of dollars into debt for.” But, I dunno… maybe once we get this thing off the ground I’ll be able to pay off the debt in a couple years and then, well, I can probably still finish the degree, or get a different one, or just say “hey I’m successful in a career I enjoy, who needs a degree?”

(I had a dream in which I switched to music composition… and if I’m not mistaken they’re both “M.A. in Music with a concentration in __________” – so yeah, that might not be entirely unrealistic. But I don’t really feel enough motivation to focus on composition right now to make that work… Right? I mean, yeah, Banji’s moving back home and will be taking classes on the same campus and it would be awesome if we had classes at the same time: we could get dinner and study in the library together wearing matching [school name] sweatshirts and it’ll be almost kinda like being in undergrad together again instead this time we’ll both be commuters and… nah. Being a professional composer is a pipe dream. I haven’t even dabbled in it for years. Yes I know I majored in music because I fell in love with music theory, and I’d absolutely love to take another course in it… I’ve joked if someone’s complaining about having to take it I’ll offer to take it for them… but I just… It’s more debt, okay! I can’t ask that of my mom. Really… Yes I know there are scholarships I could apply for but… well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to see if it’s remotely feasible, and what the process would entail… I do miss composing, and it could help with branding for my new business…)

Omg what have I gotten myself into? The point is yeah, this is the second time it’s happened. I went into college majoring in psychology and minoring in music, then had a “mid-college crisis” in which I decided to major in music (but finish the psych major as well, I was so fucking close). Then I went into grad school for music therapy (I wanted to be a music therapist, really, it wasn’t that “trying to become a professional composer is unrealistic” – honestly!) and interestingly managed to satisfy all the requirements except the one that involves actually working full time as a music therapist. (Because of the application process, honest!) And I can’t help thinking I could just finish the degree this coming fall semester! if I didn’t have to get a fucking internship and work in the field WHAT AM I DOING? This is ridiculous.

If it’s even possible to switch to composition, I could probably satisfy the requirements in a heartbeat, and love it.

A New Hope

Last week was a whirlwind of internal change and things happening. I actually wrote Drama of the Gifted Child last Monday; I had intended to write more about how my current situation is actually quite good for me, but then Tuesday happened and I re-read what I’d written and decided it felt complete enough to post.

an image of part of a calendar showing last week, with text indicating what important experience happened for Ziya each day

an image of part of a calendar showing last week, with text indicating what important experience happened for Ziya each day

On Tuesday I read a scholarly article titled “The Abject Self: Self-States of Relentless Despair” by Kathleen Adams, which can be found in the International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Vol. 61 (2011), Issue 3. It did a great job of explaining why sometimes I feel like a functional adult named Ziya with relationships and interests and goals, etc. – and other times I feel like a terrified, helpless child who has no past or future and knows only despair. It’s because I am both those things; there are actually separate neural circuits in our brains that create different self-states in response to different situations. Abjection – a preverbal state of reaching for an unattainable object, being rejected, and fearing annihilation – can be one of them.

I finished reading the article just before my music therapy session with Wakana, so it and The Drama of the Gifted Child (by Alice Miller) provided great material for us to work with. I told her about my birth experience (as I’ve pieced it together from information Mom gave me, my understanding of our relationship, and conjecture) and she suggested we address it through music. I kind of plunged head-first into the deep end, feeling … the words “despair,” “like I was lost,” “hopeless,” “terrified,” “utterly rejected,” and “alone” don’t quite do it justice. I was simultaneously staring into, being drawn into, and reaching out from the void. I feel it now as the discomfort in my eyes that I associate with crying, even though most of the time when I’m aware of it I don’t actually cry. Something’s trying to get out.

I felt the emotions I’ve turned to food to pacify my whole life. And then she reached out to me, looked me in the eyes, told me she was right here with me; I could reach out and touch her. She was so full of hope, life, curiosity, compassion. She brought me back into the light, the living world, my adult body. The ability to rationalize and use words to describe my thoughts and feelings instead of just expressing them.

“Are you okay?”

I described a scene from Star Trek: Enterprise in which they go on a rescue mission to try and help Vulcans who got lost in The Expanse, a region of space that basically defies the laws of physics. The Vulcans had essentially become zombies, slaves to their aggressive urges and “darkest” emotions. The protagonists were unable to help the Vulcan zombies; they barely escaped with their lives. The most humane thing they could do was put the Vulcans out of their misery.

“I feel like I’ve run into a room and slammed the door. I’m holding it closed but it’s only a matter of time. The zombies are on the other side, trying to break in, and I’m terrified of what will happen when they do.”

In a word, rage. I thought she’d ended it too soon. I was afraid that, if I “opened the door” and expressed my emotions, at best I would destroy our therapeutic relationship, and at worst I would actually hurt her. Those feelings subsided when she explained why she had done it: she didn’t want to re-traumatize me.

On Wednesday I finally went to the dentist to try and have something done about the tooth that’s been causing agony in the whole right side of my face and ear for weeks. It was a rather unpleasant experience, but I asserted myself and expressed my needs. I should eventually get to see a specialist who will perform a root canal, and in the meantime I have antibiotics that are wreaking havoc on my body and hopefully helping it fight off the infection that’s been causing the pain. I can’t wait until I no longer have to take a pill every 8 hours!

On Thursday I had my third appointment with the APN. We had a lot more time and were able to actually talk about things that were important to my treatment. She was going to prescribe a different drug, but I asked her questions about it and reminded her of the experiences I’d had with Zoloft and Wellbutrin. She took some time to review her notes from our prior meetings (we’ve been meeting once a month) and decided to go ahead and prescribe the Lamictal. We didn’t get to talking about gradually increasing to a therapeutic dose; I just have a month’s worth of 25 mg tablets and an appointment to see her again in another month. She advised me to wait until I’d finished the antibiotics to start taking this new medication.

Friday morning I was writing in my paper journal and something extraordinary happened. I started using “we” instead of “I” to acknowledge that, however you want to explain it, there are multiple selves (or aspects of self?) bouncing around in this body. “We” were still expressing “our” views as though they were unanimous…

Until a dissenting voice spoke up: “No, I don’t want to clean up the clutter, because it helps me feel safe.”

We talked a bit about order and chaos (by writing in our journal), and how now that we’re adults we don’t have to live in chaos and fear anymore. “Whoever hurt us is gone.”

It seemed to be going well until the word “embarrassed” got used. Then the dissenting voice became very justifiably angry, calling at least one other out for being ashamed of and hiding zir.

“You said this was about freeing emotions, feeling and expressing them spontaneously. Well, I’m very angry! That’s going to happen ‘in public.’ What are you going to do, stay in the house ALL THE TIME? Stop hiding me! Stop denying me.

“I EXIST AND I’M FURIOUS!!!

“And now the floodgates are open and I’m out! You’re not going to shut me down again. […] You cant suppress me anymore if you want your precious ‘mental health.’ You will be depressed if you keep suppressing me. I’m really mad at you. I keep trying to tell you but you won’t listen to me!”

“You’re the judge, the critic, the warden…”

“No! YOU are!!! You’ve kept me from expressing myself our entire fucking life don’t you see?”

“Yes, it’s true, I’m sorry.”

“‘I’m sorry?’ That’s it? Our whole life.”

“I was trying to keep us alive.”

“Well you almost KILLED me!”

“It wasn’t safe.”

“YOU weren’t safe.”

“You weren’t safe either. You said you needed the clutter to hide in. I don’t think you felt safe. You needed me.”

“I guess I did.”

“You don’t need me anymore. Look at you, standing up for yourself like this. How assertive! Getting your needs met. Expressing yourself. You’ll go far in the world. So far.”

“Don’t leave!”

“But if I stay, all I’ll do is hinder you.”

And just like that, gone. Whoever was in control of the body before is gone, and I’ve taken their place. I don’t even know their name, preferred pronouns, nothing. This whole time – a young adult’s entire lifetime – I’ve been a crying child shoved in the corner of the psyche and largely ignored; now I’m in charge. A whole life to live, so many decisions to make. There are other people here to support and guide me, but our former leader is gone.

We gave “her” a Viking funeral, the ship, flaming arrows, fire out at sea, sung lamentations, everything. It was quite beautiful. And then I ascended Pride Rock and looked out on a glorious landscape touched by the rising sun and sang a song that was so full of life and joy and vitality…

Then I had to get dressed and go somewhere and the weekend was its own whirlwind of socializing one day, then trying to settle down and finally write the paper from my summer class (oops!) the next. I was kind of useless – sad and lethargic – on Monday, but I did some research and cleaned my desk, so I actually have some space to work. Considering how I’ve responded to such abrupt changes in the past, I’d say I did pretty well. I kind of got some whiplash; I didn’t crash.

I also decided to start taking the Lamictal, even though I still have about two days’ worth of antibiotic left. I was feeling rather anxious about it, but I haven’t spontaneously combusted, so I think I’m going to be okay. I hope.

Harnessing the Dark Horse

On Wednesday I had my first music therapy session in nearly a month. I told my therapist how stressed I’ve been about moving back in with Mom, including the changes, mess, and decision-making involved in fixing up the house.

Our conversation came to the difference between merging and bonding with another person.

Merging is becoming too emotionally involved, to the point where there aren’t really two people relating to each other any more, but rather a “blob” as I tend to put it. When I’m merged with someone I can’t tell whether what I’m thinking and feeling are my own thoughts and emotions, or the other person’s. I feel pressured, imposed upon, like I’m losing myself and have no control over my actions. I get very angry, but it’s hard to focus that energy into anything other than lashing out.

Bonding is sharing a special connection with someone, but remaining separate and able to relate as a unique human being. When I bond with someone I feel very happy. I’m aware of my own thoughts and emotions and can express them fully. I can appreciate the other person for who ze is, including the things ze does that annoy me.

My therapist, who I’ll call Wakana, asked if I felt merged with her, and I said, “sometimes.”

Wakana: What would help?
Ziya: Just listen.
Wakana: You want to play alone? And I’ll listen to you?
Ziya: Yes.
Wakana: Okay.

She sat back from the drum she had been playing and watched me. I picked up two mallets and started playing on a cymbal. I love crashing the cymbal, it makes such a sudden, loud, complex sound!

I played different rhythms and volumes. I hit the cymbal several times, then took a mallet and rubbed it gently along the top. One tone emerged from the chaos, which varied in pitch depending on how close to the center I rubbed. I mentioned this to Wakana and she shared in my enjoyment of the discovery.

Then I started playing again, hitting the cymbal very, very hard. It rocked on its stand so hard there were times when it was almost completely vertical! The tip of one of my mallets flew off, but I kept playing. The loud crashing sound filled the whole room, to the point where I yelled something to Wakana and I don’t think she heard at all – I could barely hear my own voice! It felt so wonderful, just to let all that energy flow. I felt like I was in complete control.

When I stopped playing, Wakana observed that I had a lot of anger. She described it as a fire that can burn down the house, or be contained in a fireplace for warmth and light, or be harnessed in an oven to bake pottery. Anger is necessary for setting boundaries. It can be channeled into creativity. It can be an impetus for change. It’s great that I have it.

But my anger, energy, emotions, life force, creative energy, etc. are a dark horse, wild and untamed. The horse rampages around inside the prison where I have suppressed zir, snorting and kicking and crashing into things; trampling and biting and otherwise hurting me. When ze breaks free, ze destroys things and hurts other people.

Wakana said that if I tame the Dark Horse, ze can be a powerful ally. The Dark Horse will fight to defend me, or help me flee from danger. If I can take control of the Dark Horse, I can run free with the wind and go wherever I want.

I’m not crazy about the word “tame” because I think part of taming an animal – especially a horse – is breaking its spirit. I have suppressed the Dark Horse for far too long, and I fear what might happen to me if I try to change any part of hir nature. I can harness the Dark Horse, however – come to understand zir, bond with zir, form an alliance, and eventually take the reins so I can guide zir where we want to go. This is ultimately a part of myself, after all, so I have more to gain from working with it.

I resonate so strongly with this theme, I’m tempted to make it the focus of this blog. I’m considering changing the blog’s title to “Harnessing the Dark Horse,” but I’d want to change the URL to match and I don’t know if that’s something I can do on WordPress. Whether I change anything about the blog or not, I will definitely be writing about this topic again. This is not a process that can be completed overnight, but it is key to my recovery.

I wanted to draw the Dark Horse, but I couldn’t get a firm enough image in my mind’s eye to feel comfortable trying, and there were many distractions. I decided to make a horse in The Sims 3 Pets – who, by the way, is Aggressive, Ornery, and Untrained. This picture of my sim horse will represent the Dark Horse for now, but in time I hope I’ll be able to draw (paint? sculpt? etc) other satisfactory representations.

sims-dark-horse