On Being Wrong

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 I’m more socially withdrawn, sad a lot of the time, with low energy and motivation, and more muscle aches that aren’t immediately attributable to the physical effects of the extraction.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

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

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

The extraction “felt wrong on some fundamental level”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Lose a Tooth

I went ahead and had Root Canal Molar removed today. It was surprisingly straightforward: I went in and said I wanted the tooth extracted. They sent me for an emergency examination, during which the student dentist asked me about my previous visits, etc., then called the instructor over to review the case. It was the same instructor from the first time I’d been examined at this facility. He looked over the information, then said they shouldn’t have sent me to emergency and that he was going to expedite the process. (I assume he called my insurance.) Several awkward minutes later, I was on my way to oral surgery.

The instructor who examined me made some comments about “people sometimes change their minds” and “it’s a shame, all the other teeth are present” that were… awkward. Whatever her intentions were, it seemed to me like she was sticking her nose in my business and trying to manipulate me. I’m really not happy about having my tooth pulled; I would have preferred to save it. But the root canal just wasn’t viable; the endodontist couldn’t access the tooth well enough to do the work. And I couldn’t continue living with the problems it was causing. I needed to do something about it, and this was the option that was available to me. After living with intolerable pain for 7 months, receiving even this less-than-ideal treatment is a positive thing!

I won’t go into gruesome detail. Suffice to say the extraction was unpleasant and felt wrong on some fundamental level, like part of me was being ripped out… oh, wait, it was! I was pleasantly surprised that not only could I close my mouth during the procedure, it was actually beneficial and relieved uncomfortable pressure on my jaw. (I thought I’d have to hold my mouth open.) It didn’t take long at all; the assistant described it as “atraumatic.” When it was over I got to see my tooth, complete with some goo on the tip of the root that the assistant said was the infection. I felt relieved to have that out of my skull.

I felt a bit shaky and woozy immediately after the procedure, but I was glad to have it done. I became somewhat irritable as time went on, particularly because I had to bite on gauze to stop the bleeding and that was causing my jaw to hurt quite badly. Then the adrenaline and anesthetic wore off, leaving me feeling drained and in a lot of pain. It’s like a part of me is missing, and there’s a gaping wound in its place. (Actually, that’s exactly what’s going on….)

I eventually decided to remove the gauze; it seems to have stopped bleeding. I took some ibuprofen and am sipping warm black tea (without sugar). It’s very soothing. Now instead of an obnoxious dull ache that spreads from the area, causing jaw pain, ear aches, and headaches, I get to experience a wide variety of pain. The gum is irritated. The jaw is sore (but not particularly stiff – we’ll see how it feels in the morning). There is an occasional throbbing pain that’s sharper and more interesting than the dull ache was. The ibuprofen is taking the edge off, so I notice the pain but I’m not overwhelmed by it. Hopefully I’ll be able to sleep tonight.

It’s kind of ironic. Originally I didn’t even know there was a problem with Root Canal Molar. Especially when my gum infection worsened, I wanted Endangered Molar out of my mouth! But it’s still there, and (according to the dental insurance representative I talked to on Friday) the periodontal referral has been sent to a supervisor to expedite its review. Contrary to what they told me two weeks ago, my dental insurance received the referral on January 26th and just let it sit around for a month, while my jaw bone continues to rot. I should have a decision by tomorrow – something tells me I’ll have to call them to find out what it is.

My hope is that I’ll be able to receive treatment and get to keep that tooth. Now that I know what it’s like to have one tooth missing, I really don’t want to lose two right next to each other! But, in the end, there’s only so much we can do. “What will be will be” and all that.

Courage

I saw this on Facebook and wanted to share it here:

"went to the beach the other day, for the first time since I was a child, I didnt wear shorts or anything to cover up, this is a massive deal for me, I hate my body even without the scars, I believe I am fat and disgusting but, I pushed through the major anxiety, shaking and almost crying and made it to the water. Its a big deal, I did it. This took a whole lot of courage to post.."I wish I could tell this person how inspiring ze is. Ze must be in a lot of pain, have been in a lot of pain for a long time, to have that many scars. To show them at the beach – where there is no way to hide, everything is on display, and people tend to judge … that is courage! And to even take a picture, never mind posting it online where it is timeless and thousands of people will see and comment on it … This person is so strong. To break the chains keeping zir from the beach, from the ocean, to overcome that much anxiety, to keep moving through the shakes and threatening tears … I know what that feels like and I usually find it to be too hard. This is strength. This is truth. This is reality.

Re: Groundhog Day

But the sun is too bright;
It sears my eyes
And hurts my head
Already heavy with grief.

But the breeze is too cold;
It tears off my skin
Sends chills down my spine
Crushed by the weight.

I cannot smell the smells that
Fill you with so much wonder.
All I see is pain.
All I feel is sorrow.

I want to go outside
And know the joy of a
Spring day,
But when

I close my eyes I
See my uncle grilling
Smiling, laughing
Hugging me

Lying there with eyes closed
Lips turned down
Hands folded, cold and stiff
Still breathing.

I call but he won’t answer.
I don’t know what to say.
One chance to share my family’s
Grief

But autopilot kicks
In and all I say is “Good”
And all I do is smile!
It’s disgusting! I can’t even

Cry and I
Want to rip
Out my heart
And my eyes!

….

So much easier
To watch an image
Of an image
Of an image

That is not
My
Memory.

Groundhog Day

You fool!
What is with you and that game?!
You play and play for hours on end
And every day is
Identical.

You think I am old and blind,
But I know:
You watch an image of a human
Play with her image of a pet
Images are all you see!

What about ME!?
I’m here!
Flesh and blood and FUR
And so much more
I need your love!

You’ve talked about walking
Walk with me!
I love to get out
Smell the world
And know you are right beside me.

But you sit and you stare and complain.
I know that you’re hurting
Your arm, every day
With that mouse.
Get out of the house!

They do the same thing every day,
And we repeat the same harmony.
I bark. You groan
And thrash like the dead
And shamble around reluctantly.

Blind
To the warmth of the sun on your face
A cool breeze to play
All these wonderful smells –
I could wallow in them all day.

I just need you.

You know how it feels
To be abandoned.

Don’t feed that fear!

Walk with me.

What I Need

My depression has been rather severe lately. Very low energy, no motivation. Someone even worse than the Critic tearing me apart verbally and emotionally. Anxiety dreams. Insomnia. Disappearing into The Sims 3 for entire days.

Thoughts about harming myself take 2 forms. One is brought on by strong emotions; I want to release them by ripping into my own flesh. The other is looking at a sharp object and imagining what I could do to my arm with it, how that might feel. I need to feel something, and physical pain is so much simpler than the mess of thoughts and emotions that have been plaguing me constantly. Sometimes I use it to get the cloud to lift for a few seconds, so I can literally see more clearly. Thoughts about suicide stem from the idea that maybe that’s a way to make it all stop.

Then, on Saturday, I learned that my uncle had died. Mom has been supporting her best friend / sister; the dog and I have been feeling the strain. Today she stopped to talk to me on her way out to the wake. I was so hurt by the things she said that I could do nothing but curl up in fetal position on my bed, with Fox curled around me. The only thing that could “snap me out of it” was the sound of the dog attacking the door that kept him away from us. When I let him out I said, “You’re just doing to the door what I feel like doing to myself. It’s okay. You’re not alone. We’re here and we love you.” I held him in much the same way Fox had held me. It brought comfort.

On Saturday I had the opportunity to be honest about everything I’ve been experiencing, witnessed by 2 very loving and supportive people who Understand. One of them, the first one I opened up to, asked me, “What do you need?” A hug. My concerns and feelings and fears to be taken seriously. The opportunity to be genuine and accept my reality. To know I am safe; I will not be committed to a psychiatric hospital against my will.

They met my needs.

It was then that I first gave validity and words to a more troubling need. I need to drop 2 of my classes: the ones relevant to my career field of choice, that I need to complete my Master’s degree, that I’ve already waited 2 years to take.

One is the source of the dreaded Piano Midterm that I’m scheduled to take tomorrow. I’ve stopped thinking of myself as completely unprepared for it – either I’ll go and do something and accept the results, or I’ll go and we’ll talk and the instructor will agree that there’s not really much point to me taking it.

The other class would be fantastic, but the experiential component is literally hazardous to my health. I feel paralyzed by anxiety about doing it, I force myself to try, and then I tear myself to shreds with berating comments. Any mistakes I made, the uncertainty I felt, the things I did that were a repetition of what others had done, the ways in which I failed to use the instructor’s feedback, the things I said that I know aren’t helpful because others have said them to me or I’ve tried them on loved ones and they haven’t worked, even my appearance. Anything is fair game and all of it tears into me emotionally, until I want to tear (cut) into myself physically. If I were to act on the compulsion, I’m not sure when – or whether – I’d stop.

If I drop these 2 classes I’ll be left with 2 that I enjoy and that put a lot less pressure on me but that I don’t really need in an academic/professional sense. I need them in an emotional sense – for feelings of accomplishment and self-worth and opportunities for structured social interaction.

I’ll also have time – likely, another 2 years – to heal the giant festering wound that has consumed most of Me, and to do some of the activism and advocacy that I feel inclined toward. I’ll come out of it better able to enter my chosen career field – if they’ll still have me. My biggest fear is that my school will cast me out and at best I’ll have difficulty re-entering the program. And I’m not looking forward to my mother’s reaction. But if I can survive the hell my mind has become, I think I can survive her.

Taking the First Steps

I finally started training for the overnight! Here’s how things have been going:

2013-03-04-calOn Monday I made my first efforts to actually WALK. It was a beautiful day: sunny, with gorgeous blue skies, not terribly cold, but a bit windy. Fox and I walked about 0.8 miles from his home and then came back the way we came, for a total of approximately 1.6 miles – a 10th of what I need to be able to do in 85 days.

I would have been able to go farther if it hadn’t been for time constraints and the difficulties I had when we were going uphill for the second half of our walk. The exertion caused me to breathe more heavily – that was fine, I would have been surprised if that hadn’t been the case. My nose was stuffed and I had no way to clear it, so I was forced to breathe through my mouth and cope with post-nasal drip. The resulting discomfort hampered my enjoyment of the walk; I learned that I should always carry tissues. A decongestant might not hurt, either.

On Tuesday I walked 2.8 miles in a loop near my house, despite being rather tired. I had to push myself, my muscles and joints hurt, and I got a blister on my heel. I was struck by how far a mile is when one has to walk it, especially if one is in pain. However, I think I found a relatively healthy balance between pushing myself to complete the walk and knowing my limits; I took breaks as necessary.

I took off from walking on Wednesday and Thursday. My plan on Wednesday was to give my blister time to heal. On Thursday I thought I would walk – but the weather was gross, so my only walking was the trek across campus.

Week 1 of training for the Out of the Darkness Overnight

Week 1 of training for the Out of the Darkness Overnight

On Friday I decided to do some strength training with my fitness ball. It comes with a workout guide including instructions and illustrations for:

  • Ab Crunch – central abs
  • Oblique Twist – central abs, obliques
  • Jack Knife – central abs, obliques, lower abs, lower back
  • Pelvic Raise – central abs, lower abs, glutes
  • Outer Leg Lift – outer thighs
  • Push-Up – central abs, chest, shoulders, triceps
  • Opposite Arm / Opposite Leg Lift – central abs, lower back
  • Hover – central abs, lower abs, lower back

I am a beginner, so (per the instructions) I did 12 reps of each of the exercises above that are in bold. I tried, but was unable to do, the Hover. Balancing on a giant ball is hard.

Most people "fall off the wagon." Apparently I fall off the ball!

Most people “fall off the wagon.” Apparently I fall off the ball!

The Deserter

The Deserter is the last part of myself that I revealed in my post: Ending a Life. Represented by a young girl, it is the part of me that finds life too painful to keep living, that wants to escape, that wants to cease being real. The Deserter feels alien to this world, to embodied reality. It tries to sever me from everything, especially my emotions. But as Wakana said during our session on Tuesday, I need my emotions in order to be connected to reality.

Yuan cannot even bear to be present at her grandfather's funeral. She escapes to the kitchen and plays with her imaginary friend instead.

Yuan cannot even bear to be present at her grandfather’s funeral. She escapes to the kitchen and plays with her imaginary friend instead.

We walked through the darkness, the Deserter and I, and had a little chat. I didn’t try to convince it of anything, I just tried to understand – and to allow myself to feel. The walk in darkness gave me the safe space I needed to focus on this aspect of myself, with few distractions.

A major theme that came up was stability: knowing that the people in my life are reliable, both emotionally and otherwise. I have not had a lot of stability. The Deserter is angry and hurt because of the chaos, the volatile emotions, the abuse, the neglect, and most of all by people leaving my/our life. The Deserter asks, “If they are not going to be there for me, why should I be there for them?” It would much rather walk away. At least in solitude I can be miserable on my own terms.

I miss my friends who seem to have all gone their separate ways, with new friends, careers, homes, spouses, etc. People don’t randomly contact me just to say “hi,” and I feel awkward contacting them. If they do contact me, I don’t always get back to them. :-/

My mom has followed a pattern of engulfing or smothering me, then withdrawing, so I really don’t know what to expect from her. I think she’s trying to show me support and caring and give me space, but sometimes it’s hard for me to trust her – and sometimes she makes mistakes, so I withdraw my trust.

I had a really great weekend with Fox and Banji! On Friday, Banji and I went back to our undergraduate alma mater. We had dinner in town at a place we used to frequent, then walked around on campus reminiscing. Afterward we returned to my home and looked at some music I had composed, including a beautiful viola solo I’d completely forgotten about. Fox joined us on Saturday for dinner at Banji’s parents’ house; that evening I said ‘goodbye’ to Banji and returned home to enjoy a couple more days with Fox. I was feeling the healthiest I’d been in over a month. Then, on Monday, I had to say ‘goodbye’ to Fox, too.

I “woke” Tuesday morning feeling dead. I was exhausted and haunted by the anxiety dreams I’ve been having for at least a few nights now. I felt like I was going through the motions. Wakana brought up the possibility that I was sad about Banji going home, but I didn’t want to listen. She’s only 4 hours away; we can see each other again before the end of the month!

But the Deserter is not a rational being; it is purely emotional. It feels abandoned by the two people I most want to have a stable, mutually-loving relationship with for the rest of my life.

On one level my relationships with Banji and Fox are stable: I know I can trust each of them with my deepest and darkest emotions, that they will accept me as I am, that they understand me (at least to some degree), and that they want to remain in close relationship with me.

On another level – the level on which the Deserter operates – my relationships with Banji and Fox are very unstable: we spend short times together that are intensely intimate, and then they disappear. The Deserter can’t understand why I woke up alone Tuesday morning, why Banji hasn’t called me, etc. It’s angry and sad and beyond tired of playing this game! It thinks if I can’t trust the two of them, there’s no way I can ever trust anyone else – so it keeps me from making new friends.

I wrote a poem that I’d like to share, to give the Deserter a voice. I’m going to put it behind a link, though, because I’m concerned it might be a trigger for some people. Writing it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.

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Bad Day Blues

Thursday was just a Bad Day. A prime example: I accidentally spilled crumbs on my laptop keyboard when I was initially getting ready to write this post, and even hours later my keys keep sticking. I have to press very hard, often multiple times, to get certain keystrokes to register. It makes every word I type painful.

I woke up – or so I keep telling myself, maybe I didn’t really – feeling tired and completely unmotivated to do anything. I was sad for most of the day. I didn’t have fun playing a game I usually enjoy. I wanted to do something, but nothing seemed appealing enough to be worth the effort it would take. I kept falling asleep, having weird vivid dreams, and waking up feeling disoriented. I felt frozen with fear and stayed very still for what felt like long periods of time. I didn’t want anyone to see me, so I hid in my room and stayed as quiet as possible. My thoughts wouldn’t organize themselves.

I realized human interaction might help, but I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out to anyone. Quite the opposite: I wanted to withdraw from everything and everyone. I wanted to die. When I’m at my most vulnerable, interacting with others is like walking into battle without armor. Even the most well-meaning people want something from me, and in those moments I have absolutely nothing to give. I need a hug and permission to be miserable.

I scratched myself, leaving a solitary long thin red line down my left forearm. I tried really hard not to do it, to use non-harmful pressure and rubbing instead, but those sensations couldn’t cut through the depression fog. The pain did, at least partially. At least temporarily. Everything became clearer; I was in the world again.

None of the strategies I’ve developed or had suggested to me were even relevant. How can I refute harsh thoughts when they won’t form themselves into words? All I had was feeling sad and lifeless. How can I direct anger outward when it’s barely glowing ashes that refuse to form a flame? All they do is gnaw at me and hurt. How can I use tools when I don’t even have the strength to lift them? What good is it to think about what I can do, if I lack the energy and motivation to get out of bed? All those choices just overwhelm me and I end up doing nothing – and feeling worse.

All I could do was give myself permission to be a bum all day. To feel miserable. And if I did manage to get myself to do something, I picked an activity that would get my mind off my emotions. It sucked.

But at the end of the day I’m still here. I’ll be really impressed if Friday manages to be worse. It’s a lot more likely to be at least a little bit better. That gives me some hope.