This Post Took Three Days to Write

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Sims 3 Legacy Challenge

On Monday I decided that The Most Important Thing for me to do – so important it was worth spending the entire day on – was to try the Sims 3 Legacy Challenge. 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. I set up my own rules governing the traits I choose for sims that are born in-game (instead of requiring them to be random):
    1. Each sim must have the family trait
    2. Three additional traits must be from the sim’s parents, with each parent contributing one or two traits
    3. [4/20/15 edit: The above traits can also come from grandparents, etc. but not aunts/uncles. Both the mother’s and the father’s sides should be represented.]
    4. The final trait should be unique
  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.

I’ve chosen not to write a story about my legacy family. Doing so would require me to spend even more time focused on a very potent distraction from my real-life goals. I enjoy taking screenshots and looking through them, but I don’t want to put in the time and energy it would take to post and caption them all. I especially don’t want to try to weave them into a mostly-written narrative.

I am inclined to show images depicting how the family and their house has changed over time. That’s what brings me back to play this game over and over and over again: the compression of time.

I recently chose to end a game in which my original sims had become immortal vampires and outlived their children and grandchildren. Their great-great grandson was a child. I’d only played that particular game for a handful of months, yet I’d seen five generations. I spent much of my play time looking at the series of family portraits that showed children growing up, adults aging, new sims coming into the family via birth or marriage, old sims leaving because they’d either moved out or died, etc. I find it fascinating.

5 generations of a patriarchal family in The Sims 3

5 generations of a patriarchal family in The Sims 3

So far my legacy family (new game) hasn’t changed at all: the founder is still the only person in it. She’s aged from a young adult into an adult, developed a range of skills, made several friends and acquaintances, and worked her way up most of the culinary career ladder. She is currently in University pursuing a degree that should give her a significant pay increase. She also has two love interests who might be willing to help her have children.

Aurora Bonaventura, founder of my matriarchal legacy family

Aurora Bonaventura, founder of my matriarchal legacy family

The legacy house has changed quite a bit. $1800 was just enough to buy the items I considered absolutely essential: a bed, a refrigerator, a chair, and a light source. They furnished a 3×3 hut with a simple door and a tiny window. My sim had enough money left over to eat at the diner once. For the entire summer she had to travel across town to use the toilet and shower at the gym.

The original 3x3 hut offered few amenities, but at least it was a safe reliable place for Aurora to sleep.

The original 3×3 hut offered few amenities, but at least it was a safe reliable place for Aurora to sleep.

A view of the whole legacy lot (345 Riverblossom Hills Drive in Riverview). In time the legacy house may come to rival its rather ostentatious neighbors.

A view of the whole legacy lot (345 Riverblossom Hills Drive in Riverview). In time the legacy house may come to rival its rather ostentatious neighbors. Coincidentally, I believe this may be the lot where I took my profile pic.

In autumn I added a second, larger room to be my sim’s living space, then slowly acquired the items necessary to convert the original hut into a bathroom.

Aurora relaxes after a long day, surrounded by the sketches that are her primary source of entertainment.

Aurora relaxes on her day off, surrounded by the sketches she draws as her primary source of entertainment.

The legacy lot in all its rained-upon, autumn-colored glory.

The legacy lot in all its autumn colored, rained-upon glory.

She saved over the winter (I can’t imagine anyone doing construction in the snow) so she could afford to add 2 new rooms come spring: a kitchen and a bedroom. I’m pretty sure the kitchen is a fire trap… but at least my sim who’s dedicated her whole life to cooking can finally cook for herself instead of living on cereal!

Aurora paints in her living room. Her dedicated kitchen is visible to the left; her bedroom to the right.

Aurora paints in her living room. Her kitchen is visible to the left; her bedroom to the right.

The legacy house is now a respectable size, and it has plenty of room to grow!

The legacy house is now a respectable size, and it has plenty of room to grow!

Will the legacy survive to generation 2? Find out next time!