Finding the Words

It’s been five weeks since … I still don’t have a label for it. It just is.

Well I guess I could say “my old wounds got torn open, setting me back a year or two in my recovery to how I felt and functioned about 18-24+ months ago.” (‘Recovery’ – to the degree to which I find that term relevant – isn’t a unidirectional, continuously-getting-better process. It’s complicated and messy and all over the place. So this can’t be a setback, just an unexpected and more-difficult-than-anticipated part of the journey. Perhaps a necessary part? It’s certainly reminded me of how vulnerable I am – but also how resilient I am.)

I’m inclined to say “that’s a bit melodramatic” but, well, it’s my truth. Coming back from that hasn’t been easy. For a while I took a break from activism, particularly the being-a-leader-in-a-grassroots-organization stuff. I’ve been getting back into it, almost to the point where I feel like I’m “pulling my weight” again – putting in effective work commensurate with the roles I have. But I’m also addicted to Terraria, my apartment is as messy as ever (what an understatement!), and my relationship with Fox … let’s just say both my therapists seem to agree it should be my primary focus. And one basically suggested he should quit his job so he’ll have energy to put into our relationship.

It’s been about 3.5 weeks since I visited Ron in the hospital and 2.5 weeks since ze was released. Ze lost zir job and couldn’t go back to zir parents’ house because their terms were unreasonable to the point of being unhealthy, so ze is currently homeless. People are doing what they can to help and ze says ze feels better. Ze seems better too – most of the time. Sometimes zir “speech seems pressured” but it’s usually connected to particular topics, and it’s possible to move the conversation elsewhere. Ze listens to me.

Continue reading

Be Our Guest

[CW: description of thought processes that can trigger hoarding]

Fox and I spent pretty much every available second cleaning in preparation for Ron’s visit on Friday. It was quite the workout, and somewhat intense … but not quite as intense as I thought it might be. Maybe because I knew Fox was cleaning, too, and I’ve developed coping mechanisms. For example, I found a calendar with beautiful images that I might’ve been tempted to keep, but it’s obsolete (and damaged). So I looked through the images, showed one particularly beautiful one to Fox, then tossed the calendar. Minimal stress.

I’ve also decided to treat clutter like an addiction. Part of recovery (from what I’ve gathered, I’m not an expert by any means) is recognizing that while others may be able to engage in a certain behavior safely – even to their benefit – I cannot. For example, I’ve heard tips about reusing things like wrapping paper – but for me that’s a recipe for disaster. If I let myself think “I can reuse this” I will angst over every decision of what to/not to keep, hoard random items I don’t need, and drown in clutter. No. Maybe it would be ideal to reuse this wrapping paper, but I cannot keep it. Into the trash it goes. End of story.

I lost track of how many bags of garbage we filled, somewhere around 8. Maybe 12?

Continue reading

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.

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?

Now Let’s Actually Play Skyrim…

My computer problems seem to be resolved. I did a clean install of my operating system, let it update itself, and I’ve been slowly replacing programs. Fox asked me to back up his level 50-something character, so we have all our save files from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Today I played with my level 39 character – who has more gold than she’ll ever need, owns multiple houses, and makes the best gear in the game. (Better gear will become available as her smithing skill improves.) It provided a nice break from all the reality I’ve been dealing with lately.

I played for a while, decided to take a break, and was pleased to discover that my computer did not crash when I closed the game. Since I’ve been so obsessed with the idea of doing a Let’s Play, I decided to give it a try. Like anything else, videos that combine gameplay footage and audio commentary don’t happen because a gamer wants them to. They happen because the LPer gathers the necessary software and equipment, presses “record,” and does their best to make whatever happens entertaining. It takes a lot of courage and self-acceptance.

I started a new game just so I could practice recording. There are some things I need to work out in the introduction, but it goes smoothly enough. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the comments I made during character creation bore little resemblance to the lines I’ve been compulsively practicing.

I want to share my thought process while choosing my character’s race, but actually making the selection in character creation takes me about 2 seconds because I’ve already made my decision. Do I let the video become static while I talk, or do I make my selection quickly? If I do the latter, should I try to talk about the race I chose while tweaking the character’s appearance? It seems like character creation is set up so it can happen quite quickly, without breaking up the action that is going on at the beginning of the game. I’m torn between going along with that and taking some time to share my strategy.

Perhaps I should record post-commentary: instead of talking while I’m creating my character, I can record my comments while watching the video later. That will leave me free to focus on character creation while recording the gameplay footage, then focus on sharing my strategy while recording my commentary. Yay not multitasking!

The point is, I’m finally trying things and learning what does or doesn’t work, instead of just obsessing over them. I even made a short trial episode! Perhaps as I practice taking a more “hands on” approach to the Let’s Play, I’ll feel more confident about working to improve my skills, complete quests, and level up in reality.

A New Normal?

According to the current clinical depression screening tool on MoodNetwork.org, I am not depressed. I was so surprised by this result when I first got it, I answered all the questions again to make sure I hadn’t lied on any of them: Sad most of the time, check. Trouble falling asleep and waking early, check. Feeling tired, check. All these other questions… no, my appetite hasn’t changed, I’m actually more motivated and active than usual, and I DON’T FEEL WORTHLESS!!! (or suicidal). I feel… okay.

a checkmark in a green circle next to the words, "You are not depressed."

screenshot of my result from the depression screening: a checkmark in a green circle next to the words, “You are not depressed.”

I’ve been re-taking the screening for the past few days now, and I keep getting the same result. I’m not depressed. I’m not depressed. I’m not depressed. I’M NOT DEPRESSED!!!

Oh my GOD!!!

I know, I know, it’s just an online screening. It’s not a substitute for a mental health professional’s evaluation. Well, I met with two mental health professionals this week. My prescriber told me, “It seems like your antidote to feeling sad is keeping busy.” She agreed with my decision to stay at my current dose of lamotrigine (50 mg 2x/day) because I don’t want to try to medicate away my feelings. Wakana congratulated me, said that clearly the therapy and medication are working, and told me I’ve been making good progress.

I am not depressed. Part of me wants to scream “I’m cured!!!” – but I think that might be a little bit premature. (or complete bullshit.) I’m… better. I’m okay.

I’m standing at the edge of a cliff with a brand new glider on my back, watching everyone else glide around, and wondering, “Is this thing really safe?”

Wakana said, “baby steps.” She used the metaphor of easing oneself slowly into a pool – which I find ironic because to me that’s torture. I’d rather just jump in, get the “it’s cold!” shock over with all at once, and start swimming oh my god swimming it’s the best thing ever!!! I want to go right now! But, umm, I don’t have a pool. So, yeah, this isn’t swimming it’s life. Baby steps. (I have friends who have a pool, and they’ve invited me to come swim in the past. I should ask them if the offer still stands.)

I guess I’m taking baby steps. I’m (literally) taking thousands of steps (that is, walking) on the days when I meet with her… and I want to take more on the days when I don’t. I’ve been having great conversations with loved ones, including Mom. Composing, making art for the fun of it, spoiling our pet rats… being intimate with Fox…  (I love having my sex drive back – and it takes some… navigating…) In the next few weeks I plan to acquire clothes I feel good about wearing, start practicing music instruments regularly, declutter, meet with my adviser about internship possibilities, and start applying for internships and part-time jobs. I had to re-write this paragraph to sound positive and not “being hard on myself” for the things I “should” be doing; now I’m worried about trying to do too much and burning out before I even get started! But at least I can re-write it.

In the past, times when I’ve temporarily clawed my way out of the bottomless pit that is being clinically depressed have been the best days of my life. For example, my wedding: at that time I was still using the Burns Depression Checklist to keep track of my symptoms; on my wedding day my score was 6. That’s “normal but unhappy” (granted, only 1 point off from “no depression”). The best I ever felt – EVER – the best days of my life were what most people would (ostensibly) consider “unhappy.”

These are not the best days of my life. I’m tired. I’m sad. I’m achy. I miss my friends, especially Banji. Last night I had a nightmare (in which my husband died). I’m going to go crazy (and spend way too much time playing The Sims 3) if I don’t find some way to structure my time (besides playing The Sims 3). For a while I was starting blog posts, then deleting them. … I think you get the idea.

Today I scored a 10 on the Burns Depression Checklist, which is the highest score in the “normal but unhappy” range. (a score of 11 would indicate mild depression.) I think I answered honestly, despite the temptation to lower my score to fit with the previous assertion that “I’m not depressed.” It seems accurate to say that I’m unhappy.

But something’s changed. Like someone lifted a blanket off me and I can see the sun and feel the breeze and stand up tall and breathe. I feel more confident. Hopeful. Maybe… even… whole?

a day with depression turns 2!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to the beginning of year #3…