20 years

I’m too young for it to be 20 years since my dad died.

I’m sad.

I’m angry. At the cancer. At tobacco companies. At the hospital. At Dad.

I’m angry about how the new chair of my state Green Party is treating me, and I’m about ready to be done with it all together, but I care too much about the people in my local and resigning feels like abandoning them. And I don’t know whether my feelings like I’m not a very good chair and they’d be better off with someone else are a realistic assessment of the situation, or the depression, because it’s been really bad lately.

I’m not sure to what degree the two are related, but they’re happening at the same time, and it’s frustrating the hell outta me.

20 years and I’m still trying to squash my emotions and continue with business as usual, and when that fails I’m playing video games until my eyes bleed. And when I do want to focus on this ridiculous mess of emotions, I can’t help thinking about what certain people in the state party leadership have said to me, how they’re slandering Ron & me, how they’re disrespecting me and my local.

I need space for me but I’m struggling to create that space.

I’m tired. I’m sad. I’m angry.

I’m grateful for my mom stepping up as a single parent to raise me. She’s been there through thick and thin. She’s still supporting me and Fox. And she’s been working hard, learning a lot, coming to respect me more as a person and an adult. Whatever my relationship with my dad (and my mom) could have been, I kinda mourn it but it also doesn’t really matter (and I get the impression it would be worse).

My relationship with Mom, now, is what’s important. It’s something we’ve struggled with, something we’ve fought through, something we’ve cried and argued over, something I’ve dragged kicking and screaming out of the mud, something we’ve both worked our asses off for … and we’ve come out the better, closer, for it. And there’s still a lot of work and growth and that’ll probably be a lifetime effort … but it’s there and it’s REAL and it’s OURS.

Each year I’ve been counting how long it’s been, and I think it was last year that I realized I wasn’t really mourning missing wishing I still had him in my life … I’ve been celebrating. 20 years of survival. 20 years of LIFE. 20 years of me and my mom not killing each other, lol. 20 years of us CREATING our own relationship and our own lives.

In my last music therapy session Wakana got me to sing about all this. I sang/said that I had pulled myself together from the ashes, and when they say ‘rise from the ashes’ they don’t say how hard it is to pull each individual ash in and make something new from it. But it’s what I do, it’s my nature, even though it hurts and even though I’m tired. Whatever happens, I rise. I rise. I rise. I rise.

And it’s not just her it’s my wonderful family and friends. Fox & Banji were both here for me big time yesterday. My uncle & aunt (Mom’s brother & sister-in-law) came to visit while Mom was away; they took me to dinner and lunch the next day and we had some wonderful conversation. And over the holidays it was so wonderful to spend time with my family and friends.

I felt alive in a way I hadn’t since getting caught up in all this political bullshit.

I felt whole again.

Building Confidence Through Experience

I’ve been meaning to get back into blogging for a while now. There’s so much, I’m really not sure where to start. And there’s always the intimidation of a blank page… I’ve gone to start a new post many times, then backed out.

Nearly every time, this saved draft has come up. I’ve tried deleting it – I wrote it in early June for crying out loud! – but still it remains. I read it this morning and nearly cried at the end. I’ve come so far since writing this. I’m gonna go ahead and let it speak for itself:

Continue reading

The Way of the Voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Play Skyrim

Welcome to a repeat of my post from April 2014! I like to think I’ve come a long way since then: I’m hopeful regarding my future. I feel a strong positive connection with Fox (my husband) and other loved ones, especially when we express our mutual affection. I have been playing video games, but for reasonable periods of time and without allowing them to interfere with living my real life. (It’s been several months since the last time I played Skyrim.)

On Tuesday my prescriber told me that I’m doing great, switched my prescription to one dose per day, and said to come back in 3 months. I’ve started addressing my social anxiety with help from my music therapist, Wakana. The last couple days have been a fun reunion with dear college friends. Honestly, the only not-so-awesome thing going on for me right now is the problem with my computer… and even that seems close to being resolved.

I’m doing this re-post because I’ve started obsessively practicing lines for the first couple episodes if I ever do a Let’s Play of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It’s kind of annoying because I’ve already said the same things many times, and yet I still feel compelled to repeat them over and over. It’s better than having a panic attack because a bee bounced off my windshield while I was driving, imagining wasps attacking me, or being afraid to look in the mirror at night because I was traumatized by a movie I watched as a pre-teen, though.

My anxieties – social anxiety, general feelings that something horrible will happen, and my bee/wasp/hornet phobia – have been flaring up like crazy lately. It kind of makes sense that my defense would be to concentrate on a fantasy world, where I can load from a recent save if I don’t like what happens. The lines I’ve been practicing focus almost exclusively on character creation, the one part of the game over which the player has nearly total control.

There are a lot of parallels between my current situation and the context for the original version of this post (below). I was feeling good about my life, being active and social, trying new things, and acting like a responsible adult then, too. My anxiety was flaring up then, too – driving my mind to grab onto whatever it could as a security blanket:

I had an epic day of being awesome on Thursday, so I was exhausted on Friday. I spent what part of the day I wasn’t sleeping practicing Zentangles and hanging out with friends. Saturday was similarly low-key. After drawing my Zentangle for the day, I was itching to play a video game: something beautiful and epic and new…

So I started a game of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on PC. Next thing I knew, the sun was rising. I took a nap and basically spent all of Sunday playing thoroughly immersed in that fictional world. I’m enjoying the game and want to experience the story, but to be honest there are aspects of it I find rather stressful. Melee combat, for one – especially since the default difficulty was too high for me and I kept dying. I’ve been doing much better since I dialed it down a notch, but I still prefer to avoid melee combat when possible.

The other thing I find stressful is that, whether a character is attacking me physically or not, they’re talking at me. The physical attackers hurl insults that can hurt more than their blades (except that they’re obviously wrong, because I end up killing them.) Other characters I pass might say something mean, ask me for something, or randomly tell me their life story.

Some of the other characters in Skyrim say very mean things to the player character, especially if you’re playing one of the less popular races. […] I’m still concerned that hearing negative talk consistently for hours at a time can be harmful… at least for me.

[…]

Anyways, as much as I want to just play the game and have fun with it – learning things as I come across them and making decisions spontaneously – my mind wants to plan out a Let’s Play. The most basic definition of a Let’s Play is a video that combines actual gameplay footage with simultaneous audio commentary by the player; it can be a walkthrough, a challenge run, friends goofing off (whether playing competitively or collaboratively), even a talk about a topic that has nothing to do with video games. Fox’s favorite Let’s Player (LPer) is HCBailley.

I love the idea of Let’s Plays and have wanted to do one for a few years now. I had a couple false starts, but on some level I’m convinced it’s only a matter of time before I get one going that I can be consistent with (and get all the YouTube followers!). It’s an opportunity to do some video editing – which I enjoy for the process at least as much as the product – and share my thoughts about the game. I want to share the story, be witty and entertaining, and give a feminist critique.

I’m trying to convince my mind to put the Let’s Play idea on the back burner for now. Let me learn to be consistent with things that are important to my real life before I start a project that requires me to play a long and involved video game on a regular schedule (and in manageable doses). […]

The thing is, if I think about the game when I’m not actively playing it, there isn’t much to say. I have my character. I’d like to improve my smithing and melee combat abilities. I’m really glad I can mute the voices and determine when subtitles appear. I’m not entirely sure it was wise to drop all of my gold on a house this early in the game, but it’s a place to keep the dragon bones and scales I’ve been collecting. It also enabled me to adopt a child; interacting with her causes me to feel warm and fuzzy inside. I could think about which quest to start next, but they’re all in a nice convenient log for me so I can just decide next time I play.

The above don’t give my mind much to grab onto, and it doesn’t like that. Moving forward with my real-life career goals, dealing with real-life people (especially strangers in positions of authority), and even just being fully present in the moment are all things that provoke my anxiety. My mind needs something to grab onto, something to think about so incessantly there isn’t room for thoughts about the real world in general and my own life in particular.

It was hoping the Let’s Play would provide such a security blanket; it wants to lure me into thinking about my ideal character build instead of actually developing skills I need in real life. It wants me to direct my creative energy into witty commentary about the game instead of into composing original music, creating original art, or writing anything worth reading. It wants me to feel good about earning virtual money to make a virtual home pleasant and cozy… instead of finding a real job, earning real money, decluttering my real home, and raising a real family.

Oh, Mara, I thought I’d gotten past this. I should have known! How could reading a few chapters of a book once truly change the way I think about and perceive myself? How could it counteract a lifetime of internalized messages reinforced by my perception of my experiences?

[…]

I thought I was doing better but then… I don’t know! Did I push myself too hard and need some downtime to recover? Did I relapse? Am I making any progress, or am I just walking in circles completely lost? I hate being unable to trust my own perception of reality.

Let’s Play Skyrim

I had an epic day of being awesome on Thursday, so I was exhausted on Friday. I spent what part of the day I wasn’t sleeping practicing Zentangles and hanging out with friends. Saturday was similarly low-key. After drawing my Zentangle for the day, I was itching to play a video game: something beautiful and epic and new…

So I started a game of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on PC. Next thing I knew, the sun was rising. I took a nap and basically spent all of Sunday playing thoroughly immersed in that fictional world. I’m enjoying the game and want to experience the story, but to be honest there are aspects of it I find rather stressful. Melee combat, for one – especially since the default difficulty was too high for me and I kept dying. I’ve been doing much better since I dialed it down a notch, but I still prefer to avoid melee combat when possible.

The other thing I find stressful is that, whether a character is attacking me physically or not, they’re talking at me. The physical attackers hurl insults that can hurt more than their blades (except that they’re obviously wrong, because I end up killing them.) Other characters I pass might say something mean, ask me for something, or randomly tell me their life story.

Some of the other characters in Skyrim say very mean things to the player character, especially if you’re playing one of the less popular races. The same is true of Oblivion; I haven’t played the other Elder Scrolls games yet, but I imagine they are probably similar. It’s quite unpleasant, and worse I’m concerned that it could have similar psychological effects to being bullied. I know it’s a game and gamers are well aware that it’s fiction and they can turn it off and walk away from it. Most people have a strong healthy boundary between themselves and the character they’ve created. The bullies can’t actually keep them from achieving their real-life goals – or the ones in the game, for that matter. (In other words, it’s quite different from being bullied in real life.) But I’m still concerned that hearing negative talk consistently for hours at a time can be harmful… at least for me.

On the positive side, I just figured out that I can mute the voices and only have subtitles during dialogue (audio and display settings, respectively). It makes the game a bit less immersive, but perhaps that’s also better for my mental health. I guess I’ll see how it goes next time I play.

Now if only we could do that to real-life politicians…

Anyways, as much as I want to just play the game and have fun with it – learning things as I come across them and making decisions spontaneously – my mind wants to plan out a Let’s Play. The most basic definition of a Let’s Play is a video that combines actual gameplay footage with simultaneous audio commentary by the player; it can be a walkthrough, a challenge run, friends goofing off (whether playing competitively or collaboratively), even a talk about a topic that has nothing to do with video games. Fox’s favorite Let’s Player (LPer) is HCBailley.

I love the idea of Let’s Plays and have wanted to do one for a few years now. I had a couple false starts, but on some level I’m convinced it’s only a matter of time before I get one going that I can be consistent with (and get all the YouTube followers!). It’s an opportunity to do some video editing – which I enjoy for the process at least as much as the product – and share my thoughts about the game. I want to share the story, be witty and entertaining, and give a feminist critique.

I’m trying to convince my mind to put the Let’s Play idea on the back burner for now. Let me learn to be consistent with things that are important to my real life before I start a project that requires me to play a long and involved video game on a regular schedule (and in manageable doses). I need to play through the game at least once before I’ll know it well enough to do it justice. I’m still trying to figure out my priorities for my character; something I haven’t encountered yet could inspire me to change my entire focus. So there’s no need to determine exactly how I’m going to introduce myself, what I want to include in the first episode, or how to include the feminist critique without ranting too much. Those things can develop over the weeks, months, or even years I’ll need to prepare for such a monstrous undertaking… and to be honest, I doubt anyone will particularly care about Skyrim anymore by then. It already has a successor.

The thing is, if I think about the game when I’m not actively playing it, there isn’t much to say. I have my character. I’d like to improve my smithing and melee combat abilities. I’m really glad I can mute the voices and determine when subtitles appear. I’m not entirely sure it was wise to drop all of my gold on a house this early in the game, but it’s a place to keep the dragon bones and scales I’ve been collecting. It also enabled me to adopt a child; interacting with her causes me to feel warm and fuzzy inside. I could think about which quest to start next, but they’re all in a nice convenient log for me so I can just decide next time I play.

The above don’t give my mind much to grab onto, and it doesn’t like that. Moving forward with my real-life career goals, dealing with real-life people (especially strangers in positions of authority), and even just being fully present in the moment are all things that provoke my anxiety. My mind needs something to grab onto, something to think about so incessantly there isn’t room for thoughts about the real world in general and my own life in particular.

It was hoping the Let’s Play would provide such a security blanket; it wants to lure me into thinking about my ideal character build instead of actually developing skills I need in real life. It wants me to direct my creative energy into witty commentary about the game instead of into composing original music, creating original art, or writing anything worth reading. It wants me to feel good about earning virtual money to make a virtual home pleasant and cozy… instead of finding a real job, earning real money, decluttering my real home, and raising a real family.

Oh, Mara, I thought I’d gotten past this. I should have known! How could reading a few chapters of a book once truly change the way I think about and perceive myself? How could it counteract a lifetime of internalized messages reinforced by my perception of my experiences?

My mind is trying to annihilate me. Suicidal thoughts don’t work if nothing else because I don’t want to cause my loved ones pain. So it tricks me into thinking I don’t need therapy and clings to whatever fiction I have some interest in, becoming so wrapped up in that universe I can hardly even feel it when Fox expresses his very real love for me.

I thought I was doing better but then… I don’t know! Did I push myself too hard and need some downtime to recover? Did I relapse? Am I making any progress, or am I just walking in circles completely lost? I hate being unable to trust my own perception of reality.

Measuring Recovery: Part 1 – Burns Depression Checklist

Completing the Burns Depression Checklist on a regular basis helps me to understand my depression better. However, it doesn’t include everything I believe is important to consider when assessing my mental health (such as symptoms of anxiety). In this post, I’ll review my scores on the Checklist and reflect on what I think they mean. My goal is to eventually develop a way to keep track of changes in various indicators of mental health, including signs that I am becoming more healthy (e.g. laughing and smiling, feeling at peace) and not just less diseased.

Checklist Scores: The Big Picture

My scores on the Burns Depression Inventory for the past 4 weeks. Daily scores are marked in blue, while weekly averages are marked in red. Although the severity of my depression symptoms can change drastically from day to day, there has been a steady decline in weekly averages from July 29, 2013 to August 34, 2013.

My scores on the Burns Depression Checklist for the past 4 weeks. Daily scores are marked in blue, while weekly averages are marked in red. Although the severity of my depression symptoms can change drastically from day to day, there has been a steady decline in weekly averages from July 29, 2013 to August 24, 2013.

I think the most noticeable thing about this graph/chart is that my daily scores oscillate. If I have a bad day (indicated by a higher score), things seem to get better soon afterward (causing the score to drop). Unfortunately the same is true if I have a good day (indicated by a lower score); in the days following, the symptoms that had been absent on my good day return (causing the score to rise). While I’m inclined to consider some oscillation normal, I think a reasonable goal would be to try and get to the point where scores are consistently low, with less day-to-day variation and only occasional bad days.

I’ve been tracking the average score for each week by adding up the daily scores for the week and dividing by 7 (6 for the first week). Admittedly it’s not the most statistically accurate method, but I believe it suffices for my purposes. Despite the daily oscillations – including some very difficult days – the weekly scores have been decreasing. I take that as a good sign.

Context is Everything

It’s important to put at least some of the scores into the context of what was going on for me at the time.

burnschart01wk1 In the first week I’d had enough of being severely depressed and felt motivated to finally take charge of my own life. I came up with a plan for taking care of myself and felt optimistic that it would help me beat the depression. I hit some rough patches though, particularly in regards to sleep. There were aspects of the self-care plan I needed to adjust. I was also still on the fence about whether to continue my seemingly futile efforts to make an appointment with a psychiatrist. Finally, I had just started taking SAM-e, a supplement to help my brain produce important neurotransmitters such as serotonin.

burnschart01wk2 Monday and Tuesday of the second week were bad enough that I didn’t even feel up to completing the Checklist. I repeated my scores from the Sunday for purposes of my chart/graph (particularly, to keep the average for that week from being too low) – though, I suspect the scores would have been much higher if I had completed the Checklist on those days.

I was coming down (arguably, crashing) from a high-energy social weekend, struggling with wedding-and-gender-norm-related family drama, and panicking over my pending loss of health insurance. Somehow, in the midst of all this, I was able to resume tracking my finances. The “return to functional humanity” did wonders for my mental health.

burnschart01wk3 On Sunday of the third week I learned that a mentor from my undergraduate years had died. Prior to learning the news I’d been having a rather good day, relatively free from depression symptoms. Afterward, understandably, I was very sad and angry.

I needed a few days to process the sudden change and grieve, resulting in higher scores on the Checklist as that was pretty much all I did. To some degree I believe the rise in scores is normal/healthy – anyone would experience some depression symptoms following the death of someone important to them. Mine were just more severe because my baseline is much higher (worse depression symptoms are “normal” for me).

I felt absolutely horrible the night of August 13-14, but with Fox’s help I was able to channel the immense energy of my emotions into creativity and efforts to change my environment for the better.

The very low score on August 16th was the result of visiting a beautiful bed and breakfast, where I was able to relax, savor delicious food, enjoy wonderful company, and reconnect with nature. I didn’t have my laptop with me, so I completed the Checklist the next day from memory.

Unfortunately, our visit to the bed and breakfast was not purely in the interest of getting away and enjoying a nice vacation. We were considering it as a potential wedding venue. Saturday August 17th was the beginning of horrible wedding insanity as we learned the venue we’d fallen in love with was much, much more expensive than we’d anticipated. Long story short, Mom, Fox, and I now have regular nightmares related to wedding planning. It’s become a horrible monster!

burnschart01wk4The monster posed a very, very serious threat to me on August 19th. That peak for week 4 is a score of 71, only 4 points away from “extreme” depression. Wedding-related family drama hit me especially hard on this day – but it’s really not anyone’s fault I responded this way.

The things that were said were a catalyst for something much deeper and darker in me: a sense that my existence as an autonomous sentient being is tenuous at best. Feeling like I need permission to do everyday things, even to breathe. I felt so trapped, like the Warden would come in any moment to punish me for daring to have my own thoughts, my own will – never mind to assert myself or act on my needs! Even just to write about it is terrifying.

Yes, I need people to respect my boundaries. But more than that, I need to know in my heart, to fiercely believe with every fiber in my being, that I am worthy of having boundaries. That it’s worth enforcing them. That if someone hurts me for any reason, I have every right to feel angry and to defend myself. That if someone hurts me, it doesn’t mean I did something wrong.

Sure, this brought out a lot of depression symptoms, but I don’t think “depression” really explains what’s going on. And sure, it involves fairly severe anxiety symptoms, but I’ve never heard anxiety described or explained like this. I felt like I wasn’t allowed to do anything, and if I made a noise I’d be caught, and if I was caught …

I don’t know, maybe it’s PTSD? Call it “Barbie” for all I care! The point is, it’s a serious problem for me, an underlying cause or component to all my mental health issues. Perhaps it is my mental health issue.

Fortunately, I was able to rebound from that day. Writing No Space for Me definitely helped because I was able to express what was going on, assert myself, and realize that Fox does respect my boundaries. I also did more wedding-related research on my own terms and learned that the venue we’d fallen in love with isn’t actually that much more expensive – and might even be less expensive – than the other options we’d consider. It helped me feel empowered to make decisions instead of feeling obligated to follow someone else’s rules.

Now What?

I’d intended to write about my daily scores on the 4 subcategories of the Burns Depression Checklist – Thoughts & Feelings, Activities & Personal Relationships, Physical Symptoms, and Suicidal Urges – but I think it would make this one post a bit too long. Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I shall examine these components of depression as they manifest themselves for me.

Domestic Violence

I was interrupted from my early morning insomniac reading by what sounded like a woman crying and talking in a very rushed, upset voice. It sounded like it was coming from nearby, but outside. Then the doorbell rang three times; I thought, who could possibly be ringing the bell this early in the morning? I’m not answering it! But then Fox came into the room and said he didn’t know what to do, he’s not officially a member of this household yet but it sounded like someone was calling for help. I was off the couch in an instant – if someone needed help, I wanted to help them.

I went to the door to find a woman on my (enclosed) porch holding her dog. She was crying and shaking with her cell phone between her ear and shoulder, already talking to the local police department. As soon as she saw me she started apologizing and explained that the door to the porch had been unlocked, so she ran in to get away from her boyfriend. The boyfriend had been drinking, hit her, and threw her dog across the street. She was convinced that if she hadn’t gotten away he would have killed her. “Thank you so much for keeping your door unlocked. It saved my life!”

I let her in and locked the door behind her and checked that the other doors to the house were also locked. Sure enough, the boyfriend came and was banging on the door to the porch to be let in. I assured the woman that the most important thing to me was for her to be safe. Mom came over and tried to comfort her as well; that helped me feel more confident that I was doing the right thing. The cops came and arrested the boyfriend and took her in for questioning. Before she left I looked her in the eye and said, “Don’t go back to him under any circumstances.” I really hope that was helpful.

From what I’ve learned, by the time physical violence becomes part of an abusive relationship, the victim’s self-esteem is often so damaged ze has great difficulty living without the abuser – everything from believing hir safety is more important than the abuser to being able to perform basic tasks to care for oneself.

The woman on my porch kept apologizing, said she was “stupid” for staying with the boyfriend for two years, and said she owed me dinner. At the time I interpreted all that as low self esteem, but she seemed very, very agitated – very scared and grateful for safety and compassion. She was able to say that “he makes [her] look like a liar.” She was able to run away and call the cops and assert that she didn’t want to ride in the same car as the boyfriend; these facts give me hope that she will choose to stay away from him, and hopefully avoid abusive relationships in the future. But I’m worried about her, and I don’t feel safe living across the street from an abuser. I was shaking myself for a good half hour after everyone had left.

The whole thing was so surreal, I’d think I’d dreamed it if I didn’t still smell like the woman’s perfume from hugging her. It reminded me of dreams I’ve had in the past, where I tried to run into the house to escape some unknown but terrifying danger or run through the house locking doors behind me (often to no avail). But this really happened – to someone else – and I was a brief witness to it. I provided comfort, a haven, maybe even some hope.

At the time I put my needs aside to help someone in crisis, but now I need to tend to my own needs. Writing this post is part of it but I feel like there’s more – I’m not sure what, though. I think I’m still a bit too shaken to try and sleep. I have a letter I want to mail and a massage appointment I’m thinking of rescheduling. The former is an attempt to reach out to my cousin whose father died in late March, letting him know I love him and support him in doing whatever he needs to take care of himself on Father’s Day. Writing it (yesterday early morning, when I couldn’t sleep) was therapeutic for me because I was able to be honest in it while feeling like I might also be doing some good. The latter is a deep tissue massage intended to relieve the tension in my back, but at the expense of physical pain, emotional upset, and soreness lasting a few days. For a massage to be helpful today, I’d need its focus to be purely on relaxation – not the specialty of my currently-scheduled therapist. I think I’d rather cuddle with Fox, maybe even do something to try and express the crazy mess of emotions I’ve been feeling trying to block out by playing Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion all hours of the day and night.