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:

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Themes in my Sims 3 Legacy

Last week Wakana asked me to write down the themes that have emerged in my playing of The Sims 3. The themes I’ve recognized so far can be categorized as Social, Vocational, and Existential. One – perhaps the – major theme inherent to the game is Death.

Social Themes

  • being accepted as I am and supported in fulfilling my dreams
  • emphasis on family relationships and friendships, not romance and marriage
  • “loner” vs. charismatic socialite who makes friends easily
  • communication even when it is perceived as “mean” (i.e. assertiveness, honesty)
  • What influence does the perception of others have on my life?
  • dressing stylishly to improve my confidence and to express myself
  • maintaining and strengthening relationships

Vocational Themes

  • balancing goals, responsibilities, needs, and impulses
  • socioeconomic mobility
  • building on the success of previous generations
  • adapting to life circumstances
  • pursuing passion vs doing what it takes to pay the bills
  • innovation even when others think I am and/or my ideas are crazy
  • motherhood; balancing work and family
  • working together within the family to help everyone meet their vocational goals
  • living a successful and fulfilling life with a mood disorder
  • “reaching the top” of my career
  • I have the knowledge and skill I need to fulfill my goals, but how do I find the required “ingredients” (e.g. internship)?

Existential Themes

  • What is my connection to the past?
    • e.g. family tree / heredity / lack of connection with parents & grandparents
  • accepting what already exists and building on it
  • What influence will I have on future generations?

Death

  • the pain of losing loved ones / important relationships
  • change, especially in family dynamics & relationships
  • being haunted by (the memory of) a deceased loved one
  • happens to everyone, but we can’t know when or how

Today we talked about the social themes. I need to stop caring what other people think about me, accept myself, and be authentic. I’ve made some good progress in that department, and it’s a process I continue to engage in. During our session she got me to tap into, name, and own some of my inner resources. (“That person who was just talking to me, who’s that?” “Me!”) I’ve also been doing all sorts of awesome adult things all day – despite being tired, sad, and (most recently) nauseous. It feels good.

Being a Good Client

I’ve noticed a pattern: I spend a significant portion of my sessions with Wakana celebrating the progress I’ve made so far. On Wednesday I spent a third of our time together raving about my new, androgynous haircut; telling her I was able to separate myself from the agitation my mom was expressing; and taking about times I’ve been assertive. At one point I felt dangerously close to suggesting that maybe we’re reaching the end of our work together and should start talking about termination.

The thing is, I’ve been exhausted. Under my excitement, energy, and good news, a deep weariness was waiting; as soon as I relaxed, it would devour me. I felt it, resisted it, but couldn’t deny it.

She found a way in when I shared the insecurity that was keeping me from joining a new social group: I’m afraid I won’t be accepted as I am. I verbally connected it to childhood experiences; this was no gain in insight but a defensive, almost academic wall I constructed with each word I said. “Keep it intellectual. Don’t feel.”

Wakana is a music therapist. She’s all about the feels.

Somehow she got me to talk about what’s going on for me now: whenever I’m in a social situation, I feel like I have to adapt to the norms and expectations of whomever I’m interacting with. If I don’t know what those are going to be, I feel very anxious. If I can avoid the situation, I probably will.

The whole adapting to social norms thing is just reality to some extent, but I think I take it to a bit of an extreme. I hide who I am, presenting myself as a sweet, quiet, perhaps a bit reserved, easygoing person who is happy to listen and will comply with most requests. I let people touch my arms and shoulders even though I hate it. I smile and avoid interrupting people and don’t tell them when what they’re saying is factually inaccurate or logically flawed … or I just plain disagree with it. I feign interest in topics I couldn’t care less about and fade into the shadows when I can’t find an opening in the conversation. I’m basically the opposite of how I am on this blog. (The more comfortable I am with a group, the less likely I am to fall into this pattern.)

Getting my new haircut was an act of rebellion against most of what my mother trained me to be. And yet, the pictures she took of me the day I got it are identical to every other picture she’s ever taken of me: I look like a demure pre-teen.

Practically everyone I interact with projects their interpretation/expectation of my gender onto me and uses the wrong pronouns, even if I’ve “come out” to them. The exceptions are Fox and Banji. Fox is generally awesome at using the correct pronouns, but he goes with the gendered terms that require the least explanation when in public. Banji respects my preferences by avoiding pronouns. I appreciate their efforts. Also, the LGBTQIA+ organization on campus includes pronouns in introductions, so it provides an opportunity to be authentic without singling myself out as “different” or “other.”

I made the conscious decision not to correct people the last couple times they used the wrong pronouns because I felt too anxious about it. However, the reduction in anxiety came at a high price. Such a basic part of my identity that most people take for granted, and I feel like it’s invisible – even with the hair!!! It’s exhausting.

(My pronouns are ze and zir. As in: “Ze wrote in zir blog that people regularly misgender zir.”)

Wakana finally seems to accept it; when I realized that it was a huge relief.

She beckoned me to the piano so we could vocally venture forth into the unknown. She asked what modality I wanted; I asked for Major. I sang a pretty melody about… something related to being myself or being assertive or whatever. Wakana’s accompaniment diminished, her head dropped, and then she stopped playing all together. It looked like she’d fallen asleep.

I poked her shoulder and said, “c’mon, it’s not that boring!”

That’s when she asked if I was feeling very tired, and I admitted that yes, I was. She was picking up on that so strongly she fell into a trance – and not for the first time during our sessions. I attributed my chronic fatigue to undiagnosed sleep apnea, but she said she thinks it’s because I’m repressing my emotions.

She got me to admit I was mad at my mom for telling me how I should style my hair and which picture I should use as my profile pic on Facebook! We banged on the keyboard and yelled things like “I’m not you!” and “leave me alone!” It was very intense.

I finally broke down crying. “I don’t want to be left alone. I want to be accepted as I am.” I sang about walking my own path and wanting someone to walk with me for a time – but without pulling me onto their path or invading mine.

Wakana yelled some more but then it hit me: I was treating her the same way I treated my mother. All the stuff about how far I’ve come in therapy… Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made a lot of progress and I’m proud of it! All the time I spent talking about it was an effort to assure her that she is a good therapist… while simultaneously keeping her at a distance. I was hiding my vulnerability. This happened as I sang, “I don’t need you to accept my emotions because I accept them.”

In a flood of tears I finally confessed: “I haven’t been doing better. I’ve been feeling sad and lonely and exhausted and I’ve been spending a lot of time playing The Sims 3. I didn’t want to tell you because you get so angry when I do; I didn’t want to hear it!”

She said I shouldn’t have waited until the end of the session to bring this up. I didn’t tell her, but I needed the work we did in the session to enable me to bring it up.

She conceded that perhaps it’s unfair of her to get so angry when I say I’ve been playing The Sims 3; she asked me to write down the themes that have emerged in my game so we can work with them.

She also said: “depression isn’t feeling sad. Depression is not feeling at all. You need to stop repressing your emotions and dissociating. It’s okay to feel sad; let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling and express it.”

I said I hate the cold emptiness of depression and would rather feel sad… but I also despise being sad for no reason. And crying. Ugh. I hate crying.

… but not quite as much as I hate being chronically exhausted.

Progress

Last night’s class was great! Whereas in the past I’ve been terrified to show imperfection and extremely critical of myself, last night I was eager to receive feedback. I was uncomfortable about the class watching last week’s video of me acting as therapist in my small group, but the instructor pointed out something I’d facilitated without being aware of it. This element had been very effective in supporting the goals for the group: free expression and interaction among members.

Then we broke up into groups for hands-on experience, with the task of dealing with “problem group members.” The instructor recommended lyric analysis; for once(!) I immediately knew which song I wanted to use. Another group member was a bit better prepared and group consensus seemed to be for her to go first, so she did. I’m kind of wishing I’d gone first because the instructor came in while she was leading and gave a lot of useful feedback. The whole thing got video recorded, which meant (unbeknownst to us) that there was not enough memory left on the device to record a second mini-session. (Spoiler: So there’s no video of me leading.)

I left plenty of room for one of the other group members to go next, but there was an awkward silence as we all looked at each other. So, I volunteered. Perhaps I could have been a bit more direct about my desire to take a turn leading, but that’s working against an entire childhood, much of my adolescence, and even some of my (young) adulthood spent learning to step back and “give the other kids a chance.” (Including teachers refusing to call on me unless I tricked them into thinking I wasn’t paying attention.) I may have taken it to a bit of an unhealthy extreme, but I’m working to correct that…

I felt so good to go because I wanted to go, not because I had to. I felt ready. I presented the song in the way I felt comfortable with and that left me free to focus on connecting with the group members as we sang. I facilitated a verbal discussion that helped one of the group members come to her own conclusions that were supportive of her therapeutic goals, despite initial rejection of the primary imagery in the song. I tried several strategies to engage a silent group member without losing the ones who were participating. Even though she was quite successful in remaining disengaged, I felt good about the creativity I’d employed and eager to keep working. She later told me that it had been very difficult for her to resist engaging with the group, and that the only way she’d managed was by diligently avoiding eye contact with everyone.

Best of all, I felt accepted by and connected with my small group-mates, and comfortable in the class as a whole. I feel like I’m back on track and more alive than ever!

No, seriously, become ethereal.

TW: suicidal thoughts

In Skyrim you learn Dragon Shouts that let you do awesome things like breathe fire, cross a distance in the blink of an eye, and even force a flying dragon to the ground. The Become Ethereal shout temporarily suspends you between the physical and spiritual worlds. You cannot harm anyone, and more importantly, you cannot be harmed.

Combine that with invisibility, and you basically have the only way I feel I can safely exist right now.

One of my classes is about group therapy, intended to train students to be good group therapists. We’re reading The Theory and Practice of Group Therapy by Irvin Yalom. Before today I would have said that the more I read it, the more I want(ed) to participate in group therapy as a client. I think I need to have that experience for my own healing and before I can responsibly become a therapist.

The feeling was coming up as I read before class today, so I decided to call and see about joining the psych counseling group I mentioned in my previous post. The receptionist asked if I’d ever worked with campus psych services before. I said I’d tried but been unsuccessful. Then she said she didn’t know if the group was still open and transferred me to the person in charge of it. No answer, so I left a voicemail. No response (yet).

I tried joining a group by this organization once before. The person I’d spoken with had said she didn’t think short-term therapy would be good for me given my psych issues. Even though she offered to refer me elsewhere, I felt rejected. My experience today brought up the expectation that this is likely to happen again; they probably don’t want to deal with anyone who has severe – or even moderate – mental health issues.

The clinic Fox and I have been going to doesn’t offer groups that would be appropriate and won’t give me a referral. Even Wakana hasn’t been helpful in this department. I doubt I could find an appropriate group covered by my insurance, and Mom already seems to resent paying for my individual music therapy. I feel like there is no place for me.

I kept reading and what I read confirmed my fears. The very issues driving me to pursue group therapy would probably make me incompatible with the group they’ve created (to address a separate issue that’s just as important to me as any of the members they’ve deemed worthy of it). If I’m not a good fit, then I won’t benefit and may be harmful to the group.

And even if I were granted the privilege of joining a group, the early stages might be toxic for me. They consist of people measuring each other up and jockeying for position in the group. Initial attempts at unity and mutual support degrade as members become very critical of each other. I fear that in such an environment I would at best be ignored and at worst become a scapegoat… or just be outright rejected!

I wondered if this might be happening in class and felt unsafe with it. I thought that if it’s already bringing up all these issues, maybe I should drop the class. But if I do that, it will definitely take me much, much longer than the allowed time to graduate. I already need to request an additional year – that still might not give me enough time.

Then I read Yalom’s thoughts about tardiness and absenteeism and started to feel guilty about all the (non-therapeutic) groups I’ve left. I’d be running late for some reason, then embarrassed about being late so I wouldn’t go, and finally feeling weird about missing meetings so I’d drop out. I’ve done this more times than I can count. Any group leader would be wise to exclude me. The more I read about how harmful this behavior is, the worse I felt.

All the while the clock was ticking. I couldn’t even finish the chapter before it was time to go to class. I took too long in the bathroom. I felt anxious about my inevitable tardiness, but resolved to go to class because there’s a very strict attendance policy.

I arrived almost half an hour late. I looked through the window in the closed door to the classroom, but didn’t see a seat I could slip into easily. I hid in the bathroom to sort out my thoughts. Maybe I could join my small group when the class split up for the hands-on component? But my fellow group members are very nice and likely to ask friendly questions that are my worst nightmare – and even if they didn’t I’d have to explain myself at some point. (Maybe in front of the whole class! – they’d definitely be wondering…)

If I made up an excuse for being late I’d probably end up caught in a lie. When I’m feeling so vulnerable that I want to hide under a rock is not the time (I want) to come out as mentally ill (by admitting that the reading triggered me). I’d feel so much safer doing it so I could share things I’ve learned about therapy by experiencing it as a client. (How very academic of me!)

I looked at the time and realized that even though I was quite late, there was still the majority of the scheduled class time. I could still get quite a bit out of it. I tried to muster up the courage and looked in the room again… but still didn’t see any easily-accessible open seats. Anxiety got the best of me and I left, feeling defeated. I’m not sure how I got home in one piece. I crept back into my apartment and hid.

My own thoughts are my worst enemy. They have been battering me this entire fucking time: I’m worthless. I’ll never be able to support myself financially. I’m a burden and I’ll always be a burden. I should kill myself…

But the worst and most painful thought was this:
(I should contact [name] about this!)
No. Everyone who could help is probably busy, unavailable, or has more important things to do. They would be upset. You shouldn’t bother them.

I’m alone. I feel like my voice is gone. I thought about going to the ER but I don’t think they could help me. I think I’d be mistreated and that would make it worse. I feel like there’s nothing I can do… except maybe play Skyrim. It’s better than cutting myself…

Right?

New Year’s Resolutions for 2015

Last year I resolved to remember that my episodic mood disorder NOS is part of me – not all I am, but not somehow different from the “real me” either. I think I did a pretty good job of that throughout the year.

This year I want to renew that resolution and make a few more:

  1. to be physically active – let’s try 10 minutes per day
  2. to join and regularly attend in-person meetings of a group
  3. to express my spirituality
  4. to do something musical every day
  5. to keep in touch with people I care about

Why these resolutions?

1. I’ve been saying for a while now that including physical activity in my daily routine would be good for my physical and mental health. I feel so much better when I do something that gets the blood pumping – usually walking for longer than it takes to get from one room of the house to another, or dancing. I’ve seen what an extremely sedentary lifestyle has done to my godmother (who is still in the hospital, doing better but Mom wouldn’t say she’s “okay” yet) and it scares me. The extent to which I was winded after carrying a chair up one flight of stairs yesterday scares me. I don’t need to be in tip-top shape, but it’s important that I improve my stamina. I want to be able to do things. I want to feel alive.

2. I’ve gotten a lot better at being with myself or interacting with one other person, setting boundaries and asserting myself and the like. I’ve always been more comfortable with one-on-one interactions. However, especially since I realized I’m an extrovert, I have increasingly felt the need to be a part of some group. I had my friends over yesterday to celebrate the holidays and, as crazy and overwhelming as it got at times, I felt great. I was tired last night but today I want to do it again; I hate the idea of being alone. I know I can’t be interacting with people in groups all the time, but I need it to be a more regular part of my life. Hopefully the classes I’ll be taking in the Spring semester will help, but I need non-academic social groups, too.

One group I’m considering is Clutterers Anonymous because I don’t even know where to start trying to clean my apartment. Fox is just as much of a clutterer as me – if not even moreso – and I learned the behavior from Mom. Ideally the three of us would all go … but he has work and I don’t want to be dependent on her to interact with this group. I need to be able to attend it myself regardless of whether they come with me. I would have specified this group in my resolution, but if it doesn’t work out for some reason, I want to be able to find another group and have it count. The most important thing is to get out of the house and be social.

Another possible group is that Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance support group I attended once and haven’t been back to since. There are also a ridiculous number of Meetup groups in my area; all I have to do is join and actually show up. I’d even be willing to count going to different groups’ meetings toward this resolution, as long as I stay remotely consistent with it (say, at least twice a month?).

3. Spirituality is an important part of who I am that I had been neglecting until very, very recently. I used to feel at one with nature, dance under the stars, direct the energies of the various elements as they flowed through my chakras, practice zen Buddhist meditation, and pray. Even though I didn’t always agree with the lyrics, I found the act of singing or playing sacred music to be a profound spiritual experience. All of that fell apart as situations changed and I withdrew instead of adapting.

Now Fox is going to work most days and I worry about his safety. About a million things could happen to him; I could lose him. You just never know these days, and the world just seems to be becoming more and more dangerous. If I get caught up in thinking about this stuff, it could destroy me. So instead I pray: “Keep him safe.” I close my eyes and visualize him coming home to me. I send out my love and wishes for his protection and clothe him in armor made of positive energy. It helps me feel better. And so far he’s been safe.

I want to expand on this to more fully live my spirituality, especially acknowledging the seasons as they change.

4. Music is another important part of who I am, that I’ve also been neglecting. Among other things, I got too caught up in trying to do it perfectly; I was so worried about making mistakes that it interfered with practicing! That bright, cheerful, simple song would become painful and strained, until I’d drop my instrument and start crying. I was trying to force something that wasn’t there, and suppressing what I needed to let out. I need to find a way back to making music that is for me. It starts with picking up an instrument – any instrument – and trusting myself. Wakana helps in our music therapy sessions, but I only see her once a week. I need to build on what she’s given me.

5. This resolution is kind of difficult and I’ll be honest, I’m tempted to take it off the list for this year. The people I care about are kind of scattered, living in different states and/or busy with their own lives (and/or lacking funds for transportation). I intend to call or text or email or contact via Facebook or something, but then the time just keeps going by and … nothing. People aren’t exactly the best at contacting me, either; many of my family members go through Mom.

I want to maintain and strengthen the connections I have, so I want to try and reach out to them more often. Maybe send a text when I’m thinking about them or something. Emails. I still need to send out thank-you cards. I need to address why I don’t like calling people on the phone. This could probably be its own post, but at the moment I’m struggling not to fall asleep…

Yuletide Blessings and Happy New Year!

Extrovert?

The wedding was everything I’d hoped it would be. Almost everyone came, it was a beautiful day, the food was excellent, the music was varied enough that everyone had something to connect with and enjoy, and all I heard were compliments.

Even the things that went wrong were fantastic: the thing that was forgotten was a pair of cufflinks, of which we had two extra. The injury was an annoying scratch on my finger that I forgot about and no one noticed. The moment when I froze was an opportunity to practice stand-up comedy, which was well-received. The wardrobe malfunction was a detachable cap sleeve that came undone in the middle of my and Fox’s first dance and stayed attached so we could continue dancing unimpeded. People said they liked the dress even more without it and its counterpart! We ran behind schedule and yet things ended up happening at the time I’d planned for them to. The lulls in music and activity were great opportunities for people to talk and connect with each other.

There are some things I wish had gone differently, but they’re minor compared to all the things that were good. My guests had a wonderful time and thanked and congratulated me and told me I was beautiful. Our families came together as one and wished us well. We took a risk and started a new tradition that worked out beautifully. The cake was gorgeous. I succeeded in getting some of it on Fox’s face.

And best of all, I was able to be fully engaged in the celebration pretty much from the moment I woke up. I didn’t even need to use the restroom from the time I got into the dress until I was on my way back to the bridal suite to take it off! The dress was gorgeous and fit me perfectly (yay lace-up back!) and moved with me while I danced uninhibited. Mom kept track of time and gave me reminders so I could just enjoy interacting with guests. I was totally in the moment, expressing emotions as they came up (mostly joy), asserting myself, connecting with people, and feeling secure and confident and loved. So loved!

I thoroughly enjoyed being the center of attention. One of the highlights of the afternoon was when Mom was bugging reminding me to do introductions (of the bridal party) and a song came on that I wanted to dance to. I ran out in the middle of the dance floor and started dancing, completely improvised. I had so much fun! Everyone was watching me and people even clapped along with the music and it was so fantastic! No second guesses, no insecurity, no worries, no fear, no nerves, just confidence. I was performing. I was gorgeous and graceful and one with the music and so full of joy! People got amazing pictures that show off the dress and my radiance. I loved every moment of it.

I was exhausted after the wedding and my feet hurt so much I could barely walk upright. For about a quarter of a second, I considered collapsing on a couch in a private room that was part of the bridal suite and happened to be empty. But then I thought, “No, I need to be around people right now. If I’m alone I’ll crash too hard.” So I chilled with my and Fox’s friends who were sitting around the main room talking. We went back to the hotel and went in the Jacuzzi for a bit, which was excellent for my sore muscles and helped me calm down while still feeling happy. I felt motivated to interact with my family members as much as possible that evening and the next morning and was able to connect with them and that felt fantastic. I loved being surrounded by people I love who love me and were saying things that made me feel so wonderful! Like my uncle saying he wouldn’t have missed this for anything.

I really shouldn’t have been driving around on Monday because I was too tired, but I was happy to spend time with Banji and her family. Yesterday I was so exhausted I decided to Skype in for my session with Wakana. I told her all about the wedding and she was just beaming to see me so happy. She said she thinks I’m an extrovert and being around people is what gives me energy – not to say that I don’t need or can’t enjoy some alone time, just that being with others is what makes me feel the most alive.

I thought about my life and realized she really has a point. Just being surrounded by people isn’t enough, I need to feel like I’m connected with them – otherwise I might as well be alone. (Actually, it’s worse than being alone. It’s lonely.) But when I am able to interact with others and they respond to me and we feel a connection, that is how I feel like a person who exists in the world and matters and can be expressive and creative and free. That is when I feel the most joy.

Even when I’m enjoying my time alone, it seems I want to socialize. As a kid I would play pretend and make up imaginary characters to interact with. My thoughts have always taken the form of at least two people having a conversation. I spend inordinate amounts of time on Facebook and checking email or other social media. I socialize vicariously through the books I read, video media I watch, and how I play The Sims 3. My favorite video games are RPGs in which the player gets to run around talking to a variety of characters; even when I’m traveling or exploring a dungeon I like to have a companion with me. Blogging is a great opportunity for introspection, but I also use it to connect with other people. I thrive on readers’ feedback.

For so long I thought I was introverted; when I realized my experience and needs were different from introverted friends I thought it was just because I was less introverted than they are. But I think the reason why I predominantly preferred to be alone for much if not most of my life was because I felt insecure, out of control, and ostracized in most social situations – particularly large groups. That has nothing to do with introversion; it’s from having an inaccurate understanding of my place in the world as a result of trauma from birth through adolescence.

I still generally prefer smaller groups, or at least to only have to interact with a handful of people at a time. But the point is, I find it energizing.

As long as whomever I’m with isn’t actively draining me, I don’t need to be alone to recover my energy after socializing. Since the wedding, I haven’t wanted to be alone; I’ve actually made a lot of effort to avoid being alone. Today there might not be anyone else in the living room with me, but I’ve been hungrily eating ‘likes’ on Facebook. I keep reading people’s congratulations and staring at pictures from the wedding. I’m trying to regain that experience of being surrounded by almost a hundred people who had all come to celebrate me.

Good to See You… but I Wish You Weren’t Here

I just got back from my fourth visit to the APN. I told her the Lamictal seemed to be helping; I’ve been less depressed, my lows haven’t been as low, and my mood is more stable – even with the stress of adjusting to Fox’s new job and wedding planning crunch time and health issues, etc. She decided to increase my dose to 50mg daily and encouraged me to find things to do that would give my day structure and social opportunities.

Someone else was coming in for an appointment as I was making future appointments to see the APN once a month; after a short time I noticed that person was waving to me. It took a few moments for me to recognize her: a former classmate! She started asking how I was and when I was done making my appointments she came over to give me a hug. I was glad to see her but concerned: she seemed stressed and anxious and was clearly going through a rough time – otherwise why would she be at a community mental health center? I wanted to ask questions to show interest in her well-being, but I didn’t want to ask anything that might make her feel uncomfortable. And then she had to go in for her appointment.

On the one hand it was kind of encouraging to know I’m not the only one from my school / program needing to take some time for self-care. It’s kind of normalizing? And I’m glad she’s able to access at least some of the help she needs. I like my APN and I’m pretty sure that’s who she was there to see; I feel fairly confident that she’s in good hands.

On the other hand, I’m kind of shaken. I wasn’t expecting to be in a peer social situation with someone from school. We’d had some opportunities to bond as classmates but I see her more as a “friendly professional acquaintance” than a friend. I’m used to doing everything in my power to hide my mental health issues from friendly professional acquaintances; now one has seen me at a community mental health clinic! I don’t think she’d tell anyone – just like I’m disinclined to tell anyone who might know her – but it’s still awkward!

And my first response is to try and figure out what I can do to help her. What would be appropriate to say to help her feel more comfortable? How can I reach out to her to try and offer some support? I need to be careful how I proceed so I don’t risk outing her. Maybe I shouldn’t even be writing about this!

I guess it’s good that I’m so compassionate. But I need to think about how I feel and what I need. I kind of needed to be in and out of my appointment without unexpected socialization. I also need to socialize with peers other than Fox and the all-too-occasional rendezvous with other friends. I kinda want to reach out to her – “Maybe we can meet at a cafe or diner that’s convenient for both of us? Are you free during the week?” And I kinda want to hide in my shell, try to pretend this didn’t happen.

Burn, Baby, Burn(s depression checklist)

I’ve been tracking my symptoms on the Burns Depression Checklist for another month; so far so good. (view July-August & August-September) Scores have remained in the teens on half the days, a phenomenon that was previously unheard of. My average score for the month was a 22, which is 10 points lower than last month!

A graph showing Ziya's scores on the Burns Depression Checklist from September 16, 2014 to October 16, 2014.

Ziya’s scores on the Burns Depression Checklist from September 16 to October 16, 2014.

There are several factors I believe have contributed to my improved mood. Reading The Drama of the Gifted Child inspired some profound healing in the last full week of September. The most conventionally “sane” way to word it is probably that the emotional and presenting-myself-to-the-world aspects of my psyche became more integrated, so I can acknowledge, express, and act upon my emotions more easily. This helps me to feel more alive; all the energy that went into suppressing my emotions is now available for, well, whatever I want to do. It’s wonderful and amazing and just… Wow!

I started taking the Lamictal my APN prescribed on Monday, September 29th. This is represented visually on the graph above by a vertical purple line. I’ve been taking the Lamictal consistently at about the same time every day for over two weeks. I hesitate to say it’s working just yet, but so far I’m feeling very positive about it. In addition to the Lamictal, I started taking Omega 3 and Vitamin D supplements on October 8th.

Additionally, Fox was offered a job that he’s really excited about, and not just because he finally has income! His energy levels have skyrocketed since he started working; that’s been a huge inspiration for me. I get the time to myself that I’d been craving, and when he’s home I’m thrilled to spend quality time with him. We actually have things to talk about because we’ve been having different experiences all day! There are adjustments, as always, but overall it’s been a real boon to our relationship. I wasn’t kidding when I said the sexiest thing he could do was get a job…

Finally, the dates that have a blue horizontal line under them in the graph above are days I spent with Banji. This past weekend was particularly wonderful; we got away from the stress of our respective lives and got to spend a few days talking, making art, playing music together, and enjoying the fall foliage. I went about 24 hours without using a computer or smart phone and it was amazing! I had all this time; I didn’t know what to do with myself! So I colored in my sketchpad, took a walk outside, tried to sneak around like my Skyrim character, and interacted with living breathing 3-dimensional people using spoken words, vocal inflections, and facial expressions. And laughed, oh, the laughter! I even cooked and cleaned up afterward!

By the time I got home I was a bit tired of socializing and just wanted some time to myself. I tried to play The Sims 3 – not the best or healthiest choice, I know – and ran into all sorts of crazy glitches. I got very frustrated because people kept interrupting me, especially my mother. I try so hard and I think she does too but I still find our conversations to be emotionally draining – especially when she’s hounding me about the things I still need to do for the wedding. That just makes me want to shut down and block everything out even more!

Considering the abrupt change from vacationing with Banji to feeling emotionally drained at home without her and not coping all that well, I’m optimistic to see my scores gradually climbing from 13 on Monday to 30 yesterday. It’s less disruptive than the wild oscillations I’ve experienced in the past; I expect that I can bring the score back down (representing a reduction in depressive symptoms) by practicing some of the things I enjoyed so much while on vacation: less time in front of the computer, more time engaged in creative pursuits. Another way to reduce my symptoms is to actually do the things Mom’s been hounding me about, because then she won’t feel so anxious anymore, so she’ll have less emotional garbage to heap on me. This solution has the added benefit of completing the steps necessary to successfully prepare for my wedding. Win-win!

In addition to the overall lower scores, I had a truly amazing thing happen last week. For the first time since I’ve been tracking, and otherwise for I have no idea how long, I had 8 consecutive days without suicidal thoughts or urges. It was wonderful! (My “relapse” yesterday was triggered by a very specific situation that has been dealt with and is easily avoidable; if I choose to write about it in this blog I’ll do so in another post.)

A graph showing Ziya's (standardized) scores on the subcategories of the Burns Depression Checklist from September 16 to October 16, 2014.

Ziya’s (standardized) scores on the subcategories of the Burns Depression Checklist from September 16 to October 16, 2014. There are multiple instances when the purple line drops to 0 and disappears, indicating multiple consecutive days with no suicidal urges!

Considering the presence of other, shorter periods of time with no suicidal thoughts or urges earlier in the month, I’m optimistic that this has the potential to become my new norm. And that, oh wow! It’s not just about wanting to live. It’s wanting and being able to live while also being true to oneself. It’s having multiple options; seeing the full complexity of a difficult situation instead of just the discouraging parts. It’s knowing where my toolbox is, seeing the tools when I open it, having the confidence to use them, and making creative use of duct tape.

What I Need is What I Fear is What I Need

Wakana (my music therapist) has been helping me learn to assert myself, particularly in the realm of acknowledging, accepting, and acting on my emotions. I’ve learned to express my needs and wants, politely disagree, and set boundaries. I’m still working to develop these skills; it will probably be a lifelong process. But the foundation is there, and I feel pretty good about building on it.

The thing is, most of my work has been in the realm of one-on-one interactions. I have individual music therapy with Wakana. Our marriage counselor helps Fox and me have more intentional, supportive interactions with each other. I’m learning to assert myself in conversations with my mom, or situations in which Mom is accompanying me as I interact with another person (such as my dress fitting), or appointments with healthcare professionals.

I get lost in group situations. Even spending time with friends, there’s usually some point during our time together when I feel overwhelmed, overlooked, and unheard. I was barely able to participate in that one support group meeting I went to (no, I haven’t been back yet). Forget about being heard and acknowledged when my family is involved. I think about having most of my and Fox’s families all in one room just over a month from now and it seems like the worst idea I’ve ever had. If it’s not a disaster, it will definitely be overwhelming. I will probably be disappointed by at least some of them. What was I even thinking?

I really need to develop social skills. It’s not just me, people with psychiatric and/or mental health issues tend to have underdeveloped social skills. I’m inclined to believe that lack of a healthy home environment, same-age siblings or cousins, and appropriate modelling interfered with my ability to develop my social skills – particularly when it came to interacting within a group. I was also bullied and ostracized at school, which further limited my ability to practice social skills in a peer group. This in turn had a harmful impact on my mental health. I don’t know to what extent this hypothesis can be generalized, but we’re social creatures and society is the environment we have to adapt to.

Lack of social skills means we need group therapy and opportunities to practice interacting in structured group activities, so we can have some semblance of support in developing those skills. Actually, part of why I like tabletop gaming so much is because most games structure group interactions and lend themselves to turn-taking, so everyone gets some opportunity to be the center of a attention – seen and heard – for a short time.

Most of the psychological services I’ve been able to find in my area focus on the individual. Individual therapy, opportunities for individuals to submit their creative works to be posted online, classes individuals can attend and learn from that may provide some opportunity for group interaction, but that isn’t the primary focus. I have enough individual stuff going on, I really need to work on my social skills in a group. Why can’t I find one?

The answer is: because I’m afraid to find one. There’s a support group that meets weekly that I could be going to, but I keep finding some excuse not to go. I have briefly joined and enjoyed participating in at least 3 additional groups I can think of right now, I but stopped showing up after just one or two meetings, even though I’d had a positive experience.

I don’t know if it’s that I don’t fit in or I don’t want to fit in, or something else entirely. Maybe I want to abandon the group before it has the opportunity to abandon me – or worse, consume me. I don’t want being part of a group to mean losing my autonomy.

Being in a group situation takes all of my energy; I feel like I need to be at my best to come out of it feeling anything other than drained. To put it in terms of Spoon Theory, interacting in a group takes so many of my spoons that I can only do it on days when I have more spoons to begin with; most of the time it requires me to borrow spoons from the next day. Just getting out the door on time looking presentable can take several spoons. Sometimes, by the time I’ve introduced myself, I just don’t have the spoons I need to follow a conversation, navigate the complex thoughts and emotions that fill the room to the point where I don’t know which ones are actually mine, formulate responses, and get people to pay attention and listen to what I have to say. How can I develop social skills for interacting in a group if I don’t have enough spoons to exist in that group, never mind trying to learn something?

I need a group activity that restores spoons, such as creating music or art. Music in particular is a completely different way of interacting: you’re listening and “speaking” simultaneously, so everyone gets heard. You are a part of something bigger than yourself, you can hear it and that makes it so much easier to feel and internalize. Every part matters, even – no, especially! – the supportive, “background” parts.

I have less experience with art, but being creative is energizing. Focusing on my own artwork gives me a socially acceptable way to back out of the group activity a little bit to recharge without leaving it completely. It opens up the possibility of positive interactions, such as commenting on an aspect of someone else’s artwork (e.g. use of color) that I like. People are more likely to have and express more positive emotions that I don’t find overwhelming – I might actually get a high off them. I can also communicate something visually, so I don’t have to rely quite so much on the verbal communication I find so challenging.

Trying to find an arts-based group geared toward mental health in my area has been like hitting my head against a brick wall. Either I don’t know where to look, or they just don’t exist. I could reach out for help; that might be my best chance of actually managing to find something.

There are quite a few art-related groups in my area on Meetup.com; the difficulty I’m facing is selecting one I feel comfortable joining and might actually go to. Looking at some that seem promising, I feel like I’m going to cry because I simultaneously want to join in the fun and question my ability to do so. Will I be accepted?