Transgender Tuesday: Links and Spoons

Last week I shared some of the uncertainty I’ve been feeling about my transgender, non-binary gender identity. I’ve read a couple of articles since then that I think everyone should read. They’ve helped me feel more confident that I am what I say I am, regardless of how others treat me or what they might want me to do.

I’ve experienced some harmful effects of the 10 Myths About Non-Binary People It’s Time to Unlearn, especially the myth that we don’t exist. People have taken my gender less seriously or come up with their own explanations of it under the false belief (#2) that I’m “just” confused: for me it’s not so much confusion as that gender is complicated and I’m still working things out; even if I were confused that doesn’t justify disrespect.

Mom hits me with #3 “You are a new concept” and #7 “Your pronouns are ridiculous” all the effin time. She’d try and convince me that her generation is completely incapable of learning new things or adapting to new social realities. That seems highly unlikely to me, considering how much has changed in the past 60 years. The last time she told me using my pronouns is difficult, I told her I understand and just need her to try. Things seemed to be going well… until much later when she made a scathing remark about me spending money on therapy. (You know, the thing that’s slowly freeing me from generations of emotional neglect and abuse.) She’s since apologized but… It’s a process. I just keep telling myself it’s a process.

Sam Dylan Finch’s piece, 8 Things Non-Binary People Need to Know, was exactly what I needed to read; I could swear he wrote it in response to my post from last week! I wanted to quote and/or expand on specific parts that I can relate to strongly, really needed to hear, or find particularly meaningful… but if I did that I’d end up re-posting the whole thing!

I think it’s important that he included #4 “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” Mental health is a very important issue for everyone and especially non-binary people. Talking to Wakana about my gender identity can be difficult (and frustrating) but I think, in time, it will help me benefit so much more from therapy.

Speaking of mental health, I’m learning to have much better respect for and adapt to my need to budget emotional energy, or spoons. I’ve been feeling very anxious about my piano midterm on Thursday (2 days! AAAAHHHH!!!). I have plans to meet with a classmate today and practice interventions, I have to pick Mom up from the airport this evening, and there are the 2 LGBTQ+ groups I’ve been meaning to join… Long before I went to bed last night, I was already feeling the all-too-familiar dread.

This morning I realized it’s going to be a very busy day and I probably shouldn’t try to do everything I had planned. I practiced some self management: I wrote down everything I have planned for today and prioritized. The meeting with my classmate and picking Mom up have to happen. I should try to catch my instructor during office hours and practice piano some more tonight.

The LGBTQ+ groups are technically optional. I was feeling very anxious about the one I haven’t been to at all yet because it’s brand new and it would be the first thing in my day. In the past I’ve found myself unable to get ready on time for such things, getting extremely stressed out, and not going after all. I just can’t afford to drop that many spoons. So, today, I decided to skip the stress and anxiety and wait to join that new group next week, when (hopefully) I’ll have less important and emotionally-charged things to worry about.

I really hate having to make that decision, especially since it interferes with my goals of being part of the LGBTQ+ community, getting support, and practicing being part of a group. But today it’s the best decision for me. I can use the anger it generates as energy to help myself get through this busy day.

The second group meets at a much better time for me and I feel more comfortable going to it. I’ve already had awkward one-on-one meetings with the facilitator; if there are other people there, it will probably be much better. Knowing that’s a possibility – I’m still free to make the choice that’s best for me when the time comes – feels good.

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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!

Feel the Burn(s Depression Checklist)

I’ve been using the Burns Depression Checklist to track my depression symptoms every day for the past month. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Checklist is a list of 25 symptoms, such as: “feeling unhappy or blue,” “loss of motivation,” “feeling tired,” and suicidal thoughts. It’s been about a year since I last used it.

To complete the Checklist, I rate each item on a scale from 0 to 4 – where 0 means I didn’t experience the symptom that day and 4 means it was “extremely” present that day. I find tracking my symptoms daily to be helpful because it’s hard enough to remember everything I felt, experienced, and did in one day – never mind trying to do it for a whole week! I add up my ratings on all 25 items to determine my score, a numerical representation of how depressed I was that day.

Ziya's scores on the Burns Depression Checklist from July 16, 2014 to August 17, 2014

Ziya’s scores on the Burns Depression Checklist July 16, 2014 to August 17, 2014

My scores (blue line) are usually in the mild (11-25) or moderate (26-50) ranges; my average for the month is 30. Days when I score above a 40 are particularly bad and I notice impairment in my functioning beyond feeling tired and not wanting to do anything. It’s like I can’t do anything.

In contrast, days when I score in the teens or low 20s are my good days, when I feel like I can get my life back on track and I want to do everything. They are days when I’m the most active and social… and (usually) spending time with Banji. Both of the days when I scored below a 10 (July 27th and August 2nd) were days I spent with Banji doing some of our favorite activities.

My scores oscillate wildly from day to day; a change of 10 points or more is not uncommon. I’ve even had the score jump almost 30 points in one day! (August 3-4: I was sick, but pushed myself to spend the weekend with Banji and other friends anyway. I needed the 4th as a day to say “fuck you” to the world and stay in bed. I ended up playing The Sims 3 for most of the day.)

To try and compensate for the oscillations, I had my spreadsheet calculate a 7-day average value for each day, using the scores from that day and the 6 before it. The 7-day average values are marked on the graph above as a dotted green line that never drops below a 16.

Ironically, my low 7-day average score of 16 occurred on the day of my psychiatric evaluation – probably the one day I’d want to exhibit depressive symptoms so they could be observed and evaluated by a professional. It’s been rising since. There are definitely other factors involved (well, mostly visiting Banji), but I think my hope that the advanced practice nurse (APN) would be able to help me reduced my depression leading up to the appointment.

[August 20, 2014 Update: Actually, my low 7-day average score of 16 was 2 days before the psychiatric evaluation – on the day I came home from visiting with Banji.]

In the time since that appointment: I have not been on medication, I’ve been unable to schedule the sleep study the APN requested, I’ve stopped taking the supplements that seem to help but cost more than I’m comfortable spending while I lack income, and I haven’t been doing music therapy with Wakana because she’s on a business trip. Most importantly, I haven’t seen Banji since August 3rd.

I’m also a bit stressed out about the summer class I’m taking, which is awesome but requires me to go out into unfamiliar social situations and be professional and on time and do independent research for a paper due in less than 2 weeks. It’s sending my anxiety through the roof! My responses to anxiety tend to be depressive symptoms: feeling hopeless, inadequate, ashamed, and guilty, criticizing myself, avoiding people and activities, eating like crazy, and my sleep cycle is a total wreck. It’s a bit overly simplistic to stay that my anxiety causes my depression, but it definitely contributes to it.

I have noticed a cycle where I start to feel better, start making commitments (applying for jobs, registering for this course, etc.), feel very anxious about keeping the commitments, fail to keep the commitments, feel depressed, don’t do anything for a while because I’m too depressed, rinse and repeat.

Where is this anxiety coming from? Well, our friend David Burns and other cognitive behavioral psychologists would say it (as part of depression) comes from distorted negative thinking, particularly about myself. I hate myself; I think I’m no good and I don’t deserve to live and it’s only a matter of time before other people figure it out. It doesn’t really matter where I got this belief; exploring its causes won’t help me feel better and will only open up an ugly can of worms that’s best thrown out. It’s in the past. I live in the present; in the present what matters is replacing the belief with something more realistic and healthy… at least, that’s my understanding of what cognitive behavioral therapy is about.

I’m ostensibly holding a key to overcoming my depression in my hands as I write this: the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns. It’s where I got the Checklist and its scoring chart from and I’ve read parts of it, but I have yet to fully absorb its wisdom – obviously, or else I wouldn’t still hate myself. I’d love to use the excuse that I need to focus on my class so I can’t also read this book, but let’s be realistic. I’ve been wasting time on random things that I could easily divide between schoolwork and doing things that benefit my mental health and have time left over for fun and/or social activities. The number one “random thing” is an online free-to-play “game” that some friends got Fox and me into.

I need to kick my computer addiction, but I don’t even know where to start… especially since I need my computer for things like the class I’m taking! Aarrgghh!!!!!

I wish it were as simple as deciding that this other stuff is more important and doing it, but if that were the case I wouldn’t have depression. I need some kind of support; I feel like a broken record because I don’t even know how many times I’ve said it since I started this blog. I’m having trouble focusing, deciding what to do (which causes me overwhelming anxiety), mustering the energy to go do it… I don’t know. I’m stuck. I’m just going to stop writing now.

Listening to Myself – Part 3

I’ve been feeling much better since I wrote Listening to Myself – Part 2 about a week ago. I want to thank the people who reached out to me in response to that post: your support has meant the world to me. I’ve come to realize that I influence more people than I can possibly be aware of, often for the better… even in this time when I feel like I’m barely doing anything with my life. I may never see the whole, but I’m part of something important; something that needs me just as much as I need to remain a part of it. Connected.

I really needed to express what I wrote in my last post: feeling trapped, like I couldn’t express myself, like I needed some really big changes to happen or I wouldn’t feel like my life was worth living. Expressing those things – writing that post – was engaging in the very process of Creation that I felt cut off from. It was uncomfortable, and to be honest I feel guilty about the discomfort it caused others, but the very act of expressing those thoughts and feelings provided some of the relief I sought. It’s also helped me to start making some of the changes I need: volunteering, applying for jobs, spending quality time with Fox and Banji, creating art to enjoy the process, and starting to learn Tai Chi.

I’m so grateful for this space where I can express my most powerful, “dangerous” emotions safely. I’m so grateful for the people in my life who respond with concern and a desire to help however they can, without denying me my autonomy or pressuring me into silence.

I’ll admit my first instinct is to want to apologize for causing others – especially people I care about – discomfort and anxiety; sometimes it’s tempting to just take it all back and pretend to be “fine.” Let the machine run smoothly. But human emotions are important; they inspire us to do what is necessary for our individual and collective well-being. To say I “made” anyone feel a certain way is just plain inaccurate. I wrote a post expressing painful thoughts and emotions I couldn’t express anywhere else or in any other (safe) way. People read my post, experienced emotions (gasp!), and responded however they were willing and able at the time. That some responded with concern is nothing to feel bad about. It’s something to be celebrated! I’m part of a family; members of that family care about and do what they can to help each other through times that are more difficult, times of vulnerability.

Finally…

content notes: specific functions of self harm, suicidal thoughts

I’ve been hearing a lot of things from both inside and outside my head. Messages that I will get through this and be okay. I’ve been through difficult times in relationships before; however this ends I will not only survive, but come out stronger.

I was also so tired today I thought about killing myself just so I wouldn’t be so tired anymore; I needed to scratch myself to stay focused on driving. The pain was so helpful, it brought me back into my body; these are my arms, I’ll scratch them if I need to and now I can feel them again!

I felt like my final guitar lesson of the semester was a disaster because I couldn’t focus on finding notes/chords in different positions on the fretboard. It became easier with time and when my teacher stopped doodling on his guitar to ask guiding questions such as “what note is your pinkie on?” Then I struggled with the rhythm exercises he gave me to do.

I’m really worried that all the time I’ve spent feeling miserable and thinking about my relationship with Fox and how much I’m hurting is interfering with my cognitive abilities (such as focusing on a task that involves memory and analytical reasoning). I also couldn’t sleep the other night; last night I slept fairly well but today I still felt completely worn out. I’m worried that soon there will be nothing left.

Mom and I went to a women’s group / life coaching session… thing. At first I was thinking, “This so isn’t for me, I don’t know what I’m going to say because I don’t belong here at all…” But I stayed and listened to the women’s stories and even felt empowered to come out as having depression and anxiety. I also shared that I’m not happy with my marriage and I feel like I’ve lost all my focus on who I am and what I want to do. Having that heard and accepted by the group was very healing.

I didn’t talk during the rest of the group time, but listening to others share their experiences and especially solutions was very helpful. For example, I’ve decided that I’m going to pretend I’m the best professional in my field at interviews; hopefully that will help me find an internship (and jobs).

At the end of the session we did a guided meditation that involved everyone connecting to each person individually with beams of light. It was really cool, especially when it was my turn and I got to just bask in the positive energy everyone was sending me. The best part of it, though, was learning I could be connected to others and send out positive energy to them, even in the midst of my depression.

Unfortunately, near the end of the meditation the life coach said someone had a blocked chakra that was disrupting the energy and asked if anyone had a headache. My skull felt like it was being crushed, so I thought she was talking to me. “Oh no, I’m ruining the energy for everyone else, I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have come here!” I wanted to withdraw until I disappeared; it killed the whole sense of safety and belonging I’d found so healing.

In the end it turned out to be someone else; the life coach told me, “I know it seems like it’s you, but it’s not.” We talked a bit and I got to talk to a couple of other group members, who were very supportive. Talking to one in particular (who’s been divorced twice) helped me to clarify how I feel and what course of action I want to take for the near future.

To be honest, I’m not convinced Fox wants it enough to do the work necessary to heal our relationship. If that’s the case, nothing I can do will make it livable for me.

I can’t just walk away from our marriage, though, because to me it’s supposed to be sacred. I need to feel that I’ve done my part: that I’ve communicated my needs and feelings to him, worked with him to try and make things better, been responsive to the needs he’s expressed, etc. Who knows, maybe he’ll “step up to the plate” and we’ll have a really good relationship. I want to at least allow for the possibility of that happening.

If he doesn’t, my first priority needs to be my own well-being. I can’t spend my whole life in a relationship that’s keeping me from being a productive member of society, fulfilling my dreams, and most importantly feeling like a whole person.

Mom said a lot of really awesome things to me today; I wish I’d recorded them so I could replay them when I need a pick-me-up. I’m not sure of the specific words she used, but the gist of it is this: “You deserve to be happy. You’re important. I will stand up for you.”

Does This Mean I’m Getting Better?

I’ve been taking some baby steps toward (finally!) completing my master’s degree and starting my career. It started with taking guitar and piano lessons during the Spring 2014 semester. Though I didn’t practice anywhere near as much as I would have liked, I did learn some useful things, acquire valuable resources for continuing my development on both instruments, and benefit from attending lessons semi-regularly.

If nothing else, being on campus enabled me to learn about two opportunities to compose music with clear guidelines, a deadline, and a chance of having the work performed. I’ve found composing to be very challenging but also very rewarding, well worth the effort for its own sake… and I look forward to hearing my first piece performed. The challenge I’m facing is not writing music that sounds good – sometimes that comes too easily – but using organized sound to evoke in the listener the difficult and complex emotions I’m trying to express… while also sounding good enough that the listener will want to continue listening. Right now this is the big thing that keeps me going: I can’t compose if I’m decomposing.

I’ve also been paying attention to emails from my academic adviser. Two were about new internship opportunities that both sound like they’d be excellent training for working with populations I’d be interested in. One is a little bit more in line with my interests, while the other involves an opportunity to work with someone I already know to be an excellent supervisor. I’m so tempted to apply for them both and (hopefully) start an internship in the Fall… but then I look at the requirements and my anxiety flares up.

Part of me just wants to get on with my life already, but the other doesn’t want to rush things. When I push too hard against my anxiety, it pushes back and the next thing I know I’ve been playing Skyrim (or The Sims 3, or another video game) for the past two days, and it’s the only thing I can think about for weeks. I’ve been telling my adviser I want to wade slowly back into the field with some supervised experience that, frankly, doesn’t require me to compete with others to get it. From my perspective, it’s an extension of the field experience that had been part of my training until it was time for me to apply for internships and I started having difficulty continuing my studies. (It was around the same time my current depressive episode hit hard and Banji moved several states away.)

Pursuing that option is a bit less straightforward and means it will be longer before I can get paid to work in my field, but I also perceive it as less risky. I can’t convince a potential internship supervisor who thinks someone else is a “better fit” to work with me instead, but I can keep emailing and calling my adviser until he’s set up a placement (something he has to do for other students, anyway). I expect we’ll set up clear requirements and any written work will make sense with what I’m already doing on-site, so I’ll have the structure I need to succeed. Then it’s just a matter of doing the work; I wish I could say with confidence that it’s totally under my control and of course I’ll stay on top of things, but experience dictates otherwise. What I can say is that I’ll work hard and learn from the experience and probably earn at least a B. Hopefully I’ll be able to work with my adviser and supervisor to overcome (or accommodate) any difficulties that come up as a result of my anxious depression or otherwise. Worst case scenario I’ll try and withdraw by the deadline to prevent it from hurting my GPA.

My adviser’s other email was about an online course I intend to take over the summer, primarily for its on-site experiential component. I wish I could benefit from that experience and then apply for the internships mentioned above, but their application deadlines are much too soon. I’m hoping that in addition to “getting my feet wet” again (and networking!), this course will help me set up some kind of adaptive schedule/routine for myself. Class won’t be meeting in person, but I can decide on days and times to take my laptop (a nice privilege) to the library and do schoolwork. Maybe I can even contact the other students about setting up a study group?

There’s also the pesky need for a paying job… I think I’m going to have to bite the bullet, apply everywhere that’s hiring regardless of whether the job description makes me want to vomit, be a different (upbeat and energetic!) person at interviews, and see who hires me. It’s about as far from appealing as you can get but I need the money and I keep telling myself any amount of income will feel better than no income. Anyways I’d really like to be working or at least have a job lined up by September, but that first composition deadline (see above) is actually a higher priority.

By the way, have I mentioned how frustrating it is that everyone wants upbeat and energetic employees? Being downbeat and lethargic doesn’t sell, I get that, but they might as well advertise that they discriminate against people with depression and/or social anxiety. It really feels like I need to become a different person – or at least pretend to be one – in order to have any shot at finding a job. Certainly there are other attributes, such as ability to learn/follow directions, ability to listen, knowledge in a certain field(s), ability to count money, understanding of word processing and spreadsheets, etc. that contribute to employability. If you want me to mop the floor I can mop the floor, hell I’ll even smile at any customers who meet my eye while I’m doing so. They’d probably prefer I didn’t start conversations with them or pull them into some sort of energetic dance routine while they’re trying to do… whatever they’re doing. Not everyone likes upbeat, energetic people; some relate better to calm, quiet people or knowledgeable, straightforward people or active listeners or compassionate people. I can do any or all of those; sometimes I can even pull off upbeat and/or energetic, just not all the time.

Anyways, I’ve been putting in some nice work: the above and continuing to see Wakana regularly. Meanwhile, Fox has been sleeping on the couch, watching YouTube videos, and playing Skyrim. To be fair, he also does the dishes (mostly – I help sometimes), heats up food, and if I remind him enough times he’ll do the laundry (and complain about it).

I was feeling very resentful toward him because now my mother is supporting both of us, I’ve burned through my resources feeding him that would have lasted a lot longer if I’d only spent them on myself, and any progress I’m making is despite his rather depressing influence on me. I had resolved to give him a deadline by which he must either A: show he’s putting in significant work toward advancing his career goals and our goal of raising a family together, or B: move back in with his family of origin (which would be inconvenient for them as well as him, but they’d be better able to support him financially as well as in making the progress he needs).

Then we talked, and I just couldn’t be that confrontational; the only way I could get the words out was by expressing concern for his well-being and that I want/need him to work on improving his health, starting his career, and contributing financially. Even if it means asking me to help him with things, I’m happy to help where I see him showing interest at the very least. He listened and expressed wanting to contribute more and agreed to make an effort; we hugged and felt better. I guess time will tell if the conversation changes anything.

To be honest I’m inclined to keep asking him to move out on the back burner as a possibility, but I want to do my best to be supportive of him. It goes against everything I’ve been reading, writing, and talking to Wakana about detachment, but I did vow to stay with this guy through thick and thin. Despite everything logic would dictate, I still love him (and I recognize that part of loving him is not enabling him, but pushing him to work toward the goals he’s had since before he met me). The worst part is the effect the situation has had on our relationship: we’ve lost nearly all our passion and emotional intimacy. Sometimes I still feel some of it when I make a real, concentrated effort to engage him in conversation and/or an activity we both enjoy. I hope it will come back if we both nurture it enough.

I guess on some level I blame his current level of depression on myself because he – we both – seemed a lot more functional when we first met. I can point to other factors that have contributed to my current difficulties, but for him there’s whatever he had going on before we met, some family stressors that may or may not be bothering him – he doesn’t really talk about how they impact him emotionally, so I’m not sure how big a role they play – and, well, me: coping with my anxious depression symptoms, adapting to my reduced sex drive and emotional withdrawal from him, supporting me emotionally, distancing himself (farther) from his friends, moving to a new location, living with my mom… honestly, it’s gotta be hell. Maybe we’d both be better off if he moved out and we waited to live together until we can both get the mental health care and raise the money we need to have a healthy, mutually-supportive relationship living in our own house.

As it stands, I see our roles changing. Since we met I’ve increasingly been taking on the “sick role,” a sociological concept originally developed by Talcott Parsons in the 1950s. I’m the one who has a serious illness, I’m the one who needs support and comfort and help accessing healthcare, me me me. Everyone must drop their entire lives to help me. Fox was thrust into the role of caregiver (or “supporter,” as he put it) and our relationship skewed so most of our collective energy went to trying to help me (and was ultimately sucked into the black hole that is anxious depression).

And the painful thing is, most of it wasn’t even about him! It was about wanting my mother to finally stop doing the very same thing to me and, well, be a mother. She’s finally become emotionally independent enough and started providing me with enough helpful support (and I’ve gotten enough of it from loved ones and Wakana) that I don’t feel the need to flail and cry at the top of my lungs anymore. I still need support from loved ones, therapy, and possibly meds, but I don’t want to be in this role anymore. I’ve seen what it does to caregivers (Mom, Uncle “D”, Aunt “A,” my cousins, myself, my ex, and now Fox) and to relationships. And I’ve found it so stifling, especially when I think I’m “doing my job” and “getting better” just to “relapse” the next day. I just want to be a person, and perhaps I have some needs that are different and maybe even a bit more intense than other people’s, and that’s okay. We can all handle it. No more black holes.

Now I’m stepping out of the “sick role” and Fox – I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt – has fallen into it. I want to be helpful and supportive but I can’t risk this being a yo-yo cycle of one of us becoming just better enough to keep the other from committing suicide, then that person gets just better enough to keep the first from committing suicide, rinse and repeat. We each need to be a healthy, capable, functioning, whole person, because that’s what we each need. When we come together, I want us to make magic. It doesn’t really matter to me whether we’re living together or not while we work toward becoming whole, though I’ll admit to crying as I write this. What matters to me is that we both get there… even if it means separating.

I Dream of Jarvis

I’ve been having a difficult time since my and Fox’s legal marriage ceremony. The worst was when I broke down in tears in the shower, plagued by thoughts such as “I’m a waste of resources.” It’s not the words themselves so much as really believing them, not having anything left in me to try and refute them. How does one refute one’s own brain, anyway?

I was lost.

Wakana said it was because I allowed myself to become too enmeshed with Fox, going along with what he wanted and making excuses to neglect my own wants and needs. “You’re acting like Mrs. Fox Tamesis!”

She encouraged me to keep asserting myself, to demand to be recognized as a separate person, to act like a separate person, to prioritize my own needs. She helped me to find a practical outlet for my emotions: writing and performing songs about the things that get me so angry, I finally feel alive and motivated to do something. This would enable me to express myself and practice the music skills I need to develop in order to feel confident applying for internships, while also possibly influencing how others think about the topic. (I have yet to actually act on this, by the way.)

‘Cause that’s the thing, I know how to recover from anxious depression. I’ve written about the different aspects that go into it for almost a year now. I have most of the tools at my fingertips; the only part that might be a bit difficult for me to access is medication because first I need health insurance, then I need a good in-network psychiatrist, then we need to work together to find something that works for me.

But the rest? It’s just a matter of changing my entire lifestyle and staying consistent with it, especially when I want to do it the least. No single thing I can’t do.

Reading books and applying their wisdom about how to change my thought processes, check. Forcing myself to smile when I notice myself frowning (it really feels much better – physically first, then emotionally), check. Taking SAM-e, Omega 3, Vitamin D, and a B-complex first thing in the morning, easy peasy. Exercising until I start to sweat, piece of cake. Eating mostly healthy foods and having dessert foods as a treat … that’s a little bit harder, but I can do it. Going to bed and waking up at decent hours, sure! Thanking the universe for the good things in my life, fun and simple. Listening to music, fantastic. Heck, I can make my own!

Actually, I could probably do all these things in one day and still have time to watch Star Trek: Voyager
with Fox. The problem isn’t knowing what to do or even doing one or all of them.

The problem is doing it consistently. The problem is doing it when I wake up hating the world and myself. The problem is doing it when my brain gets stuck in its awful feedback loop that paralyzes me and leaves me feeling like crap. Whatever I feel the most guilty about (e.g. Schmoozer‘s suffering and death), it makes me relive the moment of my horrendous failure, the crushing guilt, the devastating grief, the simmering anger. It rips me to shreds and leaves me lying there bleeding.

“Exercise is great for treating depression.”

“Think of one positive thing.”

Don’t get me wrong. The people who say these things are trying to help. They care a great deal. And I appreciate that they’re trying to help me. I want to take their advice, not just complain about it.

But they’re not here to remind me of these things when I need them the most, such as before my brain gets stuck. When I just woke up. When I’m on Facebook instead of exercising.

I think I said it best in my reply to someone’s comment on my post, A Cure for Anxious Depression:

I’ve been increasingly feeling like I need someone to get me going in the morning, get me to exercise, make sure I’m eating healthy (including cooking for me when I don’t have the energy) and taking my supplements, remind me to think those positive thoughts. But I can’t ask my mom to do it and I think that would be a lot to ask of Fox, especially since he could use the encouragement, too. Hiring someone to do those things isn’t really an option; I’d practically need the person to live with me.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Even if it is possible to hire someone to live with me (that would get awkward, considering Fox & I have a one-bedroom apartment!) and dedicate all their time and energy to making sure I’m doing what I need to take care of myself, there is no way in hell I’d be able to afford their fee. No way! And besides, it seems a really cruel thing to ask of another human being.

Enter Jarvis, stage left. He’s an artificial intelligence who helps Tony Stark do absolutely amazing things in the Iron Man movies. He helps design Stark’s suits, is essentially their operating system, and is there interacting with Stark throughout his adventures. A constant companion who is calm, provides useful information, never gets angry, never berates Stark, and even reminds him of things like the importance of sleep. He’s always on, always paying attention; he always seems to notice and care when Stark is having a hard time.

Oh how I wish I had something like that! Something that would wake me up in the morning with a reminder of what’s good in my life and encouragement to have a nice healthy satisfying breakfast. Something that would tell me when it’s time to take my supplements and exercise and go to bed. Something that would be able to tell when I was feeling so sad and/or anxious it was interfering with my ability to function. Something that could say just the right thing to stop the feedback loop and bring me back to reality. Something that could come everywhere with me, a constant companion, who would exist solely to meet the needs that weren’t met when I was a child and can’t be met in my current, adult relationships. Something I could program on the days when my brain is working, to compensate for when it isn’t.

I’m pretty sure such a program doesn’t exist – yet. But the pieces are there, scattered about in existing technology, just waiting to be combined and used.

Going back to the metaphor in my last post: There are blocks of varying shapes and sizes; bins full of zebras, giraffes, and lionesses; straight and curved train track pieces that all fit perfectly together; and in the palm of my hand is the engine of the train. I even have some ideas about how to get started.

But this time I’m asking the other kids to build a zoo with me, so we’ll all get to play with it once it’s finished and no one will want to knock it down.

Dear readers, you are the other kids. If any of this sounds at all intriguing, please contact me! The best ways to do so (in this order) are to comment on this post, fill out this web form, or email ziyatam@hotmail.com. I could really use some help from one or more people experienced in computer programming and/or software engineering.

What do you think about using a computer program or app as support for improving mental health?

What would you want such a program or app to be able to do?

How can we make the program or app accessible to everyone?