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.