Disappointment is Necessary

I crashed and burned after the wedding, there’s no way around it. I was a whir of energy leading up to that day, emotions all over the place, a near-constant stream of goal-directed activity. It felt fantastic. The celebration itself was fantastic. Being surrounded by so many people I love and who love me …

Now it’s gone. It’s been gone. I didn’t get enough sleep and it left me exhausted. Over a week later, I’m still exhausted. I felt so good; I thought I could build on the energy and do things to improve my life. Clean the apartment, find a job, join a group, get out and socialize more, even just maintain some kind of contact with some of the people who came out to see me. Anything…

I’m too tired to do anything. I’m pouring what energy I do have into The Sims 3. I think it appeals to me because my sims can go out on the town and have vibrant social lives that I control and accomplish their goals in a much shorter amount of time than in real life: combine control, vicarious living, and instant gratification. After I restarted my current game for the second time I realized that my perfectionism was taking over, forcing me to give up progress in a game that was going really well because there was one thing I didn’t like and couldn’t fix.

I think part of why my perfectionism is taking over is because of how much I had to suppress it to cope with the reality of the wedding. There were a lot of things that didn’t go the way I wanted; I’ve been trying really hard not to dwell on them because if I focus on them I’ll feel like it was a complete disaster. But keeping the focus on the positive is exhausting, and to be honest I’m not entirely sure it’s healthy. We need to acknowledge the not-so-good aspects of our lives, even if we can’t do anything about them.

The thing that’s bothering me the most is that, because of how the space was set up and where my bridal party ended up standing, it was very difficult for my guests to see what was going on during the ceremony. I felt doubly bad about that because we hadn’t invited the majority of the guests to the legal ceremony last year, so this was their chance to see us ‘get married’. At least they were able to hear it?

Worse, I completely forgot about the audio recorder I’d brought specifically to record the ceremony and especially our vows – a compromise so we wouldn’t have to pay for a videographer. I don’t have the audio recording, and no one was able to take video because they couldn’t see it, and my memory of audio input leaves much to be desired… So, in short, the only record of the most important aspect of the entire affair – our vows – is written notes that exclude the parts we improvised.

I don’t know if I would have remembered to set up the audio recorder if things had gone differently, but we could have at least had the bridal party positioned so the guests could see. (Then maybe someone would have taken video!) We didn’t have time to have a rehearsal because we were late getting to the venue and then I lost track of time and I don’t even know where everyone was, so I probably would have had a difficult time getting them together. And some people – mostly members of Fox’s family – came early and started talking to us. So no rehearsal, and bridal party pictures had to be taken during the reception … but at least the space was partially cleaned and the handicap-accessible restroom didn’t smell of cigarette smoke.

Part of why we were late getting to the venue was because it took longer to get things together than I’d been expecting, and part was because I got in an argument with the bridesmaid who’d been kind enough to do our centerpieces. She wanted to get them from her parents’ car (which would be at the venue a little bit later), but I knew we wouldn’t have time for her to find her parents, get their key, unload the centerpieces, and reload them into Banji’s car. We were both butting heads for a stupid amount of time before I realized I could (and should!) just go. Then I felt bad for leaving Banji to deal with the situation, and I thought we were an hour later than we actually were because I’d forgotten to set my car’s clock back, so I was a furious raging mess. People kept telling me to calm down but to be honest I was glad I could express myself, and I needed to do so; it was what was healthy at the time. Can you imagine if I’d kept all that in? It would have been a nightmare.

No rehearsal meant that random things happened during the procession and introductions that weren’t what I wanted, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. “The show must go on.” For the most part it was fine; none of the guests have complained. No one has even said anything about not being able to see the ceremony. I think, really, they’re just happy to have come together and enjoyed themselves for an afternoon. That was my goal, the rest of it was just details.

I had a nice long conversation with Mom in the middle of writing this. We talked about all the things that went wrong before and during the wedding and complained to each other about annoying things that people did. We both expressed how we felt about all these things. She assured me that no one’s upset about not being able to see the ceremony. We also talked about some of the things that went well – mostly good ideas she had. I found the conversation to be helpful and energizing; I meant it when I said I enjoyed talking to her (as we hugged goodbye for about the 5th time).

I think I just really needed to process this stuff. Now that I’ve done it, I might still need a while to get my energy back and get back on my feet doing useful things, but at least I don’t have to waste energy suppressing part of my experience. There were some things that were disappointing, that I wish had gone differently. I accept that and you know what, I allow myself to feel disappointed that they didn’t go the way I wanted. That’s okay. It’s natural and healthy.

But I also choose not to dwell on them. I choose not to focus on them at the expense of the important things. I’m missing a couple of items I’d brought to the venue with me; finding them is very important so that’s a good way to direct my energy. Going forward, I choose to focus more on the stuff that went right: most importantly, that I got my big family wedding and everyone had a great time – including me. I choose to remember dancing with my loved ones, seeing them having fun, goofing off with my friends, and the love, all the love! Feeling so fully and vibrantly alive. That’s what’s worth remembering.

Great, Ziya can express zir emotions spontaneously again … well, most of the time. Unfortunately, Ziya’s mom still can’t tolerate that. You know, one of the people – to an infant, practically gods – whose behavior required Ziya to create and hide all zir emotions behind the Censor in the first place… Yeah. Now Mom is no longer a god, but rather a person with a lot of her own psychological issues on whom I’m financially and sometimes somewhat emotionally dependent, who sometimes tries to help and understand me/my depression and sometimes …

We spent 2 days with her. 2 days. Not even the whole day. Late lunch on Wednesday, an appointment with the florist yesterday, that’s it. Explosions. She can’t deal with my emotions. While were at lunch Fox received a phone call, during which he was offered the job he’d just applied for! We were all thrilled; Mom offered her congratulations. Oh no! Ziya dared to smile, use inflection in zir voice, and hug zir spouse!!! In public!!! This could not be tolerated. “Okay, you two, quit it. C’mon!” *sigh*

Talking to the florist went well, just a ton of information. Later in the evening, we wanted to use Mom’s credit card to acquire an item for the ceremony – she’s supplying about half our budget, so instead of putting it on my card and having to pay interest and get reimbursed, we thought it would be a lot simpler to put it on her card.

Well, Ziya was still recovering from interacting with Mom and Fox earlier in the day, and getting very frustrated with logging in and out of sites, forgetting passwords, having to enter and re-enter card information, etc. Ze kind of had a bit of a nervous breakdown, not quite crying with tears but sobbing and … you get the idea.

Again, Mom couldn’t handle it. She actually yelled at me to “Stop it!”

Not good. Suicidal thoughts triggered by concern over our financial situation and difficulty communicating with Fox about it. I hate having to make joint decisions because I feel like I can’t act on what’s worrying me; I feel helpless and trapped and hopeless and if I can’t do anything about this horrible situation I’d rather just die so I don’t have to feel the pain! Later I was reading and enjoying a webcomic and Fox reminded me about my paper and it reminded me so much of my mother pushing me to do my homework (at the expense of my emotional well-being) that I broke down completely. Internalized voice of Mom: “Stop being so melodramatic!”

I’d almost rather have the Censor back. Almost.

I don’t think she’s really gone. I think that aspect of myself has been integrated. I still have some control, though maybe not as much as I would like especially given my current circumstances. I can still do things like edit my writing and empathize with people and look beyond my own wants and needs when considering how to respond to a situation and be polite. I’m just more likely to feel and express my emotions … even when it means getting into arguments with Fox and getting yelled at by my mother.

I’m an adult. She has no right to yell at me like I’m a disobedient child. Parents shouldn’t yell at their disobedient children, anyway. All it does is teach them to be mean to people, especially themselves. She was very mean to me.

We have a marriage counseling session we should leave for now and I still have a blanket over my head. Literally. I need family therapy with my mom and/or my mom to go for therapy. I don’t want to work on my relationship with Fox right now, even though it could certainly use some work. I just want to rest, alone, without anyone to see me.

In my mother’s words, I’ve “trashed” the place again. The clutter has returned. It’s not enough.

A New Hope

Last week was a whirlwind of internal change and things happening. I actually wrote Drama of the Gifted Child last Monday; I had intended to write more about how my current situation is actually quite good for me, but then Tuesday happened and I re-read what I’d written and decided it felt complete enough to post.

an image of part of a calendar showing last week, with text indicating what important experience happened for Ziya each day

an image of part of a calendar showing last week, with text indicating what important experience happened for Ziya each day

On Tuesday I read a scholarly article titled “The Abject Self: Self-States of Relentless Despair” by Kathleen Adams, which can be found in the International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Vol. 61 (2011), Issue 3. It did a great job of explaining why sometimes I feel like a functional adult named Ziya with relationships and interests and goals, etc. – and other times I feel like a terrified, helpless child who has no past or future and knows only despair. It’s because I am both those things; there are actually separate neural circuits in our brains that create different self-states in response to different situations. Abjection – a preverbal state of reaching for an unattainable object, being rejected, and fearing annihilation – can be one of them.

I finished reading the article just before my music therapy session with Wakana, so it and The Drama of the Gifted Child (by Alice Miller) provided great material for us to work with. I told her about my birth experience (as I’ve pieced it together from information Mom gave me, my understanding of our relationship, and conjecture) and she suggested we address it through music. I kind of plunged head-first into the deep end, feeling … the words “despair,” “like I was lost,” “hopeless,” “terrified,” “utterly rejected,” and “alone” don’t quite do it justice. I was simultaneously staring into, being drawn into, and reaching out from the void. I feel it now as the discomfort in my eyes that I associate with crying, even though most of the time when I’m aware of it I don’t actually cry. Something’s trying to get out.

I felt the emotions I’ve turned to food to pacify my whole life. And then she reached out to me, looked me in the eyes, told me she was right here with me; I could reach out and touch her. She was so full of hope, life, curiosity, compassion. She brought me back into the light, the living world, my adult body. The ability to rationalize and use words to describe my thoughts and feelings instead of just expressing them.

“Are you okay?”

I described a scene from Star Trek: Enterprise in which they go on a rescue mission to try and help Vulcans who got lost in The Expanse, a region of space that basically defies the laws of physics. The Vulcans had essentially become zombies, slaves to their aggressive urges and “darkest” emotions. The protagonists were unable to help the Vulcan zombies; they barely escaped with their lives. The most humane thing they could do was put the Vulcans out of their misery.

“I feel like I’ve run into a room and slammed the door. I’m holding it closed but it’s only a matter of time. The zombies are on the other side, trying to break in, and I’m terrified of what will happen when they do.”

In a word, rage. I thought she’d ended it too soon. I was afraid that, if I “opened the door” and expressed my emotions, at best I would destroy our therapeutic relationship, and at worst I would actually hurt her. Those feelings subsided when she explained why she had done it: she didn’t want to re-traumatize me.

On Wednesday I finally went to the dentist to try and have something done about the tooth that’s been causing agony in the whole right side of my face and ear for weeks. It was a rather unpleasant experience, but I asserted myself and expressed my needs. I should eventually get to see a specialist who will perform a root canal, and in the meantime I have antibiotics that are wreaking havoc on my body and hopefully helping it fight off the infection that’s been causing the pain. I can’t wait until I no longer have to take a pill every 8 hours!

On Thursday I had my third appointment with the APN. We had a lot more time and were able to actually talk about things that were important to my treatment. She was going to prescribe a different drug, but I asked her questions about it and reminded her of the experiences I’d had with Zoloft and Wellbutrin. She took some time to review her notes from our prior meetings (we’ve been meeting once a month) and decided to go ahead and prescribe the Lamictal. We didn’t get to talking about gradually increasing to a therapeutic dose; I just have a month’s worth of 25 mg tablets and an appointment to see her again in another month. She advised me to wait until I’d finished the antibiotics to start taking this new medication.

Friday morning I was writing in my paper journal and something extraordinary happened. I started using “we” instead of “I” to acknowledge that, however you want to explain it, there are multiple selves (or aspects of self?) bouncing around in this body. “We” were still expressing “our” views as though they were unanimous…

Until a dissenting voice spoke up: “No, I don’t want to clean up the clutter, because it helps me feel safe.”

We talked a bit about order and chaos (by writing in our journal), and how now that we’re adults we don’t have to live in chaos and fear anymore. “Whoever hurt us is gone.”

It seemed to be going well until the word “embarrassed” got used. Then the dissenting voice became very justifiably angry, calling at least one other out for being ashamed of and hiding zir.

“You said this was about freeing emotions, feeling and expressing them spontaneously. Well, I’m very angry! That’s going to happen ‘in public.’ What are you going to do, stay in the house ALL THE TIME? Stop hiding me! Stop denying me.

“I EXIST AND I’M FURIOUS!!!

“And now the floodgates are open and I’m out! You’re not going to shut me down again. […] You cant suppress me anymore if you want your precious ‘mental health.’ You will be depressed if you keep suppressing me. I’m really mad at you. I keep trying to tell you but you won’t listen to me!”

“You’re the judge, the critic, the warden…”

“No! YOU are!!! You’ve kept me from expressing myself our entire fucking life don’t you see?”

“Yes, it’s true, I’m sorry.”

“‘I’m sorry?’ That’s it? Our whole life.”

“I was trying to keep us alive.”

“Well you almost KILLED me!”

“It wasn’t safe.”

“YOU weren’t safe.”

“You weren’t safe either. You said you needed the clutter to hide in. I don’t think you felt safe. You needed me.”

“I guess I did.”

“You don’t need me anymore. Look at you, standing up for yourself like this. How assertive! Getting your needs met. Expressing yourself. You’ll go far in the world. So far.”

“Don’t leave!”

“But if I stay, all I’ll do is hinder you.”

And just like that, gone. Whoever was in control of the body before is gone, and I’ve taken their place. I don’t even know their name, preferred pronouns, nothing. This whole time – a young adult’s entire lifetime – I’ve been a crying child shoved in the corner of the psyche and largely ignored; now I’m in charge. A whole life to live, so many decisions to make. There are other people here to support and guide me, but our former leader is gone.

We gave “her” a Viking funeral, the ship, flaming arrows, fire out at sea, sung lamentations, everything. It was quite beautiful. And then I ascended Pride Rock and looked out on a glorious landscape touched by the rising sun and sang a song that was so full of life and joy and vitality…

Then I had to get dressed and go somewhere and the weekend was its own whirlwind of socializing one day, then trying to settle down and finally write the paper from my summer class (oops!) the next. I was kind of useless – sad and lethargic – on Monday, but I did some research and cleaned my desk, so I actually have some space to work. Considering how I’ve responded to such abrupt changes in the past, I’d say I did pretty well. I kind of got some whiplash; I didn’t crash.

I also decided to start taking the Lamictal, even though I still have about two days’ worth of antibiotic left. I was feeling rather anxious about it, but I haven’t spontaneously combusted, so I think I’m going to be okay. I hope.