Finding the Words

It’s been five weeks since … I still don’t have a label for it. It just is.

Well I guess I could say “my old wounds got torn open, setting me back a year or two in my recovery to how I felt and functioned about 18-24+ months ago.” (‘Recovery’ – to the degree to which I find that term relevant – isn’t a unidirectional, continuously-getting-better process. It’s complicated and messy and all over the place. So this can’t be a setback, just an unexpected and more-difficult-than-anticipated part of the journey. Perhaps a necessary part? It’s certainly reminded me of how vulnerable I am – but also how resilient I am.)

I’m inclined to say “that’s a bit melodramatic” but, well, it’s my truth. Coming back from that hasn’t been easy. For a while I took a break from activism, particularly the being-a-leader-in-a-grassroots-organization stuff. I’ve been getting back into it, almost to the point where I feel like I’m “pulling my weight” again – putting in effective work commensurate with the roles I have. But I’m also addicted to Terraria, my apartment is as messy as ever (what an understatement!), and my relationship with Fox … let’s just say both my therapists seem to agree it should be my primary focus. And one basically suggested he should quit his job so he’ll have energy to put into our relationship.

It’s been about 3.5 weeks since I visited Ron in the hospital and 2.5 weeks since ze was released. Ze lost zir job and couldn’t go back to zir parents’ house because their terms were unreasonable to the point of being unhealthy, so ze is currently homeless. People are doing what they can to help and ze says ze feels better. Ze seems better too – most of the time. Sometimes zir “speech seems pressured” but it’s usually connected to particular topics, and it’s possible to move the conversation elsewhere. Ze listens to me.

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It’s been 2 weeks. Ron is still in the hospital; ze hopes to be released on Tuesday.

We’ve spoken on the phone several times; I’ve generally done my best to be supportive and our conversations have been mostly good.

I also visited zir once during the week. It felt a lot like how things had been around May Day, before the … crisis. I was happy to see zir and ze seemed calm, reasonable. We walked part of the grounds and sat on a somewhat secluded bench. Ze asked me to play a song on guitar, so I did, carefully focusing on the music. Then ze handed me a composition book and put zir arm around me, leaning in as I reviewed its contents. It felt good to be close, but at the same time there were alarms going off in my head. This was not what Fox and I had agreed would be appropriate for our first rendezvous, and I was allowing Ron to overstep the boundaries I’d promised to myself.

We talked and ze stroked my arm and hair and kissed me and it was wonderful. But then ze had both arms around me, essentially, and was leaning in …

“We shouldn’t get too into this right now,” I said, gently but firmly.

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Father’s Day

Fox and I visited his parents for Father’s Day. I decided to go because I like them and want to have a relationship with them, and I’ve been avoiding them. They know about our situation from my perspective, and they were both eager to show their love and support regardless of the decision we make. They are two of the awesomest people I’ve ever met.

We had a wonderful time and stayed up way too late last night, so I ended up sleeping over. Fox went to church this morning and his dad has work (which is why we celebrated Father’s Day yesterday), so it’s just been me and his mom. We had a heart-to-heart sharing our stories and family baggage and wants and fears, including what’s going on between me and her son.

“I’m sensing a pattern: there’s a lot of loss in your life, and you cope with it by pushing people away or withdrawing. You’re pushing him (Fox) away and he’s anxious and that’s why he’s being so clingy.

“I see you in a place in your life where you need to make a decision. Either you are going to use this relationship to learn how to be in healthy relationships with yourself and others, or you are going to keep pushing people away. You need to decide: either try to work with him to learn and grow together, or let him go.

“You need to either give yourself wholeheartedly to this relationship (and life in general) so you can learn and grow from it, or you have to walk away from it. Either way, the worst thing that will happen is you’ll get a divorce – and you’re already willing to do that. But if you keep doing what you’re doing – if you stay connected to him while simultaneously pushing him away – you’re both going to be miserable.

“So decide.”

I’ve had my quills out for too long. I’m poised, my hood spread, ready to strike. I was actually snarling at other motorists on my way here yesterday. I’m tired of being so tense. I’m exhausting myself and wasting my energy – energy I could put to much better use.

When I’m connected with people – open, honest, vulnerable – that’s when I feel the most alive. Listening to their stories, sharing in the creative process with them, enjoying a delicious meal, giving and receiving hugs… these are the things I thrive on. I need relationships; the most painful thing about the way I’ve been living with Fox is that our relationships with other people have become so limited. We’re disconnected. I’ve disappeared inside myself; I almost did that again by trying to drive home while exhausted last night.

“Yes I’m alone, but I’m alone and I’m free. Just stay away and you’ll be safe from me.”
“Actually, we’re not.”

~ Frozen: “For the First Time in Forever (Reprise)”

Everything comes down to one innate need: the need to be fully myself in relationship with other people. I’ve spent most of my life learning that I can have one or the other: I can be myself when I’m alone, or I can sacrifice myself and become enmeshed with others. To this day my mother actively teaches me to hide part of myself to be more acceptable to others (her).

Neither of those options is acceptable anymore. I can have periods of time when I’m alone, that’s not a problem. It’s healthy and necessary. But I need to be connected with other people; I can’t have being alone be a requirement for being myself. I need the people I care about to see me – all of me, not the mask and armor I’ve been hiding behind and trapped within. To feel safe doing that, I need to be able to see myself.

So whatever decision Fox and I make regarding our marriage, I choose to let go and throw myself wholeheartedly into our relationship – even though I find it terrifying. Not for him, but for myself. Worst case scenario I get the thing I’ve been leaning toward anyway and maybe I learn something useful I can build upon for future growth. Best case scenario I grow and I get an awesome life partner – with an equally awesome family – who can help me continue to grow. I think it’s worth a bit of risk to shoot for that.

I’ll close with a bit of wisdom from my father, one of the ways he’s still alive in me after all these years: Be honest. I choose to be honest with myself and with others, even (especially) when it’s scary. I love you. I need ______. No, I don’t want ______. I’m not sure if I want _____ but I think it’s worth considering. I’m sick and tired of _____. I’m sad I’m scared I’m angry. I can’t live like this anymore! I don’t want to talk about this right now. I feel _____ when you _____. Please give me some time to process. Please respect this boundary. Please listen.

Breaking and Entering

When I was a child, I loved playing with blocks at the after-school program I attended. I would pull out the wide variety of differently-shaped and sized wooden blocks and build with them for hours. Most often, I would create a zoo, which I’d then populate with plastic animals, so each species had its own habitat. I’d finish it off using the wooden train set, building an elaborate track so visitors could ride on the train around the entire zoo and see all of the animals. I loved building this structure.

Until, invariably, I would need to use the restroom. I’d leave my creation unattended for a minute and, invariably, someone would knock it down. When I returned I would find a giant mess where once there was a carefully-crafted zoo – which, by the way, I probably hadn’t had the chance to play with yet, at least not as much as I wanted to. I would get so upset, but the only message I remember getting from the adults present was that now I had to clean it all up. My zoo was reduced to a scattered pile of random toys cluttering up the floor. I didn’t even have the chance to mourn it, I just had to put all the toys away and make the room look like my creation had never even existed.

Never do I once remember the kid or kids who knocked down my creation being scolded, or required to help me clean up (or rebuild, that would have been nice), or stopped before they had a chance to do it. I doubt they were ever taught that knocking down someone else’s building is mean. I had no advocates, no protection, no empathy. I was wrong for wanting something as simple as control over how long my creation lasted; when and under what circumstances I took it down. Maybe, just once, I wanted to be the one who got to destroy it! – preferably after showing it off to my parents?

Fast forward a good 20 years, and I feel like I’m staring at a scattered pile of random toys where once my zoo had been. Except that the “toys” are hopes, dreams, accomplishments, skills, fragments of my sense of self, and fragments of my confidence. And the “zoo” is me, or at least the me I’d spent my whole life thinking I was building. Now I’m just a scattered mess cluttering up the room (literally, this whole apartment is quite cluttered). And the only thing I was ever taught to do is clean up the mess, to make it look like I never even existed.

Enter the folks who addressed things to “Mr. and Mrs. Fox Tamesis” – where once I was a person worthy of my own first name, I’ve been condensed into a minor extension of Fox’s identity.

We got married, and marriage is an ancient tradition, and everyone has their own ideas of what it means. I get that. But it’s also a personal thing between me and my equal partner in life, and it’s hard for me to accept another kid putting his giraffe in my zebra habitat.

Someone told us to “keep the Lord in [our] marriage,” which seems rather invasive to me. I know it’s a reminder to stay in touch with our spirituality / the Divine but that’s just the thing, my spirituality / connection with the Divine has always been deeply personal (and divergent from mainstream organized religion). Someone I maybe met once has no business saying anything about it, especially not using language I’m not comfortable with. I’m not even sure how much of my spirituality I want to share with Fox! That’s something we need to work out, using our Fox-to-Ziya / Ziya-to-Fox dictionaries, in our own time, and in the privacy of our own home thank-you-very-much.

During our ceremony, we had time for the loved ones gathered there to offer us blessings. Most of the blessings were really beautiful, but there is one that bugs me and took me a bit by surprise because it was a younger person (a few years younger than us) who said it: “Put God first, your wife second, and yourself third.”

I’m gender-bending enough to want to interpret that as a message to each of us, with the other taking on the role of “wife” just so the quote still works. But pretty much everybody sees Fox as the husband and me as the wife in this relationship, regardless of our behavior and anything we might say, due to our biologically-determined secondary sex characteristics. So, this blessing we requested to be for both of us ended up being addressed solely to him. He gets to be the active party, making and acting on priorities while I sit here looking pretty clean up the mess that used to be my ability to do things for myself and be recognized as a person in my own right.

And then there’s the comment someone made on a picture of me and my mom, who for all her faults has been trying to be there for me all these years and at the very least has provided for my material needs. Fifteen years – over half my life! – since my father abused me and hurt her and wouldn’t give up an addiction to try and save his own life, someone has the nerve to bring him into a special moment between my mom and me by saying “he’d be proud to see his daughter joined in matrimony.”

Excuse me! I have no idea what my father would think of me or Fox; I might’ve been a completely different person if he were still alive. Of course, any father would be proud to see his daughter married – isn’t that what daughters are for? Marrying off?

But my relationship with my father is and was more complicated than that. He always encouraged my intellectual growth and never primed me for marriage. Whatever I need to work through to be able to forgive him for the mistakes he made, that’s personal. Whatever Mom’s going through – if she’s thinking about it at all – is her business. No one has the right to pull our relationships with my father into the public sphere.

In that moment in the picture, Mom and I were sharing something special. My mom was giving me her blessing on my wedding day; she was proud to see her daughter actively join with a wonderful person who will make an excellent lifelong partner. And unlike my father, she’s had the opportunity to meet Fox and butt heads with him and come to respect him and see how good he is to and for me.

When I hugged Mom after the ceremony, she said she’d always prayed for me to be happy, and now I am – I was beaming throughout the entire ceremony – and she’s happy for me. For that moment, at least, she could actually see me.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last. On the car ride home, I was exhausted. It had been a very hectic and exciting day; though I’d been happy and joyful through most of it, I also felt every other emotion I’d felt in my entire life. That’s not an exaggeration. I just wanted to relax, reminisce, and bask in the joy of what had just happened – preferably while cuddling with my husband.

But Mom asked me to sit up front with her and navigate; I didn’t even pause to consider the possibility of saying “no.” Throughout nearly the entire ride home she kept talking about things we need to do for the big family celebration we’ve been planning for next year. (This year was a small affair with the primary purpose of signing the legal document.) Worst, she kept bringing up bridesmaid dresses, which is between me and my bridesmaids. (Duh!) I told her I was tired and let’s talk about that later. Fox told her we don’t need to make those decisions yet. She kept saying, “I’m just talking” until finally I said, “Please stop!” She drained all my energy from me until there was nothing left. I’d just gotten married and I could feel nothing, I saw no future, no purpose to being. I couldn’t bring back the happiness I’d felt during the ceremony and I felt like I’d never feel it again. I just wanted to stop existing.

Once we were alone we felt energized, happy and excited, and more deeply bonded. We were able to thoroughly enjoy ourselves. The well wishes we’ve been receiving since a day before the wedding have brought a lot of joy and helped me to feel very, very loved. They’re still trickling in and each one brings a smile to my face; better yet I can look back on all of them and remember that joy.

But our loved ones went home and they’re hundreds of miles away again (especially Kit and Banji). We’re back to our scattered life – the need to find jobs especially. Last night I found out that one of my student loans has gone into repayment and my first payment was actually past due; thank goodness I had the money in my checking account to pay it right away! But I don’t know what I’m doing with my loans and school, and I don’t know how much “encouragement” I should be giving Fox to be on top of those things for himself, and my account balances keep dwindling. I’d love to just go out and get a job today but I’m not sure I’ll be able to maintain the confidence I need to follow through with the whole application process (including interviews). If I get a job I’m afraid depression and/or anxiety will get the best of me and I won’t be able to keep it – or if I do manage to keep it I’ll still be miserable. And there’s still the sense of “but I still need to take care of myself; I should focus on my own mental health treatment.” Except that I still don’t know where to go to get the treatment I need, and I hate the idea of calling to make appointments, and I don’t have health insurance.

Every interaction I have with Mom convinces me that I’m wrong. Whatever I was doing before she interrupted me that I’d really like to continue with and/or get back to, wrong. When I finally get my act together and order groceries online, she tells me I should go to the supermarket where the items cost less, even though in my experience I tend to spend more. I can tell her that until I’m blue in the face; I can show her my receipts, but I’m still wrong. I haven’t done this list of things I keep saying I need to do, so I’m wrong – and I’ve been depleted of the energy I need to do them. I closed the door to my apartment, so I’m wrong. Fox enforced the boundary we need to stay sane by asking her to leave us alone, so I’m wrong.

Hello person who can afford to discriminate among a plethora of potential employees based on the time of day, the color of your socks, or the straightness of the applicant’s part. I’d really like this job, but everything I do, say, or think is wrong. I’m probably wrong for wanting a job in the first place. Oh, the information on my resume is factually correct, I’m just inherently wrong. I breathe wrong. I think wrong. I am wrong. Will you please hire me?

Most recently Mom’s told us that if we have money in our names we might not qualify for affordable health insurance. Worse, the corporations behind our student loans can freeze our accounts and take the money away. I have to imagine that would only happen if we really fell behind on payments, but I can’t say with confidence that we’ll be able to keep up with them. We need jobs for that – even though we’re both still in school. I might be able to take enough credits in one semester to defer my loans again, but to my knowledge that isn’t an option for him.

Mom’s solution is to put the money we’ve received as wedding gifts into an account under her name. I trust her not to spend the money; I’m less confident that I trust her to give it back to us no strings attached and not try to influence what we do with it. Even if we were to do that, we still need to create a joint account so we can deposit the checks that have been made out to both of us – some “Mr. & Mrs.” and some using my first and “maiden” names. There will be a paper trail. I barely have the emotional energy to get dressed in the morning – never mind worrying about what the consequences might be if someone investigates money coming into our names, just to go into someone else’s soon afterward.

That was the plan the last time I talked to her; for some reason I find it immeasurably difficult to say “thank you, but Fox and I will handle this on our own.” We’ve talked about it and made our own decision about how to handle our finances. I just want to follow through with that decision and have it be respected. I don’t want to have to dread telling her what I’ve done, like a disobedient child. And I want – need! – to know that any money in an account under my name (whether it’s joint or solo) will only be removed with my consent. Is it so wrong to ask for that security?

The walls of my zoo have been knocked down and I don’t know where the lionesses went. There are giraffes in my zebra habitat. My train track has been scattered. I can’t find the train.

At the very least, I need someone to look me in the eye and tell me they understand why I’m so upset. Some help finding things and rebuilding my zoo would be really, really nice.

Just don’t tell me to put these toys away. I’m not finished with them yet.

Dancing in the Eye of the Storm

So I’ve been officially married for a little over a day now (by about three hours), and that’s been enough time to process a decent amount of what happened yesterday.

Ziya and I started yesterday off tired. I was running on less sleep the ze was, and had just enough time to shower, shave and have a weak cup of tea; particularly since we were meeting Banji for breakfast. That breakfast was good and calm; we got back with just enough time for Ziya and hir mom to head out for their hair appointments.

And that’s where the chaos started. Earlier, Ziya and I agreed that chocolates from a nearby restaurant/confectionery would make a good gift for our officiant. Since Ziya had a hair appointment, it was up to me to pick them up and choose the assortment. I did so with Banji’s help after I got dressed (including a new element that I decided to bring at the spur of the moment); she drove Ziya’s car to the restaurant and back. The drive over was calm enough, and gave us time to talk. But of course, we arrived 45 minutes before the place opened. So we did the only smart thing: drove back, and decided we’d head out just after opening time. The remaining half-hour or so was a blur of nervous movement; my double-checking that we had everything we needed to bring with us, getting Banji’s help with preparing a cross that showed up better on the shirt, and then finding myself with more time than I had things to do with it.

Which I began to spend worrying about the unknown, small details. It took Banji encouraging me to go meditate or otherwise do something to calm down for me to actually do so. But it helped: rather than fighting to control something I couldn’t then, I worked within how the morning was beginning to flow. Then, about 11am we made the second attempt at the chocolate gathering trip. This one was successful (even though I began to get nervous about how long it was taking). But I apparently didn’t need to worry; Ziya and hir mom had arrived back later than we had expected, and were still getting ready when we returned. So in the end, our second trip didn’t mess up our timing.

We all arrived at the restaurant where the ceremony was to take place well before our original “need to arrive” time of 1:30pm. And honestly, this was where the storm really began to pick up speed. Non-essential guests began to arrive earlier than we had anticipated they would; making figuring out seating arrangements very entertaining. That also delayed critical set up elements; things like figuring out where the ceremony would actually occur, setting up the video camera, etc. And then, a little after 2pm, we found out that our original information had been wrong: we were going to have the ceremony first, and then appetizers; not the other way around.

Up until that point, I had been trying to carefully wrangle everything, and get it to fit neatly into our expectations of how the day was supposed to go. Ziya and I were standing at the edge of the storm, trying to mold it through sheer force of will. But at that moment, I did something very smart: I stood in the eye of the storm instead, and began to move with it. Ziya seemed to follow my lead on that shortly after. And in doing so, we began to “dance” with the beat the storm was providing.

And that’s when everything fell into place, and we began to enjoy ourselves. We trusted our friends and family to do their part well, and were able to enjoy the company we had assembled there. We were able to focus on the moment, and be fully present in what is arguably the most important ritual for our shared lives together. And we danced that dance for the next four hours through a five course meal, a gorgeous ceremony, inspired (and beautiful) blessings/prayers and toasts, and conversation that seemed to flow naturally. The only bump amidst all this was the semi-frequent, posed photo opp interruptions, and those only became a real problem towards the end.

We left the restaurant exhausted but happy; we danced our way through the first step on our journey together as a married couple. We were able to spend most of the rest of the night enjoying each other’s company, and the warmth and love that came through each like, congrats, and other blessings posted on Facebook. And we realized that what my cousin (among others) had said was true: the marriage did change our relationship. Not in a scary way though; the very act of declaring our commitment to each other in front of all of those witnesses made the commitment that much more important; that much more of an anchoring point for our new life together.

Aarghle Flarghle Blarghle!!!

Please bear with me. This stuff is all a jumbled mess and I need to get it out but I don’t know where to start.

Our legal marriage ceremony is in a week and a half. I let anxiety get the best of me and put off getting my dress hemmed by another day. I procrastinated by finally doing some of the other things I’d been procrastinating.

I don’t even know what I’m so anxious about. I know the person who will be hemming the dress, she’s a very nice supportive person and we’ve made clothes for me before. I’m even pretty sure I know what to expect. I’ve driven to and from her house a million times at all hours of the day and night. But just thinking about it makes me feel sick with anxiety.

I know I want to marry Fox and gain the legal recognition for what we’ve felt for some time. But I can’t shake the anxiety, and I can’t shake the feeling that I’m boxing myself in. Maybe it’s because we tend to fall into the trap of being each other’s only social interaction for days at a time, and because I’ve stopped doing a lot of things I used to enjoy since we met. But I can start doing those things again; we can and do spend time with other people both together and apart. We just need to make more of an effort to do so consistently. It’s a big problem but I don’t think running away from marriage is the answer. I think I can – I really want to – make it work with him.

Because there are times when it feels so right, like we were made for each other. Lately, those have been the times when we’ve turned off our computers and talked about the discussion questions in our premarital counseling homework. I’m hoping those will be valuable tools to keep us connecting with each other on the important things.

I’ve been playing The Sims 3 to reassure myself that life after marriage can work. The game I’ve written about most recently (Escape to Dragon Valley pt. 1 & pt. 2) started with a recently-married young adult couple – precisely what Fox and I will be in a week and a half. I stopped playing that family because the game kept crashing when I had the wife – who had just become an elder – try to plan her outfits. I started a new game with more of a focus on raising children, but it became nearly impossible for the sims to do anything without being in each other’s way. When the husband/father couldn’t eat breakfast because his teenage daughter was brushing the cat (and there wasn’t really a better spot available where she could have done so) I snapped and deleted my save files for both of the above families.

Just like that, they’re gone.

Now I’m playing a new family in the Sims 3 that started with – you guessed it – a recently-married young adult couple. I put them in a starter house with the goal of moving them to a small but easily-expandable house I had built on a generously-sized lot. They moved up their respective career tracks quickly, largely because they had access to skill books in the library (Moonlight Falls). Before long they were able to afford the house I had built them and start producing offspring, the first of which just grew up into a child. My primary focus is actually on her; the young adult sims exist to provide their children with the best possible foundation for a very promising future. Everything they’ve been doing – their financial success, all upgrades to their home, even the family portraits – all of it is for their children and future generations of this family. The young adults don’t even get memories, only the children do (one child so far, but I intend for them to have two).

I’ve been doing a pretty good job of balancing the parents’ needs, career development, friendships, and contribution to their child’s development. Their relationship with each other is suffering, though. It’s kind of rare for me to have them interact; I think part of it is how the game – especially its artificial intelligence – works, and part of it is mirroring my disconnection from Fox (which ironically manifests in and is worsened when I play the game). The bottom line is that having sims interact, especially in ways that build or maintain their relationships, takes consistent intentional effort. If I’ve learned anything from premarital counseling (and life in general) it’s that real-life relationships are much the same.

I’m wary of putting in that kind of effort because I’ve been hurt in the past. My mother requires a ton of it but tends not to give me what I need in return; if she does it’s at a very high cost. (For example: after supporting me in working through some of my anxiety today, she insisted on taking Fox’s shirt to be pressed without his knowledge or consent.) My father physically abused me. Other loved ones have died, moved away, withdrawn emotionally, taken advantage of me (or tried to do so), etc. I want this relationship to be different; I want to trust that it is. But I can’t. I’m constantly wary. I feel like it will all fall apart as soon as I relax.

And in a week and a half it will be legally binding. Mom says I can still back out; it’s entirely my choice. But I feel like I’m watching a train wreck … while bound to the front of the train.

Stop having Cancer so you can Find a Doctor who MIGHT be able (and willing) to Treat your Cancer

It’s been over a year since I conceded that I need medication if I’m ever going to recover from depression. “Recover” seems so far away, is it even possible? How can I “recover” from how I’ve been my whole life? Maybe “manage” is more appropriate. I need medication to manage the symptoms so I can live.

Attempt 1: A Depression Study

image from

image from

A year ago I learned of a study in my area that seemed like a good opportunity to receive medication, earn a small amount of income, and possibly even help others with depression through my contribution to research. I answered countless uncomfortable and redundant questions on the phone while feeling incredibly emotionally vulnerable. I let them take my blood (I hate needles). I submitted to other medical tests. I was honest, maybe too honest: I admitted to feeling suicidal.

The study psychiatrist seemed concerned when we sat down to talk about my participation. He said they would have to put me on a medication and just keep giving it to me for the duration of the study, whether it was working or not. In my case, he thought that wouldn’t be safe; that I should receive more personalized and flexible care – care designed to treat my depression, not gather research data. I appreciated his honesty.

Attempt 2: Psychiatrist A

brand Wellbutrin XL 300mg

I can’t help wondering if this could have worked for me.

Wakana referred me to Psychiatrist A. He prescribed Wellbutrin and gave me 2 weeks worth of the actual brand-name drug. For the first week I took 150 mg/day and thought it was helping. In the second week I (following his instructions) started taking 300 mg/day and found it to be too much. He prescribed 200 mg/day, split over 2 doses. I received generic bupropion HCl when I filled the prescription.

I felt like it wasn’t working and wanted to increase to 250 mg/day. Instead, he added Lexapro. Due to a miscommunication, I ended up taking 200mg of bupropion HCl in one dose, followed hours later by the Lexapro escitalopram (generic). I had symptoms of serotonin poisoning and became very upset when Psychiatrist A said they were due to “anxiety” but I could stop taking the Lexapro escitalopram if I wanted to. I did so and, under his advisement, cut the 200 mg bupropion tablets in half so I could take 100 mg twice per day. I became incredibly irritable and was almost always angry with Fox, through no real fault of his own. Wakana and Psychiatrist A both urged me to stop taking the bupropion, so I did.

My trust in Psychiatrist A had been shattered, so I refused to go back to him. Part of my justification was that Fox’s sister – a registered nurse – had talked to him and expressed anger at how he responded to her. In other words, it wasn’t just me! But now, in hindsight, I’m wondering if there were factors none of us could see; maybe I was too quick to judge and too harsh in my judgment. I was seeing him through the same lens that makes me feel worthless, makes me overly judgmental of Fox, makes every obstacle feel completely insurmountable. I’m trying to look back at the situation through a different lens; who’s to say my perception now is any more accurate?

I had terrifying experiences while under Psychiatrist A’s care, and – whatever his intentions were – he failed to help me feel supported and cared for. Lens or no lens, I can’t risk that happening again.

Attempt 3: Psychiatrist B

Zoloft blob, sad, in cave

a good depiction of how I’ve been feeling, both on and off sertraline HCl

I switched to Psychiatrist B just before starting this blog in December. At first I was hopeful that he would help me – if nothing else, he seemed very confident when he prescribed Zoloft. I, of course, received the generic, sertraline HCl, from my pharmacy. It made me very sleepy but seemed to help calm some of the chaos in my brain – the racing thoughts and raging emotions – without intolerable side effects. When I told him about anxiety-related symptoms I was having, he added Buspar; I received buspirione HCl.

At the very least, those medications haven’t been enough to help me through the difficulties I’ve been having this year: moving, the death of my uncle, having to drop my graduate courses, Mom’s surgery, Fox moving in with me, my rats’ health issues. It’s hard to say whether they’ve been hurting – via side effects such as increased sensitivity to clanging sounds, suicidal ideation, and temptation to self-harm.

Whatever was going on with the medications – I’ve been off them for about 2 weeks now, so they should be completely out of my system – the bottom line is Psychiatrist B didn’t take my symptoms seriously either. He interrupted me in the middle of telling him about my suicidal and self-harm thoughts. He wouldn’t talk to Wakana about my case. He didn’t seem to care at all.

Okay, maybe it’s not really a psychiatrist’s job to support his patients emotionally. It’s his job to evaluate their symptoms and prescribe medication. Psychiatrist B failed to do his job. He interfered with my ability to report on my symptoms. He did not seriously consider the connection between my reported symptoms (suicidal ideation) and known side effects of the medication he was prescribing (also suicidal ideation)! Whether I am inclined to act on the thoughts or not, they are extremely disturbing – and quite the opposite of what successful treatment of depression should entail.

Attempt 4: The Ongoing Search for Psychiatrist C

frustrated woman holding cell phone to ear

why me?

I’ve been procrastinating, but Wakana has been urging me to actively search for Psychiatrist C. On Tuesday, July 9th, she supervised while I searched my health insurance company’s website for potential psychiatrists in my area and called one.

The psychiatrist’s receptionist called back on Wednesday; I returned her call on Thursday. She asked a few questions (What are you coming in for? What medications have you taken previously? Any substance abuse?) and said that the doctor would contact me to make an appointment if she thought she could help me.

Excuse me? I felt like I was applying for a job – when, really, it should be the other way around! I couldn’t even make an appointment because I felt the need for one, sit and talk face-to-face with the Almighty Doctor before she made a decision about me! (I should be the one evaluating and making a decision about whether she’s worthy to treat me!) What is this?

I expressed my anger to Wakana and she agreed that that is no way to treat a potential client. It’s been a week, by the way, and I have yet to hear back from the psychiatrist. To be honest I didn’t really expect her to call me, and I’m not holding my breath until she does.

Riding the wave of my swelling anger – that is, energy – I went to HealthGrades to try and find a psychiatrist in my area who is recommended by patients. I have contact information for one who received 5-star reviews from all 9 of the people who reviewed her. She has 2 offices, both of which are within 15 miles of my home. And I was also able to find her on my health insurance company’s website.

All I need to do is pick up the phone … but that’s where the wave crashes into the shore and I’m left lying there, soaked in sand and struggling to breathe, feeling like any moment the undertow will pull me back out into the ocean. I don’t want to experience any of these disappointments again: the unreturned phone call, the discomfort reporting my symptoms, the lack of being taken seriously, the unhelpful and potentially harmful meds. So it’s been a whole week and I’ve “done nothing” to secure the health care I need; how can I expect anyone to take that need seriously?


I’m trapped behind a lens through which every obstacle seems insurmountable, every effort doomed to failure, nobody cares, and I don’t really deserve the help I need, anyway. Somewhere there’s the tiny part of me who knows that none of this is true, that hopes that if I just keep trying I’ll be successful, eventually … but right now its voice is very soft and, through the lens, it looks quite naive. Asking me to call another psychiatrist is like if someone had told my mother she had to climb Mount Everest unassisted in order to get her knee replacement surgery. (No one climes Mount Everest unassisted, even if they’re in “perfect” shape.) The reason why she needed the surgery is because her knees were hurting her so much she could barely climb the stairs.

Zen and the Art of Letting People Make Their Own Decisions

Today Fox and I cleared out the last of his stuff from his apartment. I spent most of the time bringing things either to the car or to the trash, while he sorted through and packed his belongings. Every time I was taking something not obviously garbage to the trash, I was filled with anxiety. He was getting rid of a thing that might be useful! Maybe he would regret getting rid of it. Maybe I wanted it. Should I pack it for him?

There were a couple of times when I said something, but for the most part I was able to talk myself out of it. I remembered how my mother could be about me getting rid of things: whether it was her intention or not, I tended to feel guilty about getting rid of whatever item she was commenting on. (“Oh, you’re getting rid of that?” “This is nice, if you don’t want it maybe I’ll take it.” “I remember when so-in-so gave that to you!” Etc.) It really doesn’t help the process, which I find difficult and stressful anyway. I need to be able to make a decision – and not second-guess it – if anything is going to get done.

Once I realized I was “being my mother” I was able to make the choice to stop. “He’s an adult. He can make his own decisions about what to and not to keep.” “We’ve been living without this thing for how long? You didn’t even know it existed! We really don’t need it now.” “There’s no way all this stuff would fit in the car, never mind finding space for it at home.” Whatever form the rationale took, I used it to try and ease my anxiety.

There was no need for me to make decisions about what to keep or trash, because Fox was the one moving; the one all the stuff belongs to. The decisions were his to make; part of my job was to trust him to make them. I was just helping him out by expediting the process of packing the car and tossing the trash, which had the added benefit of clearing out the space where he was working.

As I realized this, a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. I was already doing more than enough just by transporting stuff. I could easily do that – satisfying my need for exercise – and let go of any sense of additional responsibility. (Trusting that, if Fox needed me to do more, he would have asked.)

The Deserter

The Deserter is the last part of myself that I revealed in my post: Ending a Life. Represented by a young girl, it is the part of me that finds life too painful to keep living, that wants to escape, that wants to cease being real. The Deserter feels alien to this world, to embodied reality. It tries to sever me from everything, especially my emotions. But as Wakana said during our session on Tuesday, I need my emotions in order to be connected to reality.

Yuan cannot even bear to be present at her grandfather's funeral. She escapes to the kitchen and plays with her imaginary friend instead.

Yuan cannot even bear to be present at her grandfather’s funeral. She escapes to the kitchen and plays with her imaginary friend instead.

We walked through the darkness, the Deserter and I, and had a little chat. I didn’t try to convince it of anything, I just tried to understand – and to allow myself to feel. The walk in darkness gave me the safe space I needed to focus on this aspect of myself, with few distractions.

A major theme that came up was stability: knowing that the people in my life are reliable, both emotionally and otherwise. I have not had a lot of stability. The Deserter is angry and hurt because of the chaos, the volatile emotions, the abuse, the neglect, and most of all by people leaving my/our life. The Deserter asks, “If they are not going to be there for me, why should I be there for them?” It would much rather walk away. At least in solitude I can be miserable on my own terms.

I miss my friends who seem to have all gone their separate ways, with new friends, careers, homes, spouses, etc. People don’t randomly contact me just to say “hi,” and I feel awkward contacting them. If they do contact me, I don’t always get back to them. :-/

My mom has followed a pattern of engulfing or smothering me, then withdrawing, so I really don’t know what to expect from her. I think she’s trying to show me support and caring and give me space, but sometimes it’s hard for me to trust her – and sometimes she makes mistakes, so I withdraw my trust.

I had a really great weekend with Fox and Banji! On Friday, Banji and I went back to our undergraduate alma mater. We had dinner in town at a place we used to frequent, then walked around on campus reminiscing. Afterward we returned to my home and looked at some music I had composed, including a beautiful viola solo I’d completely forgotten about. Fox joined us on Saturday for dinner at Banji’s parents’ house; that evening I said ‘goodbye’ to Banji and returned home to enjoy a couple more days with Fox. I was feeling the healthiest I’d been in over a month. Then, on Monday, I had to say ‘goodbye’ to Fox, too.

I “woke” Tuesday morning feeling dead. I was exhausted and haunted by the anxiety dreams I’ve been having for at least a few nights now. I felt like I was going through the motions. Wakana brought up the possibility that I was sad about Banji going home, but I didn’t want to listen. She’s only 4 hours away; we can see each other again before the end of the month!

But the Deserter is not a rational being; it is purely emotional. It feels abandoned by the two people I most want to have a stable, mutually-loving relationship with for the rest of my life.

On one level my relationships with Banji and Fox are stable: I know I can trust each of them with my deepest and darkest emotions, that they will accept me as I am, that they understand me (at least to some degree), and that they want to remain in close relationship with me.

On another level – the level on which the Deserter operates – my relationships with Banji and Fox are very unstable: we spend short times together that are intensely intimate, and then they disappear. The Deserter can’t understand why I woke up alone Tuesday morning, why Banji hasn’t called me, etc. It’s angry and sad and beyond tired of playing this game! It thinks if I can’t trust the two of them, there’s no way I can ever trust anyone else – so it keeps me from making new friends.

I wrote a poem that I’d like to share, to give the Deserter a voice. I’m going to put it behind a link, though, because I’m concerned it might be a trigger for some people. Writing it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.

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Lean on Me – But Just the Right Amount

Wakana pulled back, standing squarely on her own two feet again. I felt my body relax.

“It’s like your mother,” she said. “She needs you to be dependent on her in order to have a sense of herself. But you can’t lean on her too much – I don’t think she could handle it.”

“You’re right,” I replied. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to figure out how much to lean. I feel safer not trusting her than risking that we’ll both collapse, or that she’ll use whatever I confide in her against me.

“But it hurts! She’s my mother!”

Wakana was huddled in her chair, arms and legs crossed, like the lost abandoned child crying inside me. Her eyes seemed to have a grey cloud over them – likely reflecting what she saw in my eyes. Her lips were turned downward in a frown. I was staring at my own pain.

“She’s also a person,” Wakana explained. “People can’t always be what we want them to be.”

The silence was broken only by the flood in my eyes.

“It’s disappointing.”

My mom just can’t be the mother I’ve always wanted her to be. I need to accept that about her and relate – as my real self – to the person she is. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry. I’ve been chasing a dream … and living a nightmare!

I need to get my needs met elsewhere: other family members, friends, and by caring for myself. And I need to establish and enforce boundaries between Mom and me. We can’t lean on each other anymore! It’s too dangerous for me.

But I’m not sure what “boundaries” entail! It’s one thing to talk about this stuff with my therapist – quite another to get it to work in my real, imperfect, living and breathing relationship with my mother. I’m paying Wakana to spend an hour every week being whatever I need her to be; she’s had decades of training and experience in helping clients heal lifelong emotional wounds. My mother … to be fair, I’m sure she’s tried her best. But that hasn’t been enough – often, it’s actively hurt me! I don’t trust her to respect my boundaries; nor do I trust myself to get it right when I try to establish and enforce them.

Should I say “no” her her requests? Refuse to listen to her stories? Avoid expressing any vulnerability? Should I schedule times when we are allowed to talk about a limited, predetermined list of topics? Set a timer and when it goes off she has to stop speaking and listen to me?

When does it stop being about boundaries and become about control? How can I let her be her without it hurting me?