Oh! How It Burns! (depression checklist)

I have now been tracking my scores on the Burns Depression Checklist for four months straight! Go me!
(July-August, August-September, September-October)

This month, my average score was 18. My scores for more than half the days were in the teens (the low end of mild depression); I had an unprecedented 5 days when my score dropped below 10, into the “normal but unhappy” range. To put things in perspective, my usual level of functioning is mild-to-moderate depression; “normal but unhappy” days are the best days of my life! This month’s scores are a huge improvement over previous months (linked above), when I was moderately depressed on most days.

Ziya's scores on the Burns Depression Checklist from October 17, 2014 to November 18, 2014.

Ziya’s scores on the Burns Depression Checklist from October 17, 2014 to November 18, 2014.

Ziya's (standardized) scores on the subcategories of the Burns Depression Checklist from October 17 to November 18, 2014. The subcategories are Thoughts and Feelings (blue), Activities and Relationships (red), Physical Symptoms (green), and Suicidal Urges (purple).

Ziya’s (standardized) scores on the subcategories of the Burns Depression Checklist from October 17 to November 18, 2014. The subcategories are Thoughts and Feelings (blue), Activities and Relationships (red), Physical Symptoms (green), and Suicidal Urges (purple). I only had suicidal urges (mostly just thoughts) on 6 days this month!

The Lamictal / lamotrigine I’m taking definitely seems to be helping. I’ve consistently taken it around 4:00pm every day, starting September 29th. My dose doubled from 25 mg to 50 mg on October 27th (purple vertical line). I’m very pleased with the benefits I’ve been receiving from it and especially the lack of side effects. It also seems to be helping with my anxiety symptoms, and I feel less irritable (though to be honest I haven’t been tracking those symptoms).

There are definitely environmental / situational factors that influence my depression symptoms (not to be confused with situational depression). For example, on Election Day (red vertical line) my score shot up from below 20 to 43 and I experienced my first suicidal urges in 2 weeks. To be honest, I think that’s the only sane response to the new Congress that – among other things – has vowed to repeal the reason I can afford medication! I don’t want to know what else they plan to do, but none of it is good for the vast majority of the people in this country.

There was also my and Fox’s big family wedding on November 9th (green vertical line). I felt really good leading up to that day and had a ton of important things to do. I got to be creative and problem solve and collaborate with Mom and get my hair done at a salon full of awesome people I enjoy talking to and wear a gorgeous dress and be congratulated about a million times. Sure, there were some aspects of it that were stressful, but a lot of it was fun. I was proud of myself for running the rehearsal on the night before as well as I did. I got to forget about all the stress at the combined bachelor/bachelorette party our friends threw for us; that was a fabulous time! And then there was the day itself… I’ve already written about it twice!

My scores on the depression checklist increased gradually from 6 on the 8th and 9th (OMG, 2 consecutive days with such a low score! That’s heaven for me!) to 34 on Monday (eww). I felt every point of increase and it was incredibly painful. I didn’t have the energy to connect with Fox and I’d cry when he left for work each day. I’d cry for no obvious reason. I had no motivation. I just wanted to fade away and stop existing. The worst part is I knew that if I stopped playing The Sims 3 and went out to socialize I’d feel better. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it!

Finally, yesterday (Tuesday) I dragged myself out of bed to go see Wakana for our regularly-scheduled music therapy session. Just being able to do that felt awesome. She witnessed me expressing how I felt through words, body language, and music. She empathized. She helped me address some of the things that are really getting me down. For example, Mom had brought up how much it costs each month to see Wakana, with the very strong implication that I should stop draining her of that money. She doesn’t seem to get how much I need and benefit from it, and I feel like that matters less to her than “getting ahead” financially. Sometimes it seems like she sees my whole life as a financial transaction; she’s “investing” in me and losing all her money. I can’t repay her – at least not financially. My love, the joy in my life from experiences like getting married and having children someday, whatever academic success I can muster, even the financial security I’m still striving for … these things cannot be a repayment of some debt! I owe her my whole life, but I can’t live it for her. I have to live it for me.

Wakana heard and understood and strongly encouraged me to apply for jobs. She also said I could invite Mom to one of our sessions. I’m kind of dreading it – assuming I can convince her to come – but I think it may be necessary.

Jobs. I signed up to be a tutor, which is kind of hit or miss depending on whether students decide to contact me. I think I’d be okay in the subjects I said I could teach. Today I was going to apply for a job I found yesterday that sounded awesome, but when I went to look at it the listing had been deleted. That undermined any motivation I had to do useful things.

Anyway, I decided to hang out at a nearby cafe after my session yesterday and enjoyed myself quite a bit (including saving potential job listings to apply for later). The food and drinks were good, it was a pleasant atmosphere, it got me out of the house and away from The Sims 3, and best of all I got to socialize a little bit. Even just being surrounded by people who were all doing their own thing was energizing. I’m still coming to grips with this whole being an extrovert thing. I like being around people. I need to stop isolating!

But how?

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.

Extrovert?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening to Myself – Part 1

Visiting Banji for a week was the best thing I could have possibly done for myself. I was so happy to get to spend time with my best friend, sharing in some of our favorite activities together (including staying up all night talking). She made a point of asking me what I wanted to do and engaging in a 2-way conversation where we each expressed our views and then compromised to find a solution we could both be happy with. It took some time, but I grew more comfortable recognizing and expressing what I wanted.

It also provided me some much-needed space from Fox, during which time I could think about our situation more clearly. I realized that I want to continue our relationship; there is still a lot of room for both of us to learn and grow from it. But in order for that to happen, I need to assert myself. Wakana says I need to become Aware of how I feel and what I need, Accept it, and Act on it. I’m starting to get the awareness and acceptance; the action is taking some work but I’m moving in that direction. A lot of good has happened since I tried to break up with Fox and kick him out of the house: he’s been working hard to make it a more pleasant place to live and to get his life back on track and generally be a better spouse. I find myself attracted to and happy to spend time with him again. (He still does things to annoy the hell out of me, but I’m working on being able to set boundaries that should help with that.) It’s a really great feeling.

I also need to address that feeling of something being “off” with our relationship that I mentioned in Reactionary. I can’t really say what concerns came up before I started this blog in December 2012 (about 2 years into our relationship); I’m sure there were some but overall I was happy with our relationship and busy focusing on school, trying to become less enmeshed with my mother, addressing my mental health issues, and navigating the effects Banji’s move was having on our friendship.

Since starting the blog, however, there have been a plethora of times I’ve expressed concerns and then never followed up on them, including outright saying I wasn’t ready to get married! I didn’t have nearly as many followers at the time I wrote these posts as I have now; I hope that if I’d had more followers then, someone would have called me out on some of these things. I’ve reviewed the posts leading up to our legal marriage ceremony last November and quoted passages that really should have prompted some kind of action (most likely communication) on my part. Please remember that they are quotes of out of context… but even so, I’m disturbed by my failure to take my own concerns and needs seriously for so long. This can’t happen again.

Continue reading

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.

Mother-of-the-Bride Zilla

Fox and I have had our eye on a potential venue for some time now. It seems like a great deal, near a delicious and affordable caterer, with places to stay nearby … pretty much everything we could want in a wedding venue, plus breakfast at no additional cost. We just need to visit the place, ask some questions, and make a decision: yay, nay, or let’s look at some other venues and compare.

I’ve been itching to go check it out. Planning a wedding might not be the wisest decision right now, but it’s something that helps me feel energized and motivated. It gives me something concrete to look forward to in the foreseeable future. An outlet for my creativity. A goal. We need to secure a venue, so we’ll have a definite date, so we can do everything else.

Fox’s folks asked to come with us when we go visit the venue, which is a couple hours’ drive away, figuring we could make a mini vacation out of it. That sounded wonderful to me, I just wanted to invite my mother to join us – largely so she wouldn’t feel left out. Based on past experience, she’d be quite miffed if she found out we’d gone to see a potential venue with Fox’s parents but without her. She’s my mother, I want to try and have a healthy relationship with her, so I figure part of that is reaching out and including her in important things like this. She might even have something useful to contribute – she’s smart and has a lot of experience in the world, so I value her opinion highly.

Mother of the Bride and Bride arguing

idoidoweddingplanning.com

But when I asked Mom about her availability on Sunday, all hell broke loose. She didn’t seem to want to commit to a date and time at first. She raised a myriad of concerns:

  • Was this really my idea, or was I just going along with Fox and his parents (who suggested the venue)?
  • What about the venue she had suggested? We should get an updated quote from them.
  • Can they accommodate our entire guest list, even if it rains?
  • What’s really included in the deal? Are there extra expenses we’re not aware of?
  • Who’s paying for this and how?
  • Pretty much everyone will have to travel a distance; most people will want/need a place to stay. That will reduce the amount they’re willing to spend on gifts and/or give directly to us – if they come at all.
  • The places to stay near the venue are small; the nearest big-name hotel is 20 miles away.
  • What do I mean I don’t plan to wear makeup?! I don’t want my face to look red and splotchy in my wedding photos, do I?
  • My new haircut is too short. There aren’t enough layers.
  • We should call and ask questions before taking a long, expensive trip out to the venue location.
foal hugging mom

too cute not to share

I think some of her concerns are legit and I appreciate her raising them.

  • Getting an updated quote from the other venue is a good idea, but there were a few things about it that rubbed me the wrong way.
  • The wording on the website is a bit ambiguous, so it wouldn’t hurt to ask whether the indoor space alone can accommodate our whole guest list.
  • Always ask about additional expenses. Tax and tip can make the difference between “affordable” and “too expensive.” And I intend to get as much in writing as I possibly can.
  • We’ll need to make extra-specially sure there are sufficient accommodations for guests near the wedding venue; we intend to look into securing a group discount from one or more of the closer inns, possibly also the big-name hotel.
  • She definitely has a point about calling to ask questions first. It can save us a lot of time and money, especially if we don’t like the answers we get.
    • But I hate making phone calls and really want to see the place in person. Road trips can be fun and worth the expense, if you do them right. Fox’s Mom is treating us and she already called to make reservations.

I think some of Mom’s concerns are actually an attempt to manipulate me, regardless of whether that is her conscious intent.

I’d be more inclined to take her concern about whether this is really what I want – not just what Fox and his folks want – seriously, if she weren’t also trying to control what I put on my face. How can she claim to support me in making my own decisions and acting on them, if she’s choosing to interrupt a discussion about an important decision I need to make (and want her input in!) so she can criticize my appearance? That’s the last thing I need to be worrying about right now. It hurts extra because I had just stopped beating myself up over (my warped perception of) my appearance; just chosen to love and accept myself as I am and to focus on healthy things that are important to me.

I’m choosing to accept my face as it naturally looks instead of just going along with society’s obsession with female “beauty” – which is all about covering up one’s natural appearance with expensive products. Why do I have to wear makeup if Fox will be next to me in the exact same photos, his face naked? If Mom can’t support – or at least quietly accept – my decision to passively stand up against a faceless nameless “society” by not wearing makeup, how can she support me in actively standing up to people I love and admire?

Money is a very serious concern. Fox and I don’t have much of it; we need to be careful and we need to budget. But there is money set aside for the wedding – mostly promised by Mom and Fox’s folks. In the meantime we’re working on what we need to do be able to support ourselves financially. There are better ways to bring this up and have a conversation about it that might help us instead of undermining whatever hope and determination we’ve managed to muster. When I don’t have the answers I feel anxious and guilty; those emotions quickly turn into discouragement, the last thing I need if I’m going to get anywhere.

People will do what they need to do and will give what they’re willing and able to give. It’s important to Fox and me that people come and have a good time. We can use all the help we can get, but we’re not inviting our loved ones to the wedding because we want them to give us stuff. We’re inviting them to celebrate something that’s really important to us, and giving people who rarely see each other an excuse to come together. I really don’t want to exclude anyone because they can’t afford a hotel room – that’s why we plan on looking into group discounts. But the bit about expenses reducing the amount we get back in gifts just seems manipulative: it pokes at a basic human instinct (wanting to get stuff) and distracts from the bigger picture, for the purpose of making me question a decision I’m considering making.

Fingers with strings tied to them, controlling a puppet.

By the time we were done, I thought I didn’t want to do any of the wedding planning if it’s going to be like this. I felt completely wiped out and discouraged, all the energy and excitement I’d had gone.

I’m past obsessing over the tiny details that the bridal industry blows way out of proportion, so you think the fate of the entire universe rests on you picking the right design for your customized napkins. My goal is to throw an amazing party – which means we need a nice accessible venue, a variety of delicious food so everyone has something to eat, music people can dance to, some organization of the time (e.g. ceremony, first dance, etc.), access to places where guests can meet their basic needs (e.g. sleep), and clear communication about all of the above (e.g. invitations, a website). Everything else is icing on the cake.

This perspective is my armor in the battle that is navigating the bridal industry. But I don’t have armor to protect against what Mom threw at me. Her criticism of my appearance was an especially “low blow” because, try as I might to assert the contrary, I have internalized society’s messages about how important it is for a woman to be “beautiful.” I want to look good in my wedding photos, but there are other ways I can do that – such as wearing clothes I find comfortable so I’m not grimacing in pain, hiring a competent photographer, and having a genuine smile on my face because I’m enjoying myself. If my mother thinks all that isn’t enough, I still need makeup on top of it to prevent people from being tempted to burn my wedding photographs, what value does my life really have? If I can’t stand in front of the people I love and trust the most in the world and be accepted as I am – if the people I’m choosing to share this amazingly huge and meaningful transition with can’t wholeheartedly celebrate it with me – because I’m not wearing makeup … either she has a devastatingly low opinion of me, or she thinks the people on our guest list are incredibly shallow.

This wedding is a really big deal. It’s going to be the first, and very likely the last, time I’ll be in the limelight in the middle of a very large family (especially if you combine my and Fox’s families). It brings up a lot of anxiety. Will I be accepted as I am, having made the choices I’ve made – from as big as the building in which we’re celebrating, to as small as naked pores on my face? The whole wedding is a reflection of Fox and me: the people we associate with, our taste in food, music, fashion, our consideration of people’s needs and preferences, the degree to which we’re willing to perpetuate heteronormativity.

I think Mom’s scared because she sees everything I do as a reflection of her; from her perspective I am her reflection – she doesn’t seem to see me. She wants the model of what a daughter and her wedding should be, so she’ll be accepted by a family she’s afraid of disappointing. For some reason she finds it too painful to look at who and what I truly am. And often – far too often – so do I.

Nightmare

It’s time
To take the final exam
But I missed the review
Didn’t study!

And I don’t even
Have the right test
Somehow it’s late
I can’t concentrate

My mind
Has turned
To mush

Let’s coordinate!
A dual wedding
Two couples, two ceremonies
One reception

But you’ve already been married and
Our bridal parties are too big and
Our ceremony is already long and
We don’t want to compromise!

Seeing through the eyes
Of a foster child
He tries to explain his life
To a family
That will never accept him

“Down the toilets there is a world
Inexplicably sad and scary”
And I travel down past
Real excrement into

The excrement of the mind where
Everything is red static and
Badly drawn babies with sharp teeth
Fly at me; try to eat

And I try to run away
But everything is spinning
Warping into ellipses
Stretching, rotating sideways

Even when I think I am awake!
There is no escape!
Forever doomed to wander
This red world