I haven’t written about depression or anxiety in a while. I’ve been a bit stymied, to be frank, about the fact that I have an audience. Originally, I started writing this blog primarily as an outlet, a way to direct my depression and anxiety so that it had somewhere to go, rather than staying bottled up. I was in a bad place last summer, just felt like I was spewing my mental guts all over the sidewalk, and the blog was a way of at least spewing in a contained place. (Ew?)
And then something weird happened: I got readers. And somehow spewing my mental guts all over a bunch of kind lovely internet people is harder than spewing my mental guts all over the big internet black hole. And in tandem with getting a readership, I started slowly working my way out of the bad place I’d been in. I had started feeling like I wasn’t an I anymore, I was wasn’t a complete being, I didn’t have control over anything and I was incoherent, even to myself, but the very act of writing this blog helped me out of that. It helped me find a voice. And it helped me realize that I have a voice that other people, for whatever reason, actually listen to.
I’m choking up as I write this. Sometimes writing a blog is hard: people like it, and I start worrying that the next thing I write isn’t going to be good and people will stop liking it; or people don’t like it, and I think that maybe the next thing I write will make them change their minds. And yet. I think the more I write, the more I want to keep writing. Those of you who comment and/or send emails give me so much to think about, you inspire me so much, and the voice I thought I didn’t have is shaping and strengthening and I’m so grateful to all of you who read and all of you who write your own blogs for being a part of that.
Writing isn’t the only thing that’s helped me feel stronger, though. I have a village of people and a mental crater full of tools that help me cope. When I got an email from a reader a few days ago who was curious about what’s been going on with me mental-health-wise since I last talked about going off Prozac a few months ago, I realized I’ve been wanting to do this post for a while. Because this shit is real. Yes, I love talking about gender politics and femme-ininity and love and sex. It’s a lot of what goes on in my life, and it’s a great deal of what I think about every day. But it’s not the whole story. I’m like a tapestry, finely woven so you can only see the individual threads if you look up close, and most people just see the pretty picture, but I’m made up of millions of threads and so many different colors… femme is one thread, queer is a thread, San Francisco is a thread. My love of philosophizing and politicizing and being radical progressive: all threads. Mi’lady is a thread.
…and my history of sexual assault is a thread. My tendency towards co-dependency. My anxiety – a vibrant colored thread. My control-freak ways, my insecurity, my inability to be vulnerable, my difficulty accepting criticism. Those are all threads that were easier to write about and try to untangle when I was writing to (what I thought was) a black hole internet. Harder to write about when it feels more public.
But if anything, the fact that it’s more public now means it’s more important to write about it. For one thing, it’s good for me; it helps me unweave that one glaring thread I mentioned, my inability to be vulnerable. I can practice being vulnerable on my own fucking blog, for crying out loud. It’s a great place to practice vulnerability especially, in fact – because I can shut my computer when it’s getting hard. I can delete comments, ignore emails, I can be the boss of the space and control my level of comfort. And I also think it’s important to write about because it’s not just my truth, it’s a truth that belongs to so many of us, and I know how much it means to me to have solidarity, and maybe if I write truthfully I can help other people feel like they have company. Even if I’m in the Internet.
So. I’m not taking any medication at the moment. My intention, when I stopped taking Prozac, was to switch to Wellbutrin, but then I switched insurance providers and one thing leading to another means I haven’t actually seen a new psychiatrist yet. I may, eventually, but I’m not sure: as someone with a history of fainting/seizing, Wellbutrin is cautioned against, and the others (like Prozac) have these damn sexual side effects. So for now, I’m employing an army of strategies to see if I can get on without medication. But if it appears I can’t, you’d better believe I will go back to a psychiatrist in a heartbeat. Taking Prozac made me feel like I was going to be okay. It helped me believe that I had options, and that it wasn’t my fault. That medication was my lifeline, and I will never ever be one of those people who says you should try everything else first, that psychiatric meds are just a bandaid, that people who take psychiatric meds are just avoiding the real problem. Not. True. It’s a personal choice, of course, and if you choose not to take medication, awesome, I hope you figure out what works for you. And if you do choose to take medication, power to you, I hope you find the one that does the trick.
So, that army of strategies. I’ll share a few of them, the ones that work particularly well for me, both in general and specifically to deal with isolated situations.
1) I see a therapist. He’s gay, he’s really smart, and he specializes in coping with anxiety, trauma, and feeling out of control. He’s working with me on figuring out ways to work with my various trip-ups, rather than against them, and most of all on being forgiving to myself and parenting my own inner child to help heal past wounds.
2) I have a some somatic tricks, meditation-type techniques, that help me find my mental ground in situations (such as extreme anxiety) where I feel like I’m losing control. These include the stuff in this post, as well things like:
* finding my pulse, and counting my heartbeats
* closing my eyes, lying down if possible or at the very least sit, and greet every body part with gratitude or soothing (I know this sounds silly, but it helps me remember I’m whole, I’m human, I’m all here, for example: *wiggle my toes* “hi, toes, thanks for sticking with me”; or *inhale with my belly* “don’t worry, belly, you’ll be okay”), or if I can’t bring myself to greet my body parts, at the very least touch them and notice them and breathe into them
3) Sometimes motion is what I really need, because moving my body helps me get the emotions moving too. I’m not talking about exercise (though of course, that’s recommended for combatting depression), but about any type of motion. Shaking it all out. Taking a walk. Putting on Beyonce and dancing to it.
5) Setting small goals, goals that are achievable, and then achieving them. This helps me out of my depression (helps me feel like I have more agency, like I’m not stuck) and my anxiety (by giving me something concrete to achieve, so that I’m not overwhelmed by something massive and, thus, anxiety-provoking). Example as applied to graduate school applications: small goal would be “write to undergrad professor to ask for recommendation.” Or, “register for GRE and order GRE prep book.”
6) Having a plan for what to do if I start feeling anxious. For example, I have some social anxiety, and if I’m out with large crowds and loud music, I can easily feel overwhelmed, distressed, and then panic. So, setting a plan for dealing with that particular situation, as well as an alternative plan in case it’s not working out, really helps me a lot. Example: “When I go in, first I’m going to get a drink. Then I’m going to find one person I know to have a one-on-one conversation with to ease me into the situation.” And if it doesn’t work out, if I still start getting anxiety? Alternative plan: “I’ve also really been wanting to practice my burlesque moves, so if I’m not having fun, I’m going to go do that.” That helps me know that I have options, so no situation can get the better of me.
So, this is where I am right now. Coping with my various threads, finding ways of pulling out the garish ones, but also being okay with the knowledge that my picture is far from perfect, but that’s what makes it beautiful.
Phew, congratulations if you’ve made it through to the end. Have any of your own coping or strengthening tactics to share?
Thank you all for your comments, both on this post wishing me and mi’lady happiness together after one year, and on this one, offering suggestions and advice and sympathy on my work and life situation. All of those comments were really helpful, and helped me see my situation a bit more clearly. Having folks listen and getting their input, especially folks who are in or who have been in similar situations (isn’t that everyone, though?), is so, so meaningful.
I think you’re all right. You’re right that I need to figure out what’s right for me, and do it. You’re right that I need to carefully weigh my options and have a plan. You’re right that I should decide what’s most important to me right now. You’re right that I should know that whatever decision I make isn’t wrong or right, it’s just a decision, and it’s not ultimately determinative.
So here’s the thinking I’ve been doing since reading all your comments.
- I’m not very good with money. This is for many reasons: (1) San Francisco is friggin expensive. (2) Mi’lady and I don’t live together, but we do spend many evenings together, and we haven’t yet mastered the skills involved in planning ahead meal-wise in the most cost-efficient way (i.e., we’ve found it’s oftentimes more cost-efficient to get cheap take-out than it is to buy ingredients necessary for cooking, but with a lot more planning and kitchen resourcefulness, this shouldn’t be the case). I spend WAY too much money on food. (3) Cabs, Zipcar, and Caltrain. While, yes, San Francisco has public transportation, it (a) isn’t terribly reliable if I need to be somewhere by a specific time and can’t afford to miss 3 hours of work to be there (e.g. for a doctor’s appointment); and (b) doesn’t extend in a cohesive fashion beyond SF, so that whenever I visit my grandparents in Palo Alto I spend $12 round-trip on Caltrain PLUS cab fare to/from the Caltrain station (because, hullo this is really dumb planning, the Caltrain station in SF is off in bumfuck and it takes me a good hour by public transit to get there when it’s only a 6 minute cab ride), OR I just take Zipcar, which isn’t cheap either. So I end up spending $70/month on my Muni pass and at least $150/month on cabs, Zipcar, and Caltrain, but probably more like $200. You tell me: is this reasonable?
Okay, I’ve gone on waaaaay too long about money. Next item.
- In addition to being bad with money, I’ve got excellent benefits at my job, and since I’m on prescription meds, and am currently undergoing an expensive but insured orthodontic treatment (straightening my bottom teeth, which were not-very-noticeably crooked but which were exposing my gums to decay) I’m loathe to give this up.
- I’ve got three applications pending for graduate school. This means that within a few months, hopefully, I’ll know whether and where I’m going to graduate school. This is a pretty major consideration, since it will give me a much clearer idea of what the next few years of my life will look like, and will give me a natural out of my current job.
- There’s this nagging question, though: if I don’t do it now, then when? I would love–LOVE–to have time to work on my projects I’ve been wanting to work on. One of them is getting back to playing piano much more consistently, and finding some other (queer?) folks to play chamber music with. Maybe do something fun/eclectic with it, who knows. Another is writing about this thing I’ve had in the back of my mind for years, and it’s sort of gasping for air now while I’m holding its head underwater. But what time do I have now to work on this? I don’t. What time will I have while in grad school? I won’t.
So, all these considerations in mind, here’s what I’m thinking.
Before I do anything, I need to know whether I’m capable of living on a shoestring budget. This means I need to design one, and implement it. Preemptively. While I’m still employed, all the extra money can go straight into savings. And this will take some tinkering, I’m sure. I’ll start cutting back bit by bit. Can’t cut back on rent, but I can certainly do my darndest to cut back on food and cab rides. I’ll figure out what the least I can live on is, and then I’ll plan around that.
And then I’ll make sure I know what the health and wellness resources are in San Francisco, should I be uninsured. Would I still be able to get my prescription at an affordable price? Are there therapy clinics for the uninsured/unemployed? Could I learn how to find alternative methods of therapy, like reading or doing meditation or something like that? Or at least make sure I have enough cost-free self-care and wellness initiatives to counterbalance that need?
And then I’ll think about alternative (part-time?) sources of income. Can’t rely on writing or activism, at least not yet, but there’s the substitute teaching option, and I could nanny (LOVE small children) but would need references (start off small by babysitting?), or I could bartend (anyone know of good/cheap bartending classes around SF?), or I could temp, or I could … ?
And then I’ll wait and see what happens with graduate school. I wouldn’t leave my job before early in the spring anyway, mostly because I’d need to give my employers a great deal of advance notice (out of courtesy, not legal necessity), and hopefully by then I’ll have heard back from the graduate programs. And if I know, okay, this is 5 months of living unemployed, then that seems very manageable. If I don’t get into graduate school, then I’ll have to start figuring out how I can leave my job and have a backup financial plan in place, so that I don’t find myself just indefinitely unemployed and getting increasingly depressed because of it.
But, however it turns out with regard to graduate school, I’m going to start planning now for at least a 4-month “sabbatical” either this summer (in the case of grad school) or next fall/winter (in the case of no grad school). Which means first and foremost: budgeting. Maybe I’ll start after Christmas? Turns out Christmas with divorced/-ing parents is mightily expensive. My sister and I realized that if we want them to get any gifts at all, we’ve got to be responsible for them. Sigh.
Oh! And I have the MOST amazing Christmas present to mi’lady, hence the title of this post (she now has the link to this website and reads it occasionally): a vocal effects pedal! She’s been talking about wanting one for months, in that way you talk about things you lust after but know you can’t have. They’re, gulp, pricey, but I can afford it while still living within my income and she’ll be SO happy. I’m a bit apprehensive, just because I’m not sure if it’s a model she’ll be excited about (I know nothing about such things, and only picked the model based on doing some internet research), but we’ll see… I’m giddy with excitement about giving it to her!!
If I’d posted last night at 10pm, which I almost did, here’s what I would have written:
This isn’t working. This isn’t fucking working. This isn’t FUCKING working. This isn’t FUCKING WORKING. THIS ISN’T FUCKING WORKING.
If I’d posted last night at midnight, here’s what I would have written:
Breathe in 1-2-3-4, hold 1-2-3-4-5-6-7, breathe out 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. Breathe in 1-2-3-4, hold 1-2-3-4-5-6-7, breathe out 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8.
If I’d posted last night at 1:30am, I would have posted one of my favorite poems of all time, “The Telephone” by Robert Frost. I was reading it aloud to myself, keeping my voice steady and rocking myself with its words.
If I’d posted this morning at 10am, I would’ve written:
Taking the day off today. Need to clear my head. I need to make sure I’m okay. I need to keep in motion, because when I was learning about vicarious trauma as part of the rape crisis counseling training, I was taught that one of the best ways to move emotions in and out of us is to move our physical bodies. If I go to work, I’ll be sitting still all day. So I’m taking the day off.
And now it’s 3pm, and now I really am writing. I have been keeping moving — I got up and showered, I fixed myself a cup of tea and a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich and read while the morning sun streamed into my flat. I did the laundry I had as a goal for last week. I don’t use a dryer, so when it was done I went outside on our back balcony to hang it up and Fish, a neighbor’s cat, came by for a visit. He’s gotten in the habit of visiting every day for hours, and I love it. He’s standoffish a little bit, but also at times incredibly sweet. Today he was being sweet. I felt so peaceful, hanging up my laundry in the San Francisco Indian summer sun, with the cat curled up at my feet. Then I went out for a walk, and came back to bake another batch of vegan red velvet cupcakes. (I baked a batch on Thursday to bring to my training on Saturday, and had all these leftover ingredients so wanted to bake up another batch to send to my dad and brother and sister… and some to keep for myself and my roommate and mi’lady as well. They are DElicious, taste no different from ovo-lacto cupcakes, and maybe I’ll post the recipe…) And now I’m sitting here writing, dishes drying in the sun, Fish stretched out in a patch of sunlight, purring, cupcakes cooling on the counter, and I’m getting ready to go to yoga in an hour. I’m calm, and quiet. And the devastating emotion of the past days has, indeed, started to move. With every exhale I visualize it leaving me, dispersing into thin air.
Clearly, then, my experiment with discontinuing Prozac didn’t work. My period should start any day now, probably even today, and the past few days have been a nightmare. Wild and dramatic peaks and slumps, unbearable darkness and despair, hours of crying in a heap on my bed. I don’t know how to survive at times like those. It’s just not sustainable. It has to change.
It’s made worse, right now, by the recent knowledge that my parents are getting divorced. I found out from my sister about a month ago that she thought it was going to happen (to my complete shock), and then a little less than two weeks ago, my mom told me herself. Until then I hadn’t really believed it. And then, less than a week after that — last Saturday — my dad moved out. My parents, my mother whom I was born out of and my father who held me in his arms when I was moments old, mesmerized, my parents who are equal parts of me no longer live together. Are no longer family. What?
I haven’t really been able to process it yet. It just doesn’t compute. My parents have been married for 27 years. I’ve always known their marriage has had its bad moments, but doesn’t every marriage? And I’ve always known my dad is, well, abusive. He’s abusive. I’m coming to terms with that. But 27 years of marriage and I know they’re best friends, despite my dad’s illness. That’s what it is, an illness. So why now? After 27 fucking years?
Well, I know. My little brother is finally out of the house, and my mother can finally, after 27 years, contemplate her own wishes, desires, hopes, and plans for the future. And I guess they don’t any longer involve my dad. It’s so, so hard to swallow. I love my father fiercely, although my relationship with him has been immensely complicated, fraught, and even damaging. And I love my mother too, differently from my dad but just as much. She’s been my mentor and my friend and a confidante, and it hurts me so much to see her hurting.
I haven’t been able to access any sort of emotion about this at all, unless I experience some sort of emotion from something else first. A gateway emotion, if you will. For example, Fish will do something hilariously cat-like, and then he’ll look at me like “what? I didn’t do anything” and I burst out laughing, and then somehow before I realize it I’m crying, sobbing even, crushed under the lack of comprehension of what’s happening to my family.
And here I am, typing away in the afternoon sunlight, and I think it’s time for motion again. I think I’ll go frost the cupcakes and then get ready for yoga.
I’ve stopped taking Prozac.
I did this without consulting with my psychiatrist or my therapist–I was supposed to have appointments with both last week, but then last week turned out to be INSANE, what with work piling up and mi’lady’s family in town, so I had to cancel both appointments. (I was at work until 10pm on Friday, just to give you an idea of how bad it was. Um, ugh?) Anyway, I know that’s not a particularly good idea, but I just had to stop. I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t swallow that baby blue pill anymore. I only had one side effect, just one, but it was a dealbreaker.
I couldn’t orgasm.
Well, okay, I could. But it took. FOREVER. F.O.R.E.V.E.R. For-fucking-ever. At least an hour. And it was a stressful hour, because I would get up there pretty quickly, would be turned on really fast, and then would plateau. And I’d be on this plateau for at least 45 minutes, usually longer, and just couldn’t get anywhere. If I gave up, I was really, really uncomfortable. I totally believe in “blue balls” now. It actually hurt to stop. So I would have to keep going, and it would get number and number, and eventually, after a fucking eternity, I would finally have an orgasm, but by that time I was so stressed and frustrated that I couldn’t even feel happy or satisfied or warm and fuzzy, I just felt relieved.
And every morning, swallowing that pill became harder and harder, because I knew that it was going to continue to prevent me from just having a good orgasm. It didn’t affect my libido at all — I was still as horny as ever, thank god — and mi’lady was really good about being patient and encouraging and supportive and all that. But it just wasn’t worth it to me. So I stopped taking it.
And OH MY GOD. People. ORGASMS ARE SO AMAZING. I forgot how good orgasms are. I forgot!!! They’re so good!!! I just want to have sex all the time now. It was a really bad week to want to fuck all the time, because I was so busy and the family was in town and etc etc. But we still managed to get some good (quick) fucking in there, and OH BOY am I glad I stopped taking that pill.
I know it may not have been the most responsible decision. When I see my psychiatrist next week, I’m going to talk about it and figure out whether something else might work better, and what I should do next time when I’m feeling like I just can’t do it anymore. Maybe there’s a better option than just quitting the meds. And maybe I’ll regret it next time my period rolls around and I’m sinking into despair again. But it certainly made me realize how important sexual satisfaction is for me, and how stressful it is to not have that release available to me. And so I think I did make a decision that was taking care of my mental health.
Plus, even though she was a total trooper, it makes mi’lady so much happier when I’m having good orgasms.
Oh my god, SO BUSY!
1) I’m positively SLAMMED at work this week, and since work is where I usually blog, it’s going to be a slow blogging week.
2) One of my very best friends is coming to visit TODAY from Portland on his way to Taiwan, and he’s staying until SATURDAY! So awesome. Also a hindrance to my blogging. But a good hindrance.
3) I had an amazing time last night in Palo Alto meeting Ellen for the first time in person (Hi Ellen!) and participating in her play reading. So much fun!!! Can we do it again?
4) Mi’lady and I have not been having enough sex lately. We’re just so busy. It’s not cool. We had a quickie on Saturday afternoon, and then a sort of last-minute rushed fuck on Sunday morning before getting up and going about our busy days. We’d WANTED to have all evening Saturday to just take our time and do some playing around with power/control dominance/submission stuff… but then we had to go to her friend’s good-bye party and we were there all night. And now we won’t have another chance until Saturday at the earliest… And it’s not just sex, it’s time. I want to spend time with her, good time, time where we pay attention to each other. I haven’t really been feeling like we’ve had that enough lately. Maybe I’m crazy. I don’t know. Or maybe I’m in the last few days before my period and my hormones are getting wacky and my low Prozac dosage isn’t enough. Whatever it is, something’s off.
I wish I could just be fine.
So right now, you all get to experience with me my very first PROZAC HIGH!!!
Just kidding. I mean, I’m not kidding, I did pop my first Prozac pill this morning, but I’m not actually high. In fact, I don’t feel any of the side effects they warned me off, not even the ones that they claim will wear off in the first few days. These include headache, dizziness, and feeling like I’m jacked on caffeine or antihistamines or both. Honestly I’m a little disappointed, I kind of like feeling like I’m sitting on a cloud, so wide awake I can’t even blink.
There are other more long-term potential side-effects that I’m hoping to avoid. These include*:
- insomnia (which up to 33% of patients experience)
- nausea (up to 29%)
- diarrhea (up to 18%)
- drowsiness (up to 17%)
- decreased sex drive (up to 11%)
There are others that I’m not quite as anxious about. But having any of the above side effects more long-term would suck. I hate nausea. I hate diarrhea (obviously). I’d really rather not have insomnia, since I’m a pretty good sleeper and really need it to function. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I don’t want to be any drowsier than I already am, since I feel like I’m already situated on the lazy end of the Activity Spectrum, and don’t need anything else to contribute to inertia. Plus, being drowsy at work sucks, because I can’t go take a nap. It’s like struggling to keep your eyes open in class. Don’t you hate that feeling?
The worst one though would be the decreased sex drive. I love my sex drive. I’d be happy having sex daily, and even more frequently on occasion. Alas, I don’t have the opportunity to have sex daily, because I don’t see mi’lady every day. But I see her 4-5 times a week, and we generally always shag. (Isn’t shag a funny word?) And I like shagging, and most of all I like wanting to shag. I love the feeling of desiring sex, of being turned on, of wanting her filling me. Oh my god, that feeling…
Okay so far so good, Day 1 on Prozac and my sex drive is still intact. Writing all that was just a test to see if I still got horny. I did. Can I leave work now please and go fuck? Kthx.
* I got these stats from this website
Dude, where’s the sun at? The Mission is supposed to be (a) the sunniest part of San Francisco, and (b) the warmest part of San Francisco. Since I’ve moved on Sunday, it’s been foggy and cold. Granted, it’s only been a day and a half, so I suppose I shouldn’t be making noise yet.
Things with mi’lady are good, and I’ve been pretty stable since that last low-point earlier this month (see here, here, and here). I’m seeing a psychiatrist on Friday morning to hopefully start planning for some kind of drug cocktail. Haha, that sounds like I’m both a junkie and an alcoholic. (I’m neither, just fyi.) The truth is I know psychiatric medications are controversial. I know people scoff, people judge, people get on their soapboxes and preach about how all our children will be sterile, scaly mutants if we take anti-depressants. I’ve been there too, done that whole judging and scoffing thing, and I’m done now deciding for others what will work for them. It took me getting to a point where I realized, hey, I need help. And maybe drugs will help.
Because the thing is, I know this is chemical. I know that my bouts of severe depression are not about my emotions. They’re not about stuff happening in my life or my relationships or my work (though they can certainly be exacerbated by those things). They’re not banishable by just trying to be reasonable or do things that make me happier. They’re just really deep holes that are so deep I can’t tell that there actually is an opening at the top that the light shines through. I just need a ladder to get out of the hole. For me, I hope that medication can be part of that ladder. Psychotherapy too, and self-care, but I want to see if medications can be part of the mix. Because today, I’m doing alright. But next week? Who knows.