There are always going to be bad days, of course, and it just so happened that Tuesday was one of them. After a busy week, an even busier weekend, and then a late evening on Monday with friends over for dinner, I think the cards were stacked against me.
Settling into a semblance of a routine has been tricky. Am I unemployed? If I’m unemployed, then I ought to treat my days as if I were employed, because being unemployed sounds irresponsible and unproductive. If I’m unemployed, I ought to schedule my days full of Things To Do and be disciplined about getting it done. Or … am I on vacation? If I’m on vacation, then I ought to relax as much as I want, do whatever I want, and do so unapologetically. I’m sure what I’m looking for is a happy medium of the two (I am unemployed, sure, but I’m also on fucking vacation!), and just haven’t managed to land there yet. Until Tuesday, I’d been treating my days as if I were unemployed — sitting down every morning with my planner and my master to-do list to figure out what I needed to do that day and when I would do it. And then I was rushing around all day trying to get it all done, and would wind up feeling anxious in the evening – because I still wasn’t getting everything done.
What the hell was on my to do list? Um, let’s see. Trips to various grocery stores to stock up on pantry items. Locksmith. Bike shop. Dentist. Post office. Dry cleaner. Back to the dry cleaner. Consignment store to sell leftover clothes from yard sale. Statistics. Call Grandma. Send Dad birthday card. Talk to grad school re financial aid. Also, I’m still working irregularly for my former employer doing German translation stuff for a few of their cases, and last week, that ended up being about 20 hours (this week, about 10). OH, and have I mentioned UNPACKING AND ORGANIZING? Right, except that last thing has totally taken the shaft in the face of all these bloody errands.
So, anyway. Tuesday. I was supposed to go to a counselor support meeting for the rape crisis center I work for, except I was so overwhelmed and hadn’t even finished the main thing on my to-do list that day — ORGANIZE THE FUCKING CLOSETS — that I threw up my hands in despair and didn’t go to the meeting. Instead, I made summer squash soup because otherwise the squash was going to go bad. And then I talked to ML at work and she said “let’s just relax tonight! let’s just cuddle and watch The Wire and have sex!” And I was all YES. PLEASE. Except that when she got home I was still cooking, and I still hadn’t organized the fucking closets, and I started taking my general anxiety out on her. I felt like I was doing so much, so much that I wasn’t even able to do it all, and so I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough. And I started blaming her for not telling me that I was doing enough. And so I was irritable and mopey all evening instead of cuddly and relaxy. I felt like I needed some kind of assurance that I was doing okay, that I didn’t need to do anymore, but I didn’t know how to ask her to give me that assurance and so instead my overwhelmed brain decided that the only way to get that assurance was to keep doing more so that she’d tell me to stop. So… I kept doing more. I puttered around in the kitchen while she was doing dishes, and she told me to stop. But I didn’t believe her. So I kept puttering. And then after I puttered I went and started throwing stuff around in the closets. Getting more and more overwhelmed and frustrated the whole time. And in general, the more frustrated I get, the less able I am to articulate why I’m frustrated, so this was all just a baaaaad baaaaaad downward spiral.
Suffice it to say, the cuddling was unsatisfactory, the sex was non-existent, and we only watched 15 minutes of The Wire before going to bed. I probably broke out in tears three or four times over the course of the evening. ML is so good at making me laugh and cheering me up, so her efforts did temporarily break me out of my funk, but I was already at a point where I didn’t really know what was wrong and didn’t know how to snap out of it. So I went to sleep feeling dejected and disconnected.
I woke up on Wednesday feeling similarly. I watched ML get ready to leave for work, already feeling bereft and still feeling sad and disconnected from the day before. I still felt like I needed assurance that I was doing okay. I didn’t know how to shake it.
So, ML left, I breakfasted, and then I finally decided that that would be the day. The day to scrap the planner and the to-do list and just do what my heart felt like doing, because I needed to kill this anxiety.
And so? I organized the closets. I emptied all our clothes our of our dresser and our two closets and the basked of clean laundry and a big bin of clothes that hadn’t been put away yet, and I spent all day heaping and folding and hanging and shuffling around and finally, by early afternoon, the closets were organized. And you know what? That did it. My funk was killed. That’s all it took. Organizing the fucking closets. ML called me when she was leaving work and all she had to hear was my bright “hiiiii!” before she knew that I was all better. “What happened to YOU?” she asked. “Did you clean the closets or something?”
And now I think I’m going to scrap the planner and the master to-do list and instead just start each morning with a cup of tea and the question, “what do I most feel like doing today?” After all, this period of unemployed vacation is temporary. I really ought to just take full advantage of it for what it is.
Amidst all my excitement about this summer and all the potential it carries, I have one nagging worry. I’m worried that my copious amounts of free time, most of which will probably be spent by myself, will put a strain on my relationship, that when she’s home I’ll be wanting to hang out while she may often have other things to do. Maybe this isn’t so much a worry as it is something to look out for and be mindful of this summer.
As it is right now, I do sometimes feel as though we don’t have enough together time. I work a lot of hours, take burlesque classes, volunteer on the crisis hotline, have family obligations once in a while and statistics homework to do, and have various appointments that sometimes inevitably take up evenings and weekends. She, meanwhile, has band practice generally one evening every week and one full day into the night every weekend, plus the occasional late evening at work or evening/weekend appointment. All this PLUS spending time with friends at least weekly means that … we really don’t have that much plain old hangout time. We spend a lot of time together, but it’s often just in that hour before bed when we pop in the latest disc from our Netflix queues, watch for a bit, and then have a quickie before going to sleep. It’s been even tougher lately with her new work schedule, which has her (and thus, often, me) getting up at 6:15am, rather than 7:35 as it used to be — a change which necessitates an earlier bedtime, obviously. But since my work schedule hasn’t changed (yet! ha!), and I’m still getting out of work at 6 or 6:30 on a good day, our evenings have been shortened.
And, to me, it doesn’t feel like enough. To me, it feels like our sex has stopped progressing — we do the tried and true, rather than the new and unknown. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I realize — hell, we’re still having sex at least 3 times a week, usually 4-5, and it can’t always be new and unknown (nor would I want it to be! familiar is often exactly what I most desire). But it’s at a point now where I do feel like we don’t have the time to spend with each other working on our relationship. The time we spend together gets filled up with having our relationship — watching movies, fucking, cuddling, cooking/eating, giving each other footrubs, talking about our schedules, decompressing after our respective days, sleeping — because those are usually the most pressing wants. We want to relax after work, we really want to hear about each other’s days and all the things going on that are bothering us or exciting us. We want to zone out and watch movies and curl up together just feeling each other’s bodies. And we want to have sex, to connect physically, erotically.
But I think a lot of that stuff is very short-term gratification. It’s what we think we want to do right NOW because NOW I’m tired and want to relax and chat about regular stuff. It’s comfortable, and cozy. But to me, always indulging that immediate sense of relationship laziness starts to take a toll. Sexually, I start to feel like many of my more elaborate or scarier desires are slipping into the realm of “fantasy,” rather than the realm of “to do this weekend.” Other than sexually, I start to feel like the more we do the same things with our time together, the less able we are to do other things. So maybe this is about spontaneity — making sure we keep infusing the Regular with the New and Exciting. And this spontaneity has to be something that we work on together.
I’m not sure how to start bringing more of an Our Relationship Is a Project that We Work on Together mentality into our routine, especially because (1) we’re both so busy doing our own personal projects that we really love and that really fulfill us, and (2) I think the Project Relationship mentality is more of something I want than something she wants. She, I think, is perfectly happy to just go along the way we’ve been going along. She likes comfort and routine, and doesn’t like feeling like she has to work on yet another thing in her life. I, on the other hand, really like to have relationship check-ins, and to discuss what’s working and what isn’t, figure out how to fix what isn’t and congratulate each other for what is, and to set little goals, and to be intentional about things that we do. In fact I start to feel anxious and unsettled if we don’t do those things. And I know that because that’s not a high priority for her there will always be some give and take on that front. But it’s starting to feel more pressing for me lately.
To bring that back around to my worry about this summer, the worry I have, I guess, is mostly that I’ll have a whole lot more time to devote myself to our Relationship Project than she will (I mean, I’m hoping to write here every day, and oftentimes, even this is, in a way, part of our Relationship Project), and that that will start to build up in me as this tension that isn’t getting resolved because there just isn’t time.
(What’s a good balance, anyway? How can you find the spot between co-dependent and over-committed to other things? Is it better to spend a lot of time on our own things so that we’re whole complete individuals without needing the other to complete us? Or is it better to spend a lot of time on each other, so that we feel unity and affinity? So that these anxieties don’t surface? Clearly I think a balance is necessary, but what is that balance? And at what point do we have to start sacrificing one thing or the other in order to strike it?)
So, I think it’s good that I’ve identified this issue as something that might come up for me this summer. I still have enough time to work on coming up with ways to avoid that surfacing, and strategies for combatting it if it does. Like if I set goals for myself every day, enough to keep my on my toes and sufficiently busy, then that should help. Spending time actively out and about with other people will help, too. And I think I’d like to bring up with her the idea of committing to eat dinner together whenever possible, shutting off all our other projects at least an hour before we go to bed whenever possible, and identifying and scheduling Together time as separate from time we’re together but working on separate things, so that we can make sure we’re staying attentive to each other and our relationship. And I just need to remember, too, that it’s much more of a relationship Want, for me, to be intentionally thinking about this stuff than it is for her, and that that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about the relationship as much as I do.
Last night, we climbed into bed much later than we’d planned, both tired and already bracing ourselves against the Monday morning alarm clock. We settled into what we call our Sleep Position: big spoon (her) and little spoon (me), her arm wrapped around me. It’s become so much of a habit that I hardly think of it anymore. But last night, after a few moments, she pipes up: “Do you like sleeping like this?” “Yes, baby, I do.” “Why?” “It makes me feel safe, and snug, and warm.” “Okay. Just checking.”
Snug as two bugs in a rug.
So, my burlesque classes are a few weeks underway. We’ve started having to “perform” what we’re learning to each other, and it is NERVEWRACKING. Have I ever mentioned that I get very afraid of being the center of attention of a large group of people? Well, I get very afraid of being the center of attention of a large group of people. So as soon as all eyes are on me, *poof* I’m out of my body. This means that instead of feeling what my body feels like, I’m feeling what it LOOKS like to other people. It’s a very weird disconnect, and I think it’s pretty connected to the way I was raised to prioritize other people’s needs ahead of my own. Though I’ve been getting better about that in my daily life, it’s still pretty hard for me to just relax and enjoy the feeling of being in my body when I know other people are looking at me. Suddenly I become all, “are they enjoying looking at me? am I boring them? what if they hate what I’m doing? AHHHHH!” and want to run away. And because I’m not thinking about what my body is doing, but instead am thinking about what it looks like to them over there, my body (obviously) suddenly can’t do anymore what my brain wants it to do.
So, burlesque is a bit of a challenge. But this is why I started it, isn’t it? I think I’m doing okay. Maybe I’m even getting better, bit by bit. I do think, though, that I need to practice on my own if I’m going to start feeling rapid increases in confidence in class. (Class is only held once a week, after all.) And let me reiterate: my lack of confidence is not in my body’s appearance. I’m perfectly happy with my body’s shape and size and what it generally looks like. The problem is maybe even some sort of opposite of that — rather than being hyper-aware of my body and what it looks like from in my mind, I’m all sorts of clueless about it. As I watch myself move in the mirror, I can see my body as if from an external perspective, can see that it looks good at what it’s doing. But I can’t tell what it FEELS like. So when you take me away from the mirror and put me in front of 14 pairs of eyes, my body has no fucking clue what it’s doing anymore.
So I’ve got to take it on myself to do some work on this. I’m starting by getting the book and DVD by my instructor, Bombshell Betty. She’s the bomb. Ha. Seriously, though, she’s adorable and very kind and encouraging and really good at what she does. Here’s her book:
And she has a DVD too which I’m going to buy from her next week in class. The book is great, although it doesn’t have color photos. It’s basically a guide to posing for a photo! And goes into stuff like pin-up poses, “personality projection” (“it’s all in the eyes”), using props in photos, best poses to flatter your body… So even if you’re NOT doing burlesque, you can learn a lot from it. For me, I’m hoping I can practice in front of my mirror and then close my eyes and memorize what it FEELS like. Instead of what it looks like. And having camera confidence and stage confidence are, I think, closely related.
But I’m looking for other ideas too, that I don’t have to stand in front of my mirror to practice. Has anyone else had this problem, this inability to connect with your own body? What have you done to help fix that? Anything you got I’m willing to try!
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!!
don’t surrender your loneliness
let it cut more deeply.
let it ferment and season you
as few human
or even divine ingredients can.
something missing in my heart tonight
has made my eyes so soft
my voice so tender
my need of god
I’m not lonely right now, actually. I’m better than I’ve been in a long time. A month ago I hit rock bottom, and now I’m comfortably stable again, and have been for the past week and a half or two weeks. So I post that poem not because it’s leaking out of my soul right now, but because I suspect that, eventually, it will be. Because stability is an illusion, and although the downs feel so far away right now I know it’s just a matter of time. And you know what? That’s ok. Every time I plummet will give me another opportunity to learn how to survive. And so I post this poem right now as a reminder to myself, when the next wave hits. Whatever it is — loneliness, fear, insecurity, anguish, sorrow, emptiness — is beautiful in its own right, and is a gift to be embraced.
One of my favorite mentors, a woman at the rape crisis center I work at, teaches workshops on somatic healing (something I’d never heard of before, but am becoming increasingly interested in). She taught me that each finger represents an emotion to be cradled within us. I forget which finger represents which one, but I think they’re as follows: pinky is insecurity; ring finger is grief; middle finger is anger; index finger is fear; thumb is loneliness. Whenever you’re feeling one of those emotions, use your left hand to firmly hold the representative finger. Hold onto it, close your eyes, breathe in, breathe out, until you feel the warmth from your hand radiating from your finger throughout your body. And as you exhale, say to yourself, “this too shall pass.”
For some reason, to me it just feels right to put the finger holds and the Hafiz poem hand in hand. Whatever it is, welcome it, nurture it, feel it, cradle it, let go of trying to control it and force it away, and remember: it will pass. It always does.
Reading the comments to my previous post helped me clarify my thoughts about this femme fantasy. So I thought I’d do it “out loud” here, too.
I don’t think the fantasy I described of being perfectly domestic, perfectly sexy, perfectly exactly for my lover is the only way I conceive of myself as a femme. I certainly have my own goals and ambitions and social life and tastes and enjoyments, and I certainly want to keep nurturing those and developing myself as a person. (As greg said in the comments, I absolutely need those days of knotting the hair back, donning the cracked boots and jumping in the jeep. Well, I don’t have long hair or a jeep, but that’s the general idea!) Writing here is one of the ways I do that; doing the rape counseling work is another; keeping in touch with my friends, applying for graduate school, playing piano, doing yoga… all of that is stuff I do to continually round myself out and build myself up. And it’s absolutely necessary for me to keep doing that, always. Always.
But the fantasy is there, and I want to explore it. Until now, I’ve been angrily pushing it away, thinking “no! that’s co-dependency! get out!” For example: I feel like baking. What do I bake? Into my head pops the thought: “mi’lady’s favorite is strawberry rhubarb pie…” and I get all warm and tingly and excited at the thought of surprising her with a warm homemade pie when I see her in the evening. But before I get too excited, I cut myself off. “Why do you always want to do what she likes? You don’t even like pie! Bake something you like!” And so I’ll probably end up compromising, I’ll bake something I know she’ll like but that I like too, and I make sure to bake it not with her specifically in mind. So when I see her, it’s “look! I baked cookies today! Have one, they’re yummy!” rather than “look! I baked your favorite pie today, just for you!”
It sounds so selfish. But I guess I’ve thought it to be necessary, as a way of coaching myself to pay attention to my own wants and needs, rather than always catering to other people’s. I think it has a lot to do with vulnerability for me, too. I get angry with myself for giving too much of myself away to someone else. I get afraid that the more I give away, the more I’m allowing her to hurt me. I’m giving her power. And maybe I’ve thought of it too as a zero-sum game — that if I give her the power to hurt me, I’m somehow lessening my own power to heal from hurt.
So, to continue with the previous example, when I bake mi’lady’s favorite pie, just because I know she likes it, I’m making myself vulnerable to her by doing something for her. It’s saying, “you matter so much to me that I’m going to bake you your favorite pie, just because.” And what if it’s not reciprocated? What if she doesn’t like it? Or doesn’t really notice? Or just says, “oh thanks baby, that’s so sweet” absent-mindedly. Clearly if I spend my afternoon baking her favorite kind of pie, then my afternoon was about her. But what if her afternoon wasn’t even remotely about me? What if I think about her more often than she thinks about me? What if what if what if. So stopping myself from baking that pie is a way of holding back, keeping things level.
And that’s what it is, it’s holding back. Because really? I want to bake that pie. I guess I have to throw those what-ifs to the wind. Because she does matter to me that much. And I want her to know it. I want her to feel it. That’s not co-dependent. That’s so far from c0-dependent. What it is is trust.
Love is not a zero-sum game. I need to practice believing that in how I go about loving. There’s plenty to go around. There’s enough for us both. And the main thing I am now slowly coming to realize is, if I do something for her, I’m not necessarily losing myself, or giving myself away. I could be, for sure, depending on the context. But I could also actually just be reaffirming myself. So the next step I guess? Working all of this into my relationship with mi’lady in a way that feels right. Stay tuned, this could be a wild ride.
(Updated to remove weird duping of the post? It doesn’t appear in my editor but I tried to just delete all and re-paste so we’ll see if that works…)
I’ve been learning, lately, how to pay more attention to the little voices in my head. The ones that say “yay!” or “boo!” to all the little things I do. The ones that have the answer to questions like, “do I really love playing piano, or do I just think I love it because I was supposed to love it growing up? because my dad wants me to love it?” or “do I feel like myself when I wear this [insert item of clothing here]?” These voices have been buried in me for a long, long time. Digging them out has been quite an interesting process, and I think they’re still mostly buried, but at least now I know they’re there. And whenever I feel up to it, I can keep digging a bit more, and eventually I’ll have unearthed them all.
There’s something that’s been peeking out of the ground for a while now, and I’ve finally dug it up. It’s a fantasy, and it goes like this:
I am a nurturer. More than anything, I want to take care of you. I want to support you and give you what you want and be your pillar. I want to stand next to you proudly, “I’m hers.” I want to cook for you, and bake your favorite sweets for you, and clean. I want to notice the little things that make you feel better, and do them for you. I want you to dress me, in whatever you want me to wear. I want to be manicured, and pedicured, and wax my arms and legs, and spend a half an hour every morning and evening on my skincare regimen. I want to wear four-inch heels with peeping toes. I want to iron your shirts and make your bed and stroke your head until you fall asleep. I want to plan little surprises and encourage your passions and turn you on. Making you tick is what makes me tick. So.
As I said, that’s been peeking out of the ground for a while. I kept ignoring it, thinking it’s just another indicator of my co-dependency. My tendency is to want to exist for someone else rather than for myself. And I’ve always thought that that’s because it’s easier to take care of someone else’s wants and needs than it is to take care of my own. (The responsibility of making myself happy? Huge.) So it’s been really easy to write off that fantasy as something unhealthy and something I need to dismiss, something I need to work out. I’ve thought of it as the problem.
But maybe the problem itself is the very solution. Maybe it’s not co-dependency, but in fact a valid form of self-identity. Can this be? I have a lot of feelings about this. Frustration – have I really been working so hard to discover what I really want, only to realize that what I want is, again, just to do what someone else wants? Fear — what does this mean? Will I lose myself even further? Confusion — but I thought I was ambitious and driven and independent! Worry — how on earth will my friends and family take it if I come out to them this way? Excitement — wow! So much to work (and play) with here! Weeee! Intrigue – what would this feel like, to actualize this? what worlds might this open up for me?
So, I think I’m going to try this on for a while. See if it fits as well as it does in my fantasy. I need to keep reminding myself, though, that I’m doing this for me. In the end, I’m not really doing this to sacrifice myself for her. Rather, I’m allowing myself to indulge a fantasy. I’m going for a dream.
Maybe I don’t need to find co-dependency support. Maybe I need to find femme support. How about a Femme for Dummies: How to Make Sure You’re Taking Care of Yourself While Caring for Your Lover (and Others).
Anyone out there? Femme bloggers who’ve written about this sort of journey? Any femmes who read here who want to pop out and say hi? Maybe there is a Femme for Dummies that I just don’t know about? Oh my gosh, I feel so thirsty. Is this what it feels like to know what I want?
(Disclaimer: For me, the word that works best to encompass all this is “femme.” I fully realize that many, if not most, femmes probably don’t share this same fantasy and wouldn’t necessarily identify this fantasy as being femme in nature. For now, just realize that yes, I acknowledge that, and I apologize if anyone feels that their identity is stepped on. As this is all coming to light I’m sure I will write more about this in the near future, because boy do I have thoughts…)
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.