Let’s Do This

There’s a white supremacy rally happening across the river tomorrow. I’m going with a group of friends to join the counter-protest early in the morning. We’re meeting two miles away and then marching to the common. I’m having a lot of anxiety about tomorrow. I’m worried that things will get violent. I’m worried that I can’t guarantee the safety of myself and the people I love. I’m worried that I could possibly be arrested if things get out of control. But I feel even more strongly that I need to be there tomorrow. I need to show up and stand up and fight back against all of this bullshit because what will happen if people don’t? I’ve got my buddy for the protest. I’ve got a contact person who will be expecting me to call and check in at a given time and can start a search for me if need be. I’ll have the numbers of my contact person and the National Lawyers Guild written on my arm in case I need them and don’t have access to my phone.

I was heartened to read today that nearby churches are opening their doors to the counter-protestors tomorrow, some offering to stay open all night if need be. I’m heartened to see that 15,000 people have RSVP’d on Facebook to show up to the counter-protest and another 30,000 marked themselves as being “interested”. I hope they all show up tomorrow morning. I’m grateful to know that these people will have my back tomorrow if I need them to. And I hope that there won’t be violence tomorrow, but I feel like I’m as prepared as I can be if there is.

Let’s do this…

(Image Description – Myself wearing a black t-shirt which reads “White Silence = White Violence. Black Lives Matter”)

Just Another Practice Run

About six months ago, I started having an increase in anxiety symptoms. I have panic disorder with agoraphobia and so sometimes, I just get really anxious for reasons that I’m not aware of and, if I don’t succeed in using coping skills to deal with the anxiety, can progress into having a panic attack. So I started wanting to avoid things that I normally enjoy and was procrastinating on a lot of important tasks. About four months ago, the anxiety skyrocketed seemingly out of the blue. I couldn’t leave my house, I was dependent on prescription anxiety meds to survive the days, I basically spent entire days underneath my weighted blanket to keep my skin from crawling. And then the depression hit. It started off as a subtle shift from the extreme anxiety I was having with my mood beginning to change and then hit me like a train.

I saw my mental health providers and decided that even though it was early on in this depressive episode, I’d seek out intensive treatment with the goal of preventing it from continuing into something darker where I might become actively suicidal again. I picked a PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program) in a program designed for queer patients, meeting for five group therapy sessions per day. The people at Triangle were great. The mixture of patients was really well suited to my needs and after a few days of silently nodding and snapping my fingers when I identified with something someone said, I began to feel comfortable enough to open up to the group. And gradually, with structure and group sessions and a medication change, I started to feel better.

I’ve been at home full time for about three weeks now and while things aren’t 100% better, I feel like I’m on pretty stable footing. I started volunteering once a week with an organization that does important work that I feel makes a difference in people’s lives. Even though it’s usually just one day a week, it’s made me feel a tiny bit productive and I feel like I’ve gotten as much out of the relationship I’m forging as they might be getting from me. I haven’t really felt this way since I started with OCEMS (Ouray County EMS) in Colorado years and years ago. Life has changed and I’m adjusting to the changes in my own crotchety, skeptical manner. But I am adjusting.

Tomorrow I leave for a four day camping trip in rural Maine. I’ll be spending time with friends that I’ve known for over a decade now, many of which I haven’t seen in years. I have to admit I’m a little anxious about the trip, regardless of my excitement for it. It’ll be the first time going on a trip without Aria since I went to Philadelphia four years ago. I get anxious when riding as a passenger in a car on highways because of the speed and this trip involves several hours of highway driving. And I’m anxious about meeting new people, of which there will be many. I’m managing by reminding myself that I have the friends I know already to feel comfortable around, and that I can medicate myself in the morning before we leave to help with the car anxiety. I am really looking forward to hanging around with a bunch of friends lakeside, getting to use my tent again, bonfires, and sitting around in the sun in a pair of shorts and no shirt.

I’m packed, except for last minute things like my cell phone and my alarm is set for 6:15 tomorrow. The only thing left to do tonight is stop worrying so I can fall asleep. Hah. If only it were that easy, but you know what I mean. It’ll be a good trip and I just need to keep reminding myself of that until it happens.

Adoption Update

Last April I was excited and nervous to announce that my partner and I were in the early stages of trying to adopt a baby. I’ve been very aware of how long ago that announcement was and how silent I’ve been on the process. Some of this has been because it was suggested to not be too vocal about the process at our adoption workshop, but more has been because of the challenges this process has brought so far. When we attended the adoption workshop back in April, things felt like they were moving along smoothly. We’d had two visits with our home study social worker, we were signing on with the agency we’d chosen to work with for placement. Everything was very positive. Of course, things didn’t continue in that way.

The original paperwork we filled out for the home study required disclosure of any prescription medication and hospitalizations. Because I am on psychotropic medication for the management of my mental illnesses, the home study agency required letters of recommendation from both my therapist and psychiatrist. Originally, the instructions for these letters was very vague in what the social worker was looking for and my first letters were rejected for not being detailed enough and for implying but not outright saying the exact phrase “I am in support of this adoption”. Our social worker offered to let my providers write a second round of letters, but there was an issue with the second letter that my therapist wrote which sent up red flags within the agency and my psychiatrist was told by the lawyer at the clinic where she works that she was not able to answer specific questions pertaining to my ability to parent or use the specific language required. After clearing up the issues with my therapist’s second letter, which had resulted from a miscommunication between her and the social worker, our social worker said she could write yet another letter but did not follow through on her offer to reach out to my therapist again to clear up any confusion. My therapist wrote a third letter with the guidance of my partner and myself and it was submitted a couple of weeks ago. I was waiting to hear back from the social worker about the last letter when we got the first major bad news.

Yesterday, we received an e-mail from the Independent Adoption Center, which we had chosen to do our placement, that they were filing for chapter 7 bankruptcy and closing all of their offices immediately. The e-mail cited the declining number of domestic adoptions happening in the country and the increase in number of families trying to adopt a child as a reason for them shutting their doors. Apparently the money they have at this point will go in a court appointed trust and after their debts have been paid, all the families that had signed on with them, more than 300 last time I looked, would be contacted to submit claims as to what they felt they were owed. It sounds like if there is money left over, there will be some process of divvying it between families, but I don’t imagine there will be much returned of the $15,000 we’ve paid them. This news was devastating. My partner lost her job three weeks ago, money has been tighter than usual, I used a chunk of my savings to pay for the final agency payments to IAC. It looks very unlikely that we will be able to sign on with another agency any time soon. After all of the initial excitement, our hopes of starting a family in the next few years were effectively ended.

Then I got a call from our social worker about the home study this morning. Unfortunately, my psychiatric history is pretty extensive and includes seven inpatient hospitalizations from 2012-2015, three of which were for a month or longer. I had to report them because leaving them off of my paperwork would have been fraud and easily discovered if the adoption agency requested copies of my medical records. Because of this, the social worker and the agency she represents felt that I had not been stable long enough for them to take the recommendations of my therapist and psychiatrist and find in our favor. Our social worker offered us two options. The first was that we could continue the home study and have a negative outcome. The second was that we could stop here, not complete the home study and wait until I had a longer period of stability, at which point we could start another home study in the future and not have this current home study impact our ability to adopt. I had been expecting this from her because she’d discussed it with my therapist a couple of months ago while waiting for the third letter. When I asked her how long of a period of stability they were looking for though, she told me five to ten years of consistent therapy and no major hospitalizations. At this point, I have been stable and out of the hospital for two years and some weeks. With this recommendation, the earliest we can hope to start another home study is three years from now and I could still be told that they want to wait closer to ten years at that point.

So that’s where we are. Our placement agency is bankrupt and I’m too crazy to pass a home study right now. It feels pretty hopeless and bleak. I keep having dreams about parenthood but the reality of that happening feels impossible. I’m trying to stay positive. Tai chi class last night helped give me a solid 90 minutes where I was completely focused on what I was doing, which helped. But still, I feel like the rug was jerked out from under me. I’m alternating between completely numb to very angry and sad.

So yeah, it’s been a week already and it’s only Wednesday.

Anti-Immigration Protests

Friday, the president signed an executive order banning people from Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Iran from being admitted to the country, even those with green cards and visas. On Saturday evening, I was browsing Facebook when I came across an event at Logan Airport, protesting the detention of passengers by Customs and Border Patrol. My partner and I immediately headed to the airport to join the protest. Our shuttle bus to the airport had maybe two people on it who were heading to the airport to catch flights. Everyone else was headed to the international terminal to protest. When we reached the midway point on the shuttle trip, where they switch the buses from overhead power to gas-powered engines, a supervisor came onto the bus, had a short word with the driver and then asked if there were any passengers headed to Terminal E (the international terminal). He then told us that we would have to walk from the nearest airport terminal because transportation to Terminal E had been shut down due to the protest. As he finished his short speech, he said “And I hope you have to walk through the whole airport!” At first, my partner was unsure if he was being critical of the protest, but then realized that he was saying that he hoped there was a mass of people walking throughout all the terminals carrying signs protesting the detention that was currently going on.

As we walked through Terminal C to our destination, we passed people who had arrived through the international terminal who were making the opposite trek as us. Many of them made positive comments about the protest and thanked us for joining. One guy gave me a high five. Of course, there were a couple people, able bodied white men of course, who complained bitterly of having to walk through the terminal because of the “damn protest”. When we reached Terminal E, there were probably about 400-500 people gathered there, speakers passing around a megaphone, the crowd repeating what they said so the people at the edges could hear what was going on. More and more people continued to pack in behind us. The state police were present, occasionally asking us to move back from the path from Customs and Border Patrol to the exit so that passengers could get through, but otherwise not saying much. There was a loud cheer when it was announced that a federal judge in the state had issued a stay of the president’s executive order, but quickly a reminder came through that we couldn’t stop protesting until all passengers who had been detained were released.

Elizabeth Warren was present and had made a speech before we arrived. Sometime after the announcement of the stay, Marty Walsh, the mayor of Boston, also made a speech. The protest continued as detained passengers were slowly reunited with their families. When the last detainee was escorted through Customs and Border Patrol by the mayor there was a tremendous energy and lots of cheering. After someone announced that there were buses waiting outside to take us back to the train station and asked us to remain peaceful as we exited the airport, my partner and I made out way outside to cram onto a very full shuttle back to the subway to take us home. Again, the bus was mostly full of protestors. I was exhausted but felt like we had made a difference for the night.

The next day, we headed to Copley Square with our neighbors to the immigration protest being held there. The subway station at Copley Square was shut down, so we walked from Park Street to get there, following a continuous stream of people headed to the protest. We got as close to Copley as we could, packing in with the other people who had gathered before us. I heard estimates put the crowd at 20,000 people that day. At first I couldn’t really anything or see what was going on, but as the crowd changed, I was able to get a spot on the stone wall where we were and then I could see above the crowd into the square. The energy was high that day, filled with people chanting and holding up homemade signs.

Since then, I have heard too many accounts of airports throughout the country refusing detainees to meet with lawyers even though federal court orders have been issued ordering them to do so. People have been detained for long periods of time, children separated from their parents for hours. A five year old boy was separated from his mother because he was deemed to be a risk to the country. An eleven month old who was still being breast-fed was separated from her mother for hours. A mother and her two young children were detained for twenty hours without being given anything to eat. And a woman who had lived in the US since 1995 and had a green card was turned away from a terminal in Iraq. She had become ill during her family’s trip. Her son says she knew, as she was being taken back to the hospital in Iraq, that she was going to die. She died a day after being refused the ability to board a plane back to her home.

I’d never been to a protest before Saturday night. I’d always been too scared to go out with everyone else. Scared of violence, of the risk of getting arrested. I don’t know what changed on Saturday to give me the courage to go to the airport, but something happened and I couldn’t stay silent any longer. It was exhilarating though. My usual phobia of crowds didn’t overwhelm me, even while packed into the airport terminal with hundreds of other people. Maybe it was the collective purpose, the fact that everyone there was there for the same reason I was, but I didn’t panic and my anxiety level stayed manageable. Even the shuttle ride back to the train station and the train home on Sunday didn’t bother me when in the past crowded transportation has caused major panic. So while I don’t know what exactly allowed me to engage in the protests this weekend, I plan on continuing to raise my voice in the following weeks and months. This upcoming weekend there are more rallies I plan on attending and I’m excited to be present.

A protester holds a sign during the protest at Copley Square as protesters gathered in opposition to President Trump’s executive order temporarily halting immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries.(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Reconnecting With My Body

When I was nine, my parents enrolled me in a Tae Kwon Do class through a local dance studio and I fell in love with it during the first class I took. I stayed with the martial art through the end of high school, grateful for the discipline and patience that the training taught me, as well as the relationships I gained over those years. I grew close to my instructors, both of them taking active roles in my life akin to parenting, which was absent. For the first time in my life, I had the care and guidance I’d been seeking but not finding at home. After I graduated from high school, however, I stopped going. I’d come out a couple years earlier because I felt somewhat at odds with my straight peers, needing a community of people who supported me. After I transitioned, I never really looked back. I was living in rural Vermont with no transportation to classes and with the changes in my life, my priorities had shifted. Still, I missed the training, both for the physically challenging exercise it brought me and for the family I had left behind.

Over the years, I’ve thought about the hole this had left. I briefly thought about trying to find a local studio to begin training with again, though never got very far with that idea. When I’d left, I’d earned my second-degree black belt and was training 4-5 days a week. With the time having passed since then, I’d forgotten most of the physical part of the art. I could no longer remember the forms or the moves that I’d grown to know so surely I could have done them in my sleep. The idea of starting over again felt disheartening. The idea of starting over with strangers even more so.

Then I started getting treatment for CPTSD. I kept hearing, and reading, about how yoga was really good for helping to heal trauma helping to integrate and regulate mind and body, which after years of dissociation were skills I didn’t have. Unfortunately, I found the idea of yoga completely intimidating. Maybe it was just my preconceived notions of what yoga studios were like and my assumptions of the people I would meet there, but it felt like an insurmountable goal to break down. And I know there are probably many perfectly nice people in yoga classes who would welcome me with open arms if I wanted to try. I just couldn’t.

A few weeks ago, I was walking through the downtown area of my city with my partner and I noticed a local martial arts studio offering Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Tai Chi had been recommended years prior by a DMH (Department of Mental Health) caseworker as something to try. It has a lot of the same benefits for trauma that yoga does. When it was suggested, I wasn’t really in a place to even think about it. I was still pretty mobility impaired and in a lot of chronic pain on a daily basis. With walking being a challenge some days, martial arts seemed out of the question. But things have changed a lot since then. It’s been over a year since I stopped needing to use crutches to walk and both my stamina and strength have increased a lot since then. When I brought up the idea of looking into trying Tai Chi at therapy a few weeks ago, my therapist was enthusiastically in favor. Still, I was pretty noncommittal and only willing to agree to look online for more information. But the information I found was more promising than I had expected it to be. The local studio offered adult classes twice a week, and one class on Tuesday nights was structured in a way so that they could easily accommodate beginners with multiple instructors. I was cautiously optimistic when I e-mailed them, asking if myself and my partner, whose attendance I knew would bolster my confidence to try it, could come in the following week to try a free class.

And it was good. It was better than good. I was engaged all through the class. I felt challenged emotionally and physically, but not too much. I liked the instructors working that night and we weren’t the only new people there! Maybe because it was so close to the beginning of the year, there were five people trying it out that night. I left at the end of class feeling energized and excited and looking forward to returning the following week. In a lot of ways, I felt like I had after that first Tae Kwon Do class when I was nine. We went back last night and I felt more at peace in my body than I have in a long time, which is not to say that I felt comfortable, but that is probably a long work in progress. And of course it’s only been two weeks, so I’m not going to get ahead of myself here, but I left feeling actually happy and that doesn’t happen the often. For now, I am glad to have found a place that feels safe to work on myself and to learn that maybe it’s okay to trust my body again, however slowly that may go.

Exciting and Terrifying News

I’ve been sitting on this announcement for months now because I couldn’t find the right way to say it, but things are actually starting to feel real now so I’m finally ready. My partner and I are early in the process of adopting a baby. We’re actually on our way to New York City right now for a workshop through the adoption agency we’ve chosen. I’m sitting on the train watching the world stream by out the window and thinking about this path that we’re on. Things feel like they are happening both very quickly and far too slow. It’s been about six months since we started talking about having a kid and I realized that things in my life are actually really stable right now, making this a possibility. I’ve been staring longingly at all of the babies I see, and imagining what my life will be like in a couple of years when I will hopefully have a child of my own. Sleepless nights and negotiating public transportation and trips to the park. Right now though, I’m learning to be patient.

We’ve had two visits with our home study social worker so far. I’ve spent hours reading their parenting handbook, writing an in depth autobiography, and taking online classes on adoption. I’ve collected birth certificates, our marriage license, copies of our lease, a letter from the bank with our current balance, sent off fingerprints to the FBI, mailed forms for child abuse report checks, asked my therapist and psychiatrist to write letters attesting to my mental health stability, met with my primary care physician to get a form filled out that I am in good enough health to become a parent, and signed off on more paperwork than I can remember. Next week our social worker will meet with us individually, which scares the crap out of me. The thought that this one person will decide whether to sign off on us as potential parents… It’s terrifying. This workshop we’re attending this week will enable us to be listed with the agency as a waiting adoptive family after the home study is complete. Large amounts of money have changed hands. Things have suddenly become very real.

And while yes, I’m terrified, I’m also incredibly excited. It feels like each step gets us just a little closer to the end goal of having a child. I read the letter of recommendation that one of our good friends wrote for us this week and realized that this is really happening. While it may be years before we have a child, I think we will. One day in the future I will be a father and holy crap am I looking forward to that day.

Barcelona

When my partner was asked to speak at a conference in Barcelona months ago, she didn’t think I’d ever consider coming with her because I hate traveling, especially when it involves airplanes. But I thought about it and couldn’t think when I’d get an opportunity like this again and things in my life have been pretty stable lately, so I took a deep breath and did the unthinkable. I said let’s go! And so we bought plane tickets and booked a hotel room and I found myself making all the last minute preparations I needed to travel last week, like telling the bank not to decline my credit card for being used over seas and exchanging dollars for euros and now we’re here. And I’m so glad I came!

When I was fifteen I got an amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity to go to a field station in the Bahamas for school credit, but that was the only time aside from the few trips I’ve made into Canada that I’ve ever been out of the country before. Barcelona is full of tiny little cafes and restaurants and tapas and all of it is delicious. Our hotel is a few blocks from the Mediterranean Sea, so every night we’ve sat at a beachside restaurant drinking wine and watched the sun set. It’s been pretty incredible. Even with my very basic, rusty Spanish I’ve been able to get around okay and thankfully a lot of people here speak English for when I’ve needed help.

I’ve been exhausted because this whole trip has felt like a whirlwind of visiting places and remembering to eat and breathe and trying to sleep at night but that’s been a struggle. But I’ve felt relatively calm and at ease here, which I’m often not in places away from home. Yesterday I got lost for forty five minutes walking home from the zoo alone while my partner was at her conference and I didn’t even panic! I just kept checking google maps and figured if I really couldn’t figure things out I’d eventually be able to flag down a taxi back to my hotel and while I wound up walking a long ways farther than I otherwise might, the pride I felt when I recognized where I was at the end and realized I’d done it was awesome. Which, if you know me, is huge. I usually panic about everything, especially when there’s any deviation from the norm!

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Friday morning, we walked to La Sagrada Familia, an incredible cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudí in the 1800s which is still under construction today. Stepping inside it was breath taking and the pictures I took don’t begin to do it justice. It made me miss my Nana a lot, thinking of how much she would have loved to see such beauty and peace. We followed that up today with a visit to Palau Güell, a palace he designed for the Güell family in the gothic quarter of Barcelona and the Cathedral de Barcelona. Tomorrow we have plans to go to Park Güell.  I don’t know what else we’ll get a chance to see before we have to fly back to Boston on Wednesday morning. This whole trip has just been amazing so far though. I feel like I’ve seen so much beautiful history. I’m so grateful to be here and so glad I took the leap to make this trip.

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And I’m grateful to my partner for bringing me here for this experience. It wouldn’t be the same without her.

Happy Revolution Around The Sun

I just got home from dinner celebrating a friend’s birthday. Today is the first day in a little more than a week that I’ve felt like myself, so being out with people celebrating my friend’s life felt a little bit like stretching my legs after being stuck in the cramped backseat of a car for hours. Due to insurance changes, a medication that I really need to be on for my mental health stability was denied under my policy even though the same company had been paying for it previously for the past year and a half. Said medication also costs $60 per day, so it was not something I could afford to just buy at out-of-pocket costs, so during the week while I was waiting for my psychiatrist to sort of the prior authorization with my insurance company, my mood tanked as I ran out of medication. To make matters worse, I’ve had a house guest for the past five days, which while she was very nice and easy to get along with added stress on to my overflowing pile to the point that all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and sleep forever. Today, however, I was back on my medication and I had the energy and mental clarity to actually function for the first time since this nightmare began and it felt good to leave my apartment for the evening.* Which is awesome because I got to wish my friend a happy birthday and eat sushi with him and his friends and who doesn’t like that?

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(The above image is the birthday card I drew for my friend. It reads “Happy 20th Birthday” and has a drawing of the Crystal Gems from Steven Universe on the right hand side.)

*I want to give a moment of thanks here for my partner who is the reason my medication was actually covered today because she sat on the phone with our insurance company twice yesterday for extended periods of time arguing with them as to why they should be covering my medication and actually got them to pay for it! If it hadn’t been for her I would still be curled up in a ball in bed waiting for the world to end.

Autumn Begins Again

Fall is trying so hard to arrive. Yesterday the temperature never climbed out of the sixties and while it is supposed to be warmer today, I’m hoping the air keeps the crisp freshness I woke up to. There’s something that just feels comforting about slipping into long sleeves again after summer’s end, something about the way the cuffs of my sweatshirts gently curl around my wrists and hands that just feels more secure. Fall has always been my favorite season, even if it is not always the kindest to me. I love to watch the leaves change color, to hear them crunch under my shoes on the sidewalk after they fall. When I was a kid I loved to jump in raked piles of them, to toss them up into the air and watch them flutter back down around me even if this meant more work raking them back up again. I’ve always loved the cold, crisp air of the fall, sleeping under greater numbers of blankets in a fight to keep the windows open in my apartment just a little longer.

Fall for me is about bolstering reserves, building things up to survive the long months of winter. Maybe because I grew up in areas where winters were long and harsh, I am used to equating winter with battle. And these days, winter is just that. Within my brain, winter often becomes all out war. The days grow shorter and I begin to lose myself gradually until there is no sure footing to climb out of a deep, seemingly endless pit. I sleep more because it feels like that’s all I can do, but sleep is no refuge from the war, filled itself with nightmares and its own unique horrors. And I realize this makes it sound like I don’t fight. I do. I fight until I just can’t anymore, until I am numb and bone weary, until every last reserve that I set aside in the fall has been consumed. I fight until the only thing I can do is burrow in and try to hold on until spring rides in to my rescue, if it brings rescue at all. But every fall, every fall I try to find new tricks to make those reserves last longer and go further. Every fall, as I start to decline, I continue to store for the worse days that I know are coming.

It helps that I know what some of my triggers to collapse are. It helps that I am so familiar with my depression, though after so many depressive episodes it would be difficult not to. Treatment resistant depression is fucking awful and I don’t get many periods of complete remission. Medications help, therapy makes a huge difference, I’ve done group programs to learn skills for coping with overwhelming feelings and urges to make my life more manageable but no one can really prepare you for life when the best for what you can hope for on average might be someone else’s mediocre. It helps that I know that I usually get worse in the winter because I can plan for that, but I can’t depend on winter being the only time I have an episode or that things will get better when winter ends because my brain doesn’t work that way.

For me, there are things that always make my life more manageable. How much success I have with following these things, especially when I am depressed or triggered from trauma symptoms, are varied, but there are specific things that I have found make a difference. Waking up earlier in the day rather than sleeping in until ten or eleven AM make me feel a little more mentally alert and less fogged over. Eating regularly and often enough that my body is getting balanced, adequate nutrition helps keep my blood sugar from spiking or dropping, both of which make me more emotionally unstable. Getting out of my apartment and outside makes a huge difference. My partner knows that something is going wrong immediately when I start resisting leaving home. My agoraphobia is a lot better than it used to be so my usual resistance to going out is much lower now. When I start inventing reasons why we shouldn’t go someplace, or my answers revert to agoraphobic ones, something is wrong. I see a therapist once a week. When my life is unmanageable, I see her twice a week. Exercise. I hate to get up and move when I’m depressed and I hate to be told to get exercise, but when I’m not in the middle of a depressive episode, going for a walk makes me feel better! Hot showers. Deep breaths that fill my lungs with air because I tend to hold my breath or breathe shallowly. Watching something gentle and calming on TV. Drawing, if I can feel at all creative. Listening to music, though it can’t be depressing music that drags me deeper. Petting the cat who these days is almost always willing to be affectionate.

Next week I have my first session of trauma-informed yoga. I’m hoping that this will be something to ground me in my body and help me through this winter. Between this and the other tools I’ve gained over the years, I’m hoping to make it through the winter without a hospitalization. In the years that I’ve been back on the east coast, I have yet to make it through the winter without being admitted to an inpatient unit. The header image on this site is from a piece of artwork I made in art therapy at the hospital I was in over Christmas of 2013 (the holidays are a huge trigger for me). The hospitals are always my fallback plan in an emergency, but I would really like to not need to use them this year. I would like for my work this fall to be enough to prepare me to get through the winter without needing an admission. For now though, fall is beginning and I am beginning another year’s journey of making preparations and readying myself for what is to come. And today, I am enjoying my long sleeves in the process.

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Recognizing Patterns, Making Changes

When I came out to my parents, I was offered an ultimatum: change my mind and pretend that I had just been going through a phase or get out of their home and their lives completely. Years later, when I’d begun talking with my mother again after years of cut off communication she got angry with me about something I’d said and called me a liar. She didn’t respect liars, she told me, writing that my family had never disowned me, seemingly rewriting conversations that had long ended. In some ways, I wish I still had a copy of that e-mail from her as a reminder to myself of her remarkable ability to not only reinvent the past but thoroughly believe it.

After a recent argument with my partner where I shut down emotionally, I realized that I don’t have the ability to discern between healthy disagreements and gas lighting. Because of years of living with my mother and the years I spent in an abusive relationship, both of which where it was common to be told that my memory was incorrect, especially when they had done something particularly manipulative or cruel, I get really defensive or shut down when my version of the past doesn’t match someone else’s. If my memory of the events leading up to an argument differ from my partner’s, I can’t deal with the argument. I either feel like I’m going to be be punished for arguing that she’s wrong about what happened, upset that no one ever believes me, or paranoid that no one will ever believe me and that my memory is really just shitty and not to be trusted. It doesn’t help that my memory isn’t always trustworthy about certain things. When I get emotional, my ability to recall what is happening around me goes out the window. This has gotten worse over the years as I’ve been in more aggressive treatment for recurring major depressive episodes to the point that I don’t always trust my memory of current events.

A good friend of mine has a habit of asking me if I remember when x happened, only I have no recollection of what he’s talking about. And under normal circumstances this would probably be fine, but at times, I feel like he’s trying to convince me of a memory that isn’t mine and I feel an urge to protect myself against what feels like a “false” memory. All of this makes me feel like I am losing my mind, which is the way I felt when I was actually being gas lit by people in my life on a regular basis. Only now that I’m not, I don’t know how to convince my brain that it’s not happening anymore. Part of how I protect myself is by limiting conversations with my mother to things that we agree on and by refusing to argue with her about things. If she says something that I disagree with, I say one thing while mentally reassuring myself of my own truth at the same time and then change the subject. By not engaging her, I don’t give her as much opportunity to gaslight me. Which, I realize is kind of the same thing I do with my friend subconsciously, agreeing and changing the subject but disagreeing in my head and telling myself that it’s okay.

I think it is progress to have recognized this pattern in myself even if I don’t know how to change it yet. It doesn’t make me feel any better about it, but that’s how these things usually go. My partner and I talked this over the other day, so she is aware of what is going on in my head. My depression being in remission makes it easier, I think. Thankfully it’s summer, which is always easier for me to get through. Between the light and the endorphins from walking everywhere, my mood has been pretty even. I’m hoping that I can keep things stable through the fall and maybe even into the winter months if I keep walking and getting outside. My therapist and I are already starting to talk about tactics for hopefully keeping me out of the hospital this winter, so maybe if I’m able to stay on top of everything for once, it’ll make a difference. I’m certainly starting out in a strong place. As for all of this, it’s something I’ll bring up with her the next time I see her because I’m sure she’ll have ideas too. It’s just another one of those gifts in the never ending cycle my past brings. Thank god for trauma therapy.