Depression and Change

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I think that, as a control freak, the single most frightening thing in the world to me is to realize that I have been being crazier than I realized. I have always had a really conflicted relationship with my panic and general craziness. I mean, on the one hand, they have always been behaviors that meet needs for me. That’s not something I’m super proud of but I know it’s true. I know that’s why it started to begin with. So there is a part of me that, particularly when I was younger, took comfort in feeling “crazy.”

Crazy, which is not a very descriptive word. Therapists always ask me to “tell them more about that” and it’s very hard for me to do so. It covers a multitude of sins. It is when I am afraid of people leaving or feeling trapped and claustrophobic and retreating from everyone. It’s when I’m sending endless emails, having panic attacks, my head is full of static, I cry a lot, I create drama, sometimes I dissociate. Essentially I can’t distinguish individual emotions very well at that point so it all goes under “crazy.” I think calling it that distances me too. It writes it off, it makes it stupid. I feel stupid about it. Because when I was younger I really valued what I felt like it gave me; it made me feel like I could force people to see me, like I was part of the world even when I felt like I was drifting. It made me feel like I could force people to care about me and I always kind-of felt like that was what I needed to do. But now, now that I am older I feel much less that way. Now that I’m older I feel like it is this thing I can’t control and that brings me up short and reminds me of how much I am not the person I want to be.

The worst though, the absolute worst, is when I have descended so far into whatever is going on and I haven’t noticed. Because if nothing else I expect myself to be self-aware. I am supposed to be that. To not know what’s going on, to just be lashing out and hurting people I love and not even know I’m doing it – that is beyond unacceptable. That’s treading dangerously close to my mother territory. It’s a really cruel cycle, of course. Because when I realize that has happened, I’m already in a bad place and realizing that sends me into a whole self-hating spiral. It is not super useful. As it turns out, not all of my responses are actually useful. Who knew.

Here’s the thing – I’m really bad at transitions. Like… really bad. I feel like a lot of people say that and that when I say that people nod and smile and say oh yes, I am not good with change either. And I think that’s true. Very few people are good with change and the people who are, those people are awesome and possibly hyper-evolved individuals. But one of the things I have learned over the last few years is that I respond in a lot of ways and some of them are very counter-intuitive.

For example, you might think that when a very intense and fairly brutal quarter ends that I would be ecstatic. Or when I’m graduating and essentially just have a couple nothing classes to mop up before heading up to a whole new thing. I want to be ecstatic because dammit, that makes sense! Also that sounds like a lot more fun. But that’s not what happens. However I also don’t melt down in a really convenient and recognizable way, where I get right away what is going on. I feel, retrospectively, that I should get right away what’s going on. I’ve done this a lot of times now. But instead what happens (and when I say happens, I mean happened because I’m talking about my last two weeks here) is that I just start… cracking. Suddenly David and I are having all these problems and I’m having to have talks with him all the time. And maybe like two are legitimate and the rest even I can’t figure out why I’m upset but I know I’m really, really hurt and really, really need to deal with it right now. Because everything is an emergency. I start having bad dreams, I am suddenly  more sensitive to everything. I am eating more (or less, it can kind-of go either way), I’m suddenly way more tired all the time and taking a lot of naps. I cry a lot. Now see, when I look back at this and put that all together now, it seems really obvious to me that I’ve been depressed. But I didn’t figure that out until yesterday.

It’s hard for me to recognize patterns. I live very much exactly in the present moment. I also have not had a lot of time with trying to identify my feelings or figuring out how you’re supposed to deal with those in a healthy manner. I’m really very challenged in this way and I forget that partly because I just don’t want it to be true. I really, very much want to just be chill. Like you have no idea how much I just want to be cool with things and not need to have things planned in advance so I’m not anxious about them or have slow and hurtful meltdowns over school breaks or drag people I love into my emotional mess. I really just want to be an easy person to live with and to love. It is very hard for me to accept the reality that, although I will continue to work very hard on myself and try to get healthier and more self-aware and treat the people in my life better and all of those things, I will probably never ever be the low maintenance person I really, really want to be. But since that may never happen somehow I have to figure out what is maybe sometimes challenging but okay versus what is harmful. I know that no one is without problems or baggage or whatever. I know that. But man, it would just be nice to have a little less of it.

So you know. That’s pretty much where I’m at and why I haven’t been keeping up with my blogging and all. I’m going to try to do better. I actually wrote a blog on Wednesday but I felt like it was awful. I don’t know if it was or not but either way, it’s not getting published. 😛 Next week I should have a good amount of routine starting back in my life with more work and soon school starting for summer and stuff. I cry a lot about being busy but that’s actually what keeps me okay. So hopefully I will feel better soon, both for my sake and the sake of the people I love. Who are, for the record, all disgustingly patient with me. The end.

Valentine’s Day Thoughts

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Last year my father brought my flowers for Valentine’s Day. I don’t remember what they were, I probably didn’t really even know. I’m not much of a flowers girl. I mean, you know whatever. They’re pretty but they die (faster with me than with other people) and it seems like a bit of a waste of money. This would never have occurred to my father. In fact, I suspect that buying me flowers was trying to make some kind of a statement. He had never done it before, every year before that it had been chocolate or a small stuffed animal of some kind. My mother got flowers. Maybe it was intended to say something. Or who knows, maybe they were just having a sale on the flowers.

Most of my friends do not celebrate Valentine’s Day. They talk about how highly commercialized it is and ask things like why do you need a prescribed day on the calendar to tell someone that you care about them? These are totally valid points of view, they’ve just never rung particularly true for me. Commercialization has rarely bothered me that much. Maybe it’s just remnants of growing up the way I did but although I’ll occasionally roll my eyes at certain things, for the most part I just don’t pay much attention. And of course I’m a big believer in telling the people you love that you love them all the time, any day of the year and I totally try to do that. But I’m also a really big fan of presents and excuses to buy presents and dumb reasons to insert chocolate into your day to day life. Not that I think one necessarily needs a reason but I enjoy having one.

I don’t remember when my parents first started buying us Valentine’s Day gifts. It’s been going on as long as I can remember. It was a notable holiday because it was the only time that my mother and father got us separate things. It wasn’t like they were big things; a lot of years they were just two different bags of chocolate, but still I knew that my dad had gone and picked out that bag of chocolate, which he never did with anything else. At some point when my brothers were teenagers my father explained to them that they would no longer be getting presents from him because apparently it wasn’t “appropriate.” You know how dangerous it can be, buying your teenage sons chocolate to tell them you love them on Valentine’s Day. People might look askance. Nonetheless, I still got presents from both of them. It was around that time that he started getting me small stuffed animals instead, slightly different things. They were no less stereotypical. I don’t think it would ever once have crossed my father’s mind that he could look for a present that would actually have meaning to me. If it had I suspect he wouldn’t have had the first clue where to begin. But the last stuffed animal he got me I kept until my dog found it and chewed it up. It was just a cheap, crappy little teddy bear but I knew he had gone out and gotten it, even though he hated shopping, even though he hated the whole thing. It was his attempt to say he loved me. Even those damn flowers from last year, less then a month before I stopped speaking to them for good, went into a vase and stayed there till there was basically nothing left.

So you know. I’m not particularly sad today about my lack of significant significant other. Valentine’s Day has never been about that to me. Looking back on what it has been about it all seems pretty empty and sad and like a pretense that I can’t believe we all kept up so long. Truthfully that makes me sad in a whole different way. Me playing loving daughter, him playing loving father. Buying the things girls are supposed to like, me keeping all of the things as if I could give them the meaning I wanted them to have by sheer force of will. Nothing works out like you think it will. And this year I don’t even have chocolate.

Memorial Services and Family Pretense

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My apologies for a missed day, readers. Everything caught up to me all at the same time and then my car developed some charming new characteristics which will require money to fix and blogging tragically fell by the wayside. I am disappointed in myself but we must press on because that is the thing to do. So, forward march and all of that.

The memorial of my not uncle is this weekend. I’m honestly not sure what to call him. He and my aunt were together for like 10 years so to call him her boyfriend seems ridiculous but he wasn’t her husband. Partner? Lover? Long-time companion? Titles are stupid. He died just before the new year, after being sick for a very long time. I have realized that I probably need to go. My aunt kind-of dropped out of the picture after they got together. My theory is that she knew my mother would be super judgmental about her living in sin with her boyfriend (she was totally correct) and so just cut her off before she got there? But either way, she cut all of us out and our contact has been nothing but weird Christmas interactions where everyone pretends that things are totally normal and that we’ve been talking for the last decade or so and that this is not the only time we see each other every year. Every year she hugs me and tells me she loves me and how much she misses me and how much she wishes I would come down for a weekend. And I say I love her too and certainly, that would be great, feel free to email or call me anytime. Knowing all the while that she never will and that this is just some strange and bizarre game that we play that apparently makes her feel better. It’s confusing and it kind-of grosses me out. But now he’s dead and he was a nice man and I do love her and I don’t think I can not go.

Of course this means I will almost certainly see my parents. Who, despite the fact that they cared very much about my aunt’s “lifestyle choices”, will almost certainly also feel they have to go and we will all play out a whole different and bizarre thing as a family. I am not great at being in my family. I hate the idea of seeing my parents. But it’s not a great choice either way and not going would make me feel insane amounts of guilt. So I’m going and later that night David has said I can come over so that I can remember that oh yeah, there are people who still like me. Because somehow just by existing my parents can still make me forget that.

Also I need to take my car to a mechanic and find out just how much it’s going to cost to make me be able to put it in park again. Best weekend ever!

 

Gratitude and Stalking

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So I sort-of stalked my parents last night. This is a slight exaggeration. What actually happened was that yesterday I went to my friend’s house for Thanksgiving and I ate unbelievably delicious food (because she’s an amazing cook) and I spent the day being pretty okay that I was sans family and then, on the way home, there was my parent’s street and instead of driving straight home as I obviously should have, I turned off. Nothing happened. I drove past their house, I turned around, I went home. Then I called David and he very kindly informed me that he didn’t think I was crazy. Which was very comforting and either a true thing or the sort of thing you say to placate a crazy person. I guess I’ll trust it was the former.

I haven’t really made my way yet in this blog to why I walked away from my folks. I’m sure that’ll come in time. For now I’ll just stick with that it was necessary for my health. But there was that moment last night, as I was driving by, turning around, when I thought to myself “I could just park. I could just park and walk up to the door and maybe they would be happy to see me.” Because some part of my brain wants to imagine that my parents are people they are not, wants to believe that losing their only daughter might have been enough that they would be willing to change, to listen. I want to believe I’m not expendable from my family. I didn’t walk away as a move, I want to make that clear. I didn’t do it in the hopes that it would make them change or that they’d come running after me. I walked because I had no choice and I did not want them to follow. But you know, at the end of it all holidays are a bitch and no matter how difficult your family might be they are still your family. I don’t regret the decision I made and yet there I was, on a dark street skulking past the house I moved into at 9 years old like I was casing it. Grief is a funny thing.

And yet. I spent all day with friends. I woke up yesterday morning so excited to send off text messages to a few people letting them know I was thankful for them. I came home from my unexpected side trip last night almost in tears and called David and he spent about 20 minutes telling me that I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t melodramatic. This just sucks and it was going to. Then a giant spider tried to murder him so he had to flee for his life. Sometimes life happens. The point is that I have so many people I love. I never knew it was possible to have so many people that I loved or who loved me. I never expected that. I will be 30 in 3 months and I’ve never been happier. There is grief, it’s part of the process. But it turns out I’m not alone in it. So this Thanksgiving weekend, I am in fact incredibly thankful. Thankful that although I may have walked out on most of my own family, I have more support than I have ever had in my life. Thankful that I have people I love and who love me back. Thankful that I have people I feel safe with, thankful I get to be part of so many people’s lives. I really do have an amazing life and I’m so grateful for it.

Thoughts on Mother

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Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to have a mom. I was in class the other day and one of my classmates asked me something and I said something about my “mother” and she said “You know, it says so much in some ways that you call her ‘mother’. It’s so strangely formal. I call mine mamma.” I tried to remember. I think there were times when I was younger and trying to wheedle something out of her that I would call her mommy. It seems strange to me to even think of it now. I can barely even think of her as mom.

It’s been over 6 months now since I last actually saw my parents, other than for a few minutes at my grandmother’s funeral in August. I miss my dad. Less now than I did for a while but there are still days where I feel it and it’s deep and it hurts and I hate it because there’s no end in sight right now. But I don’t miss my mother and my only explanation for that is that I don’t feel like there was that much to miss. It’s not as if she was ever a person I could go tell things to or trust with anything. I don’t remember a time I ever didn’t feel on guard around my mother or like there was a level of emotional danger there. I know she loves me but it has always been both too much and never enough. She is both very distant and unreachable, and also overwhelming in her emotional force.

I wonder what it would be like to have a mom I could call when something exciting happens, or to run to when I was upset or trying to figure something out. I wonder what it would feel like to be comforted and have that be okay. I don’t really have any thoughts on that and truthfully I don’t feel any intense bitterness over the lack. It’s hard to miss what you never really had. There are just days I wonder what life might have been like in that alternate reality where my mother had been able to soften instead of harden, where she had opened up and been able to heal instead of curling up around all of her hurt. I wonder who I would be and if it would be better or worse than who I am now.

It doesn’t matter but I do wonder.

Thoughts on LGBT

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So, despite the fact that I have periodically slept with girls, I have never really considered myself bisexual. When one of my previous partners used to press the issue, I would just waffle and say “It’s complicated.” In the last year or two I have occasionally used the term “heteroflexible,” which I feel slightly more comfortable with. Part of this could be due to my upbringing, of course. I’m sure it will be shocking to hear, but part of being raised in a Conservative Christian home is not a deep and abiding acceptance of  homosexuality in any form and certainly I considered my occasional forays with women to be wrong. However, I also had what I considered a perfectly valid explanation for it – I had dealt with sexual abuse and that was what had caused it. This made sense to me and I saw no reason to question the theory. It explained why my attraction to women felt really different than my attraction to men. In a lot of ways, women were safer, I felt more comfortable and in control around them. It seemed to fit well enough. That was what I believed for many years and I felt okay with it.

Now I started thinking about this when I was thinking about possibly helping out my supervisor this quarter with the LGBT youth support group he’s talking about. It’s something he’s very passionate about because of his own experiences growing up with limited support and being bullied and such, which I think is wonderful and I absolutely want to be able to help with that. But I guess when I think about it, looking at it from the perspective I have now, this is another reason I don’t claim bisexuality. I don’t really feel like I have the right.

Look, I was never bullied for my sexual preferences. Even with my family and all of that kind of thing, it was a deviation, it wasn’t who I was. I know my dad was mildly terrified I might at some point decide to come out, but I was never worried about that. I’ve never had to come out. I’ve told people over the years, of course, but it has not been the coming out experience. I had exactly one bad experience where I told a Christian friend that I had had experiences with women and she was completely disgusted and told me she didn’t want to hear anymore. But there were many problems in that relationship; that was only one of several horrible conversations we had. I have spent several years now reading about LGBT history periodically, trying to understand what they’ve been through as a community, what they continue to go through today and I do not feel like I have any part of that or should attempt to. The truth is, if I had been growing up in like the 50’s or something, I just never would have acted on any of this (I mean, as much as you have any idea what you might or might not have done). I would never have acted on it because I don’t typically feel any need to act on it. I have enjoyed my experiences with women and it’s entirely possible it could happen again and if it did, I would see what that looked like. But I don’t miss it when it’s not there. I tend much more strongly towards men and I always have.

I guess what I most strongly have gotten (at this point) from my personal attractions is just a fair amount of empathy and confusion over why it is a big deal. To me it seems normal to at least think about both genders so I have a hard time understanding why it is such a crisis situation for people, even if you do believe it’s wrong. But I feel like I belong more as friend and supporter than part of the group, so to speak. I’m not sure if it even really matters. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about and I did promise something shorter this week.

Loving People and Being Loved

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“Love is like riding or speaking French. If you don’t get the trick when you’re young, it’s hard to master later on.”
(Downton Abby)

One of the hardest things about being a teenager is that you can’t see how big the world is yet. This is even more challenging when you are a teenager being raised in a fairly strict conservative Christian home, being homeschooled and having parents who are trying their absolute best to keep you from being damaged by the terrifying world outside the door. It’s very hard to be in that situation and to understand the absolute fact that not everyone lives this way. It’s hard to internalize an incredibly important, incredibly simple truth

Things will not always be like this.

Everything in high school lasts forever.  Being in love, depression, fights with your best friends, all the best and worst parts of your life are the most intense they will ever be and they seem to matter more. When you are growing up in a deeply unhealthy or abusive home, it’s hard to understand that the whole world doesn’t look like this. Make no mistake – love is a learned behavior. When we are raised in an emotionally unstable environment, that’s what we learn. When we’re taught that love isn’t a stable force and isn’t something to be relied on, that’s what we internalize. The most important thing I ever learned was that there was a different world out there somewhere and that possibly I didn’t always have to live the way I did growing up.

My brother and I went to go see a movie last week called The Way Way Back. It was an excellent movie and it was primarily about exactly this. A young boy in a bad situation. He has a shitty soon to be stepfather who makes him feel bad (played really fantastically by the wonderful Steve Carrell). It’s not exactly abuse but it’s a bad situation and he’s watching his mother walk into this really terrible relationship and he can’t do anything and he is frustrated and overwhelmed. What does love look like? Does it look like this? And through a series of dumb coincidences he ends up finding his place at a breaking down water park, run by a happy-go-lucky sort of fellow who takes an interest in him and cares about him. That’s it. He cares about him. Mostly they joke around, he does his job. They don’t have a lot of serious conversations but you can see him start to realize this very important lesson.

There are places he can belong.

I grew up not really understanding what it meant to love somebody or to be loved. I knew those words and I knew they were important and I knew I was fighting for it all of the time but I didn’t know what it looked like. I knew that it was really hard work and sometimes that’s true. But it’s not as hard as I thought. It’s not the constant bleeding that I thought it was. The truth is that there are really amazing, fucked up, imperfect people out there (because that’s all of us one way or another), who love freely and openly and who take you in on your best or worst days. There are so many families and so many homes. There are so many people willing to be on your side. That’s what changed everything for me and it still does on a sometimes daily basis. Wherever I am now, even if it sucks (and there are days that it does), this isn’t where I stay. It is harder to learn what love is like, giving and receiving, as a grown-up than I think it would have been as a kid. I’m pretty sure that’s a true thing and I struggle with it more days than I like to admit. But there are so many people I can look at and see that they love me and each other, so many people I’m able to love. I’m okay with that.

Finding Home

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Once we make real peace with who we are, anywhere/one we end up with becomes home.

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“You’ve always had the power to get back to Kansas.”

I think I’ve been looking for home my entire life. I spent most of my early years convinced that I could fix the pieces I’d been handed, that if I just tried hard enough I could be the glue between the family I’d been given and the family I chose. I thought there was a way to force people to love me, to create the place I could only dimly imagine, by sheer force of will if necessary. Looking back, it’s really obvious now that that was never going to work but you have to try, right? In my case you have to try until you’ve hit your head against the wall so many times that you can’t see anymore and you finally admit, still grudgingly, that this is not a practical plan. I don’t let go easily.

As I got older I did begin to move away from that particular doomed enterprise. Although I still tried to involve where I came from, I started to move more towards a different model. My parents were no longer part of my day to day life and my home was theoretically something I created so I took a different kind of role in that. I started collecting people. I will admit there was not a great deal of thought or planning that went into this. I had a vague idea that if someone needed me in their life and I happened to be available, then it must mean that God meant me to be in their life. I started building a family, I started making a space. For a while this meant I lived with four other girls in a two-bedroom apartment. This was not emotionally wise or safe for anyone involved but I never questioned it. I wasn’t planning; I was just gathering pieces up and throwing them together as fast as I could. I was sure that, when everything was finished, it would look right. After all, home doesn’t have to be perfect and I wasn’t exactly working from a blueprint. What this did mean was that I was fiercely protective of what I was building. I felt threatened if relationships weren’t working out the way I thought they should, if our friendships weren’t meshing properly, if everyone wasn’t getting along. I took responsibility for everyone’s interaction. I had days of the week set aside to hang out with everyone individually to make sure that everyone felt like they had time and affection and connection. It was something of a complicated system and, if something went wrong with it, I got extremely upset and depressed. I was making a home and nothing (and no one) could get in the way of that.

That family lasted for a while and, despite all of the problems, it was important to me and there were some wonderful things that came out of it, amazingly enough. But people get married, people move on. I changed too. It was a couple years ago that I had my first hint that home possibly didn’t have to mean so much work. When everything completely fell apart, when I was at one of my lowest points (possibly my lowest) and I ended up on my friends’ couch, a complete mess. For the first time in my life I found out that sometimes home means people take care of you when you’re down, sometimes people are remarkably gentle and kind, even when you don’t have anything to pay them back with. I didn’t know that before. I always thought you had to work really hard to make those kinds of pieces fit, that bending over backwards and fighting every step of the way was pretty much part of the process. Yet here I was, laid out and exhausted, with no energy to fight much of anything and it turned out there were just people who listened to me and loved me. Maybe home meant something a lot different than I thought. I got sidetracked by that. I thought maybe they were the only ones who could love me that way; that my home could only exist with them. When they moved across the country, I was adrift. Where did I belong now?

“Think of a way to run home, Jack. Run home.”

When I went to go visit them, it was better and worse in a way. I felt back at home immediately but I knew I’d have to go back and how could I go back? J said something important to me and it’s stuck with me and evolved. He told me that he thought I would find that home was a moving target and that they wouldn’t stop being that for me but that I would find I had others. It was all a matter of perspective. Home isn’t a single place or person, which leads me back up to what I started with, which came from an email a friend sent me.

When I look back over the last year of my life, I have to admit that I find this to be so true. I cannot believe how many homes there are, how many places and people I have in my life. Some of them, particularly in the past few months, have been incredibly unexpected and yet I still feel that I fit, that I am loved, that I am a part of people’s lives and they are part of mine. It’s not mandated, like it once was. It’s not set in stone. There are people it would break my heart to lose but if I lost them, I haven’t lost my only place. People come and go and some relationships have a longer time set on them than others. I’ve spent most of my life holding so tightly to the people I love, thinking that if they leave, if it hurts that much, then I’ll never be able to put things right again. I always have felt like if I lose one or two pieces, the whole world falls apart but that’s really not looking at it the right way at all. Every person I’ve loved gave me things and I gave them things in return. You’re building something together. I don’t think home is a place or a person, although it can be both. I think maybe it’s what you build and take with you as you go.