TW/CN: Abuse/IPV/manipulation

I’m letting the title stand as my trigger warning here because I’m going to be writing about some things that have happened over the past month and years. I was in an abusive relationship. It didn’t get physically abusive, but toward the end I was afraid that it might. I need to write about it. It might come out disjointed. I’ll probably talk about my remaining partners’ experiences and feelings as I know them, too. Mostly, I just want anyone who reads this to know and have really fair warning that I’m going to be talking about this experience–for my own health and sanity if nothing else. And I’m a little afraid that said partner will actually come read this and say things or .. I don’t know. I have fears I don’t want to give expression to, I guess.

Anyway.

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Adventures in Sleep and Grief

About a year ago, I finally had a much-needed sleep study done. It was an at-home sleep study, to the surprise of everyone involved (myself, my doctor, my partners, my therapist). Maybe my insurance provider wasn’t surprised? Anyway, shortly after the test, my doctor’s office had to cancel my results appointment because they had a computer training class that day. I said I would reschedule.

And then I didn’t.

Some of that was depression. Some of that was brain fog and fatigue. Some of it was life and being bad at adulting. Some of it was exhaustion.

Finally, around March–my grandma had been doing okay-ish. I knew she was up and down, health-wise. I’d been up and down, too, depression-wise. I’d been through some suicidal ideation, broken through due to getting angry at my parents, and come back to it. I kept kind of…waiting on The Call that something was Going Worse with my grandma. But it hadn’t come, and so in March, I decided to finally make that doctor’s appointment again.

I went, and I found out that I have sleep apnea (to probably no one’s surprise who has ever heard me snore). My oxygen saturation level was dropping to 66% at night (hence my constant brain fogginess) and I was stopping breathing up to 15 times per hour. That’s…no wonder I stopped having my super-vivid dreams, and no wonder I have felt so tired all the time, and no wonder a lot of things, right?

So my doctor said I needed to go for another sleep evaluation, to get fitted for a cpap, in-clinic. So we scheduled that.

And then my grandma fell and cracked her head open on her bathroom floor.

My dad was there, thankfully. He got her to the hospital, but he had to clean all that up alone. I don’t know how he did it. I don’t know if I would’ve had the strength.

Grandma’s health deteriorated pretty rapidly from there. It felt slow. But…that was March, and by the beginning of July, she was gone.

In between, I had my evaluation. That went okay. It was weird, to have the paste in my hair and to try to sleep in the clinic. I don’t sleep well in strange settings at the best of times. Being nervous about people watching me sleep, and having things attached to me…plus the fact that I somehow dislocated and relocated my shoulder while settling in for the night and so was in a lot of pain (only me!) meant I felt like I didn’t sleep much.

The lady who worked with me–a nurse? attendant? clinician?–seemed to think I’d feel so much better! when I woke up, that I’d feel an immediate difference. I don’t think I slept as much as she thought I did. I *did* feel some difference through the day, but I was still exhausted at night.

I was told I’d have my cpap within a couple of days.

A month later, I still didn’t have it, and I was having to yell at my doctor’s office that I didn’t have it. They’d wanted to schedule me for a ‘review of how I’m doing’ on it, and, well, it’s hard to do that without actually being on it.

I didn’t actually get it until about a month ago now, in August.

I missed some time with Grandma because of that, because for a little bit they kept calling me each week to say “It’s on its way” or “We don’t have the information from your doctor,” and my doctor kept insisting they had sent the information.

Then I missed some time with Grandma because we found out my wife has a very small, benign brain tumor on her pituitary gland.

The last time I saw Grandma, she clutched my hand…she knew, and I knew, and we both knew that we both knew it was the last time.

It’s been two months, and I miss her so much.

And I can actually feel that. And sit in it. And think about it. And remember things. Because this cpap…being able to breathe at night means my brain functions during the day.

I wish I’d been able to do that while she was still here.

Though for the first few weeks, this thing was a terror. I’d been told it would aid my depression, my anxiety, make things so much better. Instead, I got vivid nightmares from which I couldn’t wake myself; during the day, my brain busied itself remembering and reliving all the worst parts of my life. I felt haunted.

That has somewhat eased now, although I still have occasional nightmares and very very vivid dreams. I started playing my way through all the Escape The Room games I could find on my phone to occupy my brain with something other than Bad Thoughts.

I hid in bed for…it feels like a long time. It’s been a couple of weeks, I guess. I’m not in it now, but it has felt like a long time.

My brain is working now. That’s something. My sleep schedule is…weird. I think I need to start recording it again. I keep falling asleep anywhere from 7p-11p (if I can keep myself awake that long–it’s seriously a challenge) and waking around 1a-5a. Sometimes I wake a little later, but not usually. I get tired pretty easily through the day, and sometimes have a 2-hour nap. One hour doesn’t seem to suffice.

I have discovered that I really cannot go without the cpap. Sleeping, even for 10 minutes, without it leaves me feeling like I’ve been choked and like my head is full of cotton. Is that how I felt all the time a month ago? It’s so hard not to doze off somewhere sometimes–I want to be able to drift into a pleasant nap on the couch like I used to do occasionally–but I know that if I do, I’ll wake in that strangled state.

It’s nice to be able to think. I’m still tired, though. Something else is definitely ‘wrong’ with my body, something other than the sleep apnea. My brain is sharper, and I’m waking naturally and sleeping naturally, so I think that is ‘fixed’ as it can be for now. So…I need to figure out what the rest is.

Anyway, I can sleep. I can breathe while doing it. I can grieve. I am struggling still with depression and anxiety, so the cpap hasn’t fixed that, but maybe it’s helping? I actually pulled myself out of bed for a walk today. And I have been fixing some of my own food. Maybe I will regain some of my independence. Maybe I can find my way to a new healthy.

 

Mental Health Therapy and Luxury

Therapy for mental health is and is not a luxury.

On the one hand, such therapy can be expensive and is often not readily available. Some therapists aren’t covered by insurances plans. Some offer sliding scale fees, and some do not (based on their needs for keeping their practices going/themselves fed/etc.). Too many people consider therapy to be something for ‘privileged’ people, something that is frou-frou or extra. Many terrible stereotypes about therapy, therapists, and those of us who avail ourselves of mental health services exist and are perpetuated. These things all work to make therapy a luxury for many people, in the sense that it is not easily affordable/accessible for these people.

Personally, this cost keeps me up at night. I guilt myself for using resources to take care of myself when I’m not financially contributing to our living situation. And yet, taking the steps to take care of my mental health has been life-saving.

On the other hand, therapy is not the same thing as a luxury good such as an expensive car, watch, set of cook ware, mansion, TV, or any other thing. While these things are also not affordable/accessible for many people, they do not provide a healing service.

I’ve heard, far too often for my liking, pairings of “I can’t afford therapy” and “I’m buying an (or more than one) expensive item,” from people who are experiencing mental health issues. People get to choose how they spend their money and manage their mental health–but those two statements don’t logically fit together.

As well, as someone for whom mental health services are a need, such statements sound to me like the speaker does not believe the issues I’m (or any one else dealing with mental illness) working with/through are real. It sounds dangerously close to saying, “Why go to therapy when you could just do XYZ other thing?” or “Oh, you should just get over it.” That may not be the intent, but it is the impact.

I cannot buy my way to mental health. I am not positive that anyone can. Even in my fundamental Christian upbringing, I got that message:

Of course, the Titanic did sink–which makes this song a bit odd once I really stop to think about it–but that repetition of not being able to buy my way to happiness? of not being able to get myself to mental wellness via money? I was gifted that even in my super-Christian, super-fundamental background, courtesy of Amy Grant.

Even though I prick myself about the costs associated with therapy, I am grateful to know that I can’t buy my way to wellness. I wish I had better words to express this, in the moment, to the people in my life who have implied that therapy and luxury goods are of a kind.

Validation and Empathy

Somewhere along my life path–pretty early on, I think–I picked up the idea that I had to seek validation from outside sources. What I did was very important; who I was, less so. One set of ‘parents’ paid me for grades (though they didn’t have to–I would have received straight A’s just for the achievement of it, and because I found school both enjoyable and easy), while the other punished me if I received anything below an A (including high B’s). I volunteered and participated in so many different ways, from church to school to community, in a continuous balancing act of pleasing two sets of parents with conflicting ideals.

I didn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, sneak out, get in trouble in school, or have sex (until I was 18, and that’s a whole different story).

And yet, I was never good enough. From at least age 12 onward, my life was full of accusations of how I was screwing up, how I would never make it, how I was doing all the things I explicitly did not do (drugs, drinking, sex) and not doing all the things I explicitly did do (good grades, volunteering). I was constantly trying to prove myself against this backdrop of irrational disbelief.

The few times I felt recognition for what I did do felt like heaven.

At the same time, I also learned or was born with a huge dose of empathy. It wasn’t until recently that I read anything by David Foster Wallace and realized I’ve been doing that my whole life: finding compassionate reasons for the things that seem to cause others’ blood to boil.

{This empathy caused a small tiff between my grandfather and me once, when a waitress slopped his coffee onto his saucer as she sat cup-and-saucer on the diner table. Grandpa began grumbling about how horrible this was, that this was the most terrible thing, that he ought not to tip her for that. I pointed out that perhaps she’d had a long shift or a bad day, and maybe he could give her a break. He shot back that I would be a lawyer for all the criminals someday. He did tip her, though.}

Right now, my empathy and need for validation are tangling nastily with one another. I’m in the process of trying to learn how to validate myself after 30-odd years of seeking outside approval. I’m trying to undo that awful voice inside me that says if I don’t do XYZ thing, I am not worthy of love and respect. At the same time, my empathy for various people and situations makes me want to do more.

However, if I am doing in order to feed my own validation, I am doing for the wrong reason–and I will likely end up hurting more than helping. These struggles are not about me–but if I let the need for approval/validation win, I will make them be about me, and that will be wrong.

And so I am struggling with myself, and learning to have empathy with myself.

God said "Love your enemy" and I obeyed him and loved myself. - Khalil Gibran

Permission and Danger

A few weeks ago, I read this blog post and then messaged my wife: “This seems so dangerous to me.”

She read it and then replied, “What about this seems dangerous to you?”

And indeed, it’s something that shouldn’t probably seem dangerous. For those who didn’t click through (though really, you should, the story is well worth the read), the story is (at its simplest) about a younger man learning from his older friend not to ask permission to do what he wants with his life.

To me, that screams DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!

I realized, while reading that post, that I have spent my whole life asking permission to do everything. Often my ‘asking permission’ comes across as ‘just doing what I want,’ but in actuality I’m asking: is it okay? Is it okay if I go to grad school now? Is it okay if I go to this grad school? May I go to this program? What about this, or this, or this?

Some of the permission-asking makes some sense. I have a wife, and now a lover and a boyfriend, and so there are others whose considerations must be taken. My wife, in particular, bears legal and financial burdens with me. My wife and boyfriend, in particular, move with me. So if I am thinking about attending a school across the country, then I should be discussing that with them.

But that’s the crux, I think. I don’t merely discuss. I ask. I don’t ‘just do.’ I ask.

At various points in my life, I have found myself marveling at people who ‘just do’ things–from going to stores to moving across countries. How do they do that? I wonder. How do they just do that? Until reading that blog post, I never realized that my underlying question was, Whose permission do they have?

Likely, they only have their own permission, as adult human beings.

I could stand to give myself permission more often, I think. I wish I could figure out how to make it seem less dangerous.

Experiencing Depression

One of my favorite Vloggers, Laci Green, did a pretty personal vlog on her channel, Sex+, about her own experience with depression. It’s worth a watch:

She’s right when she says depression is isolating, just like TheBloggess is right when she says that depression is a lying bastard.

It’s hard to remember, in the thick of it.

For me, this most recent experience of depression has existed as a series of dips along a continuum. I can’t remember when I first felt myself falling into the hole…it’s been a really long time. I’ve been here for a really long time. Sometimes, the hole is deeper and darker than other times, and I feel like it’s so dark I can’t see the way out. I have suicidal ideation. I feel like no matter how hard a light shines, it cannot pierce the darkness. And then…somehow…because I make myself talk to Eren or Zyn, because I make myself move away from my brain long enough and focus into movies for six hours instead of staring into the heartache of racism and sexism/misogyny and transphobia and heteronormativity and monosexism, of staring into all the ways I’ve failed to be perfect….

Somehow, I come out of the deeper pits.

I’m still in the gray, though. I get a little higher some days, and some days I remember what it was like when I felt like I could touch the sky, what it felt like when the wind brushed my skin and sunlight poured in.

I think part of this is that so many days, I have trouble even moving. I would like to get out more. Heat exhausts me, and we’re being slammed with heat waves. Sometimes reaching down hurts. Sometimes walking hurts.

And I am riddled insecurities–that I read so much and post so many readings that my friends are annoyed, that I ‘love’ or ‘like’ too many things on various social networking sites, that I clog my friends’ feeds.

It makes it difficult to do what I’d like to do with this blog–more in-depth posting, less personal posting. I need to dig into things, and keep up with my academic things for that. Instead, I’m listless, and reading so much to run away from my brain, and then feeling empathic pain from much of my chosen reading, and then doing neither the digging in nor the posting.

I’m trying to remember to be compassionate with myself. My wife is certainly compassionate with me. I’m trying to remember that not everyone is completely irritated with my lack of ability to do anything, or disappointed in me.

I’m trying to figure out if there are triggers for some of these deeper pits. I think there are, for some of them. Some of them seem (for now) unavoidable. Others mystify me for now.

My experience with depression is much like what I think (without re-reading) this blog post probably reads like: a lot jumbled, as my mind tries to skitter away from things I need to examine in order to repair myself. I have at least e-mailed a therapist.

I am hopeful for more and better posting as I find my way out of the depth and gloom.

Mental & Chronic Illness & Sex & Poly; Trigger Warnings should abound

Taking a cue from both TheBloggess and my own life currently, I will address mental and chronic illness and sex and love.

TheBloggess challenged:

HOW HAS MENTAL ILLNESS AFFECTED YOU PERSONALLY?  WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM IT THAT MIGHT HELP OTHERS?

My answers:

I didn’t start to define myself as chronically ill until a couple of months ago. The term floated in and out of my consciousness a few times–my migraines has been worsening over the last few years, to the point that I had more migraines than days without–but I resisted. I’ve done the same with terms like depression and anxiety–embracing them as descriptors sometimes and rejecting them at others.

I deal with depression and anxiety, with migraines, high blood pressure, and early-onset arthritis. Sometimes these things feed into one another. The migraines apparently caused the high blood pressure, which caused more migraines, and so on. Being made to stay in bed upped both my depression and anxiety. I think the arthritis wanted to come hang out with my early gray hair (that showed up in my teens!), but stuck around to pile on with the migraine party (it settled in my neck).

For me, depression has come in waves. There have been points in my life when I’ve been fine. There have been other points when I have been paralyzed, almost, from the inside out. I’m in one of those points now. I find it difficult to actually leave my apartment. I can think about it, I can make plans to do it–but the actual doing terrifies me sometimes. Depression and anxiety lie: they tell me that even my closest friends sneer at me, think terrible things of me, hate me–even though those same friends have never been anything but happy to see me, kind and loving and full of laughter and support.  And when I drop one thing, I often feel like I’ve dropped everything–even when that’s not true. It can lead to me dropping everything, though. And that can very easily, very quickly spiral into the deepest, darkest pit.

I’m fortunate that I have the community I do around me. I didn’t realize it when I started building it, but I have been working toward what polyamorous comic KimchiCuddles calls Kitchen Table Poly:

SAMSUNG CSC

I have a fantastic wife. I have a fantastic boyfriend/Daddy. I have a fantastic lover. My wife has a wonderful girlfriend, and another flirty friend who is dating one of our best friends–someone we consider part of our polycule as a chosen sibling, because we’ve been friends that long and that closely.

I have learned that when the darkest darkness shows up, I not only can but also should call my wife home from work. I have only done that once–but she came, and that was enough, and she held me. I have learned that a cat’s purr is magic, and that it can be recreated online for free. I have learned that crying can be healing, and that sitting in the sunlight–just sitting, even for 20 minutes, even if I’m in my pajamas with my hair unbrushed–really can help. I have learned to just walk away from Facebook, politics, e-mail when they start to overwhelm–and I’ve learned to say when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Every area of my life has been affected by both my mental and chronic illnesses. Where I used to deal with my depression and social anxiety by talking with people online/having lots of sex online, I have for the past year or two had almost zero energy for either. I’ve had very little social interaction with anyone not living with me, which has severely limited my world. I’m incredibly grateful to the few people who take the time out of their lives to reach out to me on social media or e-mail (though the phone ringing still scares the bejeezus out of me), even when I’m avoiding those platforms for other things. I’m grateful to the people who find me on Skype, who will come find me in my chosen MMO when I have the energy to get into it. I’m thankful for the days I can load the dishwasher, for the patience of my wife and boyfriend/Daddy as I find myself in a really disabled spot, and of my lover as he has to figure me out from a distance.

When I started to get some energy back, I found out that I couldn’t always have online sex with my long-distance lover–because of the arthritis in my neck. Or, more accurately, I could–but it would result in days of pain afterward in my shoulder. Using my dominant arm/hand means pain for days, even for masturbation. My wife, wonder that she is, offered to help in that department, but I pointed out that a) she’s not always home/awake when lover and I might want to play and b) it’s not necessarily fair to all involved to make her be involved in such a way–though it was very sweet of her to offer. This has been a huge adjustment for my lover and I to make. It can be very very frustrating to want and be unable.

I’ve had to learn that for me, right now, solid plans are nearly a no-go. I’ve got plans to get my grandma to see her nephew in another state–something that’s been in the works for years now and needs to happen before she dies (she was diagnosed as terminally ill with cancer a year ago and is somehow, miraculously less cancer-cell-ridden now than she was then, though not cured)–and that’s the most solid plan I have made right now. Everything else is soft, because even with medication, I don’t know when the next migraine will come. The preventative helps–but leaves me exhausted. I can take one that will help kill the pain in 2-4 hours as well once the first signs of migraine show up–but will also leave me nauseated. Choices, choices. Either way, not great for plans. I’m re-learning how to live my life.

I have dreams–dreams that involve being able to hold down a solid schedule. I don’t know if those dreams will have to change. I had hoped to create an interfaith center focused on sexuality and gender, but that seems ever more distant a dream right now. I may need to stick to research, to papers, to hinge on books and independent academia–dicey at best. But then, all academia is a dicey prospect, whether attached to an institution or not.

At the very least, I have options. And I do have hopes, dreams. If I cannot do what I first intended, perhaps I can inspire others in that path. And perhaps I can still do it. Perhaps I will become stronger, I will get out of this current low point, I will strengthen my neck and shoulder somehow, I will find a drug that doesn’t tire/nauseate me, I will find good therapy. My lover will move here, my kitchen table poly will be stronger, my sex life will get better, my boyfriend/Daddy’s arms will always be there, my wife will always hold me. These are the things I hold onto.