Anxiety, Agency, and Trauma (oh my…)

I recently went out with a guy. It was going great, late into the night. A lot of easy conversation and joking and laughing. Until we got on the subject of why we both moved here. Both fleeing, for one reason or another. He was transparent about why he came here, and that conversation had flowed well until he asked 

what trauma brought me here.

I haven’t perfected my light, breezy brush off for that question. I haven’t thought about it at all. I certainly hadn’t expected it to come up in our otherwise fun and carefree night.

And so, typical me, overwhelmed by someone who barely knows me identifying events, which I have only considered in passing, as traumatic, started to cry.

Just kidding!

I pushed those tears back into their ducts with a sharp pain in my nose and a tight throat, looked down at my drink, and mumbled whatever I could to move away from the question.

What brought me to the other side of the country?

A lot of things! But the final straw was a few terrible people.  And that is what I could and should have said! Or, “A bad relationship and terrible friend.” Or, maybe, “I fell in with a bad crowd and spending time with them amplified my worst traits, insecurities, and weaknesses.” But even if I had those answers prepared, I probably would have reacted with the same overwhelming panic.

Trauma isn’t something to be taken lightly, and I’m hesitant to identify anything in my life as traumatic, because of the lingering, subjective question,

was it really that bad?

Some people I trusted were mean to me. Lied, laughed at me, snuck around together. They were cruel. I’m sure that at least one of them enjoyed the pain she caused. BUT no one died. There was no natural disaster. No physical or sexual abuse. No accidents, no violence.

I hear the word “traumatized” thrown around a lot. I’m cynical about the reason. Do people open up more about trauma these days? Are they so casual about their mental health? Or has the word been dissociated from the weight of its meaning? My friend was traumatized when she saw a micro penis. Someone at the table next to me was traumatized by a test she took. I don’t want to victimize myself. Am I truly traumatized, or am I another person overlooking the true implications of the word?

I’m more affected that I’m willing to admit.

When I think of that traumatic year for what it was, I think about the people involved, still laughing at me because I’m unable to move on. Doesn’t she have anything else going on in her life? She’s pathetic.

I have moved on…but the impact isn’t gone. I still don’t understand what happened. I don’t understand motives. Was my boyfriend emotionally abusive? I don’t think so and never have. But he was manipulative, right? I don’t know… he seemed too honest to be manipulative. But I am sure that I was manipulated. He did what he wanted, never mind me, and I was anxiously attached, along for the ride.

Any evidence I have that points to emotional abuse doesn’t seem good enough. I was never belittled or threatened, never forbidden from going certain places or spending time with certain people. He didn’t seem to care what I did, or about me at all, for that matter.

Emotional abuse can look like many different things. That emotional neglect and disregard for my needs are forms of emotional abuse. But I had a hard time accepting that, because of the context of our relationship. At the point in time when our relationship became categorical emotional abuse, he would not accept the title of boyfriend and would not tell me he loved me. From the outside, I looked like a girl obsessed with a guy who had made his boundaries perfectly clear. I came off as crazy. Needy and overly attached. Delusional. Creating a relationship that didn’t exist.

How could he be negligent when the relationship was one sided?

Well, let me tell you! I’ve written about this relationship before; a long-winded, near-sighted version right after the fact. This is the abridged version: My boyfriend put in the emotional labor when he was wooing me. In more technical terms, he groomed me. He spoke poetically about his feelings and wanted to spend every moment together. We did spent every moment together. We spent time with his family and his close friends. He told me he loved me more than anyone he’d loved before. He told me about countless instances where he had been victimized by life and his dad. How much his mom and sister didn’t like any woman he dated.

I thought that the chemistry between us was the stuff of epic love stories. I wanted to support him and stick by him no matter what. I felt special because he had chosen me.

The rest happened months later.

So, you can see why I had certain expectations about that relationship.

But, until recently, I refused to accept that 9 month relationship was emotionally abusive, or even manipulative. It seems so mild compared to other kinds of abuse. I thought that I was complicit. I chose to stay with this “man” (who had the emotional maturity of a young boy), waiting for things to go back to how they were in the beginning. I lived for the breadcrumbs he left me.

I thought I was in control, that I made informed decisions of my own free will. Except… that’s the thing about manipulation. He took advantage of my emotional depth and vulnerability. I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t have the emotional intelligence to recognize that my feelings were vicious anxiety, not love. The choices I made were not my own. I was powerless. Without agency, were my choices really my decision?

They were not.

My actions and words were always based on his. They were attempts to get his attention and love. Simple as that. The end.

But wait, there’s more! There were other people in on the joke as well, which compounded the problem. People who were my friends. Namely, a close friend who betrayed me with my boyfriend, and her ex, who I even dated later on. (Clearly my penchant for putting myself in problematic situations didn’t stop after that relationship.)

The paranoia I’ve had since high school, that people are playing a joke on me, laughing about me behind my back, was reality.

For years, I wondered what was real.

I didn’t move on. I dwelled on questions I would never have the answers to; which of his feelings and words had been genuine, which situations were organic. But I have long since stopped trying. All that I can do is accept the reality of that abuse and trauma.

I used to wonder if I would be in the same place I am now–physically, mentally, professionally, socially–if that year was different. I don’t think about that anymore. My most significant growth to date has come from my worst mistakes, and without that year, I could be a very different, lesser person. I am not grateful and I’m not appreciative, but I’m in a better place.

Trauma motivated me to move the fuck on from the life I was stuck in. To get away from the townie boyfriend who had nothing going for him. To move away from mean girls who have nothing better to do than tear each other down. To find better, more constructive ways to spend my time. And I have!

I have good friends and date better men. The friend who inspired this writing is genuine, intelligent, thoughtful, and creative. At first, I was naturally interested being more than friends. But he was not. And at first I was upset; my feelings were hurt. But if I didn’t want to be friends with the men I want to date, then what’s even the point? I want high quality people in my life, and they are not so easy to find. A good friend is good enough.

Advertisements

Sometimes Things Really Happen, take 2

Part 1 of this post has not been published, because it’s close to 3,000 words and I cannot see the end. I got a bit carried away, creating a narrative and the right tone, proofreading and re-writing as I went.

Let me go back to the beginning, before that post went awry.

In May, weeks before my birthday, I started writing an evaluation of my life over the previous year, with the intent of identifying what kind of changes had occurred, and how I’ve grown and changed. Or not.


A year ago

I had a crush on an attractive bartender who lacked any noticeable substance. I had a one night stand* with someone who looked at me with awe. Since then, my need to feel wanted ceased.

I recognized and embraced my own uniqueness that comes in so many forms; my love for animals, riding horses, my little bratty bird; more than a writer, I’m an artist; I surround myself with plants. I’m hella accomplished, hella smart, and always try to be friendly, be kind, and do good.

Around the time of the bartender and one night stand, I put my party ways away for good. I transitioned into the next installment of life. The financially responsible one, that is dedicated, committed, and loyal to friends and projects that I care about.

For years I was extracting poison that lingered, from a source I refused to acknowledge, in a successful attempt to move on.

(That’s right. Successfully.)

I have an entire life to lose. It’s filled with things that matter, like being a real, functioning human. Existing in the world, in the peripheral of strangers’ worlds. To see and be seen. To radiate existence.

A Year of Progress

I became less passive aggressive, but still too possessive. It’s jealousy. I feel threatened by other peoples’ skills and accomplishments, as if they invalidate mine. But the fewer passive aggressive, possessive, insecure people I spend time with, the less inclined I am to feel any of those things.

Many times jealousy has lit a fire under my ass and inspired me to create, but I don’t think art can be created from jealousy. Art can be inspired by happiness, sadness, anger, hopelessness, loneliness… most things. To me, jealousy seems too impure of an emotion to inspire. I don’t want to create based on the desire to best than another creator. That seems very lonely.

Even though I (mostly) don’t let me jealousy get the best of me—I cannot begrudge quality, no matter what my insecurity says—I can question the honesty, vulnerability, sincerity, of other art. Criticism is fair, even if it stems from jealousy. Honest, respectful, sincere feedback.

I do not like ostentatious shows of self-praise or accomplishment—YES, there’s a difference between being proud and being a braggart—but I learned to temper my humility, a trait tied to my insecurity, and express myself in a way that is comfortable and which is intrinsic to my education. Like hey, guess what, I’m smart and I’m educated. I paid for this shit and I won’t pretend to be less than so other people feel comfortable when I speak.

 

And where am I now?

At an office job in the best office environment I’ll ever find, not that I was searching in the first place. I’m exhausted by Friday; being around people is exhausting, making eye contact, saying hello, making actual conversation. And then there’s the part where I do work on a computer all day, and talk about work on conference calls, and talk to my team about strategies for work.

After the first couple of months, feeling like I was back in high school, I got past the curves of settling into my place. I’m not the same as my high school-self, and I’m not the same as my one year ago-self.

like work. I like the people in this community. The work challenges my mind.

 

A woman can be many things at once.

Because still I am my high school-self, and she is my elementary school self. I do the work to be more than the young women before me, and there is more work to do. I think there always will be, but want to do that work, and I try my best.


There you have it. A blog post that, by my standards, is unfinished and unremarkable. I don’t want to post it but I don’t want to keep writing it. The only way I would feel satisfied publishing these words would be if I spent all my time going over every word choice countless times, cutting, pasting, re-arranging, only to decide the original was best. But to even write a complete post would take weeks, if I really committed. But this is a personal blog, not the New York Times. So I’m DONE.

I think that’s progress.

Trivializing My Mental Illness, Can You Not?

I am not particularly good at speaking up in the moment, so when a friend told me that a TV show cured their depression, my eyes bugged out of their sockets but my mouth stayed shut.

I know that was a throwaway comment not at all meant to trivialize depression, but it did. I have dealt with depression for well over a decade and with it: anxiety (general anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive & compulsive tendencies), occasional panic attacks, constant irritability, apathy, inability to acknowledge accomplishments or feel rewarded by them, lack of emotional reactivity, constant fatigue, weight gain, lack of appetite and surprising weight loss, insomnia since I was 10 (the earliest I can remember, though it likely began before then), headaches from the moment I wake up, sometimes migraines, and psychomotor slowing and agitation!

And then there was a period in my early teenage years when I thought about dying every day.

whatever-regina-george-mean-girls-cheese-fries

Yes, I looked up all of those symptoms, for two reasons. One, because when I try to think of how depression has affected my life, I always draw a blank, the same way I’m unable to answer a question on the spot (or speak up in the moment); my brain cannot cut through the fog quickly enough to do so.  Two, I can’t remember a time before I felt this way, cannot remember what my life was like before, and cannot say how depression has affected me, because depression is my life. I have only recently, the past year at most, begun to extrapolate my actual personality, sense of self from the condition that grew roots so deep into my being and wove them so tightly around every fiber that I didn’t know that the depression was not me.

So, when I hear that cutting out sugar and “eating better” helps depression, I remember when food was the only thing in my life to which I looked forward. When I hear that “small goals” help depression, I remember my STILL PRESENT avoidance and thoughts of futility and failure. When I hear that “getting out of the house” helps depression, I remember feeling like everyone was watching me, whispering, laughing about me, judging me when I left my home. When I hear how “being active” helps depression, I remember my low, low self-esteem and imminent failure.

Getting better is not that simple.

When I hear anyone dole out advice that suggests ignorance to the difficulty–impossibility–of achieving seemingly easy, every day activities, errands, actions, I say what the fuck do you know about depression and shame myself for not expressing compassion for their well-intended attempt to help.

For the record, YES all of that well-intended advice does help. But it is not, by any means, that easy. Not easy to get better and not easy to even put those suggestions into action.

I can only speak to what I have experienced and the accounts I have read, but the act of existing is exhausting when you are depressed. For anyone who experiences depression on an episodic or reactive basis, the experience is so, so different from a persistent depressive disorder. There is even debate about the conditions encompassed within the diagnosis “major depressive disorder.” All that a diagnosis requires is experiencing 5 or more symptoms at once, over a consistent two week period. But how can someone who experiences 5 of those symptoms for exactly two weeks have the same experience as me, someone who has experienced all 9 of the possible symptoms, often all at once, for years and years?

HOW????

It is after two years of therapy and the highest legal dosage of antidepressant & anti-anxiety medication bupropion, highest legal dosage (and occasionally 30mg higher) of additional anti-anxiety med, buspirone, and nightly sedative/antidepressant trazadone that I have upgraded to a consistent state of relative okay-ness (okay being feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, difficulty being productive, and generally gloomy disposition), which as far as I can tell is “persistent depressive disorder” with regular but brief bouts of what I guess is categorized as “major depression.”

And in this vein of trivializing depression, I imagine that someone who deals with never-ending major depression, the actual major kind with which I used to deal, the idea of persistent depression, that state of relative okay-ness, seems like a walk in the park, and I know I’m fortunate that my mental health has improved to this extent.

The good news: I am doing things again! Things that I enjoy! Sometimes I even feel feelings of enjoyment while doing them. But the accomplishment here is that I am not avoiding things I love due to my fear of failing at or not enjoying them. Like spending time with horses. Reading books. Painting. And writing! Writing this blog post!

Part of this writing success is due to my discovery of new bloggers and artists around my age who express their vulnerability through their art. Vulnerability of being themselves, of sharing their fears, failures, and talent with the world.

But part of it is my own pettiness, from witnessing art that claims mental health as inspiration or artistic platform, but does not claim the vulnerability necessary, and knowing that I could do better.

My success is not (yet) a large audience, but is within myself, having not found writing that is exactly what I want to read, knowing it’s up to me to create that. My success is slowly, surely, steadily writing that story.

 

love doesn’t fix your finances

I told the man I have been involved with for a year and a half that I love him. I felt more comfortable with him that night than I have ever before, with anyone I have dated. I felt secure and so full of love for days after. Yesterday that good mood ebbed away. I recognized the ebbing when I woke up to my alarm–“Waking up with a smile makes your day better”–and mustered only an eye roll, but had a good morning, and didn’t notice again until the afternoon. Such an amazing feeling is finite and when I recognized its faded presence, I wondered what I could do to sustain it, what had happened for it to go away. I blame money. After feeling so steady with my finances, sure of my financial planning and goals, I suddenly had several hundred dollars less than I expected, with several more necessary errands I need to run before my next paycheck. Never mind that my checking account is in a significantly and progressively improved state. Love did not fix my finances and despite what I felt and believed for days, did not make everything okay.

As I deflated, I regressed to habits I’d given up for approximately five days, eager to re-establish a familiar connection with my anxiety, only to continue feeling exactly nothing.

Maybe Things Are Going Right

HI HELLO I’M HERE I’M ALIVE.

WordPress forgot me after all these months away. It was bound to happen, given the amount of logins and passwords I have for the platform–for about twenty other websites that are not mine. That I maintain for clients. Sort of. They are clients! Do I maintain their websites? Sort of. I probably could, I think. It’s WordPress, not rocket science, but as much as I like to think that I can handle web development, developer I am not.

All it took was a lot (or should I say a latte) of caffeine and I’m back! My creative excitement is pinging around inside of me and I want to sustain the feeling infinitely, but this always goes the same way…

Aaand it’s gone.

Listen. I’ve been dating someone for almost a year, okay? Except that’s not true at all and if he were anyone else I would feel just so completely ridiculous writing that, because we actually only dated for a month at the most. Continue reading “Maybe Things Are Going Right”