Pain

The last few days have not been good.

I don’t know what it is.  I would love to be able to point and say that such-and-such is making me anxious and out of sorts, but I can’t.  Hormonal flux?  Rough week at work?  I don’t know.  The last few days at work have been exercises in “how many ways can I screw up.”  I am feeling full of failure although I recognise that this isn’t accurate, either.

I’ve come out to my mother’s house to housesit while she’s gone for the weekend.  I will go home today but I haven’t yet.  I’m feeling a bit paralysed with anxiety.  Paced a bunch in the kitchen before I could bring myself to eat, and I must eat, since I need to have food in my stomach for the cipralex.  I ought to take a seroquel, maybe, but with a twenty minute drive into town I’m hesitant to take it for fear of being dopey on the drive.

I did some housesitting for both my parents earlier this month. watching animals, and it really hit home for me just how much I miss having animals around.  I can’t have pets where I live, at least not cats or dogs.  Not that it would be fair to keep a dog where I live — we don’t have a proper fence — and Audrey, who owns the house, feels cats are too destructive.  I think this is nonsense, really.   Nevertheless, she was firm on it.

But I managed to face bringing up the subject with her, and we discussed things, and we met a compromise: I was granted permission for a small caged animal, a rodent.

I latched immediately onto a very old idea, one I’d dismissed for several reasons, and ended up getting a pair of rats.

This is the best idea I’ve had in ages.

They’re still getting used to me and the new situation, but they’re also genuinely engaging.  They’re inquisitive, and affectionate, and we spend the evening snuggled down all three of us after we play a little.  It’s ridiculously comforting to be curled up with one rat on my shoulder and the other settled in my lap or next to me.  Yes, I get peed on a little, but I lay out what I’ve termed the Rat Blanket (an old blanket which I never really liked) and I wear old clothes, and the smell is pretty inoffensive, actually.

One is fairly fearless.  Her sister is, I think, the runt of the litter, and is timid and afraid of everything, although she is certainly warming up to me, which is nice.  It’s strange to see that terror in a rat, because it mirrors my own.  Is that strange to say?  Unreasoning fear that goes beyond the healthy sense of caution any small animal must have.

I worried about the larger, bolder rat picking on her runty sister, or monopolising the food, but luckily neither of these seem to be the case, and the most trouble they have together is when the bigger of the pair wants to play and the little one would rather sleep.  But they snuggle, and they get along, and it’s wonderful.

They’re a ridiculous source of joy for me right now.  I get up in the morning, looking forward to a rat kiss, a friendly nose-touch through the cage.  I love the feeling of one of them snuggling down under my chin, that sort of warmth and trust.

I am looking forward to seeing them this afternoon when I go home.  I want to be able to coax the little one out of her fear, although I know all too well that likely she’ll always be timid, and prefer napping.  And that’s okay.  I love them both as they are.  They accept me as I am.

And that’s strange.  My mother is horrified by rodents in general; my father is interested but I doubt he would expect that sort of affection from a rodent.

Audrey loves them almost as much I do.  Rats really are good pets.

I feel better thinking about them, actually.  That’s how good it is to have animals in your life.

I am still here.

I am still here, more or less.

Apparently I’m doing well, and most of the time I feel it.  I see my psychiatrist more infrequently.  My counsellor is talking about shuffling me off into some sort of group, come fall.  His feeling, I gather, is that I’ve learned what I can from him, and seeing as how it’s a community mental health stabilisation program, it is time for me to move on and let someone else have the appointments.  This is fair.

I have a new job, the sort that really wakes me up to just how abusive my old place of employment was.  I’m growing my hair out.  I am trying new things.  And I’m down to taking the seroquel more and more infrequently, once or twice a week, sometimes less.  The cipralex, of course, is still daily.  I take it as prescribed.  I think it helps.

There is acknowledgement from my family about how well I’m doing.  My father, especially, tells me how wonderful it is to see me grow into my full potential like this.  He actually went so far as to write me a song about that.  I cried when he showed me.  It was… intense.

But for all that…

… sometimes, despite how ridiculously easier it is now to get from day to day, everything hurts, everything grates, and I want to do desperate, terrible things.  I hurt, right now.  I need someone to talk to me about… I don’t even know.  Nothing.  Inconsequential things.  Funny things.  Things that aren’t as loud and painful as television or music would be right now.  I need someone who can act like I’m normal, even if I’m not.  And there isn’t anyone.

I had a bath.  I am telling myself that it’s okay that I feel like this, that it is not a weakness of character, that it will pass and that will be fine, so I accept this.  I accept this anxiety and will let it exist until it goes away.  I can’t fight it, so I accept it.

But it’s still an unpleasant place to be.

Making Progress

I’m doing well, I think.

At least, I can hope so.  Dr. K seems to think so.  I feel… okay, most of the time.  I no longer find myself backtracking through stores putting things back on the shelf, and decisions over things like what variety of yogurt I’m going to buy or what cereal I should get… well, they’re still causing me problems.  And I find myself putting off the big things.  I’m still sitting on my college application form, debating classes.  But it’s not as bad.  It takes me ages to decide on cereal, perhaps, but I can decide without being in agony about it.

Hating my job lately, I’ve tried to find time to drop off a resume here and there.  This is something I used to find very difficult.  It’s still hard, and even if I came out of there without hearing anything terribly encouraging about the prospects, I still felt good.  I did not feel sick like I have after so many resumes in the past.  That’s huge, by itself.

There are bad days, where I feel tense and worried and a mess, but they’re less.  I can cope with them, sometimes with seroquel, sometimes not.

I have a truck, now, my father’s old truck.  Driving is a freedom.

This is a time of openings, new things, beginnings.

Crossroads.

I feel somewhat at a crossroads right now.

My job is… well, it has been adequate.  It is physical, it is low-paying, I have a great deal of responsibility, and it is high-stress.  And for a long time, holding that job down was a great accomplishment for me.  I’m doing better now, and it’s… well, it’s a menial job paying just barely a living wage, and it’s still high-stress.  It’s not a bad job, but it has no future.  For the first time in a long time I can manage to think far enough in the future to make other plans without it being overwhelming.

And I’m better than this job.

That is a strange thing to say.  It sounds conceited and I have, as I have said before, very little self-esteem.  On my bad days I feel like I can hardly do it, on my good days I find it satisfying, but there’s no challenge.  My coworkers tend to be underachievers or high school drop-outs, the sort of people who are perversely proud of their ignorance., which is something I can’t understand even remotely.

I flunked out of university years ago.

I don’t talk about that.  I don’t admit it to most people.  I’m horribly ashamed of it, actually.  Looking back, I see what happened very clearly.  Overcome with anxiety about my classes, I skipped chronically.  Therefore, I flunked out.  I was an honour roll student in high school, but I failed disastrously in university because I found myself flung into a new environment I had no coping mechanisms for, and reacted by simply not going to class because that was easier than suffering panic attacks halfway across campus.  I failed, they kicked me out.

In retrospect, my planned major was something I would have hated anyway.  Not well thought out.

But now, I feel good enough, most days, that my current job is not enough.  I want more from life, I am ready for more, I am capable of more.  I can think and I can handle myself and can recognise my issues and I am considering going back to school.  Maybe not this fall, I don’t think I’ll be able to get in.  Next fall.  I can keep up my job for another year.  Maybe do one or two classes in the meantime.  I’m looking at aiming for a degree in English.  It seems doable, it’s something I want.  From there, I might get a degree in education and go into teaching high school English.  Maybe.  I would be in my thirties before I had any sort of degree, alas.  Such are the woes of the late bloomer.

Am I overreaching myself?  Can I do this?  I still have bad days.  Today has been a bad day.  Can I possibly manage to pull myself together to do something that I have already failed to do?  Sometimes I feel so screwed up, and so helpful, and like I don’t even have a real excuse for it.  I mean, an anxiety disorder is all well and good, but I’m not struggling with bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, or any number of what seem to me to be far more serious hurdles.

This is something that always gives me pause about this blog.  I wonder if, to the impartial observer (assuming there are any), this simply looks like the moanings of some poor overly emotional girl who blows her small problems out of all proportion.  I know what I go through is a struggle for me.  I know that other people go through worse.  Does that mean it’s petty of me to whine about having difficulty getting through shopping and not backtracking and putting everything back on the shelf, something I do to myself?

I don’t know if I can do this.  I feel so screwed up some days.  I feel so helpless and scattered and unable to cope and I want to die, because I am just tired.  And it passes, but the self-doubt remains.

There’s so much to do to arrange this and it’s a little overwhelming.

But if there’s one thing in the world that I know, it’s books, it’s language, and put like that it seems far more like something achievable.

On Self-Esteem

I have, as I have mentioned before, lost somewhere in the neighbourhood of 65 lbs.  The bulk of the weight loss occurred over about six or seven months last year.  I’ve been told by several people that I carried the weight well (whatever that means), and they find it hard to believe it was that much, but that’s what the scales say.  I had been eating poorly for a long time, and last April I noticed that my weight had crept up from the 180 lbs I was comfortable at to 200 lbs.  I was not huge as that sounds, admittedly, as I do have a large frame and a fair bit of muscle mass, and I was only about a size 14, but it was a big scary number and at my height that pushed me over from “overweight” into “obese,” accordingly to the admittedly flawed BMI.

I sort of panicked and said, no more, I will eat healthy.  I said if I lost twenty pounds I’d be happy, thirty and I’d be thrilled.  And… yes, I ended up losing 65 lbs.  It was a dramatic change, and coupled with my emotional breakdown in December a fair number of my coworkers (including my boss, who actually told on me to my mother about my at-work eating habits, which was a fun conversation to field with my mother afterwards) seem to have come to the conclusion that I have an eating disorder, which is ridiculous, but none of them will ask me directly so the misperception persists.  I don’t starve myself, I don’t make myself throw up, I don’t use laxatives in a dangerous way, I simply walk everywhere and eat healthy and watch my portion size, and I have lost weight, and the fact that I am continuing to eat healthy doesn’t mean that I’m dieting, because I never really was.

But the change has been dramatic, I guess, and because I work with the public, a great many people feel it appropriate to comment on my weight loss.  Admittedly, at this point I’m getting sort of tired of it, but I smile and nod and thank them, because that’s what you do.  The comments themselves range from enthusiastic to mildly insulting.

“Oh, wow, you look really good.  How did you do it?”

“I didn’t recognise you, you’ve lost so much weight!”

“Good job.  You always had too much weight on you for your frame.”

“What, did you stop eating?”

I wish I were joking about those last two in particular.

But there’s a tendency for a lot of comments to be along the lines of “you look great now” which carries along with it the implication that… I didn’t before.  I’ve talked with my sister, who lost around 40 lbs a few years back, and she agrees about this sort of comment, and suspects many people really do mean it that way on some level.  I was, before, just “that fat girl” and now I am part of civilised society and can be attractive!

And that hurts.

I am the same person I was when I was fat.  My face has not changed, my hair has not changed, my personality has not changed, I am still the same essential person that I was when I was 65 lbs heavier.  Being fat is not a sin, it is not a personality flaw.  And to be honest, I still don’t feel thin.  I still feel fat, I still feel unattractive, I fuss over my frankly impossible hair and my round face and my strong chin and my occasional breakouts and now, the occasional pocket of loose skin.  If I was not attractive before, I certainly am not now.  My god, I have the most ridiculous crush on an extremely sweet barista at a cafe I frequent, and she is a gorgeous, gorgeous girl who’s also a little bit on the heavier side and wonderfully curvy.  She is just a beautiful girl, and her weight has nothing to do with that.

Yesterday, a woman came in, apparently a repeat customer although I honestly don’t recall her.  She said it really caught her off-guard how much smaller I am, and how good I look, and  I started to inwardly groan before she continued, “I mean, you were always pretty.  You look really amazing now!”

No one ever calls me pretty.  I don’t feel pretty.  I hear regularly how great I look now that I”m not fat, but all comments about my appearance are entirely centered around my weight.   And here is this woman, an utter stranger, making a point of saying that I was pretty when I was 65 lbs heavier, too.

I was, frankly, speechless.  I was caught that much off-guard.

It’s got me thinking, though.  Actually, I’m really not sure what to think of it, other than how much it reflects my utter lack of self-esteem, and my entirely warped idea of my own body.

But someone called me pretty, and I can’t remember the last time someone did that.

Mom vs. Dad

My parents have, for the record, been very supportive through this, but there is a distinct difference in their approach to this.

My parents are divorced.  They divorced when I was eighteen.  Their marriage lasted more than twenty years; their divorce has been generally as amicable as divorces ever are.  My mother has a wife; my dad lives common-law with a very lovely woman.  When they get together over some family event, they tend to catch up on each other’s families.  My mother is in contact with some of my paternal cousins on Facebook, which she honestly loves.  They’re on good terms, for exes.  I am on good terms with both of them.

My dad views what I’m going through as a wonderful thing.  I am learning about myself, I am paying more attention to the cycles of my thoughts, I am learning how to deal.  If some of that help comes in pharmaceutical form, then so be it, because he can see me growing strong and being capable and being the person I have always had the potential to be.  He  loves it.  He is curious about my thought processes, about what makes me anxious, about the patterns I get into.  He wants to know about what’s going on in my head, even the really bad stuff, and he wants to learn about this and how it affects me and how I’m getting over it, because he has a thirst for knowledge.

My mother worries.

Don’t get me wrong.  She is just as supportive.  But this all honestly scares her, and I can hear it in her voice when I talk to her, and I can see it in her face, and that is the reason this blog exists, because while I want to tell her these things, I don’t like to frighten her.  I don’t like feeling like I’m putting my mother through hell for this, for letting this finally come to the surface and dealing with it.  And it’s strange, because mom works in mental health.  Maybe that’s why.  Maybe it’s just that she knows how bad this can be, maybe it’s that she blames herself for not picking up on what was going on in my head when I was fourteen (although honestly, I couldn’t put it into words myself then).  I am in a better place right now than I have ever been.  I am stronger than I have ever been, but I’m also talking about the sort of shit I put myself through in this battle against myself which I’m learning not to fight (because fighting it is worse) and I think that terrifies her.

My father, on the other hand, doesn’t approach it from the point of view of someone in mental health, and approaches it as a new thing to learn about.

I don’t like the guilt of putting my mother through shit by getting better.  I had a long conversation with her this morning, over the phone, and while I confessed some things that stress me out and make me anxious, I was also aware of how I was stressing the positive, that yes I’m more aware of the things I’m doing wrong, and yes I’m talking about it more, but I can do that because it isn’t anywhere near is bad.  And, most importantly, that I’m glad I’m going through this, that this is a good thing.

I think it might have hit home.  I hope so.

Audrey is having an Oscar cocktail party tonight.  As always, with her parties, I’m invited.  Typically this would be my cue to vanish up into my room in a fit of nerves, but I think I can handle this tonight.  I can handle the influx of guests I don’t know, I can handle the inevitable mess that will result in the kitchen, I can handle the party, I can handle all these things that typically send me into fits of anxiety.

Not sure about the alcohol.  I really shouldn’t drink.  This, at least, is my first day without the clonazepam (woohoo!) so I’m slightly less medicated than I was, but.  Well.  A little should probably be okay.  Audrey picked up a bottle of pink champagne, which we’re both extremely partial too.  I may indulge.  One drink, though, no more, and we’ll be careful.  I haven’t had anything to drink since Christmas, after all.

In Which I Have Unexpected Teeth

I talk about any of this only because I have the benefit of anonymity.  My family does not know about this blog — or rather, some of them know about the existence of it, but I’ve also explained that it’s a place I can talk without censoring myself for their benefit, and that’s something I need (although I am finding it less necessary as time goes by), and I have no intention of giving them the URL, ever.  They accept this.

My family is, as a general rule, fairly well-adjusted.

We have our quirks.  We have our dysfunctionalities.  My mother’s family was distinctly unconventional for the time, with my grandparents repeatedly separated and then divorced.  There are issues with depression and anxiety on that side.  It has been suggested that my grandfather was undiagnosed bipolar, because he had these great surges of energy and ambition and poor decisions, and being very charismatic would sweep everyone up and along with him,  and then would collapse into a deep depression.  My father’s side is somewhat better, though bizarrely rife with hypochondriacs and sharp tempers (this latter being something I certainly share).  My own immediate family, well, my parents are divorced, my mother is married to another woman, and my issues I have gone into in depth.  We have plenty of the components of dysfunctional families, but we all seem to get along.

There is something seriously wrong with my dad’s younger sister.

I feel utterly screwed up at times, but I am at least aware of what’s wrong with me, and I’m working to be better, and I am doing better.  I am doing better than I have ever done in my entire life, which is a huge thing to say.  Even at the worst of times, though, I never hurt anyone more than myself.  I was the only one who has ever suffered from my own mind.  My dad’s family, however, is beginning to finally acknowledge, after thirty years, my aunt’s behaviour as being abnormal.  The full scope of her manipulative behaviour, her utter lack of remorse and compassion, her vicious attacks on who she perceives as weak, her pathological lying: it’s all becoming very clear, now.  Normal, moral people do not behave in the way she does.  Her husband enables her behaviour.  Her children echo it.  It is, frankly, hideous.

On Monday I was sent a very vicious message over Facebook, after years of refusing to even acknowledge my existence while she chatted happily with all three of my sisters.  The message was passive-aggressive, condescending, and vicious as hell.  She made reference to my mental state.  It was, in every way, shape, and form, completely out of line.

I said I have the family temper.  I lost it.

So angry I could hardly see straight, I responded.  I told her, in no uncertain terms, that she did not get to speak to me like that, that she had no place to lecture me for anything, and she had better get the idea that she could out of her head, because it stopped, right now.

The second message she sent me was worse than the first, further accusing me of “major issues” and “serious baggage,” the apparent implication that Audrey is my girlfriend, and that while most of her family has good “Zen,” not all do, and she’s in a place now where she won’t allow negativity into her life.  And she blocked me.

I found out later she then defriended all my sisters, and send Cortana and Florence a message to the effect of “I’ve been talk to your sister, and I’m very concerned… is everything okay with her?  I think, if you’re not aware of it, that she’s going through something, and you should make sure she’s okay.”  This is… two-faced, and manipulative, and low.  Florence responded privately that whatever was going on between her and me should stay between us, don’t drag her into it.  Florence has the family temper too.  She was not impressed.

I laid the whole thing out for my father, that night.  I asked, had I gone too far in my response?  He said no, he said my response was perfect and he was proud of me.  That is a strange thing to hear for losing my temper.  He said I never made it personal, I never attacked, I merely said that her behaviour was unacceptable and drew the line.  I mentioned how sick with anxiety I had been all day, and my dad said, “No, listen to yourself.  You’re dealing with it.  You’re handling it, and you’re doing wonderful.”  And this is true.  Had this happened a month ago, I would have fallen apart.  Now, I stood up for myself and fought back in an appropriate manner, without emotional collapse.  Dad says it’s wonderful to see me do that.

It’s not about me.  The more I learn about the situation — and half of it I’m forbidden to talk about for the time being, particularly to my sisters, and I’m hesitant to do so even here — the more I realise is that this is a footnote in a frankly huge amount of family drama that is about to unfold in a family that’s been relatively free of drama, and it’s all centered around my aunt and her increasingly out-of-line and disturbing behaviour, and the slow wearing down of her siblings’ patience.

But it’s also becoming clear that it was, most likely, a calculated attack.  Already quietly disliking me (not because I did anything, but it’s also becoming clear this stems from the fact that I’m queer and so is her youngest daughter and she and her husband are definitely not okay with that and it is somehow my fault), my aunt perceived from what little about this I have talked about on Facebook that I was going through something, found an excuse to go after me, was vicious in regards to my mental health.  It was designed to wound.  She was unaware that I am stronger right now than I have ever been before.  I was not the victim she expected.

She’s trying to spin herself as the martyr, I think, and me as dangerously unbalanced and mentally ill.  There is nothing I can do about this.  It’s all out of my hands.  I can only stand back and let things happen.  But I know Dad’s got my back, and I know I’ve got his approval, and I know that I’m not twisting events to make myself look better, that my aunt really was nasty and out-of-line and looking for a fight — just, possibly, not exactly the one she got.

And I’m strong enough right now to handle it.

And that’s what I’m taking away from it.

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