Category Archives: Legacy

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The Great Escape

Every year, so I have been told, I get a year older. It’s a pretty meaningless contruct in every way except for the obvious marking of the passage of time. I feel the same every birthday, the same as the year before, not one lick older. Basically, I have never felt like a Grown Up.

Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m doing a lot of grown up things because I’m supporting myself, have worked at the same company for ten years, pay bills, file taxes, have a mortgage, all that. But I’ve always felt like I was doing these things while being outside of the realm of adulthood.

Until now.

To celebrate my 34th birthday a couple of weeks ago, I took a couple of days off from work and did many fun things. I got a massage and ate delicious food and drank wine and expertly crafted gourmet cocktails. I wore a dress each day and waltzed around feeling pretty.

On Sunday night, I was curled up on the couch relaxing, centering myself for the return to real life the following Monday…

When I got a phone call. From the Collingswood Police Department. And then from Camden County Animal Control.

We are lucky enough to have a fenced in backyard at our house. We have a dog door that allows our little terrors to go in and out as they please. Unfortunately, we recently discovered that the dogs (especially the puppy) are good at leaping over short fences, ramming holes into older wood fencing, and getting out of the yard and running amuck around the neighborhood. Wes and I have been patching the holes as we find them, but ultimately we realized that we had to get new fencing installed.

I had already started the process of finding a contractor to do this for us when I got the phone calls from various county authorities. I was informed that Lola had gotten out, trotted all the way over to the vicinity of the police station, and gotten into a fight with some other dog around there. I was then informed that Lola had been taken to the Camden County Animal Shelter (henceforth to be referred to as Dog Jail) and would be spending the night there and that I could come bail her out the next morning.

It was then that I realized that I was a grown up. Not only was I attempting to find the best priced contractor for a vinyl fencing installation, but now I had to go to Dog Jail to bail out my hooligan dog (a hooligan dog WITH A TROUBLED PAST) after she’s spent the night in the, er, dog tank? To think about what she’s done.

I called out from work and retrieved the pooch. This is her in the backseat of my car that morning. I don’t think she thought about any of this at all at any point during the night:

Lola Dog Jail

I then called two more fence companies and arranged for consultations that day, went grocery shopping, did laundry, patched more holes in the fence, tripped over debris in the yard injuring my hand, went for a run, made dinner, and then fell asleep on the couch while attempting to watch a show.

Adulting like a boss.

I then realized that working myself to the bone with mundane adultness was perhaps not the kindest way to treat myself. And thus the sticker chart was born, to make sure I do things like draw and eat and all that.

Here’s hoping that the dogs stay out of trouble while we’re waiting for the fence project to be completed. Although, if they get “arrested” again, I might ask the shelter to take a “mug shot” of them. Lola has a great “Man, this is the worst thing ever” face.

“Because it’s there” or “Oh, my aching hip gosh darnit!”

Ten years ago I had the great fortune to go to Yosemite with my parents as a college graduation gift. It is a truly gorgeous and awe-inspiring place. Nothing at all could ruin its amazing vistas.

Nothing except for, perhaps, being completely out of shape and unprepared for Real Hiking. Most of the hiking in Yosemite is of the Ass-Kicking® variety and if you want to see the views that truly make the park great, you should not be faint of heart.

The trail head for the three vertical mile trek up to the top of Yosemite Falls is, no joke, boulders. You have to climb over boulders to get to the first steep path. Needless to say, I was feeling done for pretty early in the game, and then I remembered that I’d have to hike back down again. My mother, who has a runner’s lungs and heart, practically flew up the trail. My dad would have also if he had hiking boots on that actually fit him. His shoes made him hobble along and my inferior lung capacity made me do the same.

At one point, I got some stupid idea in my head that running up a few switch-backs would solve some issue I was having. It, unsurprisingly, didn’t, and instead it was the first time in my life I thought my heart was going to explode and that I was perhaps going to pass out and roll down the mountain, hitting every cactus and fuzzy marmot in my path.

marmot

I also somehow managed to yank something in my left hip, rendering me a limping mess for the remainder of the trip. Luckily, this hike was going to be the toughest we were planning on. Impressively, this injury still haunts me whenever I am super active (running, hiking, long walks, etc.).

Back then I said to myself, “Never Again”. Never again would I go to some kick-ass natural wonderland and not be able to fully enjoy it due to the shitty condition of my respiratory system!

Of course, that triumphant statement didn’t seemingly inspire me to actually get into shape. I went to Colorado and hiked (slowly and steadily) to the top of the Continental Divide and managed not to die and enjoyed the process somewhat, but I still was disappointed in myself for not finding the hikes invigorating, and instead finding them on this side of debilitating.

Which brings us up to now. Wes and I decided that we would go to Yosemite together next year to celebrate five years of Wedded Bliss. I think Amber’s going to come too, because hiking around and living in a sweet cabin for a week is much more her kind of vacation than Disneyworld. Wes and I want to hiking every other day with trips to local wineries in between.

Sounds delightful, right? Yes, it does! BUT it will only be truly delightful to me if I can enjoy the hiking and that means get my thirty-four year old ass into shape, once and for all. And by “once and for all”, I mean figure out how to do it, get there, and then maintain it.

To me, being in shape for serious hiking means having fabulous respiratory health and capacity, increased strength, and wicked flexibility. Respiratory health means not getting out of breath after getting over a couple of moderately sized boulders, and it means quicker recovery after harder parts of the trail. Strength means my muscles are prepared to hold me up and get me up those steep inclines. Flexibility means that if I do something weird, or fall, or whatever, I am less likely to get really hurt.

At least, this is my current theory about all this. I haven’t read any books on the subject and am kind of talking out my ass, but these fitness goals seem legit enough to try focusing on.

Yoga is my attempt at flexibility and it’s helping. My hip and other problem joint things feel much better when I’m practicing yoga consistently. The trick right now is to pick a schedule and stick to it. While I like the idea of going to a 6am class every morning and starting my day in such a positive way, it’s really rough to consistently get myself out of bed that early. The studio I go to offers tons of evening classes as well, so I just need to commit to when I’m going just like my art classes or work.

Yoga helps with strength building as well, but I think I also should work in some kind of weight training along with it. I don’t want to do anything super elaborate, but I should learn how to use dumbbells and all that. I have a gym membership that would be good for that.

Finally, Wes and I decided that the most efficient and effective way to get out hearts and lungs into shape was with running.

I’ve tried this before, but my experience has shown me that it is damn hard to get in shape enough for running to be enjoyable. I tried the Couch to 5K program but the fun to benefit ratio was just not good enough. Plus, I was doing the program myself so I had no one to commiserate with. Wes had similar experiences, but admitted that he never felt healthier than when he was running regularly.

And so it was that I found Up and Running. We’re almost done week 2 of their 5K course and it’s hard but better for a number of reasons.

  1. I paid for it, which holds me a bit more accountable to actually doing it. For the price, I get eight training plans, one for each week of the program. I also get access to the course blog, which has a lot of interesting and useful information. For instance, next week I will be learning about nutrition for the runner, and you all know how fascinated with that I am!
  2. Each week involves different warm-up exercises and approaches to the week’s running, so it’s easier to stay engaged.
  3. Wes and I are doing all the workouts together. We do them after work or on weekend mornings. We hold each other accountable for getting out and doing the thing. This is really the biggest motivator for me. We are relying on each other to not weasel out.

So, that’s happening and I’m still slow and get winded easily, but I’m going to keep going! It also turns out that a lot of the feeling lousy issues I was dealing with had more to do with not exercising than what I was or wasn’t eating. Or, at least, if there are some food issues, exercise seems to keep them at bay.

I set some other goals for daily/weekly achievements and have a sticker chart. On it, I have things like eating a bunch of veggies every day and drinking enough water and also a list of household chores that I officially take responsibility for and trying to delegate everything else. We started getting help every other week from a cleaning service (so lovely…there are things I just don’t have to think about now) and we were introduced recently to FreshDirect for online grocery shopping. I “went” shopping this morning and we’ll be getting our first delivery tomorrow afternoon. I’m pretty sure this is completely amazeballs, but I’ll know for sure tomorrow. I’m excited about having ways to free up time for me to do more things like exercise, art, music, silly video games, an, you know, maybe sitting down sometimes.

Last night, Amber was like “did you schedule enough time for putting stickers on the sticker chart?” I told her that I CAN PLAY WITH STICKERS FOR AS LONG AS I WANT BECAUSE I AM AN ADULT AMBER. She asked snarkily, “Won’t that cut into something else???”

Whatever, Amber. There’s always time for stickers.

Living with Elephants.

I’ve been wanting to write something about my personal experiences with abuse in adult relationships. I’ve spent the last decade working very hard to become the person I am, and I’ve learned a lot of unexpected lessons along the way, some of which I’ve never written about before.

I’m writing this in part because I ended up in a really good place and I’m proud of the life I’ve built, and in part because I know there are people who believe that the way my partners and I practice direct communication and firm boundary setting is dysfunctional and harmful. I wanted to tell my story so anyone who’s curious can understand how I got here. I want to invite you into my headspace.

This is by no means, a comprehensive list of everything I’ve ever been through or even a complete telling of each of these stories, but hopefully it’s enough to give a decent background.

Trigger warning for emotional abuse and physical and sexual assault.

Lesson 1: Sometimes Love Just Isn’t Enough

So when I was 19 I met my first serious boyfriend. I’ll tell you right off the bat, I was extremely codependent. For as long as I can remember I was obsessed with the idea of being in love, and I thought this guy was amazing. He was smart, he was funny, and he was ridiculously charming. So of course my entire life revolved around our relationship, and I did everything in my power to make it work. I worked very hard to be whoever he needed me to be because I was operating from a place of scarcity. I thought if he left me I’d have an impossible time finding anyone I loved half as much as I loved him. My self-worth and happiness was completely wrapped up in him. It wasn’t a healthy situation.

I quickly learned he was not a good dude. He isolated me from my friends by picking fights with me when I spent time with them, he got into screaming fights with me in public, he gave me the silent treatment and withheld affection when I didn’t do what he wanted, he accused me of cheating on him with every male friend I had, he lied to me all the time, he broke my favorite possessions when he felt rejected, he pushed me into walls, he threw things at my head, he regularly tried to initiate sex with me while I was asleep even though I expressed that it was not okay dozens of times, he pushed me out of bed while I was sleeping, he kept me awake until 4 am arguing with me about sex, he pressured me into sex acts I wasn’t comfortable with, he actually said the phrase, “you’re my girlfriend, you’re not allowed to say no”, he told me I was fat, he scaled a wall and tried to kick down the door after I locked him outside after a particularly nasty fight, he threatened to kill himself when I tried to leave him, and after our breakup I told him to never contact me again and he showed up at both my jobs and had his friend drive him to my parents house at 1am. That’s just what I remember off the top of my head.

The day I finally left him, he shook me awake at 4am and told me that he’d scoured my computer, hacked into my private online journal, and searched through all of my things looking for evidence that I was cheating on him. What he found was that I had a weird website in my browsing history (a website where dudes pay girls to pretend to be their girlfriends that my friend had sent to me as a joke) and an entry I wrote in my private journal where I complained about him calling me fat and said that he was an asshole because he was the one who was 200lbs. (Which was super mean! And I didn’t even mean it. I liked his body a lot…but I was tired of him constantly trying to use my weight – 115lbs, btw – to make me feel bad when I wouldn’t do what he wanted.) So he told me this, and I sat there, and I listened to everything he had to say, and I nodded my head, and I was like…say whatever you have to say to to keep him calm until you can leave for work. (It was only about two weeks before that he’d shoved me into a wall during a fight and punched the refrigerator across the kitchen.) I vaguely recall him crying about the weight thing, and giving me a speech about how he didn’t trust me because I didn’t tell him things, but that he was happy he didn’t find any evidence that I was cheating. When I got to work I begged my coworkers to help me move out.

Breaking up with him was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. Because I didn’t want to leave. When it was good, it was so good, and I was clinging to that feeling. I wanted to believe that if I just changed in this or that way, that he would be the guy I fell in love with all the time. But that morning something in my brain snapped and I realized there was nothing I could do to make it work. That he was a broken person and I couldn’t fix him and I needed to get away from him before he really hurt me. I remember crying to a friend of mine, “I don’t know how to not be his girlfriend anymore.”

Lesson 2: Learning To Be A Whole Person

At 21, I was a person whose entire identity was wrapped up in being this person’s girlfriend. I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t have healthy boundaries, and I didn’t like myself very much.

All I really knew at that point was that I wanted to do the hard work be the kind of person who wouldn’t last five minutes in that kind of relationship. I wanted to be the kind of person who would stand up for herself at the first sign of trouble, and who wasn’t afraid to walk away. I wanted to look at a guy like that and say, “Holy crap, I cannot get out of here fast enough.”

Within a few days of breaking up with him I started reading about codependency and I was like yeah, this is why I let it get this bad, and I spent the next SIX YEARS being single and doing the hard work of figuring out who I was, what I wanted, and how to communicate effectively. I knew the first thing I needed to do was learn how to be independent and take care of myself.

It was really hard. My relationship with my first boyfriend was terrible, and I didn’t know how terrible it was because I’d never had a good relationship. I thought I was proving my love for him by tolerating my misery. I thought everyone treated everyone badly, and the only way to be close to anyone was to be willing to tolerate treatment you didn’t like.

There’s a quote from Stephen King that fits.

There’s a phrase, “the elephant in the living room”, which purports to describe what it’s like to live with a drug addict, an alcoholic, an abuser. People outside such relationships will sometimes ask, “How could you let such a business go on for so many years? Didn’t you see the elephant in the living room?” And it’s so hard for anyone living in a more normal situation to understand the answer that comes closest to the truth; “I’m sorry, but it was there when I moved in. I didn’t know it was an elephant; I thought it was part of the furniture.” There comes an aha-moment for some folks – the lucky ones – when they suddenly recognize the difference.

I was 23 when I started casually seeing someone who was really cool to me and super respectful of my boundaries, and my mind was blown. Omg, is this a thing I can actually expect from people? We dated about a total of five minutes because it didn’t take me long to start acting kind of weird about it.

Before he dumped me for making it awkward (I mean, he claims it was because he was going through his own recovery and was working on himself and didn’t want to get too wrapped up in anyone, buuut I think it was because I was stupid-into him) I remember spending about three hours waiting for him to call and it was giving me terrible anxiety, and I was like, wow, this exactly the person I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be so into someone that I can’t live my life when they aren’t around. And I decided then that I really shouldn’t date anyone until I could handle being with someone awesome and not not losing my mind over it.

So then I was single a bunch more, and worked really hard on not needing other people to validate my existence. I also worked really hard on managing my feelings and learning how to be a decent communicator. I casually dated five or six people between the ages of 21 and 26, but nothing really happened there because I quickly figured out we weren’t very compatible or there were problems I wasn’t willing to overlook.

Lesson 3: No More Nice Girl

When I was around the age of 24 I was sexually assaulted by a manager from work. He invited me to go out bowling with him and a group of his friends, and I almost didn’t accept his invitation because I found him a bit skeevy, but he assured me it was just as friends and nothing would happen. He was laying on the pressure pretty thick and was acting hurt by my resistance, so I confirmed with him three times that it was not a date and that I wouldn’t go if he thought it was a date, and he assured me it was just as friends. I went because we had a ball-busting kind of relationship and I thought it would be really fun to play a competitive sport and shit talk and also because he made me feel guilty. At what I thought was the end of the night he hugged me and asked if it would be cool if we went back to his friends house for an hour or so. He was my ride, and I didn’t know how to express my discomfort with the idea without hurting this feelings and making it awkward, so I said sure. Once we got there, he made it a point to have ONE shot and then claim he was too drunk to drive. Eventually his friends left, and the couple who owned the house left the room and began having loud sex in the next room. A few minutes passed and without any warning, he grabbed me really hard and shoved his hand down my pants, hurting me in the process. He immediately apologized saying he was drunk. He was 250lbs and he was claiming he was losing self control over a shot he’d taken over a half an hour ago. Shaking, I did everything I could to make sure I didn’t upset him until I was able to get him to take me home, then he locked me in the car and begged me not to tell anyone what had happened. For the next few weeks he texted me frantically, “You’re not going to tell anyone, right?” and I told him very firmly over and over again to leave me alone. Not long after he was fired because as it turned out I wasn’t the only female employee he’d assaulted.

This is when I stopped being afraid to hurt people’s feelings. I learned I don’t value other people’s emotional comfort more than I value my own safety. I felt like I’d fallen into a trap designed specifically to prey on girls who valued being nice over being honest and I vowed that night to stop being a nice girl.

Lesson 4: Learning to Put Myself First

Not long after the incident with my manager, my roommate moved out and I had to interview for new roommates. I ended up picking someone who told me that she was trying to escape an abusive relationship. She was a terrible match for me personality-wise, but I really wanted to help her because I saw something of myself in her story. Not long after she moved in, she started seeing her abusive ex again and I was like oh god, what did I get myself into? But she broke up with him for good when she found another boyfriend and things seemed pretty okay. A few weeks in her new boyfriend started stealing from me and I said something and she was like, “Yeah, I know. He’s kind of an entitled asshole.” Then one day I came home to find the living room completely wrecked. Apparently they’d gotten into an argument the day before and he decided to come to our apartment when no one was home and flip furniture to demonstrate his anger. He also put his fist through her bedroom window around this time. I was like, “Okay look, I can’t live like this. You can’t bring him here anymore.” She agreed, but then two days later started telling me I couldn’t tell her what to do. This was my very first experience having to set firm boundaries with someone. I was like “hey, if you want to keep doing this that is entirely up to you, but if you do, you can’t live here anymore. I don’t want this in my life. This is my apartment. I invited you to move in with me. I’m not going to leave, you are.” She responded by harassing me. Trashing my room, breaking things, threatening me…so I told her she had a week to get out, and when she didn’t leave I packed all her shit for her and was like, no really, goodbye. You don’t live here anymore.

I set firm boundaries in a potentially violent situation, and I still can’t decide if that was incredibly badass or extremely reckless, but my take away was if I could set boundaries with her, I can set boundaries with anybody. It’s kind of hard to find dumb reasons to be scared of people after something like that. It was also a lesson in why I shouldn’t make important life decisions based on other people’s problems. I didn’t feel good about choosing her for my roommate, but I thought I was doing the right thing. I let myself feel obligated to save her when my obligation should have been to myself to pick the best roommate.

Lesson 5: Learning to Tackle Problems As Fast As Possible

Unfortunately, that wasn’t my last bad roommate situation. When I was about 26 I had a best friend/roommate who I had to break up with because she never talked to me about any issues she had with me and she had so many issues. I was constantly having to guess at what I did to upset her. She was bipolar so the things that would set her off were usually pretty tiny and her reactions were really disproportionate. She was frequently running around slamming doors and being passive-aggressive. Of course, I think she recognized that her reactions were really intense, which is a large part of the reason she didn’t say anything, but at some point I suddenly figured out that I wanted to learn how to talk to people about any and all problems ASAP and never ever let things get like this with anyone ever again. It was the worst friend break up ever because she was my favorite person in the world but I couldn’t take it anymore. I was like look, I have to go become a whole other person who doesn’t get involved in this kind of shit because this is a nightmare.

Lesson 6: Learning to Be the Partner I Want

When I was 27 I started dating a guy I met through some good friends of mine. He was a direct communicator, and I REALLY liked that about him. I never had to guess what was going on with him. He always told me what he thought regardless of the consequences and I loved this about him. He often hurt my feelings by being a little too honest, but I strongly preferred this relationship style to anything where I had to guess at what someone wanted or what they were thinking or I had to worry that what they were telling me wasn’t the whole truth. I quickly realized his honesty empowered me to make informed decisions about my own choices.

A year into our relationship we decided to explore polyamory, but we had a difference of opinion about how polyamory should work (he was more on the mostly-for-the-sex end of things and I was a full on relationship anarchist right out the gate) so we spent the next two years debating how we thought it should work. I dated two other people during the course of our relationship, but neither relationship worked out for reasons independent of our relationship. He “dated” (I feel like that’s maybe a strong word for what he had going on) a few other people, but it didn’t work out because the people he chose were very monogamous. One day he came home and announced, “I really like this woman I met at my kids’ soccer practice and I want to go on a date with her!” and I was like, “Cool. You should! Tell me about her.” and he was like, “Well…she’s monogamous and I think she has a problem with the fact that I have a girlfriend.” And I was like, “Well, let me solve that problem for you.” And that was that.

I was really tired of trying to navigate non-monogamy with him, and by then I was so committed to the idea of polyamory that I found our relationship controlling (he very much didn’t want me to date other men or have serious feels for other people) and it was making me miserable. I mean, there were a lot of other things factoring into our break up (sexual incompatibilities, my lack of interest in being a parent to his kids, etc.) but his desire to go on that date was a clear indicator that it was time to walk away.

But I learned a lot about myself in those three years. He was the most independent person I’d dated up to that point, and he respected my autonomy more than any other person I’d been with before. (Except for with my dating choices, he was rarely trying to manipulate me into capitulating to his feelings.) It actually hadn’t occurred to me that it was possible to have that much autonomy and still maintain a serious relationship.

And it’s important to know that the first year of our relationship was hard for me because I wasn’t used to so much honesty and I often wished he was a little more wrapped up in me. It took me some time to realize that most of the time, I couldn’t actually argue with what he was doing. I realized I thought he was entitled to share things if they were true (because I wanted direct and honest communication), and he was entitled to his choices/boundaries even if I didn’t like them (because I wanted us to be autonomous and in control of our own choices.) And it wasn’t up to me to try to change what he was doing, it was up to me to manage my expectations and communicate my desires so we could both make informed decisions about what we were going to do.

I realized I could be in a relationship with someone who shared their feelings with me and did what they wanted if I stopped expecting them to be responsible for me. I was like…this is it. This is the key to being the person I want to be and having happy relationships.

At the time I had a hard time articulating to friends why I stayed with him despite our incompatibilities and my frustrations, and it was because I trusted him in ways I never trusted anyone else. And truth: he cheated on me several times. People are so outraged on my behalf about that and I’m like oh no. I never trusted him in that way. I always trusted he would stick his dick wherever he wanted. But I also trusted he would tell me about it afterward, and that’s what was important to me.

But eventually I was like man, I can’t deal with your nonsense anymore. I need to go be poly and navigate the scary world of building relationships that feel right for me. I broke up with him and two days later I found Wes. I read his okc profile three times and I was like, “omg, this guy is guy sounds perfect for me.”

Lesson 7: Putting These Lessons To Work

Let me just say right now, I approached Wes with a great deal of skepticism. Because I always assume people are lying about who they are and what they want. (A lesson I learned from my first boyfriend, who figured out what I wanted and pretended to be that guy, and then surprised me with a serious personality disorder.) But the reason I showed up for our first date was that I thought these were weird qualities to lie about since most people probably don’t look for those things in a partner.

I kept some emotional distance from Wes for the first few months we dated because I had this rule I’d made with myself about not letting anyone get too close to me until they’d shown they could be consistent and act with integrity. I absolutely refuse to let NRE open me up to abuse and manipulation. But don’t get me wrong, I knew I liked him immediately.

So a few weeks into our relationship I was contacted by one of his exes through a mutual friend, and she told me he’s a manipulative asshole and she suggested I “run not walk” away. I was like holy crap. That is a really bad sign. I tried to warn someone about my first boyfriend and she didn’t listen, so the fact that this person was reaching out to me said A LOT.

I considered dumping Wes on the spot. Being like, “Sorry bro” and never talking to him again. I didn’t talk to Wes for an entire day while I tried to figure out what I was going to do. I didn’t immediately approach him about it because I figured it would open me up to manipulation. I decided that I would keep hanging out with him, but I would be REALLY careful about developing more feels for him, and I would look even harder for red flags. After two weeks of trying to find red flags and coming up empty-handed I confronted him about it.

He was like, “Oh god, is that why you’re acting so weird?” And he explained to me why his ex hates him, and Gina and Jessie confirmed his story. (Mostly that he argued with her opinions and motivations and she HATED it. And he explained what some of those opinions were and I was like eww. Then he showed me public blog comments she made and I was like yeesh.) I was like, okay. Well, we have a lot of the same opinions and values so…I’m going to keep an eye on you buuuut I’m guessing I’m not going to have the issues she had. I mean, she said he was bad in bed and I already didn’t agree with that. Also, he managed to prove she was lying in the three sentences she shared with me. I was like well, if that was a lie, it calls the rest of it into question.

That was a weird experience for me because I was scared to reject such an obviously bad sign because overlooking bad signs isn’t something I do anymore. I was like, I really hope I don’t feel like an idiot about this a few months from now when I find out you’re a total asshole. But I reminded myself I can walk away at any time. After spending two years trying to navigate polyamory with someone who just didn’t agree with my relationship style, I decided not to let myself get suckered by the sunk cost fallacy again, which is where you keep investing in something even after you learn it’s a bad idea because you’ve already invested so much already. I made a deal with myself right then that I wouldn’t hesitate to leave if I found a good reason.

The first year of our relationship went really smoothly. All our arguments were about things he’d said to other people. Because I was like, “*I* know what you’re saying, but I also know what they’re hearing, and I think you should approach it differently.” We didn’t have these fights ourselves because our values are so similar and I can typically figure out his motivations really quickly after just a few questions, but I understand where other people are coming from because I haven’t always thought the way I think. I had to really work to get here. So I often feel I can bridge the gap in understanding.

Of course, more often than not, the more I talked to him about it the more I realize his approach makes more sense than mine even if my immediate reaction is, “Hey, don’t do that ever.” As part of my recovery from codependence, I’ve become someone who’s really big on owning my feelings and being productive, so if something I’m doing doesn’t make sense or is counterproductive to my goals, I want to know. So I want to have these conversations. I figure the end result can only be positive because one of us will come out with a better understanding.

But Wes and I did go through a rough spot a little over a year into our relationship because I started to feel like he was taking me for granted. I was like…what is up with you having a super packed schedule and leaving it up to me to make sure we spend time together? And I straight up told him like yo, I will break up with you if you expect me to do all the leg work to keep this relationship going. That is not something I’m willing to do for anybody. And he was like…wait, what’s happening?

Here’s the transcript of us resolving that fight forever:

Wesley Fenza: I’m really concerned about how you’ve been talking about our relationship recently

More Than Two talks about not seeing people as need-fulfillment machines, and that’s kind of how I feel to you

like, you sound like you’re saying that you need X amount of attention, and it’s my job to give you that, and if I only give you 80%, then our relationship is worthless and you should just leave

and I worry because, even if I do want to give you that level of attention, it feels suffocating to me to feel like I can’t play a video game or go on a date without it upsetting you

 Amber Lea: I feel like what I want from you is really basic and reasonable.

 Wesley Fenza: I still don’t know what it is

from what I can tell, it’s time and exclusive attention

what is it that you want from me?

 Amber Lea: I mean, I basically want you to reach out to me for attention because that’s how I know my attention is wanted.

 Wesley Fenza: but how much and how often?

or are you saying that I never do that?

 Amber Lea: I feel like a bare minimum of like 15 minutes a day would do a lot, and then a couple hours here and there. I mean, basically what you’ve been doing lately.

 Wesley Fenza: ok

I definitely want to do that

I’m just confused because your blog post led me to believe that what I’ve been doing since our last talk isn’t enough

 Amber Lea: Well when I said I felt like you were trying more before and you responded with something along the lines of, “Am I? I don’t know what I’m doing differently” I got the message that you weren’t actually going to do anything, and that the additional attention I was getting was just a temporary increase, and had nothing to do with what I was saying.

Like I want to know that you’re willing to put in a little effort to meet my needs and you’re not going to just ignore me and hope I stop complaining. And it sounds like you are willing to do that, and that makes me feel better.

 Wesley Fenza: well

I get nervous using words like “effort”

 Amber Lea: yeah yeah

 Wesley Fenza: I think if spending time together takes effort, then there’s a problem

 Amber Lea: You know what I mean

I want to know that my needs matter to you

 Wesley Fenza: ok

they do

but not to the point where I’m going to spend time with you when really, I’d rather be doing something else

like, that’s more a hard line I draw

it’s not about how important your needs are. It’s that I think that’s a thing people shouldn’t do under almost any circumstances

but the effort I’m making is to remind myself that spending time with you is an option whenever you’re not in the room, and ask myself if I want to do that

 Amber Lea: And it’s like…I’m not mad at you because you play video games for three hours. Like I am perfectly capable of getting sucked into something (a game, tumblr, GoT) and ignoring the world for hours and I don’t think that’s a terrible thing to do. It’s just when you haven’t hung out with me in a long time and I’m like hey heyheyhey, and I get nothing…and I know you’re going to go on a date later or do whatever and there’s not a lot of space for me in your schedule, I start to feel like I’m less important than pretty much anything else you could be doing. Like man, you can make time for hours of video games and you can’t make 15 minutes for me?

 Wesley Fenza: ok

I think, in those situations, I never understand that you’re feeling that way

like, it’s hard to tell the difference between when you’re just poking me because you think it’s funny and when you’re poking me because you feel neglected

so it would help if you were like “hey, let’s spend some time together” or something

 Amber Lea: If I’m poking you when you’re already engaged with me it’s because I think it’s funny.

Would it help if I just walked up and said, “Fuck you, give me ALL THE HUGS!” and then tackled you?

Because that’s more my style.

 Wesley Fenza: yes

especially if you only want attention for like 15 minutes, you can do that whenever

I’m rarely doing anything I’m unwilling to stop for 15 minutes

 [I deleted talk about lunch.]

 Amber Lea: But yeah, I feel better. I’ll PROBABLY stop writing journal entries about how I hate you.

Maybe.

No promises.

 Wesley Fenza: you can write journals about how you hate me

just write them for better reasons

 Amber Lea: whatever!

 Wesley Fenza: there are like a million reasons to hate me

really good reasons

I was trying to explain this to xxxxx last night

 Amber Lea: Yeah, but none of those reasons bother me.

 Wesley Fenza: she was all “…you don’t SEEM like a jerk”

 Amber Lea: omg, you’re such a jerk

 Wesley Fenza: I KNOW!

I told her you pretty much can’t be an Ask person and not be a jerk

and this was after I’d just spent 20 minutes talking about how social etiquette is stupid!

For the record, Wes is a jerk because he’s a direct communicator and he has really strong boundaries and he doesn’t let people bully him into doing things he doesn’t want to do. Like, if you decide you want to get Wes to put your feelings before his, good luck to you. But this isn’t something I fault him for. This is something I admire about him, because really, we should all be better at asserting ourselves and not letting people push us around just because they had a feeling.

And I’ve personally never felt pushed around by Wes, but that’s because I understand that Wes isn’t trying to cross my boundaries. He’s asserting his own. Like when he said, “I’m [not] going to spend time with you when really, I’d rather be doing something else.”…a lot of people might feel really hurt, or find it abusive, or think he’s a complete jerk. But he’s asserting a totally legit boundary. One most people would be too afraid to articulate. And I don’t want him to spend time with me if he’d rather do something else. That’s not fun for anybody. And it’s obvious to me that if that’s what he’s doing…maybe it’s not because he’s an asshole, maybe it’s because it’s time to break up.

I can look at that statement and say that now, because I’m really good at not being codependent and trying to save the relationship at all costs, or making people responsible for my feelings.

That was our first and last fight about our relationship.

Lesson 8: Revisiting Bad Relationship Dynamics.

But Wes isn’t my only partner. I’ve also been in a relationship with his wife and partner of 11 years, Gina. Not long into my relationship with Wes I realized, uhh yeah, I have super gay feels for her because she is amazing, and several weeks later I learned that Gina was in an abusive relationship with her other partner, Shaun. I hadn’t quite anticipated what it would be being in an abusive metamour situation.

I was there for the second condom-gate, where everyone found out that Shaun was fucking one of his partners without a condom and didn’t tell anyone. Then it came out that he had a pattern of pressuring his partners into foregoing condoms and then pressuring them not to tell. Gina also revealed a pattern of trust violations and poor treatment, and she was struggling with the idea that she should break up with him, but couldn’t bring herself to do it.

Shortly after that I spent New Years with Wes, Gina and the rest of the polycule. New Years is also Wes and Gina’s anniversary, and I spent the night crushing on Gina super hard and the three of us spent the night together.

She woke up in the morning to find that Shaun had sent her a bunch of cruel text messages because he was jealous he wasn’t invited. Shaun had had a long history of carelessly fucking anyone he wanted with total disregard for Gina and had in fact just locked us out of the greenroom at a show to have sex with someone the previous night, so it was heartbreaking to watch him guilt her to tears. At the time Gina was struggling to feel safe being sexual with people, and that fight shut the whole thing down. Eventually she stopped having sex with anyone at all because she’d begun to associate sex with drama.

Living In A Supportive Bubble

I’m not really sure of the timeline here, but Gina also started dating Hilary around this time. Hilary was extremely loving and supportive, and I decided not to actively pursue anything with Gina because I didn’t want to pressure her, and I felt that Hilary was an amazing partner and I found it kind of intimidating.

At some point Shaun snapped over how much shit he was in for the condom situation and he started throwing chairs around the house and he threatened to punch Wes in the face.

I was about two months in at this point and I was pretty freaked out. I was thinking, Jesus Christ, I’ve tried so hard to stay away from this shit…what did I get myself into? I wasn’t sure how to handle it, so I waited and watched how it unfolded. I didn’t want to hold everyone responsible for the fact that Shaun had a violent outburst, so I decided to see how they reacted.

I ended up feeling really good about the way they handled it. They were like, “Okay, that was totally unacceptable. What are we going to do about it?” and they had a house meeting and discussed options. I believe it was decided that Shaun either had to work on getting better in a very real way (therapy) or he had to leave. I was so glad it was not okay. It make me feel really safe to know that this kind of behavior wouldn’t be swept under the rug.

It became pretty apparent that Shaun wasn’t really interesting in trying, and Gina was concerned about the safety of everyone in the house, so she asked Shaun and Ginny to move out.

Throughout all of this Hilary was there, supporting us and showering us with compliments about how well we were handling it and how much she admired us, and I grew really fond of her. She used to come over and start conversations about how terrible Shaun was and how amazing we all were and I found it cathartic because Shaun reminded me so much of my first boyfriend.

Over the next few months I grew really happy and comfortable with my new family, and I felt surrounded by love and affection. The only thing that was hard for me was watching Gina hurt over Shaun, but Hilary was on it, saying all the right things and I felt that between the four of us (Wes, Jessie, Hilary and me) we were taking care of Gina to the best of our ability.

Once Shaun was finally out of the house, Hilary was our cheerleader and our advocate through all his attacks, public and private. And I grew to trust Hilary in a way I haven’t trusted anyone, possibly ever. She was super validating. She made us believe we could do no wrong, and it felt really fucking good.

But she was a super busy lady, and she started coming around less and less. She also started drinking more, and she always drank a lot, and I actually remarked at one point, “Is Hilary okay?” Hilary and I didn’t have a texting relationship or anything so she was fading from my life. At one point I emailed her, sad that she’d deleted her facebook, asking how to keep in contact. I’d generally felt that all my communications with her were getting weirder and weirder, so I didn’t press the issue. She kept us pretty separate from the rest of her life, so I assumed there was a lot going on that she didn’t feel comfortable talking to me about.

Reality Sets In

Then I get this text telling me Hilary blew up at rehearsal. I made them tell me the story about 15 times because I didn’t understand what they were saying. I kept saying something along the lines of, “…first of all, this story doesn’t make sense, second of all, that doesn’t sound like Hilary.” And they kept shouting at me, “I KNOW!”

I’ve probably grilled them on what went down about 87 times by now because I was like, “But no really, what happened? You must be leaving something out.” Because as most people know by now, it turned into this whole big thing about how my partners abused Hilary and I can’t understand how. And I’ve been dying to ask Hilary about it ever since it happened but I never felt like I could because she immediately started stating all these boundaries about us not contacting her and I felt like any attempt on my part to reach out to her would be met with hostility.

Gina broke up with Hilary a few days after her blow-up and I was heart broken. I was like…what happened? I don’t understand. None of this makes sense.

Then Hilary started sending Gina these really shitty emails I was like okay, I can’t even begin to imagine you guys doing anything to deserve that. I watched Gina fall apart. Then I watched Hilary become super good buddies with Shaun, Gina’s abusive ex.

At this point I slowly began to realize she had been treating us all like we were in a crisis negotiation. She was using her training as a crisis counselor on us 24/7, and she never told us what she really thought or felt. And I trusted her completely, thinking she was a good friend.

And now this person who’d only ever showed us with love and support was tearing us apart, and networking with everyone who’d ever felt wronged by us because she wanted us to suffer.

Realizing You’re Not Okay

The situation with Hilary wrecked my ability to trust. I walked around in a daze repeating, “I don’t understand.”

I was resisting the use of the word abuse for myself in this situation until I realized how deeply traumatized I was starting to feel. I watched Gina fall apart, and I was helpless. I was completely unable to shield Gina or give her the tools to deal because I’ve never experienced anything like this. Now not only was she trying to recover from an abusive relationship with Shaun, she was getting vitriol from the person who’d been supporting her throughout it all.

I’ve been trying to build a healthy relationship with Gina for the past year, and it’s been really difficult to establish any kind of stability because her exes don’t stop. We spent six months trying very hard to not engage with them in anyway, and they never stopped. (In all seriousness, Gina is Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim and she has a League of Evil Exes who you have to deal with if you want to be with her.)

Lesson 9: Learning to Put It All Out There

I went through a period of time where I became really worried that Gina was keeping things from me because she never came to me with any issues. I grew super distrustful and pulled away from her without telling her why, and she simultaneously felt triggered by things I was doing because she was worried my motivations were the same as Shaun’s…and we broke up over it.

I was a complete mess. I realized I love this person so fucking much, and now it’s all falling apart because these people will not let us heal.

After curling up in a ball and crying for a week, I went to Gina and told her that I’d been keeping this fear from her that she wasn’t telling me things and that’s why I was acting so distant, and that I hadn’t been talking to her about my feelings because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t pressuring her…and blah, blah, blah I felt like absolute garbage about my choices, and this wasn’t the kind of relationship I wanted to have at all.

We recovered because we finally talked about our feelings around what was happening.

Revisiting A Dark Time

At some point I became aware that Shaun’s history with abuse was a lot darker than I realized and he once hurt a woman so badly she missed three days of work. (I had originally heard he’d put her in the hospital, but some fact checking on Wes’s part revealed this fact was misremembered by the person who originally shared it with us.) The account of what happened reminded me so much of my first boyfriend that I spent three days crying.

At one point I confronted Shaun about it because he and Ginny were trying to tell me they were afraid to be in a room with Wes and I snapped and was like, afraid of Wes?! Shaun physically assaulted someone. He has a history of violence. I’m afraid if I make him angry he might hit me. But nobody’s cowering in his presence… so… excuse me if I don’t feel super sympathetic.

But I, personally, was fully prepared to deal with Shaun’s bullshit. I have spent the last decade learning how to not let myself be manipulated by people exactly like him. The second he started his whole, “I’m the real victim here!” campaign I was like, oh no you’re not.

My first boyfriend also insisted he was the real victim. He hooked me into a relationship with him by playing the victim. I later found out that nothing he told me was actually true, and he’d twisted the facts to make himself look like he barely had a choice but to act how he acted. “Like yeah, technically I did those things…but she DROVE ME to do it! Here is a list of things that didn’t happen at all how I’m saying they happened that totally justify why I did that.” Then you know, I drove him to do all the things he did to me. And the girlfriend after me drove him to do even worse things.

Gina’s accounts of Shaun’s behavior are totally inline with my experience with my ex. And nearly all the tools in my abuse prevention belt are for dealing with the Shaun’s of the world.

This is why I didn’t think twice when Hilary jumped on board the Shaun Hate Bus and took the wheel. She presented herself as an expert in dealing with abusers and manipulators.

My inbox is full of emails from Hilary saying shit like, “Shaun is having his own little autoerotic pity party. I am loathe to add to his pathetic ‘I’m such a martyr’ spank bank. He will counter by comparing his behavior to Wes’ when there was drama over the blog. I have some responses to that but it’s still fucking horseshit that I know that’s what he will do. I have zero interest in Ginny charging in to rescue him from the mean bitch who is sucker punching her husbo.” (The “mean bitch” here is Hilary.)

Here is part of an email Hilary sent to Shaun: “As for me, you’ve officially earned my invective – no small feat, so some congratulations would be in order if I gave anything resembling a damn. Respond however you wish, but consider the gloves off. I will not be kind, loving or considerate with you again. You have given me all the evidence I require to be confident in my assessment of your behavior and character. I suffer fools rarely, but the openly and unapologetically manipulative and poisonous never.”

Here is an email she wrote to Gina: “I love this, and you. What you wrote here took tremendous strength, resilience, and bravery. I am so proud to know you, and count you as one of the dearest loves in my life. Having only been close to you for some of this journey, I cannot hide my admiration for the brave, reasonable, and self-advocating woman I see in you. You are a champion.”

Imagine my devastation when she swiftly exited our lives and reappeared in Shaun’s camp, saying all the same types of things but with the names switched around.

The Aftermath

Both Gina and Jessie are working through their feelings around Hilary with their therapists, and I’m seriously considering seeking professional help very specifically to deal with my trust issues surrounding Hilary. She snuggled up close to us and got us to open up and be extremely vulnerable with her, and she never gave us any indication that she had an issue, and then she flipped out, and she didn’t just leave…she came after us.

Jessie recently said, “once you have no further use to her, you are garbage, an old pair of jeans or a red dress that she now despises, it isn’t good enough to donate you for someone else to enjoy, she has to slash you up to destroy all evidence of the memories.”

And that’s how it feels. Like she’s done with us, so she needs to slash us up and destroy us. She couldn’t just walk away. She needed to make sure we were of no use to anyone else.

I’ve been trying to figure out what happened here and how I can protect myself in the future. I’ve picked up a pretty thick stack of books to try to sort through it. To be clear: this is something I’m currently struggling with and I don’t have a nice neat little lesson I learned. Other than maybe to be super suspicious of anyone who tells me I’m amazing and that they understand all my feelings and never seems to take issue with anything I do.

Lesson 10: Learning How To Be In the Right Relationship

The only people who have consistently treated me well in the context of a romantic relationship are Wes and Gina. We’re nearly to the year and a half mark and going strong. And I think it’s because I was prepared to be in a relationship with them. I showed up with the skills and tools I needed.

I couldn’t have been in either of these relationships 10 years ago. I would have felt completely overwhelmed by Wes and his confidence and confrontational style, and I would have worked way too hard to make him happy in ways he never asked for while never letting him know I was doing any of it, and I would have grown really resentful when he didn’t reciprocate by constantly guessing at my needs, and I think I wouldn’t have had any clue how to treat Gina well. I probably I would have let her do everything for me and then failed to notice how easy she was making my life, and I can’t imagine I would have been able to tell her anything about my feelings. I probably would have sat on them forever and willed her to be clairvoyant and held it against her when she wasn’t.

I had to learn how to communicate and set clear boundaries. I had to learn who I am and what I want. I had to learn to be someone I like and validate my own existance. I had to learn to manage my expectations and take responsibility for my feelings. And most importantly, I had to learn some goddamned self-awareness. I had to learn those things before I could have a healthy relationship.

I can’t tell you what a relief it was to meet people who were already where I am in terms of personal development, and not have to meet someone who was part way there and explain to them what I was doing. Wes, Gina and I haven’t had to teach each other much. We started out on the same page.

I feel like everything I’ve gone through has lead me to this place in my life and all the hardships I went through to get here were worth it. I’ve discovered that it’s possible to have exactly what I want even though it’s incredibly unconventional. That because I was brave enough to be the person I want to be and put myself out there, I was able to find people who love and support me as I am.

Reading List

If anyone’s interested here’s a short list of books I recommend:

Facing Codependence by Pia Melody This is the first book I ever read on codependency. There are probably better books on the topic, but this one really helped me.

Looking Out, Looking In. This is an interpersonal communication book. I’ve read it cover to cover three times. If you want to learn how to have productive conversations this book is awesome. (This is a college textbook so I recommend buying an old edition for cheap.)

More Than Two by Franklin Veaux. I cannot recommend this book highly enough if you want to know how to treat your partners ethically.

The Game by Neil Strauss. I recommend this book so you can be aware of common manipulation tactics that pick up artists and general douchebags use on women.

The Broken Record Files: Trying to Figure Out the Wellness of Me

[Content Note: Food Talk, Exercise Talk, Stress Management]

In January, I managed to start and keep up some great habits. Most weeks, I went to a morning yoga class four or five days a week. I was having an easier time with Whole30 eating and reaping more benefits. Basically, I felt great and enjoyed installing some more structure to my life.

totes amaze

Then I went to Disneyworld and was all out of whack by the time I got back. I haven’t been able to motivate myself to get out of bed for yoga. I haven’t been feeding myself properly during the day and am usually too lazy to put lunch together in the evening or any of that. I’ve been going out to lunch a lot and taking everyone out to dinner for food I want when I am stress eating. My non-savings account is negative, a thing I didn’t worry about at all in January.

Grumpy Cat

I guess I figured that would happen. But I didn’t expect to have my entire new program rewritten to the old one! Sigh. Living the healthiest, happiest life for me takes a whole lot of effort! WHO KNEW?!?

Everyone. Everyone knows this.

Anyway, I’m still in analysis mode, trying to figure out the best way to proceed and commit. And I am finding new things all the time that I have to pay attention to on the road to feeling well and energized every day.

I have started by identifying what about January I liked the most and how to best make those things permanent aspects of my life. I liked feeling awake in the morning, and sleepy at bed time. I liked all the stability I had going on, both emotionally and physically. I liked having money to save and to purchase things that were not food. I liked the general feeling of success I had, knowing that I was making kick-ass decisions for my own wellbeing. I liked that I was spending money on things that would last and added to hobbies I enjoyed. I was buying things I wanted to wear, or equipment for working out, or art supplies, or just silly toys that made me happy. I liked that I wasn’t just spending all of my money almost immediately.

In addition to all that emotional stuff, I have just not been feeling great. I assumed that it was because of sugar and bread, and I’m sure they don’t help. But I think this may be more due to very specific foods and activities.

I still got headaches during my Whole30. I’ve had frequent headaches throughout my life and ibuprofen is one of my BFFs. I assumed that having no processed sugar spikes would clear that right up, but I was still taking Advil every day. Granted, the headaches were less severe than I often get them, but they were still there. I assumed this was due to subpar caloric intake, since when you’re eating whole foods, most of which are vegetables and fruit, it’s easy to not actually get enough calories. I upped my fat consumption a bit which helped, but it didn’t solve the problem.

When we were in Disneyworld, most days I took a few doses of Advil. We went through Advil like it was going out of style between my nagging headaches and the onset of Jessie’s cold. I assumed that my aches were due to the sudden change in diet, full days of walking around a lot, and all that stuff that comes along with vacation. Again, I’m sure that all contributed. But when I got back to work, I started having really bad headaches every day!

At first, I thought that it was sugar withdrawal, since I cut back a lot when we got home. But it was so persistent and relatively severe, that I started to think there must be something else going on.

Well, first, there’s always stress and I do my best to plow through, triumphantly bellowing “KEEP MOVING FORWARD” to remind myself that stress is temporary and can be handled in my privileged life. So same ‘ol, same ‘ol.

So, since stress isn’t new to me, there must be some other factors to consider.

Look, the scientific method is awesome, OK? I know you are riveted.  I mean, if you’ve read this far, you must care at least a little bit?

Today, I don’t have a headache at all. Thursday and Friday were nasty and Monday, I almost went home because it was so bad. What gives? Like any red-blooded American, I went to the internet and also consulted with Amber who knows a ridiculous amount about this kind of thing.

Long story short, I have a few things to look into:

  1. Dehydration – This is an ongoing struggle for me, so an uptick in water consumption is definitely needed. Amber has been adding fresh fruit to her glasses of water because it seemingly helps her body actually absorb it. Adding fruit means adding electrolytes and your body is all “hell yeah, I’m thirsty”, so the theory goes. I haven’t tried that yet, but I am intrigued.
  2. Exercise – On Thursday and Friday of last week, I got it together and went to yoga classes in the evening and in both cases, the yoga really helped with my almost ibuprofen-resistant headaches. I tried out Yin yoga on Thursday night and from a stress relief standpoint, it’s great. You hold sitting stretches for five minutes at a time and they are really easy and you can use pillows. It doesn’t do much for strength, but it’s definitely a lovely way to chill the heck out. Vinyasa is more effective for pain relief and has a lot more physical benefits, I think. It’s aerobic and strengthening. So I like having both of them in my practice. On Friday, I was in a miserable mood and an hour of yoga really helped and my head was fine. Then this morning, I shoveled a lot of snow for, like, 40 minutes. I never really consider these physically intensive things we have to do as grownups as exercise because they fall into the category of “chore” before “physical exertion”. But after several days of not getting any focused physical activity, I’m thinking that it really helped with my head.
  3. “Weird” Food Things – The common denominator, other than lack of consistent exercise was that I went back to having some Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar and nuts as the bulk of my breakfast. Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, according to the internet, both cheese (especially significantly aged cheese) and nuts (especially almonds) are possible migraine triggers. My guess at the moment is that eating them both together could have given my body a double whammy (I also ate cashew butter and almond butter on the bad days) and make my head scream. I’m also guessing that nuts might be bigger culprit here since I didn’t eat any dairy when I was doing the Whole30 and still suffered pain. Apparently, another big possible migraine trigger is red wine (SAY IT AIN’T SO…just kidding, I have gotten tons of red wine headaches.)

So, given these hypotheses, tomorrow morning I am going to drag myself out of bed, hell or high water, to go to yoga in the morning and then, because I consider my body a science experiment apparently, I’m going to eat some almonds and see what happens. If nothing, then I will eat some cheese and see what I can see. And hopefully I will end this (possibly painful) experiment knowing more about the chemistry of me.

Going back to my original thoughts, seeing that I know that I feel better when I’m eating certain things and none at all of others, why is it so darn hard to only eat those things? Well, that all comes down to emotional eating!

I’ve never thought of myself as an emotional eater, especially because I don’t overeat easily. When I was a kid, I definitely ate out of boredom (this is one of the reasons I got into baking. The process of baking was fun and something to do, and I got a product from it). I don’t do that very much anymore. But I definitely use food as a coping mechanism and as a reward and that’s why my money disappears into the pockets of restaurateurs everywhere. So, no, I don’t overeat, but I definitely overspend!

When I’m celebrating, I always think of food I want first and want to take everyone out to get some. The same exact thing happens (much more often) when I’m feeling emotionally crappy and/or stressed. I want comfort food and I want everyone to come with me to eat it. This is a really unhelpful habit, as you might imagine. When I drink wine as a response to stress, I hardly ever just drink one glass. I usually have two or more without really thinking about it. It’s not really because I’m looking to get drunk (red wine instantly calms me within the first couple of sips). I think I just have some subconscious response that says “What a crappy day. More wine. DO IT”.

I’ve been looking into ways to break this habit by finding better ways to soothe stress or reward myself. There are a lot of options. The key is to figure out how to make those things my go-to things, thus relegating wine drinking for when I just feel like having a tasty glass of wine here and there (like when Wes and I go wine tasting, which I really enjoy). As for comfort food, well, that will be relegated to the sometimes also and if I commit to Whole30 eating for a more extended period of time, it is likely that I will find foods that serve a calming purpose that are also beneficial in other ways.

What are these options, then?

  1. A hot shower or bath, having fuzzy PJs to get into, and trying new and delicious teas.
  2. Evening yoga! This actually feels more treat-like than the morning sessions because I go after a day of work, where stress levels likely increase. It serves as both a stress reliever and a reward because I know I’m doing something good for myself.
  3. Online Shopping! Shopping at malls or other brick and mortar stores isn’t usually all that fun for me. When I go to a mall, it’s because I have something very specific that I need and I plan to go right for it. Big stores tend to tire me out quickly and bring on stress. But browsing dresses on Modcloth or putzing around on Amazon for things I’d like to have is a fun little activity and, since I save so much money not eating out because I’m eating properly, sometimes I can buy one of those things I want.
  4. Art time! Making the conscious decision to set time aside for me to sit at my neato drawing desk and work on a new piece is great. To make it even more special, I often get some kind of aromatherapy candle to have burning while I work and other things to make it cozy.
  5. Television and movies with the Fam and hanging out with my silly dogs!
  6. Hanging out in Amber’s Room! She has a silly cat who amuses me greatly. Also snuggles. Also an array of hilarious objects she has collected over time. Also cuddles.
  7. Crossword puzzles and Candy Crush and other silly games.
  8. Cooking delicious food and knowing that it’s as good for me as it is delicious.
  9. Playing my guitar! I am happy to put this back on the list. It’s been off it for too long.
  10. Personal dance parties in the kitchen or wherever good times (and music) are had.

So there are ten things I can do that don’t require booze or non-homemade food to soothe and celebrate (and really, there’s only tea drinking and making home cooked meals on there that even have anything at all to do with food). So now, I need to just commit to the goal and start the process of rewiring my brain and body to go for those things first.

Does this mean I’m giving up anything for good? Not really. I mean, if I find out specific things make me sick, then yeah, those will generally be avoided…even if it’s cheese. At the very least, they will be consumed occasionally knowing that they may bring on the pain. But I need to learn moderation better in my “old” age. No, 34 is not old but it’s old enough to notice more about how your body works and the better my habits are now, the better they will always be.  I think that figuring how to replace booze and shitty food with fruity water and food that makes me feel like Popeye are good general goals.  Having some stuff (in moderation) at a party is great.  Indulging when I really want to indulge is great.  But the norm, the vast majority of my time should be spent not indulging in things that do me good only for a moment or five.

Sounds reasonable, yes? Yes!

Backed Up Plumbing Brings On the Tears and Other Anecdotes

Well, friends, it’s February and daylight savings is just around the corner (March 8th this year!). I just got back from a lovely Disneyworld vacation and am trying to get back into the swing of healthy living and getting back to those neat-o goals I set at the turn of the year.

As you’re aware, I did an entire Whole30 for January. I managed to stick to it until about 8pm on day 30 when Amber offered to make me a BLT…with cheese (because that’s how she rolls)…on bread. I gladly accepted the offer because whatever. I had made it and needed to pack for our trip to Florida the next day. It was one of the most delicious sandwiches I had ever eaten.

And thus began my descent back into eating whatever I wanted. At the time, this was a freeing exercise, mainly because I so terribly missed Tex-Mex cuisine. I missed cheese, and refried beans, and corn. It felt good to not have to worry about what was in everything, to be able to eat with abandon as my privileged, non-afflicted physiology allows me to do. In Florida, Wes and I split pretty much everything (which was a very good call and we should continue to do this pretty much forever when we go out together), and I drank fruity drinks with funny names and cheap wine at every amusing location.

We came home on Sunday after a Saturday evening of seeing what the Magic Kingdom is like when it’s becoming “on season”. It was crowded and aggravating. Getting anywhere was a battle of wits and agility and finally, when we had had enough, Wes and I had to get out of the park while the (first of the night) electric parade was happening. Jessie, having been back at the room all day nursing an illness, stayed at the park a bit more to go in search of caramel coated apples and to watch the fireworks. Needless to say, I was pretty tired when we got up to get to the airport.

I was tired because I hadn’t slept all that well the entire week and this was likely directly correlated to eating a bunch of things that I hadn’t been eating the month before. I didn’t really notice the effects until Sunday when I was more agitated than I had been in a long time. When we landed in Philly, I was aggravated by how long it took for our bags to get to us. All I wanted to do was get home. I was snapping a bit and Jessie luckily figured out that I was just in a mood and showed me pictures of dogs getting stuck in couches. It was very effective.

We got home and were greeted by two very excited dogs…and the news that our plumbing was completely backed up. The shower in the downstairs bathroom had 4 inches of water in the bottom and the toilet had coffee grounds in there. This had happened once before, three Thanksgiving weekends ago when we were hosting people at the house. It was a nightmare for various reasons (not the least of which because it was my 4th day ever on Zoloft and I was dealing with brain chemistry like whoa) and the memory of this sent me into a panic that felt very much like the all-day anxiety ride I had been on all that time ago. I guess it was a trigger of sorts, not helped by the fact that I hadn’t slept properly or eaten as I should for 7 days. I found myself alone at some point sitting with not only memories of the relatively silly anxiety associated with backed up toilets, but also being once again haunted by everything that has happened. I was remembering how for at least a year of my recent life was spent in an almost constant state of anxiety, sometimes with moments of straight up fear of emotional and verbal battering and, in the end, fear of violence.

The worst part of the entire thing was sitting there having a sort of conversation with myself where I acknowledged all the things I was remembering and how it would take time to not ever think about those things anymore and to be patient with myself while also echoing some opinions of others who thought I should just get over it already and how I should be better than this. After all, no one except for my qualified mental health professional should have to hear about such things and honestly, she probably doesn’t want to hear about it anymore either. These two warring opinions just swirled around in my head until I let the tears come, knowing that this was a temporary moment of remembrance and that I just needed to ride it out. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.
I chilled myself out and then within a few minutes, I wasn’t alone anymore, now being sandwiched in a hug from Wes and Amber. Then we all went grocery shopping for vegetables because we all needed some brain food.

While we were out, the plumber came and Jessie showed him where to start searching for the problem. Dude had a metal detector to locate pipes. I can honestly say that this was the first time I had ever seen someone using a handheld metal detector to do an actual job (other than people roaming the beach in search of gold doubloons and…bottle caps more likely). He was a wonderfully nice guy and had the whole mess fixed by 9:30pm.

Relieved, I went a got some laundry started and starting cleaning up the mess and tried to go to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. I ended up taking Monday off too in an effort to get life and mind in order before returning to the office. It was a good decision.

This morning I woke up anxious and groggy and once again failed to get out of bed in time for yoga. I did make it to work though, so that is definitely something. In between bouts of organization and communications of all things work related, I contemplated why I still felt crappy.

And it dawned on me that I have been in complete denial (again) of food’s effect on me. Sure, doing the Whole30 was ultimately boring and frustrating near the end of that strict period, but I felt even keel the entire time. My blood sugar was completely stable, never suddenly dropping like it does often when I’m eating “normally”. My mood was stable (I was generally calmer and depression was linked to specific events, not just a state of being). And I had a lot more energy and that energy level was more stable. Getting up for yoga was not generally difficult for me to do and I would go relatively strong throughout the entire day.
For a person like me who has never really had any need for dietary restrictions (I don’t have any known allergies or syndromes), I haven’t wanted to own up to the “truth” about how I should be eating. Regardless of whether or not the way I feel eating “off-plan” foods is due to some undiagnosed allergy or whatever else, the evidence is abundantly clear that I feel significantly better when I keep the added sugar, grain consumption, alcohol consumption, even maybe dairy and legume consumption down to minimum. So I think I need to generally follow the Whole30 idea long term, but allow myself to have those off-plan things as treats a couple of times a week.

This fits in well with Wes and I deciding that the money we save cooking at home most of the time is worth finally making a commitment to, well, cooking at home most of the time. I’m a very good cook AND I generally enjoy doing it. We order out or go out a lot though when I’m tired because it didn’t occur to me until recently that a better alternative was to simply say “I don’t feel like cooking. Anyone else want to?” And…someone else has always been willing! So I’m practicing doing that more often because no one declared that it was my responsibility and mine alone to make sure everyone is fed.

Also, no one makes tuna salad as good as Amber’s and no one makes grilled cheese sandwiches as good as Jessie’s and Wes makes a mean pile of bacon and excellent panini, so I am perfectly content to sit down for a delicious plate of any of those.

Trying to eat a specific way helps me stick to not-going-out goals and I was very pleased with the amount of extra cash I had for savings and whatever else during the month of January. So that needs to keep happening.

I’m so far failing at my “read more” goal, but I still have time to remedy that since it’s merely February. Of course, I need to watch how often I say that before I find myself being all “I haven’t really read anything new, but it’s merely December”. I have a pile of books, I just need to choose to read them when I have free time. Sounds easy enough but reading has never been a big hobby of mine. But it’s a hobby I’d like to get more into, so here’s hoping I can get myself to do it. In the Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin often talks about how it’s easier to do something every day rather than every few days, and that might be the approach I need to take here. Read a little every day and it will become a habit.

I started that digital photography class I mentioned before but after 4 classes, I have decided to drop it. I wanted to like it, I really did but to put it simply, the teaching style was way more laid back than I wanted it to be from 6:30pm – 9:30pm on a Thursday night. When I was taking the screen printing classes, I enjoyed having something like that to do on a weeknight because it was such a hands on class. Other than the first one or two classes of my first class, I was basically paying to have a screen studio with much appreciated guidance from a great teacher. I got to play with ink and make screens as I wished and got to just come in a do art for 3 hours. I enjoyed it so much that I am determined to snag a spot in the class for Spring semester.

This photo class was trouble from the start. Though the teacher is very friendly, fun, and knowledgeable, time management and engagement wasn’t a strong suit. They were going through some life circumstances that caused them to be seemingly more distracted than usual, but the lack of focus presented itself in ways that can be really infuriating to me.

In short, because this post is already pretty long, there was no time management or respect of anyone’s time in the class. Class started extremely late every single time. Stuff got repeated constantly for people who either didn’t show up to class before or got there even later than the really late time we started. And we didn’t really do anything until the last hour of class and when the class is for 3 hours after a full day of work, that is painful and not worth it. I also learned what I really needed to learn to go off on my own within the first two classes (more of a refresher for what I used to know when Kelly and I would take pictures with her film camera).

My classmates did not appear to be frustrated with this at all and it was then that I realized that, well, this just wasn’t the class for me. I was so bored that I almost left during the class to go take pictures of something, anything. Or go find a photocopier in the building to scan pictures of my butt or something.

So yeah, I made the decision to not go back because each class I went to made me angrier.  So I’m going to go to a different style of yoga class on Thursday nights instead and then come home and mess with my camera. A much better use of time and I don’t have to cross the bridge to do it.

So that’s what’s going on with the progress of Gina’s Goals 2015. I’m learning a lot and figuring out next steps, so I’m pretty happy. Tonight we’re going to see Jupiter Ascending because all the reviews says it’s so bad that it’s amazing. Just my kind of film! Possibly my own review to come!

TIGER BLOOD

[Content Note: Whole30, food talk]

Well, folks, it is day 16 for me on this go around of the Whole30 and…I feel great. Truly. I even pull some little muscle or pinched a nerve in my upper back and I’m all “whatever” about it. It hurts when I laugh, which is funny, which makes me laugh more. It’s a vicious cycle…OF HILARITY.

I owe this, at least in part, to starting a yoga practice. I have been taking morning classes regularly since the start of the month and it’s amazing. I now can see that my day is infinitely better if I make the effort to drag myself out of bed by 5:40am to get to the 6am weekday class. I didn’t go yesterday and was all cranky. Like, I was in a meeting and was totally that “I AM NOT GOING TO DO THIS AND THAT. THIS AND THAT IS NOT MY JOB!” asshole. (Granted, I had some founded reasons for being miffed, but not indignant and inflexible). I leave class feeling awake and ready to take on the day with finely tuned productivity and smartness attacks.

I realize that I am swiftly becoming a white, middle class stereotype, and I think I’m fine with that.

Stuffwhitepeoplelike

Anywho, now that I am pretty much accepting that this way of eating is way better for me, I am trying to figure out what I’m going to do after the strict month is over. I know, I know. I’ve been here before. Before it was about caffeine. I had confirmed three different times that daily caffeine does me no favors (it takes me from bouncing off the walls to HULK SMASH in a few days of regular consumption). For some reason though, I thought it was tooooo haaaaard to avoid it, on account of my love of seasonal lattes.

Yes, I know. I’m doing nothing to break that whole stereotype thing. I also frequently cook with sea salt. SUCK IT.

pumpkin-spice-latte
But I figured out at some point that I don’t even love lattes that much (I do love vanilla chai lattes however, and their caffeine content is low in comparison) and they should be a treat anyway. A decaf peppermint mocha is awesome…every once in a while. I think it became easier once I also figured out that the sugar in these things, or in coffee that doctor on my own also made me feel like crap if I had them often. When you get to the point that you understand that pretty much nothing about a specific food or beverage does you much good, it’s easier to relegate it to the realm of “special occasion”.

This has been what I have long wanted to do with crusty bread, all things containing substantial amounts of added sugar, all things grainy…but setting this intention is harder because these things are EVERYWHERE. I feel great right now, but it takes considerable effort to eat this way. In talking to Wes yesterday, we agreed that limiting grains and added sugar was the best way to move forward. I’m great with that because I discovered zoodles (noodles that are just spiral cut zucchini) and I really enjoy them with pasta sauce. He also shared an article with me showing a bunch of interesting and delicious-looking things I can do with cauliflower and I will try them ALL.

The other big reason I want to keep on this way of thinking is because I cook a lot more and bring lunch to work and haven’t been resorting to getting take out for dinner. So there is the added bonus of saving a crap-load of cash. I have…SAVINGS. I could, like, actually save up for some pricier things I want like traveling or a new acoustic/electric guitar or moon boots (or whatever the kids are buying these days). This is more exciting than I expected it to be and I really want to keep the trend going. I want this energy. I want this discipline. I want this focus moving forward.

I would just like to eat a piece of cheese or some refried beans here and there. Basically, I want to be able to eat Tex-Mex food again because omg yum, ok?
Of course, one of the other reasons I have been doing so much better with this round of Whole30 is that I found better recipes and have been enjoying the process of cooking. Dinner generally takes me an hour total to prepare (including baking time or whatever) and that’s fine for me. I have gotten into a weeknight routine that ends up with me cooking a healthy meal and cleaning the kitchen up intermittently. And now I have all this energy, nothing seems all that hard to maintain. I have also been cooking things that everyone in the house seems to like, taking that entire stressor out of the equation. Not everything has been universally liked, but in those cases people took care of themselves and I let them.

So, what I’m saying is, I’m way happier right now and that makes everything infinitely easier. I’m happier because of all the healthy things I’m doing for my body, but I’m also significantly happier now that I finally understand what people have been telling me about not worrying so much about everyone else all the time. That part of my ego has deflated and stopped tormenting me. I am doing things that benefit me and the improvement to my wellbeing is huge. I don’t worry about everyone else being happy because I can see that my being happy makes everyone else happier (that’s a Happiness Project thing, and a Wes-ism…I finally get it).

I have still been working hard at home, but I do it gladly, without resentment, and am finally back to a place of really digging my home and the people in it (and the people who visit). Sure, I’m still on antidepressants. I might be on them my entire life because depression isn’t just about things not working in your life. There might also be a chemical component to it. I might never be balanced well without it. BUT I also can’t (and wouldn’t) deny that I have made a bounty of positive changes and finally am feeling lasting positive effects of those changes on my addled brain.

I’m still sort of addled. I have been known to get distracted by the dogs while trying to do too many things at once, subsequently forgetting what I went up to the attic for in the first place, amongst various other stupid human tricks. But that’s just me. I’m also not angry, hate-filled, and heartbroken anymore. I also feel like I can do so many of the things that used to bring me joy but stopped because I simply couldn’t spare the energy.

I got in contact with my “old band” (we haven’t played together in a year or something) because I suddenly realized how much I was missing music, our music, in my life.

Arcati Crisis

I think I’ve picked up my guitar twice in the entire time we have been on “hiatus” and that’s super weird after years of playing it a little every day. I’ve barely sung, except a few times at karaoke and sometimes in the car. I’ll be playing with Peter next week and I’m really looking forward to it and after that I’m hoping to work with everyone to find a way to do that stuff without it becoming too much for me. Of course, I feel like I have infinite ability again, but I know I don’t actually (and I don’t want to have too many nights where I’m not cooking at home). But, honestly, we’re an amazing band and I think I want to be part of that again in some capacity yet to be determined.

I don’t feel that way about everything, of course. I’m pretty much over theater for the most part. That might change, but a series of unfortunate theater experiences over a number of years “cured the acting bug” I guess. I could see doing a project here and there, but it’s really not my artistic priority anymore. I’m glad, then, that I decided to be a chemist instead of an actor because man would I be pissed now. I feel similarly about burlesque. I would probably enjoy doing a show every so often during the year (APW I’m looking at you!), but it’s not what I want to be doing with my time anymore. It served its purpose for me and then became linked with memories of a lot of people and events I don’t want to give energy to anymore. It was a good time and now it’s over in the capacity that it was happening in the past.

So yeah, I’m feeling good and for the first time in a while I can see that feeling lasting. I’m doing what I want, what I need and it’s awesome.

No matter how white and privileged it makes me. I know, OK?!?

Anyway, next time I’ll geek out about how cool cameras are.  Stay tuned!

January: The Month in Which I Feel like a Superhero

So, I know it’s only 7 days into January, but I’ve got to say that I feel like I am kicking its ass.

Admittedly, the metaphor of beating up a unit of time is pretty stupid, and now I’m just trying to imagine what January’s ass looks like (whatever…don’t act like you weren’t doing the same thing), but it’s the most concise way of hyperbolically stating that I’m doing really well with my goals.

My experience so far with the Whole30 challenge is way better this time. Again, I know that I am only 7 days into it, but last time 7 days felt like an eternity. I was dealing with a lot of stress from other sources at the time and I just didn’t have it in me to not run back to the standard foods and drink I classically crave when I’m stressed out.

Frenchman

That picture is basically a stressed out me, sans the mustache and goatee.

This time though, I have enacted a few pretty important emotional changes that are keeping my stress quite in check. Sure, I have spikes here and there, being human and all, but they are short lived and generally require me to stop and think for a minute how to fix whatever the problem is. The biggest and most important thing that I’ve really started to do is consider my wants and needs first when considering an entire situation. I still consider everyone else, but I am getting better about making decisions that are good for me, even if they might be inconvenient or whatever for others. This likely sounds trivial, but I have pretty much never done this except in particular situations decisive action was required for maintenance of my own sanity. Now I’m trying to do this for everything and I’m finding that this way of taking care of myself and paying attention to myself has led to me actually being able to relax often because I’m starting to do what I actually want or need to do.

So yay for that! And eating whole foods and paying attention to vitamins and such is both good for me and fascinating. For instance, do you know how incredibly easy it is to get a full day’s worth of vitamin A and vitamin K? Eat a cup of spinach and you will have well over 100% of each. Eating part of a sweet potato will give you like 300% of your daily vitamin A. It’s SO easy to get enough that it’s also easy to get too much of, well, any vitamin or mineral. This is why you shouldn’t just eat sweet potatoes and kale all day every day. It will make various systems in your body start to malfunction. Amber and I were talking about the early expeditions to the arctic and how people were dying or getting ridiculously ill from eating polar bear meat/liver. It’s pretty much all vitamin A. Like anything, moderation is key. Vitamins are healthy until they’re not!

polar bear

If you run with the skeptic crowd, a popular thing to illuminate is that multi-vitamins are crap, and that often supplements of any kind are grouped in with that. I think it’s definitely better to get your vitamins and minerals from the food you eat (your body employs that better), but if you’re simply not getting enough of certain things, or if you have absorption issues, supplements are great. For instance, me and my vitamin D supplement are BFFs. I’m a pale white girl who doesn’t go out much in the winter and wears sunscreen in the summer and I don’t really drink much milk. Taking the supplement vastly improved my life. I no longer fear falling asleep at the wheel EVERYTIME I drive and I stay awake through movies and plays out on the town. Sure, I still fall asleep watching stuff sometimes, but that’s usually because I’m tired from my day.

Speaking of which, I started a daily yoga practice at a local studio. I’ve been flirting with the idea for a long time and this particular studio has a Vinyasa class every weekday morning at 6am. I thought it was a joke to think I’d actually want to do that but I went ahead and gave it a shot this week and this morning I did my third day of class in a row! In short, I love it. I do best with guided exercise and having a welcoming place to go and get an hour workout first thing in the morning is wonderful. I used to take pilates classes, and while they were great for my abs, there was an aspect of the class that felt like it was OK to push yourself too far. I could only afford one class a week and I found that I left feeling more stressed than when I arrived because I couldn’t do what everyone else in the class could do (and everyone else came 3 times a week I think). I was skeptical about liking a yoga class because I feared that there would be too much spiritual mumbo jumbo for my liking but this studio is really great for that too! It has meditative aspects to it, but I have been wanting to get into that and they aren’t about karma or chakras. Yes, chakras are mentioned now and again, but always followed up by talking about actual parts of the body. What I really like about it is that it’s definitely not easy…at all…but the instructors teach with the idea that getting “good” at yoga is a years long process and on some days you can do more and on some days you do less. Today, for instance, I was in child’s pose a lot because my legs were like “go to hell”. I did what I could do, tried things that seemed hard and when they were too hard I took a break. Just that alone is very relaxing.

It’s such a great way to start a work day. I come out of there feeling great and ready to take on the day. I have been more productive at work and generally more positive. It’s a happiness boost for me to have accomplished a workout first thing.

Of course, I have to get up at 5:30am to get to the class so I’m tired after dinner and have been getting to bed at 10pm (and sometimes I fall asleep on the couch before that), but there’s something really satisfying about that too. I’m now getting tired in time to get a full night’s sleep. There’s still time to do fun things or whatever, but I’m structuring my life more around things that make me feel good and healthy. And that’s pretty fab. Doing unhealthy stuff that I enjoy should be a time to time thing, not the norm. So I’m happy to be making a positive shift.

Tomorrow I go to my first digital photography class. I’m looking forward to learning a bunch of stuff and being able to take fabulous photos. I’m hoping that I can get into the Spring screen printing class again, and this time I hope to have super cool pictures I took myself to Andy Warhol-ize (or something).

So there’s a lot of good stuff going on that I hope to sustain and I’m really happy about it. I’m feeling creative and I’m feeling like my life has become simpler, calmer, and more satisfying.

Also…24 days until Disney. Yessssssssss!

Adventures in Therapy: Hulk SMASH

As you recall, I decided to try adding Wellbutrin to my brain meds to see if I could deal with some increased depression I had been experiencing.  The first couple of days were me being kind of high and feeling a little jumpy.  Then I stopped feeling those ways and waited for the actual effects of the drug to take place.

After a few weeks, I wasn’t really feeling any better but was still giving it a shot thinking that  it might change OR that the dose I was on was too low and that I would get it increased this week.  However, on Friday night I decided that I was going to stop taking the Wellbutrin because I finally noticed an important correlation between taking the drug and getting pissed off all the time.

See, I noticed that I not only felt a little more depressed, but also that the depression was now combined with simmering frustration and anger.  This is a pretty nasty combo because if it is due to meds, it could be lying and this combo tends to make you really question your life decisions.  The depression makes you feel despair and the anger makes you want to rashly do something about it, regardless of the facts.

At least, this has been my experience.  I know I’ve said this a bunch of times, but it bears repeating: mental disorders like depression lie because the chemicals in your brain change your perception of reality.  Medications change the cocktail in the brain.  If you get the right thing, it raises or lowers the offending chemical to improve your outlook and ability to cope.  If you get the wrong thing, it can drive you further into the hole.  Depression lies and medication can lie too.

As I’ve mentioned, it helps me a great deal to think about my mental health in terms of chemistry and this has been no different.  But I don’t always notice the overall trend right away.  After two weeks of being on Wellbutrin, I found myself getting really frustrated over small things.  There were then enough small things that I concocted an entire tale of woe that was about how I’m in the wrong job, wrong house, and wrong part of the country.  I was constantly screaming in my head that SOMETHING NEEDS TO CHANGE!  I would stomp around about trashcans being left out after trash day.  I would be fine and then would become frustrated for no real reason.

angry hulk

At some point I started communicating out loud that I was frustrated or angry and that it wasn’t making sense to me.  While out with Wes and Amber on Friday night, I said a few times, “Ugh, I’m just angry all the time.”  Wes said I was like Bruce Banner in The Avengers when he was like, “my secret is that I’m angry all of the time.”  It was relevant because despite being generally more angry and short tempered than usual, I was doing a relatively good job not taking it out on everyone, except when I failed to do that.  I was isolating myself more and was thinking that becoming a hermit in the woods was once again a good plan for me. By the time I got home that night, I was smoldering over nothing and finally remembered some of the message boards I read when deciding to try out Wellbutrin.  A lot of people said it was great but a significant number of people reported having trouble with rage while on it.  Finally this thought crept into my mind and I put it together.

After reading about how best to decrease the dose, I saw that generally a doctor will have you decrease it 100-150 mg a week.  Since I was only at 150 mg, I figured it would be safe to just stop taking it.

The difference after a couple of days of not taking it has been impressive.  That smoldering rage has left and little things haven’t been getting to me.  Our bodies are so whacky and fascinating!

I’m happy that it didn’t get worse and that I didn’t do anything rash like quitting my job, moving out and revisiting my old barista career.  I’m glad I have patient people around me who trust me to get through these strange changes in my mental weather and support me in trying to get down to the bottom of what’s going on with me and help me figure out what’s internal and what’s external.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do next.  After stopping the Wellbutrin, I feel better than I did before I began.  It still might be time to up my dose of Zoloft to get the best benefits, but I’m not super worried anymore.  Keep moving forward, right?  Right.

bruce banner

Adventures in Therapy: Is that Strawberry Alarm Clock I Hear?!?

As I mentioned, I went to the doctor yesterday to talk shop about changing/adding meds. She agreed with my assessment and we decided that I would keep the Zoloft going at its current dose and add the lowest dose of Wellbutrin to see if it can help counteract some of the side effects. I’m seeing her again in a month and we will continue to figure out the best course of action (will I be lowering the Zoloft dose? Is this the right additional med for me” etc).

So, it’s Day One of a new medication and that old familiar adjustment period is here. I was told that this stuff is activating. Somehow, I thought that it wouldn’t be too noticeable because of the Zoloft, but I was wrong about that. I took the pill around 7am and by 8am I was feeling pretty zippy. It reminded me of the first time I took Sudafed for congestion…but without the congestion and background illness. This extra energy felt a little like anxiety but not overwhelmingly or primarily so and so far that aspect has been nothing I can’t handle.

I had to hop into action doing various things and it was a little harder to concentrate than usual, but I managed. Then around 10am, I found that it was becoming increasingly difficult not to stare off into space or pass the time by poking myself in the face. By noon, I felt pretty stoned.

This is, at least for me, par for the course now when adjusting to meds like this. Granted, my only other experience has been with Zoloft, but seemingly my body/brain has a relatively predictable pattern when responding to chemical changes. I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry, so I went and wandered around Target for most of the hour. I was drawn to all sorts of things, and was enjoying inspecting the soft, fuzzy blankets for sale now that the weather is getting cold. I wandered all through the store, being fascinated by pretty much everything and laughing at myself for how aimless the entire trip was. In short, “stoned” is a good way to describe it. Slightly delirious is another good way to describe it.

At some point, I had an inkling of a thought that I was hungry and figured I should eat, so I grabbed a sandwich and went on with my day. I’m still out of it but I’m functioning.

It’s times like these that I am really glad I decided to get my education in chemistry. Sure, I hated school, like, a whole lot BUT I am grateful for the way focusing on chemistry wired my brain to think about the world and my body. It makes responses to medication like this not so scary. “Some of your subroutines are being rewritten. Your feelings are nothing but a bunch of molecules in various states of imbalance or equilibrium.” It’s quite calming and while wandering around like a jackass in Target I could rest assured that it was simply because of a reaction running its course and that everything would reach a baseline soon enough.

Whether that baseline will be the baseline I want still remains to be seen, but in the meantime, everything is A-OK. One of the things I really appreciate now is that I’m not stigmatizing myself for needing medications like these to be the best version of myself. I take other medications for other bodily needs and I don’t see these as anything different. I’m still doing all the other work to be my best, but in the end none of that work can shine through with all that chemical noise in the way.

Since it’s Day One, I can’t really say if it’s doing what I need it to yet, but I can say that I’m not experiencing anything nasty. I’ll take it. An easy day on the journey, ey?

Adventures in Therapy: A Change of Scenery

Over this past weekend, Wes, Jessie, Amber, and I went off to Columbus, OH for Beyond the Love, a polyamory conference in its second year. Wes and Jessie went last year and came home with rave reviews so I was looking really forward to my chance to go this time around. All in all it was a really well done and well run conference. It was a nicely structured event with lots of time built in for socializing and meals. The classes were good, though the subject matter for most of them was geared more towards people new to polyamory, so I’m hoping that in the coming years more “advanced” stuff will be presented.   They also debuted some great things for consent culture at the event. First, they had a red, yellow, green system for each person to be able to declare how open they were to being approached/flirted with. It seemed like it worked well and I’m hoping they got a lot of good feedback. They also had a “Flirt Board” which allowed attendees to pin an envelope with their name on it and people could leave them little messages to flirt, compliment, say hi, whatever. I thought that was brilliant because it took so much pressure out of that aspect of the conference. I hope they do that again too.

Overall I had a great time. I spent most of the weekend hanging out with Amber which is generally a pretty great way to spend a weekend (or a weekday or anytime really). The only thing that struck me as odd was at the end of everything when it was time to say goodbye, I didn’t really have anyone to say goodbye to (other than the people I already knew). I had participated in lots of things at the conference, but I hadn’t really connected with anyone…I didn’t really make any new friends. This experience showed me how introverted I have become in the last year.

Luckily for me, Amber is a self-proclaimed introvert and we were able to be at the conference together and weren’t focused much on finding new people to hang out with. It’s just that I’m not historically an introvert. I’m definitely more on the extrovert side of the spectrum, but over the last year I have noticed that I have more energy loss when I go into social situations with a lot of people I don’t know. I needed multiple trips up to our room or out of the conference to recharge.

I’ve been thinking about these kinds of things a lot lately because I’ve been thinking about changing my medication. See, when I was first put on Zoloft I was so happy to have not experienced any of the acute side effects associated with it and it really has helped me. But over the last few weeks I have been feeling like another raising of the dose might be necessary soon (Zoloft historically does not keep working without increases). While dosage increase is certainly an option, I have also started to wonder how many of my current frustrations are related to this no longer being the right chemical for me. While I didn’t see the side effects initially, I have been on Zoloft for 2 years now and I am thinking that certain things I am observing are Zoloft related.

For instance, over the last year I have gained 25 pounds. I didn’t start eating more or having less energy when I started Zoloft and if anything I eat much more healthily now so I don’t think that my weight gain is so much about my diet as it is about a latent effect of the drug. Another example is the fact that I experience depression more now than anxiety. Anxiety was certainly an issue when I started Zoloft but I think that the symptoms coming out of the woodwork now are more depression (lack of focus, motivation, a sense of hopelessness here and there). I also have pretty much lost the entirety of my libido which has been somewhat of an issue for a while but it has gotten worse over the last year. I also get headaches all the time (I go through ibuprofen like it’s about to be discontinued) which has been something I have had to deal with since day one of Zoloft.

Back in June I got a full round of bloodwork to see if anything was amiss. At the time I was having a lot of trouble staying awake when doing somewhat mindless activities like watching television, going to movies at the theater and, worst of all, driving. A friend at the time suggested getting the blood work done and I’m quite glad I followed her advice. At the very least I would get a baseline for myself and at best I would discover a glaring problem. Much to my happiness, I didn’t have a thyroid issue or any other major problem. What I did have was a vitamin D deficiency. The doc wrote me a prescription for a weekly mega dose of vitamin D that I was supposed to take for 12 weeks and then I could take a daily supplement after that. I was skeptical that this was the root cause of the issue (it’s an issue I’ve had for a very long time…it was just getting more severe at that point). But I did the treatment and hot damn if it didn’t work! I’m not scared to drive long distances anymore and I stay awake through movies and such (unless I’m already really tired of course). So that was an easy fix.

The doc was concerned over the amount of weight I had gained. I hadn’t seen him in two years and it shocked him to find out that I had put on most of that weight in that year alone. I take that with somewhat of a grain of salt since I’m pretty sure it’s in doctors’ contracts to freak out about weight gain and my blood work and other vitals came back in healthy ranges. But if I’m just holding onto weight because of the Zoloft and Zoloft isn’t necessarily the right med for me anymore, it would be nice to check and see and maybe shed some of these empty not-muscle pounds.

In the cases of weight gain and lack of interest in sex, it would be fine to me if these were just things about me now but it would be a good idea to do some experimentation to see what the variables are. I have an appointment with my nurse practitioner on Thursday and I’m going to talk to her about options. At one point before I tried bringing my dose down and when we talked about that I asked if there were any downsides to staying on Zoloft long term. She explained (as I mentioned above) that it won’t continue working at current doses and will have to be increased periodically until you max out (I’m at 100 mg now and the max dose is 250 mg). When you max out, you then generally go to a different medication. At the time she mentioned Wellbutrin which is completely different chemically. I have been looking into it and it sounds like a good option to try and address the side effects I am seemingly experiencing. It’s generally prescribed for depression and is very activating and it seemingly historically has none of the side effects of Zoloft and other SSRIs. It has its own stuff, of course. The activating aspect of it can be unsettling and can cause you to be pretty manic and can also cause anxiety. But the activating feeling might be something I can deal with (it was something I liked about Zoloft) and I’m hoping that a change in meds will help me find the motivation to get fit (not for weight loss, but for overall health and strength).

Based on what I’ve read, this is likely what she will suggest and I think it’s a good avenue to explore. I’m not entirely sure what the process is to switch medications (like, do I need to cut back the Zoloft first and then start the other one? Do I take them concurrently while lowering the Zoloft dosage?) but I’ll be able to talk about that on Thursday.

So yeah, it might be rough for a while and I will likely document my experience if I do switch as I have done with Zoloft. If the nurse is against it, then I suppose I will not be switching, but she will probably agree with my thoughts and there’s no harm in trying (I don’t consider the adjustment discomfort to be harm. It’s just something you have to deal with for a month to see the medication’s true effect…unless I feel like becoming an ax murderer…then I will, you know, not take it anymore).

So, on to the next adventure!