Saturday, October 29, 2011

On Fear and Need

I, fortunately, have never been traumatized enough to have triggers. I have an irrational skepticism and distrust of parents (particularly fathers), and I still quiver when people yell at/near me, but nothing akin to flashbacks and emotional turmoil.

But last night, I got a taste of it. Just a taste, mind you; I don't mean to equate it with PTSD or something serious. But it was the first time something has happened that has taken me back to an emotional state and given me irrepressible images of my past.

Essentially, I was sleeping last night and some drunk guy started pounding in quick bursts on one of my neighbor's doors. And I immediately woke up and my mind went straight to my father banging the same way on my door, as he had for decades, about to barrel his way in and rage at me for who knows what. It was like I was a little girl, terrified and helpless. Fortunately, someone else went out and asked the drunk guy, essentially, whatthefuck, and the guy made it clear his friend was sleeping and he was just trying to wake him up. [With ten minutes. Of pounding.]

But I was really scared. And I kept on seeing my father's hand on the door. I held my invisiblegirlfriend/pillow, and, per usual, pretended someone was there with me trying to comfort me. And the guy essentially left. And I, eventually, fell back asleep.


The event was noteworthy for the pseudo-flashback, certainly. But it had more relevance later when, listening to a brief meditation on fear (ok, you caught me, from Robert California on The Office), I thought back to what I had listed as my greatest fear the day before on a personality test [I took a battery of them as part of getting my goddamned letter for SRS]. Greatest fear: "Never fully living and loving." Greatest worry: "Spending my life alone." Etcetera. I was, of course, cognizant of this theme, to the point that I made a sardonic note at the bottom of the test saying "There are ~12 answers, out of 40, that somehow involve my current sense of loneliness and lack of romantic fulfillment, in case you've lost count." I'm not afraid of death. I'm not afraid of living a meaningless life. I'm not [unreasonably] afraid of being hated, reviled, or a failure. But I am acutely afraid of dying before I find and thrive in, for some substantial time, a secure, giving, reciprocal romantic relationship.

But thinking about fear, I thought: *why* am I so afraid? It's not as if there will come a point where I will be so crushed by insatiable need or circumstances so dire that I will simply spontaneously perish or implode. I have been alone, in one form or another, most of my life. I have survived, in one form or another, as well. No partner has been present to comfort me in my fear. No partner has looked upon me with desire I embrace and reciprocate. No partner has been on call to protect me, hold my sobbing body, reassure me of my worth and value. And I have survived.

Why, then, am I so afraid? Why am I so single-minded? Certainly, there are attachment models, which I may discuss soon. There are past traumas and current desires. But why is romantic love so paramount? And why, so often, does it seem to be so essential to have now?

I don't know. But I think it's important to figure it out.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Too Significant Other

For as long as I can remember, I have needed others to complete me. I chanted "boredom" as a child, always wanting someone to play with, a refrain my mother would counter with "entertain yourself." I found solace, as a teen, in the nascent internet, fighting orcs and kobolds alongside strangers for hours, away from the gripping isolation of the real.

As a young adult, I obsessed of romance. I wrote manic poems to an unknown "you," as gripped in need as I was in futility. I dreamed and dreamed of arms and lips and knew I was too wretched for either. I was wrong, I was never enough, and I always wanted more.

And then I started to find them. For a month or two. For a few years. Intermittently and all ending the same way: progress progress progress and surprise abandonment. Leaving me with a broken heart and the vacuum roaring anew.

I'm still grappling with the paradoxical products of abandonment and abuse: unquenchable need and unyielding mistrust. But things are changing.

My therapist made a good point last week. I was describing my father (who else?) and she noted that it sounded as if he always wanted more and more from us, wanting us to need and want him so fiercely that he could find some relief from his self-hatred. He was a blackhole, always wanting more, never realizing that nothing could ever be enough.

And she said I'm not too different. And I agreed; the description did fit. Certainly, I recognized the damage my father's need caused, and I set forth to try to protect others from my self. But, fundamentally, my life was and is not enough without others in it. It's the primary source of my distress, and the lingering concern of my life. And, if left unchecked, it could change into something as monstrous as his.

So I'm left evaluating where I want to be. On the one hand, I don't want my happiness to be contingent upon another's valuation of myself. But I also don't think it's unhealthy to need people. People make me laugh, people make me feel loved, people make me think, people are soft and warm and wet and smooth in so many fun places. And the more I read of dystopia and existentialism, the more it seems that horror comes from loss and isolation and meaning comes from connection. A life alone, for most, is no life worth living.

The key, though, is remembering that we are not alone. And, what's more, when we feel we are alone way, we should remind ourselves that this is not forever.

To wit:
So, fun story! On Saturday, I flirted with my first girl!

I was at a seminar thing and she was at a booth for a local social justice thing. And she pretty much didn't say anything about her booth but complimented my hair and I was all "ohmygodsheissocute" and then I was all *tonguestopsworking* and "stupidwords" and she was all "what" and I was all "I'll-let-you-get-back-to-work-bye."

And as I walked away I was all "I HAVE SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE OHMIGOD."

So I went back and asked her if she was coming to my presentation and she said "I'd love to but my partner's parents are in town." And I was all "say-words-to-mask-embarrassment."

I mainly note this because it's yet another example of how detached I was from "typical human experiences." I didn't believe two people could just look at each other and feel mutual attraction; it seemed like some kind of romantic media myth. But apparently, when you start to like yourself and believe others can like you too, it starts to happen! Who knew?

Being alive is beginning to rock, you guys.

That's me, posting somewhere else. And certainly, I was rejected. But something happened! Attraction came from simply seeing each other, and it gave me hope. If, in the course of simply being and doing myself, I come across people who see me and say "I would like to rock her bones," then there is little reason to believe the right time and place and person will not conspire in my favor eventually. Because, even as I cringe writing this, I am a pretty decent person: loving, kind, witty, creative, empathic, intellectual, strong-willed, etc. I am certainly no better or worse than anyone else, but I do believe that the right someone could be very glad to have me. And just as I'm looking for my someone, she probably is or will be too.

I think this is key. I still want and need someone, an aforementioned fact my pillows know intimately. But I am not so insecure, not so desperate as to believe that it cannot happen, should not happen, or is too unlikely to happen. I may have to wait for quite some time. And it will hurt and be lonely and will not be what I want.

But unlike the entirety of my life before, I am beginning to think I am worthwhile outside of romance. I hunger for more, always more, but I use that to fuel my growth, not to consume others. And, ultimately, if the next relationship should falter, although it shall hurt, I hope I will remain confident in my ability, if I so choose, to find another. And another. And another.

Being alive doesn't really rock yet. But it's beginning to. And, suffice it to say, that is a life-altering, ever-so-significant change from all the others I have known.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"What I Believe of Therapy"

I've been to a lot of therapists. But, with most of them, I've not received much “therapy.” More often than not, I gain some things, feel less understood, and end up more rejected than I did when I started. But one, particularly, was different. Certainly, I mistrusted her initially too. I thought she hated me, was hyperconscious of her affect at all times, was terrified of hurting her or horrifying her with how I felt,and found her as frustrating as most everyone else in my life. But she stayed. And so did I. And, eventually, change happened. It was not ideal. But I grew. I explored. And I ended up transitioning genders, changing careers, surviving the end of a romantic relationship and starting a new one. And most importantly, I trusted. When the time came, losing her was hard. But I felt more positive about it than I've felt about losing anyone else before. That, to me, is realistic therapy: Growth, change, trust, and termination that is affirmative not rejecting.

But the APA Code doesn't settle for realistic. It has those five wonderful Principles that compel every one of us to aspire for an ever elusive “better way.” And, being an idealist, I conceive of therapy in similarly aspirational terms.

In short, ideal therapy is a lot like ideal sex. It is a conscious risk, a giving of a bare and exposed self into the care of another who, if they so chose, could do so much harm or so much good. It is an act of worship, a spiritual experience that tells both parties that there is more to this existence than one's isolated, limited self. It is a connection, a celebration of humanity. It is Cat Power, it is Margaret Atwood, it is T. S. Eliot. It is real in an existence that forces us into self-imposed masks and externally-imposed definitions. I want to leave both experiences affirmed, I want to leave connected, I want to leave secure in the knowledge that I am a person of worth who will find that warm embrace again and again and again.

Ideally, anyway. As mentioned, this is an aspiration not a destination. But the more invested I become in my quest to learn how to love everyone I meet (including that most elusive of prey, myself), the more I veer towards soaring humanism, the more I see existence veiled in existential threat, the more apt my aspirations become. As a therapist, I feel like I am participating in something holy, but instead of prostrating myself before the divine, I am living and loving and suffering in congruence with humanity personified in the individual before me.

Certainly, psychotherapy is not reciprocal. But I would not consider it my “calling” if I did not feel that I get just as much from it as my client does. Certainly, psychotherapy is not desire of the other. But there are different desires which are uncovered and explored. Certainly, psychotherapy's medium is not the physical. But what my client entrusts in my care is so precious, so vulnerable, so fragile that I cannot help but consider it a gift. A gift that I do not take lightly.

Undoubtedly, I am somewhat grandiloquent in my rhetoric and my metaphor sent warning sirens flaring in the mind of each prospective supervisor who reads this piece. But when you ask me what I believe of therapy, this is the visceral response that comes to mind. I am not in this for money. I am not in this because I like to “help people.” I am not in this because I was clueless and had to “choose something.” I am a psychotherapist because I know what it is to suffer, I know what it is to despair, and I know what it is to change. I am a psychotherapist because it connects me to others, to the real like no other role can. I want to stand just outside the ring of fire and watch my clients fall to their demons again and again and again. I want to feel every blow they take. And I want to joyously watch them rise, as they look to me for smiles of assurance, until they finally emerge battered and bloody but victorious and trade their isolated inner struggles for the cause of humanity.

That's what I believe therapy can be. And that's what I'll work for it to become.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"Normal" & Abuse

I've been watching The United States of Tara, a show about a woman who has dissociative identity disorder (which causes what is sometimes referred to as "multiple personalities") and the effect it has upon her family. It's an interesting dynamic because, on a certain level, there's a great deal of dysfunction. Tara's alternate selves ["alters"] appear with no warning and inhabit spaces within her life that create a great deal of unpredictability and destructiveness. But on another level, despite these difficulties, the father is loving, the children squabble but mostly get along, the gay child is well-integrated, and Tara and her alters are not particularly threatening to the family. There is chaos and unpredictability, yes. But there are safe spaces, love, support and togetherness too.

Much is made about how "crazy" the mom is, although moreso in a "this is trying" way than a pejorative way. Yet I cannot help but watch and think "I wish I had a family like that." It doesn't seem particularly unreasonable, nor does it seem unrealistic. There are difficulties and hurt, but they are counterbalanced and cared about in compassionate ways. Tara's mental illness is a trial, but there is still a sense of closeness and a palpable sense of love that makes everything manageable. Hard, but manageable.

And it makes me wonder: How much of this is situational dramedy/cultural myth and how much of this accurately reflects contemporary American family structures? Many of the characters in the show focus upon how "abnormal" their family is. But their "abnormal" looks wonderful to me. Does "normal" exist? I don't think so. But perhaps more appropriately, are even the majority of family units close and loving? Do most people actually trust their parents? I honestly don't know.

I remember going over to my friends' homes when I was young and being somewhat shocked to learn that their parents slept in the same bed. My mother slept on the couch for my entire childhood, storing her clothes in the closet in my room and essentially having no space of her own. Not that my sister and I had those either, mind you. We were fortunate enough to have individual rooms, certainly. But if my father wanted in, he'd come in. Perhaps he would knock, but that gave you five seconds before he'd start to yell. "No" and "Please leave" or "Not right now" were not options.

Nothing was optional, where my father was concerned. Everything he wanted to do was mandatory. He'd even make us come out of our rooms to watch as he berated my mother (I don't consider such one-sided affairs "fights") and blamed us. As my sister says, " He would also blame everything on us.  So, as we would watch them fight he would point to that as an example of what our misbehavior (or lack there of in many cases) would cause."

When he did this, he would yell. Constantly. Bellow, roar. And you simply couldn't argue or speak. If he asked you a question, you answered, but his truth was the only one that mattered. My sister, again, "
He would not let anyone else talk.  He would just sort of berate you.  I also found that he would not so much lie as stretch the truth during these yelling sessions.  He would take something said in one context and completely misconstrue it or the events surrounding it." You could not win an argument or ever be right because he would use just enough 'truth' to lend himself credibility but inflect the rest so he was always the sole victim. 

He would threaten to throw things we loved away or take them from us, and once he even threw my sister's cherished blanky in the trash to punish her (our mother fished it out).

Leaving him meant we didn't love him. Telling him "I love you" was met with "No you don't."

And my mother, as a result of him or her depression, more or less shut down. She wouldn't respond unless we yelled at her (we so often did). She would do pretty much anything you wanted her to do, with no sense of her self worth. I almost think of her as a ghost, with the image of her tapping on the door futilely as my father cornered us and berated us locked in our rooms, telling us she was insane and couldn't love us, telling us how wrong we were for hours and her milquetoast protests of "Families don't keep secrets" so painfully inadequate, exacerbating everything.

And I still don't know how frequent this sort of thing is. How many people primarily associate childhood with terror? When people say they don't get along with their parents, what does that mean? I know "normality" doesn't matter, exactly. But I would like to know how many people, in general, relate to this. Because I know being trans is different than the norm. Being lesbian is different than the norm. But is being abused different too? Is Tara's family the ideal or the plurality? And what does the answer to that question mean?

I know "normality" doesn't matter. But it would be nice to have more validation. I might make another post about this, but it was immensely validating to have my sister share her experiences [we're just now getting to the point of trust where we can do that with each other]. You really start to think you've made most of it up until someone else "No, this happened." And I almost want to make a television show that says "No, this happens. All around us. And it doesn't stop once you leave." But I suppose being a psychotherapist will just have to do.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Still and Moreso

It's true. I was so nervous when I was going to first meet Juliet, but then the only nervousness was just normal ex relationship stuff. It instantly clicked for me, because you were You, both *still* and *moreso.*
My ex, on what it was like to meet me for the first time a year after we broke up and I was well in the throes of transition [we talked about it the other night, but this happened about a year ago]. I just found it a really sweet way of describing what it's like to watch someone transition.

It's been about two years since we broke up, and I really value the friendship we've since found. I'm quite lucky to have and to have had such caring people in my life.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Chemical Romantics

I tried to write a more removed and broadly applicable response to Clarisse Thorn's post on Feministe about romantic Chemistry but that approach ran out of steam fast. So I'm just going to bullet point this bitch. <insert deal with it .gif>

- I love stories like these. That's probably not a surprise; I rather like introspective stories of pain and heartbreak with intense personal disclosure and growth potential. *is so going to be a therapist*

- Thorn's 27. I'm 25. And I feel so far behind her, in terms of relationships and sexuality. I suppose I ought to cut myself some slack, what with being trans and all, but then I see some of my former GSSE students, now 18 year old freshmen, in committed relationships and I'm like "Well, fuck. At your age, I'd kissed a girl and liked it. I didn't have a committed relationship until I was 20. And that was more or less long distance and secretive for most of it. Then I had an intense but immensely harrowing 'something' with a young woman for a year wherein I saw her in person twice and barely spoke to her for the last seven months. IFAILARRG."

Which is really not fair. I mean, I've had a mostly healthy 2.5 year relationship with someone who was very sweet and affectionate. And I've had an intensely passionate 'something' with someone who feels like she's seared upon my soul for being so like me, to the point of a loss of individual identity, tearing us both apart [unhealthy, but worth the experience]. I can blame myself for not transitioning sooner, but that shit's on society and the ways my parents raised me, not me. And even if I had transitioned sooner, I really feel there would have been a good chance that I would have lacked the esteem and maturity to keep myself out of risky situations five or so years ago that might have sabotaged a lot of the good work to get to the places I am now.

So yes. I know it's not fair to hate myself for not having a "live with partner" or even "spend most days of week with partner" relationship. But good lord, that feeling is there.

- The core part of Thorn's post, a reflection upon "chemistry," is something I imagine most of us have wondered about. I'm in a church group with a bunch of age-diverse people, and it's interesting to hear the older folks talk about how they viewed love when they were my age vs. how they view it now. There's a definite divide between "passion" and "companionship." I'm young. I want love where we tear each other apart, engage each other constantly, form a dynamic partnership for all forms of stimulation and, more or less, take over the world or fuck each other for days not caring about it. They want someone stable who will be consistently comfortable to be around that they can regard with general fondness.

I dunno. I'm going to keep looking for chemistry until I've had enough of it. But I'll be interested to see how I change as time goes on. I guess that's the reason I'm doing this blog thing, eh? To look back and laugh at my naivete? Or something.

What's your idea of love?

Depression Update #2

The good news is that the antidepressant I switched to (Celexa) is working. Minimal suicidal ideation. Minimal hopelessness. The world seems flattened, as opposed to oppressive. I'm floating instead of being buffeted. And, given where I was, that's a marked improvement.

The bad news is that the side effects are quite noticeable. My sex drive is noticeably diminished (a good thing, for now at least). I yawn frequently. I sleep so much more (this, at 12:20a, is the latest I've been up most of this week).

This is not a perfect solution. I know people say antidepressants won't "change you," but I'm changed. I don't feel my own pain as much, which makes it somewhat more difficult for me to feel others. I'm perpetually tired, which cuts down on my pseudo-manic exuberance. I'm stable. And stability is dangerously new.

As mentioned, though, it's an improvement. I think I'll still want to try to go off of it again. And again. And again. I'm going to wrestle with this all my life. But I am going to wrestle it. I'm not going to live in fear of it like my mother or drown it like my father. I'm going to keep engaging it. And, in so doing, I hope I can maintain the sense and direction of self I still strive for.

I'm busy, now. Blessedly so. I have ideas for what to write about, but the time's not there and the energy (see above) is lacking. But hopefully I'll have something soon. We're getting into the tofu of our counseling theories, now. And I am embarrassingly excited.