Tag Archives: friends

Hitting Walls

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I talk sometimes in my life about hitting walls. I’ll hit physical walls of just not being able to do anything physically anymore or emotional walls of not being able to cope with anything else emotionally. My friends use the terminology of “spoons” from Christine Miserandino and her essay “The Spoon Theory” wherein you only have a certain number of spoons for a day and sometimes it takes all of them to do simple tasks. Spoons are a new part of my vocabulary too.

This past weekend, I went camping. It was my first time camping without my parents and my first time camping with a tent (not an RV) in about 15 years. One of my friends suggested it a few weeks back and I latched to the idea. People have suggested camping with me in the past, since I’ve been an adult, but it’s never panned out and often they’ll end up going and neglecting to actually tell me when they’re going until after the fact. I told my friend this and he told me that he would make sure it would actually happen this time. However, the whole leadup to the trip was fully anxiety inducing for me.

There was a lot of back and forth with my friend about when and where and what was needed and who was bringing what. I made at least six lists related to the trip between lists of who to contact, lists of what to bring, lists of what to pack, lists of what to buy…

I left for my first aid course on Friday morning (with only 2 hours sleep) not knowing who was picking me up or from where, just knowing that I wasn’t going home. We managed to get to the campsite without incident on Friday evening and it even felt awesome. The first part was just me and one friend (not the one who helped plan it all), with no vehicle. Another friend joined us later on and we stayed up late chatting and playing games. We went to bed late and I was up with the crack of dawn.

In the morning, we went for some walks, chatted, played some games. On our walk just after lunch, I started feeling an ache in my knee. I get aches all over my body and have for a long time, so I thought nothing of it, however it did hurt bad enough that I was limping. After a while, as per normal, it went away. Then, I got pain again. This time, all over my body, head to toe, in random spots. All of it was fairly strong, but nothing I haven’t pushed through before. We were enjoying the walk and far enough away from our site that turning back wasn’t really an option, so I just pushed through and didn’t say anything.

About 45minutes into our walk, I hit a wall. I’d already hit a wall of pain, but I was pushing through that. This wall was different. This wall was physical exhaustion. This wall felt like I’d just gone for a 10k run and every single step and breath was effort beyond what felt like I was capable of doing. Feeling like I didn’t have a choice, I kept going.

When we got back to the campsite, I told my friends that I needed some quiet time alone with a book. I grabbed a book and vanished into the woods. The one who came late left and the other who was staying went to lay down. I was so glad they decided to do their own things because I had hit another wall in terms of emotional output. I’d run out of spoons, no more ability to deal with people.

Reading wasn’t helping and not knowing who was coming when later that day wasn’t helping either. I wandered off and made connection with the two friends who were coming later that day to find out what the plan might be. That helped me recollect enough to be able to hear what my body might actually need for me to recoup myself.

I’m grateful I packed my pocket knife (a tool I typically keep locked away due to self harm associations from my past) because I pulled it out and found a couple good sticks. I spent most of the afternoon carving a crude knife and spoon. (It seems entirely backwards that doing a physically intensive craft such as carving when feeling physically in pain and drained would help, but it really did.)

With more energy under my belt, I was able to go for another walk with my friend and play some games. When it started to rain after dinner, we tidied up the site and moved into the tent. Our other friends arrived and we played games late into the night again. One of my friends (the one who helped organize, the one who’s been my rock in this emotionally tumultuous time, the one who’s about to hide away while working on his thesis for several months) hugged me well and gave me a massage and physical connection while we chatted. It helped me come down some more and collect myself more, but it wasn’t really enough. This time, I got less sleep and was up with the crack of dawn again.

When I got dropped at home, I almost immediately wrapped myself in the borrowed weighted blanket. I ended up having a nap under my regular blankets (sheet, blanket, quilt) and the weighted blanket. Napping is a thing that I actively avoid given my issues with insomnia and historically has led to poor nights sleep, but apparently I needed it yesterday because I slept for 2 hours (making for a total of about 11 hours in 3 nights) and I still slept a full 7.5hours last night (also under full bedding and weighted blanket). I woke up this morning finally feeling refreshed and more myself.

The Take Aways

My take-aways from this weekend are not what I was hoping for. I really enjoyed the time I spent with my friends out in nature. It was great to connect away from technology and distractions, be able to get to know each other better and to just be with each other.

I didn’t know that I couldn’t handle that much time in close proximity with people.

I didn’t know that I needed my personal space to that level.

I didn’t know how pervasive the pain is that I’m dealing with.

How to Deal

I’ve fallen hard on the side of “extroversion” with spending more and more time with people. I know I need a balance of people time and alone time and this weekend really drove that point home. I’m not an extrovert. I’m also not an introvert. But I do need time in both spaces. I’m going to spend some time working on finding a better balance of this so that I’m less likely to hit those emotional walls, to run out of spoons, and be more likely to actually be fully present when I am with the people I’m with.

The pain is another challenge altogether. I have a limited amount of time off that I can take for work and I’d rather take it to enjoy time than for appointments. This coming year I have a lot of appointments between what’s going on with my transition and going back on testosterone and with what’s going on with my mental health on both the crisis/trauma side of things and the neuro-divergent side of things. I know if I were to ask a doctor about the pain, that I’d find myself in for a lot of appointments and physical assessments while they try to figure it out. I’ve been coping with it for several years already with very little change in presentation. I feel like i can cope for one more year. There’s also a possibility that it’s a physical manifestation of my mental health problems and that there would be no answer from the doctors. If that’s the case, then the pain would slowly improve (theoretically at least) as my mental health improved. So, I’m playing wait and see. I’ll go to the doctor in a year, when my contract is up with the current job I have and when I have more flexibility about what I do. Or, I’ll go when the pain impacts my ability to do my job.

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Present Knowledge Out of the Past

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Fair Forewarning: This post deals with intense emotional/physical trauma and abuse

The last two weeks, last three weekends, I have not so much as stepped outside my comfort zone as leaped outside it.

Two weekends ago (night of July 1st), I agreed to stay late in town to watch the fireworks, then go to a dance and stay over at a friend’s house. I have never gone to an adult dance or club before. And have basically never slept over at someone’s house as an adult (outside of relationships), despite several attempts at it.

Last weekend was Pride. My friends convinced me to march in the parade. I have never seen the parade, never gone to any pride events and certainly never marched before. Knowing how I work, I convinced myself to go to another dance on Saturday night and stay over at (the same) friend’s house then go to the march together. On Saturday when I was getting ready to go, I got a phone call saying the bloodwork I’d done first thing in the morning had come back and the numbers were off which meant I needed to see my GP ASAP. I had only just given myself my first low-dose of testosterone at the time. Later, at the dance, I ended up hanging out mostly with two guys who I had just met, dancing, and chatting. The night at my friend’s house went fine, and we got to the parade on time. However, after parting ways (he was marching with a different group), I couldn’t locate my group. I walked the length of the parade and asked for help, but no one could help me. That drove me to actually make a phone call, something I only very rarely do, to a friend who equally dislikes phone calls. I finally met up with my group, and that friend, and realized that I was in the middle of a full blown anxiety attack.

My last anxiety attack, and my first one (only ever had three) were in the first half of my four months of no sleep, three years ago.

I did the march, I couldn’t not. My friend I spent the night with had my backpack at his house, and my current primary support network was right there in the parade. So, I marched. At the end, where the celebrations were, I told my friends that I needed to be with them in some quiet spot for a little bit. We ended up sitting for close to two hours before I was okay to move around again. After that, the day went well.

The fallout has been beyond imagination.

The disassociation I experienced with the risperidone had far reaching effects. I’m still working on putting all the pieces together of what changed and what I lost and what needs finding again. I found one of those pieces at Pride last weekend and I never knew I’d lost it.

The anxiety attacks I had three years ago were paired with a heightened general anxiety due to lack of sleep and lack of control over my general life situation. But, they were isolated.

The anxiety attack I had last weekend opened a door in my mind to realizing what anxiety actually feels like. That door stayed open and I realized that I live my life on a daily basis just sitting at the edge of anxiety.

I’ve spent the last week trying to work through it and process why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling. Certainly, I shouldn’t feel anxious about getting on a bus, something I do 4-10 times a day every day, but this week has taught me that I do. One of my coping mechanisms, one of my ways of processing things, is to have conversations. I will end up having the same conversation over and over and over again until I’ve completely exhausted all the people I can confide in so I can try to deconstruct everything that happened and everything that I’m feeling. I’ve spent my week in conversations.

Which brings me to this weekend and some of my big eye-openers about why I feel the way I feel.

On Thursday, I went to dinner with a friend. We had initially bonded over some awkward experiences with one of our mutual friends, but are working on expanding our friendship beyond that. Our conversation inevitably moved to the trauma of our lives. I ended up sharing one story that I’ve only told a handful of people. When I did, he told me that he knew immediately that was why I was having issues spending the night at someone’s house. After he and I parted ways, I shared the same story with my safe person that I marched with (the one I made the phone call to). He told me that he knew I was a victim of sexual violence, but didn’t want to pry. On Friday, I spent some time with the safe friend, his girlfriend, and another friend of ours. They convinced me to spend the night at the safe friend’s house so I could go do some construction work with the girlfriend and other friend in the morning. They seemed to think it would help. On the way to pick up my stuff, I told the other friend (who was giving me a ride to my house then to my safe friend’s house) the same story I’d told the first two friends on Thursday. They told me some of the ways that they did their healing and suggested a program for me to investigate to help work through what happened. If you’re not following, that’s three people in two days I told about this thing that happened. This morning, I woke up at my safe friend’s house and went to do the construction work. I lasted until noon before I had to say I was done and we all trooped home.

Four Years Ago (read at discretion)

Four years ago, I was living in an abusive situation. I was a live-in nanny for a family that did not have a healthy dynamic. They took advantage of me and my time. I was accused of not being honest about my experience and skills. I was manipulated into agreeing to stay multiple times when I tried to quit. I was so emotionally exhausted that there were several points that I broke down to tears in the middle of the day. As an escape, I rode my bike and I went to the local pub. In just 7.5 months of owning that bicycle, I put over 3,000km on it and wore the tires almost bare. I was a well-known regular at the pub and expected almost nightly from 7pm until 2 or 3 in the morning. I became friends with a very diverse group of people including a music producer, an engineer-turned-cook, and one of the local Italian Mob Bosses. I was also friends with some younger people who didn’t come nearly as regularly as I did.

One night, it was cold, icy, and I was tired and very drunk when the bar closed. I didn’t want to ride my bike home. A friend offered me somewhere to sleep for the night, said he’d take me to breakfast in the morning, then drop me off at the house I was working out of. I took him up on the offer and told him, very explicitly, “I’m not interested in doing anything, just sleep. I’m sleeping in my clothes.” He agreed that would be fine and we loaded up my bike and headed to his place.

When we got there, I realized we’d be sharing a bed. I’d been led to believe there was somewhere else for me to sleep, like a couch. Whatever, I’m adaptable. I reiterated that I wasn’t interested in anything but sleep and I was sleeping in my clothes. He wheedled and pleaded and eventually got me down to underwear and undershirt before we climbed under the covers. He asked if we could spoon and I agreed, though I wasn’t comfortable with it. He waited until I was almost asleep before he started working his hand under my shirt. I told him no, and pushed his hands away. He persisted. I asked him to stop, he persisted. I turned to tell him again, and he kissed me and stuck his hand in my underwear. He stripped me and had his way and then spooned me the rest of the night like this was an okay thing. In the morning, he woke me up to do it again. Then we got dressed and he took me to breakfast and dropped me off at the kids’ house like everything was all fine and grand.

And then he kept coming to the same bar and being friendly with me.

I kept telling myself that I should have known something like that would happen. That there’s a certain expectation when a man brings a woman to his home after a night at the bar. That I should have been more adamant in not taking off my outer clothes. That I should have just gone home instead of staying out that night.

It took two years of feeling negative feelings every time I saw one of his facebook posts to admit that it was rape. To admit that it wasn’t my fault. To admit that I was taken advantage of, assaulted. I told only three people initially. This weekend, two years later, I told three more. And now I’m telling, well, whoever reads this.

In my conversations this week, I’ve realized that a great many of my sexual/romantic relationships have had some level of abuse in them. My first two sexual partners coerced me into sex, convincing me it was something I wanted (which it was, just not with either of them). My second sexual partner (third romantic relationship of any level of seriousness) was emotionally abusive and manipulative and isolating. He played off my OCD to get me to do things and then made me feel horrible for not doing them perfectly. He slowly drew me away from my family and friends while not adding me to his own circles. My most recent romantic relationship had a certain level of coercion to it as well, to the point of twisting what I wanted into what he wanted when it came to my surgery (perhaps you remember my posts about that). When he asked for me back, I laid out certain things that could not be negotiated, that he had to agree to, that he had to accept, and he refused. One of them was that I am hard on the male side of binary, that I cannot be referred to with female pronouns/pet names, and that I need to be seen and treated as a guy. He told me that he didn’t know those things were hurtful (despite the fact that we’d talked about it the few times he did use them), and that he wasn’t gay and that he never saw me as either gender.

Finding Anxiety (mostly safer reading now)

Since Pride last weekend, I’ve realized what anxiety feels like. I’ve realized that I feel it every day. I’ve realized that it has a great many sources and there is a lot of work I need to do to bring myself back to a level of peace. I’ve also realized that I’ve lived with this daily anxiety for a very, very long time. I cannot pinpoint a single time when I have not had anxious tendencies, though some of them are certainly much worse now than they were 10 years ago when I was still in high school and before the sexual abuse.

I’ve been a compulsive picker (of scabs and skin) for as long as I can remember. My body is laddered with scars from picking and repicking my scabs and scars. I have had self-harm ideation for as long as I can remember. (This has never included suicide.) One of my earliest memories is of taking a hammer to my knee, purely to break it. I had a plan for how I would explain the injury to my parents. But I wasn’t strong enough to actually do any damage. I was 3 or 4 at the time. Since then, there have been many small successful self-harm attempts, but none needing more than a bandaid. I have had OCD manifesting in different ways since at least my preteen years. Washing the dishes was a very big problem for me for a long time (and one of my almost daily chores). There were needs to have things just right in order to actually do things, there still are. There was certain routines and rituals to using certain objects including the internet. There were obsessive tendencies to go through EVERYTHING of something (read a webcomic, beginning to end, even if it means staying up all night; read encyclopedias cover to cover, not just the entries of interest; sort through all of the photos in one location or all of the cards; look at all of the photos posted to a photo-sharing site, an impossible task that nearly broke me). There were needs to have things organized in a very specific manner (Dewy Decimal organization of my home library and, when I found it, my parent’s library).

In the last 10 years, I’ve added reluctance to engage in new situations or be in new spaces with new people. One new thing at a time, everything else must be familiar or I’m not okay with it. I have a reluctance to go over to other people’s houses, especially overnight. I’m less adaptable to any level of change unless it was rooted in something I control. And I have more obsessive thoughts circling around in my head.

Knowing what I know now about my mental-emotional state, I want to work towards finding a balance of some sort, finding some way to be at peace with my daily life. Knowing what anxiety feels like will allow me to know where my limits are and how far to stretch them. Having the friends I do around me will help me work through this in ways that are healthy, I hope.

One Year Later and a New Lifestyle

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It’s been a year and a couple months since I last posted and it seemed like now would be a good time to return. It’s odd to think about, but when there are fewer negatives in life, there’s less need for cathartic writing. Catharsis has definitely been the point of this blog and while I’m sure it has been informative for many readers, it has been an appropriate escape and thought collection for me. (Though, at this time, I am not prepared to go back and reread all that I’ve written.)

A little over a month after my last post, I had my chest surgery. It was a reduction, as had been discussed with my therapist and with my surgeon. The results have been great, as the surgeon expected, healed really well. Unfortunately (due to things discussed further down), I am not pleased with it and have scheduled a complete double mastectomy to help ease my mental health.

While I stayed at my parent’s house during the recovery from surgery (as stable a place I could possibly find in my life at the time), I did the final weaning off of the antipsychotics. There was no change in anything. There was no return of hallucinations, no change in mood or connection to the world. It was brilliant.

Near the end of my recovery, I connected with an amazing family and got a job as a nanny. In just a few more days, I will have been working with these kids for one full year. On commencement of my employment with them, I began a life-changing, well, change.

I was provided lunch, which is the same thing the kids ate, and due to certain issues around food, there was constantly a conversation about healthy eating habits. This conversation led me to become more aware of what I put in my body the rest of the week, not just at lunch time. This first inkling of awareness is what started my year of “slow healthy habit changes.”

Slow Healthy Habit Changes

Historically, I’ve tried to change my habits, change what I eat, how I exercise, everything, and it’s always flopped. Historically, I’ve tried to do it as an overnight change. This past year brought about an awareness and change of attitude. When I changed something, it was literally just one thing and it was never big. One week, I realized that I needed to eat something in the morning (I had never really taken to eating breakfast), so I started buying a chocolate and a pop which would get me through till lunch. It would take a further ten months and a further 4 changes (with several relapses) before I adopted a healthy square breakfast with an “adequate” morning beverage. (Perhaps in a couple weeks I’ll switch from hot chocolate to tea.)

I didn’t limit myself to diet either. I spent some weeks focusing on how I interacted with friends, establishing closer friendships, pursuing routine in meeting up with people, and ensuring that I was actually connected with people. I spent some weeks working on how I interacted with the outside world, from exercise to casual hellos with strangers. I spent some weeks looking inward and seeing how my house felt, not denying myself little luxuries (like spice containers or a new shower curtain) and generally making myself feel more welcome in my own space. And I spent some weeks working on how I talked to myself.

I think the biggest change, in all of what I’ve done in the last year, has been in my self talk. I see myself as someone who is able to complete things, someone who can stay on top of things, someone who can do what needs to be done. This wasn’t always the case and certainly wasn’t the case a year or two ago in the midst of my madness.

Through all of these habit changes (because they are truly habits that have been changed), I have kept a careful log of my body size and less careful log of my weight. I knew, during my year and a half on medication, that I was gaining weight, but I wasn’t aware of how much. Sometime shortly after January of 2016, I measured myself and became aware of how much I had actually gained. I weighed in at the time just over 210lbs. The last time I had been weighed (in early/mid 2014) and for the prior ~7 years, I had weighed in consistently around 150lbs. I started trying to fix it immediately, but made no great strides. Even my surgery didn’t change much and actually disheartened me to continuing with monthly measurements. But, through the healthy habit changes (a whole mind/body view rather than a body-centric view), I did lose weight, a lot of it. I am proud to say that I fit into some of the clothing I wore prior to 2015 again. At my last weigh in, I was 163lbs and I know I’ve lost more weight since then.

Transition

While it hasn’t been a key topic in my posts, it is integral to my mental and physical well-being and the key cause of my decline originally. Since the diagnosis by my psychiatrist in the fall of 2015 of hormonal insomnia, I have done a lot of reflective thinking on the implications. When I finally weaned off the sleeping pills, I found that I slept better than I had in all my memory. However, in spring of 2016, I accidentally went off testosterone. I missed one week, then another, and before I knew it, I was back to female hormone levels. While I wasn’t satisfied with the secondary sex characteristic changes yet, I was even more scared of what going back onto testosterone would do to me. Since I started working with the kids, I was keenly aware that while I managed four months of extreme insomnia well enough while working retail and attending college, I would not be able to do the same in childcare. So, I refused to restart testosterone.

With recent clarity, I’ve decided that I can’t let a little fear get in the way of things. I’ve researched hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and how it is approached for people with hormonal disorders (like PMS or endometriosis) and developed a new plan of approach alongside a nurse. Very soon (as soon as I can fill the prescription), I will be restarting testosterone, almost exactly 3 years after my first shot. Unlike my first shot, I will not be taking quite so much at once. In fact, I will be doing a very low dose weekly shot. This will slowly over the course of months or longer be stepped up to eventually get to the full dose that I was on initially. As I have the awareness of my hormonal insomnia this time, I will be able to immediately take actions to correct if things start going sideways. I feel prepared.

Going Forward

It’s funny. As you work to set your life in order, good things follow. The more I worked on my physical and mental health, the more receptive others were to me. I made more friends and engaged more, even if that wasn’t my direct intent. In the last couple months, there has been another huge shift for me. I’ve engaged more with the local Deaf community and renewed my interest in learning ASL (which is going great!). I broke up with my overseas long distance boyfriend. I’ve spent more time reading non-fiction (my not-so-secret passion). I’ve spent more time with people who are currently actively engaged in learning (undergrad, post-grad, and PhD students, as well as other general learning adults like myself). I’ve been surrounding myself with a positive and encouraging community and I’ve been thriving.

A hard lesson that has taken far too long to learn is that it doesn’t matter what you plan for, life likes to throw curve-balls. As much as I would love to become fluent in Dutch, move to Europe (Netherlands maybe) and attend university there, then find a nice man to marry, have kids, find a great job/career working with kids, and eventually retire to luxury, I have to accept that that’s likely not to happen. Instead, I’ve created a new plan.

I am still saving as if I’m moving in a year and a half. I don’t see that as a bad thing even if I don’t actually end up moving. I’m not denying myself the close personal connections that I have with people locally (including one that may turn into an actual relationship, eek!). And I’m actively pursuing to better myself and my education.

Part of that last point is a request for referral for a neuropsych evaluation for Autism/ADHD/other stuff. I have long since known that I am not neurotypical. In fact, my last 6 or 7 psychs and therapists have said as much, point blank, to my face. Several friends who work closely with or know people who are autistic have told me that I fit the mold for the mild end of the spectrum. I’m also keenly aware that I do not thrive in a university setting. If I’m intending to return to school, then I need to do something to ensure my success. I see getting an evaluation as a key component to that. I’m also hoping that a diagnosis will allow me to find better coping and management skills in the rest of my life, not just at school.

Another part of that point is the keen knowledge that one of my largest failings in school has been in notes and reports. I’m working on that, combating it on my terms, outside a classroom, and in a setting where I can work to success with no possibility for failure. I love non-fiction books, and actively seek the ones on topics of most interest to me. I have also picked up a notebook and am taking notes, now, on the books I read. Facts that jump out at me, things that seem of key importance, therapies that could use further research for understanding (hey, I like reading about kids and special needs). I plan in the future to write several research papers on questions of my own choosing and topics of my own interest, with review from friends who have an academic background and will be able to help me build my skills. I’m also intending on spending several weeks/months learning a specific developmental theory that keeps jumping out at me as something I can’t wrap my head around just yet, but I know will show up in whatever line of courses I end up pursing. My hope is that I will build, over the next 2+ years, a foundation of skills and knowledge that I can build on once I do return to school, enabling me to succeed even if I don’t end up getting a diagnosis.

To Conclude

My readers, life is incredible, amazing, glorious. Life is what you make of it. However bad and horrible things may be right now, there is always the potential for it to improve, even in small ways. And who knows, if there’s one small improvement here or there, perhaps in several months you’ll look back and see you’ve ended up making huge strides.

Thank you for reading. (Potential future updates to follow, as needed.)