Monthly Archives: November 2012

Adventures in Therapy: An Eye on the Prize

Around the time when I really started having to interact with peers, I imagined a fantastical version of myself hoping that someday I would figure out how to be it.  The Gina of the future would be confident and no nonsense.  She would not take everything personally, and if she had a problem with someone or something, she would handle it head on, honestly and directly.  She would be her own person regardless of the expectations of others and especially regardless of the insecurities of others.  She would defend herself and others when needed.  She would be amazing. This started when I was 5, so the language then was perhaps not so flowery or sensical, but it evolved into that as I grew older and the dream seemed more and more out of reach.

I viewed it mostly as a fantasy because I couldn’t imagine ever being able to actually do any of these things well.  Over the years I learned how to act the part often.  People have often viewed me as confident and level headed, original, unique, no nonsense.  But it has, for the most part, been a façade.  In life, you do what you have to do to be successful, if you are able.  There were many times when this ability waivered horribly making things like excelling in college extremely difficult.  I had the desire for a comfortable life and did what I had to do to achieve that, but I was a mess at the same time.  In the moments when I was not a mess, I would condemn myself for not being like that all the time.

Recently the problem became prevalent because I found myself living the life that I wished to live and was still a mess.  I had managed to rid myself of toxic people. I live in a beautiful house filled with wonderful people who love me.  I have a career that can be fulfilling if I apply myself.  I make music in a band with my best friend.  I really can’t ask for more.  And yet anxiety and sadness fill my days.  When left too long to my own devices, my mind becomes flooded with awful thoughts about things in the past and fears about the future. I have invented realities that don’t exist, and in them I am the loser.  Negativity is the norm and positivity is an uphill battle.

Coming to terms with the idea that I suffer from a mood disorder was difficult.  I assumed that the only people who were medicated were people who had Real Problems.  From my view, I functioned well enough…I just wasn’t happy.  I thought it was greedy of me to seek help this way. “Who do I think I am? Someone who can have everything?”  I found myself calling it a First World Problem because I had so much and was still not alright most of the time.  But each time I lost it again, each time I found myself out of control with grief and anxious madness, I realized that it doesn’t matter if I’m not the worst off in the world.  Refusing to get help because I didn’t feel I deserved it as much as someone else was just another symptom of the disease and wasn’t a reason to continue to suffer.

Before I had my appointment to get a prescription, I read this post about how to get people you care about to seek help on JT Eberhard’s blog.  His writings about his struggles with his own mental illness are powerful and brilliant.  And though he was writing for people who would try to help someone else, I was comforted by the familiarity of the entire thing.  I had this same struggle within myself.  I had all kinds of reasons not to try medication, but one very important reason to do it: Misery does not have to be my general state.  My entire life does not need to center around keeping myself afloat.

So I started Zoloft and the first couple of days were terrible.  Then something miraculous happened.  For three days I was that incredible woman that I imagined all those years ago. I had occasion to deal with three potentially very stressful situations in a row and found myself able to navigate them beautifully.  Without the anxiety, I was suddenly aware that anxiety was always with me before.  Everything I did or said carried with it some level of fear.  To be without it felt like being finally free of some kind of demon that possessed me and suddenly I felt fully like myself because it was who I always wanted to be.  I was euphoric.  I thought for a second that the bad side effects were over with quickly and that all that was left was perfection.  I basked in it.  I felt like life could finally begin with gusto!

On Saturday I woke up feeling anxious and sad. I didn’t like that, but figured it would pass if I got myself moving.  I started going through the motions of the day and then noticed that the kitchen sink drain wasn’t functioning very well.  A little while later, Shaun emerged from the shower and told Ginny that the shower wasn’t draining. I went and involved myself (something I didn’t need to do right away) and immediately starting getting really stressed out as things we tried didn’t work.  I went to Home Depot and bought a drain auger and Draino and then attempted to fix the problem when I got back.  I was turning into a mess.  I was upset and angry.  I made Wes help me.  Nothing we tried worked.   He went to take a shower.  I fell apart in the back yard.

I sat on the back steps of the yard and cried for a while.  I cried because I felt like the three days before were just a big tease.  I kept saying out loud, “Please…why won’t this go away? Please, just go away!” Somehow I thought that I had found something that would help me not have to work so hard all the time and it abandoned me.  I felt like I would never be free of this bullshit ever.

I went upstairs to talk to Wes and he reminded me that I would never be able to stop working but that things should even out over the weeks.  I had no other desire except to curl up in bed, so I did.  We had plans to go see Rise of the Guardians (which I loved, by the way) and Wes tried to help me but I was being frustrating, unwilling to admit why I was upset and condemning myself as stupid and crazy instead.  Eventually he got me out of it and made me get up and move.  I went downstairs and Jessie was there to talk some real sense into me.  I told her I was upset because I had what I wanted so badly and then it went away.  I told her that I thought I had finally figured out how to be easy on myself and not work so hard every second.  And she said a wonderful thing.  She had her arm around me and explained that I might have to fight still, but that I don’t have to do it alone.  And this time she didn’t just mean that I was surrounded by people who love and care about me.  She said that it won’t just be me alone with a sword on the battlefield…Zoloft would be next to me with a bigger sword and lasers shooting out of its eyes.

I, of course, started laughing at the image and was able to get myself over the hurdle at the moment. And told Wes again how happy I am that Jessie is in our lives.  I often don’t know what I’d do without her.

I often don’t know what I’d do without any of the people close to me.  One of the things that my outburst showed me on Saturday is that a lot of my motivation for getting help has been to be less of a burden to the people who love me.  It made me aware of how I still view relationships as transactional.  If I take too much without giving back, everyone will tire of me and leave.  It was one of the things I had to admit out loud and Wes reminded me that my value to people is not in what I do for them.  He also reminded me that the people who love me now loved me before I took big steps to improve.  Clearly my emotional issues were not a deterrent to Wes 9 years ago, or Shaun a year and a half ago.  I was worse then.  I am better now.  I have to remember all of this.

I didn’t feel very good for the rest of the day.  We had to call Roto-Rooter to deal with the drains ultimately and they didn’t get to the house until 8pm or something.  It was Saturday and it was expensive.  Shaun had spent all day cooking for the dinner we had with his mom and Wes’ mom and all in all I would say it was a success, despite the plumbing ridiculousness.  But I had a hard time being present because anxiety aside, I was dealing with other side effects again too.  I was a little stoned, and a little crazed, and had no appetite, and all that fun stuff.  I calmed down more when the plumbing was fixed, but I knew that it wasn’t just about that.

I am hoping that in the next few weeks I will find a middle ground, an evened state of being that makes it easier to stay stable.  I know that I can’t expect for the issues to not be there at all ever, but I want to be better equipped to handle them when they arise, which is the point of Zoloft ultimately.  I was so excited by the early results that I was using the meds as a crutch to not center myself in the face of stressful stimuli.  I forgot the rational promise I made to myself before starting (and after talking to friends who have dealt with this too): The medication doesn’t stop the thoughts from coming.  It just makes it easier to deal with them.

On Sunday I upped my dose because I was supposed to, so I’m evening out again.  I will say that though I still wake up anxious and can have battles with badness, I think that it is actually starting to work because I’m not anxious all the time anymore.  This morning it took me two and a half hours to get to work due to public transit crap and I got depressed near the end after dealing with the ordeal alone for a long time.  Initially, I was fine, and I stayed fine for a while.  That’s an improvement and I’ll take it.  And the awesome days last week show me that days like that are possible, and I’ll take that too.

It’s cliché, but I have to take this one day at a time still.  I remember when my ex’s grandfather was suffering from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s at the same time.  He was on a bunch of different medications but for the most part was not present anymore.  My ex mentioned that there were miraculous days when all the medications would click just right and he would be him again for a little while.  I didn’t really understand it then, but now I think I do a little.  In this life there are good days and bad days.  It is what we do with them that counts.  While I’m getting used to this stuff, there will be good days and bad days.  The bad days are not a punishment for being too crazy even for pills.  The good days are not proof that everything is solved forever.  None of this is absolute, but it’s all progress.  It’s making my happiness and mental health a priority in my life.

I appreciate the people who have been reaching out to me, sharing their experiences with this kind of thing.  I think it’s important to know that none of us are alone.  Everyone’s experience is different over all, but with some common themes and it’s really good to know that there are people to bounce ideas off of, to ask the “is this weird?” question, or to simply rejoice in the ups and work through the downs with.

Happiness runs in a circular motion.  Love is but a little boat upon the sea. Everybody is a part of everyone anyway.  You can have everything if you let yourself be. -Donovan

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Charlie Jane Anders Should Read More Atheists

Charlie Jane Anders, a writer for one of my favorite nerd blogs, io9, wrote a post today called Why Smug Atheists Should Read More Science Fiction. The post, to be as charitable as I can, is total crap. Anders starts out by saying

You can’t be on Twitter these days without being bombarded with atheistic smugness. You know what I mean. People who can’t just profess that they don’t believe in God — they have to taunt religious people for believing in “fairy tales.” Or the Tooth Fairy. Most of the time, these are geeks who have immense respect for science… and yet, they won’t recognize a situation where they simply have no data, one way or the other.

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The first problem here is that Anders is attacking an attitude without citing any examples, just saying “you know what I mean.” This is an almost guaranteed straw man, as it relies on the detractor’s characterization of the offending behavior with no room for interpretation.

The next problem, just with this paragraph alone, is that Anders characterizes equating religious belief with belief in fairy tales and/or the Tooth Fairy is “smug.” The problem is that religious belief is no more reasonable or supported by evidence as is belief in those other “ridiculous” things. In some ways, it makes more sense to believe in the Tooth Fairy, as parents often specifically set out to provide evidence for its existence. Anders just throws this out there like it’s obvious, instead of providing an argument or any reasons why religious believers shouldn’t be mocked for their ridiculous beliefs.

Third is the classic agnostic fallacy – we “simply have no data, one way or the other.” Wrong. We have a ton of data disproving a ton of religious beliefs. The only way you get to “we have no data” is by reference to a vague, squishy idea of “a higher power” which doesn’t necessarily do much of anything. Any time you get more specific than that, chances are there is some evidence against your belief. But that also ignores a central idea behind all reasonable thought – belief without evidence is unjustified. If we have no data for or against a proposition, the reasonable thing to do is to disbelieve it. The strength of a belief should be proportional to the strength of the evidence. If there is no evidence, there should be no belief, and anyone who has a belief is being unreasonable. Anders continues

A lot of the best science fiction includes a sense of wonder at the hugeness of the cosmos — and the flipside of that is a sense of our own smallness. And the humility that goes along with that. If you want to feel a real sense of quasi-religious awe, don’t think of the world as being 6,000 years old — think of its actual age, measured in billions of years, and the huge timescales of the universe before and after our world. And think of the vastness of the cosmos, whose mysteries we’ve only just begun to glimpse in the past century.

What now? Anders sounds like most of the often-called “smug” atheists I know of in this paragraph. Is Anders trying to suggest that atheists lack a sense of wonder at the universe? I’d say that Anders ought to take a look at The Magic of Reality before making unsourced assertions like that. Anders’ next point:

There’s a common plot in science fiction — particularly media SF — where someone is “seeing things” or having experiences that can’t be easily verified or quantified using technology. Like a sense of “deja vu,” or hearing voices, or seeing the missing-presumed-dead Captain Kirk floating around. And a huge problem in these stories is that nobody can really know what another person is experiencing, or whether it has any validity or is just a hallucination. Thus it is with religious experiences — other people can speak about their profound experiences of the divine, which seem immensely real to them, but may sound like a crazy delusion to the rest of us.

Is Anders seriously suggesting here that “smug” atheists aren’t aware of stories in which people seem crazy, but are later vindicated? Of course we’re aware of those stories. The reason we don’t immediately draw parallels to the people we know who seems crazy is that THESE ARE WORKS OF FICTION! Seriously, how dense do you have to be not to understand that? One of the common criticisms that “smug” atheists level at believers is that they can’t tell the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Anders seems to be proving that point. Anders closes with this:

Still, it’s great to be atheist — and I strongly support arguing publicly and loudly in favor of atheism as a point of view. Just, you know, don’t be smug about it. You don’t actually know any more than the rest of us, and the universe is a much stranger, more bewildering place than any of us can really begin to grasp, and the only thing that would be surprising is if we stop being constantly surprised. If you don’t believe me, just read some science fiction.

This is the paragraph that inspired the title of this post, in that it seems to me that Anders just doesn’t know any atheists. Almost all of the atheists that I know agree wholeheartedly that the universe is a strange, bewildering, and ultimately unknowable place. Our frustration is with religious believers who claim to know things that they cannot possibly know, based on holy books or intuition. It’s the atheists who are insisting that the universe is a giant mystery, and the believers who claim that they have it all figured out. Atheism is nothing more that the belief that the idea of “god” is unsupported by the available evidence. Anders should actually speak to a few atheists before painting them with such a broad brush.

Dan Savage Agrees With Me!

UPDATE: Dan Savage quotes me in Slog

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From the latest Savage Love:

Poly is not a sexual identity, PP, it’s not a sexual orientation. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do. There’s no such thing as a person who is “a poly,” just as there’s no such thing as a person who is “a monogamous.” Polyamorous and monogamous are adjectives, not nouns. There are only people—gay, straight, bi—and some people are in monogamous relationships, some are in open relationships, some are in polyamorous relationships, some are in monogamish relationships, some are in four-star-general relationships. These are relationship models, PP, not sexual identities.

As I’ve been saying for a while, polyamory is not a sexual orientation:

There are a few problems with describing polyamory as a sexual orientation. The first of which is that polyamory is not sexual. Polyamory is about relationships, honesty, and intimacy. Look back at the definitions given by Loving More. Not a single one mentions sex. Calling polyamory a sexual orientation is a joke.

Secondly, polyamory is not an orientation. Polyamory is not a physical desire or a feeling. While there is not complete agreement on what polyamory is, there is clear agreement about it isn’t. And it isn’t just an attraction to multiple people. As Shaun pointed out, if you define polyamory as a feeling or an inclination, then half of the country is polyamorous, which is an absurd result. Almost everyone feels attraction for multiple people at the same time. This does not make them polyamorous.

A third problem with describing poly as a sexual orientation is that being poly is nothing like being GLB. Being GLB is about the type of person to whom you are sexually attracted. Being polyamorous is about the amount of people you love. Describing polyamory as a sexual orientation suggests a false equivalence between the groups, and seems like an attempt to coopt the sympathy that the GLBT community has built up.

Sounds like at least one high-profile member of the GLBT community doesn’t like the comparison any more than I do.

Adventures in Therapy: Wherein Things Get Real

I woke up on Saturday morning excited. I had big plans for late in the morning.  I was finally going to see a psychiatrist about getting some medication to help me.

A few months back I was talking to a friend about how open I am about myself and everything that’s going on with me on the internet. Zie didn’t like the idea of having so many profoundly personal details about hirself documented in the public sphere.  Once it is out there, it never goes away.  In the internet age, anyone can find you with a simple Google search and they will know everything that you share and will judge you for it.  In the era when employers search people’s lives for potential dirty laundry before choosing the best candidate, the dirty laundry they see is the items you choose to hang out in the air.

I had mentioned that in a recent recorded interview, I admitted that I had started therapy.  My friend said that he never would have admitted that because then it’s there forever.  And while the comments stayed with me for a long time, filling me self doubt and fear that I have done everything wrong and that my choices to be so ridiculously honest and open about my trials and tribulations, interests, beliefs, and relationships in the world where everyone could see with a couple of simple key strokes are putting my family and me at undue risk, I stood fast.  I’ve already shared so much…what’s one more thing.  What harm is there now putting a face and voice to the next adventure in both living a life less ordinary and a life very ordinary for people all over the world.

The psychiatrist’s office was in a lovely part of Jersey, nestled between a couple of farm fields.  It was a calming and beautiful.  I was already happy to be there and I was happy to be taking a very big step towards finally being well.  The doctor was pleasant and caring.  She asked a million questions to really get to the bottom of what I struggle with every day.  At the end, after listening to me closely, she gave me a prescription for Zoloft with instructions and warnings.

I left feeling positive, feeling like I made the right direction.  I need more help than just talk therapy.  I can talk until I’m blue in the face, but if I don’t listen…if I constantly have to fight waves of difficult emotion and anxiety, the conversation with myself can’t be productive.  And I had grown tired of walking on eggshells around myself when I felt an unsettled simmering beneath the surface.  And I had grown tired of being overwhelmed, with losing control, with being disinterested in anything I used to really like doing.

I filled the prescription and got my hair cut short.  I went home and dyed my hair red.  New stage, new costume.  The next morning I took half a pill and went to visit my parents.

I was not prepared for such immediate effects.  By Sunday afternoon, I felt in a haze.  I was numb and though I was angry about something that had happened, I wasn’t having a complete break down over it as has been the norm as of late.  These effects grew stronger as the evening progressed and by the time we threw a movie on I felt stoned.  I fell asleep during the movie, like I do, and then after it was over, I bolted awake.  I was completely awake and alert and completely anxious.

And so I was for the whole night.  I don’t know when I actually slept.  I laid awake in bed trying to calm myself down but doing a lousy job of it.  Poor Wes had to endure me tossing, turning, weeping, going nuts.  I was thinking obsessively about a few things and got myself completely whipped up into a tizzy and finally after writing an email I kind of wish I didn’t, I calmed and sat quietly in bed.  I think maybe a got a couple of hours, but I have no idea. My alarm went off and I was already awake.  I cried and Wes said he would take me to work.  I got to work feeling the effects of the second half pill settling in.  I sat at my desk, feeling an odd numbness, but it was not impenetrable to outside stressors.  I encountered one and for an hour did not know if I would be able to stay here for the day.  But it passed and I am still hanging in.

It is only Day Two and I am committed to at least giving this a fair shot.  Friends have told me that it can take a couple of weeks for things to even out.  The doctor said that it takes 4 weeks to really start working.  So I will be patient.  After having some issues today, I guess I am not much worse off than I already was, but this time I know that there is something at work chemically trying to set me right.  It may not be the correct ingredient, but I can’t know until I test and observe.

This is hard.  This is scary.  This means that I have to put some things to the side so that I can get my brain in order so that I do them well and happily.  Even though I feel completely bizarre right now, I find peace in the fact that I am taking steps to tackle this in a real, concrete, lasting way.  Good brain chemistry facilitates an environment where rational, productive discussion can happen and there is nothing wrong or embarrassing about taking that step.  There is nothing stranger about handling this like handling a case of gout. When you have a chronic issue, you treat it.

And so it is out in the world and no one is worse for it.  I look forward to finding some balance in my mind so that I can finally fully appreciate this amazing life I have built.  I am so tired of seeing it through a fog.

There Can Be Only One

Most poly people encounter a phenomenon where a heterosexual couple decide to open up just slightly, so that one or both members can have sex outside the relationship with women, but not with men. Most tend to call this a “one penis policy.” I think that term is boring, so I’ve taken to calling it “Highlander Penis.”

This is what happens if another guy has sex with your woman

Needless to say, I find it incredibly frustrating, not only as a man who slogs through the dating world, but also because it almost always seems to rely on sexist assumptions about the difference between men and women. Whenever I encounter it, I just roll my eyes and think of this: