quiet revolution

Depression has added an extra cost to everything I do. Something as simple as buying groceries means making sure my energy levels are carefully paced for a few days before I leave the house, and being too burned out to do any form of interaction for a few days after. If something goes wrong during the process — a night of poor sleep, a sick cat, a loss of motivation, a colitis flare-up — and I run out of spoons, the problems cascade and I end up having to cancel my plans.

That’s why I choose to spend time with people who understand what it truly costs me to function; they happen to be the ones who are consistently reliable, very understanding if I have to cancel, and put as much effort into maintaining the relationship as I do.1

Heather portrait

Heather started tapering off her dose of venlafaxine cause she feels stable enough to take the risk2, and wants to start working without the associated mental haze. Even though music is still a joyless experience, the fact that she’s getting excited about Halloween again is a sign that she’s finally healing.

She doesn’t mind carrying more emotional labour (and I remain willfully ignorant, for the time being), cause she knows I’m playing life on hard mode. My job is to make sure she feels appreciated for doing more than her fair share. The crises we’ve been weathering together since we met means our honeymoon phase was cut short, but neither of us mind, cause intimacy is what we were missing for so long.3

self portrait at 35

The fact that it takes me fewer days be to comfortable around anyone when my insecurities get the better of me means I’m gaining some small form of equanimity. I still have moments when I feel too damaged to be happy, too worthless to be loved, or too broken to be fixed, but it takes me less time to realign my perceptions with reality. The lows aren’t as debilitatingly deep either.

I’ve been using the momentum to take small steps out of my comfort zone; spending more time in difficult situations, learning to be emotionally vulnerable, exploring new ways of expressing myself4, processing parts of the past I’ve tried my best to forget. Even though I’m anxious to feel normal again, I’m forced to recognize my limitations and keep myself paced. I know I’m not where I want to be, but I’m moving in the right direction. That’s enough to keep me going for now.

  1. Also, perhaps not-coincidentally, usually people who have deal with some form of depression or chronic illness in their lives. []
  2. I still have no idea whether mine are keeping me afloat, but the fact that I don’t suffer any side-effects means I’ll be on them for the foreseeable future. []
  3. Finding my underwear washed and folded one day — a responsibility I’ve never shared with any girlfriend — gave me the weirdest boner. []
  4. The only luxury purchase for me this year has been an Impact LX-49 MIDI controller. []

you die, all you do is die, and yet you live

I never intended therapy to take such precedence, but it’s become the re-occurring event around which I work all my other plans. I’m still learning how to be an emotionally healthy person, while unlearning the destructive habits I developed to survive the relationships of my past. They affect me every single day, and I know I’ll be doomed to recreate the dramas of my earlier life unless I have outside help. At the same time, it’s not a process I can rush. Every session leaves me emotionally exhausted, and I need a healthy dose of happy to recover1. It also takes time to process what I learn, reflect on ongoing behaviours, and put new techniques into practice.

I’m fortunate to have found a competent therapist with whom I’m comfortable, especially when doing cognitive work that often leaves me unsafe2. After so many months, he knows enough about me and my history to understand the kind of guidance I need. There’s no structure, but he always lets me start. As a person who’s spent his entire life being socially submissive, the role reversal is a welcome change. It’s a reminder that the time is mine, that I’m free to be myself, that I get what I want out of our hour.

Sometimes, I catch myself wishing he would validate me without the need to explain myself, but he consistently remains the neutral ally (albeit one with plenty of compassion). I’ve learned that it’s important he never side with me out of loyalty the way a friend might, so I can trust his opinion is always balanced and fair. Other times, I wish he would simply tell me what I need to know, but he lets me come to realizations by myself, to make sure I’m always in control, and to avoid influencing me by the act of making a suggestion. It’s a unique role in my life that he plays well.

I dread the pain, but still look forward to every session. So much of my progress is tied to the memories I’ve kept in the back of my head and the emotions I’ve left to experience. It’s an opportunity to show myself compassion, while flexing mental muscles I don’t get to use often enough nowadays. Not to mention the gratification and hope that comes with uncovering long-seated, self-defeating thought patterns.

Heather hasn’t been coming in with me lately, but she still comes with; I don’t need her as a witness as much as a support when it’s over. It’s comforting to know I have a partner who accepts me now amid all this uncertainty, and will continue to no matter who I become. She’s the one who tends to my wounds at home, the love I’ve been missing my entire life, the reason I’m strong enough to do this work. The least I can do is strengthen my bond with her by learning to be more a trusting, patient, and accepting person.

  1. Something that usually involves turning into a blitzed-out hermit for a few days. []
  2. I’ve always wondered what other people’s experience with therapy is like. I don’t know a single person who goes on a regular basis. []

so soft with scars

It’s hard to imagine what life will be like when I’m still trying to survive from one day to the next. I’ve never been more disconnected with reality, but distance is what I need. At first it was days; now weeks have started blending together. Stretches of time feel shorter as they get longer. It’s been more than a month since I took a step outside, and about as long since I’ve seen anyone but Heather. I can’t even remember the last time I answered my phone or made a call.

Every day, it feels like I’m falling deeper into a hole I can’t seem to escape as I slip further away from myself. I used to enjoy being inspired and creative, but somewhere along the way I stopped dreaming. The lines in my face tell me my body has paid a price of it’s own. It’s left me unsure of who I’ll become; if only I wasn’t so fond of the person I used to be.

My new therapist is shockingly young compared to the man who retired and forced me to look for someone new. Every few weeks, we carefully explore the thoughts I keep tucked away in the back of my mind. Heather often serves as witness, to understand what I’ve been through and have to re-experience. It’s exhausting to go into a past that pains me so much, but important work that I hate and need and want all at once.

girl and cat

Not quite two years ago, her stay with me began as refuge from an abusive partner. She was a fragile girl back then; panicky during heavy winds, blind to her own burgeoning nubility, uncomfortable around anyone else for more than a few hours at a time. Fortunately, my insecurity happened to manifest itself as a need to take care of others, and I found both validation and happiness when I had the chance with someone so deserving. It’s hard to believe how quickly our roles have reversed. Now I’m the dependent, a position I have a harder time accepting than she does1, and one I’ll likely have for the rest of my life.

Through my struggle, I’ve seen her grow into a confident young woman who knows how to cook a steak medium-rare (even though she’s a vegan), enjoys every chance to exert her sexuality, and often understands more about my medication than the doctors who prescribe it. I thought I knew what love was, but every day her unwavering patience shows me how much deeper it goes.

Guild Wars 2 character with Eternity

Totally not compensating.

This is the face I wear most often as of late, while exploring a world large enough for me to get lost in. I can set goals at my own pace, whether they’re simple ones that leave me satisfied enough to sleep, or complex, long-term ones that help me feel accomplished enough to do bigger things. Every day, I’m given the chance to be kind, generous, and positive to virtual strangers, while keeping a distance from the real world. I even started a little guild with my friends, and we recently claimed the hall which we’ll call our home; even if I’m not emotionally available to them, this is how they stop by and spend time with me.

It’s hard not to hate myself when my issues are preventing me from being the person I want to be. I’m in a rush to get better, when time to heal is what I need most. Heather reminds me that the suffering I’ve been through is the reason she feels understood and safe. I tell myself that this time is just a chapter in the book of my life — a stop on the way to who I am — and that there’s more left to write.

  1. I keep reminding myself: she knows what she wants, and what’s best for her. []

laying low

At some point, the most I could do was sit by the window and face the lawn. It’s hard to say how many hours were spent looking outward, interrupted every now and then by food I could barely taste or swallow. For a person who needs to stay active to cultivate a sense of worth, it was a sign I was beyond her reach, and at a point where I was no longer able to help myself.

When she began to cry, I asked what was wrong. “I didn’t think you’d give up”, she explained, something made apparent when I couldn’t manage a veneer of pleasantness for the sake of being polite to friends or strangers alike. I once told her I would stick around for her sake, but in that moment we both understood it was a promise I couldn’t keep.

Self-portrait

I wonder if I’ll ever be able to. It’s hard to remember what life was like before I was so emotionally exhausted. Even when the external sources of stress are far away and my head is above water, it still feels like I’m drowning. When that generically redolent scent of taxi leather hit my nose, it used to mean I had a plane to catch, a flight to take me out of the country, an adventure awaiting; now it’s a portent of deafeningly silent waiting rooms, and psychiatrists who know too little and talk too much.

I keep my fretting fingers trim but the calluses keep healing over, cause I can’t concentrate long enough to improve (also why it’s taken me so many months to write this). The house is a barely contained mess. My phone is overflowing with notes, texts, voice mails, things I can’t keep on top of. It’s been forever since I talked to Darren, even longer since I made a trip out of town. I’ve grown sensitive to loud noises. I barely recognize my own face.

That’s how I know I’m not ready to process parts of the past yet. Going so many years without a reprieve has left me drained of coping resources, and when I’m barely managing my needs for safety and survival, there isn’t any room left for growth or improvement. I need more time to heal, to replace upsetting memories with new experiences, to be in a stable place before revisiting the most traumatic parts.

Heather by the window

For the moment, that means working with my natural energy patterns and momentum as I try to develop healthy habits. It’s left me up at odd hours, eating irregular meals, and largely house-bound. Heather tends to my needs and never leaves my side for more than 15 minutes. I’m fortunate to have a small support group helping me look after things — dropping off groceries, bringing my car for maintenance, paying the bills, driving me to appointments — small tasks that seem daunting when so unsure of myself. Misun even offered to help sell the house and fly me to France so I could live under her care indefinitely; if only one could be carried by the love of one’s friends alone.

It pains me to be here waiting, feeling like I’m missing opportunities for happiness every day, but I’ve learned that progress can’t be rushed. Not just cause I have to tread so carefully through the past, but because I’ve been down for so long that it feels like it’ll never be up again. That’s why I have to trust her when she tells me things will eventually be okay. Until then, I spend my time lost in the Dark Tower, appreciating a sobriety I wasn’t prepared for, looking for duels in the borderlands, trying to feel normal again.

sweet surrender

All his life he had been active, doing things about the house, looking after patients, thinking, studying, writing. How good it was to stop doing, struggling, thinking, to leave it all for a time to nature, to become her thing, her concern, the work of her merciful, wonderful, beauty-lavishing hands.

—Doctor Zhivago

Time is giving me the chance to feel hurt without hate. If only the process didn’t make the indivisible moments so overwhelmingly painful. The idea of being normal seems like a modest goal, now that an act as simple as washing the dishes becomes a burden I can’t bear. It’s the reason I don’t trust myself behind the wheel of a car, the reason song and film do nothing to help me retreat.

As a result, our lives have been reduced to the simplest means of survival. I play my games like a full-time job, slowly processing things I’ve kept in the back of my head as a means of staying safe from myself. We eat, we sleep, we start over again. My responsibility is to myself now, and it’s a good day if I can get one productive thing done, from a simple shower to a step outside. And if even that proves too much, I’m learning to be okay with that too, as time is measured across experiences and lives, not by the moments in which we stumble and fall.

Heather

When she sees me trying to shake the thoughts loose, looking for support on cold tile, I’m told to take as much time as I need to get better, and reminded she won’t leave if I never do. I don’t have to hide my feelings or moods, cause she doesn’t judge me for the depth of my sadness, nor hold my anger against me. Every day she grows more tender than the last, even as I fall and break apart, and I’m learning to understand how, when I have such a hard time accepting the shade of a person I am right now. It’s such boundless affection that finally makes me feel loved because of who I am, and not what I do or offer or represent.

After so many years living at arms-length with everyone around me, it’s a feeling that’s impossible for me to take for granted. I can’t help but internalize every way her grace brings me joy. Every time she thanks me for letting her take care of my needs and wants.

And with this foundation, I learn how to be a person again, as I try to write my way out of this hole.