Home Again, Home Again

Happy Thursday, dear readers!

I mentioned last week that I was getting ready to go on my first ever work trip. I got home from DC yesterday afternoon. It was a good trip overall, if not exactly what I expected/intended it to be. Here are some highlights:

  • I got to see our colleague who moved to Israel 3.5 years ago, who I’m always emailing/Skyping but who I hadn’t seen in person since she moved. It was great to catch up and hang out.
  • I learned things that I think will ultimately help me do my job better. Some of the sessions I went to went way over my head, but even those at least gave me things to look up once I get settled back at the office.
  • I got to meet up with my friend Heather Mae, who is one of the most genuinely kind people I have the pleasure of knowing (and also happens to be one of my favorite musicians). Taking an hour to grab coffee with her made my week. We have brains that operate in similar ways (#BipolarAdventures), and it’s always nice to be able to talk to someone who just gets it.
  • I did NOT do the networking I had planned to do. This had a lot to do with the fact that I’m just not great at networking, and because our 1800+ person conference (which was not the only large conference happening at the convention center) was a bit overwhelming for this socially anxious introvert. But I did think of things I can do better next time, and I have ideas of where to follow up on things from home.
  • I walked about 5 miles a day, most of them without even leaving the building where the conference was held. It was a lot.
  • I successfully got through airport security both ways without setting off any machines! I think that’s a first. (Usually if I have good luck on one leg of the journey, I won’t on the other. Or I set off all the machines. Body scanners are gender binarist bullshit.)

I’m on my way into the office now. I desperately wanted to work from home today, but I think my office mate would kill me if I left her alone for another day, so here we are. I’m exhausted, but still generally feeling good about the trip. As much as I enjoy traveling, I’m very ready to get settled back into my routine at home.

Adventures

Hello, dear readers! How on earth is it Thursday already? (At the same time: how is it only Thursday?) I am in that weird space where my body is exhausted but my brain is manic. #BipolarAdventures

It’s been a pretty good week. Here are some highlights:

  • On Sunday, a friend came over for breakfast so we could celebrate the fact that she finished grad school. (She graduates today!) I love the fact that we’ve cultivated this friendship that largely revolves around weekend breakfast/brunch and good conversation.
  • Monday night, my partner and I each played a set at the Acoustic Explosion (where six performers play 25 minute sets every Monday night). Both of our sets went well, and despite the nerves, we had fun.
  • This week at work has been busy, because I’m trying to wrap up some projects before I go on my first ever work trip next week. Sunday I’m flying to DC for the national conference for the company that makes our client database (which is what I manage at work). I’m not going to have time for sight-seeing, unfortunately, but I’m hoping I’ll get to connect with a friend or two. I’m also hoping for some good networking opportunities at the conference. I haven’t been to DC since I was in high school!

Five Years

I completely missed it when I posted last week, but on Friday, Accidental Fudge turned five! For five years I’ve written and posted a blog almost every week. That feels like a pretty big accomplishment.

Accidental Fudge started as a blog to document my gender transition. I had enough weird and amusing anecdotes in my first month on testosterone that I thought it would be fun to share them with the world. And that was great, to start. It quickly became apparent, though, that there wasn’t going to be a “here’s a weird thing I’ve noticed about my gender” moment every single week. The blog pretty steadily evolved into me telling you all about how my weeks were going – a brief newsletter of sorts. That’s also been great.

Every time the blog is another year older, I think it’s worth pausing to reflect on whether this is still something I want to invest my time in. While I often feel like I don’t have anything of value to say, I do still enjoy the challenge of coming up with something each week. And I love hearing from those of you who comment (either here or on Facebook or in person). It reminds me that I’m part of a much larger community than I sometimes realize.

So thanks, Accidental Fudge readers, for your support. Here’s to five years, and here’s to at least one more!

Coming Out

Hello, dear readers! This blog post is going up late today, because I did not write it yesterday and also because I stayed home from work today to catch up on sleep and fight off the headache I woke up with.

I’m also not really sure what to write about this week. They still haven’t caught the perpetrator of the two shootings in our neighborhood that I talked about last week, so we’re still a bit on edge, trying to figure out how to navigate our neighborhood in a way that feels safe right now. Also, on a national level here in the US, things are pretty overwhelming right now. (If you’re a US citizen and haven’t checked your voter registration or haven’t registered to vote, do so now. We need everyone to show up and vote in November. Voter suppression is a serious reality in a lot of places right now, and voter rolls have been purged in some states as a part of that, so check your registration even if you know you were registered before.)

We did have the lovely experience on Monday of seeing our friend Heather Mae play a show in our neighborhood. We got to spend a while before and after the show catching up with her and hanging out, and that was great. Go check out her music if you’re not familiar with her stuff – she’s fabulous!

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day, and today is National Coming Out Day. So I think to close this blog I’m going to combine the sentiments of those two days and tell you a little bit about myself that you may or may not know:

I am queer. Queer is a label I’ve chosen because it represents so much of who I am. It describes my orientation – I’m attracted to all sorts of people of all sorts of genders. It describes my gender – I was assigned female at birth, but realized in my mid-twenties that that didn’t fit; I’m now living and presenting in such a way that I’m read as male by the world at large, but in my heart of hearts I really don’t identify with binary gender at all. Queer also describes my brain – I have Bipolar II Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, both of which I was finally diagnosed with 9 years ago, and which I’ve been medicated for ever since. A few months ago, I had to seek out a psychiatrist to get my meds adjusted – I was manic and anxious as hell for a solid month. It was miserable, and I still don’t know how I managed to get anything done during that time. Since getting my meds adjusted, I’m feeling much more capable of handling all of the anxiety that comes from life right now.

I choose to be out and proud about all of these intersections of my identity, but I can make that choice because I live with a great deal of privilege. I have safe, nurturing spaces where I can be myself. Not everyone is so lucky. If you’re struggling with whether or not to come out today, remember that your safety comes first, and that your identity is valid regardless of how public you are with it. I see you; you’re real. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. May we all work toward a world in which “coming out,” whether it’s in regard to sexuality or gender or mental health or anything else, doesn’t carry so much weight and fear with it.

Anxious Days

I’m having an anxious week, and I don’t really know why.

It might be the regular stress of the upcoming holidays.

It might be the minor (but still stressful) drama and health issues happening with my team at work.

It might also just be my brain.

In any case, my body decided yesterday that it was a great time to develop an eye twitch. And not just one eye, but both, sporadically, all day. Obviously I’m a huge fan of this development.

There have been bright spots this week, mostly revolving around music – a songwriting classmate’s concert, meeting new musician friends, having the new song I’d talked myself out of liking go over okay in class on Tuesday. Unfortunately, all of it has been underpinned by this frantic activity in my brain.

It’s not even that I’m anxious about some specific, concrete thing. (I guess that’s why they call it Generalized Anxiety Disorder.) I just can’t get my brain to shut off.

I’m also really, really tired. These two things are probably related.

I feel like I’ve been drinking excessive amounts of coffee – I’m jittery, my eyes are twitching, I feel wired and like I’m crashing simultaneously. Only, I drink decaf coffee these days. This appears to be entirely fabricated within the confines of my brain.

Making Mental Space

First, a quick mental health update: I am still wading my way through this latest depressive swing in my Bipolar cycle, but I feel like I’m starting to move out of it. I haven’t been feeling great physically this week, so it’s been a little hard to tell, but I seem to be reaching the point where I have more energy. Whether that’s due solely to the cyclical nature of my moods, or due in part to some other work I’ve been doing, I don’t know, but I’m feeling better overall than I was last week.

I mentioned last week that I’ve been trying to establish some new, healthier routines for myself. Over the past several months I’ve noticed I tend to go to bed pretty early and I still have trouble getting up in the morning. I’ve felt like I’m tired all the time, regardless of how much sleep I get. I’ve had to accept the fact that I am no longer really a night owl. As I’ve been examining this pattern, I’ve realized I actually want to become a morning person. This is the first time in my life that that’s been true. So I’ve been getting up at what I would formerly have referred to as an ungodly hour in the morning  (or “stupid o’clock”), writing my morning pages (I’m on week two of The Artist’s Way), and giving myself time to start the day off more slowly, rather than rolling out of bed twenty minutes before I need to leave and dragging myself out the door.

It’s been going…surprisingly well. I think it makes a difference knowing that the first thing I have to do when I get up is write, rather than get ready for work. Intentionally planning non-work things into my morning means that I don’t fight to stay in bed as long. I’ve actually gotten up at my first alarm every morning for the past ten days – prior to that, I was setting five, six, seven alarms at intervals in the morning, because I knew I’d turn off one or two in my sleep, and while I always had the thought of “well, maybe I’ll get up earlier,” when I knew I had an alarm letting me know that I could no longer stay in bed if I wanted to make it to work on time, I let myself off the hook too easily. The fact that I’ve managed to be awake and doing something within five minutes of my first (and only) alarm for over a week feels like a huge accomplishment. Granted, I write my morning pages sitting up in bed, so I’m not up and moving about, really, but I’m still awake!

My partner and I are continuing to do a weekly meal plan (which is getting easier by the week, because now we know how much time and effort we save plotting it all out at the beginning of the week rather than getting to each evening and playing the “I don’t know, what do you want to eat?” game), and we’re also getting better at keeping up on routine housework. I feel like our space has never looked as consistently nice as it has for the past couple of months. I’m really proud of us.

In the end, what I’m trying to do is give myself more mental space. My mind is busy all the time. I lay down to go to sleep, and my brain goes racing down rabbit holes, trying to make sense of something that happened today, or last week, or ten years ago. I wake up, and it’s doing the same thing. I get songs stuck in my head. I’m easily distracted. I am almost never not thinking. But if my physical space is clean/less visually cluttered, and I don’t have to worry about what’s for lunch or dinner, and I’ve taken time in the morning to dump some of my brain out onto paper…hopefully, in the end, I’ll find that my mind settles down more often. Ideally, I’d like to be at a point where racing thoughts are just ideas, not anxiety – where the routines I’ve established allow me to let go of some of the worry so I can focus on more interesting (and maybe even productive) things.

What about you, friends? What do you do to create mental space for yourself?

Happy Moments in Mania

My apologies for the slightly late post today, friends. I have been feeling under the weather, and forgot until late last night that today was Thursday and that I should have written and scheduled a blog post earlier in the day.

Despite the fact that I have a cold and am allergic to everything outside, and despite the fact that this, combined with the stress of the new job, has been making me feel very tired a lot of time, I seem to be on a bit of a manic upswing. In recent history, mania has often been marked by uncontrolled anxiety and has not been very fun, but this time around there have been some happy things happening. Here are a few of them:

  • I ordered a new octave mandolin. A few years ago, the octave mandolin that I had met a very sad end (my failure to properly humidify it combined with a too-long stint outside waiting for a bus doing a polar vortex = some major cracks in the top). I’ve missed having one around ever since, but a new one has been quite a ways out of my price range. I found one on eBay this last week by an American builder who’s known for his eccentric designs that are a bit rough around the edges but that sound very nice. So that should be coming sometime next week; I’m very excited!
  • I have a new musical guilty pleasure: the punk-pop band PWR BTTM. (Yes, that is pronounced the way you think it is. Yes, they are super gay and gender transgressive, and it’s wonderful.)
  • Last night, I joined my partner and one of our good friends at the recording of Greg Proops’s podcast, The Smartest Man in the World (AKA Proopcast). My partner and the friend we went with listen to the podcast regularly. I sometimes listen, but rarely to an entire episode (they’re long…funny, but long), and I wasn’t sure how I was going to do sitting through the recording of a whole show. I enjoy his humor and his social commentary, but I definitely tend to zone out after a while when listening to the podcast. The live show was super fun, though, and I stayed engaged the whole time. If you ever get an opportunity to go to one of Greg Proops’s shows, I’d recommend it.

Taking Care

The people who know me best know that my brain never really stops racing.

This is still true, despite the fact that as of yesterday I’ve spent ten minutes a day meditating (using Headspace) for 27 days straight.

It remains true despite the fact that I am spending large swaths of my life feeling exhausted.

Last week, I mentioned that I was getting back into embroidery for the first time in about a decade. Last week, I embroidered the corners of nine handkerchiefs in six days:

I embroidered all of these between Monday and Sunday.

I embroidered all of these between Monday and Sunday.

It feels a little silly, and I have some complex feelings about indulging in a craft that doesn’t have a lot of practical application. When I knit, 99% of the time it’s something I am going to use, or give to someone else in the hopes that they use it. I knit beautiful things, but I knit beautiful things with a purpose – things that I will wear, or that my nephew will play with, or things to snuggle under. Embroidery doesn’t really make anything, it just makes existing things prettier. Which is, I recognize, a perfectly valid reason to do a thing, and my internal resistance to the idea of doing something that a part of me finds “frivolous” is likely largely rooted in misogyny and the devaluation of things deemed “women’s work” by society. So that’s my own bullshit to work through. And it’s (clearly) not stopping me from doing it.

A large part of the reason why I keep making one tiny stitch after the other is the fact that embroidery requires focus. Not so much that it feels strenuous, but enough that it occupies a significant portion of my mind. I noticed pretty early on in the week that when I was carefully stitching away, following the lines of the patterns, that my brain slowed down. I didn’t stop worrying altogether. The anxiety was still there. But the cacophony of thoughts quieted down to a more manageable volume. It gave me a little space to process some of the ideas pinging around in my skull.

Of course, there’s the rest of my life that still needs living, and I can’t continue to let the time I take out to embroider consume the time I need to get things done around the house, get knitting projects with deadlines done, and otherwise take care of myself.

So this weekend, I have a massage scheduled for the first time since October (I haven’t been in since just before I had surgery!), and I have an appointment with my new therapist. Because embroidery is a great coping technique in its right (and is certainly a less expensive coping mechanism than some that I’ve used over the years), but it can’t be the only tool I have tucked into my belt. I want very badly to get involved in whatever forms of resistance I can, but I also need to be realistic about the fact that I’ve been finding it difficult to do much above and beyond my regularly scheduled activities. I can’t take care of the rest of the world if I’m not taking care of myself first.

The weekend won’t be without its own anxieties (I have a gig scheduled for Monday night, and I’m planning to play the songs I’ve written in the 8-week class that just ended yesterday, so I have a lot of polishing and practicing to do), but I am determined to do what I can to get my brain in a better place, both in the short-term and into the future, uncertain though it certainly is.

Barometric Blues

I’m writing this on Wednesday, which has been a weird one for weather.

It felt like it was still 5:30 am dark until at least 9:30 am. Between the darkness and the rain, it was a pretty depressing start to the day. Add the fact that the wind turned my trusty umbrella inside out for the first time in the eight years that I’ve owned it, mangling one of the bows and rendering it pretty useless, and the fact that I woke up with a sore throat that isn’t going away on its own, and I was quite grouchy before I even got to work.

The rest of the day has been alternating sun and clouds and the tension of potential storms, an endless and excruciatingly dull conference call, and too much time spent wondering what to include on the “development plan” my boss has asked me to pull together in advance of my yearly review, and it’s all combining to give me a headache and make me wish I’d stayed home today.

Sometimes when I say I’m feeling “under the weather,” I’m being less metaphorical than people think. Barometric pressure changes do weird things to this Bipolar brain of mine.

It’s not just headaches. Several of my coworkers were complaining in the morning about the headaches they woke up with when the weather changed. I get those, sometimes, too, but that’s not all of it.

Something about storms and rapidly changing weather patterns makes me feel like my grasp on reality is a little…tenuous, I guess. Like I’m walking the edge of the abyss of psychosis and one wrong step could sent me tumbling away.

There’s not really any empirical evidence in my life that this is the case. I’ve never really had a psychotic episode. I’ve never actually lost my grip on reality. Barometric shifts have never done more than make me profoundly uncomfortable.

I’ve had panic attacks on days like these, though, when the air makes me feel claustrophobic. I panic when I feel like reality is going to get away from me, even though I’ve never actually experienced the realization of that fear.

I have known people who would tell me this is altogether untrue, that in fact I spend much of my life disconnected from reality, that my very identity is proof of this. On a less severe level, there are people who would say that surely, someone who loves fantasy and plays D&D has to have made some sort of break with reality. I have heard these arguments from several family members over the years.

But the thing is…yes, I enjoy my escapist indulgences from time to time. I like getting lost in a book for a while, or inside the head of a character I’m playing (although at least half the time I find role playing as someone else is in fact some of the best therapy). But I am always, always, always aware of the reality I’m escaping from. I’ve known people who can’t keep truth straight from fiction. I am not one of those people. I’ve never lost sight of what’s real and true around me.

There’s something about the tension in the space before a storm, though, that makes me feel like I’m not completely in control of myself, and that’s really terrifying.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. All that to say, I guess, that brains are complicated and react to things that may or may not make immediate apparent sense. So, you know…be gentle with each other.

Ramblings

First off, in case you missed it: I posted the audio of the show I played last week here.

And with that out of the way…I’m not totally sure what to write about this week. I’m still feeling fairly scattered. I’m still on the lower end of my bipolar cycle, which has been especially weird because things are going really well, generally speaking, and I have a lot of happy moments…but then I come down from the happy moments, skid past baseline, and find myself back in the land of sad for no real reason. It leaves me a bit befuddled every time, because how on earth can I be sad when there’s so much to be happy about? But it is what it is.

I think part of why I’m so scattered lately is that I would really love to just be doing creative things all the time, and that’s just not an option. I’m filling much of my free time with creativity, though, and that does help.

On the subject of things to be happy about – I’m really, really enjoying my new songwriting class. More than that, I’m really, really enjoying the songs that I’m writing! This is uncharted territory for me, but it’s fun so far. I actually had a moment this past week where I realized I could hear a harmony line to the song I’d written for class; that was a totally new experience, too.

I’m just wrapping up some creative work for 20% Theatre Company Twin Cities, putting together the book format for the script of their new show (The Naked I: Self-Defined, which opens in Minneapolis on February 12, and if you’re in town, you should absolutely buy tickets right now, because it’s going to be excellent). I’ve done the layout for the last two Naked I show scripts, and it’s always such an honor and a joy to be involved.

I have been knitting in fits and starts, much less frequently than I ordinarily would be at this time of year. I blame the weather – it’s been fluctuating quite a bit, and all my joints (including the ones in my hands) have been cranky because of it. As much as I’m thankful that it hasn’t been consistently miserably cold, I kind of wish Chicago would just pick a weather pattern and stick to it.

On that note, stay warm and well, folks; hopefully I’ll have something more interesting to write about next week!