Resilience

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to another Thursday that I didn’t fully realize was Thursday until I’d been awake for a few hours, despite having looked at my schedule and literally written the word “Thursday” in my planner earlier this morning. The coffee hasn’t kicked in yet, apparently.

I’ve been thinking about resilience lately. Last week, I posted about how frustrated and sad I am about all of the anti-trans legislation that’s being considered across the US right now. I am definitely very frustrated and sad, but I’ve been thinking about how, even a year ago, that might’ve made me feel totally derailed. But I’ve been doing a lot of work in therapy over the past couple of years to build resilience, to increase my capacity to deal with hard emotions, and to be better able to self-regulate. And I’m finding that, despite the frustration and sadness…I’m okay.

I recently worked out a new schedule with the therapist I’ve been working with for a little over two years now. We’d been meeting weekly – we pushed things back to fortnightly for about a month, and now we’re just checking in monthly, because I realized I was consistently showing up to therapy saying, “You know, I’m actually doing really well!” and not having a lot to dig into. And even this week, when I’ve been wrestling with frustration and sadness alongside some general adulting that came up unexpectedly, I am okay with that decision. I’ve checked in with myself a few times over the last week, asking if I needed to text my therapist and schedule a check-in sooner, but really, I just keep coming up with the answer of, “I’ve got this.” I have proven to myself that I can do hard things, and I’m learning to trust myself more.

I’m really proud of the work that I’ve done to get here. I know this work is the work of a lifetime, and it’ll never be done, but that doesn’t overwhelm me like it used to. I’ve finally moved out of being in survival mode 24/7 and into a place where I feel like I’m thriving, even when things are hard or uncomfortable. (I won’t lie, this is thanks not only to a lot of hard work in therapy, but also to the fact that moving into a new job situation a year ago meant a significant increase in pay. It’s a lot easier to feel like you’re thriving when you’re not scraping by paycheck to paycheck and having to watch every penny you spend to avoid overdrawing your checking account.) It’s a welcome change.

Anniversaries

Happy Thursday, dear readers!

I was so focused on my ER adventure last week that I completely missed the fact that last Thursday was my 6 year HRT anniversary. I’ve been on testosterone for six whole years! Which, incidentally, means this blog will hit its six year anniversary in a couple of weeks. I’ve blogged almost every week for six years, which is mind-boggling to me.

My therapist is constantly reminding me that I need to take time to recognize and celebrate progress. I’m not good at this. So today’s blog will attempt to do a bit of that.

A lot has changed in the past six years. My life has gained a welcome level of stability that wasn’t there before. I’m in a better place mentally than I was then. I had no idea when I started this part of this journey what would happen with my family. It’s been a trip…but I’ve ended up in a largely positive space. So that’s cool.

In addition to those personal anniversaries, there’s another important one coming up: Sunday will mark nine years since my partner and I went on our first date.

NINE YEARS. In two years we’ll have been together for a third of my life. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been worth it.

In therapy this week we talked about how after three or so years in a relationship, we shift from thinking about that person as a new person in our lives to thinking of them as family. That means that unless we consciously work to rewire whatever dysfunctional attachment patterns we developed in our family of origin, we’ll perpetuate those in our family of choice. (On the one hand, breaking those dysfunctional patterns is overwhelming and difficult, but on the other, what a cool opportunity to strike out into new territory!) One of the things I’m working on is letting myself be cared for, even when I feel like I’m inconveniencing the people around me. I’m so grateful that I have a partner who’s so thoughtful and intentional about making sure I’m cared for.

What about you, friends? Any anniversaries, big or small, happening in your lives these days? I’d love to hear about them!

Optimistic

Happy Thursday, dear readers! I feel like I have been confused all week about what day it is, and so I very nearly forgot to write something today, but here I am. Part of my confusion is, I think, related to the fact that I’m still fighting some sort of cold/allergy bullshit that’s fogging up my brain (and making me feel physically pretty blah). I’m working from home today because I woke up achy and feeling like my body temperature was all over the place, which is usually a sure sign that I’m fighting off something.

It feels like there’s a lot going on in my life, but a lot of it is at a stage where I can’t talk about it yet. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks I’ll have more on that. I will say that thanks to some of these secret goings-on, I am feeling more optimistic about many areas of my life than I have in a while, and that’s a really nice place to be.

In therapy this week, my therapist and I talked about how hard it is for me to find language to express what I need (which, as a generally language-oriented person, is suuuuuper frustrating). I’ve spent much of my life trying very hard to make other people happy, and in the process have neglected to learn how to recognize what it is that want and need. I’m making huge progress here, though – my therapist pointed out that all the work I’ve been putting into creating safe space for myself is paying off, because I am finally getting to a place where I feel like I can try to name what I need instead of ignoring it. And it’s true. I’ve worked really hard to establish a sense of safety for myself, and it feels really good to have that work noticeably making a difference.

I’m not totally sure where I’m going with this post except to say that while the world is definitely still on fire and there’s a lot that I’m upset about on a global scale, things are actually going pretty okay for me personally right now. I feel like I’m getting closer to a place where I can move past just surviving and getting by and into engaging more with the world around me. So hooray for that!

Facing Anger

“When was the last time you got really angry?”

This was a question that came up in my session with my therapist this week, and I didn’t have an answer.

I did not go into therapy this week expecting to talk about being angry. It had been two weeks since we’d met, and I was running through updates on things we’d been talking about in past sessions. One of the things that came up had to do with people talking about me rather than to me about my life.

“Does it make you angry?” she asked.

“Yes,” I responded immediately, and then found myself backpedaling. “Well, at least annoyed. Angry might be too strong a term.”

She pointed out that it was my first response, though. We talked about what “annoyed” versus “angry” feels like, and which response actually felt more genuine in that situation. It was definitely anger. She asked me to sit with it for a minute.

And I remembered something I haven’t super consciously considered in a while. Once, when I was about 14, I was fighting with my younger brother. At some point, I got really, really angry. I chased him up the stairs to his room. He slammed the door in my face, and before I knew what was happening, my fist came down on the door…and I heard something in the door crack. I realized in that moment just how capable I was of causing serious harm to another human being, and it terrified me.

I don’t remember much of the rest of that evening, aside from knowing that I retreated to my own room immediately and probably stayed there as long as I possibly could. And I’ve never lashed out in anger like that again.

I don’t do well with anger. I’ve known this for a long time, but in therapeutic settings had only really worked with my lack of coping skills around other people’s anger. I haven’t spent a lot of time digging into the fact that, for more than half my life now, my response to my own anger has been to freeze – I make myself and my anger as small as possible so that I don’t risk hurting anyone. I want more than anything to be a person who makes other people feel safe, and I don’t know how to feel safe around anger. I freeze because I’m even more afraid of my own anger than I am of other people’s.

My therapist posited that perhaps there’s a link between the amount of time I spend freezing and trying to make myself small, and the fact that most of my joints hurt almost all of the time.

It’s not a thing that’s going to be solved just by recognizing that it’s there…but that’s step one, at least.

Clouds for Days

It has been raining and overcast all week here in Chicago, and I am tired. This sort of weather is hard for multiple reasons – my brain gets squirrelly if it goes more than a couple of days without sunshine, and wet, humid weather makes my joints especially achy.

On the bright side, the rain (and on Saturday, snow) that we’ve gotten has knocked a lot of the pollen off the trees, and made my allergies much more bearable as a consequence.

Other bright points:

  • Therapy is going really well. My therapist is the best and I’m learning a lot as we process things. An important lesson that keeps coming up is that I need to celebrate my successes instead of just letting them pass by.
  • I started a new songwriting class this week. Banjo was great as a break, but I’m so happy to be back in this class with these people.
  • I have started working on a letter I’m planning to send out to my extended family as a sort of reintroduction. I’m feeling good about how it’s looking so far. The biggest hurdle is going to be getting addresses for everyone.

I’m feeling pretty under the weather today. The cold I caught shortly before Christmas has ebbed and returned at least three times now, and I’m very ready for it to just be done. I made the choice to work from home today to try to recover a bit more completely.

Despite feeling physically off, it’s been a decent week. Here are some things that I’m happy about right now:

  • On Saturday, my partner and I went with a friend to the penultimate day of the Science of Pixar exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. IT WAS SO COOL. It blows my mind that there are people in the world who can take math and science and turn it into art like that. After going to see the Pixar exhibit, we parted ways with our friend, and my partner and I went to 57th Street Books, which was absolutely delightful. It has a very rabbit warren feel to it – winding rooms of books all connected as you go deeper into the store. I got Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor (which I proceeded to devour in one sitting on Tuesday evening – it’s a short book, and very good), and we also got a puzzle and some Chicago-themed holiday cards.
  • On Monday after work I had a consultation call with a potential new therapist, and we set up our first session for a couple of weeks out. Based on our phone conversation, I’m hopeful that this will work out – it’s a bit of a trek to get to her office, but I think it will be worth it.
  • Tuesday night was the first songwriting class of the year. I’ve taken a couple of sessions off from songwriting classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music, and I was weirdly nervous going in. But of course, it’s a delightful group of people, and I’m looking forward to digging back into writing, which has fallen a bit by the wayside the past few months.

Now, fingers crossed that I can kick this cold!

Plans

After I posted last week about my word of the year being “Action”…I promptly caught the cold from hell and lost several days to that nonsense. I was out of the office for three of the last five work days, and spent a lot of time annoyed by the fact that I couldn’t breathe through half my nose and kept waking myself up coughing. But I finally (FINALLY) and starting to feel more human again, so now I feel like it’s time to move forward with starting 2018 (a little over a week late, but hey, who’s counting?).

I’m continuing PT for my knee, which is helping a lot. It also makes me whine a lot, because the exercises are HARD (but feel like they shouldn’t be). I’m working on being more gracious about it and grateful for the progress I’m making.

Songwriting class started this week, and I’m trying to hit the ground running, so I have a shot at hitting my goal of 40 songs written this year (twice the number I’ve written each of the past two years).

I’m working on anxiety coping mechanisms in therapy. One of the things I’m trying this week is writing down my anxieties, in the hopes that getting them out of my head onto paper will make it easier to talk myself down. So far it seems like it’s helpful, but it’s only been a couple of days, so jury’s still out. I left my session this week with several ideas to try, though, so if this doesn’t work out, I have other options.

One of the things I want to do a better job of this year is actually planning out my weeks. There’s a big part of me that hates the idea of being boxed into a rigid schedule, but I also recognize that I’m more productive if I have a plan. If the only way I will make time to write songs or read books or whatever else I want to do is if I block out time in my schedule every week, then that’s what I need to do.

I’m trying to keep my goals reasonable, to not bite off more than I can chew in the first two weeks of the year, because I don’t want to burn out. Finding the balance there is a challenge.

Brief Bright Spots

It feels like it’s been a long week. In reality, I stayed home from work on Monday after waking up feeling feverish, and I’ve been spending a lot of time sleeping as I try to fight off this annoying cold that isn’t awful but just won’t leave. I’m still dealing with anxiety. But there have been some distinct bright spots in the week, so I’m going to focus on those today.

  1. We started putting up holiday decorations in our apartment. We have lights around the windows, and the (fake) tree is up. We still need to get the lights on the tree plugged in (we had to acquire another extension cord first – there’s a paucity of outlets in our apartment), and put the ornaments on, but that should happen in the next few days. I have complicated feelings about Christmas (it no longer holds particular religious significance for me, and the capitalist overtones of the secular side of the holiday are overwhelming and upsetting), but I do like the decorations, especially the lights. So that’s been fun.
  2. I found out my knee is not untreatably messed up. My right knee has been swollen and achy for a few weeks. Finally made it to the doctor last week, and while it looks like I need physical therapy (currently waiting on a referral), it doesn’t appear to be anything irreparable. So that was encouraging.
  3. I scheduled an intake appointment with a new therapist. My last therapist, who I adored, moved to Portland in September. I felt like I was doing mostly okay, but I’m recognizing that I’m still dealing with a lot of anxiety. I’m also finding, as my life in general becomes more stable, that there are areas of my psyche I have avoided dealing with in the past that are now coming to the surface, so it feels like a good time to find someone to process all of that with. I don’t know whether things will work out schedule-wise with this particular person, but I’m optimistic.
  4. I wrote a letter. I have this pen pal in Germany who I’ve been corresponding with off and on since 2013. He is a great pen pal and regularly sends me postcards, interspersed with occasional longer letters and some photographs he’s taken. I have been a horrible pen pal, and have maybe written to him once all this year. But this week, after receiving yet another postcard from him, I finally sat down and wrote him a proper letter. It reminded me that I really enjoy letter writing, when I actually sit down to do it. I am hoping to do more of this in 2018.
  5. Doug Jones beat Roy Moore for the Alabama seat in the Senate. I had not fully processed how much tension I was carrying about this until I got a text from my dad on Tuesday night announcing that Jones had won. It’s restored a little bit of my faith in our collective humanity, and has me feeling tentatively hopeful about next year’s midterm elections. I’m still disgusted that it was a close race and that the majority of white people (including the majority of white women) voted for a pedophile. In fact, 80% of voters who self-identified as white evangelical/born-again Christians voted for Moore. (Stats found at Washington Post and NBC.) White Christians, do better. Call this out. This is not just a southern problem – the whole country was complicit in electing 45. This is a white people problem, and especially a white evangelical problem. I found this opinion piece in the Washington Post really on point – worth a read.

All that to say that while things still feel pretty shaky on a global level, personally, I’m doing okay. Or if I’m not exactly okay, I’m finding ways to get there. And really, that’s about all I can ask for right now.

Inhale, Exhale

I’ll be honest, I’m really not sure what to write about this week. The world continues to be a scary place full of bad news, and that continues to be overwhelming. So I think I’m going to fall back on my usual I-don’t-know-what-to-write-about strategy, and give you a list of three good things from the past week:

  1. Knitters are the best people. A bunch of our knitting group got together for brunch over the weekend to celebrate someone’s birthday. There was good food and an adorable baby and lots of reminders why I love these people so much.
  2. I found a new therapist. I had been going to someone else, but they weren’t really up for helping me through my anxiety around the current political climate, so I ended services with them a couple of weeks ago. On Sunday I met with a new therapist that I think is going to be a much better fit.
  3. I took a day off. Granted, it was because I was feeling pretty miserable (I’m on round two of this horrible cold), but it felt good to listen to my body and take some time to get extra rest and just relax, particularly in the midst of what is turning out to be a pretty packed month.