mental health

Worn out

I’ve been feeling really worn down for… at least a couple of months now, if i’m honest with myself. I keep telling myself I’m just on the edge of being worn down, but that’s just silly. I’ve been here before, and I should know better.

The job I have right now (mercifully, it’s only temporary anyway) is definitely too much for me in some ways. It’s been a good experience, and great for my career, but some of the things that make up a large part of my day-to-day work right now are draining everything I have. I haven’t had the wherewithal to really maintain a good social life since the fall, and it’s definitely gotten worse lately.

A big part of what I’m doing right now at work is outreach to local schools. This is a great awesome thing that we do at the library; it lets us promote our services and programs directly to kids and teachers, and we also bring in resources that the kids don’t get access to at their schools. I also… dislike pretty much everything about it?

Classic school outreach, I like, actually. Going out to spend an hour or so with one or two classes on a specific topic is fun, and not that different from the regular programs I run (which I still love!) It breaks up my week and often means I get a bit of a walk in on the clock, which is nice.

What I’m doing right now is a larger initiative we call the “Maker Experience”. It’s a full-day affair, and it involves two library employees. We set up a bunch of different gadgets and gear in the school library and spend the day giving different iterations of the same talk to different groups of kids, before giving them some time to play with and explore some of our stuff. Sometimes the school doesn’t even bother to build in time for us to regroup in between sessions.

The kids always have fun, and the teachers are generally very pleased with the whole thing, but I’m honestly not actually that excited about the content or convinced it adds much value to their day. But that’s not even the hardest part for me.

Although this project has picked up a lot of its own momentum, and I’m not cold-calling teacher librarians to try to get them interested (they pretty much all come to me, at a rate that’s hard for me to manage as is), I do spend a lot of time liaising with strangers, (and spending my days in unfamiliar spaces). Trying to organize a date that works for the school and that the library can handle being down two employees for the full day is tough. Even tougher is that I’m spearheading this outreach for my area, to three different branches, and have to reach out to the appropriate managers as and when.

I’m usually training new support people each time, in part because we want to get as many people as possible trained in this outreach as we can – at some point, it won’t be necessary for me to be along on all of these visits, or that’s the goal anyway.

All of this is on top of the regular programs and in-branch duties I’m used to handling, by the way.

It’s… a lot, is what I’m saying.

Add to this that the one real symptom of pregnancy that I’m having is a need for more sleep than usual. But my schedule doesn’t have the wiggle room for me to get more sleep than I already get, so it’s been tough going. I’m on a sleep deficit most of the week, and desperately try to make it up on the weekends (and I alternate between one- and three-day weekends, so this can be really tough on my six-day work weeks).

So, my non-work life is suffering. I messed up and double-booked social things this week, and wound up flaking on something really important. And then I realized it’s the third or fourth social thing I’ve flaked on in this month alone. I literally don’t have the wherewithal right now to stay on top of my work stuff (which I miraculously do seem to be on top of, somehow!) and the rest of my life. Throw in all the extra doctor stuff, and the fact that I’m moving at the end of the month, and I really should have known better than to agree to do things this month, to be honest… Sorry friends, I really do love you all, but I have to interact with far too many people as it is these days.

It’s not going to be forever though. This position is only mine until mid-to-late July (though I suspect they’ll keep me on a little extra time, and not bother to transition me to my new permanent position right away, since by then my pregnancy leave will be imminent), and school outreach won’t be happening past the end of June in any case.

Better yet, we’re moving closer to where I work next month. What’s been a 2-hour transit commute each way for the last few years will become a 40-minute walk (or 15 minutes on transit plus a 15 minute walk, depending on how I feel). I’ll have time for that extra sleep soon!

In the meantime, I’m already counting down the days to my parental leave. It’s just five more months, and when I get back I’ll have already started accumulating honest-to-goodness paid vacation days, so I will hopefully never have to get this run-down again.

Oh yeah, did I mention I’ve been working full-time for 18 months now with no real access to vacation (contract work is just so fun!)? Because that’s probably a big part of this whole thing. Thank goodness the precarity has an expiration date.

I can do this.

Name some media you connect with queerly: 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge part 16

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: Name some media you connect with queerly

This is one of those prompts that is so open its a little paralyzing to me, so I’m sure that whatever I put here will be kinda arbitrary and not super representative of the ways in which I engage queerly with media. I am also choosing to interpret this prompt as referring to media that is not intentionally queer, but that I headcanon or otherwise engage with queerly.

…Really, I would argue that I connect with all media queerly, because that is the perspective and experience I bring to the table with everything. But I guess I can give some examples of what that looks like?

Connecting Queerly Type 1: Queer/Trans Headcanons
Example: Inside Out
inside-out-why-does-riley-have-male-and-female-emotions-549434This one is not terrible original or personal; many people have pointed out that it is very easy to make a case that Riley from Inside Out is non-binary – everyone but her has feelings personified as only one binary gender, while hers are a mixture of men and women. She even has the nearly obligatory gender neutral name going for her. I also particularly like this reading because of just how utterly and completely I relate to Riley – the onset of her depression so completely mirrors my own experience from around that same age, it is downright eerie.

Connecting Queerly Type 2: Connecting with different characters
Example: Gravity Falls
gravity-falls-finale-1280jpg-c74659_1280wAlthough there are kids animated shows that are way more easily related to queerly (I’m looking at you, Steven Universe!), I definitely do this with Gravity Falls. It’s a really interesting show about a pair of 12-year-old twins (Dipper and Mabel Pines) who have been shipped off to spend the summer with their cranky great-uncle at his sorta sleazy tourist-fleecing destination the “Mystery Spot”. Of course, the mystery spot turns out to be full of real mysteries and supernatural phenomena, and the duo and their friends take on all kinds of danger. The show has amazing messages about friendship and chosen family, and is generally pretty great.

The show is definitely centred on Dipper, the boy-twin – the show creator has spoken directly about how he based the twins generally on himself and his twin sister, but ultimately Dipper is your very standard, blandly nerdy NiceGuy McEvery(White)Boy. The audience is clearly meant to relate to him and write themselves into his position, but he mostly just annoys the shit out of me and I want him to shut up and listen to Mabel.

Because Mabel? She is amazeballs. She is written as a silly and occasionally annoying counter-point to Dipper’s self-importance, and is *very* Manic Pixie at times, but I can’t help but love her. She is an amazing unapologetic femme, smart and creative and full of boundless energy. Every episode she is found wearing a new sweater that she knit herself, she has a new crush on the boy-of-the-week (while Dipper spends the entire summer boringly pining away after one unattainable cool older girl), and just generally being awesome.

Those are the main ways I can think of that I connect queerly with media. Tell me about your queer headcanons plz!


Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

Why does my brain do this? The difficulty of recognizing first-person experiences of abuse and mental illness

I know this isn’t just my brain. I know it is an absurdly common experience. But still, I can’t believe my brain continues to do stuff like this.

Me, at many points in the past: “I have lots of badfeels about this past relationship and there were issues with having my boundaries respected, but it’s not like I was raped or whatever”

Actual facts: this past relationship involved me being repeatedly bullied into doing things sexually that I had set as hard limits. My ‘no’s were next to meaningless. He did sexual things to me when I explicitly told him I didn’t want to.

For the record, I know I was raped. I just still have trouble with saying it.

Me, very recently: “I don’t think I have PTSD

Actual facts: Although it’s been a while now since this last happened (I may have mostly recovered), I have experienced repeated, vivid, uncontrollable flashbacks to the aforementioned relationship. On more than one occasion during these flashbacks, even though it was years later, I have been momentarily genuinely scared that I was still in that situation, and that the intervening years had all been a weird dream. That’s how real they were.

I don’t have a diagnosis of PTSD. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t get one now – though I do still sometimes have the sorts of trauma-related dissociative symptoms I described in my post on being triggered, I think the diagnosis would be different. But yeah, that was a thing my brain was doing for a while. And yet at the time I never made the connection between that and PTSD.

Why is it so much easier to give credence to and put weight on other people’s experiences of these things? I think it especially applies to all forms of abuse and definitely sexual violence. It also seems to apply to mental illness, though – so often people will describe textbook symptoms and follow up with “but I don’t think I’m really…” or something else that suggests they don’t think they deserve to be taken seriously. People will say “I don’t think I was really abused, but…” and then go on to describe clear-cut, textbook, and/or often outright extreme instances of abuse they have experienced.

Why can’t we be kinder to ourselves? Why can’t we believe our own experiences of these things, and trust in our responses to them? Is it just that the idea of being an abuse survivor, or living with mental illness, is just so othered in popular narratives that it seems impossible it could ever apply to us? I suspect the logic often goes something along the lines of “the way I feel isn’t the way I imagine abuse/rape survivors (or PTSD sufferers etc.) feel, therefore that can’t be what my experience is”.

Or is it something else entirely?

Signal Boost: Demisexual and Proud

Today I just wanted to take a moment to point out a new blog I am following and super excited about, and that I think some of you will like too!

Demisexual and Proud is written by a demisexual person (shocking, I know), and already has a couple of really interesting blog series on the go. There’s a bunch of posts exploring the interactions between demisexuality and mental health that the author has experienced (or particularly, what it’s like to be demisexual while also seeking mental health treatment).

And much more exciting to me, the author has started a series called “I Want To Have Sex Like…” which looks like it will be talking about the ways in which demisexuality impacts (or doesn’t) experiences of not just sexual attraction, but also sexual preferences, fantasies, and eroticism generally. I’m excited about these posts for a couple of reasons: I’ve been trying to sort out these things in my head enough to write about them myself, and reading someone else’s perspective will hopefully help me crystallize some of my own experiences, but also I find myself relating to the way the author talks about their own experiences. So that’s cool too!

Jerkbrain Double-cross

y-u-no-work-brainIt’s the holidays, and I am a retail worker, so I’ve been plugging along in a general state of near-exhaustion for the last few weeks. I managed to nearly seriously injure myself on Boxing Day on more than one occasion, including falling down one of our sets of rolling ladder-stairs (I work at a warehouse outlet store, mostly in the warehouse part) and bruising my thigh super badly. So my body has been pretty beat up, is what I’m trying to say. And I’d been achy and cranky for days on end.

But yesterday was meant to be a lovely, relaxing day with my hubby. Sundays when neither of us are working are great! The entirety of our plans for the day involved getting groceries, and heading out to pick out yarn for a knitting project I’m going to do for him. Stuff that’s fun, that I enjoy doing!

And yet.

After breakfast, I wanted to shower before we went out. But before I could do that, I really, really needed to just flop down on the bed. You know, just for a minute. No reason, I just felt like it, ok?

When I got back up, and started pulling together clothes to wear after showering, it became clear that my desire to be flopped down on the bed was far more insistent that I had realized. Basically, my brain started yelling at me: “Holy fuck what do you even think you’re doing? You can’t do this right now. Why are you trying to do things?!?!?!? Stop it!!!”

This is a pretty common feeling I have, and I can sometimes fight through it when there’s shit that just plain needs done. But today was not one of those days, and though I was fully aware of how ridiculous this whole thing was (jerkbrain wasn’t even giving me made-up reasons why it wasn’t worth it to try to get up! It was just telling me not to. Lazy, much?), and even put up a little bit of mental resistance (the equivalent of shouting “No, you stop it!!!” back at my jerkbrain) I gave in and flopped back down on the bed.

Eventually, I did overcome the malaise, though. And eventually, showered and dressed, we made it out of the house for our planned excursion to the yarn store. Yarn was successfully bought!

And then.

As we were wandering through the shopping centre, trying to figure out which exit would most efficiently get us to the next stop on our route, I was overcome with physical exhaustion. We had to find a bench for me to sit on.

And it was only at this point when a bunch of things came together for me. I’d been achy. And cranky. For days on end. When I’d been at work on Saturday, I’d actually thought I was starting menstruation early, the aches were so generalized and shitty, but the menstruation part of that process had never materialized.

My brain had been telling me not to leave the house. And I’d told it to shut up. But it had been right.

The part of me that I had thought was the rational part, seeing through my depressed jerkbrain’s (really rather half-hearted, now that I think about it) attempts to keep me from doing things I wanted to do, was actually my jerkbrain, talking me into ignoring my very real need to rest. Because I was very obviously sick wih some sort of winter bug, and probably had been for days, but I hadn’t let myself even consider that as a possibility.

I spent the rest of the day with a mild fever and achiness. And thankfully, I have today off work as well, so with any luck I will actually be able to recover. But yeah, I am apparently not as good at identifying what impulses are stemming from my depression as I thought I was.

On Not Committing Suicide

semicolonToday is World Suicide Prevention Day. I’ve been dithering about whether to actually post this, but it seems appropriate now. This is about one of the reasons that I am alive today.

This isn’t going to be a post about general long-term management strategies with depression, or even my list of short-term methods for dealing with depression in the moment. I think that writers better than me have said everything I could possibly have to say about those topics.

What I wanted to talk about here is a sort of last-ditch defense system. It’s about what happens when whatever coping strategies you may employ have all failed you, and you find yourself absolutely in the grips of depression. And your jerkbrain has taken over, and everything it tells you is making perfect sense, and is totally correct, and it’s even convinced yourself that you would be better off dead.

It’s about what kept me from committing suicide through my late teens and early twenties, when I didn’t have coping mechanisms, not really, and I had suicidal thoughts on a fairly regular basis. I actually made a suicide attempt when I was sixteen; this is about what happened after that, and I why I never tried it again.

And it’s a simple thing, really. The reason I haven’t attempted suicide again is that I promised I wouldn’t. I didn’t promise myself, of course. That wouldn’t have done me any good, because I would have absolved myself from that promise when it came down to it.

I made the promise to the person who, at the time, was the most important person in the world to me; my first love. When I told her about my suicide attempt, she made me promise that I wouldn’t do it again. And when I made the promise, I wasn’t sure if I meant it, or if it was something I really had any say in. But I made it anyway, because I didn’t know what else to say, really.

But the thing that I found, as the years passed, even as she broke my heart, and we both moved on with life and found love in other places, that no matter how hard my jerkbrain fights to convince me to just kill myself (Just do it. Life is too hard. It’s so much work, all the time, just being alive. And it never stops being exhausting and painful. And it’s always going to be this way, you know. It never gets any easier. So you might as well just stop.)

No matter what it has to say to me, it can’t tell me that I didn’t make that promise. It can’t argue me out of it, as long as I insist on clinging to it. And it’s a tiny, almost meaningless thing, but it’s what has stayed my hand many, many times. It doesn’t make me feel any better, and it doesn’t make my life any easier, but it ensures that my life will continue beyond that moment, and eventually, I always find my way out of that hole, and am grateful.

It doesn’t even really matter that I haven’t seen or spoken to her in probably half a decade, at least. Of the few things in my life that I am sure of, I know that at one time she was the most important person in the world to me, and that I made her a promise. And the only way I have left to honour the love we once shared is by keeping that damn promise, and so I will.

It’s not even a question anymore. It’s just the way things are. And because I have this one solid thing to cling to, this one tiny sliver of reason to keep on leaving, that has nothing to do with myself, and therefore can’t be unseated by my internal monologue, I am still alive today.

 

—-

I’m not really sure if this is an experience that other people will find useful, and I don’t know how generalizable this anecdote is to other people, but it’s one way of approaching bare survival that I’ve found immensely valuable, and if it’s useful to even just one other person, than I’d be glad to have it out in the open, and so that’s why this is here.

And if you are feeling suicidal right now, and have found yourself here for whatever reason, please reach out to someone. Call a suicide hotline in your area. It doesn’t matter if it feels silly, or if you don’t know what to say to them, do it anyway. It certainly won’t make you feel any worse than you already do, right?

Welcome, Mentalpod-ers!

Hi! If you just came here from my guest appearance on the Mental Illness Happy Hour blog, I’m really happy you’re here! For starters, I’m working up an FAQ about genderqueerness, so please feel free to leave any questions in the comments here, or email me at valprehension@gmail.com

Beyond that, feel free to browse around, and stay awhile. I’ve taken the liberty of making up a list of posts that you might be most interested in, broken down by topic, but you know, you can obviously go ahead and read whatever you want. You can click any of the topic titles to see all of the posts with that tag, or you can just browse through the posts I’ve hand-picked in each category for you.

But first, this might be a good place to start. This is the post where I touch on almost all of the things that are most important to me, and that I like to talk about. It also tells you all about why this blog is called “Valprehension”.

Gender Identity

  • A Gender identity Primer and Follow-up are two pieces I used to come out to my friends about being genderqueer.
  • Navigating the Gender Binary, in which I talk more about what it’s like going through day-to-day life as a genderqueer person, and some of the challenges I face in a world that regularly requires people to identify themselves as belonging to the binary.
  • Attraction, sex, and gender: what’s going on here?. Here, I admit that I really don’t understand what it means to be attracted to people of only one sex/gender, or how that works. This is a post on which I’d love to have your input, and to hear about your experience.
  • Genderqueerness and the inadequacy of language. Here, I write in more detail about the distinctions between gender identity, gender presentation, and biology.
  • The relative nature of gender presentation. Gender presentation also gets a whole post to itself, because it’s the aspect of gender that (because it’s about how others see us) is in many ways defined for us by other people. And that’s super-fascinating.

Mental Health

  • The breaking point, in which I discuss the near-complete mental break-down I had in March of this year.
  • I could have sworn that I’d written about my struggles with depression, but it appears that my depression ate that stuff, and it never made it onto the blog. It’s certainly a topic you can expect to see in the future, if you’re kind enough to follow me.

Emotional and Sexual Abuse

  • The “asking for it” narrative. Because I think that everyone who has ever been abused has spent years blaming themselves (I know I did), I think it’s important to talk about why we feel this way sometimes, and also where the idea that victims of abuse are “asking for it” comes from.
  • Stranger on a train. A guest blogger talks about the constant stream of boundary-crossing that women experience in their day-to-day lives, and how that effects her interactions with people.
  • “Abuse-logic”. Here, I talk a bit about what happens in the brain of abuse victims, and some of the mental gymnastics we do to convince ourselves that it’s not that bad, that we should stay, and that it’s really all our fault.
  • Abuse-logic and memory. This one is about how the effect that abuse has on a person’s brain sticks around long after the abuse has been escaped. I guess it’s mostly about why (in my experience, anyway) so many people answer the Shame & Secrets survey question with “Some stuff happened, but I don’t know if it qualifies as sexual abuse” and then go on to describe clear abuse.