Traveling Abroad: Making the Jump Without Guarantee of a Parachute

Well the reality of it all just kicked in. I suppose because in two hours and one week I will be on a plane to London.

I have had the fortune to travel to some cool places in my life – both in groups and by myself. I hated the idea of being a tourist so my favorite thing to do was just walk around the neighborhood, maybe go get a coffee and watch people. There, no one knew me and I could be anyone or no one. My mom always freaked out because whenever I traveled, I would unintentionally cut off completely. I once went away for 6 weeks when I was 15 and I only called home twice. I guess when I’m there, I’m just immersed.

It’s funny, because you would think being severely depressed with a lot of hangups about eating in front of people, having people judge me, and overall anxiety, would have held me back from traveling in my 20’s. And while it terrified me, I knew once I got there, at least I’d be somewhere else. A place where I wasn’t defined by my family or my past. (I also drank quite a bit and would meet people in hostels and make “fast friends” that I would never see again.)

But those were my twenties. Since my breakdown in DC, I’ve only left California once in the past five years for a trip back East for a few weeks. And it was a difficult trip given my mental state. So how will traveling be now? To another country, which by the way, has been my fantasy country for as long as I can remember.

In a way, I’m more terrified of it now that I’m feeling better because I don’t know what to expect and I don’t have the same safety nets of when I was younger. I have been working a lot in therapy on choice, decision-making, and skills to help push through my fears. But I have only tested them within the confines of my incredibly small life here. While I don’t want to live in this area where I was born and raised forever, I’m afraid to run away now because for the first time it actually feels like a safe space. I have my doctors, my mom, my siblings. I know, it’s not enough, but it’s a support system that has held me up and kept me alive. Who and how will I be without my safety net?

It’s a bit frustrating. People should be more confident in their 30’s than in their 20’s. In my 20’s, traveling alone made me feel like an adult; now given what I’ve gone through, I’m in my 30’s, but I feel like a child. As I’ve often said, now that the clinical depression has lifted, it turns out I’m still 18 in a lot of ways. And I haven’t experienced very much as a stable, sober person. It also, unfortunately, feels like a bit of a test. I actually think that is one of the main reasons I’m going. Everyone is watching to see – will I actually jump? Has all this work proven that I am strong enough to challenge myself and not have a breakdown or end up in a drunken stupor or hiding in my room with a clif bar because I’m too afraid to go out? And it’s not just them watching – I’m just as curious to see myself.

My family and I discuss the reality that I may never be able to hold a job; that I may never marry; that I may be financially dependent on my parents for the rest of my life. That my expectations of what my life will look like may have to be very different than the picture that was drawn for me or even the one I attempted to draw for myself.

Taking these steps are the only way to know how far I can go and where my stop-point will be. If I can go to graduate school, can I work full-time? Or will it be too much? Do the things I need to be healthy – like the gym, my eating habits, my therapy – which take priority and require time that therefore cannot be provided to other tasks – will that constrict my choices? I know I need these things to be healthy – if I didn’t have them, I certainly couldn’t have a job anyway, as a breakdown would more than likely rear its’ powerful force. So what can I manage while still maintaining my mental health?

And the truth is, I can only know by trying. And that jump, that unknowing, scares me. I want to trust that the parachute will open. Deep in my chest, I hope that I will soar and land softly where I am meant to be. That I will no longer be the person that everyone tip toes around; who if she doesn’t return a text, gets 12 right away with panic; who earned those concerns by pleading for death as I laid in bed for years.

This disease does not go away. The work I need to do – on my self-esteem, my anxieties, my weaknesses – that hold me back from being the person I want to be (or even knowing who that person is) – that’s never going to be “fixed.” My life may end up looking different than I imagined. I know that. I know that there is always a chance that everything I have been fighting for this past year might be taken away. The medication could stop working; I could have a breakdown at school and need to leave. The foundation I have been building could be demolished in a week.

And for so long, that possibility kept me from making the jump. And while I’m terrified, absolutely numb with fear, there is a part of myself, a voice inside that has slowly gotten louder though still timid, telling me to jump.

If not now, when?

(If you write something, does it help you believe it? ‘Cuz while that may be an inspiring ending, the nausea I feel ensures me I may still have doubts.)



Men; Chapter 32: Male Therapists

A quick note on the title: I have a shit ton of issues with men – to the point that there is no way to just write one post about them. My list of problems run long and deep, and I decided maybe the best way to examine them is to take each issue one at a time. So yeah, I’m starting with Chapter 32. After all, if you were reading a book of essays, it wouldn’t matter what chapter you started with – so roll with it, folks.

I have always had female therapists. I mean, there was never any doubt otherwise. With all of my issues (as mentioned above) with men, the idea of sitting across from one and explaining why I’ve never dated, been intimate while sober, or dealt with the sexual assaults and rape I have experienced – it’s unfounded.

So I am starting this DBT workshop in February. Part of DBT is having a DBT therapist. I have no money and the organization I am working with has a funny idea of what “sliding scale” means. The only way to afford the therapist is to see their intern. They have one. And you got it, it’s a man.

When I first spoke to him on the phone, I flipped out. He just sounded like this young, super hot guy. I know, can you really tell if a guy is hot from his voice? Yeah, you can. I went online and found a picture of him with a description. The good news is he looked much older, almost balding, and had three children and a wife. Okay, unattractive, older but not too old, and settled. That’s not too intimidating.

So I saw him this week. He really needs a new picture. He’s not like speechless hot, but he’s definitely not that old, not balding, and has a fantastic energy. I told him off the bat my concerns with having a male therapist and he tried to explain that he wouldn’t try to understand the female perspective and I could call him out on it.

Yeah…that’s not the issue. I don’t think because he’s a man he’s not going to understand – he’s a therapist – I think he transcends that simplicity of heterosexual gender. So I’ve been trying to decide what “it” is. And I think it’s this: I can tell a woman and a man the same thing. I can tell them about my depression, my mishaps, even my assaults. But when I tell a woman, and it’s not because I think she can understand, but I feel safe enough to be vulnerable (at least if I trust and respect her). I can not only tell her the facts, I can explain the emotional weight and consequence behind it. I can explain the disgust or fear or self-hate and I don’t just say it – I express it. With men, I pull back to protect my vulnerability. I tell them what happened, I might even tell them the feelings it brought up, but I tell them about it like telling a story. I’m self-removed. Like I’d say something personal and immediately follow with: “but whatever. shit happens. emotional fuck up. i get it. blah blah blah.” I’m already dismissing its’ significance and depth.

I think my unhealthy boundaries with men as a child; spending time with boys growing up where I was seen as asexual even though I certainly didn’t see them that way; my horrible decisions with men as I got older due to my overwhelming self-hate and destructive behavior; my traumatic sexual experiences which have kept me emotionally stunted with men for over a decade now…I imagine all of this plays into it.

There is a power dynamic with men – maybe because I fear their emotional power over me in their ability to reject or lead me astray and in my attraction to them. Maybe because I fear my weakness in setting boundaries, in feeling guilt and shame, always feeling like I have to constantly prove my worth or they will get up and walk away. I guess for me, vulnerability is the scariest release I could provide. Allowing myself to be open, makes me feel dirty and disgusting, pathetic and unworthy.

It’s not that I don’t have these feelings around some women, especially those I have yet to develop respect for or trust in their support (i.e. all women except my therapists.) And if I am vulnerable with a woman and she judges, crosses a boundary, walks away, it hurts like a motherfucker. But it’s a different pain, a different power dynamic, a different exposure.

The good news is, DBT isn’t so much about exploring your past. It’s about dealing in the present. Of course the first module we are working on is interpersonal effectiveness, which is going to mean discussing my issues with men. But DBT is less emotional, it’s more of a skills-based practice of managing life. And maybe that in and of itself sets a boundary of safety.

My female therapist, who I will continue seeing, said that it is common for women to not want men as therapists – especially if they have had severe negative experiences with them. But she also said that for some, it’s an amazing opportunity to actually develop a healthy, trusting relationship with a man.

He seems really kind. I don’t believe he has ulterior motives or an agenda. I really believe he wants to help and he is excited to start this journey with me. The real problem is within me and my skewed perspective of him. I just hope he wears a really ugly sweater next time I see him or has something in his teeth. Could that change the power dynamic I have somehow established in my mind? It certainly couldn’t hurt.

Saying No: The Dilemma of Disappointing Others and Self-Care

I have had A LOT of people tell me A LOT of things I don’t want to hear. You didn’t get the part you wanted; the boy doesn’t like you that way; we can’t accept you to this program; you didn’t get the job; this medication won’t work; I can’t help you – the list goes on and on.

Lately, those things I don’t want to hear are less about not getting things, but about how to be or act or what I have to do. You have to attend, you need to help me, you have to do this for me.

I like helping people. I don’t think most people go into non-profits unless they want to help people (it’s certainly not for the money or the benefits or work hours.) But lately, those requests feel guilt-ridden, imposing, and detrimental to my progress. To clarify, these tasks aren’t imposing because someone is asking me to do something – it’s because A) they aren’t asking, they’re telling, making it not a “choice,” B) they don’t leave room for me to say no, C) they do not accept, believe, or understand how the task can impact my mental health.

Maybe I’ve created this relationship with others. In my depression and fear of disapproval, I have created relationships with unhealthy boundaries where it is assumed I will do what needs to get done, no matter its’ impact on me. But for these past 1o months, I have spent all of this time trying to evaluate what is good for me: what should my life look like; who should be in it; what I should do with it, in order to make me strong, healthy, and happy. Lately, I’ve felt myself being pulled into situations I have managed to avoid while I have been trying to regain strength. It’s not like I didn’t know they were there. However, I was hoping to hold them off long enough until I felt strong enough to deal with them.

Instead, I have people pushing me around, not respecting my feelings, invading my personal boundaries, “asking” me to do things that make me feel uncomfortable, ashamed or sad. All of them fall under the guises of “family,” “friendship,” or “mature responsibility.” But they feel like guilt and disappointment. I was frustrated the other day because when I thought about telling someone I didn’t want to do something because I didn’t want to do it, I knew the only way they would understand is if I was in a psychiatric hospital, on my way there, or dead. Otherwise, my “excuse” wouldn’t be valid enough.

My therapist wants me to take ownership of my choices. She wants me to learn to say no and accept that others’ disappointment is something I have to learn to live with, but still shouldn’t change me from doing what I know is right for me. She wants me to speak up for myself, to feel confident in making my own decisions, and accepting that others might not understand and might not forgive but that is their choice, not mine.

I don’t think she is saying you don’t have to have responsibility in your life. You can’t always not go to work because you just don’t feel like doing an assignment. But you are allowed to tell people in your life, especially people who don’t understand the impact a social event or task might take on your well-being, that you cannot and will not do something.

But life is more complicated than that. There are things you have to do sometimes, even if you don’t want to. Deep in your heart, you can say no, but at the end of the day, you have to get up and be there and deal with the mental implications later.

For me, when someone tells me they are unable to do something for or with me, I may feel disappointed, but I understand why and I empathize with their reasoning. But I don’t think all people do that. I believe some people are programmed to “suck it up” and “take one for the team.” It reminds me of how people often tell those with depression to “think positive” and “work harder.” It’s not that I WANT to disappoint anyone, but I also don’t want to fall backwards and spend months trying to get back to the state I was in. I find myself agreeing or being dismissed and crying later at my weakness, frustration, and fear.

In the past two weeks my anxiety has increased, I have been unable to sleep, and I feel exhausted all the time, unable to go to the gym, cook, or basically do the tasks I find help make me feel better and provide me with strength. I am going to try and do the tasks I have been told to do. I am going to try and create spaces where I can have time alone, try and get to the gym, eat healthy, and take deep breaths. I’m not hopeful I will. I see myself falling back into old habits.

When all is said and done, I hope it won’t take too long to recuperate mentally and get back on track but I’m scared at how long that may take. As for the future, when these moments arise, I know I have to practice feeling the fear of anger and disappointment and siding with myself and maintaining my boundaries. I have to retrain my brain to not think of self-care as selfish but as sustainable maintenance. It’s a laughable goal – but I can’t imagine ever truly becoming stable without it.

Life (and yes, Pat Benatar, love) is a battlefield. Here I go, into battle, with very shitty armor.