find me on Masto

I listened to the episode of MBMBAM the other day where they interviewed Patrick Rothfuss, and he had an interesting comment on a question about where to start with worldbuilding for a fantasy book or D&D campaign. He pointed out that in J. R. R. Tolkien's books, he barely develops the magic system at all. Gandalf's powers as a wizard are left completely vague, and in comparison to an author like Rothfuss himself or someone like N. K. Jemisin, there's basically zero discussion of the physics or science behind “magic” in Middle Earth. Admittedly I'm not much of a fan of Tolkein, but from what I have read of his work, to even say he has a magic system would be an overstatement, although he does use magic.

But of course he clearly has put hours upon hours of effort into geography, history, wars, and linguistics in his books—because those are the topics that interest him and what he is, in Rothfuss' words, “a nerd for”. And as we all know, his enthusiasm and devotion to those topics comes through in his works and as a result they're excellent (or at least enjoyable to some people who are nerds for similar things!). Nobody would read Tolkien and come away from it saying “Wow, he really didn't do much work on his magic system, did he?!”

(By contrast, Rothfuss' books have, in his own words, an emphasis on “hard sciences”, currency, and economics, because those are his interests. And while Jemisin's worlds are very rich in many domains, a lot of her worldbuilding focuses on axes of oppression, essentially.)

I've always thought of myself as not much of a worldbuild-er type of author, but Rothfuss' comments made me rethink that. The novel I'm currently working on, Valentile's Knife, doesn't have a hugely fleshed out world and isn't what I would have previously thought of as a masterpiece of worldbuilding. But like... I'm a nerd about psychology, sociology, queerness, and disability, and all of those interests come out in the worldbuilding I did (and am doing) for this novel.

The geography of the world is vague (and only fleshed out locally); I faked linguistics with neural nets (which turned out to be much more fun and intellectually stimulating than conlanging would have been!), and I haven't given more than a passing thought to commerce and economics. These are all (well, besides economics) aspects of worldbuilding I've forced myself into in the past. I have only ever abandoned one novel since I started finishing novels, and that was one I pushed myself to worldbuild really hard in ways that were not interesting to me. There were other mistakes made with that one, but a big chunk of it was that when I planned it, I created a big, complicated, fleshed-out world for the main character to run around in, that had basically nothing I actually found interesting in it. The main character was to spend 95% of the novel physically separated from his lover and everyone else he had an intimate relationship with.

This was a disaster. Ultimately the thing I'm the most a nerd about is intimate relationships. I'm a lonely, queer, affection-seeking autistic with attachment issues and relationship-related trauma (and don't I make myself sound like a fun time! I also like long walks on the beach!), so of course I'm fascinated by topics like queerness, abuse, psychology, disability, and how all these affect our most intimate romantic and familial relationships. I like linguistics, and I can muster up a passing interest in geography, but I don't make time in my day for those things the way I do for those other topics. That novel started out lifeless, did not improve over the course of the first 30 or 40k words I wrote of it, and ended up abandoned.

By contrast, the novel that first made me kind of sit up and say “I think I actually have something here” was one where most of the worldbuilding revolved around gender and disability—and their effect on the relationship between two autistic(-coded, it was Fantasy Autism) main characters.

My latest WIP, Valentile's Knife, which I'm very excited about, is narrowly focused on the relationship between Valentile and Gilleashar, who are together and interacting throughout nearly the entire book. Almost all of the worldbuilding grows out of examining that one relationship, and this has produced probably the richest and most interesting setting (to me, of course) I've ever written in. The social interactions and intimate relationships in Valentile's Knife revolve around an idiosyncratic hierarchical system of division within families, and there are worldbuilding details related to the structure of the “nuclear” family across different cultures, who has children and when, etc. There's a lot of meaning embedded in who knows sign language, who uses it, and when. Gender and sex are both wildly different in Calonheil and Almeredh than in the familiar world, and this has meaningful and complex ramifications for the characters as well.

I didn't think of this as worldbuilding at first because a lot of it directly pertains to sex and romance and the interpersonal side of things. I barely think of it as worldbuilding because it feels like an extension of character building: I'm creating a framework building out from pre-existing characters to enrich and support the relationships they have with each other, and to give myself a space to play with them and, you know, make 'em kiss.

But it is worldbuilding. Not only is it worldbuilding, but it's worldbuilding I'm very excited about and motivated by! And I think it's intellectual and nuanced worldbuilding despite the romantic, interpersonal, “mushy” bent of it all. Maybe not in quite the same way as the worldbuilding of, e.g., Hannu Rajaniemi, but still.

Basically what I'm saying here is: It's time we owned up to the fact that whatever genius invented the ABO AU is on Tolkien's level, and we all just have to deal with that.

My latest silly writing diversion for my next novel was to use neural nets to generate names of people, places, and a few ships and schools in a fantasy world. I combined real-world languages as the input, using mostly lists of place and people names from Wikipedia that I cleaned up with regular expressions. Adjacent regions share one of their two input languages, so the generated words for places that are close-by sound similar, but have different character. (I might use more or less inputs for future places—my program can adapt to any number of input files that is great than 1!) I fed the input into text-generation neural nets, then had those nets generate a few thousand new words, and went through and cherry-picked names I liked off the lists. (I only had to use the first few dozen names from any given list, thankfully!) The code I used is here.

So here are the names I came up with. In two cases I changed the spelling of a world slightly, but otherwise these are hot off the neural net. Gaelic was involved, so I'll make notes where séimhiú should be pronounced/how I imagine the pronunciation if it's not obvious. (I might change the spellings to be more phonetic if anyone else ever reads this—personally I like the flavor added by séimhiú, but I know most readers will not know how to pronounce it! I make no promises about phonetic consistency...)

The first region, where the main character, Valentile, lives, is the kingdom (well, queendom) of Chellenagh in the country Calonheil. It's ruled by queen Sithmina and her queen-consort, Ausiar—these are Valentile's parents. Valentile has an eldest sister, Lanbhine (Lahn-veen), an elder sister Chalaith (Hah-leh, with the first “h” guttural). His much younger brother is Ecraiph, and his infant brother is Arrol. Arrol's wet nurse is Matemaith (Mah-teh-mah). Valentile also owns a sailboat, which is named Aphommon, Chellenagh for “lucky breeze” (I just made that up whole cloth, no etymology here!).

Chellenagh is a coastal kingdom bordering a sheltered sea, and there is another nation of people who live on rafts in the sea itself, called Almeredh (that last sound is a voiced “th”), meaning “Kissing the Ocean” (no etymology here either). The man who becomes Valentile's bodyguard is from Almeredh. His name is Gilleashar, but he's often called Shar as a nickname, which means “knife”. His father is known as “the bachelor”, but his given name is Aenzular. Shar's closest-in-age sister is Satris Saida (although she is already deceased at the start of the story). Shar was sent to school at the (j=y here) Martial-Monastic School in Najna, which is in Almeredh.

When Valentile and Gilleashar eventually get a larger ship they name it in Almer instead of Chellenagh's language. It's called Amtinan, Almer for “steady wind”.

His mother is from a different town on the coast of Almeredh, called Kaizeine (not part of Calonheil)—it's very well known for a monastic school for dancers run by a famous dancer, Agitia Kiea; the school is named after her.

I had so much fun making and picking all these names, and I love that I have namelists for new stuff ready to go, so I don't have to get all conlangy whenever I have to name something new! I can just pick from my lists of thousands of names!

Sometimes I find myself embarrassed to be seen associating with a particular person. Sometimes this is for stupid reasons, like I think the person is unfashionable or something and I worry others will find me uncool by association if I'm seen with them, even though I know they're a good-hearted person that I want to be around. That impulse is obviously against my values so when I notice myself thinking that way I make a conscious effort to overcome it (after all, I think I probably trigger that feeling in other people not infrequently).

But sometimes I feel that way because I know, deep down inside, that the person I'm hanging out with is genuinely an asshole, but I'm hanging around them because for whatever reason I idolize them and crave their approval. And in that case the embarrassment comes from the fact that I don't condone how the person acts and don't want others to think I condone it... but I am in fact putting up with it and not saying anything out of people-pleasing instincts. In that case I am embarrassed about something I'm doing that I'm not proud of.

These things feel much the same, and sometimes the same person will trigger both embarrassments. It seems very important to be able to notice both feelings and distinguish between the two.

Talked to my therapist about Recent Events this week, and was more honest than I have been about how I'm doing/what I've been feeling lately.

[cws: detailed discussion of dissociation, mention of self-harm]

He pointed out that I'm still using a lot of the extreme dissociative coping mechanisms I used to fall back on in high school, except in high school I knew it was happening, had named dissociative parts, and frequently dissociated on purpose, whereas in college I really wanted to believe I was “better”/not depressed any more, so I increased the dissociation and compartmentalization even further by pretending to myself that I wasn't dissociating, while still dissociating.

(The way that I dissociate now is more like Extreme Compartmentalization than a multiplicity thing, the way it used to be in high school. So when I say dissociating, I don't necessarily mean the classic feelings of unreality symptoms, although I get that too—I mean things like having an emotion, then deciding it's inconvenient and shutting it away Somewhere Else so I don't have to deal with it, or having a breakdown in one context, then after some time passes or after switching contexts, pretending and even feeling like it never happened or happened to someone else, but not me. My left hand doesn't have to know what my right hand is doing, so I can do things like be in a pattern of self-harm and have one part of me orchestrating that and making it happen while the other parts of me continue to be convinced that while there's evidence that it's happening, in some sense it's not really happening, or it's not a big deal, or it's somehow not really me doing it, or it's not a pattern, it's just a bunch of unrelated events.)

I think he's correct that this is what's going on. It explains a lot of things—like how I've been feeling so depressed lately, but simultaneously feeling like it's not a big deal, or kind of like it's happening, but it's never happening right now—it's always something that has been happening, but isn't presently and probably won't again. And how it's almost impossible to talk to my friends about it, because all my mental health stuff gets compartmentalized and assigned to a different persona than the persona that talks to my friends. It's hard to tell my friends “I've been struggling lately” because the “I” that's talking to my friends hasn't been struggling lately—he's always fine, because I need him to be fine so my friends don't know what's going on with me. But now I do actually want to tell them I have a problem and this is what it is, and it's extremely hard to get that out and let the mental health compartment and the friends compartment simultaneously be open. The me that handles my friends can be talking to them about how he is fine and has had a good week while the me that handles my mental health issues is inside losing his shit about how he's not fine and he wants help, but he's not allowed to communicate with them. And yes I know how Dramatic and Edgy this sounds :[

Similarly, there's a particular persona I have who is allowed to feel certain things in controlled, specific ways, who writes these posts. It's like I have a mode I can switch into that makes my real feelings slightly more accessible, and I use that mode to write about being depressed and stuff. Then when I'm done, I turn it off, and that's when I add the “I'm fine” coda and optimistic framing to the end of the post, because I just stop feeling any of the negative emotions I wrote about.

This was upsetting to realize in some ways. Now that I fully understand that this is what I'm doing (my therapist and I have been skirting around the topic of compartmentalization/dissociation for a while now, I think he was waiting for me to be comfortable enough to discuss it more seriously) I find it alarming how pervasive it is. When I was actively trying not to feel anything or decompartmentalize/defragment my shit, this wasn't upsetting at all. But lately in therapy I've been trying to, e.g., work through my feelings about my parents, and I find myself unable to express or feel them at all. I even find myself laughing and smiling while describing things I find seriously upsetting, which disturbs me. It bothers me to look back on college and realize how heavily I was doing this—putting up a facade/persona for my friends doesn't bother me that much, because like I said I've done that for a long time and it's sort of an extreme version of normal image-cultivation behavior. I mean I want to stop eventually, but I can live with hat for now. But the fact that I've been able to successfully fool myself into thinking I wasn't doing this for so long is... troublesome. I'm (sort of) okay with having weird and slightly dishonest coping mechanisms, but I want to know that I have them and be able to use them consciously.

I also feel overwhelmed by the idea of trying to find a “ground truth” in all of this bullshit. I told my therapist that I feel like there is some kernel of truth to all of the compartments I've created: a part of me genuinely is an optimist and a part is genuinely a pessimist, and a part of me genuinely likes writing, and a part of me genuinely despises my parents and another part genuinely is sympathetic to them and likes them, etc. But right now it's sort of like I can only experience one of these things at a time, and only in a very controlled, muted way that feels safe to me. I sometimes feel like I get closer to feeling the genuine emotions I have under all of this—sometimes in a panicky way, like “oh god if I don't box this away and shut it down right now something awful is going to happen abort abort abort” (that happens in therapy semiregularly), but also sometimes in a good way, like the conviction that I do like writing, even if my relationship with my writing is really confusing right now. I just feel like I'm still too nervous to really engage with those feelings unless it's in a really controlled way and I know I can dissociate from it at any second.

Anyway, I still feel weird about all of this because it still feels like it's Not Really A Big Deal even though both my friend and my therapist reacted pretty strongly to what I said (my therapist suggested more frequent sessions, which I don't plan to do). But if the dissociation stuff is really what's happening, then it would make sense that it only feels like a big deal to some parts of me and not others. And of course the version of me that handles most of everyday life—which is a version that has zero emotions because he needs to be functional—would be one of the versions that doesn't think it's a big deal. Damn, okay, I see why I named all of these people back in high school, it would be much easier to talk about this using names.

I feel like I made a lot of progress just by finally being able to access one of the more honest parts of myself in therapy and being able to talk about this stuff in a more serious way with my therapist. And I was able to describe some of what is going on with my friend today, although he doesn't know how buckwild I was with the dissociative stuff in high school, so without that context it was more difficult to communicate what exactly I am doing. I need to think about this for a few more days before I can figure out what exactly I'm going to do now, though.

I had another weird moment of realization when R asked me the other day how serious my depression really was and followed up by asking “are there still things that bring you joy or are even those feelings subdued?”

[cw: discussion of anxiety and depression, but nothing that heavy this time]

My first reaction to that was like... “still” things that bring me joy? I was going over my hobbies in my head like... am I supposed to feel joy when I do these things? The main ways I spend my free time (besides like, dicking around on the internet) are playing violin and piano, and writing. I enjoy playing piano, in that it takes my mind off my problems and I feel peaceful and calm while I play, at least most of the time.

Violin is a mixed bag—it's often physically uncomfortable because I'm tense when I play (my form is Not great). I also used to play violin when I was young, dropped it for nearly a decade, and picked it up again a few years ago, so I'm still re-learning a good tone. I don't think it sounds very good when I play, most of the time. I find it frustrating. It's occasionally rewarding, but I play more because if I keep going, it'll be fun in like a decade, than because I actually enjoy it.

Writing though... The wording of R's question made me realize that a lot of the time, especially lately, I meta-enjoy writing without actually enjoying it. I don't write when I feel like writing—I usually write on a schedule, sometimes literally with a wordcounter running so I know when I've written enough and I'm “allowed” to stop. I hardcore adopted the NaNoWriMo method of novel writing. I averaged over 2k words/day when I wrote my last novel, some of that while working full time.

I enjoyed writing this new novel when I started it, but revising it has been pure tedium. I'm at the point where I've started to hate what I wrote—I've read it too much, I know all of its flaws, the pacing feels weird, I hate my voice, et cetera—and I dread opening the document back up because I have to face those problems not knowing whether I'll be able to fix them. I'm very focused on publishing this novel, in part because of pressure from my parents... I almost see it as a second job. Which is probably not super healthy, because I already work full time.

Since I had that conversation with him I haven't touched the novel. I haven't even opened Scrivener. This might be the longest I've gone without writing in the past six months, besides the week-or-two break I took between writing the first draft of this novel and going back to revise it (which I forced myself to take because I knew that would make revision easier). I don't know how to feel about that. It's a relief to not have it hanging over my head when I come home. I can just relax with friends on discord or play music without wondering if I'll get any revising done today, because I know I won't.

At the same time, like I said, I meta-enjoy writing a LOT. I have an identity as a writer, I've been a writer since I was in elementary school, and I do get satisfaction out of it, sometimes—I definitely enjoyed writing the 120k combined words of fanfic I've written and published in the past year or so, and I love getting comments/feedback on my work. I am satisfied by finishing a long piece of writing even if the process of writing it is unpleasant. I want to be a Person That Writes really bad, badly enough to spend an hour or more daily on writing that I only find actually fun in the moment maybe one day in five.

It's not that I get zero joy, ever, out of these hobbies, because I do enjoy them! I feel joyful when I play a piano piece at tempo for the first time and start to be able to put emotion and dynamics into it; I feel joy when I improve a passage in one of the violin pieces I'm working on; I feel joy when writing a fun scene in one of my novels, while daydreaming and brainstorming about my characters, and I even sometimes feel joy while revising.

The issue is that joy isn't the actual reason I do these things. I see the joy I get out of this stuff as completely insignificant. The reason I write is to get better at writing, and eventually get published (and prove my dad wrong that I'll never publish anything) and perhaps make money off of it. The reason I play violin is that I feel I'm an inadequate and bad violinist and I feel obligated to practice until I'm good. I play piano because I think it's important to make progress in my free time and work towards goals, not because I actually enjoy it. I do enjoy it, but that's just a footnote to my actual motivations. So I don't go about them in ways that will make me happy, I go about them in ways that will produce results or improvement, and that's how I usually think about these activities.

This all probably has something to do with my hyperproductive, perfectionist attitude towards academics bleeding over into my free time (honestly it was probably not a great sign when, after I started scheduling all my schoolwork in ½ hour intervals, I also started scheduling writing and piano practice during my “leisure” time). I also think things started going out of whack when I graduated from college, because while I was in school I lived in a house with close friends who frequently pulled me away from obligation-hobbies like writing to play a fun round of Mario Kart or hang out with them and their friends while they smoked—when I think about feeling actual joy, the most recent times that come to mind are times when I was hanging out with them.

So I have a lot of questions I've been turning over regarding this like—do “normal” people feel joy most days? And should I expect to be like “normal” people in this regard, giving that I'm fairly low-affect naturally and generally only have three everyday emotions: anxiety, mild mania, and nothing? How much time am I supposed to spend doing things I actually want to do, and when should I take care of obligations—how can I find balance there without turning my free time into obligation time by obligation-ifying all my hobbies, OR turning my obligation time into free time and letting important things slide? What if I find out that the stuff that brings me joy is something I don't find meta-enjoyable—something I enjoy, but don't enjoy enjoying—like playing meaningless video games or screwing around on social media? (I went through a special interest a few days ago where I spent hours each day very joyfully playing Risk of Rain—I would never be able to relax enough to do that now.) I bet I would feel joy if I took a dance class, but how can I justify spending money on that when I could save it to donate to charity/use it to foster animals/spend it on friends instead?

All probably good stuff to add to the long list of things I should go over with my therapist next week.

Doing this thing where I'm more honest about my anxiety and depression with this one friend (I'll call him R) has been more challenging than I expected.

[cw: self-harm mention, anxiety/depression]

To be honest, before all this went down I didn't really think I was that dishonest about my emotions. I know I avoid talking about my more severe years of mental health problems from back in high school, partly because I don't like to relive them, partly because I'm not sure if my friends would see me differently based on some things I experienced back then. Most of my friends at least know that I went through hospitalizations back then, so it's not like it's a total black box.

But I didn't realize how reflexive it is for me to lie about my everyday emotions. It makes sense, though, because a lot of the stuff I experience every day is tied into the more serious stuff I went through back in high school—when I have a bad day, often that expresses itself as an impulse to self-harm, or “hearing voices”-type experiences (I put that in quotes because I don't have true hallucinations, just... very vivid mental imagery of voices/sounds that don't feel entirely under my control). My friends don't know much about my background with those experiences, and I don't want to explain it to them, so I just don't talk about it, which often means... not acknowledging that I had a bad day at all.

Anyway, the other day R called me to talk (he's in another country getting a graduate degree right now, so we talk on the phone regularly) and asked me how I've been doing in the specific voice people use when they really mean “how depressed are you on a scale of 1 to 10” (which I hate, but I know he's trying, so...) and I completely short circuited. I guess that was the exact second when I realized I have no practice with answering that question honestly. Back when I was in crisis mode in high school, I lied automatically about it because I didn't want my response to be used as grounds to hospitalize me again, and giving an honest 8/10 depression level (my parents literally used numerical scales for how sad I was and how much I felt like a danger to myself on any particular day, which made dishonesty very easy...) would result in long and uncomfortable interrogations with questions I didn't know how to answer (“Why are you so depressed?” I don't know, maybe it's the major depressive disorder??) and personal questions about my self-harm habits, et cetera, et cetera.

On top of that, I'm autistic, and as I've learned to pass as neurotypical better and better, I've developed more and more reflexive responses to questions like that. It's a huge boon to me to be able to get through regular small-talk conversations without thinking about my responses. But having knee-jerk reflexive responses to questions like “How are you doing?” also mean it's very hard for me to give a different answer if there's something I want to express. I just say “Oh I'm doing good, and you?” without thinking about it.

The only other option, though, is pausing right there in the conversation to figure out how I'm actually feeling, which is really difficult, awkward, and time-consuming because a) I am very alexithymic and it takes serious effort to actually parse my emotions, and b) one of the ways I cope with my mental health issues is by just ignoring all of my emotions as hard as I can, and it's difficult to turn that off.

So in the actual conversation I pretty much short circuited and stuttered various things for the most uncomfortable five minutes of my week. It surprised me how badly it went. I ended up telling him that I felt fine now, not nearly as depressed as I had felt when I told him how depressed I was the previous week, and that I felt bad for bothering him because I would have gotten over it on my own—which is true, but I failed to mention the other thing I've realized, which is that my depression comes and goes in waves and I have a bad habit of writing off the previous wave as just a fluke that will never happen again as soon as one ends. The whole point of talking to him about being depressed is that acknowledging that I am depressed even if I'm not depressed literally every second of every day, and acknowledging that I still have a problem even when I feel happy, is the first step to making progress towards a solution, rather than only working towards a solution while I'm depressed and dropping all of that whenever I feel better for a few days.

I ended up texting him later and told him basically that I apparently am not capable of acknowledging this stuff out loud, and that he's free to ask me about my emotions verbally, but I can pretty much guarantee that either I'm going to lie, or I'm going to try to not lie and say a bunch of inaccurate stuff anyway because being verbal is really hard. Which sucks, because he's dyslexic and doesn't like to text.

I feel like realizing how deep this dishonesty problem I have runs is really important—not only because being more open about my real feelings could make me feel less alone with my anxiety and depression, but also because I've noticed that it's hard for me to feel emotionally close with other people, and the amount of tactical lying I do about my feelings without even realizing it is probably a big part of that.

Maybe part of the problem is that I rely on verbal communication for talking about my feelings, even though that channel is extremely difficult for me to use. It might be easier to communicate more indirectly/asynchronously, like by sharing art or writing or even pointing people to this blog, so I can take more time to curate my feelings and understand them before I try to communicate them to someone else. I feel strange doing things like that, because it takes more effort on the part of the recipient to read something I wrote or look at art I drew and use that to understand how I'm feeling, as opposed to me just telling them. It seems presumptuous to expect my friends to engage with me like this, because my emotional landscape is so different from most of theirs, and I know it'll take effort and time for them to empathize with me. I know everyone is emotionally complicated, but I sort of feel like my own feelings are too burdensome and complex to expect anyone else to put in the effort to understand them just to feel close to me, an unimportant small bit of moss in the forest of life. But on the other hand I would consider it an honor if a friend shared something like this with me (although I don't think I've been communicating that effectively lately, which is a whole other thing).

[cw: past self harm, mental health, suicidal thoughts]

I talked to a friend earlier this week about my mental health issues. I felt like it was time to tell somebody about them because whatever is going on (depression and some suicidal ideation, which isn't that unusual for me, just a bit worse than I'm used to) has been happening for a few months now, and I've realized that I'm starting to push people away to avoid them finding out how I'm actually feeling, because while I don't consider it to be a big deal, I think they might and I don't want to have that conversation with them. My Depression Brain thinks that I'm right and it's normal for me to be this depressed and that I should hide it because The Normies Won't Understand. My rational brain knows that that pattern of thought is a specific thing I've pinpointed before that tends to precede my mental health getting worse, and the best way to deal with it is to let a few people know what's going on so I can be more accountable to a less-biased third party who can help assess what's serious and what's not, instead of letting Depression Brain make that call.

I chose a friend who I thought wouldn't take the situation too seriously—a person who's been blasé in the past about my issues—but apparently my judgment of that person's attitude was not great because he seemed pretty upset by what I said and kept asking questions about it and expressing a lot of concern for the following day. (We're in different countries and time zones, so communication is kind of slow.)

It was... uncomfortable. I anticipated that it would feel bad and vulnerable to talk about feeling depressed and anxious, and it did. But I also felt very relieved and happy when my friend expressed that he cared about me and felt bad that I was feeling that way. Having those feelings made me feel uncomfortable, because I don't want dealing with my mental health to be enjoyable or rewarding in any way, because I feel guilty and wrong about having any depression-related positive experiences ever. So I hate being comforted for my depression/anxiety because I don't deserve it and I worry that it's counterproductive and incentivizes remaining depressed, and at the same time I really want interpersonal support and to be comforted and feel loved when I'm feeling down, but I need whoever's doing the comforting to not pity me at all and pretend the comfort and whatever I'm going through are completely unrelated, and basically this explains why I read so much hurt/comfort fanfic, because I have like eight complexes about this kind of situation in real life.

It was surprisingly hard not to lash out at the person with whom I was talking just to end the conversation. I had to keep reminding myself that I specifically decided to talk about this and it's not like he was prying into my personal life without my permission.

The upshot of that whole ordeal was that friend thought my current mental situation sounds a lot more severe than I think it sounds and was seriously asking if I thought more intensive treatment (than the current therapy twice a month situation) would be a good idea. While I can recognize that if I'm having suicidal thoughts that's objectively pretty serious, at the same time, I've spent so much of my life this-depressed-or-more that even though I haven't felt this way for this long in a few years, it still doesn't seem like a crisis or even a problem I should act on (because it'll go away eventually). The truth is probably somewhere between his perspective and mine, but I really don't know where.

To make things slightly more complicated, I bought a car today, which is one of the big things I was stressed about. I got really freaked out that I wouldn't be able to get proof of car insurance fast enough to get the car I wanted. If that had happened I just would have had to delay for a day or two, but for some reason earlier this week that felt like it would be The Literal Apocalypse. Anyway, now that that's over with, I feel very relieved and relaxed, and it's tempting to take back everything I said and go back to pretending I have no problems. But I just went through this exact same pattern with getting furniture moved into my new house, where I was terrified and extremely depressed leading up to it, and then felt great and thought all my problems were over once I got it done... That was less than two weeks ago, and shockingly enough, turns out I was still depressed and just had a few good days. This will probably turn out the same—today I'm elated because I feel like I narrowly escaped untold levels of disaster, but I don't want to completely drop my efforts to actually get treatment, because it seems unlikely to last, since it hasn't the last like... eight times this has happened.

I told my friend that I would tell at least one of our other friends so he wouldn't feel solely responsible for this situation, and I want to go through with that because I don't want there to be so much pressure on this friend while I'm still thinking about how to tell my therapist about this stuff and actually get help, but at the same time I feel bad bothering a new person with this when I'm actually doing better than I was before.

I guess the theme of this whole post is that a lot of mental health issues are by nature intermittent, and part of treatment is continuing treatment even when things seem to be all better. I've been told this before about psychiatric medication—frequently when a patient starts psychiatric medication that works, they misinterpret their symptoms being resolved by the medication as their illness going away, go off the medication, and then have a relapse because the reason they felt better in the first place was that the medication was working. This philosophy is also true about finding a social support system, though, and being honest with friends about feelings, and therapy. Opening up to friends only when things are going really horribly just creates a situation where I have a crisis, talk about it, feel better, stop talking about my feelings because I feel better, and then end up in another crisis because I don't have a sustainable outlet for my emotions. The resolution to this is probably to start talking about my symptoms earlier, not just when they become so severe that I can't hide them anymore.

(cw: brief, non-graphic mentions of self-harm and suicidal thoughts.)

I have been back in therapy lately trying to get a handle on my anxiety. The official diagnosis is “generalized anxiety disorder”, although there's definitely some depression going on too. I used to be under the mistaken impression that GAD is sort of an “anxiety not otherwise specified” diagnosis, but the way my therapist explained it to me, it actually has a specific meaning. People with GAD have intense and persistent anxiety most of the time over everyday things. It's not specifically performance anxiety, a phobia, or trauma-related anxiety—it's more like anxiety is my go-to response to most situations, whether that's grocery shopping, making a dentist appointment, giving a presentation at work...

I had severe anxiety and depression in high school and was hospitalized twice for it. But I spent a lot of my college career brushing off my mental health issues and claiming that I was totally recovered and no longer was depressed, and that my anxiety was completely under control. My environment and my social support network were so drastically improved from college that I didn't want to admit that I was still struggling, and my parents also asserted confidently that I wasn't depressed anymore—I didn't want to tell them otherwise. Meanwhile I went through periodic bouts of anxiety, panic attacks, autistic shutdowns, self-harm, and intense dysphoria. I eventually got myself treated for the latter. The rest I persistently tried to ignore. If I had a panic attack, that was just because I had let something slip off my schedule, and I'd pay better attention next time so it wouldn't be an issue. When I self-harmed I lied about it to acquaintances and told friends it was a one-time slip-up even when it was happening multiple times a semester.

I thought of myself as basically healthy, but these unusual circumstances just kept cropping up that pushed me into crises! As soon as this one difficult course ended, or as soon as I was back from studying abroad, I was sure the mental issues would cease. I pushed through all the stress and depression, not enjoying myself, but sure that after this next crisis, I'd finally catch a break and be happy. My mantra my senior year of college was “As soon as ____ is over, then I'll be able to relax.” I filled in the blank with public speaking assignments, then important math projects, then different parts of my undergraduate thesis...

I pretty much kept that up for all four years of college. Then I graduated and wrapped up the parts of my transition that were important to me by getting top surgery. A few months later, I was living back at home and getting along well with my parents, had a good full-time job where I was mostly-stealth, and knew I would be able to move out soon. I had access to all my favorite hobbies, was working on a novel, practicing violin and piano, and exercising regularly. And I went through one of the most concerning bouts of suicidality I've had in years.

That was a bit of a wake-up call for me. One of the reasons I was so intent on pushing away my emotional problems during college was that in high school, my mental health was very bad all the time, so the marker for “okay, now it's really serious” with my family and doctors was suicidality. It was easy for me to say “I may be anxious and depressed, but at least I'm not spiraling like I did in high school” right up until the suicidal feelings returned. When that happened I was like “Okay, maybe this isn't normal. Maybe this isn't just one little crisis in a mostly-happy timeline.”

Looking back on it, I lied to myself a lot about my level of stability in college with the “one little crisis” line. Every time I was going through something that terrified and upset me, I'd tell myself “After this, it'll all be smooth sailing”, but in reality I spent a lot of my time bouncing from crisis to crisis, with just hours or days of rest in between obsessive anxiety and the kind of depression that just makes you feel numb. I had lots of friends and distractions around, and I expressed my anxiety as perfectionism and never let my schoolwork slip, so it was easy to ignore until I didn't have grades and a very strong safety net to hang onto after I graduated and I had to admit to myself that the “one little crisis” line wasn't going to cut it anymore.

Realizing—and acknowledging—that this state of bouncing from crisis to crisis is the status quo for me, and not an exception, has been difficult. These last two weeks I've been struggling with getting a piano to practice on and arranging to have it moved to my new apartment and tuned. I have spent whole days in a daze, tearing my hair out over how anxious I am about getting the movers to come at the right time, or calling the tuner back. Even though I've been back in therapy for several months now and my therapist each week points out how I spend most of our sessions obsessing about things I'm anxious about, I'm still tempted to say “Yeah, but as soon as the piano thing is wrapped up, then I'll be settled into my new apartment and everything will be fixed”... forgetting that I have performance evaluations coming up at work, I'm planning to buy a car soon, I told a relative I'd come get some furniture from her and then never emailed her back, etc., etc... all things that I will still worry about when I have a working piano.

I find myself returning to a blog post I read years ago about the mentality. The author described the average person's implicit belief that they deserve to relax—the idea that soon, work and chores will be “over” and one will be able to rest. In reality, work and chores are part of the continuous stream of activity, of waxing and waning tension, that is life.

I also think of my therapist's saying: “Before enlightenment, make tea and wash dishes. After enlightenment, make tea and wash dishes.” I have worked hard to make myself an environment where I can tolerate the necessities of life that I find unpleasant and reduce their impact on my life, and sure, I'd probably be happier if my workplace had four-hour workdays and I had a personal secretary to make phone calls for me. But ultimately, life is these anxiety crises just as much as it is the hours or days (or, very occasionally, even weeks!) of calm between the crises. If I am going to have a fulfilling life I need to acknowledge that anxious days are a part of that and find a way to cope with them other than pretending they aren't happening and waiting for them to stop, because whether I like it or not, these situations aren't going to stop happening entirely, ever.

I find it disheartening to see myself as a person with anxiety and depression problems that seem to be innate, now that I can no longer blame them on family, school, or dysphoria (although those things certainly exacerbated the issue). It's difficult to make sense of pain that seems to be happening for “no reason”. But at the same time, seeing these issues clearly, now that I have ruled out and eliminated some possible causes for them, gives me a strong foundation from which I can start coping with them. Denial worked to get me through college, but I don't want to live in denial of my problems for the rest of my life. I hope that now that I'm back in treatment I can start to look directly at these crises for the first time in a while and come to a better understanding of what they are and how I can enjoy my life during them, not just in the rare moments in between.