[Trigger Warning: some Eating Disorder stuff]
I am seeing a therapist again. I have been super depressed and I’ve been having panic attacks and a lot of anxiety. E made me go see someone.
I hate therapy. I hate mental health professionals. I hate talking about my stupid feelings. I hate being vulnerable and emotional and all that stuff. It’s really uncomfortable, and it’s kind of a blow to the ego. Like, I’ve spent all my life viewing myself as this cool, quirky, kind of eccentric heroine of the grand romance that is my life, but after a 1-hour session with my therapist I learn that really I just have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Adjustment Disorder, and issues with Codependency. Also I have low self-esteem. And a case of burnout.
I’m seeing a different therapist than the one I spoke to for all my gender troubles. This one deals with people who have had past or childhood trauma. I’ve written briefly here about my parents and my family. I was in the Army for 8 years, 3 of those years in Iraq. I almost died in a motorcycle accident. I’ve done a bunch of weird, fucked up stuff in my 32 years of existence. I’ve never really considered it particularly traumatic. My family was screwed up and abnormal, but it wasn’t that bad. I was never beaten or raped or anything. I was in the Army, but again, it wasn’t that bad, compared to what other people in Iraq went through, and to what people who went to Afghanistan experienced. It was just a bunch of stuff that happened and I didn’t die and now it’s over and I don’t have to worry about it any more. Right?
Well, no. The “it’s not that bad” response is apparently a common response from trauma survivors. It’s called minimization. So apparently the first 26 years of my life were kind of traumatic, and I never really learned to cope with that trauma in any sort of healthy way. That isn’t really news to me. I spent much of my 20s blackout drunk. I still smoke a lot of pot. I am bad at coping with things. Fair enough.
But aside from being bad at coping with things, I wasn’t super sure about the other diagnoses. I had been thinking about all this stuff since my appointment last Friday, trying to make sense of it. Yesterday in class I was moving the projector, which I keep on a desk so moving it around the room involves lifting the whole thing and awkwardly shuffling it to the other side of the room where it rests when not in use, and one of my students asked why I didn’t just ask him to move it.
I was socialized male. Growing up everyone thought I was a boy. My dad made sure I learned all those boy things. Men do things for themselves. Asking for help in any context is a sign of weakness. Men have to be self sufficient. Their successes or failures are entirely their own responsibility. Deflecting responsibility is a sign of weakness. Whenever anything goes wrong it’s your fault and you need to own it. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Suck it up and drive on. What are you, a girl?
Yes, but of course I can’t say that. So I join the Army, and for 8 years it is just more of my dad, but on steroids. Also I am really bad at the Army, and failure at things is clearly indicative of some kind of personal moral failing. I equate being bad at things to being bad intrinsically as a person. Hence the self-esteem issues.
One of my terrible coping mechanisms for dealing with things, including my self-esteem issues, is to just stay really busy. For example: I’m a full-time teacher, and I sponsor the GSTA and the Glee Club, also I volunteered to do Saturday school, which is every other Saturday from 8-11. Also I volunteer for whatever random things come up (back to school night, 8th grade night, etc. etc.). I play bass in a band. I also started volunteering for the LGBT youth group here in town. Also I’m going to grad school. Also I’m working as a freelance writer for the local paper. Sometimes I do stand-up for random events. Apparently because of my low-self esteem I seek a lot of external validation, and looking at it now in paragraph form, I guess it is *a little* excessive.
I realized all of this kind of at once, and it was kind of an epiphany, I guess. It also gave me a low-key panic attack in the middle of the work day, so that wasn’t great.
I wasn’t sure about the therapist’s claims about codependency, either. I found this weird web series called “Binge,” which is about bulimia. It’s pretty fucked up, but it’s also pretty funny in that dark, sad way. It’s heavy on realism. It’s also, obviously, seriously triggering for anyone with food/eating issues, so if that happens to be you don’t watch the video I’m linking:
This episode is kind of a textbook example of codependent relationships, and of how people get stuck maladaptive cycles. In the above episode, this woman and her boyfriend are in a relationship with this weird savior/victim dynamic. He tries to help her with her eating disorder but fails, of course. She accuses him of having a “sad girl fetish.”
I realized that this is the same dynamic I’ve had in my last two serious relationships. When I was trying to be a dude I totally had a sad girl fetish. My high school girlfriend had an eating disorder. My first wife had issues with depression and bi-polar disorder. I wanted to help, and tried to help in that kind of shallow, superficial way that dudes try to be helpful, and when I failed (and failing at things means I’m failing as a person) I bailed. I didn’t end the relationship, of course, because that would have been mature and responsible and healthy, but I bailed emotionally. I checked out (oh yeah, apparently dissociating is also one of my unhealthy coping mechanisms), and then I bailed physically (joining the Army, getting deployed, etc.), but again without ending the relationship like an adult, so when they inevitably broke up with me, I got to play the victim and be the injured party.
I am the worst.
I mean obviously things are more complicated than that, and I was young and stupid, and obviously I have a lot of my own issues and should probably be easier on myself, but… fuck, dude.
E was the first person I’ve ever been with who actually had their shit together. She was an actual grown-up, and I didn’t have to be the savior, which is good, because these days I am totally the fucked up one in the relationship.
Why doesn’t anyone tell you that trying to be a mentally and emotionally healthy human being is so much work?