Back to School

photo by quattrostagioni via Flickr Creative Commons

photo by quattrostagioni via Flickr Creative Commons

I’ve decided to start an alternative training program to get certified as a Registered Drama Therapist (RDT) through the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA).

What that means is that I don’t have to be accepted into a credentialed MA program. I can find what they call a Board Certified Trainer (BCT) to go through my schooling and experience up until now and work with me to figure out how I can fill in the education and internship hours to meet all the requirements for certification.

In that vein, I’m taking Human Growth and Development course on-line this semester at ACC.

And it’s hard.

I’ve read 300 pages in the past two weeks. My study guide is six pages long. My brain feels like mush.

In my naïvety, I thought, “Taking one three-hour credit course can’t be that difficult.” Especially at the undergraduate level, right? I mean, I already have a Master’s degree.

These first few weeks are a little harder because it’s a 12-week rather than 16-week course and because I have to take my test a week early since I’m going to the NADTA annual conference the week the test is due.

So that means four chapters a week plus working two jobs plus trying to write. Which means only one day off a week and scrambling to do self-care and trying not to worry about money.

As an on-line course, it’s also entirely self-directed. Which means no class lectures to clue me in on what is important to my professor and no instructor-lead test preparation in class.

Part of me says, “You’ve got this.” But the other part of me looks at the pages of information I’m supposed to retain and wants to throw the book across the room.

My head hurts and I’m going cross-eyed. I think if I can get the major theorists and their theories (and the problems with said theories) down I will be all right. But I will feel so much better when I have that slip of paper with my grade on it.

Someone shared an article about scarcity and abundance on my Facebook feed today.

I’ve done a lot of work on my scarcity thinking regarding love and relationships. As far as intangible things like love, success, and intimacy go, I’m fairly secure in relying on the abundance of the Universe.

But when it comes to more tangible things like dollars in the bank, coffee mugs, and hours in the day, it’s so hard to not let the fear of scarcity grab hold.

Balancing school and work is turning out to be even more difficult than I anticipated. I’m hoping things slow down when I get back from the conference. That doing well on this first test (fingers crossed) inspires confidence and reduces anxiety. That I’m just exercising muscles I haven’t used in a few years, and like the person who takes back up jogging after a long absence, this will get easier over time.

I’m trying to resist that old perfectionist urge to quit when I’m not 100% sure I will succeed. To just breathe and live in the unknowable. To accept the negative thoughts but not let them control me.

It’s hard to think about working more hours in this moment, but I haven’t been as broke as I am in a while. After this test and this conference are over, I will really have to evaluate the financial sustainability of where I am, and think of ways to increase my revenue. I’m hoping I can get some insight into how to start doing work now, before credentials. Even just $5 a head one night a week would be something.

Maybe now that I’ve set up on-line scheduling for my housecleaning clients who don’t have a reliable schedule I will theoretically have more time to pursue new clients. But I’m not so sure. And I need people who can pay me a little bit more since I will have to dedicate a few half-days a week to schoolwork.

Since there’s no one in Texas who can train me, this path will also require travelling on a regular basis, which means having extra money to a) miss work while I’m gone and b) pay said travel expenses. And I don’t make much past bills, gas, and groceries right now.

I’m trying hard not to think about the balance on my credit card. Trying not to feel guilty for wanting to live a life I can enjoy in this moment, instead of deferring every dollar to the future.

It’s hard to know what to do. Try to get more housecleaning clients? Try to find a website which will take me on as a regular paid contributor? Try to find a space which will let me host weekly workshops here in Austin and figure out how to get people to sign up for them?

When both time and money are limited, there is pressure on making the “right” choice, even though I know there isn’t one.

I’m banking on the fact that this path will allow me to do the work I want to do and get funding for it. I hope I’m right. In ten more days, I will be at a place where I can at least get some answers to my questions. Meet some people – I hope – who are doing what I am trying to do already who can offer advice.

Until then, I’m left with this uncertainty. And these feelings of scarcity.

And all I can do is the work. Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep hoping for the best.

Keep trusting that the scary unknown is still better than the miserable known. That movement forward – even down the wrong path – is still movement forward.

That this, at worst, is a very expensive learning experience.

And like when I was in graduate school, I can hold on to the reasons I know I am doing this as talismans. Imagine my future clients and the benefits I can make to their lives. And let them pull me forward when I want to rest.

(And if you feel inspired to help, I do have a gofundme campaign.)

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How Will You Know When You Have Enough?

Elizabeth Anne Wood, Ph.D.

Image of a tree growing out of coins held in a pair of hands Image of a tree growing out of coins held in a pair of hands

Enough might just be the most radical word in the English language. It’s certainly one of those slippery words that many of us have a hard time really getting a handle on. Even it’s meanings can be confusing. “I have had enough!” is a very different statement than “I have enough.” The first signals frustration and the second signals contentment. The difference? A single change of verb tense. Unless you’re speaking, and then tone of voice no doubt conveys a great deal.

A few weeks ago I gave my students an assignment. I told them they needed to record how they spent their time for a full week. Everything from sleeping to sitting in class to commuting to work to hanging out with their friends. Then I asked them to analyze their data and answer some…

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On Books and Identity

photo by quattrostagioni via Flickr Creative Commons

photo by quattrostagioni via Flickr Creative Commons

I try to go through my possessions on a regular basis to pare them down. I do my best to adhere to the adage, “Own nothing that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

Books and clothing are the two most difficult categories for me. For this post, I will deal with the former.

A few months ago, I bought a second-hand bookshelf to help deal with the overflow.

Between working in a bookstore and being a freelance writer who can request advance copies for review, suffice to say my already large book collection has grown.

A recent trip to Half Price Books left me thinking I should find at least as many books to part with as I purchased (4).

Looking through my shelves, I managed to find seven to “sell” to the Half Price Books. My books are usually fairly specific so I don’t get much for them, but on some level it isn’t as much about the money as the hope they find a good home someday.

While I was waiting for my total to be processed, I browsed the shelves, willing myself not to find anything interesting enough to rationalize buying. I ended up in the drama section, finding myself wondering if I could find a copy of the Riverside Shakespeare anthology.

It’s probably the best Shakespeare anthology out there, and I had a copy in college when I took the course. It was one of the books I didn’t bring to Texas, in part because it is so large and heavy. They didn’t have it. But, they did have the companion book from that course, entitled Shakespeare A to Z. The book is useful as it contains descriptions not only of every character, but a synopsis for each play and also each individual scene within it. It’s a great reference tool for knowing whether you are following the plot – especially with regard to the more difficult histories. You can read the synopsis before each scene or after, to check that you got the most pertinent points out of it.

But I digress.

I thought about buying the book. But I have a lot of expenses I’m dealing with right now, and I ultimately decided that the likelihood I will read Shakespeare any time soon is fairly slim, so I put it back on the shelf.

But it made me realize something about why it is books are so difficult for me to part with. Each book I own gets invested with some vestige of my identity. I have a BA in English and Theatre, so some part of me wants the Riverside Shakespeare or Shakespeare A to Z on my bookshelf as a testament to that. Even if it isn’t practical. Even if, perhaps, its time for me to admit I’m not in a place in my life where Shakespeare is of importance in the way it was in college.

Now, it’s true that some books are more irreplaceable than others. It’s beneficial to hold on to a book which is out of print or from a small press in the case that if it is needed again in the future, it would not be able to be found easily (or at all). That’s the reason I wouldn’t get rid of some of the French plays I bought on a college trip to Paris. But the other part of the reason is that I bought them in Paris.

I can’t part with books which are mementos or gifts. Or the books which were foundational to my Master’s research. Or books of folktales from my native West Virginia. Or my theatre textbooks from college.

And that’s okay.

There are plenty of books on my shelves which I haven’t even read yet. Part of me says that if I haven’t read them yet, I should get rid of them. But I still want to read them. Those books still say something about the kind of person I would like to be.

For those who love books, emotions get tangled into them. So does identity. They hold sentimental value. It’s also the reason it’s so difficult for me to loan books I have enjoyed to others. A formative book can be a placeholder for a certain time and place in our lives. It holds significance. I’d almost rather buy a friend their own copy. Or create the library check-out system one of my college professors had where you put your name on the card and get a reminder if you haven’t returned the book by the deadline.

Getting rid of a book represents letting go of some facet of my past identity, real or imagined. Once I no longer have this book on my shelves, it means I’m no longer the kind of person who has that book on their shelves.

Some purchases hold only utilization value. Getting rid of any item bears some (monetary) cost – the loss of the amount spent on it to begin with, or the loss of replacing the same item should it be needed in the future. But the items which are beautiful as well as useful, or perhaps even only beautiful? Well, the loss of those is emotional as well as fiscal.

The formation of identity is a process of adding and subtracting factors all the time. Some parts of who we are, were, or will be are more relevant at one time than another. Selling books to Half Price Books is a ritualized way of letting go of part of who I used to be and welcoming part of who I will become.

And getting to buy a coffee or something with the proceeds, too, I guess.

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via Anqa Flickr Creative Commons

via Anqa
Flickr Creative Commons

From what I can tell, owning a uterus/vulva/vagina is a messy, expensive, complicated, and painful business whether or not you were born with it.

I’ve always had difficult pre-menstrual symptoms. In high school, I would spend several evenings on the couch with a hot water bottle and Midol.

Towards the end of college, my symptoms got even worse. Pain in my pelvic region so bad I could not stand up straight. Nausea from the pain, which lead to either not eating and dizziness/fainting or eating and vomiting. I would spend two days a month bedridden, sobbing, nibbling saltines, sipping ginger ale, and trying to sleep the time away with a heating pad turned up on high.

Before I moved to Texas for graduate school, I went to the gynecologist to see what they would recommend. The doctor said I might have endometriosis, but the only way to tell was an invasive procedure, so she recommended birth control pills first to see if that helped my symptoms. I was hesitant, but knew I couldn’t miss graduate-level courses two days a month, so I relented.

It seemed to help for a few years with no obvious side effects, bringing my symptoms down to a manageable level. I was terrible at rememebering to take the pills at the same time every day, however, so my periods became highly irregular (before starting the Pill I could have set a clock by my cycle). I went to the doctor and switched to the patch, but decided instead to take a break from birth control since I had to wait until my next cycle to start the new method anyway. After around 7 months, my symptoms returned. I got dizzy at work and had to keep sitting down. The pain made it hard to complete the tasks I needed to.

So I went to Planned Parenthood for advice. I was prescribed the Nuva Ring, and the doctor dismissed any of my concerns about possible negative side-effects. After about three months of use, my sexual desire was completely non-existent and I was an emotional mess. Depression, anxiety, severe mood swings. I would break down in a hysterical sobbing fit almost every week. I was miserable, hopeless. And I might as well have been numb from the waist down. No desire for sexual activity or release. Even when having a sexual encounter, I was indifferent to orgasm, which is highly unusual for me. I also found it completely impossible to be around other hormonal women, and ended up quitting a job as a result.

After an intervention from my partner, I went back to Planned Parenthood and was prescribed a lower-dose pill. For a while, I seemed to be doing better. I gained ten pounds and had intense food cravings for two weeks out of the month, but perhaps I could live with that. Then, over the past four to five months, I noticed an increase in depression and anxiety symptoms. It was like I was constantly activated, and any outside stressor would send me over the edge. I found myself in a constant state of low-level depression. I could get out of bed, I was functional, but I was never happy or joyful. Nothing in my life felt particularly exciting. I had to force myself to spend time in public, even around people I cared about. Again, I found myself getting into fights with other hormonal women, and lost a roommate in the process.

I could have sex, and occasionally even desired it once or twice a month, but it wasn’t as satisfying as normal. And the desire was emotional rather than physical. I am usually a very touchy-feely person, but often the thought of cuddling even with friends would make my skin bristle. In my heart I craved connection, but my body wasn’t on the same page.

Over the course of a week I saw a few articles about PMDD in my Facebook timeline. What I was reading made some amount of sense. I track my cycle on, so I compared those calendar entries to my calendar. Sure enough, reliably, day 12 of my cycle and the 4th day of my period were marked by intense mood swings. I stopped taking the pills and made an appointment with my doctor.

Within days, I felt like a completely different person. For the first time in months, I felt happy. Not just “okay,” not just “fine,” but good. When I was on the pill, no amount of sleep or self-care seemed to help. I needed so much alone time I was hardly spending any time with friends. I was tired all the time. Stressed out all the time.

Now, it’s true I’ve made some changes in my life recently, but I started those changes before I stopped taking the pill, and I only started feeling differently about the future the past few days. I’m glad my mood encouraged me to make some changes to my life, which I believe will improve my future. But now, I don’t think my mood was actually a result of my circumstances at all. All the same stressors are there today that were there last week, but they feel so much easier to manage.

I feel like an entirely different person, in the best possible way. I have more energy. I feel motivated – energized. I feel much more calm and centered, as if I can tackle the challenges in my life. It’s like a veil has been lifted. I don’t feel trapped inside my body anymore. I’ve been inspired by several possible writing projects. Rather than staying up until 1am surfing Facebook because I can’t sleep, I’m up, engaged, working on projects.

I went to the doctor today to get her advice. There is a lower-dose pill I could take. Otherwise, the options she laid out are IUD or Depo shots. I was hoping for non-hormonal options, but even those I’ve researched on-line (endometrial ablation or hysterectomy) have the potential for severe negative side-effects. I have a prescription for the lower-dose pill, but I’m not going to start it right away.

I finally feel like myself for the first time in a long time. I’m even starting to question my belief that the first pill I was prescribed had “no negative side effects.” Up until a few weeks ago, I assumed all the symptoms I was experiencing were due to life stressors. And right after I started taking birth control pills, I moved halfway across the country to start graduate school. Talk about stress! Would my graduate school experience have been easier and more joyful without the pill? Would I have had fewer meltdowns about my research? Would I have been less functionally asexual? It’s difficult to say.

I’m going to attempt herbal remedies and supplements, combined with yoga, taking walks, and abdominal massage. I’m sure owners of uterus/vulva/vagina were experiencing symptoms like mine since the dawn of time, and must have had some method for managing them. Pills, shots, patches, and IUDs are relatively recent inventions.

And I don’t want this to come across as negativity about modern medicine. Pills can be beautiful things. But for something like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, doctors also often recommended changes in lifestyle and diet before prescribing medicine. I know there are some conditions which we only know how to solve with pharmeceuticals. But I also think that often the pharmeceutical route is the first thing a doctor recommends. Sometimes I think it is our culture which is making us sick, but rather than change our culture, we attempt to change our chemistry to match what is expected of us.

What does it mean that birth control is lauded as a panacea for all kinds of ills? That owners of uterus/vulva/vagina are expected to take a pill daily for 30 years? And then, if that pill causes depression, to take another daily pill to counteract that? And if those pills cause female hypoactive sexual desire disorder, here’s yet another pill to counteract that (except not)? Women used to be witches, midwives, and healers. Then, a bunch of men created medicine and persecuted the women for their knowledge of plants and bodies. I don’t think all “natural remedies” work, necessarily, but there has to be something to at least some portion of that knowledge. And science as we know it is discovering that some plants do indeed have medicinal properties.

But no one is terribly invested in researching alternatives that aren’t based in synthetic hormones, it seems. Because if women on hormonal birth control become moody, depressed, and not that interested in sex, doesn’t that just reinforce cultural stereotypes about “what women are like” anyway?

I know that birth control has done a lot of good for a lot of women. So I’m not trying to discourage anyone who it helps from taking it. But I have heard the stories of so many women who – like me – seem to experience side-effects which far outweigh any possible benefits. And we are told, by our peers and doctors alike, to just keep trying different pills until one sticks.

But I’ve already lost almost 18 months of my life to this. Closer to four years if it turns out birth control was fucking with me in graduate school, which I may never be able to verify. I’d rather lose two days a month than the next 20-25 years of my life. This is affecting my relationships with other people – both friendships and romantic/sexual connections. It’s affecting my personal well-being and the satisfaction I have with my life. Never experiencing joy again is too high a price to pay.

What does it mean that thousands upon thousands of women experience intensely painful periods each month yet no new research has been done, no new methods of dealing with it created? Yet pharmeceutical companies are trying to push a “female viagra” pill to treat a condition which does not exist. Because our culture does not understand or celebrate female sexuality. So we try to shape it to look more like male sexuality or just shut it down altogether.

As a sex-positive feminist, I want to find joy and pleasure in my own body. Even if that only means platonic touch. Or masturbation. I don’t want to feel this constant disconnect between what my heart craves and what my body will allow me to experience. My partner described it as a chemical straightjacket for my sexuality, and that is a brilliant metaphor. We’re putting women in straightjackets. Because does it really matter to the patriarchy if we’re sexually satisfied?

Again, I’m not saying birth control is wrong for every woman. For some, it may be the best choice. But I believe women have a right to make an educated decision about their lives and their bodies and their sexuality. And I do not believe the current medical establishment facilitates that in any way. On-line message boards are full of women telling horror stories about all the ways various birth control methods have destroyed their sexuality and their health. Yet, in my experience doctors are frequently quite dismissive of any possible negative side-effects of hormonal birth control. This is possibly political, as conservative politicians would love to get rid of the pill if they could.

The pill should be AN option for women. Not THE option.

I’m going to try herbal supplements, tea, yoga, and evening walks, now that it’s heading toward fall in Texas. I will write updates here, in the hopes that what has worked for the women I know and what works for me might help some other woman out there who is also struggling.

Chasteberry, maca, diindolylmethane, red raspberry leaf, rosehips, naproxen, cramp bark, magnesium, omega fatty acids, vitamin B6, black cohosh, primrose oil…….. there will only be anecdotal evidence for all of these. But trust women who have said what works for them. Your experience is evidence, even if it isn’t backed by medical science. These are the remedies I have heard of. I will let you know what I find that works. Let me know in the comments what has worked for you. The Internet can cultivate a resurgence of women’s knowledge for those of us who choose to operate outside the medical system in this respect.

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Yoga and Strength

I’ve recently gotten back into yoga.

And it’s strange.

Because I know intellectually that I’m not in as good of physical shape as I might like to be. I know that I’m objectively “fat.”

But even when I’m doing a modification for a pose or several, even when I have to go into child’s pose instead of whatever the rest of the class is doing, yoga makes me feel strong.

I can feel my muscles in a way I never do otherwise.

When I finish a yoga class, I feel energized in a way that I never do after traditional “exercise.” For me, yoga is as hard or harder than other forms of physical exertion, but it never leaves me sore. I can feel that my muscles have been working, and I will feel physically tired, but also calm and focused. It’s like a cup of coffee and a trip to the gym and a self care session rolled into one.

I’ve been doing yoga off and on for the better part of a decade. I’ve never been able to do chaturanga correctly. Or triangle pose. Some poses I have to modify because of my stomach fat.

But once I’ve been doing yoga for several weeks in a row, all of that falls away. I can recognize my limitations but they just fall away. They don’t matter as much anymore. Because I can tap into this inner strength, this power in my body. And I don’t know that it’s possible to feel powerful and self-conscious at the same time.

I can accept my stomach fat and my tight hamstrings and the pain in my knees in a way that doesn’t detract from the work I feel my muscles doing and the sweat dripping from my forehead.

In yoga, I’m working with my body, loving my body. So much of traditional exercise has always felt to me that I was working in opposition to my body. Yoga comes from a place of love, not self-hatred.

It’s why I can go on a walk or ride my bike for fun but I don’t go to the gym or train for marathons.

Yoga isn’t worried about repetitions. It isn’t concerned with miles. Whether I do tree pose with my foot on my knee or my thigh, it’s all the same. Whether my knee is bent or straight, the pose is the same. Yoga is about digging deeper into myself, instead of focusing on outward metrics of success.

I think it’s also why I’m okay with swimming laps. I can focus on my form in a similar way. I can track my laps, but it’s really about the motion of my arms and legs. Swimming is meditative in a way, too. So is dance. Modern dance classes can be rejuvenating in a similar way to yoga, where the steps themselves lose the rigidity of form they would hold in ballet. It’s all about feeling it.

I don’t think I will ever be the kind of person who exercises. But I can move my body with joy and connect to the inner core of strength inside of me. Yoga makes me love myself, while exercise has only ever made me hate my body more.

And I choose love.

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Who’s to Blame?

Photo by abee_t via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by abee_t via Flickr Creative Commons

I’ve been watching a Danish comedy (though I question the categorization) called Rita on Netflix. If you don’t want spoilers, (and it’s really good you ought to watch it when you have time to pay attention to subtitles) bookmark this for now and come back to it after you’ve finished Season 2.

Watching Rita has me thinking about a lot of things, including how engaging with artistic media from other countries can illuminate things about our own. I don’t think a show which deals as honestly with topics such as sexuality (including teenage sexuality), queerness, abortion, mental illness, and the ways school as an institution fails children would be possible in the US. Or, if it is, I haven’t seen it.

The titular character in the series is an unconventional (even for Denmark) junior (what we call middle) school teacher. She is divorced with three children, she smokes, she isn’t afraid to speak her mind or break any rules which stand in the way of what she wants or thinks is best for someone else. Her views are more progressive than that of the school itself, and she often pushes past the regulations she thinks are too conservative. She has an affair with the headmaster, with the father of one of her students, and with an old flame who also happens to be her son’s soon-to-be father-in-law.

Rita gets characterized as childish, impulsive, stubborn. In an argument, one of her sons queries, “Why can’t you just be normal?” I don’t think her behavior would be seen as quite so remarkable if she were a man. Yet, the series paints her as empathetic, and quite a few of the more conventional teachers actually do look up to her for her honesty and strong will.

What struck me the most in Season 2 were the relationship dynamics between Rita and the headmaster, Rasmus, and their larger implications. From what I’ve seen of the show, Danish culture is not nearly as slut-shaming as American culture. But there’s still a sense that Rita could be more prudent and less obvious about her choices, or that she is immature for sleeping around (at her age, perhaps?).

Rita and Rasmus have a FWB arrangement, but in Season 2, Rasmus’ feelings for Rita grow stronger, and he wants the pair to become a couple. Rita has made it clear from the beginning that she does not want a capital-R Relationship of any kind, with Rasmus or anyone else. But he presses, and eventually gives her an ultimatum. She cares for him, so she relents, he moves in, and they make the nature of their relationship public.

Needless to say, things do not end well. Rasmus discovers that Rita had an affair with Tom (the old flame turned family member) and had an abortion as a result. Even though that affair ended before Rasmus and Rita decided to form a Relationship, Rasmus feels Rita has betrayed his trust. Because about his insecurity about Rita’s feelings towards him, he terminates the relationship (after having sex with the school counselor, Helle, who is in the midst of a divorce).

Now, I will say the show does a much better job in the end of showing the ways in which both parties were in the wrong than an American TV show likely would. Rasmus and Rita end up parting on amicable terms by the season’s end. But I’m still troubled by the characterization of Rita as immature, and her playing house with Rasmus being framed as an attempt to “grow up.”

My currently preferred relationship style is solo poly. I have a romantic/sexual partner, but we lead fairly independent lives. We do not cohabitate. We do not share finances, though we will both offer assistance to the other depending who is fairing better financially at the time. I don’t ever want to get married. Yet, we make time for each other often and share a great deal of love and intimacy together. I don’t think that choosing to lead an independent life is a sign of immaturity, and that “settling down” with a partner is a necessary marker on the road to adulthood.

Furthermore, Rita made it clear from the beginning that she was not interested in what is called the “relationship escalator” in poly circles. She was enjoying the NSA sex she and Rasmus shared. When faced with the choice of taking the socially acceptable route for their relationship or losing everything they shared together, she compromised. So why was he surprised or hurt to learn of her relationship with another man? If he was having NSA sex with Rita, why would he think there were not others? Why do we try to hold others hostage with our feelings?

At the end of the season, Rita apologizes to Rasmus, saying she thought that she could change. But why should she have to? Why do we always blame the person who wasn’t as interested in a relationship a little bit more, if not completely? Why is the person with more depth of feeling assumed to be in the right? Rita cared about Rasmus, but she just wasn’t the type of person to be happy in a monogamous, cohabitative relationship. She values her privacy and her independence. I don’t see that as a moral failing.

In some ways, I identify with Rita. I like my dishes. I wouldn’t want someone mucking about in my garden. There’s an episode where Rasmus is upset with Rita for eating a sandwich when he was making dinner, but they clearly hadn’t discussed it. He just assumed – because that’s what you do when you’re a couple, right? Maybe. Maybe not.

If I ever did cohabitate with a romantic/sexual partner, there would need to be clear agreements. How many nights a week will we spend in bed together (because I will need my own bedroom). How many nights a week will we cook dinner together? Knock if my bedroom door is closed before coming in. Etc. Etc. Not to say these would be hard and fast – there is always room for change and compromise. But it’s better to have a discussion and come to an agreement than to make assumptions and blame someone else for not sharing them.

Even though Rita is made to be a sympathetic character, I feel, especially in the beginning of their relationship troubles, that the audience was meant to side with Rasmus. Which bothers me. Yes, Rita has difficulty saying, “I love you.” She could have been more open with Rasmus about her past. But he was also the one dealing out ultimatums, which wouldn’t make me an open book, either. And is it really Rita’s obligation to confess every detail of her sexual history to him? If she has agreed to commit to him now, everything before that day they move forward together is hers to choose when and if to divulge.

Rasmus also shares some of the blame. He blamed his insecurity on Rita, instead of dealing with it himself. Is that also not childish? He gave Rita an either/or decision to make, instead of having a conversation. Perhaps if they had found some middle ground, they would have been able to make it work. At the first sign of trouble, when he was emotionally distraught, Rasmus had sex with Helle. Meanwhile, Rita turned down a co-worker who propositioned her, because she was trying to make her relationship with Rasmus work. I think Rita was right to call Rasmus a hypocrite. Even he failed to keep the standard he was measuring her by.

As I start Season 3, my hope is that Rita doesn’t change. And I don’t mean I hope she doesn’t grow. Because she has some of her own destructive relationship patterns to work out. But I hope she finds a way to be more ethical in her relationship practices without necessarily changing the practices themselves. I hope she retains her independence. I hope that she continues to live alone. I hope she doesn’t believe that to love another requires becoming someone entirely different. I hope she doesn’t put her partner’s needs above her own.

And I hope that, as a society, we stop seeing the couple who shares everything with one another as the goal, and stop framing monogamy as “growing up.”

Invisible Illness

by Dafne Cholet via Flickr Creative Commons

by Dafne Cholet via Flickr Creative Commons

So far, July has been a pretty low point for me.

The Tuesday before the 4th of July, I fell backwards down the stairs of a friend’s hot tub. It had rained earlier, and wet stairs plus wet food equaled me on the ground before I knew it. If you look closely, you can still see the yellow remains of a bruise on my right calf where it hit the wooden stairs. Thankfully, my tailbone and back took the brunt of the fall, and aside from some dizziness and a bit of a headache that night, I didn’t show any signs of a concussion. I knew from my experience having a back and neck sprain from a car accident that I wasn’t even hurt as badly as I had been then, so I did my best to rest and sleep, but didn’t think it necessary to pay $30 to see a doctor.

By the end of the weekend I was definitely on the mend, so I went to a cleaning appointment the following Monday where I accidentally hit the back of my head where the countertop jutted out after scrubbing a stubborn stain on the tile. I think most people have probably done something similar at some point in their life, whether it’s hitting your head getting out of a friend’s car which sits much higher or lower than yours or not noticing that the ceiling drops going up a set of stairs.

Normally, there is sharp pain for a few minutes, but then it recedes and everything goes back to normal, like when you stub your toe. Only this time, I had a dull headache for the rest of the day. When I made an appointment at my doctor’s office, the doctor said I inflamed my occipital nerve – the one which manages blood flow to the scalp. He gave me muscle relaxers to take at night and recommended icing my neck, saying I would feel better in 5-10 days. (I found out at the follow-up that apparently I had a minor concussion, though I thought he said at my initial appointment that I didn’t show signs of a concussion.)

By now, the pain has mostly stopped, but it flares up a bit in the evening, or in today’s case, first thing the next morning after a long day. Unlike at first, where I had a constant dull headache despite maxing up on Ibuprofen, now if I take something the headache will go away.

But two weeks later, I’m still not quite at 100%. A trip to the grocery store last week left me light-headed, and I spent most of the rest of the day napping, too tired to do much. I seem to hit a wall around 9:30 most nights, and can’t concentrate on work or conversations after that. Yesterday, I had more energy, so after a follow-up at the doctor, I went to a cleaning appointment, ran two errands, and then worked a shift at the store after lunch, a nap, and a bath. I think that’s the most productive day I’ve had all month. And today I woke up with my neck hurting, a signal that I probably did a bit too much.

When I was still at the point that I couldn’t hold up my own head without it throbbing, I am grateful I had people willing to come over and help me around the house a bit. Now I can do small things like put in a load of laundry or sweep the floor or water my garden, but larger tasks like cooking from scratch or running an errand that will take more than 10-15 minutes still often feel beyond my grasp. It’s hard for me to ask others for help, or to feel as though I’m not independent. I spend so much time taking care of others, but am not very good at letting others take care of me.

The doctor recommended trying to get back into a normal routine, especially to help my mental health. And so I am. But I’m struggling to know what that routine is when I don’t feel I can take on any additional cleaning clients, I have a new roommate moving in, and I just managed to finish revisions on a freelance piece I pitched last month due to all these health issues. I felt I was making a lot of progress last month in several areas, but now I am struggling to even catch up to where I left off, and it’s disheartening.

I am grateful that my boss at the store was sympathetic to my plight (perhaps because it is a small business and perhaps because she is struggling with her own health issues) and that the cleaning clients I have now are for the most part either long-standing (so we have established a certain kind of intimacy) or are old friends. I am also grateful that my sister is in a position to help me financially, to make up for the lost work these past few weeks.

A sort of duality has expressed itself as well, in dealing with all of this. In face-to-face interactions, whether at work, at the grocery store, or with acquaintances at events, there’s been a weird mix of shame and grief. I don’t want to rehash everything that’s happened, but to look at me, there’s nothing obviously wrong. Explaining why I’m not up to what I normally would be, or answering the question, “How are you?” is suddenly very difficult and oftentimes painful. It’s been hard to balance time with people that I feel I can be vulnerable around and not feeling isolated. It’s been a long time since I had this few spoons – probably not since the car accident that laid me up for weeks. I try not to think of all the events I’ve missed these past weeks because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to drive myself home after.

I also feel my ableist privilege strongly in these moments. For me, this is temporary. It may take longer than expected, but I will get back to my normal sooner rather than later. There are many people I love dearly who deal with chronic invisible illnesses, and I have caught only a glimpse of what is their reality all the time. While I struggle with anxiety and depression, I almost always have enough spoons to get most of what is necessary accomplished. Not now, when choosing between a trip to the grocery store or time with friends. Writing an article or cooking a meal. For at least a week, literally each task of the day required rest with ice on my neck and/or a nap. Now, I still take a nap every afternoon, but I can’t quite figure out the new spoon math exactly, and I’m often left with too few for figuring out dinner.

On the other hand, in electronic correspondence, a physical condition is a much easier way to explain why something is late. When writing an e-mail to an editor about an article or revisions, or to reschedule a work-related meeting, or responding to a publisher asking after a book review, it’s much easier to say, “I can’t do this right now I’m recovering from a mild concussion,” or even something more vague than that, than it has been to put off similar things due to a flare-up of anxiety or depression. Others are so apologetic and understanding in a way I can’t imagine they would be if I said, “Sorry this is late, I had a panic attack yesterday.” I lose no credibility for being injured in the way I might for being perceived as mentally fragile.

Anyway, that’s all to say I know there hasn’t been much activity on here this month, and this is why. I hope to be more on top of blogging and writing plays again in August. For the rest of July, I’m working on getting back in the groove, or finding a new one. Baby steps.

Also, many thanks to my dear friend Erin for her recent support of my writing on Patreon. The less I’m stressed about finances, the more I can write pieces like this one. It means a lot.