I’ve been doing this balancing act for a few days now. I don’t feel comfortable sharing all the details of my medical situation on the Internet any more, not even here. That feeling defeats the purpose of having the blog to begin with. It’s all garbled up in my head and I am trying to tease it out into a long, single strand that makes sense all around.
When the Regretsians first found my blog and started making fun of me and the stuff I write (and the stuff I believe in), I was a little hurt. Eventually, I put on my big boy pants and fucking dealt with it. I posted to the forum and I addressed them here as well. The story ended very well; even though I don’t really read or post there anymore, I still go back and can always find some person I knew (oh so many
years months ago). It’s worth noting that Loki was proud of me, proud enough that He had me mark the occasion permanently.
There will always be people who will take whatever I write on my blog and use it for their personal enjoyment. I think it’s despicable and low to mine a blog about my medical condition and chronic illness for such things, but my opinion doesn’t count and I’m okay with that.
But there is real harm happening. There are people who subscribed to this blog because they really do want to know what’s going on with me, and I find myself hesitant to write about anything at all.
I prayed about it, and this is what I was Told: This blog is a sacred act. It was, is, and will be a sacrifice on Baphomet’s altar. She wants me to delve deep into the places that hurt, that are vulnerable and scary, and bring them to the fore. He thinks that my journey is important to others, not just because they care about me and want to know I’m okay, but many people read these words because it gives them comfort and insight into their own journey with chronic illness, disability, pain, and death. They need to know that their suffering matters, that their tiny prayers whispered from inside the MRI tube are being heard, that when they awake in the middle of the night because their pain is so bad they can’t move Someone is still there for them. It may not be Baphy, but it will be someone.
Baphomet also said that the sacrifice is only more blessed, bigger and better and more holy, when part of the sacrifice is continuing to post in the face of ridicule and humiliation.
This is a sacred place. This is a sacred place not because I say so, but because the Gods do. So this is the last time I will be addressing my fear of posting. This is a sacred place because the people who come here say it is so. If you wish to defile my sacred space, you act against the Gods and people who have worked to make it what it is today, and what it will be tomorrow.
If you just want the short version, you can skim/scroll down to the “Here is the TL:DR Bookmark”, and start there. You’re welcome.
As you all know, I had a panniculectomy in late December, from which I healed much faster than expected. The surgeon had predicted a much more dire situation, but in the end other than a little breathing issues on the table everything seemed to be going fine. By February, the surgeon was ready to start scheduling my follow-up appointments six weeks apart; we had agreed before the surgery that we would be following up for at least a year if not longer, because there was a really high chance of post-op complications. Six weeks was the maximum time between follow up appointments, so that’s how well I was doing only two months after the knife.
In the middle of March, I noticed that there was some very slight swelling around the right-of-center part of my abdomen, around part of the surgical scar. The doctor has warned me that there might be odd swelling up to a year afterward, so at first I dismissed it. Also, I had just spend two and a half months “healing from surgery”, so I wasn’t keen to go running back to the doctor right away; I wanted to spend that time and energy getting back into the swing of things post-separation, booking some gigs and finishing the book. Every week I’d say to myself or Rave, “I should call Dr Sacks about this swelling in my belly; it looks a little worse.” And then I’d get distracted doing other stuff and wouldn’t. I kept assuring myself I had the six-week checkup already planned and if nothing else, I’d be seeing him then.
Six weeks finally passed, and I went to see him for the appointment. As soon as he walked in the room, my guilt jumped out at him and said, “Don’t be mad at me; there’s been some swelling. I kept thinking I should call you, but I was busy with other stuff and was afraid I’d have to go on hiatus again to deal with it.” He laughed; he reminded me that this is my body, not his, and if I want to ignore something I had the right to do so. He’d eat those words a few weeks later.
This is an interesting thought, and something worth going on a bit of a tangent on, if you’ll indulge me. (Again, if you want to skip ahead to the part where I get to the point, feel free.) Between having friends who deeply care and sometimes feel invested in my well-being, and being a blogger who shares their medical journey with the general Internet public, it can sometimes be overlooked that we’re talking about my body, and that everyone has made decisions that did not put their body or their health at the top of the priority list. Whether it’s extreme sports or eating a triple bacon cheeseburger with hamburger patties for buns, we accept that sometimes the experience is worth the risk. But when one is both public and chronically ill, people tend to want to bundle us in soft cotton and keep us from any extra suffering. It’s actually something I’ve read quite a bit about when reading disability advocacy and activism papers; that part of fighting for body autonomy is fighting for the right to do unhealthy or risky things with one’s body regardless of one’s state of health/ability when they make that decision.
In writing this blog for over a year, I frequently get emails, comments, or find myself in conversations, in which people basically inform me that they know more about how to treat my body than I do. That’s not what they say, but it’s what they mean. When someone sees me eating something delicious, but not the most healthy (or these days, merely something I’ve previously stated is a food or drink I am avoiding) they feel they not only have automatic permission to point this out to me, but in some cases, they physically take the food away or publicly shame me for making that choice.
During this hospital stay, people have been bringing me slushies from Sonic, which is a total Del comfort food. They’re basically fruit, simple syrup, and frozen water (and I get the ones that Sonic claims are made from “real fruit”, rather than just a flavored syrup), but it doesn’t take a food scientist to know that they’re full of simple sugars. My blood sugar numbers have been pretty shitty lately, and most of that is due to stress/pain. However, I’ve noticed a behavior among the nurses here that I really wish the rest of the world would take a cue from: they don’t care. When I get “caught” – when a nurse comes in to take my blood sugar only to see a half-empty Sonic slushy on my table next to my laptop – the nurse doesn’t actually say or do anything at all. It’s me, responding to years of programmed fat-and-sugar-shaming, that immediately jumps and says, “You caught me. I was having a slushy.” And it is Pavlovian, this response, because my experience from the last few days has shown me that the nurses don’t give a damn. It’s the people visiting me who make the judgement statements or even just a joke about how terrible it is that I’m drinking this thing.
It’s as if disabled/chronically ill bodies no longer belong to the person using them. We are community property, open to scrutiny and judgement by anybody, but most often by people who think they know better. However, I will assert that when a person feels entitled to judge another based solely on what they see/hear/know in the moment, or solely on what that person shares on the Internet, frequently their judgements say more about them than they do about us. Someone may attempt to shame me for my choices, as some sort of dodge or deflection about their unhealthy choices.
There’s more I want to say about this, but this tangent is getting really long and you’re more interested in what’s going to happen next in my hospital story, so remind me to come back to this sometime.
He didn’t think the swelling was anything particularly surprising or negative, but he sent me to get a CT scan right away to see if it was a new fluid collection or abscess. It turned out I had a much smaller (9mm) fluid collection, but that it was not infected. I got another drain installed via Interventional Radiology (IR), but there was (oddly) very little fluid coming out. What did come out was serrous fluid, or basically white blood cells. I only had the drain in for a week and a bit, as it mysteriously fell out of it’s own accord on that Sunday when I was at Charm City Fetish Fair.
The day before that happened, Saturday April 6th, was a very bad day. Even though I knew I needed to be up very early (for Dels) in order to go to Charm City and register, I could not for the life of me get any sleep the night before, mostly because I felt pain and nausea. It was bad, really bad. Probably the worst chronic illness day I’ve had in the last two years. We got to the hotel and I went right to sleep, woke up, did my class/panel, went right back to sleep, woke up for my volunteer shift, and then sleep. I couldn’t really eat or even drink fluids because I was so sick to my stomach. I emailed my surgeon and his PA to tell them how bad I was feeling and asking for their advice. Dr Sacks felt it was no big deal and to be expected, whereas his assistant thought going to the ER there and then was the better choice. As I was not feeling inclined to go to the hospital, and Dr. Sacks was assuring me it didn’t have anything to do with my abdomen, I decided to stay at the event.
As part of my earlier tangent, I wanted to add another point here. Again, feel free to skip this part.
Another way in which people outside of my immediate circle judge me and my choices is when they criticize me for leaving the house. I have lost count of how many times someone has suggested that if I only stayed home more often, or rested more, or did less work, or some other way confined my life to my bedroom, I would miraculously feel better and/or have taken better care of my body. They also feel entitled to make those comments because I openly write about financial struggles and have received donations from people in the past to help cover medical costs; and yet, I also write about going to parties or events or in some other way spending money on a social life that, in their opinion, would be better spent on medical costs.
I can’t stress enough how backwards this is. If I never go out and never do fun things, then my entire life becomes restricted to “being sick”. The only people I know – and I do know them – who want their lives to completely revolve around being ill/having medical emergencies, are mentally unstable. They thrive off of the attention people who suffer are given, and they are immediately jealous if someone else gets one iota of attention because that other person is also suffering. It’s as if there is nothing redeeming about them, nothing worth paying attention to or engaging with them over, except their illness.
I, and I like to think saner people, fight that perception with every bone in our body. I begged Baphomet to allow me a second blog specifically because my online presence had become completely focused on me being sick, and it’s not the only, or even most important part of my identity. But in order to do that, writing about my adventures is not enough; I actually have to go have them. Now, this doesn’t mean that I spend the grocery money (or the prescription money) on sex toys and roller coasters, but it does mean that – gasp – I choose to cut back on one thing in order to have fun, and also that – gasp – I frequently go out and do fun things when I “should” be home resting. Anyone who tries to shame me for leaving my house twice this month, putting off seeing the doc by a week or two, doesn’t understand or support the concept of people living full, complete, joyous lives. And that’s just sad, because it means that their life is so boring, so empty, that their idea of fun is to criticize and ridicule some random person on the Internet for doing something fun.
Sunday morning came, and our plan was to get dressed, eat some breakfast, take a look at the vendor mart, and go home. A friend of mine was in charge of vendors and was telling me that no one was buying stuff and the vendors were feeling kinda desperate. As I was getting dressed, I turned at one point and realized my drain was on the bed, and it was too far away from me to still be attached. Sure enough, upon closer inspection, I could clearly see the end of the tube that goes inside of the abscess lying on the bed like it was just another piece of my outfit. I emailed Dr Sacks and his PA again, and this time they both stressed that I should only go to the ER if I felt I had to, because there was really nothing the ER could do to assist me. I bandaged up the wound and left the hotel for home, spending most of the next two days asleep.
I was looking something up online about Isoniazid, my TB drug, when I remembered about liver-toxicity, which is a well known and documented side effect that hits those who get ill a lot. I brought up a page on the med and lo and behold, there’s a list of all of my current symptoms under the heading, “Seek out medical attention immediately if you experience…”
I had been waffling about calling a new PCP or going to see the old one. My PCP is no spring chicken, but at least I’ve been with him for long enough that I feel like he knows what’s going on and how to look at the bigger picture. However, I couldn’t get in to see him specifically, but another doctor in his practice. My ride shows up to take me to the appointment, and even she suggests we skip it and go directly to the ER instead. At this point, however, I’ve created this narrative in my head that says “If you go to the ER, it will be an emergency. If you go to the doctor, it will be no big deal.” I even reaffirm my decision when we reach the point in the journey where we could still peel off and go straight to the ER.
Well, we know how that played out. The PCP listened to what I had to say, and immediately knew she was out of her depth and I should go to, not just the ER in general, but the ER at Johns Hopkins, since I’ve been working with them and my files are all integrated. So my patient driver and I hop back in the car and reverse our trip to JHER.
It is quickly realized that I do not have a liver problem, but whatever is ailing me is fucking serious. I get admitted fairly quickly, even though it takes hours upon hours to get a bed. I start to feel much more ill as they park me in a tiny waiting room (which they now swear is a “staging area”) for two hours with no supervision, no one checking in to see how I’m doing, and a gaggle of very angry sick people who have also be relegated to this purgatory. Finally, Rave and I make enough of a stink combined that they move me back into the ER proper but we have to continue waiting for a “real bed”.
We learn that the new fluid collection has grown larger. It now has a “skin”, a membrane that holds it all together, which makes it really difficult to kill with antibiotics alone. They take cultures and try to determine exactly what is in there and what way is best to treat it. I end up losing the fight over getting a PICC line or central line when they start running Vancomyacin through my veins, and I blow three or four veins that first night alone.
The next few days are kinda blurry for me. See, at the same time, I started suffering from very short bouts of amnesia. I would forget where I was, or what I was doing at Johns Hopkins (I kept thinking I was back in High School). I got a neuro consult and although they’re testing just to make sure I didn’t have a mini stroke or temporal lobe seizures or anything like that, they think it might be a side effect of long term use of narcotic pain meds. I don’t know if I agree, but I do admire them for at least making an effort to make sure it’s not something more serious. They chided me a bit for not chasing the neuro stuff more aggressively (like going to get all the test my neuro ordered or going to see him more often) and I explained that I have been putting out fires since August and am doing my best.
Anyway, now you know enough of the backstory to get to the point.
Here is the TL:DR Bookmark
The Infectious Disease Doctors, The Plastic Surgeons, and The General Surgeons all agree.
The reason I am getting these infected abscesses in my abdomen is because of the mesh that was used during my ventral hernia repair back in 2009. Yes, that was Dr. WLS’s doing.
They used mesh to hold up and strengthen my abdominal wall, and in the process the mesh grew a “biofilm”, basically, a wonderful fertilized area for bacterial infections to grow and flourish.
Option One: “The Big Deal”
I will continue to have these infections while I still have the mesh inside of me. Removing the mesh, however, would be a big deal surgery wise. The mesh is covered in adhesions, and may very well be attached to my intestines, and it was put there for a reason. So this surgery, which I’ve nicknamed The Big Deal, would be a team of surgeons going in, finding said mesh (it doesn’t image well on CT or Xray), carefully removing all the adhesions, removing it from my bowels (which could get complicated very quickly, and include such favorites as “Bowl Resection”).
The surgeons are giving me all the exact same doom and gloom songs that they did about the surgery in December; that I will definitely be in the hospital for close to a month if not longer, that there is a really good chance I won’t make it through the surgery (especially now that I had a hiccup in the Dec one), and it will be a very long and difficult recovery with lots of creative agony and embarrassment. But this time, none of the surgeons want to do this surgery. They all feel this is something we should wait, and plan, and know the area super well beforehand, for the reasons we all know and have discussed.
The only way The Big Deal would happen during this hospitalization is if I spiked an abnormally high fever (like 104), or in some other way showed signs of advanced infection.
Option Two: “History Repeating”
My second option, which is still very much on the table for this hospitalization, is to address this specific abscess. That would entail having much the same surgery that I did in December; it would be much more superficial than The Big Deal, in that it would not entail cutting into the muscle wall or anything like that. It is still as dangerous as it was last time, but we also know that I did very well with the surgery itself and healed fairly well.
Option Three: “No Cuts, Just Infinite Pills”
This is the option most of the doctors (but not all) are currently advocating for, depending on how the next few days go while I’m here. This course would be to put me on really strong “nuclear bomb” home antibiotics, either via a PICC line or oral meds, for six to twelve weeks. After that, I would be given a permanent prescription for whatever antibiotic they feel will fend off more infections in the abdomen. I would still have the mesh, and that would still be fertile soil for growing infections, but the antibiotic would hopefully keep the infections from becoming anything to write home about.
Before you get all excited that there’s a non-surgical option, there are some big drawbacks to both being on a nuclear bomb level antibiotic for six to twelve weeks, and there are some bigger drawbacks to being on a permanent antibiotic prescription. Now, I’m saying “permanent”, but that makes the assumption that we never decide to try to correct the problem surgically.
Now, this makes it sound like I have a decision to make, right? Not really. I need to be informed about each of the options, and have a general understanding of how I feel about them and how seriously I want to pursue them. But how things like this usually play out is that the doctors will look at all the test results and data and make the best decision based on their knowledge and experience, and then recommend that choice heavily to me. It doesn’t mean I couldn’t chose to advocate the fuck out of a different choice if I really wanted it (like in Dec, when Dr Sacks kept suggesting reasons why we’d postpone the surgery another six weeks), but I’m the type of guy who trusts but verifies.
If we lived in a world where I could make a free and conscious choice, I would probably choose History Repeating for the right now, and then spend the summer preparing for The Big Deal. I’ve already reached out to Dr. Awesome and asked her if she might be willing to look at my current records and give me a consult over what she thinks is the best choice; but I did this with the covert agenda of asking her to be my surgeon for the Big Deal. Dr. Sacks would handle History Repeating, but I know from past discussions that he would feel uncomfortable doing The Big Deal all by himself. He and Dr. Awesome have worked together in the OR before, so it’s possible to get them to team up for The Big Deal.
Right now, they’re still trying to get a very accurate understanding of what types of infection I have growing in my abdomen, and also digging up information about the mesh that was installed – when, what type, where, etc. If I had to take a wild guess as to how much longer I am going to be here, I’d say at the minimum three more days, at reasonable maximum (barring surgery) I’d say a week or a week plus a day or two. If History Repeats, I would bump that up to two to three weeks.
Your happiness relies on you. You rely on your happiness. It’s a reciprocal relationship, one where you feed into your happiness bank, and it pays you in dividends. When you are feeling less stressed, more relaxed, more focused, more satisfied with your life, it’s easier to achieve your goals, whatever they may be. If you don’t feed your happiness bank, your life becomes a constant struggle to find a moment of peace, and you get diverted from the things that you want to be doing, in an emergency-like feeling of desperately needing that release.
The problems may start because the people in your life – your lovers, partners, friends, co-workers, clients, employees, etc – also somewhat rely on your happiness. When you’re not feeling sad or stressed, you’re easier to work with, more fun to be around, and more able to give and receive love without hesitation. So it’s in their best interest to try to make you happy, in whatever way they can intuit that. Because it’s hard to ask, and get an honest answer to, the question, “What would make you happier?” And even if you ask it, and get an honest answer, it may be hard to manifest exactly what that person needs.
We all want to nurture the people we care about. It’s an innate feeling, hard to fight. If they are physically harmed, we want to be there with band-aids and antibiotic cream. If they’re suffering from grief, we want to give them a shoulder to cry on and things to distract them. If they’re feeling unloved, we want to give them as much attention and affirmation as we can. And if we’re not careful, two very unhealthy and unfair things result from this.
The first is that we give so much that we aren’t feeding our own banks. Everyone has heard of burnout, but few people are savvy enough to recognize the beginning symptoms, so it gets discovered too late. We spend so much time feeding other people’s banks that we aren’t doing things that make us happy, or only make us happy as a side effect. Even if making other people happy feeds you in some way, if you aren’t getting anything in return – and it’s very hard for sad, depressed, angry, lonely, neglected-feeling people to give much, since they feel empty themselves – then you’re spending what little you have supporting others. This can work in short-term situations, like when your friend loses someone close to them, but in the long term it leads directly to burnout.
The other side of this, the more insidious and dangerous side, is that the other people comes to see you as their sole or primary provider of the happy. If they aren’t taught to find their own happiness, but instead are taught that complaining to others about their bad-feeling feelings results in getting time, attention, support, money, or whatever else makes them happy, they become mice in an experiment, pushing the “happy” button over and over again, addicted in a way, to whatever it is that others have done to make them feel better. They become resentful and angry when you can’t feed them as much as last time, or if you have other things to focus on, or even if you just need a break to refill your own ability to engage.
It’s a trap we all fall into. We see each other on both ends of the spectrum, the one burned out from trying to make everyone happy, and also desperately trying to milk whatever happiness we can get from those who support us. In this cycle, we totally forget that we are able to do both of these things on our own, and in the end, it’s a better and more reliable way to get what you need.
Think of it in terms of money, because it’s an apt analogy. If your friend is unemployed, and you give them enough money to live on (not just an emergency fund to pay a bill or keep them housed), eventually the motivation to get their own job and support themselves starts to evaporate. As you realize that you can’t keep it up long term, and you start to lessen or withdraw your financial support, the friend blames you for not being able to pay their bills, or to buy food. They can’t see past the fact that really, that responsibility was always on their shoulders, and they just chose to rely on someone else rather than their own ingenuity and self-worth to get it done. There’s nothing inherently wrong with taking a break from supporting yourself – whether financially, emotionally, or spiritually – as long as it’s a “break”, and not “a new reality”.
I heard somewhere recently that “depression is the grief that comes from the death of part of you”. That when you realize you have to make a big life change, where something you’ve relied upon for your strength, identity, or survival (or some combination thereof, like a marriage) is over; you go into a state of grief. Sometimes – oftentimes, mayhaps – this starts not when the change actually happens, but when you (consciously or subconsciously) realize that the change needs to happen. I had already phrased this differently, for my own life, as “depression is a sign that you’re afraid to change something.” So when I get sad, angry, lonely, frustrated, or depressed, I look around my life and start to sort out what change I’m resisting or running away from.
What makes things difficult and complicated, is that sometimes – oftentimes, mayhaps – the gut reaction is to try to fix or change whatever is making you depressed, rather than facing what it really means. And this is where we start to look to others to feed us; instead of facing the fact that you’ve become radically insecure about your place in the world, and that you need to bone up and face that, work on it, change it into something better, you start to rely on your loved ones and family to make you feel more secure. Again, though, that’s something that’s best only done in an emergency-type situation – if it will keep you from, say, killing yourself or turning to self-harm (alcohol, drugs, cutting, indiscriminate sex, going into debt shopping, etc) – but it’s not the solution. It might feel like it, because in the short term you do actually feel better; but it’s only skin deep. You can’t keep burning people out in hopes that they will fill the hole in your heart; if you can look back and see a trail of dead relationships, well, you know what they say about seeing a problem happen over and over again – it means the problem is you.
But it’s sounds so easy on paper – make yourself happy. In reality, it’s hard work. Sometimes it sucks, especially in the beginning. You need to figure out what you’ve been doing that keeps you unhappy – staying in a bad relationship, giving too much of yourself away, not focusing on what makes you feel good, etc – and get it under control. That’s where most people resist the hardest – they don’t want to do it. They don’t want to break up a bad relationship, they feel like they can’t, for one reason or another. And we’re fucking talented at creating bullshit reasons why we can’t do something that will severely mess up the status quo. “But this job that pays me shit wages will lead to better things!” exclaims the person who doesn’t have enough money to pay the bills, “And it’s fun, and it doesn’t feel like work to me, and I like the people I work with, and I don’t want to have to take a job that isn’t fun or convenient. So I can’t do it.” Yes you can. It will suck, and you’ll be unhappier in the short term, but when you go to sleep at night knowing that your bills are paid, you have better health insurance, and you don’t have to sweat out the next car repair, you’ll thank yourself. Not only that, but you’ll appreciate the hard work and sacrifice that you made to get to where you are – believe me.
I have faced this sort of thing so many times in my life, I start to wonder if my diagnosis of “Major Depressive Disorder” (having many depressive episodes over a long period of time) isn’t a misdiagnosis of something more simpler – “Afraid of admitting you’ve made a mistake and don’t want step up and fix it.” I’ve made tons of mistakes in my life; maybe more than most people. I had a vision in my head of what I really wanted, but every time I got close to it, I started sacrificing things that were vitally important to my sense of self to attain and maintain it. I married Mike because I wanted something resembling a normal home life – I wanted a husband, and children, and I wanted to feel safe and comforted in that sort of arrangement. Even when it became clear that children weren’t going to just show up on their own, I still clung to this idea that he and I were a family, not a relationship, and you don’t break up with your family, right? So when he emotionally manipulated me, lied to me, cheated on me, lied to my friends, cheated on his other relationships, used money to control and manipulate me, and demanded that I keep up this appearance that everything was okay; I fell into it. I fell so deep that when it came to leaving him, I ended up waiting until he left. Yes, even after I called him on all the bullshit, I was willing to stay and work it out, because you don’t break up with your family. Even after we were separated, I tried to keep him involved in my life in some way, keep him in the role of being my family, and the more he rejected me, the worse I felt.
But anyone who’s been by my side while this has all been going on, can easily tell you that the separation has done miraculous things for me. It has freed me from all of the things Mike was afraid of, namely my transition, but a million other things, too. I was able to reclaim the course of my life, and took power in sitting down and figuring out what was really important to me, because I had learned the long, hard lesson that other people was the wrong answer. I truly believe that’s why Hel did two things in the course of my ordeal – one, she wouldn’t accept other people as a valid reason to allow me to continue living, and two, she declared that I could never make other people my main focus in life.
But things are getting dangerous in that realm of my life, because so many people are trying to get my focus. All of them seem to only want a part of it, but when you add it all together, I can point to many little issues in my life coming directly from this. I have insomnia because often it’s late at night when one or another one of my friends, lovers, clients, etc, think/know that I’m not actively working/writing/doing spirit work, etc (even though often they are very, very wrong) and so they pick 1am as a great time to process what’s going wrong with our relationship. (It doesn’t help that many of my friends/lovers/etc have jobs or lives that allow them to have these conversations at 1am, either.)
I get frustrated at myself, because a terrible side effect of this is that even when a person only contacts me once, asking when they might get a piece of my time and attention, I overreact. I react with all the stress, frustration, and unhappiness that has built up from each one of these requests, and there have been many. I also feel like crap, because I should be overjoyed that so many people love me so much that they want my time and attention, and I sound like a privileged brat when I complain about it. “Oh, I’m too popular! I only wish more people didn’t give a shit about me! Woe is me!”, right? It also has the added detriment of making the people asking for my time – probably because they’re lonely, or sad, or depressed, or in some other way feeling negative about themselves or their life – feel even shittier, because I’m complaining about getting exactly what they wish for; people who want to spend time with me.
There have been warnings, too. I’ve had two very clear, verified by outside sources, knocks on the Del skull that other people are starting to take focus away from what the Gods want me to be doing; which right now, that means mostly writing, resting, and contemplation. All three of those things don’t seem like they are as important as spending time with people, nor do people tend to feel bad for interrupting such things. I was ranting the other day, when someone dared hint that maybe working on the book was really my problem, that if I had a regular 9 to 5 job, in an office somewhere, that was going through a crunch time (I have a deadline coming up that I have to meet if I want my first book to come out in June, which is very important to me emotionally as well as financially), no one would dare insinuate or state that I should just stop working and spend more time with my family/friends/lovers. Now yes, if someone was in “crunch time” for, say, a year, I could see advising them to not forget that life exists outside of work. But I only got the book deal three or four weeks ago, and the “request” of spending the year in contemplation three months ago, so it’s not like I’ve been in my hidey hole for too long. I also do go out, although mostly to events, but there’s a social element to those things and it means I’m not just spending my time in front of my computer, getting a severe lack of Vitamin D for lack of seeing the sun.
I even got some outside verification that this current frustration could be a test – whether or not I will bail on my promises to Hel at the first opportunity, and make other people a priority, rather than manage to set clear and unbending boundaries around what Hel and I both want out of what time I have left. It’s not like either of us didn’t expect this; I spent much of 2012 spending time with people, making them my focus, and so like the friend who starts expecting you to pay their bills, I’ve made many people accustomed to getting my time and attention fairly easily.
The deeper lesson here, as I am beginning to realize, is this “happiness bank” analogy. I have a lifelong (even in my childhood) issue of being so afraid of not being liked, of being alone, of not having any friends or lovers, that I go way further than most to make my people happy. I mean, again, look at my last marriage; I stopped myself from doing things I really wanted to, to keep Mike happy. I wanted to change my last name. I wanted to bottom more often. I wanted to start taking testosterone. I wanted to buy more men’s clothing. I wanted to keep my hair short/shaved. I wanted to date other people. These, and so many other things, I deprived myself of because it might make Mike feel the least bit uncomfortable. He was so used to me doing these things, he didn’t even see them. And when I brought them to light, he would blame me for doing these things without being asked. That’s true. He never outright said, “Never bottom in public, it really upsets me and reminds me that you don’t bottom to me anymore.” What he did, was get very sad and withdrawn when I bottomed to someone else. I didn’t like seeing him like that, and didn’t like being around him. Easy answer, right? I fed his happiness bank with a little of my own; I gave up bottoming in public so he would feel better.
But where I seem to be failing in this lesson is that when I take a step back, and try to illustrate to my people (my shorthand for “friends, family, lovers, clients, etc”) that I need them to start feeding their own happiness bank, and stop expecting my weekly direct deposits, they feel like I’m doing something directly to hurt them, or am being mean to them. It feels hurtful for me to ask them to be responsible for their own sense of peace, because I’m taking something away from them. It is hard to stay resolute in that, and stand by my own boundaries, even with the God-threat of losing all of my relationships over my shoulder the whole time, because like every other human, when I see people in pain I want to make them feel better.
I can’t. My happiness bank is currently overdrawn, and I have to fix it now.
It starts with the most direct and dire situation – I need time to write, edit, re write, and produce the book. It’s not an exercise in ego, this project; it’s a direct line to making more money. I don’t want to get into numbers, but let’s say my alimony is barely enough (and sometimes frankly, not enough) to keep living life the way I have been living it. Events think I’m getting big in my britches when I tell them I can’t afford to pay for my own hotel, but really, it’s because I’m living on about an eighth of the resources I had a year ago. This weekend, I attended an excellent workshop on how to make more money as a presenter, especially how to do it without just demanding that events give you more in terms of compensation, and it wouldn’t be terribly hard to do some of those things. Of course, however, that they require my time and attention. This book is only one step in that direction – of being able to continue doing pastoral care counseling, teaching classes, writing blogs, facilitating ordeals, mentoring, etc – and not charge an arm and a leg to do it. It would be easier on me, and on the world at large, if I can ask many people to give me small amounts of money (paying for a download, buying a book, getting a reading) than it would be to only require my clients to pay me larger amounts of money in order to survive. I can help so many more people if I distribute my financial need among all the people I’ve touched with my words, my actions, my rituals, my classes, etc.
But I need the time, energy, spoons, to set these things up. That’s, understandably, have to come from somewhere.
Like many people who have found themselves in this situation, when I talk to people about this, they’re completely understanding – as long as that time, energy, attention, spoons, etc, doesn’t affect them. Like I have this secret cache of people to whom it’s much easier for me to say “fuck off, I need to do this other stuff.” Clients think I should tell my friends to fuck off. My friends think I should tell events to fuck off. Events think I should tell my lovers to fuck off. My lovers think I should tell everybody else to fuck off. And my Gods?
There’s that scary threat. That I’ll lose it all if I don’t do the Work. And like any good submissive, the prime directive is “take care of the property”, in this case, my life and ability to live.
So instead of writing sixty different emails to people about feeding their own happiness banks, I wanted to write a blog post that might help even more people. Maybe you need to feed your own bank. Maybe you’re burnt out from feeding other people’s banks. Maybe you’re suffering from depression because you’re afraid of the piece of you that has to die in order to make a change.
First of all, this is a universal experience. Every single human being experiences all of these feelings, at different points in their lives. Some people have it harder, especially if they have biochemical predispositions for feeling depressed, insecure, out of control, or in some other way not able to rely solely upon themselves for their own happiness. It is important to reach out to someone who gets paid to help you with that, though – because that’s the reciprocity. That’s why a therapist is better than relying on all your friends; the money makes it worth their time, and they can feed their kids and pay their bills at the end of it. (This weekend, I learned about the “resentment fee”, that is, how much money will it take so I don’t resent you for asking me to do this thing for you? It’s a useful tool for entrepreneurs who are trying to figure out how to price their services.) So if you are scared of the prospect of feeding your own happiness bank, especially if the need feels too great, it might be a good idea to seek out a therapist or other professional to get you on the right path.
Secondly, you need to know what makes you happy, and learn how to achieve those things without anyone else’s assistance. And before you tell me that “being around other people” is one of those things, you can go to a concert. Join a book club. Go to a bar. Throw a party. Do things where you create and control the situation, rather than relying on others. As I recently said, it’s so much nicer and easier for me to make time for other people if I don’t also have to invent the fun thing we’re going to go do. If you ask me out to a dinner and a movie, and you pick the restaurant and the film, I’m so much more likely to feel enthusiastic and willing to futz with my calendar to go; whereas if you just whine “I want more of your time!”, thus dumping the responsibility of finding said time, and then filling it with something more than just staring at each other, which makes it feel onerous and work-like.
Take control! Make things that make you happy manifest. Throw your own party, instead of waiting to be invited to one! Go out and meet people, rather than expect your friends to invite you to places where potential new people might be. Put on your big kid pants and if you have to fake the confidence, the self-esteem, the security in your self, your attractiveness, do it. Practice little steps, if you have to. But I promise you, when you feel more in control of our own happiness, you’ll have more love and devotion to pour onto those around you, rather than sucking them dry of theirs.
So if you’re burned out? Say so. Don’t lay the blame at the people who have burned you out, because you chose to feed them as much as you have. It may be difficult to wean them, but in the end it will be worth it. Please remember that taking time for yourself, and solitary activities, is not self-indulgent. It is fucking necessary in order to be healthy and peaceful enough to engage with others without a bad attitude. Read books. Watch documentaries. Write a shitty novel (or a great one, whatever, just don’t pressure yourself about whether it’s good or not), it’s the doing, not the result! Take up a solo hobby by watching videos on You Tube. Make “office hours” – days of the week, hours of the day, that you respond to emails from friends, or take phone calls from them, or in other ways give to others – and make them public if you have to, so people know when you’re willing to engage, and when you’re busy taking care of yourself.
Don’t be afraid to unplug. Many of my friends have been reveling in the feeling of turning off their phones, disengaging from the Internet, not watching television, and then figuring out what to do with their time. We let so many things suck us in, distract us from the real flow of our lives, that sometimes we stop living. Mike was infamous for his “clicky games”, spending hours playing Farmville and online poker, and then complained that I didn’t spend enough time and attention with him. I understand the need for these things to help you relax, but honestly, I find they are usually just as stressful as they are relaxing. Maybe promise yourself two hours a week – a week – where you turn off your phone and disengage from the computer. Tell people if you have to, but sometimes it’s better when you don’t.
Remember that in our age of everything-on-demand, that you don’t owe anyone an immediate response. No matter if they call you, text you, email you, send you a chat, a message on social media, a comment on your blog, whatever; you have never made a promise to respond in a certain amount of time. Teach your friends by example that they shouldn’t expect you to be available to them at every hour of every day. If they complain, ask them what they expect in terms of response time, and then respond with something reasonable, taking the rest of your life into consideration. I had to make the decision that no one – not my mother, not my lovers, nobody – is owed immediate responses. If it’s an emergency, they’ll tell me so, and then I can decide if I can engage with their emergency or not. They have other people they can turn to, and if they don’t, that’s on them.
In the reverse, there’s nothing nicer than getting a message from someone that explicitly says that no response is necessary, or expected, or that I can get to it whenever I have the time. (Just, be truthful about this; if you know you’ll get pissed if you don’t get a response in two months, don’t say you don’t care at all.) So when you send someone something that requires a response, let them know they can take their time with it. After all, I’d much rather receive an answer when my friend is calm, collected, relaxed, and has time to spend on it, rather than a dashed-off, two word response that makes me feel disregarded and bothersome. Decide that quality is more important than quantity, and that you’d rather have a single email a month that was chock full of attention to detail, and interesting information, than six emails a day that are written while they’re simultaneously doing four other things.
If you’re in a relationship, be brutally honest about how much time you need from another person to feel engaged with them. Even if you’re afraid they’ll tell you they can’t meet it, it’s better to not be in a relationship where you feel hungry all the time, than to be in one where your partner is constantly feeling like they are neglecting you. It creates this terrible loop where no one is happy. And if the person you want can’t give you what you need, you have a decision to make. If you can get supplemental happiness from other sources (namely, yourself, but also other people, things, hobbies, etc), then know that you’ll be expected to feed yourself from those things in perpetuity while the relationship is happening. If you can’t, then no matter how sexy, charming, interesting, or stellar-in-bed they are, you’ll both feel crappy all the time, and it’s better off not to engage. If you’re already in the relationship and realizing that you have vastly different expectations in terms of time and attention, you have to be radically honest with yourself about whether or not you can live what what they give, and if you can’t, then you need to “take care of the property” and walk. Not every break up is about the lack of love or desire; sometimes, incompatibility is more than just liking different kinds of movies or having different hobbies; it can also mean that what you envision a “relationship” as, and what they envision, are too different, and neither of you will be happy. Fuck, read 50 Shades of Gray if you want a good example of what that kind of relationship looks like.
Beware of emotional manipulation. It can be really subtle, and most of the time, the person doing it isn’t even aware of it. But a statement like, “Oh, I really want to go with you on the cruise, and I think it would be good for our relationship, but alas, I don’t have the money…if only I could find some…” may sound like an honest statement about one’s financial situation, but it can also be a form of manipulation – implying that if the person wanted good things for the relationship, they’d happily pay your way on the cruise. But that way lies dragons, my friends. Big, ugly, nasty ones that I’ve fought time and time again. It starts out small, but once someone realizes it works, they will continue to do it. Model good behavior by stating your needs and wants in direct statements, rather than wishy-washy emotional ones. “That cruise sounds like fun, but I don’t have the money. Is it possible for you to pay my way?” I had an ex who would come over to hang out, but every time we left the house to do stuff, they wouldn’t tell me they didn’t have their own money until we were there. I remember standing outside of a nightclub, her having gotten all dressed up, driving over there, and only letting us know that she didn’t have the cover until we were on our way inside. It worked, though – for years, we paid her way into everything. I had another ex who, instead of telling us she didn’t have money for food, would just choose not to eat, and make a big dramatic show of it. But it worked; we paid for her food more often than not.
But what did those people also do? They also became exes. Because over time, they kept taking without giving. It’s okay if you don’t have the money once in a while, or if you’re up front when you’re invited – “I’d love to go, but I don’t have the money.” or “I’m coming for a few days, but I need to watch my budget when it comes to ordering food.”
The same goes from time, attention, emotional energy. It’s easy to give time to someone when you don’t have a lot going on. If you are asking me to give up time I need to be working on the book; then when I ask you for time during finals week, you better be ready to give it back. If you know you can’t afford to make that sort of sacrifice, then don’t ask someone else to do it for you.
It’s not like you need to keep a tally of who did what for whom when. It’s more of a feeling. You should feel like spending time with your people is a fun, happy, feeding you sort of thing. It’s okay if once in a while, you decide to spend time with someone else because it makes them happy, even if it’s a little inconvenient for you. But if you see your friend calling, and always press “ignore” because you know phone calls with them inevitably last three hours; if you turn down invitations to things you enjoy because someone will be there who will monopolize your time; if you feel guilty posting about a fun night out with a friend because you know you’ll get five nasty emails asking why you had time for that but not for them; it’s time to take a step back and figure out where the problem(s) are.
At the core of it all, though, the one thing you have completely and utterly within your own control, is your own happiness. If you catch yourself thinking, “If so-and-so would only do things differently, I would be happy”, you need to take a moment and rephrase that. “Why is so-and-so doing things that way, and do I necessarily need to engage with them while they do it?” is a start. But really, the better questions are things like, “Okay, regardless of what my calendar says, what would make me happy this weekend?” “Instead of sitting at home, moping about having nothing to do and no one to do it with, I can be researching groups in my area that do stuff I like, or find a party to attend, or call up some friends I haven’t spoken to in a while.” Ask yourself, “What can I do, all by myself, to make this situation better?” If the answer feels difficult, or emotionally challenging, know that you’ve hit a much deeper hole, and it may take some time and attention to fill it, but you can. In a way, you have to. Because if you aren’t the arbiter of your own happiness, then you’re surrendering a level of control over your life; and you’ll still only have yourself to blame if it isn’t making you happy.
Do it. Make a list, right now, either in the comments, on your own blog, on your Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr, or even just on a piece of paper – five things. Five things that would make your life a little happier. A little less stressful. A little more carefree. And it’s okay if these things aren’t inherently fun in and of themselves – “saving up enough money to pay off the car note” doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but if not having to worry about getting repossessed will make your life happier, then it’s still worth listing.
Then, hold yourself accountable. Each day, ask yourself what you’ve done to make one of those five things come to fruition. You don’t have to do them all in a day, and I’m sure many of them are actually made up of several microsteps of their own. “I brought leftovers to work for lunch, rather than ordering out, and took that $20 and put it in the ‘pay the car note’ fund.”
You, my readers, know that ordinarily, I’d post my own as an example. But in this case, some of them are involve other people, and I don’t feel comfortable posting that. But know that I have my own list, and I’m doing this too. And I welcome emails or messages about this exercise, as long as you understand that until my writing deadline is met, I have a limited amount of time I can spend on email (#3 on my list).