Pride


I am a cis woman (she/her) who identifies as bi and grey ace. I am also monogamous and married. My partner is a cis man (he/him) who also identifies as bisexual/pansexual. We are a different-gendered couple in a queer relationship, and that cannot be taken away from either of us. 

Too often, I feel like I am not queer enough because I chose the forever partner I did. Too often, I feel like I am not queer enough because I see more ally flags than ace flags at Pride (and “A” is not for ally) or because I don’t want to talk about “sexuality” or “sexual” orientation - I want to talk about my identity and how I love others. But I am queer enough. I am queer. I am allowed to take up space and carry my pride even when it feels crushingly invisible.

May we have pride even if we don’t look, act, or love the way we are told. Even if we don’t fit into the boxes of heteronormative binary society or the queer community. Even if we have a different-gender partner. Even if we look for spaces without sex in a movement too often portrayed as sexual. Even if we don’t fully understand ourselves, our identity, our love, our sex and sexuality, our needs, and even if the lines are blurred or they change by the day. Even if our colors change. Even if it took us “too long” to find our pride. Even if we grew up too scared to believe in pride. Even if we are attracted to different genders differently. Even if others question the labels that fit us the best. 

May we have pride through our connection to others, not how others try to define it for us. And may we carry our pride beyond just this month, through the year, and through the history that is forever unfolding in front of us. 

With love,

T

Black Lives Matter


I have been away from my blog through quarantine as a result of what can only be described as my entire brain turning to mashed potatoes with days that blend together and run over me like gravy. In that time, so much has happened, and so much is still happening. We are in the midst of a pandemic, under an administration that cannot be trusted to handle it. We are in the midst of a revolution, carried by the birthing pains of the rights we all deserve and the slow death of a system that should have been serving all of us all along. While I created this blog as a space to explore my own experiences freely, and all of my experiences are blanketed in white privilege, I do not want to ignore speaking out on things that matter so much. I am anonymous here, but I am a white ciswoman and a social scientist with a role to play and a voice to use. I want you to know that I am using it even though I can’t find the written words to share here sometimes. I invite you to use your voice with me. We are allowed to take breaks and care for our mental health, but we are also obligated to learn the balance between self-care and using our privilege to amplify others. I will share more on these topics when I am able. In the meantime, I affirm that black lives matter. Black trans and nonbinary lives matter. Black queer lives matter. Black disabled lives matter. Black. Lives. Matter.

With so much love,

T

A Dog's Life


I probably don’t need to tell you this, but life is really fucked up right now.

When grounding myself in my own reality doesn’t work for me, I sometimes try to cope with difficult situations by imagining how my dog understands them. It allows my mind to simplify complicated problems and practice unlikely gratitude in the face of challenging circumstances. It is the most efficient method of stripping away that complex trauma lens when viewing myself and the world around me.

So now… enter COVID-19.

I have been home for 15 days. I have been increasingly depressed for 15 days. People are dying. My friends and family are suffering. My neighbors in the healthcare industry are burning out. I don’t particularly like leaving my house, but I do like the option of leaving my house. I feel trapped. I feel uncertain. I’m scared I don’t have enough. I’m scared that I’m not enough. I feel so much body anxiety. I’ve been deep in various levels and scenarios of flashback every single waking day of this, and nightmares have haunted me through the night.

My dog, however, has been doing great. He knows nothing of a “pandemic.” He knows his humans are home with him all the time. He knows he gets to take an extra long walk with both of us every single day. He is learning new words and new commands, and he is excited to show off. He can curl up and nap in the window or in our laps all day rather than in his crate, because separation anxiety doesn’t matter when we’re all safe right here with him. He gets extra snacks and treats. He gets so many playtime breaks. He gets so much more attention than he was even getting before. He knows his mom is stressed, but he gets to be a protective little watchdog and try to make it better. He watches neighbors walk their dogs and kids. He watches the birds and squirrels play in the yard and takes in their scents in the breeze through the window screen. He lays out on the deck and sunbathes on the nicest days. He hears my coworkers tell him how cute he is during our “meetings,” and he shows off how much he loves his mom. He’s so happy, and he sleeps even better at night knowing there will be time for extra cuddles in the morning. In this tiny bubble of a perspective, things are safe and okay - maybe even safer than before. My dog is a rescue with a difficult past, but where this crisis has activated my trauma, it has alleviated some of his.

I don’t know when life will get “back to normal,” or what a new normal will look like when this is over. I do not know what it will take to get through to the other side of the worst of this. I do know I can stay present in my current surroundings, no matter how claustrophobic they may get, and try to grasp onto mindfulness whenever possible. My dog reminds me that there are silver linings, and I am still so privileged and blessed in the midst of this catastrophe.

With Love,

T

Bipolar Disorder


To some it’s creativity; to others it’s disability. To some it’s pride; to others it’s shame. To some it’s inspiration; to others it’s a death sentence. There are about 5.7 million people with bipolar disorder on this earth, and that means there are about 5.7 million different definitions of bipolar disorder.
The unique impairments of mania are what distinguishes bipolar I from bipolar II. I am technically diagnosed with bipolar I, but it is not the best fit. Maybe I’m bipolar I ½. I have experienced mild psychotic features when manic - loose paranoid delusions and strange sensory perceptions. I’ve always had some level of insight into the reality of these symptoms in some part of my mind (and maybe a benefit of having dissociative identity disorder too?). I have never emptied my bank account or had an affair or believed I was a celebrity or anything wildly out of the norm for myself. I have maintained schooling and employment through the worst of my mania. Unless you live with me and witness my inability to shut my brain off to sleep at night (and an equal inability to allow those around me to sleep as well), you probably wouldn’t even know I’m in a manic or hypomanic episode.

When it begins, mania is seductive to me. I feel magnetic, invincible, important, loved, wanted. I feel creative, and my mind effortlessly strings together volumes of poetry in the background of everything I do. Everything is a song. Everything is art. Colors are brighter and people are lovelier and I am in love with everything. I stop thinking about sex as some kind of trauma because even that is an incredible cosmic experience and I wish I could have it all the time. I want to drown myself in alcohol because drinking feels like turning up the volume during a song I can’t get enough of. I don’t believe that anything bad has happened to me or that anything bad ever really could. (Mania flirts with my PTSD a hell of a lot.)

As it goes on, my focus on everyday tasks falters. I struggle to maintain my hygiene or eat much at all. I cling to the control of restrictive eating. My body image becomes more distorted, and I start begging myself to be as beautiful as I just felt I was. I begin rambling on too long when I speak, and parts of my mind begin begging me to shut the fuck up. I can’t. There’s no filter. There are no breaks. I make jokes I wouldn’t usually make because everything is so goddamn funny because nothing is really real. I stay up later, have more vivid dreams and more gruesome nightmares. I am quick to rage over the smallest things. I need to scream. My mind is going so fast with so many thoughts I wish I could just kill myself and make it stop.
Mania sharply descends into depression. They don’t always occur together - sometimes there is mercy. Sometimes hypomania bubbles up for a week or so and fizzles back to normal. Sometimes I finally get some sleep somehow and level out. Sometimes depression acts alone. But if true mania goes unchecked in my brain, it mixes with depression until the bubble pops. Painfully. Just like so many others who share this diagnosis, this mixing of mania and depression is what led me to attempt suicide for the first time when I was 16 and brought me to that cliff many more times after. (I have since made peace with this precipice. I’ve learned to keep my distance and hold on to anything I can until it fades. Therapy has been great, but honestly my dog has been even greater.)
Although I’ve also had PTSD for essentially my entire life, I have been in treatment just for bipolar disorder since I was 16. (I’m just beginning to work more intensely on my trauma symptoms, and I think more recently they are what drives my mood more than anything else.) I’ve worked on honing in my bipolar symptoms for about a decade now through therapy and endless medication. I’ve learned to trust my insight even more, and apply it not only to the manic symptoms but also to my depressive symptoms. I’ve learned to challenge the beliefs that plague my brain when I’m at my lowest, that I am not loved, not worthy, or completely hopeless. And I don’t really know what’s going to happen when I decide I want to be a mother one day, but for now, I am so blessed to have lithium in my life. I still have episodes a couple times per year, and they are worse when my trauma is activated, but being on lithium and a modest dose of an antidepressant (as well as a couple more medications for the anxiety side) is like having bumpers set up over the gutters at a bowling alley. The ball isn’t always centered, but at least I’m not losing myself completely. Without this balance in my brain chemicals, I wouldn’t be able to make the progress I need to make in therapy or in my daily life. But just like there are so many ways to have bipolar disorder, there are also so many ways to treat bipolar disorder. 
I’ve lost a lot of my life to bipolar disorder, even though I am still fairly young. I used to think that if there was a cure for it, I wouldn’t take it. I used to think that bipolar disorder made me creative and interesting and fueled everything I’ve accomplished... Now, I think I would take a cure. I’ve lost so much time, opportunities, relationships, and genuine self-love because of this disorder. I’ve been the victim and perpetrator of so much inconsistency. I no longer believe it is bipolar disorder that makes me creative, interesting, and accomplished; I think that is who I am. I think bipolar disorder has realistically stood in my way in those things: rushing my creativity with overwhelming urgency, creating chaos and drama rather than intrigue, and holding my accomplishments at its mercy with a frantic energy or complete lack thereof. I think bipolar disorder has also given my abusers an “out” for abusing me. I understand the functions my mood episodes have served, at least for the most part, but I would rather experience this complicated life without that added barrier of complications. My equilibrium is long overdue. At the same time, I accept that there is no cure, and I also accept that if nothing else, bipolar disorder has made me so much stronger and so much more of a voice for people who struggle like I do.
With love,
T
March 30th is World Bipolar Day. For more resources on bipolar disorder, visit the International Bipolar Foundation, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

A Letter to My Body


Body, you have carried me. You carried me through this week and through so much worse in this life. Let me thank you.

Body, thank you for the anxiety this week. You are delicately wired to alert me when things are unsafe, and you are absolutely right this time. You feel it in the air around us, in the words others say to us, in the scrambling for resources, comfort, and guidance we witness every day. You are so perceptive, and you notice even the slightest warning signs. You are right that the world is unsafe right now. You are right to fear an illness we have never experienced before. You are right to fear that washing these hands, keeping our distance from the people we love, and cleaning the things around us might not be enough protection from this. You are right to fear that my workplace is not somewhere I should be every day. You are right to struggle to find relief or imagine an endpoint to this trauma. You are right to tense my muscles and shorten my breath, to quicken my heartbeat, to pump adrenaline through my veins to prepare me to run as far from this situation as I can. But body, like so many other times in this life, we cannot run. But this time, we can breathe. We can lead. We can provide. Do your best to carry me, and I will do my best to carry you with tenderness too. 

Body, thank you for the feelings this week. While it used to give me emotional whiplash, I am now learning to love how deeply you allow me to feel and how openly you allow me to express it. I accept the unexpected tears you give me, and I validate the despair in reading the latest breaking news, the fragile hope for some kind of progress, the disproportionate joy in seeing a cute dog being walked on these empty streets, and the radical roller coaster of feeling them all at once. Body, it is beautiful to feel so much when the world is so cold and numb. Body, thank you for the emotions and the creativity I need to cope.

Body, thank you for withstanding the pain this week. I know this time every month means so much. I know this time is a clockwork trigger we suffer. I know pain medication does next to nothing when the physical and emotional pain is driven by footprints of the past I barely remember. Body, the first time a period came, I wondered what I did wrong to you and how should I be punished; now each month, I wonder how I can love you and treat you better than before. Body, you deserve chocolate cake. You do. You deserve scented candles and comfy sweatpants and a tiny dog curled on your lap. You deserve to make it through this. Body, by Monday, we will feel some kind of new again because you always make it through this. You have carried me so far and I am still somehow struggling to love you, but body, I will love you.

Body, they say you are done growing, but I am still growing into you. Body, I am still learning to love you. Body, I am sorry for falling in love with the abusers who abused you before I fell in love with you. I am sorry for believing them before I believed you. I notice your skin stretching and cracking like I am trying to burst out of you, but body, I am still making myself comfortable. I do not want to leave you now. I am making myself home. I am coming home. Thank you for being home. Thank you.

With love,

T

"How Do You Sleep at Night?"


Honestly, how is anyone able to sleep well when things are this chaotic? 


My anxiety about the world around me has had me in a constant state of physical panic all week, and depression has slithered in right behind it. I can feel the physical weight of fear on my chest. I can feel myself drowning in thoughts of uncleanliness, contamination, illness, and a potential long struggle to have my needs met. I feel smothered by the idea that at any moment, I could cause catastrophic harm to someone else without even knowing it if I’m not careful enough. My focus on my body has become even more overwhelming. It feels so strange for me to be triggered by COVID-19, beyond the “normal” widespread panic, but I definitely have been. But I don’t want to dive into all that just yet. I want to mindfully pause and acknowledge that at times like these my sleep hygiene is even more crucial. I am so grateful that I have been (mostly) able to get enough quality sleep this week despite everything on my mind. Sleep has been an eternal struggle for me, and I have personally never had medication alone do enough for me in that department (although I absolutely do not sleep without taking my bedtime meds!). Sleep can be a universal struggle among people who have experienced trauma or other mental health conditions, and I wanted to share the “little things” that make up my sleep routine in hopes that it may inspire your own.
  1. A hot shower. I’ve found that I sleep better and am less likely to have nightmares if I take a hot shower before bed. Taking a mindful shower about an hour or two before bedtime is an important signal to my whole self that I am safe to rest throughout the night. After my shower, I apply a calming lavender and cedarwood scented lotion all over as well as a soothing muscle balm to my neck and shoulders where I carry the most tension. 
  2. A cup of hot tea. Warmth is so comforting for me, and in the same way a hot shower relaxes the outside of my body, tea with a dash of milk and honey relaxes me internally. I prefer vanilla chamomile, but at times I’ll drink wild berry tea or even just a cup of warm milk and honey.
  3. My weighted blanket. My weighted blanket simply feels like safety and home. It helps me stay asleep through the night and my dreams are significantly less distressing when I use it. There’s a lot of hype out there about weighted blankets, and it’s not a complete solution to my insomnia, but it has made a difference for me.
  4. Something to listen to. I have always needed background noise to fall asleep to; not white noise, but something to focus my racing thoughts. My dad used to read to me when I was little, then as I grew older I would leave the TV on while I went to sleep. At times I will still leave the TV on, but most of the time, because my spouse enjoys reading before bed, he will play an audiobook or read a book out loud to me (the latter of which magically puts me to sleep in about 30 seconds).
  5. Doggy snuggles. I don’t care what anyone says, my dog sleeps in the human bed. He’s a little guy, and he loves to climb under the weighted blanket with me and snuggle up close through the night. Feeling him pressed against me is reassuring as I fall asleep or if I wake up during the night. It is a reminder that only will he protect me if something unsafe happens while I’m asleep, but that I am capable of protecting him as well.
You might notice that sensory experiences are essential to me feeling safe and oriented as I fall asleep. Closing my eyes is something very scary for me, but I can lessen this fear by hearing something I can follow, tasting my tea, smelling my lotion, and feeling the heat of the shower, the soft weight of my blanket, and the gentle touch of my dog. It’s not a perfect system, and I still have nearly sleepless nights here and there, but having a routine and reminders of my safety have made a massive difference in my sleep during the night and my mental health during the day. Please share with me what helps you sleep the best in the comments or on social media!

With love,

T

Diagnosis: Dissociative Identity Disorder





“That doesn’t make sense. I’m one person. I’m just T.”

I began to see a trauma-specializing therapist who had spent years working for one of the most respected trauma programs out there. I had been with my previous therapist for nine years, and working through my mood and anxiety symptoms wasn’t helping me anymore. My new therapist diagnosed me with PTSD in the first half hour, even though I spent most of that time instinctively minimizing and attempting to normalize my experiences. I filled out a number of paper assessments afterward, and within a month she told me what her final diagnostic impression was: dissociative identity disorder, or DID. 

My reaction, in retrospect, pretty much solidified the diagnosis. About half of me was shocked and doubtful: DID was a disorder that people with real trauma developed. I just had a shitty mom, a less-than-perfect paternal family, and an abusive ex. You know, "normal" stuff. What right did I have to have DID? The rest of me started rushing forward with flashbacks. The rest of me suddenly noticed the blacked out times in my childhood which I attributed to “normally” developing memory. The rest of me led me back to my writing - the letters I had written to parts of myself in my journals, the poetry I had written about parts of myself whom I'd even given names a decade earlier, the particular part of me that I regularly referred to by a different name in my mind which I had labeled as a weird “manic” state of bipolar disorder gone rogue. I came back to therapy the following week with a 7-page detailed character sketch of the different parts of my mind that I was aware of - their names, ages, likes and dislikes, triggers, quirks... complete with subtle handwriting shifts I hadn’t even noticed in the moment. All me, but all serving their own protective purposes, and all having their own stories of good and bad timing. 

Even after all this, I still tried to refute my diagnosis because I didn’t have significant gaps in my memory or dramatic switches currently. I later learned that most my dissociative parts are fairly good at working together, especially for someone who is newly-diagnosed. I’m missing almost all of my memories of my childhood before my mother lost custody of me when I was five and a half years old. When my father got custody of me and I began living with him and my grandparents, while the family was problematic in its own way, I started remembering everything. My interest in writing grew almost desperately - daily journal entries, song lyrics, stories, poetry, comics, anything to express my thoughts and feelings. My mind found a way to pass information from one part to another. I no longer black out weeks and months, but only moments of the worst trauma. And of those moments, though I may not have a solid sensory memory, I at least usually have factual information. “[Person] was mad at you and physically hurt you, and that is where that bruise came from.” We call these “headlines.” I’ve even started recovering these headlines for early childhood traumas and abuse that I never admitted to myself because it was not safe. It wasn’t that these realizations materialized out of nowhere, as some believe “repressed memories” might, but it was more like I had the dots and never connected them into a full picture or a full “adult” understanding. These missing pieces protected me from the trauma because it would be too agonizing to live with knowing and being helpless. It was safer to not remember and have that false sense of security with the abuser because I did not have a choice otherwise. (I am frustrated and also I am grateful to my mind for this.) 

I learned that all young children begin with a dissociated concept of self, and this begins to solidify into one identity later in childhood. When a young child experiences repeated trauma, typically by someone who is supposed to protect them from trauma, the self doesn’t become a unified identity. The child needs their own various internal protectors to survive and navigate the trauma, and the child grows into an adult still relying on those internal resources for protection, even after they are no longer in the traumatic environment, because that is what worked in the past. Some internal protectors may have healthy concepts of protection, such as compassion and nurturance, and others may have unhealthy concepts of protection, such as self-harm and substance use. Every part of the mind serves a purpose, and every part has gotten me where I am today. Now that I have more control over my life and have a therapist who can help me through the toughest aspects of my story, we (the collective parts of my mind) need to learn how to work together as one T, even though we may always be very different from one another. I’ve learned that I actually don’t need to go through life feeling a constant tug-of-war within me, trying to figure out how to spare myself the most pain or danger every step of the way. (Note: I do not like referring to myself as a collective “we” because this feels unsafe and doesn’t fit my sense of self quite right. I never use it in conversation and I very seldom use it in therapy. I use it here because it gets my point across most effectively when talking about all parts.)

All of that being said, I was diagnosed less than a year ago, and DID is still hard for me to talk about. I’ve struggled with the stigma of this disorder for a while. I have a higher degree in psychology and swore up and down that I couldn’t imagine what it was like to live with DID. That was a protective defense, but it was also secured by societal myths and stereotypes. Although I live openly about my other diagnoses, I do not feel comfortable being open about my DID and I don’t know that I ever will. I fear others will view me as erratic, unpredictable, untrustworthy, dangerous, unstable, confusing, unlovable. I fear others will make assumptions based on media like Split or even the less harmful United States of Tara. I fear others will study me, waiting to catch a switch, not understanding that my parts are all me. I fear others will try to figure out what could be so horrible that I went through to cause this disorder - if they even believe it’s a real disorder at all. I fear others will think that DID is made up and I’m only looking for attention. 

Through Lithium & Lace, however, I hope to share more about my experiences living with DID as they unfold. I’m grateful to you for choosing to join me in that. I don’t claim to have all the answers about DID or even about my own experience, but I’m learning and I invite you to learn with me.

With love,

T
For more information about dissociative identity disorder, visit the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation or check out this article dispelling common myths.

Writing



I started keeping solid memories when I was five and a half years old, and at that point, I was somehow already a writer. My journals were instinctively my safe space to explore the infinite in my mind. The first diary I remember had a soft cover, navy blue with the galaxy printed all over - moons, stars, rocket ships. It smelled like marshmallows. It said “GIRL POWER” in pink on the front, and it featured an easily breakable lock on the side. Every day, I grabbed the matching pencil, the kind with an endless supply of replaceable pencil tips inside, and I scribbled out whatever pieces of truth my racing mind and tiny hands could muster. I never shared my writing with anyone - all the overpowering emotions, the ways I was hurting, or my desperate hope for the Powerpuff Girls to be real - but putting words to all of it made me feel more real amidst the surreal chaos. Where my soft and fearful voice failed me externally, writing empowered me internally. I wrote to survive, and when my teachers praised me for being a “good writer,” I couldn’t understand how I could be “good” at something that simply kept me alive. (The need to die crept up on me slowly over the years.)

As I've grown older, writing has become less fantastical and more mundane. Another pill I take to keep going, another way of exorcising my demons and cleansing myself enough to make it through. I stitch together words on the notepad of my phone as I fall asleep at night. I quiet the need to sketch out characters for fear that I may sketch out some parts of myself as well. My journal sits largely untouched. Although I’ve always had infinite stories, both fact and fiction, simmering within me, I’ve rarely believed it was enough for anyone else to read. I didn’t think my truth was exceptional or worth truly hearing. And now, as I am healing, growing, and learning more about my mind every day, I am realizing how that way of thinking has permeated my beliefs about my own living story. My journals, poems, and prose are woven with evidence of pure, raw survival through times so dark I’ve locked them behind a heavy door in my mind, but still it has taken me over 20 years to realize that I do have stories to write - and to tell. My mental health, my experiences, and the memories I’ve lost and misunderstood through my life are all real, all valid, and all worthy of sharing.

And so here we are. Welcome to my story. It is a toxic tangle of deadly and delicate, forever becoming balanced in my blood and in my body. It is Lithium & Lace.

With love,

T