Accidental Fudge

Updates Thursdays

Getting Through

It’s been…a mixed week.

I didn’t write much, compared to the rest of the month (only two songs instead of ~1 per day). I am reminding myself that I hit my goal, and two songs in a week is still a lot. But after so much productivity earlier, it feels a little like failure.

We had a friend in town over the weekend, which was fun. It was great to see them and have excuses to eat at several of our favorite places.

Saturday, though. Saturday was less fun.

See, by Friday night the pain from my spasmed shoulder had moved and settled quite solidly in the back of my neck, and it was…a lot. Acute, throbbing pain that came in waves. So Saturday morning I called our clinic, and managed to get an appointment with my doctor for that afternoon.

At the appointment, my doctor poked and prodded a bit and let me know that it didn’t seem like I’d slipped a disk (something I was starting to get paranoid about), and that it was probably just a bad muscle strain. He gave me a prescription for muscle relaxers, and sent me on my way.

The muscle relaxer is a controlled substance, which meant I had to turn the paper prescription into the pharmacy – they couldn’t call it in ahead. The pharmacy on site at the clinic didn’t have it, so they called around to two or three other Walgreens and finally found one that carried it.

Here’s where things went awry. I should have headed straight for that pharmacy. Instead, I checked the store hours and decided I had time to sit with my partner and our friend at a coffee shop. (If you are thinking, “But Alyx, the store hours are often different from the pharmacy hours,” you are correct.)

When we finally made it over to the pharmacy, they informed me they were closing in five minutes, and that I should try a different pharmacy about a mile away that was open later.

This is where I made my critical error. I should have just handed them the prescription and come back to pick it up in the morning. Instead, I went out and called a Lyft to get to the other pharmacy.

It had been snowing, and the ground was slushy and slick. As I waited for the Lyft to show up, I took a wrong step and came crashing down on my left side…and on my phone, which I’d been holding in my left hand.

The phone screen was shattered all to hell, and I was now hurting in more places than just my neck. But I went to the other pharmacy, hoping things would improve.

Things did not improve.

After being casually misgendered by the pharmacist and waiting several minutes (during which time I was at least able to determine that I had insurance on my phone, so I made an appointment for Sunday to get the screen replaced), I was informed that they were out of stock.

Basically, this had turned into Alyxander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I grabbed a bottle of ibuprofen, took back my prescription, and headed home.

The day ended with delicious pizza, our friend was with me the whole time, and I was able to go back to the pharmacy that had it in stock first thing Sunday morning and get the meds, so it all worked out in the end. But it was still a really rough day.

I’m still sore – the muscle relaxers and ibuprofen are helping, but it feels like awfully slow going. Still, I’m proud of myself for handling things as well as I did given the circumstances (I wanted to cry and throw a fit several times, but didn’t).

Now I’m just trying to get back into my songwriting routine.

Here’s hoping this weekend is rather less eventful than last weekend was!

Ride It Out

I mentioned last week that I was making unexpectedly excellent progress on writing for FAWM. I’ve continued to write, and I hit my goal of 14 songs in the month of February on Sunday, the 11th. (Favorites so far have been posted here.)

I don’t know where I’m finding inspiration. I am trying not to ask too many questions. I’m just going to ride this out as long as I can, and find out just how many songs I can write in 28 days.

On Thursday night last week, it snowed a whole bunch here in Chicago, and my office was closed on Friday. Which was a good thing, because thanks to whatever wonky position I slept in, I woke up with my right shoulder/neck muscles spasming.

As you might imagine, this was super discouraging and not at all conducive to writing, not to mention super painful. But I pushed through and wrote anyway. As of this writing on the evening of Wednesday, the 14th, I’ve only gone one day this month without writing. I’m really proud of that.

This weekend we have a friend coming to visit, so I may or may not get any writing done, but that’s okay. I’m happy with where I’ve gotten to so far, and excited to see where I end up by the end of the month!

Productivity

We are a week into February, and thus a week into February Album Writing Month. I’ll be honest, when I signed on for this mad endeavor, I did not expect it to go all that well. I’ve averaged about 20 songs a year since I started writing again in 2014 – less than a song every two weeks. Writing an average of a song every two days felt pretty much impossible.

But last Thursday, on February 1st, I woke up and wrote a song.

And I’ve gone on to do the same thing every day since. In fact, since I wrote multiple songs on Saturday and Sunday, as of this writing on the morning of Thursday the 8th, I’m up to eleven songs.

I have no idea what’s happening or how. I am not asking questions. I’m just getting up and writing and riding this creative wave as long as I’m able to.

I have been less productive elsewhere in my life, although I did a fair bit of cooking last night and washed a whole lotta dishes. (I’ve actually been pretty cranky this week, about most things aside from the high of finishing songs. I’m not really sure what to do about that.) But at least I’m finding things to write about!

Write Write Write

I almost forgot to write a blog post this week.

I usually write on Wednesdays and schedule the post to go live on Thursday. But yesterday I was too busy being anxious about today being the first day of February to remember to write a blog post.

See, I made the possibly questionable decision to sign up for February Album Writing Month. The goal is to write 14 songs in the 28 days of February. When I’m in songwriting classes, I write a song a week. If I’m really ambitious, I might write two. But a song every other day? That’s a lot. Like, really a lot.

And as I looked over my schedule for February, I realized that my evenings are largely booked all month long. Which means if I’m going to do this thing, I’m going to have to get up around 5am every morning to write.

I have been struggling with mornings again lately, and so I was pretty worried going into today that I was going to oversleep.

But guess what?

I didn’t oversleep.

And guess what else?

I WROTE A SONG! I finished up just before 7, which meant I had plenty of time to get ready for work, too.

I don’t know how the rest of the month will go, and I’m taking it one day at a time. But this feels like a really strong start, and I’m quite chuffed that it worked out as well as it did.

Dysphoria and Dysmorphia Monsters

I had a weird day yesterday. I had to get up early to go to PT before work, and that was fine, and then I missed the bus I was hoping to take to get to work on time, which wasn’t a huge deal – I knew I’d have to stay about half an hour later than usual, which is annoying, but not impossible.

But then I got to work, and little things seemed to throw me way off-kilter. (Like when I walked in and discovered that whatever facilities person was working the night before had left my trash can on my chair after emptying it. Who does that?) I was irritable, and easily flustered. And most of all, I felt really, really unsettled in my body.

It wasn’t until I got home and caught an unfortunate glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror in which I felt I looked like I still had breasts that I started realizing what the problem might be.

Dysphoria is a hard thing to explain, even to other people who experience it, sometimes – because while there are common threads of experience, everyone’s relationship with their body is different. A lot of people are familiar with the feeling of body dysmorphia, but dysphoria is…well, it’s different. Sometimes related, but different. It’s not so much having an objectively inaccurate perception of what your body looks or feels like as it is the knowing that some part of your anatomy or physiology is wrong, and feels like it doesn’t belong to you.

When I first came out as genderqueer, I didn’t really experience body-related dysphoria, but I hated my voice. It made me feel so utterly wrong in my body, like it wasn’t even my voice at all.

As time went on, I did start to experience body dysphoria, but I didn’t think I could call it that, because it looked different for me than it did for other trans folks I knew. It wasn’t so much that I hated my body as it was that parts of it (my chest in particular) felt like they weren’t mine, and I didn’t know what to do with them.

Things have been a lot better in general since I had top surgery, because that directly addressed the greatest source of my dysphoria. I think because I hadn’t had really intense feelings of wrongness in my body since then, I kind of let myself get lulled into this false sense of security, like it was over and I didn’t have to deal with it anymore.

But when I think about yesterday, and how uncomfortable I felt in my body, and how viscerally I reacted to seeing a reflection that didn’t feel accurate…well, I’m realizing now that it was a visit from the fraternal twin monsters of dysphoria and dysmorphia. Surgery wasn’t a magical fix for everything, which I knew, but kind of forgot. Same with hormones. Because of the person I am and the body I have, I will probably always struggle with these monsters from time to time. Which is…not fun.

I debated back and forth about whether I wanted to write about this at all, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that it took me years to recognize what dysphoria looked like for me because everyone else’s story sounded different from mine, and I feel the need to remind folks that every trans person’s story is different (just like every cis person’s story is different). We all experience the world and ourselves in different ways, and we need to make space for that.

Winter Blahs

I am having a very blah sort of week. I’m not sad, exactly. I just feel very unmotivated, and tired, and nothing sounds like very much fun or like anything I want to do. All I really want to do is hibernate.

It wasn’t until I was on my way to therapy on Monday that I realized that this is probably a weird instance of the depressive side of my Bipolar cycle sneaking up on me. Usually when I’m heading into a depressive episode, I can tell – I feel really down. But “down” doesn’t feel like the right word for this. It’s just…blah.

It was a struggle to get anything done at work last week. It was a struggle to write my song for songwriting class (and my goal was actually to write TWO songs last week). It was a struggle to get myself to show up for my volunteer shift and for the social things I’d committed to doing (even though all of those things ended up being fine). I had a minor breakdown last Thursday evening, because I got home at the end of a long day, and even though I’d made a plan and knew what I should get done, none of those things actually happened. I got things done, but none of them were things on my to do list, and I felt like an enormous failure.

Since I was able to identify this as depression on Monday, it’s been a little easier – if not to find motivation or give-a-damn, at least to sit quietly with the blah-ness of it all and recognize that this, too, shall pass. Yesterday the sun was out, and I had the same revelation I do every time we get through a cloudy spate of days and come out the other side into sunlight – I am incredibly affected by the weather. I should probably definitely be taking vitamin D.

In the meantime, I’m finding ways to cope. I’m listening to a lot of Dar Williams (even when I’m not listening to Dar Williams, my brain’s playing The Christians and the Pagans or The Babysitter’s Here or When I Was A Boy). I’m taking time to write down what I’m anxious about. I’m thinking a lot about the Starfinder game I’m going to start playing soon. I’m dreaming up new tattoos (even though I can’t afford a new tattoo right now). I’m celebrating the fact that I pushed my credit card debt down under the next $1000 since making a payment last week and getting a disputed charge taken care of. (I’m trying not to be disappointed that I haven’t gotten farther in the process of paying it off.) I’m trying to remind myself that while yes, I probably should be reading and knitting and writing more, the fact that I’m not doing it right now does not mean that this is what my life is going to be like forever. Once again: this, too, shall pass.

Plans

After I posted last week about my word of the year being “Action”…I promptly caught the cold from hell and lost several days to that nonsense. I was out of the office for three of the last five work days, and spent a lot of time annoyed by the fact that I couldn’t breathe through half my nose and kept waking myself up coughing. But I finally (FINALLY) and starting to feel more human again, so now I feel like it’s time to move forward with starting 2018 (a little over a week late, but hey, who’s counting?).

I’m continuing PT for my knee, which is helping a lot. It also makes me whine a lot, because the exercises are HARD (but feel like they shouldn’t be). I’m working on being more gracious about it and grateful for the progress I’m making.

Songwriting class started this week, and I’m trying to hit the ground running, so I have a shot at hitting my goal of 40 songs written this year (twice the number I’ve written each of the past two years).

I’m working on anxiety coping mechanisms in therapy. One of the things I’m trying this week is writing down my anxieties, in the hopes that getting them out of my head onto paper will make it easier to talk myself down. So far it seems like it’s helpful, but it’s only been a couple of days, so jury’s still out. I left my session this week with several ideas to try, though, so if this doesn’t work out, I have other options.

One of the things I want to do a better job of this year is actually planning out my weeks. There’s a big part of me that hates the idea of being boxed into a rigid schedule, but I also recognize that I’m more productive if I have a plan. If the only way I will make time to write songs or read books or whatever else I want to do is if I block out time in my schedule every week, then that’s what I need to do.

I’m trying to keep my goals reasonable, to not bite off more than I can chew in the first two weeks of the year, because I don’t want to burn out. Finding the balance there is a challenge.

Action

Happy New Year, readers! The adventure(?) that was 2017 has ended, and 2018 has begun. Last year was a rough one on a global level, but while my generalized anxiety reached new heights, I can’t say it was a terrible year for me personally. Sure, I didn’t knit as much as I usually do and I spent a lot of the year feeling an overwhelmingly hopeless sense of doom…but I also strengthened some really meaningful friendships, went to Song School, wrote 20 new songs…and I survived. A lot of pieces of my life that felt chaotic and unsettled for a long time have calmed down significantly, to the point where I feel like I’m coming out of survival/energy conservation mode and into a place where I can DO things.

Which brings me to the point of this first post of 2018. I don’t do a lot with concrete resolutions, but I’ve liked the idea that I’ve seen of choosing a word with which to frame the new year. My word for 2018: Action. I am still sussing out exactly what that means for my year, but I know it means a few things for sure:

  1. Taking better care of my mental health, particularly in terms of anxiety. I am back in therapy with a new therapist, and my goal is to work on finding better coping mechanisms and strategies for dealing with the anxiety that has become a constant under the current political administration in the U.S. I’ve identified some triggers and some key areas where I shut down, and while I know this will be hard work, I am at a point where I feel like I can do it.
  2. Taking better care of myself physically. I’ve started physical therapy for my right knee, which has been acting up since Thanksgiving, and as long as I keep up with the exercises, it really does help. Today I’m going to the doctor to follow up on some high blood pressure results from the last time I was there. I have a few other longstanding issues that I want to work on, too (chronic pain, follow-up on some issues I had before we moved to Chicago that should probably be checked out).
  3. Being more politically active. I want to call congresspeople, and be involved in local politics somehow, and stay outraged and stay active. Because this nightmare of an administration isn’t going away on its own. I can’t do everything, I can’t fix it all, but what little bit is in my control, I feel like I need to follow through on.

The brilliant S. Bear Bergman wrote a really wonderful bit about this in his Ask Bear column this week, and you should read it here if you, like me, are feeling overwhelmed here at the start of 2018. Here’s to tackling this new year “bird by bird” (to quote Anne Lamott), or “one penguin at a time” (to quote Bear’s article). We can only do what we can do. For myself, that means better self-care and more external action. Inertia is hard to overcome, but it’s time.

Sometimes Self-Care Looks Like…

We’re less than one week from Christmas. On Saturday, my partner and I will get up at an ungodly hour of the morning and drive to Minnesota, where we’ll spend a week with family. (Incidentally, there may or may not be a blog next week, on account of the holidays.)

As 2017 draws to a close, and I find my life in a relatively stable place overall, I am allowing myself some time to more closely examine the areas of my life that have long been neglected in favor of what felt like more pressing crises.

One of those areas is anxiety management. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, so I’m no stranger to anxiety, but with the current state of the world, I’m finding the coping mechanisms I have aren’t sufficient. I’m also noticing where my anxiety is affecting other areas of my life – how it makes me shut down around conflict, how it destroys my productivity at work, how it keeps me from enjoying social situations that didn’t used to be a problem. I had my first visit with a new therapist on Monday. Sometimes in therapy in the past I’ve had trouble articulating why I was there, and what I needed, but this new therapist was able to sort of draw that out of me and help me frame my goals for therapy more solidly than I’ve been able to in the past. I think things are going to work out well with them.

Another area that I’ve been neglecting is more physical. There are a lot of aspects of my physical health that I am not great at paying attention to, but I’ve been having particular trouble with my knees lately, as a joint issue I was diagnosed with in high school has flared up again. It’s done this occasionally over the years, but now my right knee has been swollen and stiff for a month, and my left knee is getting sore from compensating for it. Thankfully, this time when it flared up, I made an appointment with my doctor right away, who referred me to a physical therapist. I had my first PT appointment yesterday, and it was kind of miraculous how much of a difference a single, half-hour appointment made. I have instructions to do some stretching exercises every few hours during the day for the next couple of weeks, until my next appointment, and it’s encouraging to see progress on the first day.

Sometimes self-care looks like finding a new therapist, even if the process of finding a new therapist is, itself, kind of anxiety-inducing.

Sometimes self-care looks like making that doctor’s appointment that probably should have been scheduled months ago.

Sometimes self-care looks like knitting selfishly after working on a rare unselfish project for a couple of months. I knit my nephew a sweater for Christmas, and while it was fun and it looks super cute and I think he’ll like it, there’s something immensely satisfying about working on a sweater for myself with tons of cables (which is far and away my favorite type of project to work on).

The holidays are rough for a lot of people, for all sorts of reasons. My own holiday is looking like it’ll be bittersweet – I get to spend time with all sorts of people I care about, which will be lovely, but my 15-year-old dog (okay, she’s my parents’ dog, but we got her the summer I turned 14, so she’s still my dog) is not doing well, and it’s almost certain that next week I’ll be saying goodbye for the last time. I’m already sad, thinking about it, as much as I’m grateful that I will get one last chance to see her. Sometimes, for me, self-care looks like blocking out some time in my schedule to process the feelings I don’t have space for, say, at work. Which is all to say that this is a time of year where self-care is particularly important, and that self-care is going to look different for everyone.

I wish all of you the happiest holidays you can manage, and I hope you all find ways to take care of yourselves through the rough patches.

Brief Bright Spots

It feels like it’s been a long week. In reality, I stayed home from work on Monday after waking up feeling feverish, and I’ve been spending a lot of time sleeping as I try to fight off this annoying cold that isn’t awful but just won’t leave. I’m still dealing with anxiety. But there have been some distinct bright spots in the week, so I’m going to focus on those today.

  1. We started putting up holiday decorations in our apartment. We have lights around the windows, and the (fake) tree is up. We still need to get the lights on the tree plugged in (we had to acquire another extension cord first – there’s a paucity of outlets in our apartment), and put the ornaments on, but that should happen in the next few days. I have complicated feelings about Christmas (it no longer holds particular religious significance for me, and the capitalist overtones of the secular side of the holiday are overwhelming and upsetting), but I do like the decorations, especially the lights. So that’s been fun.
  2. I found out my knee is not untreatably messed up. My right knee has been swollen and achy for a few weeks. Finally made it to the doctor last week, and while it looks like I need physical therapy (currently waiting on a referral), it doesn’t appear to be anything irreparable. So that was encouraging.
  3. I scheduled an intake appointment with a new therapist. My last therapist, who I adored, moved to Portland in September. I felt like I was doing mostly okay, but I’m recognizing that I’m still dealing with a lot of anxiety. I’m also finding, as my life in general becomes more stable, that there are areas of my psyche I have avoided dealing with in the past that are now coming to the surface, so it feels like a good time to find someone to process all of that with. I don’t know whether things will work out schedule-wise with this particular person, but I’m optimistic.
  4. I wrote a letter. I have this pen pal in Germany who I’ve been corresponding with off and on since 2013. He is a great pen pal and regularly sends me postcards, interspersed with occasional longer letters and some photographs he’s taken. I have been a horrible pen pal, and have maybe written to him once all this year. But this week, after receiving yet another postcard from him, I finally sat down and wrote him a proper letter. It reminded me that I really enjoy letter writing, when I actually sit down to do it. I am hoping to do more of this in 2018.
  5. Doug Jones beat Roy Moore for the Alabama seat in the Senate. I had not fully processed how much tension I was carrying about this until I got a text from my dad on Tuesday night announcing that Jones had won. It’s restored a little bit of my faith in our collective humanity, and has me feeling tentatively hopeful about next year’s midterm elections. I’m still disgusted that it was a close race and that the majority of white people (including the majority of white women) voted for a pedophile. In fact, 80% of voters who self-identified as white evangelical/born-again Christians voted for Moore. (Stats found at Washington Post and NBC.) White Christians, do better. Call this out. This is not just a southern problem – the whole country was complicit in electing 45. This is a white people problem, and especially a white evangelical problem. I found this opinion piece in the Washington Post really on point – worth a read.

All that to say that while things still feel pretty shaky on a global level, personally, I’m doing okay. Or if I’m not exactly okay, I’m finding ways to get there. And really, that’s about all I can ask for right now.

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