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Bad dreams

Woke up very early from bad dreams. The last one, right before I woke up, involved all kinds of simultaneous work and home disasters. I seemed to work in some sort of office environment, but it seemed to somehow exist in the same space as my home, even though there were various other employees, supervisors, bosses, secretaries, and such. The washing machine was broken in some dramatic fashion, while something was leaking from the stove (pooling liquid on the ground) and I wasn't sure if it was oil or water, and if it was oil then fire could be imminent. No one was willing to help me with any of this, though I asked both Shannon and my brother to come at least smell the stove liquid to see if they could figure out if it was a danger. They both did, but then walked away in the utter chaos without giving me any feedback.

The work computer was broken and I was being blamed for not having a receipt, even though I hadn't been the person in the office who purchased it and that person had never given me the receipt. I tried to pick a flaking piece of plastic off the new work phone, and it ended up ripping a whole strip of hard plastic off the top so that the whole thing was going to need to be replaced.

And I received a MANY-paged hand-written letter from our annoying "millennial" neighbors (the ones I don't like IRL because they threw a fit & blamed *us* when their truck was towed from in front of our house due to their own illegal negligence) blaming us for something involving dogs, but I hadn't actually read it yet. I'd seen the very end of the letter, though, and it said that they were going to be moving away "in Danny Boy," which apparently meant February (dream logic), and I was happy that they would be leaving, and this somehow also related to our own plans to move to Hawaii, but I didn't want to read their fucking whiny letter & wanted to just punt it to Shannon, but it was something I was going to have to deal with on my own. They had also included in the envelope a bunch of literal individual alphabet letters which would form some kind of message when I arranged them into the correct formation, but I knew I wouldn't be able to decipher that message until I'd read the inevitably whiny, responsibility-deflecting, us-blaming letter, which I wished I could just throw into the inevitably imminent stove-leak kitchen fire.

The dream was a constant barrage of blame and responsibility and chaos and just one thing on top of another on top of another on top of another until I felt like I was going to scream and no one would help me.

When I woke up, around 7, I decided I didn't want to return to that lovely, relaxing world & so I'd just get up & maybe read some fanfic or something, since I'd already gotten nearly 8 hours of sleep. It was still dark outside, but I'd sorta HAD IT with the sleep world, because it was way more stressful than the real world at the moment. Then I decided I should write this all down, because my therapist always loves to talk about my dreams. And that brings me to now, when I think I'll sit back and read some Dan and Phil until it's time to go hang with Crystal & Julia in our usual Thursday morning get-together.
Been sick for the past 6 days because of my flu shot. Unfortunately, the standard flu shot (the only one that is widely available) is incubated in egg, and so for some reason my body always reacts like I've just had about a dozen eggs injected into my body simultaneously. Given the fact that 3 eggs in a week is enough to make me a bit ill for a couple days, the flu shot just sends my digestive system into complete panic for ages. But CWC is such a petri dish of germs (seriously, it's like a pre-school) that I prefer to get the flu shot, not only for my own protection but also so that I won't contribute to the spread of plagues at CWC. Shannon points out that once we've moved to Hawaii & I'm not going to CWC anymore, I might want to just stop getting flu shots, because they make me sick enough that it just might not be worth it.

Feeling annoyed at my mom. The last time she & Nally came to visit (a couple years ago), she said this would be their last visit—that I would always have to be the one flying out to visit them from now on—because she couldn't afford it anymore now that she's retired. And then she keeps telling me about her various travels around the East Coast since then. Today I got email telling me all about her recent trip to New York, Vermont, and Maine, and mentioning that she's going to Ireland for a week in March. You can afford to go to Ireland, but you can't afford to visit your own fucking daughter? I mean, it wasn't like she said, "I won't be able to visit as often." She said she wouldn't be coming to visit me EVER AGAIN.

I feel weird about being ticked about it, because Shannon & I are planning a trip to the U.K. next year, and so it seems sort of hypocritical to be annoyed with my mom for going to Ireland. But it's not her trip to Ireland that ticks me off: it's the fact that she said she wouldn't come to visit ME anymore because she can't AFFORD it, but she can apparently afford all this other traveling. I just feel like it was a lame excuse, that she loves to travel but doesn't give a shit about me.

But in her email today she also mentioned that Nally is growing his hair out because right now it's too short to dye it & he wants to dye it blue like mine. That made me smile the biggest smile in ages. It made me feel connected to him & kinda like "Oh, my little brother looks up to me & wants to be like me" & that was really nice. He & I had a phone date a couple weeks ago & it was great to talk with him. He seems to be doing pretty well.

While I've been sick, I've become obsessed with Tumblr, which never interested me before. There's an active fan community there for these two British YouTubers I've been following obsessively, AmazingPhil (Phil Lester) and danisnotonfire (Dan Howell). Tumblr (and Twitter, which I've also been tentatively exploring for mostly the same reason) sort of puzzles me, but I've been having fun. Here's one of Dan's most recent videos (with a bit of Phil featured, because they're housemates & were heading out on tour together in the story related in the video), which I really liked:

And a recent Phil video, to show his endearing vloggy style:

Must admit, I'm more of a Phil fan, though I love them both. Dan's very articulate and often thought-provoking, but Phil's a Hufflepuff, like me. His totally unself-conscious dorkiness just makes me smile.

I need an icon with my bue hair. Perhaps I'll go make one for this post.

Is it "brave" to dye your hair blue?

I don't see my friend Peni very often, but she was my inspiration to dye my hair the first time & to continue trying, because she dyes her hair with really cool ombre effects & encouraged me to stop worrying about the mess and whether it would turn out "right" & just do it. This was November of last year. Anyway, she continues to have an interest in my hair color, but I haven't seen her since this most recent dye job, so I posted a photo on Facebook in which I tried to show a bit more of the variation in the colors:

Another friend, Katherine, tagged someone I don't know in the comments & encouraged her to dye her hair similarly, telling her that this was her color. The friend responded, "I love the color! If I were only brave enough to color my hair like that..."

It made me stop in my tracks. "Brave"? It had never occurred to me that anyone would consider it "brave" to dye my hair. My only concerns had been practical ones. Would the color last long enough to be worth all the time and trouble of the dyeing process? Would it make an ungodly mess? How would I deal with the inevitable roots, since my hair grows so fast? But saying that it's "brave" implies a fear of other people's reactions, and that never occurred to me. I didn't dye my hair to please anyone but myself (okay, and Shannon, since he told me he really liked the idea) & I really never thought about what other people would think. That's why I was so shocked when everyone—friends and strangers alike—responded so enthusiastically and vocally. I still get compliments from complete strangers pretty much every day. And it isn't just people I pass on the sidewalk or meet in the pharmacy check-out line: I've had an old man lean out of a second-story apartment window to yell down that he loves the color, and I've had people call out compliments from passing cars. I've had people—from the contractor caulking our bathtub to my primary care doctor at my annual physical—ask if they could touch it. It's been really surprising, and I think that's primarily because I really didn't factor other people into the equation when I made & executed the Blue Hair Plan.

So it never struck me as "brave," and this stranger's comment on my Facebook post puzzled me for a couple days. But then I remembered that I spent the first 30-40 years of my life doing my level best to be completely invisible, to blend in with the wallpaper, to avoid being noticed at all costs. Life with my violently abusive step-father had taught me that silence and invisibility were my best defenses against the scary things in the world, and I'd taken those lessons very much to heart. I wore the blandest clothes possible, never any bright colors or loud prints. When I got to college, I started wearing pretty much nothing but jeans and t-shirts, a trend that continued up until only a few years ago. I didn't wear jewelry or other accessories. I didn't paint my toenails. I didn't do anything that I thought might make anybody look at me and make any kind of comment.

So I realized that the "me" of 30 years ago would NEVER have dyed her hair this color, not in a MILLION years. The prospect of all those people staring at me every day would have been absolutely horrifying, possibly even terrifying. And then I realized that the "me" of 20 years ago wouldn't have dyed her hair this color, either ... and the "me" of 10 years ago wouldn't have done it, either! But the "me" of today never even worried about what other people would think or if they would stare or if it would make me vulnerably VISIBLE. I did what was once utterly unthinkable by calling attention to myself. There was a time in my life when that would have meant getting smacked, or at least taunted, definitely hurt in some way, but apparently I've left that time behind, because that fear just wasn't in me when I decided to dye my hair blue. It didn't feel brave—it just felt like something fun to do. But the "me" of 10 or 20 or 30 years ago would have considered it unthinkably brave.

So I made this little picture, showing the transformation. This is what 15 years of hard work & therapy can do.


Scary dreams about hiding from murderers

Scary dreams about murderers last night. I mostly remember hiding from them. They were in the same house as me, and it was two different groups of disparately scary men who had joined together, like a motorcycle gang and the mafia or something, and they were hunting down all the people in the very large house (my family? my friends?) and killing them all, and I knew I was in imminent danger the whole time.

At one point, it was nighttime, and the whole house was dark, and I knew the murderers were coming, but I had nowhere good to hide. A man I knew and trusted (Shannon? Donald? Jay?) was asleep in the room, and I wanted to hide under his bed to sleep where I would feel safe, but the bed was too low to the ground & I couldn't fit underneath, so I slept on the floor next to the bed, knowing full well that I was totally vulnerable in that location and that the murderers were sure to find me in the night and that I was going to die. But then I didn't die, somehow, and had to keep sneaking around the house hiding the next day.

At another point, I was in a room in full light, and the murderers came in, and I held very still, and it seemed like they weren't noticing me. Like magic! Like they thought I was a statue or a mannequin! But then one of them walked up to me and started gesturing to my face or something and commenting on me & I realized that they could see me & knew I was there, and I waited for a moment when I thought they weren't looking & ran out of the room to find somewhere else to hide.

Obviously Ernie-related trauma dreams, though I don't know why they're plaguing me right now (the past two nights!). During the day, I haven't been having too rough a time, haven't been thinking about the past much, been working on a fairly optimistic, positive, future-looking art project (something I can do to allay the boredom while sick without wearing myself out). Something to discuss with my therapist on Wednesday. She LOOOOOVES when I talk about my dreams.

Dreams of abandonment

Weird dreams last night about people moving out and leaving me behind (possibly due to recent conversations about whether my moving to the Bay Area was an abandonment of my brother and/or whether my mom moving to Florida was an abandonment of me):

In the dream right before I woke up this morning, I was living with a housemate (I think it was my friend Sharon in England, who was never my housemate but we did live in the same dorm), and she had decided to move out very suddenly. It had something to do with wanting to move out before her work knew, so that she could have some time before they wanted her to start interviewing people (because for some reason her moving was going to mean they would need to hire another person, not to replace her but to help her). As she packed up her stuff, the apartment looked very empty, especially the bookcases.

Pretty sure it was in the same dream: I had a baby, still an infant, and the woman who I’d hired to take care of her when I wasn’t around wore these strange, Roman-sandal-looking leather laces up both her forearms. I hadn’t asked about them, but at some point she started talking about them (while she was leaning ominously over my baby’s crib), and they had some freaky meaning, like each cross of the leather related to some bad deed that she wanted to do but wouldn’t allow herself, or someone she’d harmed, or something like that … something that made me think, “I need to get this freaky violent lady away from my kid!”

For some reason, I thought I might be less lonely in Sharon’s absence if I started taking my baby with me to work each day. (I did this with Cobweb and Munchkin for the first couple weeks I had them, when they were tiny kittens.) I wasn’t sure my boss would be okay with it, though, or if I’d be able to do my job effectively while also taking care of a baby.

Pretty sure it was in the same dream: The authorities found a dead body, and I saw them lifting it in the distance with a crane. I thought they were lifting it out of a lake, and that it was someone who’d drowned, and I thought maybe the body was bloated and that’s why I couldn’t make any sense out of the shape. I thought maybe it was a pregnant lady, and that’s why the shape was so weird. It turned out that it was actually a young guy, and he’d been hit by a car near CWC. The person telling me referred to a very dangerous “jump crossing” in the area, and said that the guy had been hit there & that I should be careful when crossing the street. (This was all surely a reference to the 19-year-old guy who got shot and killed near CWC about a week ago.)

Pretty sure it was in the same dream: I was helping some man, maybe working for him, when I overheard him telling someone he was going to plant phones (and I was somehow helping him with the phones, unknowingly) on 20 people in downtown Berkeley, and he was going to target “tech-oriented people” (which made me think in the dream that Shannon would be in danger for some reason), and the planted phones would have some kind of incriminating material that would get them in trouble with the police. I wasn’t sure what to do about the whole thing, how to protect his intended victims, but I thought I could at least warn Shannon and anyone I knew to watch their bags and pockets & make sure no one was able to plant anything on them.

But the dream ended with me back at the apartment, and Sharon’s boyfriend or father (her dad actually died the year I was in Scotland) or Guy of Some Sort was there picking up the last of her stuff, and the apartment looked completely barren, almost like all *my* stuff was gone, too. I was trying to think about how this could be a good thing, how I could rearrange my stuff and take advantage of all the extra room, especially on the bookcases, but mostly I felt sad, and said (presumably to the guy hauling the boxes away) that it was going to be very lonely without her.


In a completely separate dream earlier in the night, I dreamed that I was living with my friend Julia and some third housemate (not Crystal). Julia and I were close, but the third housemate didn’t really connect with us, so she didn’t hang around the apartment with us much, so I didn’t know her very well.

Third Housemate Girl decided she was going to move out, and her dad came to pick up her stuff, and he was a scary, criminal-type guy. I didn’t like having him in our house! But he was boxing up her stuff, so we let him get to it. He tried to make conversation with me, but I was totally scared of him & so avoided him. (Ernie reference?)

Then Julia got a notice that she’d gotten another apartment she’d applied for, and it was going to have much more affordable rent and be just generally a lot better for her, so she was moving out, too! While I didn’t care much about Third Housemate Girl moving out, I was really sad that Julia was going to move! But then Julia said that I could come with her to the new place, though it would be much smaller, and we could just share the cheaper rent. I wasn’t sure this would work, though, because I definitely need a private room of my own where I can close the door and get solitude when I need it & it seemed unlikely that the new apartment would be large enough for that to be feasible. The dream ended without the question being resolved.

What’s weird is that I wasn’t worried about the practical, pragmatic things that immediately come to mind when I’m *awake*, such as “How can I afford the rent if my housemates leave?” or “Do I need to find new housemates?” In both dreams, I was only worried about the social aspect, mostly about being lonely (and needing my own space).


Songs that remind me of Shannon

Been wanting to make a list of songs that remind me of Shannon. I don't know how to do that Spotify thing, so I'll just link to YouTube videos:

Ed Sheeran, "Thinking Out Loud"
(Just been listening to this a lot lately & feeling sappily romantic)

Ingrid Michaelson, "The Way I Am"

Jason Mraz, "The Remedy (I Won't Worry)"
(Song about post-9/11 paranoia, but with a Shannon-like message of "chill out, people!")

Jonathan Coulton, "My Monkey"
(What a good relationship is really like)

Adam Sandler, "I Wanna Grow Old with You"
(Couldn't find a good version of this on YouTube, but here's the clip from The Wedding Singer)

Queen, "You're My Best Friend"

Bill Withers, "Lean on Me"

Assorted Intricacies, "Roll A D6"
(Okay, this one doesn't remind me of my *relationship* with Shannon, just Shannon himself—I did first meet him at a roleplaying session, after all!)

Feeling ... something unpleasant

Been feeling weird lately: withdrawn, upset, unhappy, and just exhausted by everything. On Tuesday in the art room, at a loss for what to work on, I turned to my old stand-by, the self-portrait, because it often helps me figure out what's going on inside when I'm having trouble putting things into words or even identifying what's happening. This was the resulting watercolor:


I started out with the hair, which was cheerful enough, but then it all went pretty unpleasant from there. When I finished, I looked at it & thought, "Hmm. I'm apparently not doing that well." It's gratifying and interesting to me that art can be so effective at helping me figure out my emotions when they're confusing the heck out of me.

On Wednesday, my therapist asked me lots of questions, trying to explore what flavor of "unhappy," I was feeling, concerned that I might be slipping into depression, but I explained that depression (for me) tends to feel very passive, and I'm feeling pretty actively unhappy right now. There's an energy behind it, one that resulted in a very cranky, fight-picking email to my mom a couple days ago. With my therapist, I came to the conclusion that I'm angry, but I still feel pretty confused. Anger isn't a very comfortable emotion for me, as I tend to identify it with abuse and violence (since that's what anger always meant when I was young). I try to remind myself that anger isn't a good or bad thing in and of itself, that it's only if you react to it by mistreating others (or yourself) that it becomes a problem; but I think I'm still having trouble dealing with feeling angry, especially as there isn't anything currently happening in my life which I can pin down as a cause. I think it's all about past events.

I've been thinking about starting work again on my "Trauma Project," the collage book I started last year about the upsetting and damaging things that happened in my childhood. The first collage book I did, which focused on my reaction to my kidney disease diagnosis, really helped me express and process the opaque emotions I was having at the time. I think getting back to the Trauma Project might help with the stuff that's got me tied up in knots right now. But it's scary to contemplate, because it opens this whole upsetting can of emotional worms that has overwhelmed me in the past. But not opening that can of worms seems to leave me in this emotionally constipated place of confusion and vague, persistent unhappiness.

Mostly about blue hair

I'm going to try to start writing more often. Yeah, I say that every so often, and then I go a few weeks without writing, but my friend Alan (as opposed to my brother Alan, who is also a friend) posted a FB link to an article about "morning pages," and it made me think about how much clearer I feel emotionally when I'm writing on a regular basis. So I'm going to try.

I dyed my hair on Sunday, and it was quite an adventure. I'd decided that I wanted to do something more like what I'd originally intended when I paid Gina the Hair-Puller about a month ago, with streaks of different shades of blue. So I ended up mixing up 5 different shades of Splat-brand blue dyes: Vibrant Blue (a primary-color blue with a hint of green in it), Blue Envy (a primary-color blue with a hint of purple in it), Aqua Rush (a definite blue-green), Aqua Rush mixed with Neon Green (for a very greenish blue), and Blue Envy mixed with Purple Desire (for a very purplish blue). I did strands of the various shades, working my way through layer after layer of my very thick hair (which I bleached first, for optimal vivid color), doing some strands with ombre effects (e.g., starting with Vibrant Blue at the top, then shading into Aqua Rush at the bottom). The process of applying the dyes took literally 2 hours! I have sooo much hair! When I went to rinse it out 6 hours later (I let the dye sit on my hair for as long as I could tolerate, in hopes that the color will last better.), I dyed the entire shower stall and tub in what looked like blue arterial spray. It was like an episode of "Dexter." I couldn't get the water to run clear & eventually gave up after about 45 minutes of determined rinsing, figuring that I'll just let some of the dye stay in my hair a few days before rinsing again, because I wanted to get started on cleaning the tub, tiles, and sliding glass doors before they stained permanently. (I should have taken an extra Xanax before starting this whole dyeing project.) So then I spent an additional hour cleaning up not only the tub/shower but also myself, because I had dyed my hands dark blue-ish purple while rinsing, my forehead completely blue while the dye was sitting for 6 hours, and one side of my neck a vivid bruise-purple. Lesson of the day: with a bit of effort and persistence, make-up remover works great for getting Splat semi-permanent dye off your skin. Then I blow-dried my hair (since it hadn't rinsed to clear and so I was nervous about dripping dye all over the house) and LOVED the result! There isn't as much greeny-blue visible on the top layer as I'd hoped (it got blue-ified because I didn't keep it wrapped in foil to protect it from adulteration), but there are definite, obvious variations in color from the different blues. And when I pull my hair back, you can see more of the green from underneath. It's a million times better than what Gina the Hair-Puller did for me last month!

Me with hair in shades of blue

I keep being tempted to write a FB post about the public response I've been getting to my new hair, but I've been feeling shy about it, because people have been going CRAZY over the new color. The response has been so overwhelmingly enthusiastic—from not only friends but also numerous complete strangers on the street (in only one day!)—that it feels like bragging to even mention it. But it's been very gratifying and has made me smile a lot. Walking down the street with my headphones on, only to have strangers of all ages and ethnicities stop me by gesturing wildly at their hair, pointing at my hair, beaming excitedly, and saying things I can't hear until I remove the earbuds has been surprisingly wonderful. It doesn't feel invasive, as I'd expect, because my hair just seems to be making people so happy ... which makes *me* happy, in turn. People keep telling me that it looks gorgeous, which maybe makes all the time and effort and cleaning worthwhile. Because now, if I take care of it, I should be able to enjoy the fruits of my dyeing labor for months to come. One day of effort=months of enjoyment. It makes me happy every time I look in the mirror, so I guess it was worth it!

In other, non-hair related news, I've been working on a new art project this past week, and (like the hair color) it too is making me happy. It's a collage of a flowering tree I saw in Kaua'i on our last visit, and I think I'll write more about it and what it means to me in some future journal entry when the project is further along and I can post a photo. Currently, I have only the background (watercolor grass and sky) and collaged bare tree. Now I need to cut a dozen or so flowers out of white paper to glue onto the branches and grass. My art projects are always so involved! But I'm really enjoying it. It's been months since I felt able to do any real art—my only "art" being coloring in coloring books—and it makes such a huge difference in how I feel. But I can't force it like I can with writing. If I don't have any art inspiration, I just don't have any art inspiration. With writing, I can at least write about not knowing what to write, and that usually gets me rolling *somewhere*. With art, I just stare at the blank page and panic at my utter lack of creative impulse. So it's nice to be feeling inspired again.

Okay. We have a contractor due to come over soon (dealing with our continuingly problematic downstairs bathroom), so I'd better wrap this up and get things ready.
Since 2005, I've been a member of an organization which is now called the Creative Wellness Center (originally called the Creative Living Center). It's a Berkeley institution that has been around for about 45 years to offer a supportive community for adults with mental illness. It was announced on Friday that there is going to be a massive overhaul of the program, and I'm pretty upset about it.

Who Are the Members of CWC?

In order to become a member of CWC, a person goes through a screening process that involves providing a reference (usually a therapist, psychiatrist, or case manager who explains the person's mental health issues) and an interview, but membership is not too strictly limited, as members vary widely in their type of mental illness and their level of functioning.

There are members with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, dissociative identity disorder (DID, previously called "multiple personality disorder"), depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and traumatic brain injury, to name just a few. Some have a "dual diagnosis," meaning that they are battling addiction and mental illness at the same time. Some live in "board-and-care" group homes with "payees" to handle their money; some live with family; and some live independently. Many of us have been hospitalized at one time or another for mental health reasons.

There are members who barely speak, or who only mumble incoherently, or who speak at length in seemingly nonsensical rambles, but there are also members who can carry on a deeply intellectual conversation about academic topics or the state of the world. There are members who have graduate degrees, who are married, who are caring for elderly parents suffering from dementia, who have held serious jobs such as an urgent care nurse. Some have adult children; some even have grandchildren.

There are members who function well enough to co-facilitate therapy groups, and there are others who suffer from debilitating delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, or other psychotic symptoms, people who disrupt groups with sudden paranoid accusations that someone has been saying mean things about them or who rant at length about the extremely restrictive messages Jesus has been sending to them through the radio about what foods they shouldn't eat. Some are able to control themselves quite well, while others have outbursts they can't control. Some drool. Some interrupt when it's inappropriate or laugh at odd times. And some are people you would meet out in "the real world" and never guess that they suffer mental illness at all. Some of us seem quite "normal." Some of us definitely don't. We all accept each other at CWC.

The membership is somewhat racially diverse, consisting of perhaps 50% white members, 25% black members, and 25% Asian members. There is very little Hispanic or Latino presence. We range in age mostly from mid 20's to mid 70's. We have openly gay/lesbian members and one openly transgender member. Most members do not talk much about religion, but I know some who are devoutly Christian, Muslim, or Hare Krishna. Several members have significant mobility problems and use canes or walkers. Three members have service dogs. Most members live financially on some sort of government assistance, either SSI or SSDI, and so do not have a lot of disposable income. Most do not own cars, let alone homes. There is a heavy reliance on public transit, including "Paratransit" (a service for the disabled who are not able to use mainstream public transit independently for whatever reason).

It's a fairly diverse population, ranging widely in age, cultural background, life experience, level of cognitive/emotional functioning, severity of mental illness, and amount of external support. Some live very lonely lives and get most of their socialization and emotional support from CWC.

Despite this diversity, the community at CWC is very tight-knit, very supportive and kind and accepting. When someone makes a paranoid outburst during a support group, we reassure them that the perceived personal attack is not real, that everyone supports them and that everything is okay. If they can't calm down and have to leave the room, that's okay too. If someone begins incoherent shouting during the community meeting, we try to calm them. As long as everyone does their best to behave responsibly and not threaten others in any way, the community tends to be very patient and understanding of the ways that mental illness can disrupt our lives. It's the one place where we don't have to fear stigma or judgment about this particular struggle.

What Happens At CWC?

As long as I've been a member, CWC has been located in Berkeley churches that donate space during times when they are otherwise not being used.

CWC operates on Mondays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with some much more limited "art room only" on Tuesday mornings. It is completely voluntary, and members can attend as often or as rarely as they like. Sometimes we won't see someone for months or years, and then they will return. Other people never miss a day. Some people come for just an hour or two, while others arrive when the doors open at 9 and don't leave until the doors close at 3. It's completely flexible to the needs of each individual.

On Mondays and Fridays, there is always a "community meeting" at noon (attendance optional), where official announcements are made, members can speak up about successes in their lives that they want to share with the community, people can give information about local resources others might not know about, there's often a word puzzle, there's often a "word of the day," etc. It's just a time to bring the community together.

And then, at 12:30, a generous, healthy lunch (often very delicious) is offered for $3. (But members can earn vouchers for a free lunch by doing chores such as sweeping the floor, leading the noon meeting, serving lunch, doing dishes, cleaning brushes in the art room, washing the tables after lunch, etc. Many members with limited financial means find this very useful, as they can get a free meal by doing some work to help the community.) The cook, Mitch, uses a lot of interesting ingredients and tries to make creative meals. We get a lot of fish, salads, unusual vegetables and grains that we might otherwise never have tried, etc. For many members, these are the only healthy meals, cooked from scratch with fresh produce and such, that they get each week. And twice a year (around Thanksgiving and around Christmas), there is a special fancy celebratory meal that is free to all members.

The downstairs of the church is mostly a large common area (with tables, chairs, and a couple couches) where people can just sit and talk, play Scrabble, play ping-pong, play pool, or use the program's one open-use computer (with Internet). Upstairs there is an art room with lots of different art supplies available for anyone to use. And there are a few smaller rooms (up other flights of stairs) where groups can meet or where individual therapy sessions can take place.

There are a wide variety of different groups that members can attend if they wish. All participation is optional and voluntary. There are support groups (including co-ed groups, a women's group, and a men's group), a writing group, art therapy groups, a walking group (they go for a 50-minute morning walk around the neighborhood together), and other groups that vary based on what people are currently interested in (a yoga group was quite popular; there used to be a "self-esteem" group; there is sometimes a "current events" group in which members take turns discussing articles in the newspaper; lately there's been a "wellness" group that seems to focus primarily on meditation; etc.).

There are occasional outings (2 or 3 per year), where the program rents a bus to take members to local parks, museums, or other sites. At least once a year, there is a talent show, in which all members are welcome and encouraged to participate.

There is a small permanent staff (Merrie, Paula, and Jim) who are licensed therapists but who primarily work to just keep everything moving smoothly. They step in if someone becomes disruptive, they talk with people who are having a tough day, they take care of the day-to-day bureaucratic necessities of the organization, etc. And then there is a group of interns, students currently working toward becoming licensed therapists. There are generally about 6 interns at any one time, and they each stay for a year, so there's a continually cycling "changing of the guard" as one intern leaves and another begins their year with us. It's often very difficult when an intern leaves, because the members become very attached to them, and the reverse is also true.

The interns are in many ways the lifeblood of CWC. They lead support groups, hang out in the art room to offer help when needed, hang out in the common room to casually chat with whoever is there, and conduct weekly one-on-one therapy sessions with individual members. Wherever you go at CWC, there's pretty much always an intern present, and they are always there to offer support, defuse any difficult situations if someone becomes disruptive, coax the lower-functioning folks to get involved in things, etc. They dramatically impact the atmosphere by keeping things positive and calm and by keeping people engaged.

What's Happening to CWC

So on Friday Merrie (CWC's director) announced that CWC is going to be changing dramatically due to some new funding arrangement with Berkeley Mental Health and Alameda County. Berkeley Mental Health is overworked, and apparently they want CWC to become a place that picks up some of the slack.

So, first of all, CWC is going to become a full-time program, open all day, 5 days a week, with some early evening hours as well. This was the first thing Merrie announced, and I thought, "Cool!" This does means that CWC will need to move to a new location, since the church that currently hosts the program has their own uses for the property sometimes, but this location has been very problematic, so a change of venue would be welcome. They're hoping to find a property that is more accessible to people with mobility issues, since the current location has tons of stairs and tiny, non-wheelchair-accessible bathrooms. This would be a VERY good thing.

BUT ... there are a lot of unknowns at this point, as the new program has not been clearly defined as of yet. It is unclear whether the current staff (who have always been a major presence) will continue with the program. It is unclear whether there will continue to be interns. It is unclear (and apparently unlikely) whether lunch will be offered. All of these possible losses concern me, because they would change the nature of the program significantly, but apparently decisions haven't yet been made.

There are some things that ARE known that sound very bad to me. For one thing, there will be a new emphasis on "recovery," which makes absolutely no sense when applied to most current members at CWC. Nobody's going to "recover" from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or traumatic brain injury. We've got issues that we just need to deal with for the rest of our lives. CWC has been great at accepting and supporting us in living healthier, happier lives while dealing with mental illness. But (from what Merrie said) it sounds like the new program is going to emphasize stuff like encouraging people to get jobs, instead of supporting people AS THEY ARE, WHERE THEY ARE RIGHT NOW. It sounds like it isn't going to be a program focused on emotional support; it's going to be a program focused on fixing problems. Obviously I don't object to programs that fix problems ... I just would prefer that they don't appropriate a program that serves a different purpose and transform it into that. There are already other programs that address that particular problem—expand them or whatever, but don't destroy CWC to make it into something else.

Another thing that will be changing is that the program will no longer have a membership screening process. Anyone will be welcome. Apparently, just random people off the street will be able to come in and join our support groups where we talk about our deepest feelings and troubles. And if anyone can just walk in off the street, how do we even know that they have a mental illness? When I expressed concern about this, Merrie assured me that the program would still be intended for adults with mental illness ... but she didn't explain how they were going to achieve this while still making the program open to everyone. And the "open to everyone" sounded like it wasn't optional, like it was part of the mandate coming from Berkeley Mental Health and Alameda County.

What I worry most about is that it sounds like they are wanting to massively expand the size of the CWC user population—introducing a lot of new people, many of whom will probably come from the extensive Berkeley homeless community—while simultaneously talking about getting rid of the interns who keep CWC a safe, supportive, and fairly orderly place. I'm very much afraid that they are going to double the number of mentally ill folks in the community, while simultaneously reducing the amount of support available.

Mentally ill people can be unpredictable. Sometimes somebody who previously seemed perfectly nice goes off their meds and unexpectedly starts behaving violently. Sometimes someone suffers a bout of paranoia and decides that Random Stranger has been doing something mean to them, and that they have to fight back to defend themselves. Sometimes somebody just has a really bad day and doesn't have the emotional stability to control themselves, and so it overflows onto other people. Having a healthy ratio of staff/interns to members/consumers/crazies is what keeps CWC safe. If there aren't enough authority figures around, then the more vulnerable members of the community (for example, people who are lower-functioning) will be at an increased risk, because they are unlikely to seek out help if they are feeling threatened.

Also, CWC currently has rules about appropriate behavior, and if someone breaks those rules (threatening someone, spouting hate speech, carrying a weapon, not respecting confidentiality, etc.) repeatedly and/or egregiously, then the staff suspend that person's membership temporarily. I think they usually give a 1-month suspension if someone has been refusing to follow the rules despite warnings. If someone comes back after a suspension and continues the bad behavior, then their membership can even be revoked and they won't be allowed back. But if there is no membership and anyone can come in whenever they like, how do you make people follow community rules, and how do you keep out the people who are consistently violent and abusive? I'm not sure how they'll manage it ... especially if they have fewer staff members!

So I'm pretty much afraid that the CWC that has been such a great support to me over the past several years is basically going to cease to exist, and is going to turn into another type of place entirely. A less safe place, a less supportive place, a less friendly place, and a less helpful place. I imagine a common room full of smelly unmedicated homeless people carrying knives, occasional unpredictable explosions of threatening behavior, and no staff to be found except some crab-faced woman grilling me about why I don't want a job.

I'm aware that my anxiety is causing me to come up with a bunch of worst-case scenarios, but ... dude! That's because I have a mental illness! Which is why I need CWC!

Well, we're planning to move in 2020 anyway, so I was going to have to abandon CWC eventually. It just appears they will be abandoning me first.

We'll see. Merrie wants to form a "task force" of members to help guide the decisions about how to run the new program, and I've volunteered to help with that. At least it might help me feel a little less powerless in this situation.

On Feeling Broken

My therapist (Melissa) has been on vacation for the past two weeks, and normally I would just take a brief break from therapy while she's gone, but things have been so unstable for me lately that I decided to take her up on her offer to arrange for a colleague to see me once a week while she's gone.

The colleague's name is Ilene, and I hadn't expected great things from two 1-hour appointments with a stranger, especially since I've been working with Melissa for something like 8 years and we've established a really effective, productive rapport. But something interesting came out of my two appointments with Ilene: I sort of had to tell her my story in a "big picture" kind of way that doesn't tend to happen with someone who already knows you ... and it led to me having some realizations.

I told her about how I was a massive overachiever for the first 30 years of my life. I was always the best student in the class, the most dedicated worker at my workplaces, the most involved friend, the most talented this-or-that at everything I committed to. And I committed to lots of things.

I got my first paid job when I was 15, and worked steadily almost constantly afterward (stopping working only while attending school in Scotland in 1991-1992 [because it wasn't legal for me to have a job there] and during the few months in 1998 when my tendinitis became so bad that I couldn't use a computer for a while). I worked the whole time I was in college (except, as I mentioned, in Scotland) and grad school. I generally did people-oriented volunteering in addition to my paid work, both during school and while just being a normal person working in the outside world. And during that year in Scotland when I wasn't permitted to have a job, I took a full load of classes and worked very hard during the week so that I could spend every weekend traveling to places I'd researched. I didn't have a "job," but I was still constantly achieving things, even if it was only visiting the places I "needed" to see. (My mom is very big on the obligation of traveling, the requirement that you see as much as possible. I'd totally bought into this without even noticing.)

For those first 30 years of my life, I was working extremely hard to be the person my mom had always required me to be. She'd never allowed me to be vulnerable, to fail, to need anything, to want anything, to feel anything. If I showed vulnerability, I was mocked. If I asked for help, I was criticized for causing problems. Pretty much from birth, I was expected to help her, support her, agree with her, and make her proud. When she told stories about our life, I was always heroic and superhuman (such as her take on our life with Ernie, in which this 7-foot-tall violent man was supposedly "scared of Kimmy because she was smarter than he was"). I was expected to do great things with my life, probably become a famous author (this was what she most often predicted for my future).

And so I spent those first 30 years of my life building and maintaining an unconscious persona, unknowingly putting on a performance for my mom even when she lived hundreds of miles away. I didn't know any other way to live a life, because this was all I'd ever known. Doing anything else—failing, being weak, letting people down—was terrifying to even contemplate, because it had always been punished. I wasn't aware of this, of course. Looking inward at all was something I'd always been pretty much forbidden to do, so I focused on performing for the audience that was the world and didn't even realize that I should be experiencing an internal life as well.

I thought of myself as extremely capable and accomplished. I thought of myself as a very happy, stable person. I was never depressed (except for a couple months after someone I dated broke my heart in a really harsh way, but that seemed pretty justified, and I got over it reasonably quickly and never allowed it to affect my work or anything). I worked hard; I volunteered in my free time; I nearly always had a boyfriend; I had a very active social life in which I was often the person who organized events and pulled groups of people together. I was energetic and upbeat and succeeding at life!

This all started to crumble a bit when the tendinitis in my arms got bad enough in 1998 that I wasn't able to work for a while. I'd always derived much of my sense of self-worth from my achievements at work and school, and suddenly I was unable to function as expected, and that rocked my world a bit. I felt down sometimes. Then a close friendship exploded in a rather dramatic/traumatic way, and the former friend said a lot of very mean things to and about me, and that left me pretty hurt and confused. (I'd been trying so hard! I'd been doing everything right! Why were things going wrong? Why would someone hate me? This was like my worst nightmare!) But I stayed pretty positive, given the circumstances, moved in with a more supportive friend, and eventually was able to get another job, where I was working when I started grad school and met Shannon.

Now, looking back, I can see that I entered a hypomanic episode somewhere around this time, when I started taking on more and more and more responsibilities. I decided to work in two different graduate degree programs simultaneously, working on an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and an M.A. in English Composition. I was something of a star in both programs, partially because I put in ridiculous amounts of time and effort. For a paper that might need 10 sources, I might consult 30 or 40 sources instead, putting in far more work than the teachers required or requested. I would just get started on research and be unable to stop myself.

While I was commuting to SFSU to attend grad school full-time, I was also taking in a lot of freelance proofreading work at home, amounting to around 40 hours/week. Then Shannon and I decided to get married, and instead of waiting a year or so as originally planned, "we" started planning the wedding right away (I put "we" in quotes, because I took on most of the planning myself). Then my in-laws offered to help us buy a house, and I took on pretty much all the house-searching, and then all the arranging of inspections and such when we did find a place to buy. I just kept taking on more and more and more. And then my English Comp program at school started pushing me to start my student teaching (which was a crucial part of the program) ... and things started to crumble in a more dramatic way. I found the idea of student teaching terrifying (What if I'm not good at it and I let the students down?), and anxiety started to escalate. I've always been an anxious person, but I'd never really actually *noticed* it until then, when it started to get really, paralyzingly out of control.

And then I started to get sick. Sick enough that I had to drop out of school and had to stop working. We had no idea what was wrong. I was having all kinds of wacky symptoms (severe dizziness being the worst) that seemed unrelated to each other, and doctors were stumped for months. Eventually, a smart neurologist figured out that I had a disorder called Chronic Hyperventilation Syndrome (which causes all kinds of seemingly unrelated symptoms because it drains your blood of oxygen, and oxygen-starved blood starves every system in your body), which is generally caused by anxiety and is usually treated with talk therapy and anti-anxiety drugs ... so they sent me to a therapist and a psychiatrist for the first time.

The year was 2000/2001. I was a grad school drop-out. I was no longer able to work. I'd been diagnosed with a mental illness (which was causing a physical illness). I WAS FAILING LIFE. My relationship with Shannon deteriorated as I became depressed and withdrawn but had no idea how to understand what I was feeling, let alone communicate it to anyone else. In therapy, I talked almost exclusively about my relationship with my mom (which I had never previously considered problematic in any way), and lots of stuff got stirred up, but it stayed pretty superficial for the first few years. Shannon and I worked things out with some couples therapy, but I still didn't really understand what was happening inside me or how to deal with it.

I went on disability in 2002 or 2003, because I hadn't been able to work for a couple years and figured maybe it would take me another year or two to get back to my old self.

And now here we are, more than a decade later, and I am still on disability, still not "back to my old self," and I've come to doubt that I will ever "get back to my old self," because I've realized that "my old self" was a persona, a performance, a facade I presented to the world because I didn't realize that people were supposed to be something more than that. Up until my crash-and-burn in grad school, I thought I was "doing it right," that I was "succeeding at life," that I was HAPPY. The periods where I thought I was most successful, I now realize, were probably times when I was hypomanic without knowing that's what it was. But I thought I was "winning." And now I look back and see how empty my life actually was. Don't get me wrong: I did a lot of fun stuff, and I made a lot of great friends, and I learned a lot of great things ... but inside myself I was hollow. I didn't know how to want or feel things in any *real* way ... I only wanted or felt things I thought I *should* want or feel. Things I was *allowed* to want or feel. I was performing for an audience, and didn't even realize that I was doing it, because I didn't know life could be any other way.

Now I know there's another way. I've learned to stop directing all my attention at the "audience" and have figured out how to direct some of that attention inward. I've looked inside myself, paid attention to the fact that sometimes I feel things or want things or need things, even when it's inconvenient for other people (or even inconvenient for *me*). It took me a long time to figure out how to do it with any degree of grace or skill, and I fumbled badly at it for years, but that journey started with my grad school crash-and-burn and a smart neurologist who told me what I really needed was a therapist. I'm very grateful to that neurologist, but she started me on a very painful journey.

I feel like an egg that's been cracked open, and there's no way to stick the slimy stuff back inside and seal up the shell to hold things in like it did before. I used to see myself as this extremely capable person, and now I just seem ... broken. When I try to work—whether it's freelance proofreading or clerical temp work or even just volunteering playing Scrabble with someone in a nursing home—my anxiety inevitably begins to mount, eventually becoming unmanageable, usually resulting in a major depressive episode. Once even resulting in psychiatric hospitalization because I became suicidal. Will I ever be able to be a "normal" working person again? Will I ever be able to be a contributing member of society? Or will I forever be this egg with the hideously cracked shell, with my slimy insides just leaking all over the place, unable to hold in what everyone else is able to contain in order to function in the wider world?

It's like, as long as I was "performing," and didn't *know* I was "performing," I was the perfect citizen. I was a great student, great employee, great friend, great whatever. I was *successful*. And now I feel like all I'm successful at is ... well ... being a good person? Honestly, I think I do a decent job at that. I'm pretty successful at listening to other people, being flexible in my world view, questioning my own assumptions, but then taking my own thoughts/feelings/needs/opinions/experiences into account when making decisions. I'm pretty successful at looking at myself (at my slimy, leaking, yolky emotional mess) and figuring out where it's coming from, seeing how it affects me and the other people in my life, and coming up with creative ways to deal with it. I think I've done a pretty darn good job at working with Shannon to create a strong, supportive, loving, intimate, truly *deep* friendship and marriage.

But you can't put "Being A Good Person" on a resume. You can't list "Marriage Development" as a job you've performed. You can't list "realizing that I have feelings" as an acquired career skill. You can't say, "Trauma therapy," when you meet a stranger and they ask what you do. I've spent the past decade+ working really hard at stuff that is more important than any paid job I've ever had, but it still leaves me feeling like I'm not a "whole" person. I'm that broken egg. I can't hold down a job, like any "normal" person can. Increasingly, I wonder if I'll ever be able to do that again, and that is absolutely terrifying to the part of me that still fears the judgment of the audience/mom. Shannon shrugs calmly and says, "If you aren't able to work again, we'll manage," like it's no big deal, and I know he's being honest about how he feels, but it's difficult for me to be so accepting of that possibility.

Some part of me still defines my worth by what I'm contributing to society, and I feel like mostly all I contribute these days is to myself, to my own health and well-being, and I don't have a lot of internal resources left over to contribute to the rest of the world. I feel like I don't even have enough left over to contribute as much as I should to *Shannon*, let alone the other people I care about, let alone society as a whole! I feel like in 1998 I started failing at life, and in 2000 or 2001 the failure became catastrophic, and I don't know if I'm ever going to bounce back. I think I probably need to change my definitions of "success" and "failure," but I don't know how to do that in the context of the society I live in and the past that forms my mental framework.

I guess that's my next "career challenge," if "Facing Mental Illness" is now my career.

I have bipolar disorder. I have generalized anxiety disorder. I have PTSD. These are challenges I have to face every day. For much of my life, I was able to hide these ugly truths inside that fragile egg shell where no one could see them, not even me, but now the shell is broken and those truths are out in the open, and I can't pretend they aren't there now that I know how to see them.

I have to figure out how to live a different kind of "successful" life, how to stop seeing myself as "broken." I'm not sure how to do that. But all I can do is try.

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