How far I’ll go

This week has been extra-specially rough on my emotional state for many reasons, one of which is the expiration date of my time in this house.

I hadn’t cried about it yet until last night.

Last night the tears came.

Last night I said the words out loud, “I hope I made the right decision,” but it’s not just one decision. It’s so many decisions. About this house, about my intermediate plans, about my job, and about what I want from my life.

There’s a lot of turmoil involved in all of this – with the move, and the job, and even some other stuff I don’t care to share at this time.

But there’s a lot of change. A lot of transition. A lot of insecure footing. I’m the author of my story, and I’m closing up a pivotal chapter without any idea how the next chapter begins.

But there is a difference between this time and the last time I was in a similar situation.

It’s me.

Last night I drew a parallel between my transformation and the transformation of this house into my home three and a half years ago. “I feel like I was born here,” I said. In a way, I was. This version of me. Phi-is-me and everything she’s accomplished…

I could die tomorrow knowing that my existence made a difference beyond what I can even imagine.

So, as insecure as my footing may be, and as terrified as I am about moving back in with my parents for an undetermined amount of time, I still know I’ll get through it. I know I’ll survive it. I know I’ll emerge from all of this strain to find myself in a better place than I was in before. Maybe not right away, but eventually.

I struggle with this next part because I know if I lay my problems side by side with other people’s problems…my shit is inconsequential.

But for right now….

For today….

In this very moment….

I need it to be okay to admit that there’s a knot inside my chest and a slight emotional paralysis and I’m very, very scared.

1000: Even deeper than I thought I’d go

I began blogging on FetLife (a kinky social media site) close to three years ago. Today I reached the milestone of my 1000th post there (many of which began crossing over to this blog about a year ago). That’s the context you need to have the post make sense.  Carry on. 


When I first started writing on Fet, it was in the wake of heartbreak and renewed hope. When my writings first started getting noticed on fet, it was in the wake of even more heartbreak and lost hope.

The more I exposed my pain and vulnerability, the more tenderly I was received. It was a light in a dark tunnel, and I followed it through.

But there came a time when I realized I was perhaps exposing too much. I don’t exactly recall how I came to this conclusion – but, it was (at first) a suggestion made by someone else.

That someone turned out not to be compatible for friendship, but nonetheless – their suggestion remained present in my mind. I was able, eventually, to recognize there were some unfortunate consequences to my oversharing, but they ran deeper than the ones I’d been warned about.

I’m not having a good day.

In fact, I’ve not had a good couple of days.

Relax: I can handle it. It’s okay for me to have bad days. But, it’s been a while since I’ve felt so low. I am experiencing emotional doomsday feelings where my mind travels to the worst places, and drag up memories of the most helpless moments of my life. I am also experiencing physical manifestations of the anxiety that has been dragged upward – the choke-sobbing fits and the acidic ache in my chest and knotted pains in my belly that won’t seem to pass.

I feel, at any moment, like I could give in to the bubbling emotions just beneath the surface and go into a full blown anxiety attack. And for teetering moments at that edge, I almost want to do it – if only so I can let it all out and find myself in a state of dulled emotional capacity on the other side.

Though it has been some time since I’ve been in this state, it is one with which I am familiar. Reverse back a few years, and this is a shadow of what I used to experience on a near weekly, if not daily, basis.

I know what this is.

I also know why it’s here. Not just the obvious catalyst for its arrival, nor even the underlying essential motivations, but deeper down to the fathoms of my existential being, – the stuff I think most people don’t access on a regular basis – I do. I’ve got my number.

1,000 posts ago I’d have shared those details. I’d have given you, the anonymous reader, all of the data: the catalyst, the motivations. I might have, by the end of the essay, drawn a line toward my existential conclusion.

And the reason I’d have done that? I’d have painted you a word-picture of my pitiful state for the purpose of gaining your tender support. It’s a form of manipulation, but not in a nefarious way. After all, writing and story-telling of any kind is a form of emotional manipulation.

So yes, I’d have explained the who, what, when, where, and why of my despair and swam in the soothing elixir of your concern.

It’s what I needed then. But, over time, I became dependent on it. It became a crutch without which my emotional limp would heal but never reach maximum strength.

Now, 1000 posts later, you’re not so anonymous. I know who many of you are on some level.

I also have, for perhaps the first time in my life, an understanding of who I am independent of my relationship to anybody else, (including family, friends, lovers, husbands, stepchildren, or colleagues).

I exist as a person on my own. The people in my life closest to me that inspire love and affection provide an enrichment that I’d never want to take for granted, nor mistake for the emotional equivalence of oxygen.

What’s this got to do with my bad day?

Well, that’s just it. It’s my bad day. I know why it’s here and what caused it, and I’m well aware that it will be fleeting.

So, while I feel the urge to tell you all about it – to dive into the details of the why and how I’m feeling the way I feel – I also now know that the resulting concerned feedback does not help to achieve my purpose.

I just want to share. I just want to to share my truth. I want to illuminate that even one with a charmed life can sometimes struggle – not for the purpose of eliciting your pity, but in an attempt to narrow the chasms that sometimes separate us.

We all suffer, in varying degrees and for different reasons – but we all suffer.

I don’t want to feel separated from humanity. My current (and admittedly temporary) state of despair should not serve to isolate me when, in fact, it has so much potential (and history) of doing the exact opposite.

I want to tell you that you’re not alone, because – in doing so – I remind myself that I am not either.

Learning to love without solutions: further insights from a recovering codependent

Many years ago, I had a friend, Brian, who went through therapy and was able to accept that he had codependent tendencies. With his therapist, he began to set boundaries, and by talking about it with his friends, he kept cementing the new value-set in his brain.

Problem was, Brian turned into a bit of a cold-hearted prick in the process. Having to keep reinforcing those boundaries made them stronger and stronger until he went in the complete opposite direction and stopped caring for anybody, ever.

By then, I had been made aware of my own codependent tendencies through my own therapy sessions. What I hadn’t done yet was accept them as a problem. I thought it was still possible to be healthily codependent, and didn’t want to change. I certainly didn’t want to turn into what Brian was turning into.

It’s not easy, you know? For me, rules are comfortable. Black and white. Yes and No. Stop and Go. But reality? It was easy for me to say, for example, “I will never again date someone who suffers from depression.”

And yet….

I have. More than once, since Tony.

It’s a boundary I tried to set because I knew where my personal boundaries are weakest. I want to help people. I’m a problem solver. And depression isn’t a problem that can be “solved,” it’s more like a condition that gets “managed.” I’ve learned a lot over the past few years on where and when to set that boundary and now have allowed myself to get close to people with depression again without falling back into my default responses anymore.

I care for them, and when I start to feel responsible for their feelings, I know it’s time to take a step back and remember that it’s not my job to “fix” anything. My job is to be a good person who cares. That is all.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s easy to stay on either side of that line – codependent or cold and distant, but to locate the healthy boundary and camp out there is sometimes more challenging.

Based on the definition I’ve seen on “empaths,” I’d say I’m probably somewhere on that spectrum, though I’m not woo-woo enough to say so with much certainty. I feel people’s feelings like they’re my own. It’s great when they’re happy, and it’s distressing when they’re sad.

There are going to be times when I have to step away and turn up the emotional A/C. I might go silent for a little while, or not ask things like “how are you?” It’s not that I don’t want to know, it’s that I’m feeling a little bit vulnerable myself and think if the answer is “I’m not well,” it’s going to turn into one of those things where I’m going to absorb those feelings and try to “solve” them.

I got to the point for a while where I got into the habit of never asking “how are you?” It put some of my friends off. They thought I didn’t care. I do care, but….

My old pattern was something like this:

Phi: How are you?
Friend: Eh. Not so great.
Phi: What’s wrong?
Friend: (explains the problem)
Phi: (tries to solve it)
Friend: (pivots and turns the problem into a different problem)
Phi: (tries to solve it)
Friend: (pivots again and turns the problem into a different problem)
Phi: (starts to get frustrated because it feels like this person just wants to be upset)
Friend: (feels even worse because phi is now frustrated with them and they feel worthless)

In order to break that pattern, I stopped asking “how are you?” for a while. A long while. And I fell out of practice of reminding people that I really do care about how they are. I drew the imaginary line from “I’m not doing great” to “please give me advice on how to solve it.” Today, I try to only offer advice when it’s explicitly asked for, but sometimes that old behavior comes out. I frequently have to remind myself that someone admitting that they’re not feeling great is not an automatic request for advice.

You’d think that would be a really basic concept to comprehend, but for me it wasn’t. And it’s still something I struggle with from time to time.

But, just like it’s not my responsibility to solve other people’s problems, it is not other people’s responsibility to mitigate their feelings around me. I have to learn to shield myself and focus on healthy reactions to everyday situations.

I want people to trust that I care for them and understand why I can’t let myself feel responsible for their happiness, and I want those same people not to feel responsible for mine. I’ve worked hard to overcome some of those patterns, and I’m strong enough (and honest enough) to recognize when I need to take a step back.

It’s usually when my reaction to someone else’s distress falls along the lines of “how did I fail? or “what did I do wrong?” or “How can I fix it?” that I know it’s time to reset the tent back a little further from the line.

There are many people in my life, past and present, that struggle with varying levels of anxiety and depression. This isn’t about any one of them in particular. It’s about me. It’s about recognizing that I can care, and I can be present without losing myself in the process.

I don’t have to go all Brian on them.