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Author: Kieryn Darkwater

Just Ask

Just Ask

We’re back in the trauma-dump phase of therapy where I dump a bunch of things and then chew on some of it the rest of the week. Lately I’ve been learning about asking.

Asking is fucking terrifying. I don’t know how to ask for things I want, or for help, or things I actually need. It takes a lot of effort – more effort than just doing whatever the thing is – to ask for literally anything.

When I was a child, my parents wanted us all to be super well-behaved: an example for other kids/families. One of the ways they ensured that was by telling us we were never allowed to ask for anything, whatever it was that we wanted or needed had to be offered to us. This meant that we were perfect children while grocery shopping, but also that when we went to my grandparent’s houses, we weren’t allowed to even ask for food or water without being punished. One of my siblings once violated that rule and was yelled at and spanked for asking for a drink. Thankfully, my grandparents caught on to this quickly and worked around it so we didn’t dehydrate or starve.

Conversely, when I was asked questions, they were always thinly veiled demands. My wellbeing depended on being able to decipher what the intent behind the question was and answer that. This meant understanding that if someone asked what my preference was, I wasn’t supposed to give my actual preference, but the one they desired. Anytime I made the mistake of answering with my actual preference, or any way other than desired…I was punished.

Every interaction I have goes through this filter of What is the desired outcome? and what is required of me? So I’m really good at figuring out and answering these questions really quickly (guess who rolled high on perception), but when people stop and ask me, genuinely, what my preference is or if I want X….I actually don’t have an answer, because I often don’t know. The flipside of this, is because my brain interprets questions as demands and I was never allowed to have needs/wants/etc let alone voice them without repercussions, I have a really hard time letting myself ask, anything, ever.

It touches a bunch of things that make it a really difficult wall to climb, every. single. goddamn. time.

  • A lifetime of experience shutting out acknowledging my own desires makes figuring them out enough to articulate them really hard. The work to remember that I have needs and find out what they are is…a different thing entirely.
  • Somehow convincing myself that asking literally anything isn’t going to wind up with being emotionally abused. I have to work through a ton of screaming alarms in my head to get to the point where I actually ask something, because I have to remember people aren’t actually going to freak out about it.
  • The trained instinct to not be inconvenient or need (let alone want) anything from anyone, but always be available to people who want things from me. Which is a long way of saying everyone can take advantage of me, but I’m not allowed to inconvenience anyone by existing. This is a goddamn fucking mountain, let me tell you.
  • Justifying that whatever I want to ask is something worth asking, largely because of these mountains, but also because having to justify any (rare) ask is a habit of self-preservation. I will always have a reason or justification for whatever answer I give, or question I finally work up the courage to ask. No one usually wants this… >.>
  • About 18 years of intensely negative reinforcement surrounding asks

What this looks like in practice now is that my kneejerk response is to say yes to anything and take on more things than I can handle (I’m actually improving a little bit here) because the answer to “what is the desired result?” is “them not doing a thing” which means the solution is “I will do the thing.” The question of whether or not the thing needs doing (by me or no) actually didn’t occur to me until just now.

Sometimes I will be having an anxiety attack and it will take me about an hour to ask to be held, I float caveats and explanations around every question I ask and provide context, I go out of my way to tell people that I won’t take their response to a food question personally, if people ask me what my preference is for anything at any given point, or what I want done, I blank and literally don’t know how to answer, I think about questions all the time and decide not to ask them because I took too much time trying to form them, and everything circles back to simply not feeling like I deserve…. anything.

So. I uh, am trying and mostly failing with this asking thing, but not being yelled at when I finally do ask anything at all seems to be helping.

Next step: not waiting until I feel desperate enough that the energy it takes to ask is justifiable.

Avocado Toast

Avocado Toast

It’s 12:30am on Thursday. My body has decided hot flashes every 10 minutes is a Fun Thing To Do, so I’m awake. I haven’t written here since the end of March. I’m currently waiting for hopefully the last edit of a hyperlapse for YIMBYtown – the housing conference & unconference in July that East Bay Forward is putting on (go sign up!)- to export. FCPX was not meant for an underspec’d macbook, just saying.

I’m terrified that suddenly I will lose the ability to write and everything of mine will just suck. Because writing for 17+ years is obviously how you lose talent, not hone it. Also, my ability to draw and do anything creative or worthwhile. Somehow making progress also gives me a boatload of imposter syndrome.

I also had the realization that as an adult, I have what we called “fiat power” in speech and debate over the things I control. Which means, even if I AM actually pulling answers out of my ass, those are the answers we have and that’s okay. I’m still coming to grips with this.

I applied to the Machinist program at Laney College for the fall, which I’m really excited about.

 

I’ve been spending all of my time doing activism in one form or another and practicing selfcare. I’m really stressed about making ends meet. I feel like my time is needed in activism but activism isn’t paying me enough to keep me housed and fed sustainably. I have this recurring existential crisis where I weigh my failure in a capitalist system vs the Actual Work I Am Doing. I spend more time doing work than I’m getting paid for, and it’s work I love doing, but I need to figure out how to make it sustainable. Spending more energy than I am getting in return as far as work input for the ability-to-live-without-anxiety-output is not great long term planning. In that vein, I’m hirable, supportable, and fundable. My current situation is: I have a lot of things that are breaking or important (my cell phone, my surface pro, clothes that fit) that I just can’t afford to replace and still be able to make the minimums on my bills and buy food.

My taxes are still currently stuck in the IRS, and I have no idea when I’ll get my return. I filed in February. I called the number, it was the same exact thing as the website form but with a robot voice. Anyway, things are both terrifying and exciting right now. I am learning that it’s really hard to value my time, but that I have to or I’ll starve. yay capitalism.

 

I meant for this to end cheerier, but I accidentally had avocado toast this week and ruined my future.

Hiatus

Hiatus

You may have noticed that I really haven’t been able to do much of anything for several weeks at this point. My brain checked out two weeks ago thanks to burnout and I’m only slowly getting it back. It’s really frustrating because the world is still going to shit, I just am powerless to do anything about it because all my spoons got eaten. So, to try to recover my brain and restore my energy I’m taking a solid two weeks off activism and anything work-like.

I spent the last few therapy sessions talking about burnout and resting and how hard it is to do. Resting starts a constant internal battle where the physiological need to rest is actually a traumatic minefield because of how often I would be punished and put to work if I was caught resting when it wasn’t the designated time. I wished once that I would get sick, just so I could rest, because that was how exhausted I was and how much I was not allowed to sit down as a kid. So resting is actually a fuck ton of work. Resting is more work than activism and working, but I run myself ragged and then go splat when I forget to rest or don’t feel like fighting that day.

But at this point, for the last two and a half weeks, my body and my brain have just been screaming at me that they need to rest and recover. I need to reset. My therapist told me that working – in activism or otherwise – is an exchange of energy, and you need to be able to balance it, because if you give more than you’re taking in, it’s not healthy. Taking a break is important to restore all of the energy I’ve been spending and not replacing, and this will enable me to then have energy for things again.

Obviously, I guess. But it helped to hear it out loud and that sort of calmed the part of my brain that is still a teenager who’s freaked out about taking a break if they aren’t actively vomiting because someone will come yell at them for being lazy and unproductive and they should ignore, y’know, anything less than death-bed levels of damage and keep going.

So, I’m taking a break. I am going camping for three days after I take my shot on Sunday and I think the being in the middle of the woods with no internet to remind me the world is falling apart will be really really helpful. Beyond that, my plans for the two weeks are to: go through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain again, play through some video games, and maybe bike a bit.

Hopefully I’ll be able to come back in full swing, because there’s shit to do, I just can’t do it right now.

On Kindness and Transphobia [TW]

On Kindness and Transphobia [TW]

Someone from my past emailed me a few times this week. Claiming they were good listeners and wanted to have a relationship, “one soul to another”.

They then sent two emails following that, The first, on valentine’s day, defending my parents by saying they were merely imperfect and I’m overreacting about the abuse I suffered at their hands. The second, this morning, telling me that I will regret being trans and we should have an open discussion about my identity.

I told her to kindly fuck off, and she didn’t understand why I was mad and unkind.

When you start off a conversation with someone by saying their lived experience and identity isn’t valid, you lost the pretense of kindness and politeness and the benefit of the doubt. It doesn’t matter how “nice” you are when you say people are wrong for existing, it isn’t nice, it isn’t kind, it isn’t polite, and you deserve nothing less than the full wrath of whoever you told that to.

I’ve translated today’s emails so you see what I hear when I read this.

I asked her not to contact me after the first email. For someone good at listening, she doesn’t seem to understand boundaries. And this is a real-life example of how you don’t have even footing against people who spend their time dehumanizing you.

The reason I am posting this is because it helps me to dissect it and show you what I hear/see when people send me things like this and how cruel and dehumanizing it is. How pointless it is to try to convince them of my validity when they start from the place of trying to convince me not to be who I am.

I am kind, but I will not rollover for abuse, I will fight back, and then I will post the shit and explain what it is for everyone to see.

If you start off disregarding people’s existence as valid, you have waived your right to any benefit of the doubt and subsequent kindness.

I’m not even going to unpack how cruel that first email was in the first place, anyone who isn’t cis understands that by default and anyone who is cis, should go read about transphobia and how it effects people. I’m sure someone in the comments can get you started, but also google.

The Importance of Mourning

The Importance of Mourning

Something I’ve noticed in activist circles is an emphasis on pushing on past feelings to organize and do shit. Which I agree with to some extent – we can’t get stuck in sadness and let it stop us from doing things – however, it’s important to mourn and grieve and let ourselves feel and process the losses. If we don’t, we stuff it away and internalize it, and it becomes fuel for burnout later. If we don’t let ourselves have a moment to be sad and acknowledge the pain and the loss, it will build until we can no longer press on.

I didn’t mourn the deaths of my stillborn siblings until over 10 years had passed. It was harder to bear and process later than it would have been if I’d been allowed to mourn when I needed to, allowed to process when I needed to, instead of ignoring it and moving on because there was no time.

We shouldn’t lose ourselves in sadness, but we should give ourselves time to grieve.

Perpetual Horror

Perpetual Horror

Life lately has consisted of constantly staring this horrific reality in the face and not blinking. Then, taking what I see and figuring out how to make it better, by going through even more horror – the horror that got us here – and finding the way out.

I read H.P. Lovecraft at night because the ultimate horror of which we do not name has nothing on this timeline.

I’m going through old bible stories and remembering things from my childhood. Like how my parents would rather that we had been raptured because they didn’t like who I was getting married to, and since I’d experienced love (and loss) I’d felt everything I need to for one lifetime. Or how they told us, multiple times that if god were to whisper that us kids should be killed, they would do so without hesitating. I remembered how my mom worshipped the women we knew who almost died in labor for their dedication and faith.

Only now do I see this as obvious signs of depression that they decided to go ahead and verbally pass on to their children. I’ve never been afraid of death and it’s a struggle not to see it as a blissful void, resulting in a much needed break from this cruel reality.

My optimism looks like: Well, things are shit and are going to be for ever unless we maybe do something about it, and that might not even work, or we’ll die before it happens, but we can say we tried, which is better than nothing.

I keep going, I keep fighting, because it’s all I know how to do and I haven’t managed to die yet. What matters most is what we do next, where we go from here.

Occasionally I have glimpses of what it must feel like to have a normal relationship to life. One where you really adamantly don’t want to die instead of being blasé about it. The one where stopping feels sad instead of restful. My parents ripped that from us by spending all their time talking about how great it would be if we were dead and in heaven instead of alive. It always bothered me, because like, we weren’t dead – and committing suicide/non-god-sanctioned murder meant you’d go to hell – so?

It’s really hard to find that right now. To be anything but nonchalant about dying and our dystopian future. In some ways, it almost feels protective. Like one less thing I have to worry about, because I’m generally meh about my existence. Life right now is mimicking my childhood on a much grander scale and pushing all the CPTSD buttons and I do not appreciate it. But all the coping mechanisms I honed while there, are back. I can press on, because it’s all I know how to do, and maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll catch glimpses of things that feel vaguely hope-like again.