Healthcare

I terminated my Healthcare.gov insurance plan today. It was for the best reason: for the first time in ten years, I’m able to get health insurance through my employer!

But the timing feels weird, so I wanted to take a minute to express my appreciation for the ACA and the healthcare marketplace it created. It isn’t a perfect system, but it made a huge difference to me.

From 2007-2014, I was completely without health insurance. I was scraping by on part-time work, in grad school some of that time, and there was no way I could have fit the premium for an individual plan into my budget. I’m lucky to be in good health overall, so it was fine, but I went those seven years knowing that if I had a serious accident or unexpected chronic illness, I was probably looking at bankruptcy.

The ACA changed that. It meant I could go in for treatment of a skin irritation that I’d been (incorrectly, as it turned out) dealing with on my own for much of those seven years. Because I’m stubborn and hate making appointments, I didn’t actually take advantage of that option for several months — until my home treatment caused a very bad infection that could have turned even worse if I hadn’t gone in when I did. If I hadn’t had health coverage, I probably would have tried to tough it out even longer, which would have meant an even more expensive bill (that the state might very well have ended up absorbing anyway), and possibly a permanent injury/disability for me.

Because of my coverage, I’ve been able to stay in therapy for a full year, and I am amazed at the difference in how I think, feel, and cope now versus a year ago. Trauma can cause subtle damage as well as the obvious. I am certain that the consistent mental health care I’ve received has been an essential part of restoring my energy, focus, and confidence — without which I certainly wouldn’t have the job that is now allowing me to go off the ACA plan.

Good healthcare is essential to life, and good healthcare costs less in the long run. My hope is that our country’s health coverage only becomes more affordable, accessible, and comprehensive over time.

One day at a time

I don’t want to talk a lot about the heartbreak and horror I’ve felt for the last week. It’s not new or particularly different from anyone else’s, and I don’t want to revisit it in writing. I do want to talk some about how I’ve been thinking, and what I’m going to do next.

  1. I’m going to stop talking about 2016 like it’s this anomalous bad year. When I do that, what I’m saying is, “The hard times will be over soon.” It’s so much easier to do that than to face the truth: that hardship and suffering are never far away. I tend to live my life as if there’s a dichotomy between “good times” and “bad times,” because then when I can say I’m in a “good time” I can feel secure. It’s time I found a different way of coping with the uncertainties of life.
  2. I’m going to take joy whenever and wherever I can find it. This is intimately connected to the above point. Amid the struggles of processing last week, I had a lot of moments of laughter, of connection, of simple happiness in being with people I loved. I’m affirming now that it is okay to take these moments. If I can be happy, it is more than okay to be happy — it is good. I don’t need to wait for some mythical “good time” to feel joy and comfort. Spending a couple of hours feeling pretty good doesn’t mean I’m ignoring the evils that are in the world: it means I’m recharging to help endure and fight them.
  3. I’m going to continue being much less engaged with social media. This is a very personal decision, based on the effects I’ve observed in myself — I’m not trying to make any kind of blanket statements about the nature of social media or how other people should be. In myself, I have noticed a strong correlation with how much time I spend on Facebook and Twitter, and how depressed, traumatized, and hopeless I feel. That’s not even the fault of the people I follow, because they’re almost all amazing people who are passionate about social justice. It’s just something about the dynamic of hourly scrolling my news feed, that crushes my spirit and saps my energy. So I’m dialing it way back, and putting my energy somewhere else.
  4. I’m going to make a conscious habit and goal of doing something every day to help. I’m working into my budget a plan of regular, small donations to organizations that are fighting for the good. I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks doing a lot of research on other small, concrete things I can do to stay engaged, stay active, and help make the world better.

I’m in this for the long haul. I am here to fight and to help, every day, come what may.

This year in sexual assault; Emma

There are basically two topics right now that I can’t stop thinking about: 1) how brutally, relentlessly triggering this year has been for myself and other survivors of abuse and assault; and 2) the 2009 miniseries of Jane Austen’s Emma, which I discovered four days ago and have watched three times so far. I realize these are pretty disparate topics, so for your convenience, dear readers, I’m going to write my thoughts on each of these in different colors, so you can skip over the parts that don’t interest you.

***

Maybe every year is like this and I just didn’t notice till now. For me it started with James Deen, with his former partner Stoya’s brief and brutal tweet describing what he did to her and that she couldn’t keep quiet any more. That story hit me hard: maybe because I had seen him perform and liked him, maybe because his slightly-smug image all over my news feeds reminded me of my own assailant, maybe because I could empathize so vividly with Stoya’s predicament, with staying quiet for so long for so many reasons and then finally saying a thing because you couldn’t take it any more. And dealing with the vengeful backlash from your assailant and his fans.

Then a few months later it was Brock Turner and now many, many of my survivor friends were saying, “Just seeing this dude’s face is triggering for me.” My social media is pretty well curated so I didn’t have to see people defending him or saying horrible things, much, but it was still exhausting to scroll through and see everywhere headlines about how often rape happens and how rarely it is prosecuted, how hard our culture works to excuse and defend rapists while leaving their victims isolated and unsupported, how little punishment even an egregious and thoroughly documented offense received. And all I can think, reading through these, is “I know. I know. BELIEVE me, I fucking know. I’m glad y’all are catching on, but it would be nice to get to spend a day not thinking about it.”

***

Emma has been my favorite Jane Austen book since the first time I read it and realized I didn’t have to be perfect to be a heroine. Emma has all the faults I try so hard to avoid: being oblivious but thinking she’s particularly wise and insightful, eagerly trying to do good in a way that harms others, needing to be adored and falling into pettiness because of it. She is good-hearted and smart, and she is valuable and lovable, but she does make some pretty awful and foolish mistakes, and that is the hero I needed as a young girl, and still need now.

I’ve seen both the Gwyneth Paltrow and the Kate Beckinsale versions of Emma, and I liked aspects of both but neither fully satisfied me. One of them gave short shrift to the Harriet storyline, the other one to the Frank Churchill storyline, and both of those are important. Overall I preferred the Beckinsale version, but it still wasn’t as good — relative to the book — as my other favorite Austen interpretations.

***

Ultimately it was a social incident that sent me into a lowkey extended PTSD episode, but nothing about the news this year has helped. I knew Trump had raped people before I ever learned of specific accusations: he was powerful enough to get away with it and he didn’t even pretend to have the kind of sexual ethics that would stop him.

It sometimes feels like I’ve gone through the looking glass and I’m seeing the world in a completely different way. Past Ginny would have been shocked to hear that a powerful man, even one as sleazy and unethical as Trump, had committed sexual assault. For Past Ginny, and for my friends still on that side of the looking glass, rape is an extraordinary act, only done by people beyond the pale of a decent society.

Now I know better. Rape is, in fact, quite ordinary. It is a commonplace on college campuses, in the entertainment world, in business. There are just so many people who care more about getting what they want than about respecting someone else’s autonomy. So many narratives that let people tell themselves they’re not doing anything wrong. So many systems that support perpetrators and punish victims. Normal people, cool people, people that really helped you out that one time, can be rapists, and more than a few of them are.

So to think that a powerful, sleazy, textbook narcissist like Donald Trump is a rapist? Duh. Obviously. It’d be surprising if he weren’t.

***

Romola Garai’s Emma is a delight. She’s full of smiles and warmth and passionate opinions that are sometimes right and sometimes wrong. She matures and deepens just enough, over the course of the four-episode miniseries. She is still the same person, but she has learned to think and speak a little more carefully, to treat love with a little more seriousness. Her smile is still an explosion of sunshine, and I could watch it all day.

Jonny Lee Miller’s Mr. Knightley is everything I didn’t know I needed. I used to like Mark Strong’s Knightley a lot — but that was back when I was enamored of angry men who are always telling you what’s up. Jeremy Northam’s was better, and was indeed one of the best advantages to the Paltrow version over the Beckinsale.

Mr. Knightley is a tough needle to thread. He is significantly older than Emma and he scolds her a lot, which makes him an ideal husband in the value system I grew up with, but less appealing now. Jonny Lee Miller’s Knightley is kind and he is good-humored, two essential traits to balance out the scolding. You see him enjoying his friends and family, sharing amusement with Emma, feeling genuine concern for the people in his circle. He loves Emma before he falls in love with her, and continues to love and care about her as a person in her own right afterward. His little concerned, pained, resigned expressions as he watches her with Frank Churchill twist my heart in the most exquisite way.

This production, better than any of the others, shows the warm, easy partnership that make Emma and Mr. Knightley work. You’re not left to fill in the gaps between fights with “I guess they must like each other for some reason” — it is obvious that they are pretty much each other’s favorite person, right from the start.

***

Another through-the-looking-glass moment is in the wave of accusations of assault that came after The Tapes. Past Ginny would have been at least somewhat swayed by the idea that some of these women are jumping on a bandwagon for attention — otherwise why now, when they were silent before?

Present Ginny knows. It’s because now these women, who have kept silent for years out of shame and intimidation, think, “Maybe I’ll actually be believed.” Now that he is on record as saying “this is a thing I like to do” maybe those women have a chance at being taken seriously when they say, “he did this thing.” It is disgusting but very real that that’s what it takes.

What people who haven’t been through it don’t know is that there is no acceptable way to say that a well-liked person assaulted you. If you say it calmly you’re making it up because clearly it didn’t affect you. If you say it sobbing, you’re hysterical. If you say it when nobody else has accused that person, you’re tarnishing someone’s good name with a highly improbable story. If you say it when others have, you’re jumping on a bandwagon because you want the attention. If you pursue some kind of legal or social repercussions, then you’re trying to hurt them and probably doing it out of unrelated vengeance. If you don’t, it must not have been that big a deal and/or you’re letting your community down by letting a perpetrator go on unbothered.

***

Beyond Emma and Mr. Knightley, the whole world of Highbury, in the 2009 version, is a world of friendship and support even for the rather silly and unlovely members. Mr. Woodhouse with his illness and anxiety — Miss Bates with her poverty and prattle — are cared for with gentleness and sincere love by their community. Emma’s failure to do this, and subsequent realization and repentance, are the real turning point of the novel. This is a world where people look after each other, even when the others’ needs feel silly or tiresome.

Wise or foolish, attractive or plain, it is having a good heart that matters in Highbury. The Eltons are vain and self-serving, and they are the only truly unloved characters of the piece. Everybody else, from grouchy John Knightley to flighty Harriet to fretful Mr. Woodhouse, is treated as worthwhile even with their flaws. And it is that good-hearted community, along with the completely enchanting smiles of Garai and Miller, that has kept me coming back to this production over and over this week.

**

 

This world is not kind to survivors. We are ignored. We are demonized. Every indiscretion and weakness in our lives is turned out as if they have some bearing on what was done to us. We see our assailants praised and celebrated, and we agonize over whether to say something. We hear people make jokes about what was done to us. We are, often, targeted for vicious abuse and revenge for daring to speak out. We see other survivors so targeted and wonder if we’ll be next.

And it’s every day. And it’s exhausting.

***

I am lucky enough, now, to have a community not unlike the fictional Highbury. I have a small strong knot of people around me who care unconditionally, who are concerned with meeting each others’ needs even if we can’t relate to them, who extend love despite mistakes and foolishness. They are my family and they heal me every day.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to queue up for a fourth go-through of Emma.

Love languages and polyamory

I love when writers I follow hit on relevant topics to my life at the moment. So I was delighted to read Audra Williams’s post about love languages. I’ve been familiar with the love languages concept since I was a teenager, but like many familiar concepts I’d stopped investigating how it might be helpful for my life now.

I’ve been struggling a lot in the last several weeks with feeling that I’m not getting enough time with my anchor partner. I’ve felt an unusual amount of jealousy, which for me indicates that I’m not getting what I need to feel sustained and connected in a relationship — and usually denying to myself that I have the right to get those things, because worthiness is a core issue of basically everything in my life.

In particular I’ve felt like I can’t ask for more time with my partner because that would be unfair to his other partners. I am always aware of how much one-on-one time my metamour gets with our partner, and I don’t feel okay about asking for more time unless she’s gotten as much or more than I have.

Yes, that’s silly for a lot of reasons. Worthiness: it’s a struggle.

I’ve also felt bad because other poly people I know can be perfectly happy if their domestic partners have dates most nights in the week, while I haaaate it. So all the usual questions come up: “Do I need to get better at poly? Do I need to change my sense of what a happy domestic relationship feels like? If I can’t do that, does it mean polyamory isn’t for me?”

The answer to any of those questions could be yes in a lot of cases, but it wasn’t for me. I know for damn sure that the answer isn’t for me to start dating three other people so that my evenings are always full: that’s not a happy life for me, and it won’t solve the problem of feeling disconnected from my anchor partner.

And then, while I was feeling grumpy and sad and unworthy and broken all at once, I remembered: Quality time is my primary love language. Maybe the reason I get so much crankier than other people when I don’t have enough one-on-one time with my partner is because that’s the most important way for me to feel loved? Heyyyy, genius.

I learned it a long time ago (and long before I knew about polyamory) so I’d lost sight of this: not everybody needs the same things to feel loved. If I ask for at least 20 minutes of focused one-on-one time every day, that doesn’t mean that all my metamours have to get the same time or it’s unfair. Maybe a different ritual is more important to them for feeling loved and connected. Maybe I don’t need to feel extra-needy because a time allotment that’s plenty for other people leaves me feeling parched and lonely.

Fairness in polyamory doesn’t mean everybody gets the same thing: it means everybody gets what they need to feel loved and connected. I knew this, but I had forgotten that the actual substance of what feels loving and connecting can be very different for different people. So I can stop tracking my quality time allotment against everybody else’s to make sure I’m not being too demanding or unfair. (Someday I will level up to the point where I stop worrying that expressing my needs means being too demanding or unfair, but that’s probably several classes away if we’re honest.)

Having quality time as a love language may require some extra strategizing in polyamory, time being the most finite of our resources. I’m still chewing on ways to make the most out of our limited hours. But it’s good to have some context for my needs and some language for helping me and my people understand them.

Don’t tell me how I feel

I’ve been reading Controlling People by Patricia Evans, after hearing it recommended by a lot of other abuse survivors. I actually bought and started reading it quite a few months ago, but stopped within the first couple of chapters because I found all the warming-up text really tiresome. In general the more a writer tries to tell me how surprising and essential the insights they’re about to share are, the more skeptical and disengaged I become.

Eventually I got through that, and have found the meat of the book really helpful in the way it frames interactions that our society tends to treat as normal. Here’s an example, not from the book:

Them: You forgot to pick up this thing from the store even though I asked you to! Clearly you don’t listen to a word I say, and you don’t care at all about me if you can’t do this one little thing.

Me: I…. I’m sorry? But… I do care. But… I’m sorry. [goes away feeling both guilty and indefinably violated]

I’ve had exchanges like this since childhood, and in most of my formative relationships. Sometimes it’s about small everyday executive function things like remembering to do something I was asked to do, or arriving somewhere on time. Sometimes it’s about bigger relationship issues like not communicating about something effectively, or not realizing how hurt my partner would be when I did this-and-such.

Big or small, though, it always takes this form: they express how upset they are AND they say some things about my state of mind that they assume to be true based on what I did. And I end up feeling like I can’t say anything. Because yes I did screw up, and they have a right to be annoyed/angry. But their expression of hurt came with lots of statements about who I am and how I think and feel, statements that are almost never true.

It feels really awful to hear someone telling me, wrongly, how I feel and how I’m thinking, and it also damages the relationship. And yet I don’t feel like I can argue against because, after all, I’m the one who did something wrong.

What Evans does is treat it as completely incredible and absurd that anybody would think they can know what’s in another person’s mind. She points out the logic of that: of course nobody outside my head has better access to what’s going on inside it than I do. Of course any statements they make about my inner state are completely imaginary, made up, not based on real knowledge they have. But in my world it’s so normal for people to make such statements. It took me several chapters of Evans matter-of-factly labeling this dynamic as ridiculous and irrational before it really started to sink in.

For me, this was harder because I grew up in a religion that had gaslighting at its very foundation. I was taught that my mind and heart were entirely sinful and corrupted. It didn’t matter that I cared about other people so much it hurt — by definition, I was selfish and depraved, and if I didn’t believe this, it was a further sign of sinfulness and pride. I was never taught to know myself and trust my internal knowledge. I was always told that some outside authority knew my inmost heart and mind much better than I did.

In my teens, having somebody else tell me what I was really thinking and feeling was my ideal of intimacy and romance. Someone who understood me better than myself, who could see into my heart (and love me) — that was the dream. I can see now, looking back, that my relationship to myself was broken. My overwhelming desire for a romantic partner was largely because I did not feel I had permission to know and love myself. I needed someone else to know and love me — I craved it.

In adulthood, I started to develop a good relationship with myself and being alone became more comfortable. But I still had those long years of conditioning, that made me very vulnerable to someone telling me what I was “really” thinking and feeling — especially when the “real” thoughts were bad. That has been a factor in all of the badly-ending relationships I’ve had in the last several years. Over and over, a partner would tell me, not just “you hurt me,” but “you hurt me and you did it for this reason” or “you hurt me and that is a sign of these essential thoughts, feelings, and qualities in you.” And I would be left trying to figure out how to apologize and make amends while also asserting the truth of who I am. (I never did figure out how. I tried, a few times and a few ways, but only ever met with resistance and doubling-down.)

It took a while but I’m down to a pretty much zero-tolerance policy for this kind of nonsense. The people I’m close to now are all really good about taking responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings, and letting other people be the authority on theirs. Someday I hope I can be like Evans and look at somebody telling me how I feel as if they’re telling me I have two heads. But for now, the plan is to stick close to people who respect me as the authority on myself, and avoid people who don’t.

Two metaphors for healing

I was trying to explain to my therapist where I stand now in relationship to the recent traumatic years, and I was struggling. Then, in a comment on someone else’s blog, the right metaphor came to me.

The bad years are a mountain range I was driving through. When I was in them they were my whole reality, and a lot of the time I couldn’t even tell that I was in an abnormal terrain. Then I started coming out of them. There was a time when I could see level ground and knew it was where I wanted to be. There was a time when I was definitely headed toward it, even though the mountains were still all around me.

There was a time when I was finally on level ground. I had made it out. And adjusting to a wide, smooth road, without sudden turns and sharp bends that demanded hypervigilance, was a project in itself.

And now I’ve been driving level for a little while, it’s starting to feel normal, I’m starting to relax. But the thing is, when I look in my rearview, all I really see is mountains. Everything that came before it is blotted out, and everything that came afterward is tiny in comparison.

I’m well out of the mountains, and driving toward whatever comes next. But it’s taking them a long time to get any smaller in the rearview mirror.

***

I have a patch of skin that’s recovering from a bad allergic reaction. There are patches of new pink skin interspersed with dry scabby areas. I’m eager for it all to be new and smooth, but I recognize that the dry, rough bits have their purpose. They aren’t pretty or nice to touch, but they’re needed, to protect what’s still tender and re-forming. They aren’t for always.

To accept that I need these rough spots, these dry and insensitive protective pieces, isn’t to accept that I will always be this way. I am still healing: in some places the healing is mostly finished, in others there’s a lot of work still to be done. If I try to rip off the scabs before it’s done, I just risk re-infection and further damage. So if I am a little prickly, a little insular, a little unforgiving, those are my scabs. Those are the defenses that help keep my heart safe while it heals. They aren’t for always, but they’re needed for now.

This is not Ginny

I like those facebook-analyzer memes much more than my ego wishes I did, and I almost always click on them, and I post the results when I find them pleasing and/or amusing. Until today, when I found my results amusing and most displeasing.

It started when a friend of mine (we’ll call her Cher) posted hers, which went something like:

This is Cher.

Cher says what she thinks and often speaks the truth. That’s why she is disliked by some.

Cher doesn’t give a shit.

Cher is smart.

Be like Cher.

I appreciated this, and it was so appropriate to Cher that at first I thought she’d made up her own text to go with the image, and started to think about what my text would be. Alas, I found that the meme has auto-generated text, but I was still curious.

So this is the first one they gave me:

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LOL NO. Ginny grudgingly admits that there are a couple of good men, and even trusts about four or five of them. Ginny complains about men on facebook whenever she damn well pleases.

But the “try again” button was enticing so I quickly went through a dozen or so. The least objectionable ones were along the lines of “Ginny feels fine about her body and doesn’t care who knows it,” but they were all selfie-related and I don’t take a lot of selfies (but I support those of you who do!) It became evident very soon that the text pulled was completely random, with no input from anything I’ve said or done ever.

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I have nothing but respect for this person, but it is clearly some other Ginny.

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Ginny doesn’t remove her eyebrows because she’s not very femme and it fucking hurts, but she doesn’t shame other people for their beauty routines.

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Au contraire, Ginny recognizes the value in speaking common experiences as a way of community building. When Ginny posts about the weather it is not to inform others, but to express what is important to her in her world at that time. Ginny knows that the closest relationships are ones where we can each speak whatever is on our mind, even if it is well known to the other person.

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WTF of course I would check in on facebook if I were in the hospital! Unless I wanted privacy about the experience. My friends give a shit about me and would want to know that I was going through something! What kind of monster wrote this one?

(Actually I bet I know: people who accuse you of “attention seeking” when you talk about important things in your life are almost always narcissists themselves, pissed that you’re stealing their spotlight. Or they’ve been raised by narcissists and have internalized the self-abnegation that comes with that — if that’s you, message me, I have some books you should read.)

Anyway.

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Oh. Oh nuh-uh. Ginny loves to cook but has NOTHING but side-eye for this one. Moving on.

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BWAhahahhahahhahaha brb laughing forever.

***

If I wanted to do some kind of remotely valuable analysis, I’d log in and tell it I was male (no one will be surprised that there was no non-binary option, and clearly they assumed I’m straight) to find out whether they’re sexist or equal-opportunity crappy. But it’s my vacation weekend and I don’t feel like it.

I don’t know exactly what I’d put if I was designing one of these, but it would probably be something like:

This is Ginny.

Ginny thinks people should do whatever the hell they feel in their souls is right for them, as long as it doesn’t harm others.

Ginny is smart, although that doesn’t mean all her opinions are correct.

Don’t be like Ginny.

Be like you.

Kittenversary!

In October 2014, I left my husband. It was a hard, weird, blurry month. It contained at least two of the worst moments of my life. It was filled with confusion, anger, and fear.

It’s also the month that Greg, Claire, and Galia became my home. They were there for me, immediately and without hesitation. When I didn’t even know what I needed or wanted, they had a warm and safe place for me. Before I could make any decisions about what to do past the current day, they let me nestle into their tiny two-bedroom apartment — originally intended for just two of them to live in — and never for a moment made me feel like I was imposing.

About halfway through October, I decided I wanted a tiny place of my own, a refuge, space to be myself and regroup. With some help I had found one and moved in before the end of the month. I had very little: I slept on an L. L. Bean camp cot, and cooked my breakfast eggs in the one small saucepan I owned.

On October 29, I was walking home at night and came across a couple who were playing with a tiny kitten on the sidewalk. She had been jumping around in the street, they said, and they’d lured her back to the sidewalk. Of course I knelt down and petted her and squealed over her little pink nose and her fuzzy black tail. The couple was on the phone with some local animal authority, who said just to leave her, she probably belonged somewhere nearby. So, after a few minutes, the couple got up and left. I stayed petting her and watching her gambol for a little longer, and when I got up to continue walking home, she pranced alongside me.

We went that way for about three blocks — she would run up ahead to investigate something, and then turn around and wait for me to catch up. I told myself I was NOT going to take her home. My elderly George-cat was just enjoying life as an only cat again, and my brand-new studio was much too small to add a kitten.

black-and-white kitten, hunched down on a bathroom floor looking wary.
First picture!

I got myself over the denial gap by saying, well, at least I should take her in for the night, give her some food and water, and take her to the vet in the morning. That’s the decent and humane thing to do. I brought her home and gave her some water and a little food. At first she seemed unsure about this new thing called “indoors,” but she adjusted quickly. It was already past 11 at night, but I texted a picture to Greg, Claire, and Galia, and within 15 minutes they were all at my place cooing and squeeing. At one point, she was gnawing on Greg’s finger and abruptly fell asleep mid-gnaw. It had been a long day for a kitten.

close-up of black and white kitten looking curiously at something off to the right I’m not sure exactly when I made the decision to keep her, but at the vet next day I named her Sabrina. I bought a book on raising kittens and I made toys out of yarn and cardboard. When she wasn’t a blur of motion, I took as many pictures as I could.

On the face of it, a time of upheaval isn’t a good time to adopt a pet. But she was just what I needed, right then in my life. A thing about codependence is that even when you’ve left your partner for really bad behavior on their part, most of what you feel is guilt — and this sudden unsettling void where all your caregiving energy used to go. Sabrina gave me someone to take care of, someone who needed me in a very uncomplicated way. She gave me a concrete reason to believe I was still a fuzziest ever black and white kitten curled up and sleeping on a denim-clothed lapgood person, I had done something positive in the world, someone was better off because of me. And yet caring for her was hardly martyrdom or sacrifice. Kittens for codependence detox: highly recommended.

Tabby and white cat curled up on a bed, looking a bit scornfully at the black and white kitten sleeping sprawled half-off the mattress.
Judging Sabrina: always a big part of George’s daily life.

We called her the Manic Pixie Dream Kitten because of her effect on George and on Max, Claire’s cat. Both George and Max were male cats who’d been bullied in other multi-cat households. They were sweet and timid and liked cuddling, but were not into chasing and pouncing kinds of games. Sabrina charmed both of them, though. After a few days of wariness, George accepted her as his sometimes-annoying baby sister. He thought her antics were absurd, but one afternoon after watching her chase a piece of danging string for several minutes, he gave the thing some swats himself.

As for Max, we took her over to meet him in early December. The first time she visited, he followed her as she explored all over the apartment, going into all the Black cat sitting up while the kitten, sprawled on her back, swipes at his tail.places she’d just vacated, presumably to make sure she hadn’t messed anything up. I took her over there on a pretty regular basis, and by Christmastime they were buddies, and would chase each other around the house.

Black and white cat sprawling on a fuzzy blanket with her eyes squinched shut.
Or sprawled. Whatever.

Now we live in a bigger place, with stairs that Sabrina loves to tear up and down. Most nights she sleeps curled up at my feet. We still call her “kitten” even though technically I guess she’s an adult now. She rarely meows… mostly she makes little chirping noises. But sometimes when one of us leaves she’ll stand at the door downstairs and meow piteously. I think she loves us.

Happy Adoptiversary, Sabrina. You’ve been making my home happier for a year now, and I’m so thankful for you. Here’s to many more years together.Black and white cat curled up and sleeping on a bed.

Everyday Feminism! And other news

Hi all! I’ve been absent from here for a while, sorry about that. These days, I seem to periodically go into a hole where I am wrestling with a lot of my personal shit, and staying on top of my part-time job is about all the productivity I can muster. I’m learning to be at peace with that… I’ve survived some rough experiences and it’s okay that my brain sometimes needs to take some time off from doing anything but processing them and coping with life.

But I have some super-exciting news! I’m now officially a contributing writer for Everyday Feminism, one of the smartest and most effective sites of feminist writing I’ve ever encountered. I’ve been honored to write a couple of guest pieces for them before, and I’m over the moon that they invited me to join their regular team! I’ll be posting there about bi-weekly, and I’ll try to remember to link from here. Here, I’ll get started right now! My first article, on mindfulness, body awareness, and sex. (This, like many posts to come, will include some personal sharing that might be TMI for people related to me. Or might not! But wanted to mention it.)

Also, NaNoWriMo. I first did NaNo in 2002 I think? And I did it almost every year until grad school sounded the knell of doom on that and basically all fiction writing. And then last fall was pretty much entirely consumed with processing the dissolution of my marriage, so. I promised myself that this year I’d jump back on the train, because I miss fiction and I miss writing with that hands-in-the-air, free-for-all communal feeling that NaNo gives you. And then I forgot all about it, and I committed to writing two articles a month for Everyday Feminism, and was feeling like I’d given myself just enough of a project load that I’d need to stay on top of it but could manage, and then someone I know tweeted about NaNoWriMo, and I went “…dammit.”

Well, I’m going to give it a go anyway; my actual job and EF will come first, but if I even crank out 15,000 words of fiction during November, that’ll be more than I’ve written in the last three years combined, and I’ll feel great about it. Needless to say, I’m not pre-plotting… the next couple of weeks will be spent in idly thinking of concepts that would be fun to write about, and maybe building a character name bank because otherwise I’ll continually be stalling out on new characters and what to call them.

And I’m gonna try to blog more. I haven’t even talked about how I’m training to be a doula, or how I took up running and am doing a 5k this weekend! So I have lots to talk about. Until next time!

Kinds of introversion

I read a post recently that got me thinking about introversion and poly communication, and I’d like to write more about that soon, but on the way I started thinking about introversion as a trait. I grew up on classic Myers-Briggs personality type theory, and still find it often useful for understanding myself and others. Lately, introversion has been a fairly trendy topic, and I’ve seen a lot of people express feeling left out because they identify with some but not all of the things listed.

I’m not anti-label; I think labels are important and useful as we navigate a diverse world (and they’re most important for those whose identities tend to be unrecognized or misunderstood). As a pretty solid introvert by any definition, having that handle to understand myself by has been crucial for my emotional and social health. But it’s also important to recognize that every label is an approximation. Sometimes it’s useful to break things down into tinier, more nuanced pieces. And I think discussions of introversion would be helped if we recognized that “introversion” is really a cluster of traits that often go together, but not always. Reading an article that’s like, “As introverts, we [blah blah blah]” almost always creates a point of alienation as a self-identified introvert like me runs along and hits some description that just isn’t true.

So here’s a completely unscientific and off-the-top-of-my-head list of different introvert traits, any of which a self-described introvert may or may not have. I write it for my own reference, to remind myself that this thing I call introversion is more complex and variable than I tend to assume.

High need for alone time

Most people, at some point, feel the need to get away and be alone for a while. For some, this need is so small that their everyday routine (commute, shower time, bathroom time) fills it and they never really experience that “I have to get away by myself RIGHT NOW” feeling. On the other end, some people need hours or days by themselves to feel at their best. And for a lot of people it varies — for me, the more unhappy or stressed I am, the more alone time I need. Where you draw the cutoff for “this level of alone time makes someone an introvert” is arbitrary and pretty relative.

There’s also variance in what counts as alone time. For some people, sitting with a close friend or family member while they quietly work on their own things is enough to recharge and feel restored. Others need to be actually alone, with a closed door between themselves and other humans.

Low tolerance for big social time

This and the above are often linked in discussions, but they’re actually separate things. Somebody can need a lot of alone time but also be comfortable interacting in large groups for hours; someone can be stressed by large gatherings but also not often feel the craving to be actually alone. As with the need for alone time, this lives on a scale and the “introverson” cutoff is pretty arbitrary.

There are a lot of reasons that socializing in big groups can be stressful and un-fun, and a lot of them are going to be independent points below, so I’m not going to dig very deep into this for now.

Preference for few intimate relationships over many varied

I hate meeting people, but I love knowing people. It’s a struggle for me to get through the early stages of knowing somebody, where there’s small talk and group socializing, but I love nothing more than sitting down with someone I’m close to and talking about EVERYTHING. I assume that casual social interactions are fun and rewarding for other people, because they keep doing it, but I just don’t get it. Someone will have to write a post about extravert traits and explain it to me.

Anyway, a lot of introverts feel this way, and would rather spend time with a few close friends over and over, than continually meet new people or interact more casually with a large group of people. You can see how this fits tidily with the above traits, but I’ve definitely known people who have a strong preference for a few intimate relationships, while not having a strong need for alone time or aversion to big groups.

Internal processing

Some people like to think through feelings and problems on their own, and then discuss them once they’ve got a pretty good handle on their own thoughts. Others process by talking it through. We have a pretty hard time understanding each other. Again, I’ll leave it to an external processor to explain their side of things. For me, I kind of can’t think and talk at the same time. If I’m talking, it’s because it’s something I’ve thought about ahead of time (not always right before I open my mouth… it can be something I’ve devoted a lot of thought to previously.) I don’t know why this is… it just feels like the thinky part of my brain and the speaky part are completely different systems, and trying to run them in conjunction is way too complicated and difficult.

I’m not sure if this is a cause or a result of being an internal processor, but I also put a lot of weight on things that I say (and have to be reminded that I can’t always do the same with others.) I’m not sure I’ve ever said something I didn’t mean. I’ll revise my thoughts in light of previous information, but that phenomenon of blurting something out that I didn’t mean is completely alien to me, and I think to most internal processors.

I’ll have a lot to say about internal processing in the next post I want to write, so I’ll leave it there for now.

Reserved emotional expression

This one is close to internal processing, but distinct enough to deserve its own category. Some people have a lot of emotional output — they express their feelings quickly, fluidly, and often at high volume. Others keep a calm appearance in most emotional states, and are more likely to say how they’re feeling than show it. It’s not that they’re holding back (that’s a separate thing), it’s just that it doesn’t come naturally to them to emote visibly. There are a lot of cultural differences around emotional expression, so someone who’s reserved within their home culture might come across as very expressive in another. In general, though, being more reserved than is typical for your culture is often considered a trait of introversion.

Lower overstimulation threshhold

I’m really fascinated by matters of over- and under-stimulation, because I’ve been learning how much it affects my mental state in ways I’d never realized before. We all have a level of noise, light, and activity that feels energizing and positive to us, and a level higher than that that becomes extremely stressful to process. Where the threshhold is can vary a lot for a person based on their mood, stress, sleep deprivation, etc., but having a lower-than-average threshhold for overstimulation is often counted as an introvert trait.

For me, overstimulation is a huge piece of my large-group intolerance. My energy is sapped about five times faster in a noisy environment than a quiet one, regardless of the number of people. (Weirdly, a dim environment tends to sap my energy more than a brightly lit one. I haven’t yet found any insights to what that’s about.)

I’m not going to try to make this list exhaustive… in fact it’s pretty biased toward the introvert traits that I personally have, because those are the ones that come to my mind most easily. I’d love to hear from others about traits or aspects of introversion that belong on this list. What have you got for me?