Friday, March 17, 2023.
On Thursday, I had what I think was a kind of meltdown over frustrations that have been building up over months that were outside of my direct control, and yet impacted me because I had decided that I needed to participate out of a sense of responsibility. This has increased the drain on my already-limited energy reserves, but until yesterday I was able to handle it.
I first noticed the beginnings of the meltdown as an extreme lethargy, finding it difficult to get out of bed. I had an important morning errand to pick up an prescription related to my gender transition, so this ordinarily should have been enough to send me racing out the door. Except it didn't. By the time I got into the car, I was already feeling a bit unsettled for unknown reasons, and when I reached the pharmacy I impulsively drove right past it and parked next to Kohls, one of the bigger department stores near me.
I noted two familiar symptoms:
- I was finding it difficult to hold any kind of thought in my head for more than half a second before it faded
- I felt that I was not really part of the world, but couldn't hold on to the thought
In the past, I've been able to use retail window shopping as a kind of jump-start mental stimulation, as it felt like my brain was dangerously UNDERSTIMULATED and unable to operate. Massaging my arms and legs and stretching also help add physical sensation to my brain, which is what I had done to get myself out of bed in the first place. A walk through a big department store with its many colorful items to browse, in theory, would give my brain something interesting to ponder and I would be OK. It has worked several times in the past.
This time, though, I was instead filled with a deep rage. As I walked around the store, I was bombarded with what my senses were telling me: This is all mediocre crap produced at low prices to sell for profit, and none of it is well made or well designed. They are instead packages to make it appear that they are something of quality when they are not. I also found myself reacting very badly to all the male clothing, as I have been worried about what to wear for an upcoming trip to St. Louis for a family memorial service, and this triggered a very bad dysphoric response.
So, I got out of there as fast as I could, and sat in the car to consider my options.
- I was experiencing some kind of emotional crisis
- I didn't know what exactly was triggering it or why
- I was concerned that if I didn't handle this, it could lead to a dark place
- I had the desire to just drive to somewhere far away on an impromptu road trip
The desire to drive was unusual, which prompted me to jump into my coworking Discord server's
#talk-health room and open a thread The Urge to Drive Away for Hours to detail what I was feeling, and I got a few good responses, the gist of which was this:
- When one is feeling out of control, driving is a form of control. The act of driving and operating a vehicle engages the senses in a way that is soothing or building adrenaline, depending on how you drive.
- Being in the car alone on a long drive gives you time to process emotions. Singing loud and being free on the road. It also gives you something to do when there is nothing to do.
The consensus was that I should go for a drive, and I decided that that I would drive north until I felt like driving back south. I guessed that Concord, New Hampshire would be the intermediate target, but maybe I could drive farther. So I gassed up the car and promised I would post pictures of the places I stopped, and got on the road.
Sri's Driving Adventure Takeaways
I drove without music. It was me on the highway, rowing gears on my delightfully manual transmission, listening to the hum of the engine and whoosh of the wind while NPR played in the background until I was too far away to pick up the station. When I realized that this had happened, I felt a sense of accomplishment...it felt like I had travelled.
I started to remember things as I passed by signs I hadn't seen since the pandemic began. I had completely forgotten that Portsmouth, New Hampshire existed, and there was a sign pointing to the route to get there! I hadn't been to the seacoast in quite a long time, so I decided on a whim to jump on 101 and go there. Alas, the exit was under construction and I missed the sign that pointed to the detour. But I made a note to myself...Portsmouth exists! I can go there!
So I continued along my way to Concord, not quite remembering how to get there, so I told my navigation program to give me directions to the State House. Concord is the capitol of New Hampshire, and I remember the State House being right near main street with ample parking. Once I got there, I could decide what to do next. Thank The Maker for smart phones! They've made my travels so much less stressful than using paper maps.
When I arrived in Concord, the first thing I noticed when I got out of the car was that I was next to a FANCY BAKERY. I went inside and looked around; they had a lot of interesting quiches, but I was fasting until lunch so I didn't get anything. As I walked up and down the street, I had this thought:
I am in a whole different down, and there are things that exist outside my house and the supermarket!
I have been living in a bubble, trapped by these plans and responsibilities of my own making. The world, though, is vast with riches and new experiences. This is the kind of sensory input that I need more of. Online shopping, visiting local shops, and watching stuff on YouTube is somehow diminishing rather than expanding. By disconnecting from the larger world due to "priorities", I had let my mind start to atrophy as I forgot that entire cities existed in my home state that I enjoyed visiting, memories fading in concert with my sense of purpose.
I was feeling pretty good by this point, and felt that I could drive home and get an egg roll from the food court at the Outlet Mall to see if it was still good, thus updating my egg roll ranking chart with new data regarding the best egg roll in my area. But as I was getting ready to leave, I remembered that there was a salon in Concord that I'd read about. It was founded by a transwoman but I didn't know anyone who had actually visited the space. Was it still open? Was it nearby?
Yes and yes. It was a five minute walk from my parking spot. It was in a lovely location across the street from an actual record store that I remember visiting decades ago with friends. The staff was warm and welcoming, assuring me that YES they did serve transgender people and would I like to meet the owner? OMG YES. She kindly made the time to chat with me after finishing up with a customer, and I told her what I was looking for in terms of hair care and other things I felt rather clueless about, and she gave me answers that I was happy to hear.
Before I left, I mentioned I was traveling to St Louis to see relatives that haven't seen me since I've been semi-out, and though it was short notice might there be something I could schedule to just trim my hair? I hadn't cut it since the pandemic and it was not doing well. The salon owner agreed, saying that she didn't mean to sound harshy but that it was looking pretty "ratty", which was EXACTLY the word I had been thinking. Usually, she said, she books two months in advance which is what I had been expecting and prepared for. BUT, she added, two minutes before she came to talk to me she had gotten an email cancellation for Saturday, so if it was still available did I want it? YES PLEASE!!!
And so...the day ended well. I resolved a three-year long period of anxiety, disconnected from services that had made me feel better about myself. As I left the salon, I realized that I had been feeling really really disconnected from community, particularly the trans community, for many years. I had also lost many contacts and also have been losing many long standing professional connections as time has passed. Today felt like a clawing-back of possibility, starting with someone fixing my awful hair with expertise and an understanding of my experience. Hair salons can be such places of affirmation and joy.
Along the way home, I did stop by that restaurant and discovered it had changed owners there was a new egg roll leader on my list. Double-closure win!
I haven't been to the salon yet but today I have to take care of a bunch of domestic chores that will help me prepare for the upcoming trip. There are vast mountains of clutter that contain items I need to pack, and I have been neglecting much of the house to try to make progress on my Groundhog Day Resolutions initiatives. It's not easy, as much as I had hoped it would be with the improvements to the system. The main missing ingredient is people to talk to who are invested in my work as their own work in some way. It's always been this. The changes I made this year was to create ways for people to engage with me in this way, but that requires people too! I am making very slow, very scattered progress on it because the energy I need to do it comes from other people. I didn't realize just how dangerously low it was until my near-meltdown shoved it's snout RIGHT IN MY FACE and snarled.
While I feel better, the fact remains that there's a huge pile of things that are not getting done. The fundamental missing element is people involved with my stuff because I need this sense of connection to do boring difficult things. The alternative I am increasingly considering is not to do those boring difficult things and do something that comes more easily that can still bring in some revenue. I have some ideas along these lines, but that'll be a story for another day.