Anger is a disguise for hurt

In almost every case I’ve ever seen, when people are angry, they’re usually actually hurt about something.

For that reason, I’m not sure what to do about what I wrote yesterday. To be sure, there is still a very deep hurt underneath my relationship with that former friend.

I’m sure she was lashing out at me because there was hurt underneath it, too. But just because I can understand that didn’t make it easier to accept.

I couldn’t just get over it. I still feel that it’s never okay to blow up at people and call them names, even if you’re hurt. Her doing so had always been a part of our friendship and it wounded me very deeply.

But while I felt I needed to finally say what I had been mostly repressing, doing so didn’t make me feel better. It didn’t erase the feeling of being hurt to finally tell my side of the story.

I had been doing so well at keeping myself at peace. But when I look back at previous entries, I can see that my efforts were slowly starting to unravel. Even my anxiety, which I had been managing to deal with so well, started to return.

I have a million excuses (which are just that: excuses) for why I stopped doing as well. I stopped meditating. I’ve had the most stressful four months of possibly my entire life, with my husband getting diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, having more work than I can do which means I’m not getting enough rest, the brutal fucking beat down that is a Texas summer with MS. Just surviving has sometimes been very difficult.

But still, that’s not the kind of person I want to be. Even if it was how I really felt, I was trying hard not to talk about it and “just get over it.” But trying to just get over it stopped working.

When do you determine that something needs to be said and when it crosses the line into unnecessary drama? When you grow up without healthy examples of how to handle stuff like this, sometimes you mess it up. It lets me know that I still have a lot of work to do on myself.

At the same time, people who say abusive things to others expect it to be swept under the rug, to move on without addressing it. How do you tell the difference between knowing when to bring it into the light versus saying things that don’t need to be said?

Healing is messy, ugly work sometimes. And sometimes you take a step backward in the process. I feel like that’s what I’ve done.

What it all comes down to is wanting to be better every day than I was the day before and I don’t feel like I did that. I felt I had to address the deep hurt she caused me but I’m not sure I did it the right way. I’m not sure there was a right way to do it.

Why do we accept abuse?

I’m still unraveling the friendship that ended (I know, my readers are probably tired of it, so I’m sorry.) But writing about stuff is how I process it.

The only way to fix something is to figure out why you did it and decide not to do it anymore. So I’m looking at myself and my role in things. I’m left with one question that I keep mulling over: why did I accept the abuse for so long? I think sometimes we accept abuse because it feels familiar.

That’s just a small excerpt of the things she said to me. I have never talked like that to anyone in my life (although it sounds very middle school and I can’t remember things I said that long ago, so anything’s possible.)

For her part, during one of the earlier fights, she said if I was so hurt that I couldn’t let it go, I should’ve just told her to fuck off and stopped trying to be her friend. And that’s exactly what I should have done. I just kept hoping she’d change and I liked the good parts.

The weird thing is also that she’s the only person who ever talked to me like that, at least since the peak years of when I was bullied as a kid. I was tormented by spoiled rich kids who got everything they wanted and had no consequences.

Although she also grew up getting everything she wanted and having few consequences, she said she never bullied anyone in school. (Though I wonder if other people who knew her then would agree.) She said I was holding her privileged childhood against her.

It did bother me when I still saw similarly spoiled behavior, like when I loaned her my diamond earrings for her wedding and instead of saying thank you, she said, “oh they’re so tiny!” It felt like a put-down, like what I had didn’t meet her standards. I still think I’m justified in considering that rude, rather than it being a matter of my insecurity. I think if I’d had two carat cubic zirconias she would have been impressed because I doubt she knows how much even “tiny” diamonds cost.

The extent of what she called my bullying toward her was saying stuff like if her husband had a problem with her spending so much, it probably felt disrespectful to him that she wasn’t doing much about it. And that it was rude to him that she bought herself a different wedding ring because the one he chose wasn’t good enough for her.

The real issue was that she was continuing to call me names when she got mad, just like the kids at school did when I was young. It wasn’t about what she had or how she grew up or that I was refusing to get over middle school jealousy. It was that her bullying me with the name calling was reliving middle school for me. It didn’t matter what she was bullying me about, it was that she was bullying me at all.

But what I wonder is why did I put up with it from her for so long? We had cycles like this what felt like frequently to me. At first, it happened maybe once a year. But she got worse as time went on and she went off on me like that every 4 months or so near the end. Once should have been enough and I should not have gone back for more after the first time.

We’d try to make up, then a few months later, she was back again with the name-calling whenever she got mad. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop and that was very stressful. She said I thought our friendship was stressful because I chose to feel insecure around her and should just stop. But no, I felt our friendship was stressful because I never knew when she’d go off on me again.

She said we didn’t just grow apart. But I grew apart from her and there’s no rule that says two people have to mutually grow apart. I was finally done with the cycles of her calling me her “hetero life mate” when she was happy with me and turning around weeks later with the name calling.

I was tired of doing unreciprocated nice things for her, like singing her happy birthday when she was sad that no one else did, or enlisting my husband to save all her data when her computer crashed (which would’ve cost a minimum $250 if she had taken it to Best Buy Geek Squad; I later looked it up.) He didn’t even like her but was willing to help because she was my friend.

She couldn’t even send a thank you card to him because she claimed she didn’t have my address, despite having been to my house a few times and having sent me mail. It’s like she had no appreciation for the value of what he did for her. My husband and oldest kid fix people’s computers pretty regularly and usually get at least a card or a nominal gift card out of it, just because people understand how many hours of work go into it and how valuable it is to them to retrieve data that would otherwise be lost forever. I felt like she never truly appreciated anything.

She never did anything for me. She said she didn’t know what I liked and I’m generally pretty anti-materialistic, so she was afraid to get me gifts. For one thing, that’s bullshit. If you’ve been friends with someone for nearly 20 years, you should know what they like. She just wasn’t paying attention. For another thing, neither of the two examples I gave of things I did for her cost a dime. Bringing me a plate of box mix brownies would’ve made me feel more cared for than doing nothing at all.

Why did I put up with it for so long, when no one else in adulthood had ever treated me that way?

I think it was a combination of low self-esteem on my part and continually being shocked by her behavior. I didn’t feel like I deserved better. And I always figured that she’d eventually outgrow the name calling.

I also knew she didn’t have a lot of close friends that she could keep around for long and I felt bad for her. I also have never had a lot of close friends because I’m an introvert and have social anxiety rooted in the pretty intense childhood bullying I experienced. It’s hard for me to trust people.

My husband once said something that was like a lightbulb realization, even though at the time I didn’t do anything about it. He said I was reliving my childhood bullying and every time we’d be friends again, I thought the cycle of bullying was finally over. I was trying to fix what happened to me as a child by continually repeating it and hoping it would turn out differently.

When I walked away, it was because I finally believed I deserved better. I didn’t need to wait anymore for the apology that would never come. I finally understood that she wasn’t going to stop behaving that way. So now I just have to heal the part of myself that still misses the times when things were good.

Death and wanting to believe

It’s a funny thing: I no longer try to convince myself to be Catholic or Christian and am finally honest with myself about my uncertainty. But I still feel like I’m missing out on something big.

One of the biggest reasons I wish I could believe is because the Christian view of death seems so comforting. The Catholic view is even more so because it has Purgatory as the way you can still eventually get to heaven if you tried but screwed up. It’s the soft gray landing pad in contrast to the stark binary black-and-white, heaven or hell of evangelicalism.

My husband’s grandmother just died a couple days ago, and she was one of my favorite people in the whole world. I was closer to her than I was to any of my own grandparents. Nobody ever had a bad thing to say about her, which in my view is a sign of a life well-lived.

Everyone’s saying she’s with Jesus now and I wish I could believe that. If I’m honest about what I truly believe, I believe she’s at eternal peace. But I wish I could believe there was an afterlife. I’m eternally agnostic at heart; I just don’t feel like we can really know what happens after we die. No matter how many apologetics or Bible verses I read that offer supposed proof, I’m still left with doubt and skepticism.

I don’t feel like it’s a waste for people who to live their lives according to what they believe about faith. Even if it turns out there’s no afterlife where we’re with Jesus, it seems that having the belief system brings peace in this life to those who believe. As long as people aren’t using their beliefs to oppress others, I see nothing wrong with having them. It seems like it could be a good thing.

But it’s lonely out here in the land where everything is unknown. And there is no comfort when you think about death, not really. Yet I can’t bring myself to believe. I have really tried. I’ve tried being Catholic, I’ve tried being evangelical, and I could only believe up to a point. That point which hangs me up is always about heaven and hell and that we earn our place in either based on what we believed while we were alive. But what if you just can’t believe?

I know this may sound offensive to devout Christians and I don’t intend it that way at all, but I feel like my efforts to believe are like trying to talk myself into believing in an imaginary friend. I feel like I’m lacking some essential gene that allows me to believe.

I wish I had the certainty that other people do, the sense of deep conviction. Without it, the efforts feel pointless. I want to believe, I really do. But it also feels intellectually dishonest to try to continually talk myself into belief and that feels worse.

Of course, this all has even more weight in light of my husband’s cancer. He has made peace with his own death, but I haven’t. I’m not ready for him to be gone, not even if it’s in 10 or 20 years. Because he believes the Catholic faith is the truth, he has all kinds of reassurances for himself and others. He does partial and full indulgences to try to shorten his time in purgatory. Now he offers indulgences and Mass for his grandmother’s soul.

Yet for me, trying to understand this and adopt it myself is like trying to think in another language. I don’t think I can even put into words how impossible it seems for me to believe.

My very devout Catholic friend, the one who sponsored my kids when we went through the conversion process as a family, posted something interesting on Facebook about marriage. She shared a quote from Fr. John Riccardo that said (paraphrasing from memory) that at the end of your life, you should look at your spouse and see that they showed you God.

And that’s the weird thing: for whatever doubts I have, I feel like my husband has shown me an image of what I think God would be like. Kind. Selfless. Forgiving. Choosing to see the best in people, including me.

My husband also said yesterday that Catholics know about death. I know this is true; the concept of “memento mori” is all about living with an awareness of your own death. Yet I also think about all the saints whose stories I know and how many of them died young. And dammit, he’s as good of a candidate for sainthood as anyone I’ve met in my life, yet I don’t want him to be taken from me. The world needs him around for longer more than it needs me. It feels deeply unfair.

If by some chance, I come to truly believe as a result of his death, it doesn’t feel like a good trade-off. I’d rather have him here. But God or the universe or life in general doesn’t guarantee that good people won’t die young, no matter how loved they are.

I hope there’s a heaven and that God will take mercy on me for wanting and trying to believe. I hope I’ll find some way of making peace with death. Being uncertain is a cold and lonely way to be.

Being American

Being an American is pretty scary right now. I don’t watch the news, so I’m isolated from the fear-mongering that dominates our news channels. (More so on the right than the left, but I’ve noticed that even the left-leaning news sources I might otherwise agree with still try to sow division among us and to fear “the other.”)

Of course, what’s prompting this is the fact that we had two mass shootings this weekend on back-to-back days. There’s so much suffering among the victims’ families and the communities where these occur.

But even more than that, it’s both the frequency and the randomness with which these mass shootings occur that makes them terrifying. You truly don’t know when or where it could happen.

Will it happen to my kids at school? Will my husband or oldest child be shot at work? Neither of them work in dangerous environments but that doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Hell, any one of us could be gunned down anywhere we go, from church to the grocery store.

As I’ve seen many times online, it’s like the country keeps asking why this keeps happening, in the only nation where this does keep happening.

More than anything, it makes me want to leave the country. This is bigger than which president is in office. Nobody seems willing to do anything to stop this. Those of us who really want reform to our laws to make this stop happening are outnumbered by the people and lawmakers who don’t want this to change.

The fact that there are so many people who value their guns over the lives being lost says something very scary about the state of America these days.

It’s very different from when I was a kid. Back then, I really did think America was the best nation in the world. Now when people say “if you don’t like it here, just leave,” I actually wish I could. But instead I’m trapped here.

My kids have grown up with active shooter drills as a normal part of life. My husband had active shooter response training at a former job. And I hate that these things are just normal.

I hate that there’s essentially nothing I can do about this except vote for the candidates who want to change it. But I know that they probably won’t win, and even if they do, their efforts will probably be pointless in the face of those committed to maintaining the status quo.

But the status quo really isn’t acceptable. And at least at this point in my life, there’s not a damn thing I can do to change it. I just have to hope and pray that neither the people I love nor I will happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time the next time this happens.

Because the one thing that’s certain is that there is going to be a next time. I hate that it’s now so common that people are becoming numb to it.

You’re not my guru

I found this old blog post while doing a Google search for myself. It still stands and I thought it was interesting, so I figured I’d share this post I originally wrote in February 2013. It’s at times like this that I really wish I hadn’t blown up my original Conflict Girl blog 😦

Original post as follows:

I saw a therapist for about six months last year. Although I understand that some circumstances deserve discretion, I don’t feel that seeking therapy is one of them. In general, I think secrets are toxic and I am completely in favor of erasing any stigma about mental health.

My therapist – we’ll call her Nancy – helped me with my writing career and my fear about the fact that my long-term contract job had an end date. I made peace with the end of my job and learned that I really did want to pursue my career as a writer again.

I developed a lot more confidence in my writing and my regular per-word rate doubled as a result of seeing her. So she was great when used on a short-term basis as a kind of career coach.

The problem was that she was flaky and very self-centered.

She was very much the stereotype of an aging hippie: all-black outfits and ethnic jewelry, flute music in the waiting room, and artifacts of all cultures including both Native American dreamcatchers and statues of Buddha. She was kinda all over the place. There’s nothing wrong with any of that in itself. But one thing was clear: she really wanted to be my guru.

I’ve run across other people like her before. She reminded me a lot of a woman who used to run a witchy shop that sold crystals, essential oils, and books on Wicca, who swung a crystal pendulum over your wrist to divine your future. (Flaky witch lady told 18-year-old me that the pendulum said I was pregnant when I definitely wasn’t.) She was nice enough, perfectly harmless, but flaky as all get out and clearly envisioned herself as a very wise healer. In fact, that old witchy shop has long since closed but there’s a new one in town with a different owner, who fits the same spacey-airhead-guru personality type.

My therapist Nancy had a good talent for helping people find the root of their issues. My husband went with me for a couple of sessions and Nancy helped him zero in on some of his own hang-ups that were impacting our relationship, things he thought were long buried.

But that seemed to be the extent of Nancy’s help: she could identify the problems, but not how to fix them.

Part of that may be that she really only had two treatment modalities, something called the “emotional freedom technique” (or EFT) and inner child visualization.

My oldest child went to see her for a couple months to sort out some of his sexual orientation issues and problems he had with me, and he now considers Nancy a complete quack and she turned him off from seeing another therapist, just because she was so limited in her treatment approaches.

Although she said that her own treatment approaches helped her and she repeatedly went into detail about her own problems, which was extremely unhelpful, she just seemed completely unable to offer other treatment methods even when asked to do so.

Call it a failure of imagination on my part, but I just didn’t want her to be my guru.

Inner-child visualization and the energy-meridian tapping of EFT just felt too silly and I couldn’t ever get into it. Maybe that makes it a failure on my part rather than hers because I just couldn’t embrace her treatment options. What I do know is that it didn’t work for me, my husband, or my kid. It was just too weird for us.

The interesting part that I learned was that I’m apparently more traditional than I sometimes like to think I am. One of the issues I discussed with Nancy was my discomfort with certain things about the Catholic church. She strongly discouraged me away from going back and tried to put in a major plug for me to go to her Unity church instead.

She emphasized how free the Unity church was and how I could believe in whatever I wanted, even though I told her that I liked the rituals in the Catholic church and wanted to find something a little more structured. Not being a therapist myself, I don’t know much about what they’re supposed to do, but I’m pretty sure that a good therapist is not really supposed to try to sway you out of your religious beliefs.

As much as she wanted to be my guru, I came away from it realizing that I am really my own guru. That doesn’t mean I’m my own God or anything, but it does mean that I realized that I’m the one I trust, more than I trust her. I can actually fix my problems quite well on my own. I hadn’t seen her since before Christmas and called her on Tuesday after my disastrous birthday, to make an appointment for a marriage counseling session. But I called to cancel the appointment today because as I told her, my husband and I found a way to work things out on our own.

Ultimately I’m going to be okay, with or without her.

She sounded disappointed by that.

Sometimes it’s better to be alone

I still miss my friend. I broke things off with her almost a year ago and I still miss her sometimes. It’s hard to be friends with someone for almost 20 years and not feel a sense of loss when it ends. I have to remind myself that I ended things for a reason.

She always said that she didn’t save old messages because she thought it was holding on to bad things. But I think it was really because she didn’t want to be reminded of how poorly she behaved.

Sometimes I still read the messages when I miss her and I’m reminded of why I don’t want to go back. She was cruel and mean and said things that you just wouldn’t say to someone you cared about. She couldn’t show genuine remorse for or even true acknowledgment of what she’d done.

Brené Brown says that sometimes being a friend means that you have to tell them that what they’re doing isn’t okay and they need to get help. And I admit that I am sometimes that person. I’m not a “yes woman,” always telling you what you want to hear. I’m never mean about it. My former friend told me I “bullied” her, but I read back through the messages we exchanged to assess myself honestly and saw nothing that was bullying behavior on my part.

But sometimes I will tell you that things you’re doing are contributing to your problems, if it’s something you complain about a lot and it’s reasonably within your control to fix. If you choose not to work on them and you keep complaining about the same issues repeatedly, I get kinda frustrated.

The tough part is that is that I still believe she’s a good person underneath it all. But I also know that her hair-trigger temper is too much for me to deal with.

I’m torn between wishing she would just give me a genuine apology and wanting her to stay away from me. If I felt she was truly changing and working on becoming better and less toxic, I’d still welcome her back into my life. But that would also be to my detriment because I know it would only be a matter of time until she blew up at me again and became irrationally hateful toward me. The time between blow ups got progressively shorter over the years.

I tried to tell her what my own triggers and issues were and that I was working on them, but she took them to be accusations of her even though they weren’t. Then she used them against me to hurt me. That made me feel unsafe for having opened up to her.

For my part, I’m learning how to be a better friend. It’s tough right now because I don’t have a lot of friends and I’d really like to have some more. But I also feel like maybe I’m not ready for that yet. Much like people jump into new relationships after a break up and talk constantly about their exes, I don’t think I’m healed enough yet not to talk about her to a new friend. She’s still a shadow in my subconscious and I am having trouble letting go.

I’ve reached a point where I feel better about myself and feel like I deserve a kind friendship. I want a friend who cares enough to really listen to me and find out what matters to me. I deserve to be treated better than the way she treated me. Yet finding that is not always easy. I have trouble making new acquaintances and always have.

Few people talk about how much the break up of a long-term friendship can really mess you up. People talk a lot about toxic relationships, but not toxic friendships and how hard it can be to heal from them. Toxic friendships are just as bad as toxic relationships because in both cases, your trust is betrayed repeatedly.

I told her more about myself than I’ve told anyone else besides my husband. And I’m still hurt that she lashed out at me so much, so many times. I can’t just brush it off as things she said in the heat of anger, because it makes me wonder if those were the things she really felt about me all along. She knew exactly what my vulnerabilities were and used them to hurt me.

It also makes me feel really scared about trying to date again if and when my husband dies. It makes me appreciate more how rare it is that I can trust him completely. I don’t know if I can ever trust anyone else completely again, whether friend or lover. She really hurt me that deeply.

In the meantime, I guess I just have to focus on being the best friend I can be to the friends I do have and to really appreciate how much I can trust my husband.

If I have to be mostly alone while I heal, I also have to trust that eventually I’ll meet the right friend who won’t treat me badly. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s better than going back to the one who repeatedly hurt me and showed no remorse about it.

I’m still here, just not interesting

I am in this weird mid-summer zone where I can’t seem to think about anything. I’m somehow managing to still do my writing work, but other than that I feel barely functional.

There was this Harry Potter yoga thing I really wanted to go to yesterday and I was just too bone-tired to do it. My social anxiety also started to flare up and I felt like I wasn’t up to being in an unfamiliar setting around people I didn’t know. I was really disappointed even in my own self because that was the closest thing I would’ve had to socializing in quite a while and I was really looking forward to it.

It’s weird because I have trouble believing in religion, but I seem to give more credibility to things like planetary shifts. There’s little real evidence for either and both require some degree of willingness to believe things that can’t be seen.

But just as we know the moon affects tides, I think the moon affects us too (since we are made up of so much water.) We’re just coming out of Mercury retrograde and then there was a “super black moon” and I am choosing to blame my month of weirdness on that. There’s little science behind it but I believe in it anyway.

I’ve been having weird dreams about new best friends that I’ll meet (not likely to happen soon in reality, since I’d have to actually leave the house more) and about my husband getting bad test results. I’m sure these dreams are just my subconscious mind working stuff out, but it’s unsettling nonetheless.

I’m really struggling with Texas summer and my MS and am thinking about where else I might like to be. So far, no place else really comes to mind, though. My husband’s job is really good and treating him well and his skills are really in demand in this area, so it makes sense to stay here for the foreseeable future.

But if he loses his fight with cancer at some point, would I still want to stay here? That’s less a matter of what I’d want vs. what I could afford. I know I wouldn’t want to go back to Michigan.

Any of the places that are more liberal and have milder weather are also much more expensive than here. Any places that are cheaper than here aren’t going to have the bigger-city amenities that I want.

I have to find a way to do more in the summer than just trying to survive it. I feel like I’m wasting all these weeks, napping and working and doing little else. There has to be more to life than this. I truly feel disabled lately and that sucks a lot. I know that I’ll feel better in a couple of months, but that doesn’t make it easier to get through now.

I feel like I haven’t written anything interesting or had much to say in a long time. It’s as though that part of my brain is just turned off. I really hope I’ll start feeling like my normal self again soon.

Anxiety and finding reasons to get past fear

The more you try not to feel things because you don’t want to feel them, the more they have a tendency to crop up anyway.

My anxiety has been really bad again lately and I finally figured out why: I’ve been suppressing all my fears and bad feelings about my husband’s cancer.

The ironic thing is that life is otherwise going fairly well in general. Yes, I have too much work and my MS symptoms are flaring up like they normally do in the summer. I haven’t been physically feeling the greatest. But we have more money than we possibly ever have and money isn’t a worry anymore like it was for so long. My husband’s job is great. He’s doing fairly well with the chemo, all things considered.

Yet I still can’t stop the bad thoughts from creeping in. I will most likely outlive him, which means I’m going to have to go through the experience of seeing him die. Considering what a wreck I was after my beloved cat Cammy died, I’m sure I will be much worse for much longer when my husband dies.

Knowing that it’s not a matter of if but when sometimes takes my breath away.

I try not to think about that too much because I don’t want to ruin the time we have left together. For all I know (and hope), it will still be many years away. It’s not like his death is imminent. He doesn’t seem like he’s as sick as he is.

At the same time, trying to pretend it’s not in my future is not healthy, either. And sometimes it’s hard to know how to cut that difference. I really need to allow myself time to get into therapy.

I’ve noticed that I haven’t been taking as good of care of myself lately. Part of that is because I have too much work and that leaves me less time to do the right things. Part of it is the vicious cycle of MS, in that the worse I feel, the harder it makes it to do things like exercise and prepare healthy food.

But a big part of it, I realized, is that subconsciously I don’t want to live without him. Maybe on some level I’ve thought that I don’t need to take care of myself because I don’t want to be around if he’s not here. I have been able to imagine how lonely it will be without him and that sounds absolutely miserable.

I can’t imagine finding love with anybody else and I am terrified of dating again. But maybe that in itself is a flawed way of thinking. Maybe I can love him with everything I’ve got now without also assuming I’d never find love again. I might need to give myself permission that I wouldn’t be betraying him if I someday found love again.

Yet I realized that I need to fight more than ever. I need to fight as hard as I can–even if right now my illness is limiting me from doing so. My kids need me. Even if they’re all out on their own once my husband dies, they’re still going to need me. It will be hard enough on them to lose one parent; I don’t want to cause them to lose both parents. I’ve noticed that since my husband’s diagnosis, they’ve all expressed a desire to stick around where we live, rather than moving away like they planned before.

My aunt died of melanoma in her 50s. Her husband, my uncle, died a few years later. I don’t think he knew how to go on without her. I always saw that as kind of a tragedy before. Now I see it as more of a cautionary tale, the road I don’t want to go down myself. My three cousins, my aunt’s kids, are now raising their own kids without one set of grandparents. It’s sad all around.

But avoiding the same kind of scenario myself means that I have to take better care of myself. I have to find a community that will keep me from being lonely all the time, and that means I have to push myself outside my comfort zone.

I have to find out what will keep me going when I’ll feel like I can’t.

MS and the writer’s life

It seems like, in many ways, being a writer would be an ideal job for someone with MS. You get to work from home and because you set your own hours, you can nap whenever you need to.

But even writing can be too much. It’s not the same as writing a personal blog post, which is easy and relaxing.

Instead, it taxes my cognitive skills and requires me to organize my thoughts and synthesize information. I had reached a point where I could do it again and thought I could handle it. After all, I just had an MRI the other day that showed that my disease-modifying drugs are working–and even reversing some of the previous damage.

But even though the drugs are working, I still have MS. Lately, I’ve had close to full-time writing work. It’s enough that if I were to continue it, I’d definitely far exceed the amount I’m allowed to earn on disability. And as a result of doing nearly full-time work, my brain is telling me it’s had enough. I’m having more cognitive problems again and forgetting my train of thought pretty regularly. It feels like my brain is melting down. I know I’m not as good of a writer lately.

Of course, there are also other factors at play. It’s summer and it’s really hot, which is a recurring theme. Every summer, I start having more problems again. I had an ER visit last week, which was when I had the MRI. It turns out that I’m not in the middle of a relapse, just dealing with the normal effects of MS. But the “normal” effects of MS feel pretty intense.

I have also been getting too little sleep, which is far and away my number one predictor of relapse-type symptoms. My youngest has been going to PSAT prep classes early in the morning, which has resulted in me getting less sleep all summer. They will finally taper off soon, but then that time commitment will be replaced by my physical therapy.

Even little things like having to go to the post office or make an eye appointment now feel like very huge deals. I have to work hard to even motivate myself to go anywhere because it feels like I’m trudging through quicksand with weights on my ankles.

I just want one day of not having to go anywhere or do any work. I’ve been working seven days a week for months now.

I just need for things to slow down. I need to get more rest. I need to recover from the summer of early morning PSAT classes (which allow me just enough time to come home and take a shower before heading back out to pick him up.) Summer has been far less relaxing than the normal school year.

I am acutely aware of my to-do list and it just seems to be getting longer every day. I would still find the number of things to do difficult, even without so much writing work. But with the writing work, I just feel like every day is running on a treadmill and someone keeps turning up the speed.

I have no choice but to probably drop my biggest client right now. I can make pretty good money from them but then I can’t do work for other clients. And frankly, the one I want to drop is not the kind of work I thought it would be anyway. I thought it would be writing informational articles about health conditions. But instead it’s writing articles about sketchy plastic surgery and chiropractic treatments (even though I told them at the start that chiropractic was a subject I didn’t want to write about, when they asked us for our preferences.)

Having six articles due in one day feels like the content mill work that I fought so hard to break out of. It’s really well-paying for content mill work but that’s still what it is: short deadlines and formulaic. I can’t write well when I’m doing it assembly-line style.

Still, this all makes me feel like I haven’t beaten my tendencies toward perfectionism and beating myself up. I feel like it’s a failure that I can’t do this work. I have to remind myself that I am on disability for a reason. That is my primary job and I’m supposed to be healing and recovering and doing what’s necessary to stay well. I don’t even have time to do those things now.

I wish I could go back to grad school this fall but I didn’t finalize the application. And my husband understandably asked me not to do it while he was undergoing chemo. I would much rather be teaching sociology classes as an adjunct professor or working as a therapist than continuing to be a freelance writer. It seems like right now, those are my only choices.

I’m not positive that I could do well in grad school right now anyway. But I need to make some money and really wish it wasn’t from freelancing–or at least not the kind of freelancing that I’m currently doing. I’m burning out pretty hard. I want to like writing again and be able to get enough rest, maybe even have time for things I want to do.

Instagram is not Tinder

I had to make my Instagram account private yesterday, which I never wanted to do. I don’t post deeply personal stuff or about my every struggle, so I didn’t feel that I had anything to hide.

But then I noticed a dramatic uptick in the number of people following me who didn’t seem to have anything in common with me. It wasn’t that my posts were resonating with them or that they liked my perspective or even that they lived in my same area.

Almost all of them were men. When I woke up yesterday morning, I had 20 messages from strange men, most of which were telling me I was beautiful and they wanted to be my friend (or just randomly saying hello with nothing else…how do you respond to that?) I can’t see how any of the above could be effective pick-up strategies. It used to happen a couple times a month but I could ignore it then. I don’t know why there are so many all of a sudden. Since making my account private yesterday, I’ve gotten 7 more requests, all from random men.

I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve been married for so long or I think my weight diminishes my overall sexiness, but I’m not used to getting so much attention from guys. My husband has pointed out other situations where men seemed to be flirting with me and I was oblivious to it. I tend to think very few men would flirt with a woman while her husband was present and he was just trying to make me feel better. But maybe I’m just not seeing what’s really going on around me.

At the same time, though, I also don’t understand why strange men would be interested in me, especially not so many all of a sudden. After all, the first word of my Instagram bio is “wife.” I post a lot about my husband and I’m obviously pretty happily married. You can’t say I’m downplaying the fact that I’m married or trying to hide it. I’m also not doing anything to suggest that I might welcome sexual attention, like posting pictures of myself in bikinis or lingerie. I generally dress pretty modestly.

I am also a bit suspicious. I’ve heard a lot about foreign operatives trying to take advantage of people or data mining. I don’t know if that’s what’s going on here.

What I do know is that it makes me feel unsafe. I feel like they are predators and I’m the prey. I don’t know if that means I fear men. I do know that I fear sexual attention from men other than my husband. Maybe that’s something I should work through in therapy.

I have a history of being sexually assaulted and coerced and I generally don’t trust men who are hitting on me. I’ve often thought that if anything does happen to my husband, I’d probably be more likely to have a relationship with a woman than a man (if at all; having another relationship is not something I can or want to really imagine.)

I guess I do really have trust issues with most men. That’s ironic because as the mother of sons I am often extremely defensive of the male gender. I don’t think men have to be the stereotype of what our culture says they are and I see nothing wrong with men being more thoughtful and gentle. Yet when it comes to getting unwanted male attention, it feels very invasive, even scary.

I don’t really understand what compels men to send unsolicited messages to married women online. Are people so lonely that chatting up random strangers seems like a good idea? Is the dating scene really that terrible? If so, it makes me hope even more that nothing happens to my husband. It seems like these people are using social media as their personal dating app that one party didn’t sign up for. It’s like someone signed me up for Tinder or something against my will.

If it really is instead that all these people are trying to take advantage of me or are foreign operatives, I think that’s even scarier. Either way, it still makes me feel unsafe. I want my safe little online world back. But I think it’s been at least five years, maybe ten, since I really felt that way. It just seems to be getting a lot scarier lately.