the name game 1

“If I marry, should I change my last name?”

It’s a question that has become a part of women’s* culture in the English-speaking world, and one that some would say has no right answer but only wrong ones. (Because I’m talking about established traditions, I’m talking only about cis-het marriages.) (* Men can opt in but usually don’t.)

In this culture, the most common choices are: she keeps her last name; she changes her last name to his; she hyphenates the names. Other options include: he changes his last name to hers; he hyphenates the names (probably only if she does too); together they pick a new name that they’ll share.

I kept my name. When I was a child, I never expected to get married. My names — first, middle last — range from very unusual to unique, and I’ve always felt very attached to all of them (except when I was little and found my first name to be burdensomely weird, but I’ve grown into it). I’m an atheist and a feminist. Wolf and I were together for years in a common law relationship before we got married.

My mom changed her name at first. At the time, the law required women to change their names, and it was a legal hassle to keep your own name. She went back to her maiden name while she and my dad were still together, though they subsequently divorced. (Pretty sure the name thing wasn’t a factor!) She always felt that her own last name was part of her identity and resented being forced to change. (Also, her first name + my dad’s last name had an awkward rhythm.) She’s an atheist and a feminist. She’s married again now and kept her own name.

An acquaintance changed her name. She had been teased about it as a child and positively jumped at the opportunity to be rid of it. She married again, changed her name again. She’s now single but still keeps that second married name. As I understand it, the decision was primarily aesthetic.

My (half-)sister changed her name. I was very surprised, frankly, given our non-traditional, extended, blended family. I asked her why but her answer didn’t make a lot of sense. Her maiden name was her father’s (he and my mom never married, and it was mom’s idea to give her his name), so she argued that it was one man’s name or another’s. Perhaps, but only one of those names had been hers since birth, and our mother’s last name had belonged to our grandfather. Her answer struck me as justification rather than the real reason, which I suspect was that she simply wanted to change it but hadn’t really figured out why. She then got divorced and bemoaned the hassle of changing all of her ID and everything back to her maiden name. Even though an “I told you so” was hovering about, I wisely said nothing. She has just gotten remarried and this time kept her name, which I think suits her personality and worldview better. She’s also an atheist and a feminist.

Among my extended family (including relationships in which the woman is related by marriage), there are four women who kept their names and two who changed. There are no hyphenated names among the women but some among their kids.

I grew up with the idea that a woman deciding to keep her name was the new default. No one questioned my choice not to change my name, which I attribute to the fact that people either didn’t feel challenged by it or knew better than to say anything.

I have more thoughts on this topic, but they will have to wait.

I have Oxford on my mind

1

Wolf finished his thesis last week, and I insisted on proofreading until past my bedtime even though a deadline was looming. I hadn’t been able to help much with the doctorate beyond being a sounding board, but this was the assistance I’d been planning to give him since he first was admitted to Oxford. It was for him but also for me.

He emailed it off to the printer down the street from his former residence, and try as I might I can’t visualise the shopfront. Once printed, the readers’ copies would be delivered to the Examination Schools, another place I’ve walked past countless times. He’ll be mildly fretful about it until it’s successfully delivered, and so it’s on my mind too.

2

An acquaintance from sexy Twitter just ran the Oxford Half Marathon the other day. I’ve spent some time in the city and though I haven’t been there for the Half Marathon, I’m certain I’ve seen some other race there. I have a mental snapshot of runners in bibs, which must then date from May or June 2015. Where were they? Longwall?

 

3

Another acquaintance from sexy Twitter has family in Oxford and also studied there. We’ve talked about that a wee bit, and discussed colleges. No doubt some of his most vivid memories of the city are situated near some of my own. Like that evening when I saw an undergrad in a room above street level, carrying on with the music loud and window open, and wearing a bedsheet toga.

4

My mood is tenuous. It’s bedtime and I’m looking for a book to read. Must be fiction but there’s precious little new fiction in the house. I haven’t yet cracked the new Yann Martel, in part because the quote from a review on the front cover calls it “entirely heartbreaking”. Why did I buy this? So I look for an old friend and choose Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches, a goodly chunk of which is set in Oxford.

 

I’d spent time in the city before I first read the book, but only a couple of weeks by that point. My visual memory is shit and I could barely remember the things that I had seen. I reread the book in preparation for my trip in 2015, and then soaked up vistas, views and sights. Radcliffe Camera. The Bodleian Library, the Sheldonian, All Souls (all from the outside). New College mostly from the outside but briefly from the inside once to take in evensong. The Covered Market, Blackwells, Holywell Street. The river down to the college boathouses and beyond. On the second-last day of my two-month visit, I took a tour of the Bod and got to see the famous Duke Humphrey’s Library and the Selden End (alas, no photos allowed), where the Harkness book begins.

 

As a student, Wolf was in and out of the Bod regularly, though not this building. He has a few business cards and one of those makes an utterly perfect bookmark for this book.

5

When I arrived in Oxford that time, Wolf and I both had things to tell each other that needed to be said in person. We’d been living apart for the better part of three years, though our last separation commenced only about two months before. He told me that he wasn’t feeling well and hadn’t been for a few months already. He had noticed a problem soon after he had last returned to Oxford, so it must have been March. There wasn’t much to be done until we got home, but at least I’d already set up a checkup for him. Seven weeks after he went for that checkup, he was having open-heart surgery. The ends of the scar are still pink, the drugs a daily reminder.

It was all I could do to wait a week before sharing my own news. During that week, we fucked up a storm, jet lag and period notwithstanding. It was a delight to reconnect, and to connect sexually in a way that we hadn’t really ever before. I’d been busy having my epiphany and related revelations but I was at home alone most of that time. And when he had been home, he found it a bit overwhelming.

When I could no longer hold my tongue and finally confessed that Gawan wanted to come and meet me, it was very difficult and took quite a while for Wolf to process. I have a trip to visit Gawan in a few weeks, and my departure date is almost two years from the day we first met at my local airport. Gawan is now my dom, and though the distance and polyamory are a challenge, Wolf is comfortable with it now, which allows me to be too.

6

The book I brought with me to Oxford was Guy Gavriel Kay’s River of Stars. I’ve since given Gawan the previous GGK book, which he’s currently reading.

7

I’m not generally one for romance novels, but I found I enjoyed the romance element of A Discovery of Witches. The main character is a witch who has avoided learning anything about or using witchcraft and magic since childhood, and the love interest is a vampire. Leaving aside the issue of how vampires in literature (and other media) went from being terrifying to romantic, many of the little things he does are dominant; it reminds me a touch of D/s. One of the first things he says to her is that it can be pleasurable to let someone else take the lead, he’s protective of her, and following a bonding moment he declares that she belongs to him. And she agrees. He’s used to being obeyed. He also wears a lot of black, so there’s that.

a new approach to blogging

I haven’t been posting much lately. I had various things interfere, like fatigue, depression, and some of my old hobbies, including dance.

I’ve lost my momentum. I’ve started lots of pieces and my drafts document is overflowing, but I haven’t been able to sit down and work things up into actual posts.

Maybe my approach needs to change. Maybe I’m trying to write about things that I don’t yet know the answers to. I don’t like to post until I’ve reached a conclusion and maybe I don’t have any conclusions right now.

So I’m going to try something different and allow myself to be a little less polished, a little more stream of consciousness.

Another thing that’s been interfering with my writing is that this is a sex blog and my sex life is very quiet. My desire is low. I don’t imagine my depression was very helpful in this regard, and the medication I’m now on (citalopram) seems to have snuffed out what embers there were.

My depression seems to be under control: the seriously down moods are few and far between and I sometimes even get spontaneous good moods. I had been started at one dosage and then had it increased twice. Since the meds seemed to be increasing my fatigue and my mood was stable, my dosage has been reduced twice so I’m back at the low dose where I started. I’m happy to take the medication as long as I need it, but hopefully when I get off it, I’ll see some positive effects on my libido.

Another part of the problem is that I don’t really know what turns me on. I’ve always had a difficult time figuring out what I like and what I want, and only in the last few years did I even figure out that I should be asking myself those questions. I have questions but no good answers. Physically I can get turned on, but I don’t know what input I need to get there. So I don’t blame the medication for the whole problem, and I think it’s much more complicated and difficult to solve than just not taking that pill.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to my next trip to see Gawan, which is less than four weeks away. I’ll be staying at his house again, no real travelling, and probably a lot of time in bed and/or in a state of undress.

depression and anti-depressants

The depression that I’m currently dealing with seems to have gotten its start almost a year ago.

When I returned from my visit with Gawan last August, I was (as expected) physically fatigued from the travels and adventures and flights, and given my ongoing difficulties with fatigue, it took a couple of weeks to recover. Wolf recalls that for the first while my mood was better than it had been, but then it slowly and steadily started to tank. Depression didn’t so much “strike” as it sidled up, slipped up onto my shoulders, and then gained mass with aching slowness.

I had been seeing a counsellor regularly a couple of years earlier during a previous depressive episode but as I found my even keel, the sessions were no longer useful.

By December last year I was struggling again, and one day was especially draining. First there was an appointment to get two fillings replaced. The dentist is very good but I have needle phobia, and had a dental dam making me a little claustrophobic and causing my jaw to ache. I was tired. Then later that day I got a call about a health test and the results were not great. Now I was brittle.

I don’t know what set me off the next day, but I had a meltdown and was simply unable to cope. I realised that I needed some help again and called to make an appointment to see my counsellor, but to my dismay she no longer worked for the service that provided my benefits. Dammit. I was going to have to decide who to talk to. It was challenging enough to make a phone call, but making a decision too? Ugh.

So I made a decision, hung up, almost immediately changed my mind, eventually worked up the nerve to call back, and agreed to talk to the first counsellor who was available, that evening.

I wasn’t looking forward to having to start at the beginning again with someone new, and a one-hour appointment hardly seemed long enough for me to tell the story, never mind having a discussion and getting productive feedback. But I tried.

It played out as I’d feared. I was irritated to have to explain that I’d tried all of these suggestions already and I needed some new input. As I talked, he would from time to time flip through a file looking for a sheet that he thought might help. By the end of the session, I was holding four or five pages; I’d been polite and accepted them, mostly out of a desire to get on with it.

At the end of the session, he asked me if I wanted copies of any of the sheets he’d handed me (they were his originals). I declined. By way of conclusion, he asked me whether the session had been helpful, in a sort of “I have a customer satisfaction questionnaire to complete” way. I had gone into the session feeling depressed, anxious, and in need of help and now, on top of that, I was emotionally drained and out of fucks to give. I knew he’d wanted to be a help. But his approach was too simplistic, too conventional, too amateur. I’d read more insightful blog posts than the material he presented to me. I didn’t have the mental energy to be anything other than blunt. Helpful? “No, not really.” He wished me well (sincerely), and I made my escape.

I was disappointed, frustrated, and a bit angry about how little the counsellor seemed to know. My subconscious kept chewing over the session and I’d intermittently fume to Wolf, “And another thing about the session…”

But the utter uselessness of the session had, improbably, brought me clarity. All of the counsellor’s suggestions were based on an assumption that I was thinking incorrectly: that I was dwelling on negative things (gratitude journal!), that work stress was taking its toll (do activities you enjoy!), that I was unintentionally ignoring certain needs (work-life balance!), that I was bottling things up (find a creative outlet!). I know all this. I’m doing all this. It’s not working. Or it’s not working enough.

Maybe I had finally reached the point of needing medication.

The next day I made an appointment with my doctor. In the week that I had to wait (this was over Christmas, of course), I compiled the following list of symptoms (omitting the perennial fatigue issue that he already knew about):

  • having trouble coping
  • decision-making
  • motivation
  • self-doubt
  • feeling of moving backwards
  • difficulty retaining new info, memory
  • feeling like abilities are shrinking
  • every task feels difficult
  • indecisive, then second-guessing
  • anxiety? depression?
  • brain not working well
  • sleeping 9+ hours a night
  • frustration that it’s so hard
  • lack of resilience, brittle

When I met with him, I rattled off the items.

“Yep, you’re depressed,” he said with a compassionate smile.

It was interfering with work, my ability to enjoy life, and even do the simplest things around the house. Unlike the previous depression, Wolf was with me, and my work situation was pretty decent, all things considered. In other words, it wasn’t situational.

So just before New Year’s, I got a prescription for citalopram (aka Celexa), starting out at 10 mg for 10 days, and then increasing to 20 mg indefinitely. I noticed an improvement in mood quite quickly, but it plateaued well before “good”. The day after I got home from my Europe trip with Gawan in March, my dosage was increased to 30 mg. In the middle of May it was upped to 40 mg.

For me, the most frequent symptoms of depression are lack of motivation and indecision, although there are other reasons why I might feel unmotivated or indecisive, such as fatigue, so as symptoms go they’re more subtle than I’d like. Also, things that are at best a bit challenging for me, like calling someone on the phone or starting on a new work project, become excruciatingly difficult. I could focus for 20 minutes, willing myself to start, and still not be able to. I might as well be practicing my telekinesis.

After the Europe trip I had a week of downtime before a work trip, during which time I’d expected to be tired and planned to be taking it easy, but in my travels I’d picked up a seriously nasty cold and a week was nowhere near enough time to recover. (I ended up being sick for another almost two months.) After the work trip I was utterly wrecked. It was only when I looked back at the pattern of fatigue and changes to the dosage of anti-depressants that I put two and two together and concluded that at least some of the fatigue was likely attributable to the increase in dosage of the anti-depressants.

But how would they affect my sex life?

things I’ve learned about and from depression

I was diagnosed with depression some months ago, but this wasn’t the first time I had been depressed, nor was it the worst episode.

Wolf and I had been inseparable for ages until he started his doctorate at a university overseas almost five years ago. The first year was bad. The second year was worse. He hated being away from me, hated his dorm where there was never enough privacy or quiet to satisfy his hermit soul.

Meanwhile, I was having difficulties with someone at work in our family business. I walked on eggshells around her and on a few occasions when I tried to discuss things with her, it ended in explosive arguments. Wolf and I were in touch daily, but the most obvious consequence of his physical absence was that the psychological buffer he created between me and the ordinary hardships of life began to dissolve. It didn’t take long before my heat shield was completely stripped away and my soul was bare to the elements.

Tensions at work were escalating. I just couldn’t do Christmas and I mostly skipped the whole thing. After being home for a month, Wolf went back overseas, and within three weeks I. Just. Couldn’t. Handle it anymore. I had a breakdown.

I couldn’t face going to work, and the counsellor I’d been seeing told me to take a month of stress leave. (It didn’t quite play out that way. I dropped the work that I found soul-sucking but still had assignments — just the really important stuff </sarcasm>.) The month passed and I finally managed to extricate myself from all work for about a month.

I had lost myself. I was crying a lot and could barely do anything for myself. The immediate problem was my work situation, and I spent some time thinking about what I wanted to do, without coming up with any answers. And how could I when I didn’t want to do anything at all? I wasn’t interested in anything, which was weird and distressing because I had always been interested in all kinds of things. I peered into myself looking for interests and found… nothing. An echoing void.

I had started doing some reading about psychology to try to gain some insight into what had gone so wrong with this family member. My counsellor suggested a couple of books and ideas as a starting point, and as I read, I developed new leads and followed where they took me.

I had been thinking about sex a bit as well. I had always been uncomfortable about sex and had predicted that while Wolf was away, my very effectively suppressed libido would come out of hiding, and so it did, though it took longer than I’d expected. I hadn’t yet found the sex blogging community, but did find a reference somewhere to Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden, a book of women’s fantasies so I got it from the library.

In the middle of all this not giving a shit about anything, I was actually interested in sex, and specifically in learning and reading about it. It was unfamiliar and I wasn’t entirely at ease with it, but it was the only thing I was interested in and that was valuable. It helped lead me out of the woods like a trail of breadcrumbs.

(The reading on psychology and personal growth work I’d been doing came together with the research about sex and resulted in my epiphany that June.)

All of which is a long-winded way of saying: I have experienced a serious depressive episode. But I knew it was situational. I knew that I couldn’t allow the work situation to stay the same so when I started working again, I worked from home to avoid the conflict. I knew I’d feel better when Wolf was home, and I did.

I spoke to my doctor at some point in the middle of all of this and told him that I thought I was depressed and he agreed but no diagnosis was made because in the same breath I said I didn’t want medication. I hate taking pills: the body is a delicate ecosystem, and throwing things into the mix can have unintended results. I prefer to err on the side of caution by keeping the chemistry simple.

(I learned this lesson when I was about 20, on birth control pills, and getting recurrent yeast infections. When I confronted my then-doctor about it, he acted as though it was common knowledge that the pill can cause yeast infections. But neither of my (male) doctors had ever told me that when writing me a prescription. I’m still irritated about this.)

In retrospect, I’m not sure that avoiding taking anti-depressants was the best decision. It was situational, I toughed it out, and yes, eventually I got better. I remember having the sudden realisation at some point that I felt like myself again. Which  meant that I hadn’t felt like myself for quite a long time, actually.

I suffered for months, and to what end? Aside from the obvious drop in quality of life while I was stuck in the middle of it, I may have become more prone to depression in the future. I’m usually very rational and I take good care of myself, but guess what? Depression fucks with the way you think.

Since then I’ve been trying to have more of what I like and less of what I dislike in all areas of my life, which doesn’t come naturally for me. When it comes to people, what I look for now is feeling of real connection, and when the other person expresses clearly and warmly that they enjoy my company. I’m learning to trust my gut more and follow up on those connections.

When depression hit, I had no support and no one to talk to. Well, there was Wolf of course, but he was going through his own shit. Up until then, we had each been the other’s only real support.

The single most important new person is Gawan, of course; he’s simply wonderful. And there’s also my friend Pippa, who has since become a close friend. Building up relationships with people who I genuinely like and who genuinely like me is a reward in itself, but I’m also creating a little support network too. Emotional support is essential, and only more so when depression strikes.

thoughts on fatigue

There’s another post that I’ve been trying to write for, oh, a couple of months now, and it’s not an emotionally difficult topic or anything, so I was struggling to write, struggling to understand why I couldn’t, and frustrated with the (total lack of) result. Blogging was starting to feel like work, and I wondered what the hell my problem was. I think I might have figured it out…

I organize my life around the fatigue that has dogged me for over five years now. I’ve always had fairly low energy, but it now interferes with all aspects of my life. It feels, I think, like how you might feel if you had a had a shit sleep or had to get up hours before your usual wake time, except that I feel like this every day.

I usually sleep for about 9 to 10 hours a night, sometimes even more. If I’m feeling (relatively) alert when I wake up, I can get out of bed within 20 minutes. (I say “relatively” to mean alert according to my personal scale.) If not, I might feel groggy for up to an hour (this is “sleep inertia”) or very occasionally for the rest of the day. I like to catch up on social media for a while because it engages my brain and helps me to wake up.

I eat shortly after I get up: breakfast before 11:00 feels almost “early”. I start my day doing things that I like (reading, looking at coffee table books, drinking a mocha while looking out the window, etc.) and/or things I don’t mind (laundry, folding and putting away clothes). My energy level at this time of day tends to be (relatively) good.

Right around the time I feel like I can face doing some work, my energy and motivation drops. In order to do any work, I need my brain to be functioning well and if it isn’t, there’s not much point in pushing myself because I can’t accomplish much, and I lack the motivation to force myself to do it anyway.

The fact that I work with family members and that I can work from home gives me a tremendous amount of flexibility (including the ability to take a nap if needed), which is great. (If I had a regular job, I’d struggle miserably.) On the other hand, these same family members are also workaholics, and it’s really difficult for me not to compare myself to them and get frustrated with myself and my low output. Also, since my family tends not to talk about difficult things at all, just because I haven’t heard any complaints about my low productivity doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is fine.

Months ago, I used to have one- to two-hour naps almost daily. I always benefit from a nap: I wake up feeling better, and it doesn’t seem to keep me up at night. If I can’t shake the morning groggy feeling, I usually end up having a nap. I’ve been napping less lately though, maybe once or twice a month.

Most days I feel guilty because I didn’t work more. Getting started on work feels difficult at best and excruciating at worst, depending on the day. With the right work and highest energy, checking my email or writing a list can be all I need to get rolling. An average day (if there is such a thing for me) might involve me sitting at the computer doing nothing and allowing myself to get bored enough to start. If my motivation and energy are low and the work to be done requires problem solving, I might not be able to force myself to do anything. Sometimes the amount of work I get done in a day is embarrassingly little. Or none at all. I hate that.

In this culture, busyness is a virtue. If I run into an acquaintance, they almost always say something like, “Keeping busy?” and everyone knows that the correct answer is “yes”. Not being busy is an anomaly, and choosing to relax is a radical act. I used to grit my teeth to give the correct and yet wrong answer, but now I say I make an effort not to fill my schedule. Though I suppose I could in all honesty say that I’m busy, as long as I know that this means I’m doing as much as I can, and not that I’m doing as much as the next person, measured in hours and sweat.

I rarely feel really alert. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to distinguish between “My energy is too low for my willpower to function” and “I don’t really like this job and I suck at making myself do it”. It frequently feels like laziness.

After supper I usually feel pretty good, though I can’t face working in the evening, and besides, that’s when I do my important fun stuff, like my bi-weekly two-hour Skype appointment with Gawan.

Then there’s the exercise issue. During the school year I’ve been teaching two dance classes a week, and over the summer I’ve taught one and been a student in another. It’s important to me to stay active, but I don’t recover quickly and I may still feel wrecked the day after a particularly vigorous class. I also have a daily exercise routine of an hour or so (maybe 1h20 if I do every single exercise) to manage my various aches and pains. My health is top priority.

Although I aim to go to bed around 11:30, I sometimes don’t turn out the light until 12:20. I don’t tend to feel sleepy until fairly late unless it’s a dance class night, in which case blood flow, reflexive analysis of the class, and earworms conspire against me. I take a sleep aid to help me with falling and staying asleep, so those issues don’t currently vex me.

Up until my trip to Europe this past spring, my leisure time was spent mostly on the blog. After I got home (and recovered), my writing and photography slowed down, and then pretty much stopped. I thought the issue was that I just didn’t feel like blogging for a while — I had picked up a couple of old hobbies that I’d dropped some time ago, and it seemed that I was just choosing to spend my time differently — but now I’m not so sure.

Over the last couple of months, I had gotten seriously bummed about the fatigue; it’s deeply frustrating when my body can’t keep up with my mind, but my mind has slowed down too, and I mostly don’t feel like doing anything. Also, because I can’t predict when I’ll have a good day versus a bad day, I avoid making plans in order to avoid the sense of failure and frustration when I don’t have the energy or motivation to do what I intended to do. If I have a good day — that is, a day during which I feel almost normal and I do an ordinary number of ordinary things — there’s a fair chance that I’ll be exhausted the next day. I had started to resign myself to the fact that I may be suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, a diagnosis that my doctor has been hesitant to make since there’s no test and no treatment and thus potentially no benefit to me to be labelled in this way.

However, since I started looking at the details more analytically in the process of working on this post (which has, unsurprisingly, taken much too long to write), I realised that the nature of the fatigue has changed. It was bad last year but then I did actually see some improvement. I discovered that the timing of when the fatigue started being especially problematic again roughly corresponds to adjustments to the dosage of my anti-depressants.

Part of the difficulty I had in pinpointing the problem up to now is that I experience a lack of motivation as one of my more significant symptoms of depression. Now I suspect the lack of motivation is being caused (at least in part) by the lack of energy. In other words, lack of motivation may be cause by the anti-depressant dosage being too low or too high. This is… not helpful.

So now I’m cautiously optimistic that my recent lack of interest in blogging is due, not to an authentic desire to stop, but rather to a sense that I just didn’t have the energy or brainpower to put into it. And if lack of energy and brainpower can undermine my interest in a hobby that I know I have enjoyed, then it’s possible that my disinterest in work is also primarily an issue of energy and not that I hate my job. I have a doctor’s appointment this coming week and will see about adjusting my meds.

With any luck, I’ll be blogging more regularly again in the not too distant future.