CoA Apologies

I think I went through about three versions of a draft for the CoAce theme for Sept 2019 (Telling Our Stories), but they got away from me in terms of length and an attempt at cohesiveness. Maybe one of them will get shared one day later, but it’s not quite the right presentation for now.

Ironically, this also dovetails into why I’m struggling with the CoAro theme “Aromanticisim and Fiction” and splitting that prematurely published draft about a-spec fanfic. I most definitely feel like I’m struggling against the idea that I have to be an ‘Ambassador from Aceland’ in a manner of speaking, but quite frankly, I’m just about the last person you’d want to nominate as an ambassador for either community.

Whatever ace adjacent experiences I’ve had are tied up in fluctuating gender dysphoria, euphoria, and at one point not having a way to talk about either of those. I hadn’t realized I was trans as a freshman in undergrad, but I had found part of the ace tumblr community (2012-13), and it was a lot easier to say I was demi than having no way to talk about “cis dating and sex conventions make me uncomfortable for some reason, but I’ve been sexually attracted to friends who know me well enough that being GNC isn’t an issue”.

It was easier to say I was gray-ace than trying to explain “there’s this ‘power saving’ mode where I just don’t experience sexual attraction when in a heavily misgendering/dysphoric environment”, “the negotiation and communication for a scene flips some sort of switch, and it does feel like I’m sexually attracted to a play partner”, “non-sexual kink can be great, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have sexual kinks as well”, or “I’ve been surprised by random sexual attraction to strangers, but I don’t particularly want to act on it”.

I don’t have a clear, easily digestible arc for coming out, and if it weren’t for a few irl friends following some of my tumblr accounts, I doubt anyone I know offline would know about my haphazard journey with ace over the years. I’ve even stopped calling myself ace at times because X’s symptoms could be rearing up, if I’m in a gender affirming environment I don’t seem ‘ace enough’, and so on. I feel like I’m “allo + ace” more so than just ace, and even though different sites, forums, etc. may stress the diversity of ace experiences, I have tended to just not talk about where I fall in terms of allosexuality and asexuality instead of ‘not fitting’ one. (Relevant in certain aro intracommunity discussions because I tend to have more in common with alloaro perspectives than aroace, which surprises and confuses people who know about the on-and-off ace questioning. Hence trying to only talk about being aro-spec with aros.)

I wouldn’t say it’s the only reason why, but I think this contributes to my struggling with definitely saying a fanfic has ace/aro representation (instead of leaving the fics in a general a-spec list). It might have an adjacent experience that a reader recognizes, but I’m not comfortable saying as a creator that xyz “counts” for this character to be a particular label. If I’m going to pour uncompensated creative energy into something, I’d rather pick a premise with something I haven’t done before and maybe isn’t commonly seen with a particular ship than get hung up on an LGBTQIA+ primer.

Elephant in the Therapy Room

Back in undergrad when I last had insurance and access to the on-campus mental health services, I just never brought up religion or anything that might sound a little too ~woo~ to say to someone evaluating your state of mind. There was some online back and forth that ‘xyz clearly means you’re delusional’ around that time, and I just didn’t have the energy to deal with that while trying to go in for help with depression. It also didn’t exactly help that any attempts on my own to look into the interplay between psychology and religion that didn’t deal with delusions were Christian focused therapy services. (I’m sure that can help someone, just not me.)

I mentioned in “Ghosts of Hypomania” that I have a particular brainweird event from back in high school that initially didn’t seem noteworthy, but in the years since, it’s gotten harder to say it wasn’t awfully similar to hypomania. There may have been other instances that seem to meet hypomania’s requirements a little more closely since, which is why that 3 day window is still relevant. I’m still trawling my memory while preparing for the intake to see if it’s For Sure hypomania (probably bipolar II) or Almost hypomania (probably cyclothymia), but I don’t want to cover everything about hypomania in this post.

{For those who haven’t been trying to figure out if they too have experienced this: Hypomania hits most mania symptoms, so I’m not being particularly careful about someone using mania or a linked source focusing on manic episodes instead of specifying hypomania.}

I stumbled onto ~sadiepickles’ post about creating a Mania Manual, had the free time, and clicked on her example. There’s several bullet points under Sample Signs of Mania that I should return to, but what instantly stood out under Grandiose Beliefs was the first bullet point, “Increased religious beliefs or spirituality”. Rather than spend a lot of time creating a personalized meme reaction, I just wrote it out in a post:

Was anyone going to tell me – “increased focus on religion or religious activities” is included in (hypo)mania* symptom lists

Or was I just supposed to read that – as an offhand comment in someone’s post – on my own?

* Even outside of delusions with religious themes, in terms of more religious participation. Might have something to do with mixed episodes for some (possibly coping).

Link 1: Religious Factors in Bipolar Disorder. Pretty good overview in terms of different presentation, touching on delusions, and noting that cultural norms are important to keep in mind. Some may like their sources for more info.

Link 2: The relationship between religious involvement and clinical status of patients with bipolar disorder. (Full public access to the study at the link.) Part of the conclusion, “Compared to patients with bipolar disorder in depressed, manic, or euthymic states, patients in mixed states have more active private religious lives.”

Link 3: Why spirituality may be important to your quality of life. Pretty much what it says on the tin (basically, has the potential as a coping mechanism), and it does note that hyperreligiosity may impact the usefulness of spirituality as a tool in bipolar management.

So, religion has the potential to be useful for some people when it comes to coping, but it also may feature into how symptoms present. How do you tell these apart? Well, I’d suggest ignoring the people cracking jokes about ‘believing an old man in the sky’ because ‘all religion is delusional, period’. (Despite trying to talk about all religions, the references were pretty clearly Christian. Do people recovering from Christianity need a place to vent? Sure, but maybe not where other people are trying to figure out if they’re experiencing delusions.)

Advice that’s more likely to be helpful came from ~relatable-psychosis: “With delusions and the like, cultural and religious background are to be taken into account and one is to go over whether or not what they’re experiencing and how they’re responding to it is culturally sanctioned, IE whether or not what you’re experiencing is considered abnormal to your community. […] Factors like conviction, functional impairment, and uniqueness would be taken into consideration” (source; also mentioned in this post and this post).

I’m aware that some religious Christians (and cultural Christians in different religions) are already a little lost when I bring up something that, for lack of a better term in informal conversation, gets lumped under the Pagan umbrella. (Not to mention those who lose any tact about religions other than Christianity when they get some anonymity online.) But that’s not really the comparison point I should be making. Are my beliefs considered ‘abnormal’ within Pagan spaces? Not really. It’s not a guarantee that everyone that gets sorted under Pagan will share every single belief, but ruling out delusions with religious themes goes a significant way towards ruling out psychosis, which points to mania instead of hypomania in what I can find so far.

In terms of a potential diagnosis, that seems neat and tidy, but I wasn’t prepared to feel so rattled by trying to take stock of my beliefs in relation to community acceptability and outliers. Sneeze in the wrong online space, and someone can start throwing around ‘delusional’ and ‘crazy’, especially when whether incorporeal entities can communicate with humans (and how) comes up. What about discussions about Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) and interpreting communication accurately where there’s no tradition specific priest and/or diviner to verify (probably a solitary)? From what I remember when those were fresh topics of discussion, most Pagan bloggers were taking the default position that they were obviously sane and it was a matter of tradition differences about the acceptable divination and confirmation processes (or ignoring people who disagreed about other topics looking for an easy insult).

It’s not to say that resources out there about checking your interpretation and when to use/share UPG aren’t valuable or helpful. It’s just that when Step 1 assumes you trust that your perception lines up with reality, things get a bit shaken up when you’re trying to gauge whether you’ve had delusions or hallucinations (Bipolar Psychosis overview). It’s one thing to mostly rule out delusions (unless someone outside the Pagan community really goes for delusions of reference when it comes to communication), but it’s another thing to wonder about hallucinations. In order of most common to least:

  • Auditory – I’ve heard my name while in an empty room on a handful of occasions, but afaik, it’s a rather common fluke that brains can do. It hasn’t been related to an attempt at communicating with Anyone (or involved commands/directions to do anything).
  • Visual – I’m confident the one instance was a byproduct of being tired or an illusion while getting ready for bed (instead of an outright hallucination).
  • Tactile – I don’t know how to explain away the physical feeling that’s fairly consistent in range of location and perception that’s a “Someone wants my attention” ping. It only occurs in relation to incorporeal communication, and it’s only happened ‘in my room’ (across two dorms, my assigned room at two hotels, and my bedroom at this current home, which translates to happening on and off for about seven years).
  • Olfactory – None.
  • Taste – None.

I suppose I just wasn’t prepared for the vulnerable feeling of not being sure if I can trust myself. The strong draw to structured prayer and holiday schedules back in undergrad. I had that incident where I thought I just got a batch of miscommunication (Jotnar holy days, Tribes, and all that). The peculiar Faces (aspects of deities, not literal faces) and UPG.  All the different waves of Leaving, and Who’s circled back around on and off. Reigniting feelings over ‘I got something out of it, but it was wrong’ mentioned in “Echoes of Faith” (with the added worry that I wasn’t just operating with wrong info, it may not have even been real).

What if a solitary practice that includes UPG has too much room for personal error? (Let alone touching on PC Paganism and Modern Paganism….) What if a majority self-created path is too open to grandiose thinking? Where’s the line between ‘it’s alright to have a unique personal path’ and #actuallydelusional? Is it alright as long as I’m not claiming to be a leader (encouraging anyone to act similarly) or offering divination (claiming to have a clear line of communication with the divine)? Is it alright because deities have encouraged seeking professional help, self care, and haven’t hindered mental health management?

Honestly, I’m pretty sure some anxious part of my brain is just picking this apart and reading too much into events that haven’t involved me harming myself or anyone else, being a threat, personal distress, or throwing up a functional obstacle to life. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe it’s a smidge odd, but not altogether abnormal (Is it Normal to ‘Hear Voices’?). Maybe it’s weird, but it’s at least non-threatening, neutral, and doesn’t occur with more serious symptoms (Hallucination Types, Causes, and Examples). Maybe the connection between bipolar symptoms during episodes and one’s interpretations of religious experiences aren’t cut and dry, and it’s okay to still apply personal religious meaning to what’s happened over the years (“The Awful Rowing toward God”: Interpretation of Religious Experiences by Individuals with Bipolar Disorder).

In Between

I’ve been posting about it on tumblr since I made the appointment over a month ago, at least, but I am in the limbo land between the first consultation where blood was taken for labs and the follow-up discussing the results. (I didn’t realize someone might be concerned after I talked about the first death anniversary of my grandfather in the past week, but this is not life-threatening like that [cancer]. I suspect I have PCOS.)

I sort of had suspicions back in my teens, but I didn’t really know that there were side effects and symptoms that might actually need to be monitored (making a confirmation of a diagnosis helpful in figuring out if I’m really at risk). I didn’t fully realize just how much gender baggage I was carrying around in relation to this until I started looking into more symptoms, what diagnostics might be used, and had to face a really stark reminder about the body I inhabit (specifically, how it’s interpreted by others).

I am very aware that someone ticked off the little F on my birth certificate. (Lovely reminder that Ray v Himes is still working its way through the courts and doesn’t yet help those born in Ohio.) After dealing with staff who didn’t bother to read what I’d written on their forms (on their provided lines for a preferred name and gender), on the paper I provided with important info not asked for on the forms (pronouns, a brief explanation of words used to describe my gender experience, medical history), or listen to what I told them (“my gender is not female”), I’ve got to admit that even seeing just this General Practitioner (GP) sets off an uncomfortable amount of dysphoria. (The look on her face when I admitted to having never seen a gynecologist…)

Add in trying to get a diagnosis for PCOS, and it’s just more than I was prepared for. Online resources focus so much on the infertility, ‘normalizing’ menstruation, getting rid of the ‘non-feminine’ symptoms, TTC/ttc (trying to conceive), and tend to assume the only people who experience PCOS are cisgender women(*). I don’t want to minimize that these are important symptoms for some women, but as someone who hadn’t yet realized that I was trans and didn’t know what gender dysphoria was, it was incredibly uncomfortable trying to interact with PCOS info back when I first got the suspicion because of this.

I was expecting to have to make my case about not making up potentially having PCOS, but GP actually didn’t ask very many questions. (The nurse asked ahead of time when I last menstruated, so GP’s first words to me herself were, “Have you always had facial hair?”, followed by, “Have you experienced unexpected weight gain?”, and then, “Yeah, we’re ordering labs.”) Everything was going along somewhat tolerably until she mentioned a final confirmation after the labs, since some of the results would rule out conditions with overlapping PCOS symptoms – a vaginal ultrasound to see if there are cysts on the ovaries.

<sarcasm>Note the textual distance that’s preparation for potentially needing to dissociate from my body.</sarcasm> Setting my dysphoria off the charts is counter-productive to GP wanting to recheck my blood pressure (maybe I have ‘white coat syndrome’, maybe it’s actually high), but I honestly don’t think she’d believe me. (I have an offline venting space for frustrations around being a fat patient who was advised to lose weight “because even a 15-20 lb loss will improve your blood pressure”. But that’s a block of salt for another day.)

(*) Most resources assume those with PCOS are perisex cis women. It wasn’t until relatively recently that I encountered talk of PCOS being a hormonal intersex condition (from someone in the intersex community), as opposed to a chromosomal, gonadal, or genital type that people more commonly think of when they hear ‘intersex’. I can grasp the reasoning in abstract way, but I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the idea that I, personally, might be intersex. Still, I’ve got to admit that it’s a relief to think of PCOS as ‘hormonal intersex’ instead of ‘malfunctioning perisex female’, which is kinda how some people frame it.