TW: disordered eating, PTSD, conversion disorder, chronic pain, people being sucky, assault and implied assault/battery
I don’t know how to condense this into a content warning, so if I have missed anything I need to put in please let me know. I think this post is more me putting my thoughts in order and getting them out of my head so I can move on.
So last week I talked about how important routine is and why messing with it can be detrimental, and about subdrop, vaguely. The takeaway was that I was not in an emotional place to be making decisions.
So I ended up quitting therapy just after that, didn’t I?
Let’s back up, to about May. I missed a class because of the car accident flat tyre thing, right? So I went in the week after with two lessons’ worth of cash, ready to pay for the one I missed, since that’s their policy as I couldn’t provide two days’ notice that I would be unable to attend by way of car. This was the week after I did go, and had to fight not to be sent home because I was still sore from surgery.
I was not allowed to pay for both lessons. The new person on reception formally introduced herself and took half the money and that was that.
The week after, she called me over at the end of my lesson, because I owed money. “She’s not meant to pay,” my teacher said, and motioned for me to leave.
The week after, I got home to find a Facebook message demanding I pay, because my teacher had been paid, and apparently the two-week deposit to secure my time didn’t actually cover that. (More on this later.)
That was strike one.
Sometime around this time, the exact date of which escapes me, but I have noted down in my diary (because I have to keep a diary to remember stuff), I was waiting in the classroom, and this new person came in and started going on about my hair. She went on and on about her hair, and my hair, and I was just staring, because I was thinking what the hell? She was like “you must have so much hair to pull it back like that! it’s so nice!” and wanted to know how long it is and how long I’d been growing it. This was entirely random and out of the blue to me, and I was already in class, preparing my materials and being like ‘I have to make sound soon save me please let my voice work crap it’s not coming out today they’re going to kick me out because I can’t make sound’.
And then, she said “We should go get drunk sometime so I can play with your hair.”
I just stared at her, and she walked out. I told my teacher, and was very clear that it was not okay and I didn’t feel comfortable with that.
Strike two was in September. I showed up to class and my teacher wasn’t there. I was exhausted, just coming off a dress rehearsal as the token-divergent hire in a movement piece, the first time I actually managed to get through the audition and performing process since my brain wasn’t going to work any more. “Before you pay, your teacher isn’t here, so you can have a lesson with me or go home,” she said. Naturally, I wanted to go home; I had another four days of performing, a migraine, and the thought of being alone in a room with her, no matter how much she said it would be fun and she’d make it as easy as possible, was setting off alarm bells, the kind I haven’t had since 2013. “Oh, but we have a policy, if there’s a teacher available and you don’t take it, you have to pay anyway.” Fine. It was worth the money to not be around her, the same way it was worth buying a ticket to the student showcase I was meant to be in but mysteriously started rehearsals without me so that they wouldn’t bother me about attending, the same way it’s worth paying for parking so that I don’t have to walk home from the train station in the dark (even if I could, which, well, is debatable). “It’s not fair though, are you sure? I’ll get your teacher to reschedule with you.”
I managed to get out because one of her friends came in to chat.
The promised reschedule never happened. Last week, the person before me didn’t show up, my lesson started early, and then “You have to go now, we started early so we have to finish early.”
That was strike two.
I have a three strikes system as a way to decide whether I can be around people and environments because apparently I’m not very good at telling when things are good for me and when they’re not. I probably stayed too long at old work, because I kept believing people when they said it would get better, that it was my fault, that I would get promoted, that I was valued and needed. I’m also, apparently, what some people call an earth angel – the kind of person who always has to be helpful and supportive, the kind of person strangers instantly feel comfortable asking for advice about seriously personal things, the kind of person who knows what people are going to say and what they need before they do. It means I give a lot without necessarily getting back, because I don’t know how to close off. So if someone messes up three times, and doesn’t change, apologise, or improve, I move on. (I try to, anyway.) I can then say that moving on isn’t an emotional decision, that it’s based in reason.
So in my last entry I talked about the start of what would become strike three. Strike three hurts; deciding that it was strike three was very much an emotional, reactive decision. It was nearly midnight; I was not allowed just to say ‘okay, look, don’t worry about rescheduling this week, it’s fine’ because they don’t like letting people down and they might have a cancellation and cancellations really do happen. The words came from outside me, almost as if someone else was typing them. I was reacting to a series of meaningless statements, bracketed by smileys, meant to placate me, but not actually relating to either of the issues at hand – that there was no time to reschedule to, and that I did not feel safe in a room with the woman who essentially said that her desire to touch me overrode my bodily autonomy. She also told me off for not telling her about my show, because she would have come to be supportive, despite existing in a kind of vacuum truce state where if she wasn’t busy because I failed to avoid her, I gave her the money and otherwise ignore her. This had done nothing to reassure me.
I made a decision that it was best for me to not worry about rescheduling, and I asked that they respect that decision. “We respect all our students!” was the reply.
This is a business environment, right? Where stuff like that doesn’t belong, right? On top of another staff member constantly commenting on how attractive and well-dressed I am while telling me not to tell his wife so he wouldn’t get in trouble for looking? While forcing me to stand around and participate in conversations after I explicitly said I did not want to talk and needed to sit down? Another staff member repeatedly commenting on my clothes, whether I had worn them before, how long it took me to get dressed? I’m sure it all sounds very minor to some people, people who don’t have to decide what gender to look like when they go out because they will get harassed on the street if they dress how they are, people who haven’t had their entire wardrobe catalogued and documented and judged daily by a boss who wants to control them, people who don’t have to consider what will hurt and won’t hurt and what can be easily put on and whether they might need an extra jacket even in the middle of summer. It’s not minor to me; and my teacher knew that because I told him. It still happened.
Before the new person showed up on reception, I was having hour long panic attacks before attending. They were getting worse, and while I say they were an hour, that was just the phase with the racing thoughts and the breathing and the blankness and anxiety. I had to make myself bleed just to be able to go in.
‘There’s a new person now, it’ll be okay!’ I told myself. This was before strike one. This was when my teacher was saying he looked forward to classes with me and he’d be devastated if I left.
It didn’t get better. My sleep patterns went off; I was having nightmares again, or I wasn’t sleeping at all. I was obsessing about my clothes, planning them weeks in advance so I wouldn’t wear the same outfit twice or wear something he didn’t like as much or that would get more attention (like, say, pants). And, perhaps, most telling, I started craving cheese. Ham and cheese, to be specific. I follow a gluten-free bakery on Facebook and they posted a picture of a ham and cheese sandwich and it looked so nice and I wanted it. I wanted an icecream cake. I wanted to eat the whole thing at once and feel my throat tighten up and then throw it all up so it looked like cream syrup and I had the sour acidy taste in the back of my mouth, and then I would be so exhausted that I would sleep through the itchy swollen mouth and the rash would have gone down enough to be covered with an extra layer of foundation.
It’s the same thing I felt at old work, except there I actually did it, and when I left, I spent the next year and a half training myself back to not throwing up by default, to eat foods that don’t have a high probability of killing me or correspond with pain (and yes, having my gall bladder removed with a dubiously uninformed consent did not help with that at all). So when I said this is strike three, even though it was just that they offered a time then took it away, ignoring that I raised, again, an issue about how I was being treated there, it was not made unemotionally.
In the last lesson I had, my teacher told me I saved his life by showing up.
I have been telling myself for the last week that I cannot be responsible for him if I’m not doing well. I’ve said before that I feel very unequal and submissive in the class environment, and coupling that with subdrop and him not being there made the perfect storm.
Strike three – I said I was willing just to skip the lesson, and they wouldn’t let me, but they totally respect me.
Well, no, you don’t, I said, because you’re ignoring this very real situation where a staff member made a student feel unsafe. And if this can’t be resolved, I quit.
I heard nothing back until today, because I checked with them again to make sure. Their policy about the deposit, depending on who is talking, is either you have those lessons at the end, or you get it back – the latter I heard when a new person signed up while I was in the waiting area. Apparently, though, the owner was personally offended that I would dare accuse anyone of not being perfect, because they’re all family, and everyone’s personally vetted, and everyone’s the nicest person ever, and he personally has never been anything but kind, and they worked really hard to accommodate everyone, and there must have been a misunderstanding because everyone’s so devastated that I would accuse them because they’re so nice and never did anything. And I said I quit, so I can’t have my last two lessons, but they’re nice, so have the deposit back (but not the cost of the lesson I paid for and didn’t have).
You know, he’s the one who told me not to tell his wife he found me attractive.
“It’s just a joke,” I was told, when I spoke up about that. “He’s like that, we just ignore it.”
So, apparently I quit and caused a massive internal devastation there. Which is fitting, because I have been crying and not sleeping and barely eating and terrified that quitting means my teacher will actually kill himself.
They told me they had given the time away already, and he’s fine, because he was active on Facebook during my former slot.
When my mum thinks I’m better off far far away from something then it must be really bad. I am telling myself that they had three strikes. It wasn’t emotional. It isn’t meant to hurt. It’s just a change.
These are other things that happened:-
- I went to a show and I was outside, in line, and someone else in line was harassing an older couple because they were looking for a different venue. I tried to sign directions to them but they left, and this person was yelling after them, joined by another person. They started asking each other where the other venue even was. I pulled out my phone and explained that it was the next building over and they could literally see the sign from where they were standing. The first guy then started back on at me, picking up an earlier attempt at conversation which I had ignored because I didn’t want to talk to him. The other guy told him I can’t talk, mansplained my condition as “she wants to talk to you but can’t”, which led to the first guy then approaching me in the venue because he wanted to protect me at the barrier and make sure I had drinks (etc) and which led to me needing to leave early so I wouldn’t have to deal with him.
I got home to find the other guy had messaged me on Facebook, and that my teacher had told him about my condition, including my name. He wouldn’t tell everyone, apparently, it was just that they were friends outside class. Uh-huh. Can we say, breach of confidentiality, anyone? I did try, but other guy started at strike two and I only tried for the sake of maintaining peace. Clearly, that didn’t go so well. However, I did become the nexus for them bitching about the other. And did I also mention that he then refused to talk to me in public, apparently because “he knows about your condition and is trying to be nice”, which extended to waving to everyone else in the room and ignoring me?
- I was asked if I would like to participate in the student showcase. You know, people get up on stage and show off. I would like that very much, I said. I had selected a song, prepared an outfit and a lighting design, and then there were pictures of rehearsals on Facebook. I was not told about them, or invited to attend, and then I was asked to buy a ticket to go watch. I had overheard another student-not-in-a-band-with-other-people being told not to participate because it was mostly for bands. Stupidly, I thought because I had already been asked to be in it and agreed, that that didn’t apply to me. Apparently, it wasn’t even true anyway. I also agreed to be in another showcase, this one “more low-key”. Everyone else was handing in participation forms and I never received one.
- I have hemiplegic migraines and the simplest way of explaining conversion disorder is “brain thinks had stroke but no corresponding damage on scans”. I try really hard to make the right mouth shapes and sometimes (meaning most, if not all of the time), one side of my face doesn’t cooperate. Every time this happens, it’s “open your mouth more!” Except, you know, I physically don’t have control over that. Same way I’m meant to take a big breath and then my ribs crunch and I have to sit down, or the light digs in to my brain through my eye sockets.
Again, little things. Probably nothing to other people. But adding them all up, and perhaps strike three shouldn’t have taken so long. Perhaps I don’t need to say three strikes at all, and just that it wasn’t a good environment for me and I know the signs better now to be able to say I need to get out before it gets worse. I can honestly say if I had any other teacher, I would have left the first time, or when the new person said that. I tried really hard for him and I can’t do it any more without it damaging myself.
Complicating things in my head here is the psychiatrist. Lately, he’s still on the “people like you know what’s best instinctively” but is also heavily pushing the “if you had PTSD treatment it would all be fine and you would be fixed” angle. I pointed out that I’m already doing everything he says this entails, but apparently it’s not good enough. It used to be that the things I really don’t do well with (i.e. random strangers touching me, people I don’t even know stopping me on the street to comment on my appearance) are things that I’m not meant to be used to, and getting to a space where I am used to them isn’t a thing which is good to aim for. Now it’s “well if you just had exposure therapy you’d deal with that fine because it’s just PTSD”.
So, three strikes. They screwed up three times, and I don’t stick around after that, because apparently my early warning system is still faulty and it would magically all go away because all PTSD ever can be fixed with exposure therapy. He gave me an example of someone not liking to bake because it reminded them of the sound of a car crash because of the metal sounds. I was like ‘why not just use a plastic tool? it’s not that hard to adapt’.
Apparently, we don’t adapt, or listen to our instincts, because basically what he said is that PTSD makes all instincts wrong. Or something. I don’t really feel like he listens to me any more. I just go in and sit there and wait for him to say something relevant. I still don’t have my referral for a pain specialist.
What I do have is a brand new teacher. She has one strike for obsessing over my clothes, because apparently a mass produced dress is “so unique”. I’m hoping she’ll get over it after a few weeks. Or maybe I’ll be able to say “that makes me uncomfortable” and instead of being offended and paying me to go away, she’ll say “I’m sorry, I’ll try not to do that again,” and actually, you know, make an effort.
I haven’t been happy or making any “progress” and leaving was the right decision. Even my mother, of the “you can’t leave, you’ll never get another job, think of the money, I can see both sides you just have to work harder”, agrees it’s the right decision, although she’s bitterly disappointed, as she always is when she thinks I might turn straight and female and date someone and has already mentally adopted them. (seriously, I wanted to skip a class when she was visiting because I didn’t have the spoons to deal with new person and my parents at once, and my mum yelled at me for it… like what?) I should be grateful, I suppose, that she didn’t decide she didn’t like him and needle me about how nasty he is and she got a bad impression until I gave up and ditched. (That happened. I don’t even try now, and instead I get the “you’ll change your mind when you’re older and meet someone” every few months.)
With all this, I don’t know if that’s what’s making me cry all the time, or has me sleeping for two hours until the nightmares and then it’s 4:30am and I’m awake for the day, or losing time again, or if it’s still subdrop (which can last for months if not properly cared for). I don’t know if my teacher, now my former teacher, will still need me and want to be friends. I forced myself to walk past today, because I still need to go to the chemist near there, where they know me and have my meds ready without the questions and the yelling, and I was afraid someone would be outside having a smoke or something and confront me. I told myself that I was gradually changing my routine, and I wasn’t hoping to see him and tell him it wasn’t anything to do with him, that I didn’t mean for this to end up how it did. (He also said that if I needed to miss lessons not to worry about him, and he knew I wasn’t happy there. Another confusing contradiction.) I told myself that if the psychiatrist got into it that it would be proving that it wasn’t going to become a thing like how I can’t walk past old work without checking the lights in the windows to see who’s there, even though they aren’t there any more. I told myself that I was saying it didn’t matter to me.
I don’t know what’s in my own head right now because of all this. I don’t know if putting it all out like this is actually going to help. I don’t know if speaking up and saying “look, if you can’t provide a safe environment for me I can’t be there” is going to affect my teacher, but if it did I would be very upset.
What I do know is they made a big deal of returning my deposit and all alternative classes being fully booked, although I know for a fact they aren’t, so clearly, they wanted rid of me just as much as I wanted to feel safe there, the kind of safe that comes from having issues addressed appropriately and in a timely manner without histrionics and people being offended and saying it must be my fault and, essentially, I made it up, because they would never do a thing like that.
What I do know is that they did do that and it hurt me. Maybe not as much as it might have hurt someone else, or maybe more than I realised at the time. What I do know is that I was able to write my name mostly forward when I signed up somewhere else and had to fill out the forms, and the forms were okay without me needing help to write them, and the only thing that has quantifiably changed between three weeks ago when I couldn’t even write forwards in Greek and now, is that I don’t go there any more. I don’t suspect that will last, and it was not exactly easy, and it probably looks worse than how I saw it, but.
(I feel like I’ve written this exact entry before, in a dream, or something.)
What I do know, even though it doesn’t feel like it, is that I’ve done the right thing, three strikes, random throwing up, dairy desires, or otherwise. No matter which way I look at it, the situation was no longer sustainable.
I just have to stop crying before I end up dehydrated.