My Mental Health Journey & My Asexuality Journey

This is my submission for the February 2018 Carnival of Aces themed around mental health, and per usual, all of us participating linking our blog post submissions in some way back to both asexuality & the theme. The call for submissions was here. The round-up of all submissions is now here:

When I first posted this blog post it had been written entirely on my phone within the final 2 days of February, most of it within one sitting, and it was extra ramble-y and a few of the parts didn’t tie back to asexuality as much as I wanted. So I added a bit more on March 1st in the middle of the day/edited on a computer and hopefully the post is slightly improved, even if the rambling and random nature can’t be entirely fixed as this is kinda stuck as my blogging style.

I’ve been through a bunch of traumatic experiences related to my abusive mother. I’m 28-years-old nowmy birthday was last monthwhich means I’m well into adulthood. That’s hard for he to believe sometimes, as it took me a while to start doing a lot of adult type things, such as to be gainfully employed, and part of what delayed me might’ve been my process of recovering from my childhoodmy experiences with my mother largely were contained to my childhood or teenage adulthood years (18/19).

There were more of these experiences than I can easily count, more than I’ve ever really blogged about, including the two times most recently:

1) being in a deposition for a civil case between her and her former fiancé, as a character witness against her/in her fiancé’s defense at the end of 2014 (when I was 24) which shook me much more than I anticipated, and

2) at the end of 2016 (when I was 26) the experience of seeing her again at my grandmother’s funeral and witnessing how much this woman I’ve been successfully avoiding entirely (other than her voicemails) just hasn’t changed at all, seeing her siblings call the cops to have her removed from the funeral home.

Then, on the other side of my family and while she remained completely unaware of this part of my lifebecause my brother, father, and I successfully went No Contact with her years priorI witnessed my uncle die by suicide, in November 2013. (I was 23, and this occurred about 1 month after I settled for sure on the asexual label for myself.)

4 years later, almost exactly 4 years from the date in fact, a person I considered a friend and a peer perpetrated a murder-suicide in November 2017. Yesterday was the 3 month mark since this transpired.

These events all have almost no overlap with asexuality, but these traumatic things all certainly did affect my mental health. (Also I’ll note that while I experienced abuse, none of it was sexual abuse, nor abuse in the context of a sexual relationship of any kind.)

At the same time, despite the lack of overlap, my asexuality affects all my interpersonal relationships, and always has (even before I had the word asexual to categorize myself with!). It affects who I am and the context I’m in when I repeatedly find myself needing to process traumatic things.

(For instance, those 2 most recent experiences with my mom happened after the summer of 2014—which was the moment in time at which I slowly started making friends via the in-person asexual meetup group in my city. I had grown extremely isolated over my 4 years at college and 2 years post graduation, and my only friends were via online friendships… until kinda saved me from that life. I spoke to at least one ace friend about the deposition at the time, and I talked to a number of ace friends about that horrible experience with my mom at my grandmother’s funeral.)

I also, both times when my queerplatonic partner (who I’ll continue to call Robert on my blog) broke up with me, experienced the breakups as extremely difficult emotionally for me to get past. The second time was more difficult, and indeed… even though it’s “just a breakup”, the suddenness and other context around it made it traumatic.

He was my queerplatonic partner. Asexualityas well as my aromantic spectrum identitycertainly does have to do with the nuance of our entire relationship and the subsequent dissolution of it. Asexuality has more to do with my feelings toward all of this than asexuality had to do with most of what I’ve been trying to process.

I crashed my car the same week he devastated me; only a few days later really, in part because I wasn’t sleeping enough and I believe I was struggling to sleep because I was so upsetand in part because I was getting overly emotional in the car that morning while listening to music. The lyrics and emotions behind the singing in that particular song had been making me think about Robert and my grief over the breakup, and therefore I was very distracted that morning, and while the crash could’ve been much worse, and no one was seriously injured, it did total my very old car. This was the car that used to belong to that same uncle I just mentioned who died by suicide, but that was hardly relevant. Regardless, it was scary enough that I reacted to that event as sorta traumatic too. It was intense. I texted multiple ace friends of mine that morning about having crashed my car. The fact that the friends I was closest with, the ones I most felt the urge to share this event with, happened to be ace like I am? That is essentially incidental. But asexuality is indeed the context I have immersed myself in very fully, and I think details like this about my friend group make that clear.

That car accident event was something I won’t easily forget.

It’s much like how I etched deeper into my memory the events of the day I broke my foot back when I was 14 years old and needed emergency surgery, as well as the subsequent few days I was in the hospital. I remember this period of time so much better than other things from that many years ago, because it was heightened, it was something at least some part of me knew at the time that it was significant and should be remembered.

You know what other things I have etched particularly deep in my memory?

That time when I was 14 and tentatively asked my (abusive) mom if it might possibly be okay if I didn’t get Confirmed in the Catholic faith, and she said as long as I believed in God it was okay. (Which… Spoiler alert, I now am very confidently atheist.)

“But,” she said… “you should seriously consider that having a church you belong to is better for when you want to married.”

I remember other times she talked about my future wedding too, like when she repeatedly made me promise not to invite my father, whom I love dearly and of course would invite to any/all important life events of mine, including to my hypothetical wedding.

I remember when I was 17 and she criticized my bras I’d picked out over the weekend as “old lady bras” for not being the attractive/sexy types of bras young teenagers should have, and I was so far from imagining anyone ever seeing me in a bra.

And then I remember things unrelated to my mom, but maybe more and more related to my budding awareness that I just might be… Not allosexual. Not heterosexual. Not quite like these other peers of mine. Even when I didn’t have the concept yet for asexuality, I started to get inklings.

Like when I was freshly 18-years-old and in high school and my 16-year-old brother told me about his first kiss, and I found myself crying a little.

Or when I was 20 and on the TV show Glee, the character Beiste delivered a tearful monologue about being 40 and still never having been kissed and it being the doorway to everything else, a baby step, and she was just such a failure at life, and I cried again.

(See my inclusion of that scene at 2 min 6 sec into this fanvideo summary of my life: as how I felt for a long period of my life.)

Or when I was on the tail end of age 22 and finally did have my own first kiss…. Multiple attempts at making out that night actually. And I cried a ton on the metro ride home and imagined people might notice but I felt so broken, so uncomfortable in my own skin, so sure this is what kissing the entirely wrong gender would feel like or something and suddenly feeling jump-started into researching asexuality a little more.

Feeling extra broken when all AVEN told me, after my search, was that asexuals can indeed like kissing too, just like non-asexuals, that’s not a sexual thing, it’s “normal” to like kissing.

By the way, when I was 18 and starting college, and I for some reason told my two roommates freshman year, including the sophomore who was still dating her high school boyfriend, that I was a virgin who actually had never been on a date at all, and when my roommates both assured me that was probably for the best because high school relationships are immature and needlessly messy, I felt, somewhere deep down, that they were both… wrong, and not getting it.

I wrote last March, almost a year ago now, about Asexuality, Shame, and the Importance of Ace Pride. I wrote about some of this same stuff outlined above then too, because it is directly related to the shame I had been starting to feel over… being asexual, essentially.

I recently started attending mental health therapy. It was a few weeks after the murder-suicide that I actually started seeing two psychologists at once, trying to decide which one I’d rather stick with long term. I figured there were a lot of potential complications with my personal circumstances and what I needed to feel comfortable with a therapist. My lack of belief in anything religious and indeed my atheist activism were probably most relevant to the biggest reason why I’d be attending therapy, and I’d heard there could be issues in that regard, so I was braced for that.

I’d had a somewhat bad experience back when I was 17 and went to therapy, though, and I think I wanted to avoid a situation like that too, where it was just that I didn’t feel understood or like it was helping. Granted, that woman back then was a child psychologist when I was much closer to an adult already, and I was court ordered into therapy that I didn’t feel I needed or wanted. This was 2007, and April of that year my brother & I had stopped living with our mom, and we both were in a messy and complicated custody battle, and  the Family Court judge had dictated therapy appointments for both my at the time 15-year-old brother and for myself.

I think the therapy sessions started around September of that year along the start of my senior year of high school. I got myself worked up into crying on plenty of occasions during those sessions, talking about my life with my mom, but it never felt like a helpful or worthwhile thing.

But now, a decade later, I felt like I wanted therapy. It was different. And I wanted therapy to be a good experience for me this time.

I also, unlike that first time, felt I needed a therapist that I could talk openly about my asexuality with—my asexual meetup group where I’ve met most of my closest offline friends, my asexual activism like getting involved at the Creating Change conference about a month ago, all sorts of things in my life where the fact that I’m asexual is relevant. And I’d heard that finding ace-competent therapists might be tricky too, so again, for this reason as well, I thought it was safer to try two at once and hope one would be good enough. (When I was 17, I had no idea I was asexual yet, and I had not yet had any experience at all with having ‘love life’, therefore… for those months back then that I was seeing a therapist, the asexuality part of my identity was entirely irrelevant.)

So at the end of being 27-years old, in December 2017, I started seeing a woman psychologist who I will call Dr. V, and whose practice had a detailed form I ideally would fill out ahead of my first appointment. The multi-page form asked many many questions including relationship status on there and I chose to disclose being asexual in text form, among answering a million other things. Dr. V went over this form with me during my first appointment, which is how asexuality indeed came up in the first appointment. I showed off the ace pins currently on my purse as I briefly explained myself. I found it difficult to read her reactions to most of what I was saying, as she mainly just accepted everything I said and seemed to keep her composure well and not be phased by much. It was hard to tell if she knew already what asexuality was. I mainly take the “no big deal” approach to coming out these days, where I treat it like it’s obviously valid and common enough you might even know what it is, and I didn’t quite go completely nonchalant about it in therapy, but… I was kinda close.

Later that same week I had an appointment with a male psychologist, who I’ll call Dr. K. He didn’t have any forms for me to fill out prior to therapy, other than insurance stuff once you got to the waiting room. The fact that I was asexual didn’t end up coming up that first session. He seemed more interested in really understanding the details of the situation to the point of asking me clarifying questions, which seemed validating and good.

It was at my second appointment with Dr. K that he realized we’d never gone over his questionnaire for new patients, and it was at this point that he asked me plenty of things that were similar to the form I’d done for Dr. V.

Some questions were pretty different, though, and I found the process a little interesting. (His questions, for instance, focused more on ruling out various psychiatric symptoms a bit more than Dr. V’s.) Dr. K assumed, casually in a friendly tone, that of course I was probably actively dating if I was single, but with just enough question in his assumption that I could counter his statement fairly comfortably… And I told him right then in that second appointment about being asexual. He asked me what I meant by that and when I started to talk about how in general a lot of people don’t know what it is, he clarified, although I’m not sure if he was just “covering” for himself, that he was more just trying to understand what I myself as a specific patient/client meant by me being asexual, while claiming he already knew “in general” what asexuality was. I was happy to explain my own personal meaning when I say I’m asexual, in depth, as much as I could given the time limits and the fact that there were other more pressing things to discuss.

I went to more appointments with both of them, feeling torn for a bit between the two of them. I felt I was getting things out of both therapy relationships, and neither had committed any big faux pas which would’ve made my decision super easy.

Dr. K continued, in further appointments, to ask more questions that made me feel like I had to educate him on asexuality, especially once I revealed I would be helping present two sessions at Creating Change, or after we were talking in depth about my queerplatonic partner. Before I mentioned Robert’s name, he assumed, I suppose understandably, that my queerplatonic partner would be female, but still… it was an example of yet another thing where he jumped too far ahead in his assumptions. There were just more of him chiming in with mistaken assumptions than I had with Dr V.

At one point, Dr. K brought up another patient of his he used to see because of an eating disorder who didn’t want to talk about her love life at all.

Dr. K said he knew that was an issue that he would have to revisit, and he told me about how he would try to poke at that topic every couple sessions or so and she got really defensive and angry and he seemed to be realizing while in this particular session with me that maybe asexuality and/or aromanticism was part of her story.

Ultimately, I decided to stop seeing Dr. K.

It felt more like a relationship with a friend, and I… to some degree, I genuinely had fun educating him and talking back and forth with him, about all of my life situations… but I only got exceptionally emotional once, very briefly, during sessions with him, and it felt like I wasn’t being very fully helped. I was probably no more helped by him than I was talking to a number of my friends.

I should clarify that that is not an insignificant amount of help! I received more social support after the murder-suicide than I had ever experienced in my life for anything else, and I really was helped deeply in those first few days especially by plenty of people being in my corner, giving themselves to me fully and lovingly and with all the kindness I could’ve ever asked for. But…

My insurance through my employer has a quite high deductible and I was paying way too much money per session to justify continuing to see him, and in the end I realized that if I had to pick one, I felt like Dr. V was the therapist truly helping me. She asked probing questions that had me really thinking even into the next day. I opened up more about deep stuff that made me cry a lot in sessions and the crying felt good. She never once made me feel like I had to defend my asexuality like Dr K. kinda had, and she also never expected me to educate her at all. She just. She just was good.

Part of my hesitance to believe how good she was is that there are no reviews of her online. There are plenty of Dr. K.

After having multiple sessions with him, I realized I could see from the pattern of reviews of him as a therapist that he made people feel like a friend and made them smile and even laugh during sessions, which warranted high star ratings from some folks, but was kinda bad at actually helping with serious issues and treated everything a bit too lightly, which also warranted really negative reviews from others, and all of it felt true to who I had found him to be.

I liked Dr. V but found myself wishing for strangers’ opinions to back up my own experience and to see if I was way off in thinking she was good.

One thing I told Dr K. because I felt like he needed to get this, for the sake of if he ever had another asexual patient if nothing else, was that embracing being asexual really helped my mental health in solid, important, ways. He seemed to not think of that until I mentioned it.

I sorta mentioned a similar thing, quite a while later, to Dr. V, but not because I felt like she wasn’t getting things. I just wanted to share that part of my past, and part of why I wasn’t looking to start “dating again” after my breakup with Robert. Indeed that was one of the only “not getting it” things she seemed to do in my therapy sessions—imply she thought I might date in a typical way, that dating was something the aro-spec, kissing-averse, sex-averse asexual person I am would be doing. But I felt more like she wasn’t getting it “yet” only because I hadn’t actually explained very much yet of that part of my story or my identity. And indeed, as soon as I then explained, she did get it. She didn’t even act like anything I said was confusing!

So yeah, I have had a good experience with Dr. V as my therapist, in regards to everything but especially how she handles asexuality and aromanticism and helping me move past and let go of my queerplatonic relationship, in addition to helping me process my thoughts and emotions over the murder-suicide.

I’m grateful, and I wish I hadn’t had such low expectations, but I really had never dreamed it might be this easy to just… Be super openly asexual with my therapist and her just nod along and totally hear me and see me, even that asexual part of me.

I’ve come a long way since planning to have sex with my boyfriend and then working myself into tears because of how much I didn’t feel ready for sex even though I was already 23. My self-esteem and levels of shame vs. pride in just being who I am has shifted drastically. I’m able to come out as asexual with a smile and excitement, as opposed to shame and apologetic phrasings, even if deep down I’m still nervous in certain settings such as the workplace or a therapy-type-setting that they might react poorly, or at least might react frustratingly.

Honestly, I’ve had to grapple with fresh, complex feelings of deep shame over mourning and loving and feeling deep grief for a murderer, but I’m glad I had my asexuality stuff sorted this time around. When I was dealing with my uncle’s suicide, the asexuality part of my identity was all so ridiculously new. I was sitting there desperate to talk to my cousin about my trauma and grief, and all she thought to say was that she was “okay with” me being asexual, and she told her mom too after seeing my coming out post a month prior on Facebook, and my aunt/her mom also was okay with it. Like. Gee. How am I supposed to react to that the day after shakily getting through my eulogy and dissociating through the next person’s kind words in the synagogue?

While embracing asexuality helped my mental health, it was only because being aro-spec & asexual in a world full of microaggressions, invalidation and erasure… Of compulsory (hetero)sexuality and amatonormativity… Well that is a precarious place to be, a place where my mental health, and probably most aces’, is/are damaged by that unsympathetic environment.

I’m motivated into promoting ace representation in fiction and writing ace representation into my own fanfiction because lack of representation hurt my mental health. It hurt me, and it wasn’t a physical injury I’m talking about. I’m eager to help promote things that will lead to aces feeling happier and more comfortable in their own skin—less of that discomfort that I felt for too long.

I’m motivated to blog about this stuff, and do other asexual activism too, for much the same reason. I want to be the person “younger me” needed, and, if I’m being completely honest, I want to be the person “current me” still needs. I likely wouldn’t be marching in a Pride Parade this coming summer touting asexual pride if enough other people were out there in my city already doing it. But no, I’m feeling needed in this regard, and in a way, this provides a boost to my mental health more than almost anything could.

It’s exhilarating and helps me forge more passionate friendships with the other aces doing this alongside me. More passionate, as it is all infused with this importance, giving us this huge sense of purpose, heightening the situations in a way that could be too stressful for people in certain mental states, but for a number of us it being… what we enjoy investing our time and energy into.

3 thoughts on “My Mental Health Journey & My Asexuality Journey

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