Dealing With Sensitive Spots

“No.  It’s not difficult between two sane, consenting adults.  It rarely is.

Unfortunately, we’re also rarely entirely sane.

Thing is, sanity is a percentage.  We all have weak spots where if you poke us, we melt down.  We all have embarrassing hotspots that we reflexively conceal, whether we should or not.  You can be perfectly sane about 99% of things, but everyone has some crazy spot that triggers them into overreacting.  And everyone has some emotional issue that, when raised, makes them word not so good that communicates are mall workingfail.

And when someone skips across your insane zones – you have them – then you react in bizarre ways, and God forbid your bizarre reactions trample on your partner’s insane zone.  If you’re lucky, eventually you deal with it.  But that doesn’t make it magically “not hard” to do, especially when your monkey-brain wants to bite their face off for leaving toothpaste on the sink again.”

This Should Not Be Hard Between Two Sane, Consenting Adults

I have been thinking about this kind of thing a lot lately. Historically, the “zone” of mine that has perhaps the most history and at times absurd intensity is my sensitivity to flakiness and imbalance in relationships with people (I have written some about this before).

A lot of this sensitivity is on account of a couple of relationships early in my life where flakiness was an issue. More generally, I think the way that my life looks right now is unfortunately conducive to poking at this sensitive spot on a regular basis for reasons that are nobody’s fault. I still can’t physically work a full work week without aggravating repetitive stress symptoms. I am accordingly almost always a lot less busy than most people are. This means I have a lot more time to fill than most people do, which makes me generally more likely to be looking to interact with people more frequently than most.

Essentially, if I and another person are about equally enjoying hanging out with each other, let’s say that means that we each feel like spending time together about once per every 40 hours of free time. Because I have more free time, I will hit that 40 hour threshold faster even given a similar level of interest. Additionally, my having more time means I am also less likely to have uncontrollable schedule things come up that might necessitate my flaking out. This means I am often more likely to feel like initiating more interaction and less likely to flake versus other people without being an inherently more interested or less flaky person.

The sense of imbalance that creates is the Boss Battle Weak Spot of my ability to be levelheaded and rational about things. When it gets hit there are YEARS of frustration and anger behind it the origin stories of which would make this post several times longer. All that accumulated angst gets piled up and directed at completely different people and situations. Knowing about it and navigating around it is a determining factor in a LOT of my social decision-making. Even with all that management, though, there is no way to avoid triggering it entirely.

When that happens, I do my best to communicate about it. While that communication certainly helps and is certainly better than not communicating, it isn’t a cure for the feelings that happen. I am still in the pretty early stages of figuring out how to deal with and process those in a way that makes me feel better. I am also still figuring out how to deal with and process them in ways that do not cause undue distress or hurt to those in the Feelings Splash Zone.

I’m curious if any readers might have experience dealing with the feelings that result from having sensitive spots like this in a way that accomplishes those things? It’s one thing to generally have a sense of a reaction being out of proportion and a wholly different thing to apply that sense and whatever tools are available in a way that actually successfully ameliorates the feeling. Doing scary, haphazard Feelings Science to this is exhausting and, well, scary, and I would much rather just cheat off someone else’s homework.

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Writing

I miss writing. But I’m not sure what to write about.

I have ideas for things to write about, but usually something stands out. Usually some particular thing just needs to be written about.

Usually in the past when I have had writer’s block it has been because there was something that I needed to write about before anything else would come out. For a while I thought maybe the thing I needed to write about was anxiety, which I’ve been experiencing a steady supply of lately. But I’m not sure if it’s that.

Maybe it’s the meds I’m on? Maybe they’re having a negative impact on my drive to write. I’m not sure. I want to write, but I don’t know how right now.

One Billion Dollars

“Try to figure out what you’d ask for if you were being maximally greedy.”

In context, this question was about finding a job. In the context of my life, I was thinking about social interaction.

What is the ridiculous, perhaps childish, making $1 billion a year equivalent in social interaction?

Always having people available when you need them. Having them take initiative when you want them to and not take initiative when you don’t. Having them close by when you want them close by and far away when you want them far away.

Having people ask for help when you want to be asked for help, and having them leave you alone when you don’t want one more piece of responsibility for dealing with any problem of anyone’s. Having people offer an ear when you need an ear, and a shoulder when you need a shoulder, and being asked to be an ear when being an ear for someone would make you feel good, and being asked to be a shoulder when being a shoulder for someone would make you feel good.

Being the one person that someone can talk to about this particular thing, but only when being that one person makes you feel useful and validated, not when it makes you feel overburdened and exhausted.

Having enough people and things going on in your life that you can always find something to do with someone, but not so many that you feel overwhelmed with obligation. Perhaps, in summation, being committed to in all of the ways you want to be committed to, but not having to commit in return. Just having things fall exactly where you want.

Sometimes I think it’s good to talk about the things that I want when I’m feeling frustrated and overwhelmed or lonely or both and the things that I want are maybe childish but they’re still there and the only thing I can do in the moment is give them expression.

Jotting Down A Few Miscellaneous Proto-Posts

Lately, I’ve had several things I wanted to write about, but nothing I had the energy to write a complete post about. In lieu of writing full posts, I’ve decided I’m just going to empty the backlog with some short summaries of some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately.


I just had a conversation with a friend of mine about a partner of hers. A few weeks ago we had a lot of conversations about this partner, and she had expressed to me a few times that she was nervous about not being very attracted to this partner physically. I noted to her, today, that she hadn’t mentioned that issue in a while, and asked if that was because it had changed or not. She responded that, yes, it had changed, and that she was now finding this partner incredibly attractive all the time. It was really cool being witness to a change like this as it happened.


I’ve been wanting to write something just to remind myself that this happened: the woman I have most recently started dating gave me a very distinct first impression over about 30 seconds of conversation at the beginning of our date. Over the course of the rest of that date, I got a stronger and distinctly different impression — one that was much more compatible with me than the first impression had been. Then, over the course of the following date, my impression changed again (not to a negative impression, but to one that was markedly different from the second impression). It’s not a particularly interesting story except that I tend to have a very high opinion of my ability to develop highly accurate snap impressions of people I meet in person, and this particular dating experience has somewhat flown in the face of that. Data about my brain I wanted to write down so I remember it.


I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy recently. At some point, I want to write a full-length post about this, but for now just a short summary: I’ve been mulling over this idea that empathy is, like all those other things I wrote about in the brain skepticism post (pain, depression, etc.), a model. Roughly: that empathy is a mental model of the state of another person’s brain that can cause us to experience emotions. That is, when someone else is sad, and you recognize the visual cues that signify sadness, you form a mental model of them as a person experiencing sadness, and whatever process creates that mental model also produces a corresponding emotional experience in you.

I find this idea intriguing because it presents an interesting perspective on why certain groups of people have so much trouble empathizing with other certain groups. For example: why are so many religious people convinced that atheists are just angry at their god? I think this model for empathy implies a fascinating explanation: if someone lives in a world where, in all of their experience, the existence of a deity is self-evident, then maybe their system has no idea how to simulate the mind of an atheist. Maybe the best it can do is to posit things like “angry at God”, and, as a result, not only is that the explanation that seems plausible to them, they might even experience an emotional reinforcement in the form of an “empathetic” emotional experience of being angry at God produced by their inaccurate model.

In a nutshell, what I find interesting about this is that it reframes my concept of the idea of “failing at empathy”. When people assume completely inaccurate things about other people, by this model, it’s not that they aren’t experiencing empathy — the very same process is happening as when empathy works — it’s just that their empathy engine isn’t producing accurate results.

This is obviously a hypothesis formed out of purely anecdotal speculation. It’s the worst kind of just so story. I just think it’s fascinating as a hypothesis, and I would be curious to learn about reasons it might or might not hold any actual evidential water.

Spin the Bottle Party Recap

Last week I went to a party. It was a very good party, celebrating a major life accomplishment in the life of the party-thrower. I was honored to be invited to the celebration of a Big Life Event like that, and I had a tremendous amount of fun. I got to see people I hadn’t seen for a while, cuddle with people I hadn’t cuddled with before, and play Advanced Sexy Consensual Spin the Bottle. This will be a recap for basically no reason other than that I like remembering things that were fun.

When I got there, I said hi to friends and people I hadn’t seen for a while, and then mingled while we collectively waited to start the planned Movie And Cuddles Part until most of the attendees had arrived. I ended up in a conversation with a girl I had seen at a few other things but never really gotten the chance to talk to before. I barely remember anything about the conversation, now, except that at some point I did something that she said was really cute, but in that way where it actually means “and also you are cute”, which made me feel brave enough to ask her if she wanted to cuddle during the movie, which she did, and we did, and it was nice.

It’s always a bit of a challenge for me cuddling with new people in groups, because it’s scarier (at least for me) to have “Is this okay?” conversations within earshot of bunches of other people, but in this case I think it went pretty well, and mostly without an overabundance of nervousness. I enjoyed it, and she definitely seemed to enjoy it.

After the movie, spin the bottle began. The first highlight for me was getting to make out with the aforementioned cuddle partner. We made out enthusiastically, and one of the other people in the circle commented approvingly that “Adults are so much better at making out.” while we were doing it. I also got hit, bitten, and scratched over the course of the evening, but the spinner (frustratingly) didn’t actually start landing on me during other people’s turns until almost the very end of the game. Fortunately, it was a very good end of the game.

Toward the end, two friends of mine had turns where the spinner landed on me. A room had been set aside, this particular game, for the seven minutes in heaven option, and on both of those turns, I offered that option, and both friends enthusiastically selected it. I’m going to take this time to note that one of the many things that is better about this version of spin the bottle than the regular version is that you get to experience the awesomeness that is people enthusiastically selecting the option you were hoping to get to do with them.

The cumulative 14 minutes in heaven were fantastic. I hadn’t been really physically sexual with either of the friends in question before, and one of them even told me after we got to the seven minutes in heaven room that she had been hoping to get me at some point over the course of the night. Those 14 minutes also definitively got me to the point where my energy was winding down (and did some noticeable damage to my lower lip). The party, itself, wound down shortly thereafter, and I drove back home, but not before one of the other women at the party that I knew told me she really liked my energy, and I gave the party-thrower a small memento of the accomplishment the party was celebrating.

All in all, a very good night. There is nothing quite like several people enthusiastically volunteering to be sexual with you in a short span of time for boosting the ego.

On The Virtue of Doing My Best

I am an ethical perfectionist. I tend to look back on complicated things that happen with people and ask myself “Did I do everything right?”. Did I make the right decisions, should I have done this, or done that, or said this in a different way, or heard that in a different way?

Some situations you eventually get to ask. You get to look back and reflect on them with the people they happened with, and figure out what you might have understood or not understood at the time. Others you don’t.

“Real life is messy, inconsistent, and it’s seldom when anything ever really gets resolved. It’s taken me a long time to realize that.”

― Hollis Mason, Watchmen

Times when I wonder about things like this, it helps me to remember that I did my best. I pretty much always do my best when it comes to trying to do right by people, so it’s a helpful mantra. No one can expect me to do any better than the best I can do, and if the best I can do isn’t good enough to perfectly figure everything out about a given situation, then it isn’t good enough. It’s still my best, and it’s still something that no one, including myself, can or should expect me to do better than.

Sometimes my best means getting to a point where I decide, for my own well-being, that I need to stop trying. Sometimes doing my best means saying “The best decision for me is to stop putting my energy into this thing.”. Those times are the most difficult ones to come to peace with, because you can always ask yourself “What if I had just tried a little bit harder, stuck it out for a little bit longer, or understood a little bit better?”. At the end of the day, though, I look back at most of my decisions and think “Yeah, I made the best decision I could with the information that I had, even when that decision was to stop trying.”.

I may never do things perfectly, and sometimes there are things I may not even do particularly well, but I usually do my best. Sometimes that means things work out, and sometimes that means I get to a point where I haven’t figured things out, but I don’t think I should put any more energy into working things out. Sometimes that decision is my best.

That is enough. It is more than enough. It is the best thing I can or could be doing, even when part of me wishes it had been enough to resolve things and it wasn’t. Even then, it was the very best thing I could do, because self-preservation is something I do both for me and for the people around me, and it is a more important responsibility than working things out in any individual situation.

The times when doing my best means self-preservation are just as commendable as the times when it doesn’t. I did my best, and that is the very most anyone can ever expect. It is okay. It is more than okay; it is my best.

Thoughts About My Weird Double Standards With Respect to Tough Conversations

Interesting fact about me: a lot of the time, I enjoy when people tell me “no”, or tell me that they’re frustrated with me in some way. It makes me feel more secure in my relationships with people when I know they’re able to tell me what they want and don’t want. It makes me feel like I’m more likely to know if I’m doing something they don’t like, and it makes me feel like they think their relationship with me is important enough that they’re willing to do the work to communicate with me about things.

I know this about myself, and yet in spite of it, I still find it difficult a lot of the time to tell people “no” about things or to tell them that I’m frustrated or angry with them about something. Recently, I had a long conversation with a friend about my preferences in terms of reliability and communication. It was a scary conversation to have, for me, but it went very well, and I was proud of myself at the end of it for having managed to get myself to communicate the things that were important to me.

About a week or two later, I ended up very frustrated with this friend, and realized I needed to have a conversation with them about it. As far as I could tell, that first conversation hadn’t been an annoying or in any way negative experience for this friend of mine — it had been a generally positive conversation, and she had thanked me for communicating about the things I talked about. Even so, my brain’s instinctive reaction to needing to have this second conversation with her was “Shit! I just had this one Serious Conversation, now if I have to have this other one so soon after it, she’s just going to feel like our friendship is too much work!”.

Much of the time when people have these conversations with me, I think it’s great, but when I have to initiate these conversations with other people, I assume it must just be annoying and exhausting for them. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe I just need to ask people the deliberate question more often and confirm that they find the initiation of such conversations as valuable and affirming as I often do. I don’t know. But it’s definitely a double standard I plan to do more thinking about.

After all, when I had the second conversation, it went fine.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Breaking up with people is hard.

I follow a strange pattern when it comes to ending relationships or friendships. I can’t remember ever breaking up with someone and then regretting it later. There have been many, many times when I’ve broken up with people and wished it hadn’t been the right decision, but by the time I’ve decided I need to break up with someone, I’m usually sure.

There’s usually a moment. After a period of stress and worrying and wondering what I should do, something happens and suddenly the dike breaks — a kind of intuitive critical mass is reached, and apprehension and uncertainty transmute into diamond-like clarity. It’s like hearing the chink of a shovel on metal when you’re digging for something – it isn’ t so much making a decision as discovering a decision that was already there, already made. It just had to be found, and now that it has been all that’s left to do is follow the directions on the card.

Once, when I was in college, I was venting to a friend about the relationship I was in at the time, and she said something like “Well, it’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do.”, and for some reason, in that moment, I did know. There was something about her putting in just that way, and suddenly I knew I didn’t want to be in that relationship anymore.

I’m not sure I will ever know what it was about her saying that particular thing at that particular time, but I know that was the moment. That one statement was the eight ball in the corner pocket in the chaotic system of my brain. After that moment, I knew how the story ended, and all that was left was to deliver the news.

You would think that sort of clarity would help in the aftermath, but I’m not sure it does. Maybe my experiences of breakups would have been worse if I hadn’t been sure about them, but when I’m in the middle of the aftermath, the difference between wondering if I was really sure and wishing that I wasn’t really sure doesn’t feel all that important. No matter how the cards fell, it’s just different ways of wishing things had been different.

Life Update

Life lately has been pretty intense. I’ve been seeing some new people with respect to my repetitive stress issues, and has apparently determined that they are not, in fact, consistent with a diagnosis of tendonitis. The running hypothesis is that it’s a nerve problem caused by muscle tension — that is, muscle tension causes nerve compression, which causes the physical symptoms. I have been experimenting with different types of exercise, and discovered that I am capable of doing more types of exercise than I thought I was without aggravating my symptoms. That said, I still seem to get about the same level of symptoms when I don’t move around for a while, so I’m not sure if the root of the problem is getting any better, which is pretty frustrating.

My voice does seem to have been getting consistently better, which is a huge relief, and may mean I’ll be able to blog regularly again. We’ll see.

I went on a date this past weekend which went very well, and I’m curious to see if that goes anywhere, friendship or otherwise. I’ve noticed that my dating instincts have shifted recently, erring further on the side of caution than they used to. I had a pretty complicated situation implode recently, and I think the aftermath of that may have made me a little bit slower to be up for jumping into things with people. I think this is probably a good thing.

Basically, I’m processing a lot of things right now. I find myself sad about some things, and happy about others, and as per usual, my mood is most powerfully influenced by whether my symptoms seem to be getting better or not changing. Being able to do more things is better than nothing, but it only goes so far when they are still dozens of things I have to choose not to do over the course of a day on account of my body. I really hope one day I’ll get over all this stuff, and my body will end up being something I can dive into and enjoy, rather than just being a list of things I can’t do.

I’ve been feeling sad today. It’s actually a nice feeling, because it’s not the kind of sad that I’m used to — it’s not depression-sad, it’s not the-world-is-futile-and-pointless sad, it’s just things-are-sad sad. Which is natural, and fine, if unfamiliar.

Things Are Pretty Bad

It always seems to be worst in the mornings and just before going to sleep.

It helps to think of depression and pain problems as puzzles to solve. It gives you a path to follow to feel like you’re making progress. Try this thing, then if that doesn’t work try this thing, then if that doesn’t work try this thing, etc.

What’s supposed to happen when you do that is that you eventually try hard enough and find the right thing to try and things get better. That’s how the story is supposed to go. It isn’t how mine is going. If I had actually chronicled all the different things I’ve tried for the physical and mental stuff I’m going through on this blog, there would have been a lot more posts over the last year or two. There have been the different daily routines to minimize physical activity that aggravates my physical conditions, the different strategies for communicating and engineering interactions with people that make me feel satisfied and cared about, all those times some new thing I was trying felt like it was working for a few days before everything went back to feeling like last time.

Somehow, in spite of all the things I’ve tried, I’m still here, feeling physically broken and lonely and exhausted and like I don’t know what options are left to try.

Every now and then I think of a new direction to turn in, and I turn to face that direction and walk forward and bang headfirst into a wall I didn’t know was there. It’s like living in a tiny room, and every time you try to get out the walls press in a little closer.

I am in a dangerous place right now. I experimented with yoga a week or so ago, which seems to have turned out to have been a very bad idea — my tendonitis symptoms have changed in an alarming way is making me wonder if I might not have any time left to put off taking some time off from work, and hoping that will be enough.

In consequence, I’m making an effort to locate friends to crash with in the interim, because although there is a decent chance my savings would last a few months of my being unemployed, I think there is a good chance that my mood would plummet further down than it already has. My bad moments are already dipping into a frequency and extremity of suicidal ideation that I am scared by — a few months with nothing to do but brood would be a brilliant recipe for making those moments more frequent and more dangerous than they already are. I think crashing with friends for a while might be the best way to avoid that escalation.

I am seeing a therapist. I am making an effort to talk to people. I am doing the things that you do, and doing them as well as I can. And I am writing about this because it’s as good a way I know as any to make sure I’m letting people know where I am, and because I think that providing a window into what this looks like and feels like it is as important as providing windows into any of the other aspects of the experience of depression or chronic pain.

A while ago I had a conversation with a friend where I talked about how one of the most frightening things, to me, about the idea of committing suicide was that people might be mad at me for doing so. She told me that the people she knew who had friends who had committed suicide were usually not so much angry about the suicide itself as that the friend hadn’t told them that they had needed help. I have tried, since then, to always make sure that I communicate with people when things are going badly, even when I don’t want to, so that if I ever do end up committing suicide, I won’t have left people feeling that way.

But at this point I don’t know what to ask for. Usually I ask for talking, but right now my voice still isn’t doing that well, so I’m having to carefully manage the amount of talking I do. I guess really what I need right now is to find a way to feel financially and emotionally secure for long enough that I feel like I have the time to rest my body for as long as is needed for it to actually get better.

It still boggles my mind how situational so much of this is. I definitely have depression, and it definitely contributes to how this all feels in major ways, but without the physical shit I’m dealing with, there would be so many additional options for self-care for me. There would be ways of socializing and meeting people, there would be less management of the amount of time I spend talking or exercising or just… existing in certain positions that make certain physical symptoms worse.

If I just hadn’t worn out my voice to the point that it got this way. If I hadn’t gotten so excited about being able to type and code faster at the beginning of this year that it resulted in tendonitis. If I hadn’t gotten so excited about finally finding a form of exercise that I could do and found fun that I overdid that and ended up with these symptoms in my legs as well. If I hadn’t, in the effort to get better, tried yoga, which seems to have ended up making things worse.

If it didn’t feel like just this long process of me trying as hard as I can to get better, and my body responding by finding new ways to get worse.

Truthfully, sometimes I get frustrated that there even are the stigmas that there are against suicide. Shouldn’t I have the right to throw in the towel? Shouldn’t I have the right to say, “You know, this is just too much to expect any person to reasonably handle, and I quit.”

The line between where I am and a set of circumstances in which I could be happy feels so thin. Is so thin. If my body were a little different, a little more resilient. If things had gone slightly different way. If things have gotten better after one of the things I’ve tried. If the yoga had worked.

I went on steroids briefly for my throat. Steroids are a pretty effective short-term treatment for the symptoms of tendonitis, although long-term a terrible idea, because they actually eat away at connective tissue. At the same time, I had been experimenting with friction massage for the tendonitis, and for a few days it felt like that was working well. For a few days I caught a glimpse of just how thin the line is between where I am and the set of life circumstances where I think I could be happy.

With the tendonitis gone, and my voice better, I could work more and stop having to worry about money, and I could meet people, and I could teach coding, and I could write.

But none of those things is simple right now. Some of them are complicated and others are impossible. And I’ve spent a decade always having to wonder if it’s a good idea or a bad idea, physically, for me to go for a walk. For most people that’s the simplest thing. You want to go for a walk, so you get up, and you walk out your front door, and you go.

This isn’t really going anywhere anymore, I’m just talking through thoughts as they come. And I guess this is about the end of them for now. I am doing my best, because I know it will be worth it if I somehow manage to get through this. I know it will, but right now I don’t know how to get there, or if I can.