(Content tags: this article contains discussion of sex, masturbation, mental health diagnoses, C-PTSD, size dysmorphia and AiWS, dissociation, burnout, panic attacks, grief, and shame, balanced with a variety of positive emotions like gratitude, hope, and determination.)
Instructions for Living A Life:
Tell about it.
Achievements in context
This has been a difficult year for so many. As I see the 2022 retrospectives roll past on the timeline, I feel a mix of pride in myself and my own accomplishments, and a wish that I could put some of it in context for anyone else out there who also feels inadequate. If you feel like you haven’t done enough, or if you’re afraid to take a break because you won’t be productive, this is for you.
This year I wrote more fiction than I ever have in my life, more than 120,000 words. That’s clocking in at 2.4 NaNoWriMos! I published 80,000 words to this blog. I recorded and edited six author-read audio tracks. I also wrote a significant amount of nonfiction, including three free community resources, one of which I presented at SizeCon.
Fiction, poetry, and audio:
- Dear Professor, Chapters 1-3
- Woman in Ecstasy, Chapters 1-5 + 5 audio tracks
- If you Could Be a Sex Toy
- Anne & the King’s Miniaturist + audio track
- Size Poem: Tits & A Shrinking Kink
- Dare You Not to Grow, Chapters 1-2, still being released
- Embracing My Inner Size Slut
- Content Tags: Accessibility, Edgeplay, & Surprise Sex
- Hiatus How To: When, how & why to take a break from NSFW Twitter
- NSFW Twitter Tips & SizeTwitter Guide, presented at SizeCon 2022
I’m very proud of this achievement. And a lot of it has only been possible because my life happened to fall apart in a very specific way. There’s some socioeconomic privilege at work here, and other factors I won’t share for privacy reasons.
My life was in upheaval this year. I experienced two traumatic losses, one of which was to due to COVID in spite of vaccines and boosters. When the living situation at our last place became untenable, my polycule moved again for the second year in a row. I burned out completely on my entire nonprofit career, had two full breakdowns, and took five hiatuses from Twitter/writing that amounted to at least six months of “unproductive” rest and healing.
Behind the curtain: sexy, sexy data
I use an app called Daylio to track my mental health and various things I care about, ranging from depression and gratitude to sexual experiences and size dysmorphia / Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AiWS).
For example, if I notice I’m getting the body sensations that make me feel smaller than my actual height, I could open my app and with a few taps, make a note under my custom AiWS section that I feel small. Or if I check in with my body and notice that I actually feel human-sized, I would note “bean” (yes, this is a reference to The Borrowers). Over the years I have learned that if I deliberately check in with my body and cannot tell my size, it’s a red flag for depression. So I began tracking that, too. It’s really fascinating to be able to compare between years:
I have memory issues from C-PTSD with a dissociative subtype, so unless I find a way to journal and track things as they happen, I often forget them. If you’re neurotypical, this might seem extreme, but it’s an adaptation that helps me to witness my own life.
It also has the fun benefit of allowing me to export some of these “memories” to a spreadsheet. Almost all of these data points are underreported, since it’s more important to live your life than to document it. But I still find it fascinating, and helpful context.
Whatever you think my life is like as a kinky, polyamorous, erotica-writing omnisexual who just wrote more words than I ever have in a single year, here’s a glimpse behind the curtain.
This year I tracked:
- 31 AiWS moments of feeling big
- 98 AiWS moments of feeling small
- 16 moments of feeling human-sized (very underreported)
- 24 moments where I checked in with my body and couldn’t tell my size
- 192 C-PTSD triggers (118 mild, 74 intense) and 29 panic attacks
- 52 talk therapy sessions and 43 EMDR therapy sessions
- 191 instances of crying
- 184 instances that I noticed I was dissociating (definitely underreported)
- 193 moments of learning to check in with my body
- 86 sexual experiences (including partner and self-pleasure)
- 12 days of high libido
- 39 moments of feeling submissive
- 13 moments of feeling Dominant
- 29 objectification scenes/fantasies
- 11 hypnosis scenes/fantasies
- 137 instances of anger, 162 of sadness, and 70 of grief
- 42 moments of guilt and 60 moments of shame
- 253 moments of fear
- 296 moments of gratitude
- 60 moments of bravery
- 97 moments I noticed I was proud of myself
- 177 instances of love
- 118 instances of joy
- 123 instances of peacefulness
- 117 instances of happiness
- 125 moments of hope
- 48 moments of determination
Rest for creativity, health, & survival
One possible takeaway from all these numbers is to say to yourself, “Wow, if Elle wrote a personal best word count this year as her life fell apart, what excuse do I have??”
Please do not do that to yourself. This is not a competition, either for success or for suffering. Writing was a form of healing and escape for me this year. That was especially true when giving myself permission to write more kinky fantasies for myself, with less thought for impressing or pleasing others. So. Writing was a lifeline, not a livelihood. Writing helped me dissociate sometimes, and writing also helped me get back to myself.
I did not manage to form a daily writing practice, though I managed to generate a metric fuck-ton of guilt and shame for not developing one. (Those were not helpful in the least.) I read Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results which, while imperfect and definitely aimed at a neurotypical audience, did help me consider who I want to be, and how my behaviors do or do not contribute to that identity.
The most helpful part of Atomic Habits was this: “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” For ages, my lack of a daily writing practice has felt like a poor system that keeps my goal of being a successful writer out of reach. But this year I began to see that my default system of “work hard, play hard,” and not allowing myself to rest was having an even greater impact on my ability to be creative. Look at the list above of mental health things I grapple with, and tell me whether a rigid system or a flexible system would serve me better at this point in my life.
I have achieved a daily practice before, usually for short bursts and only with community support. Maybe someday I’ll get to a daily practice and wax eloquent about how much better it is, but I am not Someday Elle. The Elle of 2022 was grieving, exhausted, dissociating, working hard to heal, and literally spent more time in therapy than with sex and masturbation combined. I had to let go of the dream of a daily practice and meet myself where I was. And I absolutely had to find other motivators besides shaming myself.
The things that helped the most were acceptance, forgiveness, learning to savor pleasure, and giving myself permission to genuinely rest. I had to read a book to understand how to do this—see my review of Laziness Does Not Exist in the resource list of my article on hiatuses. The practice they call “savoring” really has been a game-changer for me.
So, here’s a different takeaway: I survived this brutal year by taking more than half of my time on this goddamned Earth to stop, to rest, to say no to extraneous things so I could say yes to my own healing. And part of my healing was writing for pleasure.
I was only able to be creative because I took time to rest. I could only publish five stories and a poem because I allowed myself to slow my pace down on the other nine works in progress, and leave them unpublished for now. I wanted so badly to share them with you, too! Years ago I would have told myself this is a failure to live up to my potential. But I have finally learned that the price of giving 100% and pretending I don’t need rest is too high. It means I sacrifice my creativity and resilience and the ability for future Elle to be functional. This year I had to recalibrate and redefine what “my best” really is, and I have no regrets.
Everyone should have the freedom to rest. Because rest is not a reward, it’s a prerequisite to health and survival.
As Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry writes, rest is resistance. Claiming our right to rest is an act of rebellion that dismantles capitalism and white supremacy. She writes, “One day I hope we can all deprogram from the lie that rest, silence, and pausing is a luxury and privilege. It is not! The systems manipulated you to believe it is true. The systems have been lying and guiding us all blindly to urgent and unsustainable fantasies.”
One last curveball: Twitter & Mastodon backup plan
Speaking of unsustainable things. This year, a pre-Musk whistleblower report revealed Twitter to be a boxcar on fire barreling downhill with no brakes. Add in the chaos of Twitter having no structure to manage the egotistical whims of a petulant billionaire, and the whole thing threatened to implode the way Tumblr did in 2018. I felt as if everything I’ve rebuilt in the last four years was crumbling all over again. The thought of losing one of the few places where I can connect with people who understand size dysmorphia and size kink? Let’s just say it added a few panic attacks to the tally.
I recruited a handful of others who care deeply about our community, and we spent weeks attempting to build everything we’d need to start our own Mastodon server. We researched strategies, wrote guidelines, created art, bought a domain name, and put together a waiting list for any interested in making the jump. But in the end, in spite of all our work and connections and planning, we were not able to find a volunteer who was both skilled in IT/systems administration… and who also had the time and mental bandwidth to help us maintain the server. That last part was crucial.
It came down to this: the people are more important than the project. Just like the artist is more important than the art and the writer is more important than the story. Mastodon’s format typically results in reliance on a single dedicated (overworked) server administrator, or enough ongoing community donations to purchase formal IT support through a platform. (All of which are currently waitlisted due to demand. Plus, an adult 18+ server has special considerations.)
We are all volunteers with responsibilities and other commitments. We had to be honest about our own human limits and accept that if there was no healthy way for us to start and maintain this server without burning out, then no matter how much we care, we can’t sustain the effort and we can’t do it. Either we let it go, or we go ahead and overextend ourselves and burn out and will be forced to let it go eventually anyway.
And though I would have had help, there was also the personal consideration that someone with PTSD triggers for physical violence is not a great candidate for moderating an adult kink forum. My passion for (the admittedly imperfect) Mastodon was partly due to the built-in tagging system and content tagging culture there. Y’all know I love content tags, both as an accessibility tool and as a way for writers and artists to find our audiences. Building a size kink mastodon server gave me hope that I might finally be able to exist in an online kink space without (checks notes) 192 PTSD triggers in a single year. (To be fair, many of those triggers were unrelated to size kink. Plenty were, though.) So, that hope was a beautiful thing for me.
And yet. Mastodon’s tagging culture is maintained by moderators who are real people. While researching block lists (and seeing some of the reasons various servers were blocked) I had an intense physical reaction that reminded me that PTSD isn’t something I can just push through.
And of course, with my career in a pile of rubble, I was afraid of not being able to be the reliable professional person I used to be. That reliability came at the cost of sacrificing my mental health for my career, and I just don’t know how to be that kind of person anymore.
It was an experiment, and I’m proud of us for trying. Maybe it will still work out in the future. For now, “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise,” Twitter is holding.
If you know any trustworthy person in the size kink community with IT/systems administration skills, free time, and good mental health boundaries, let me know.
I don’t know what I want to build for myself next year, and to be honest I am deeply afraid of what the future will bring. I might need to give in and finally monetize my writing. I might need to make sacrifices tomorrow that terrify me today. I might need more than 60 moments of bravery.
I don’t know, and it feels like hard work to surrender to that kind of uncertainty. But I do know this. Whatever my life becomes in the next year, rest must be an inherent part of it.
I don’t know how much I want to write, only that I want more. More writing for myself, for pleasure, for the handful of people out there who’ve told me they loved something I wrote. More writing for the joy of words on a page that I can share with you.
I want something I can sustain. I want health and survival and pleasure.
One of the final tweets I saw yesterday as the clock ticked down to midnight was from one of my favorite poets, Jarod K. Anderson of the Cryptonaturalist. “Happy New Year,” he wrote. “Most progress I have achieved in life started with meeting myself exactly where I was, with accepting my limits and looking on my past choices with kindness. It is difficult to build when we spend energy mourning our materials. First, love this version of you.”
Here is an unbuilt cottage.
Your materials are close at hand, there beneath the whispering pines.
Memory, soft as clay.
All your lovely attributes, just as they are, here at the turning of the year.
Can you feel it?
Only an idea,
yet already a home.
— The CryptoNaturalist (@CryptoNature) January 1, 2023