Queen of the Alligators: The SCA, the Military, and Mental Breakdowns.

A portrait of my majesty.

We lost Carrie Fisher a year ago today.

While Space Mom has little to do with the current Middle Ages, I’m using her activism, as well as the tradition of “feats of strength” on Festivus, on this last day of Saturnalia, to make a difficult post that I’ve been putting off as part of my psychotherapy.

Write about it. They always say to write about it. Write things down.

So, this post is going to tell you more about me than you ever really wanted. This is a vent, a way to open dialogue. This is not a cry for help, or a way to get attention. This is a necessary discussion that needs to happen, because I know I’m not alone.

My real name is Angela, and like so many others, I have clinical depression, with a chaser of generalized anxiety disorder. My brain decided chemicals are for losers around the same time my immune system decided my thyroid was a tasty snack, and and some sort of switch flipped from normal to batshit crazy. Or rather, somebody noticed that I was batshit, and that we needed to deal with it.

In January of 2014, I found myself a crying, broken mess in my now-husband’s barracks room. I was physically and mentally exhausted. An application to graduate school had been denied 2 weeks from the start of the semester, and my plans were suddenly on their head. The Norman’s solution?

“We should get married.”

My response was an expletive, but the rest was basically history.  Two months later, I married the United States Navy. It was 13 degrees outside. I was accepted into graduate school the same month, and things appeared to be smoothing back over. Access to consistent healthcare now meant that my weird mood issues and lethargy could be addressed. I figured it was diabetes. Fortunately, I was wrong. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune illness that effected my thyroid and would keep me on pills for the rest of my life. As far as AI diseases go, I got off lucky,  guess, if there is such a thing. Hashimoto’s is very manageable. It does still knock me on my butt with flares, which usually happens after being extremely active or overstimulated for a few days, but I deal with those as they come. We figured that was the reason for my crankiness.

Healthcare is really only a fringe benefit to military life. I would soon find out it was a cornerstone of precious sanity in a world of pure, unadulterated chaos. In the last 3.75 years since we’ve been married, there was a move to NH, he made Chief, he was sent to Guam for three months, and the boat he was on got moved to San Diego. I moved to San Diego. He was deployed, and got extended. He came back, we tried to be normal for 2 minutes, and the hits just kept coming. I’ve was told it wouldn’t be this nuts. I’ve seen that it’s not always this nuts. In fact, it seems like we’re the only people that consistently get Eris at the detailer desk. Heck, my husband’s last sea duty started in Kuwait. Kuwait. He’s a ginger submariner, for freaking sake.

Sure, you’re sitting there reading this, going, “Well, you knew what you signed up for. Deal with it. This still has nothing to do with the SCA, why are you complaining about  this? You didn’t have to marry him.” And all of that is correct. I’m setting the scene. Also: rude.

You see, the husband made Chief Petty Officer while we were AT Pennsic. This is when we knew that the balance between hobby and real life was a delicate one. Granted, Chief Season in itself is a special hell, and I got my first dose of going to events without him during the time we were a couple. It seems so normal now, that when he DOES go, it’s like a miracle. When he was in Guam, I kept myself busy with school and events. It was doable. The San Diego move was a little harder, but I still had my MA to complete, and events to go to. He couldn’t make my graduation, but at least got leave for my defense. He didn’t help me move to San Diego, and I didn’t see him until after being in the city for 3 weeks, alone. The SCA was my lifeline during this time. I went to an event, I met the people in Calafia. I was able to get advice on where to shop, where to eat, what to do. It proved to be more of a resource than you ever expect a silly club to me. The SCA saved my sanity during his extended deployment, and his first event home was Potrero War.

Between August 2015 and August 2017, I had spent probably about 4 months with him. We were eager for the break from this sea duty, returning to New England and the East Kingdom where our friends and family are. I was applying for jobs at some of the larger museums in the region and was eager to start my career back East. He got his orders to Connecticut in August, and by mid November, we were inspected, had a house, and were ready to go. Less than 2 weeks from our move date, those orders were canceled, and he was suddenly being sent to a sparsely populated corner of Georgia, and my brain split in half. I’ll come back to this in a bit.

I’ve known for some time that something wasn’t right upstairs. I was prone to ridiculous mood swings and moodiness as a teenager that was written off as being dramatic and, well, a teenager. High stress situations tended to make me flustered and upset beyond what seemed normal, and it didn’t take much for me to find a reason to lay on the couch and cry for weeks, overcome by muscle soreness, and by grief for seemingly nothing. While planning for the move to San Diego in the middle of writing my thesis, I started seeing a social worker at my university to help with stress management. She was concerned about my mood, and by things I was saying, and recommended I sit in front of the sun lamp (It was winter at the time), and said that even though she wasn’t a doctor, she was certain I was exhibiting signs of mental illness, probably anxiety and some kind of depression, maybe seasonal. She gave me therapy homework to help with my stress that ignored completely, and I just trucked through that last spring, living off of protein shakes, sadness, and Taco Bell.  I should have taken her recommendation to seek out an actual psychologist, but I was busy, and felt embarrassed, because I was probably just stressed.

I should have paid more attention. My thought process prior to most events, especially big ones, tends to work like this:

-If I wear this, then XYZ.
-If I wear this, then ABC.
-I don’t even know why we do this.
-What will they thing if I display this?
-What will people say if I show up at this class?
-What will people say about MY class?
-I wonder if I’m going to be heckled again, what do I do?
-Do I know my stuff well enough?
-Ugh, I’m not going.

Like textbook impostor syndrome, right? Of course it is. Extroverted, talkative, strong women like me don’t have anxiety. That makes no sense.

I flew out to Pennsic from California that summer, and realized that I was wrong. I caught myself having anxiety attacks over and over for seemingly dumb reasons. My thought processes were a mess, and where I was once excited about the event, and seeing my friends, instead I found myself questioning everything I did.

– Do they even still want me around?
– Will I make people mad for sitting with Caid for A&S?
– Why is my household treating me like this? 
–  I am an extrovert, why do I want to have nothing to do with this vigil in my camp? What is going on?

It was also dangerously hot, and my constant worrying about opinions of me make it easy for me to forget to take care of myself. This came to a head, and I ended up leaving war on an early flight back. It took weeks for me to want to go to an event again. I felt cowardly, tired, and depressed over Pennsic. Gieffrei finally dragged me out, and I ended up winning Queen’s Champion of A&S when I did. What the hell was going on with me? This wasn’t right.

I had another meltdown during his deployment when I fell, broke my computer, and hurt my knee. Chalking it up to stress again, I just let the waterworks fly, and let myself feel like ass for weeks until it blew over.

This last one? It was the last straw. Not just for me, but for my husband as well.

Back to my brain ripping in half, I felt as if I had ran into a hard glass wall. The life we had set up for ourselves was suddenly out of reach, but we could still see it. My job? Gone. Our house in CT? Gone. The SCA? Gone. Each thread of happiness I had got cut, and I found myself laying on the floor in the living room, wondering if it was worth it to end it all. Not a normal, rational reaction to dealing with a sudden change in your life. While the husband was trying to snap me out of it, and discussed making a plan to deal with the new move, my mind wouldn’t budge. It was still moving to CT. It was still going back to see our friends and family, into the house we had just secured. We were going to 12th Night and Ice Weasel and East Kingdom 50th Year, and I was doing research for the Byzantine Coronation in April. No, I was not moving to Georgia. There wasn’t even a stronghold at this base, no Meridies presence at all. The nearest group was an hour away, in Jacksonville, FL, in Trimaris, but I didn’t want to deal with another kingdom. I started in Trimaris ages ago, but I had a negative experience at fight practice, when I was driven off the field by aggressive men who didn’t want women in armor. I wanted the East back, and if I couldn’t have the East, I was staying in Caid. This wasn’t fair. It was ridiculous, and he needed to try to fight it. We were moving in 12 days. A neighbor ran over when she found out I wasn’t doing well, and, doing her best to make me laugh, insisted that I accept this fate by naming myself Queen of the Alligators. I would sit on my front porch with a tiara and a pretty dress, and hold a court of crocodilians while crushing a flat of cheap beer. Admit it, the concept has promise.

And fight we did.  After he had his own explosion quelled, he dragged me to see a counselor on base, but I felt talked down to, like I was a kid throwing a tantrum. I was told that my feelings were valid, but I needed to nut up and shut up, we needed to make our plan for the new move. I left feeling less than sensational, but a small piece of my brain feigned acceptance, and suggested we put up the Saturnalia tree since we clearly weren’t leaving, even if I was still grasping at a glimmer of hope this was all just a misunderstanding that would be fixed.

I should have known better, we were warned by another SCAdian serviceperson who had done their share of voluntold traveling the world. Don’t be so optimistic that you’re going where you want to go.  No orders are final until his ass is in the chair. Get ready to spend the rest of his career being transient SCA nobodies. 

A week later, despite the local command doing what they could to overcome Navy bureaucracy, he got the official paper orders. Kings Bay it was. I was shattered. I was unable to function enough to even think straight about what to do next. Gieffrei had to leave work early (which he was fine with, considering his own mood) and had to take me to the ER since I decided I wanted to disappear rather than deal with anything else. This accomplished nothing but putting me in 2 hospital johnnies and a pair of socks, in a cold room for hours, being questioned by three different MDs. This wasn’t me, this wasn’t normal, and yet, it was such an oddly familiar feeling. It was brought to my realization that I’m so used to being sad, angry, and stressed, that finding the bright side to anything was not possible. I was given a list of numbers to call, it was time to make an appointment. These were the hardest phone calls and emails I’ve ever made in my life, ones that should have been done years ago.

I bawled during my first therapy session, blubbering about everything from having to call to cancel the lease on our house in Connecticut to being unable to even look at homes in Georgia. To having to explain to a stranger that I was a weird nerd who did medieval things and that all of my people are in one place, and there was nobody near this new place.  I expected to get some weird reactions, but I did not. I expected to be told to put it aside to focus on my “real life”, I did not. My therapist was in my brain better than I was, but of course, that was their job. My hobbies mattered. The SCA mattered, the 501st mattered, my drawing and painting and sewing and comic books, this all mattered. I wasn’t treated like a child. I was allowed to be upset, frustrated, and overwhelmed. I was allowed to believe that life wasn’t fair. Even as I type this, I’m welling up, because I certainly wasn’t fixed immediately.

The diagnosis, after a long chat besides my current situation, was clinical depression, and anxiety. I was broken. Great. I had reasons for my behavior, but now I had that fear of whispers behind my back. What would people think of me, now?

“Oh, there goes crazy Anna, it’s fine. She just cries all the time. I don’t even know why she comes to events anymore.”

You see that? That’s what anxiety does to you. I can’t get rid of that thought now.

Not that it matters, you have no friends in that part of Meridies or that part of Trimaris. You may as well quit.

I wish I wasn’t having these thoughts, but they’re real.

Right now, the prescription is just therapy. Having to move makes it hard on me to explore psychiatric evaluation and medication, since such things need to be monitored. I don’t even want to talk about this. I want to pretend it isn’t real, and that I’m still just a ball of stress, and this too, will pass, but, it’s not passing. There’s still that plexiglass wall, with my normal life on the side, and I’m pounding at it, crying my eyes out and wondering what the hell we did to deserve this.

The latest development is that we decided to live in Florida versus Georgia. I grew up there, albeit far from Jacksonville in the Tampa Bay area, but at the very least, my immediate family is within a 4 hour drive. We’ll be in an active barony, which was part of the sell, but honestly, I’m not sure how active -we’ll- be.  Still, it’s better than living just across the border, and having not even a local A&S night or fight practice to socialize at. My husband will have an hour commute, and I feel like it’s my fault, because he decided it was best for me to be in civilization. As civilized as Jacksonville can be, anyway. (Hey, I’m from Tampa, I have to jab.)

There’s still too much we have to do. We were supposed to be here in Caid until February, but now we’re moving mid-January. I need to get a job, relatively fast, and we’re down a car. We still have to go to New Hampshire to get our stuff in storage, including our large pavilion, and can’t do that until the spring. Needless to say, we won’t be at Gulf Wars, so please do not push it as a platitude. Our spring trip to New England will include East Kingdom Coronation, so I can fulfill their highness’ wishes for a Byzantine theme. We will be at Pennsic, or at least, Gieffrei says we will. We are not making plans for Trimarian or Meridian events at this time until we get over this shock, and I can become employed, because we’re gonna be flat broke if I don’t.

Things will work themselves out because they have to. Not because I want them to, or because I’m looking for a bright spot. I’ll get a job, I’ll live in misery in the sweaty corner of the country, back in the Motherstate, and then who the hell knows what we have next. Acceptance is going slowly, and there is still the option of me taking off for a job with some merit elsewhere. There’s too many variables, and it’s eating my brain like candy. This was the worst time for me to come to terms with my mental illness. The Holidays don’t help.

I found solace in the idea of being Queen of the Alligators. Of course, being queen without being a consort in crown doesn’t work in the SCA, so I can’t really call myself that in a SCAdian context without getting chastised, even in jest. But, as a baroness, I can wear a coronet, so I went on Etsy, and found brass alligators, six of them, and this will be happening. I also found woven trim, but it hasn’t come in yet.

Alligators are New World, but crocodiles are Old World, and a heraldic charge, so I’m also looking into registering one as a badge. Though, I’m sure if I dug into enough information about the settling of St. Augustine, I could probably find a reference to an alligator within SCA period. It does matter, after all, they look different, and alligators tend to be cuter since they have a broader snout, but I digress. Once a Florida girl, always a Florida girl, even when we try to run.

No automatic alt text available.
A crocodile tergiant, or.  Well, it really looks more like a caiman with that snoot, but whatever.

I wish I could give a more positive answer in conclusion, other than sticking it to the Navy while creating novelty in the SCA with large reptiles, but right now, it’s the single thread of happiness I have, even in its absurdity. I think Space Mom would approve. I don’t know what the eventual step toward psychoactive medication will do, but I’m sure it’ll be interesting to feel like a nice, normally functioning, adult human being.

Kittens!

And this disjointed nightmare is how I tell the internet that I’m moving back to Trimaris after 15 years.

 
Baroness Anna Dokeianina Syrakousina, Lady of the Alligators
Conch Republic of the Early Disaster

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “Queen of the Alligators: The SCA, the Military, and Mental Breakdowns.

  1. I think, even if you are not active in Jacksonville, the idea that you CAN be active will at least help. Just knowing that it’s there.

    I wish I could wave a magic wand and make the Navy do what’s right. Since I can’t, if you are at Pennsic, I will bring you alligators.

  2. I too have a diagnosis of clinical depression with anxiety. You are brave to put all of this out for people to know about you. And you are on the journey that poses a difficult challenge for women like us….asking for help. Be open to it, keep doing it. When we allow others to help, the gift goes both ways.

    Be gentle with yourself. It sounds like you’ve been on the hamster wheel of chaos for a long time. The harder and faster you run, the faster it goes. After awhile it feels like the new normal. Don’t fall into that trap. Talk to the professionals, do the self care stuff, take time for you. I’ve been on that hamster wheel and it was difficult to step off. Relinquishing what I thought was control was rough. In retrospect I was just trying to keep up and was doing so badly. You’re the only “you” that you have. Treat her as well as you treat the things and people you care about.

    You’ve made a difference in Caid, and I truly want you to know that. You’ve made Byzantine life and material culture accessable to many. Don’t ever discount your contributions…you do them with heart!

    Be well and keep in touch,
    Thea

  3. IF there’s anything we can help you with up here in NH, please let us know. With enough scheduling, we could mail stuff for you from your storage locker if needed.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your life. You are an inspiration to those of us who are just about to look for help with our own mental health and life chaos. And I for one can’t wait to see the Alligator coronet.

  5. What a hard time for you. I tend to believe that we all have some degree of PTSD, especially from losses in our lives and losses of identity and loss of what we want to be and to have exist. I have had a similar sort of thing for a while now, and moved places I didn’t want to and was ill etc. Good for you for figuring out things that feel good. I wish you the best. And i never saw baby crocs or alligators before–are those real?

    1. Those are definitely real! The first picture, with the butterflies, is actually a caiman, which is a cousin that lives in the Caribbean and South America, but the babies with the mother are 100% real. The hatchlings stay with their mother until they’re about 3 years old, and start out quite small and cute.

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