Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Election Day: Life as We Know It

I fell asleep long before the results were in and didn't wake until my husband came to bed. I immediately knew who won. I could hear it in his steps. 

As my kids got ready for bed, my oldest son kept anxiously asking me, "Will you tell me who won in the morning?" "Of course!" I kept saying back to him. Of course I would tell him. I was actually pretty excited about waking up the morning of my 30th birthday and being able to say to my kids, "Guess what? History was made last night!" 

Now it's 3:09 a.m. 

I am not looking forward to my son's expectant face, asking me who won. Because how do I explain it?

This election has been intense. It's not been the typical Republican vs. Democrat dance. It's felt more like tug-of-war between acceptance and rejection. Most people probably don't see themselves as extremists, but I think we've all felt rather extreme feelings this time around. 

I'm not trying to be dramatic. I know the world isn't ending. But the thing is, for a lot of people, the world as we know it is threatening to end. And while we don't know exactly what that will look like yet, there is legitimate fear to be had. We have elected a man that has made my eight-year-old son anxious about an election he can't understand, because though he can't see yet how it will impact him, he is worried for his friends and their families. 

The truth is, I worry less about Trump and his disgusting nature than I do about the people who put him where he is. 

I hear a lot of racist, misogynistic, and prejudice crap in my life. I live in the south, it comes with the territory. I've often had the desire to move because I don't want my kids growing up thinking that that way of thinking is normal or acceptable in any way. However, this election has brought light to the state of our nation in a way I didn't think was possible. How can it be? This home of the brave, land of the free? Where opportunity abounds for all? How can there be people cheering for a man who objectifies, demoralizes, and ostracizes anyone who is unlike himself? How am I supposed to explain to my son that this is the man our country sees as fit to lead us? 

Because we won't just be explaining to our children that they can be unbearably crass, disrespectful, hateful, and indulgent and still rise to the top. We'll be telling them that that's what it takes to win. 

I have my issues with Hillary (don't we all?), but her supporters have given me hope. So I am sad, but I am not hopeless. The outrageousness of this election has sparked a flame that only promises to continue to burn brighter. I'm currently reading the words of men and women who instead of hanging up their pantsuits to collapse in defeat and depression, are rising up to encourage one another. Instead of retaliating with hate, they are linking arms, forming bonds, creating connections. They are holding onto the hope that together we can make big changes. That regardless of who our country calls commander and chief, our loyalty is to each other. 

So that's what I will be telling my kids when they wake up. 

Our dream is not to build walls, but break them down. Our goal is not to win, but to rise above. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Why Trump's Words are Not a Distraction from Real Issues

Growing up I wished I was a boy. They seemed to have it so much easier. Their advantages were simple when I was young. They could pee without completely exposing themselves, they could walk around in their underwear without shame and sit with their legs comfortably open. Boys were not only allowed, but expected, to take off their shirts when they were hot, whereas I couldn't wear tank tops with straps too thin and I had to raise my arms before leaving the house to ensure I wouldn't expose my stomach by accident while moving about. I had to search with great effort to find shorts that reached my finger tips and jeans that didn't hug my butt and thighs too tight but would still fit my waist (not an easy feat!). It's not that my parents and schools were being intentionally evil and restricting, they made these rules to protect us girls. Because girls don't grow up just being girls. We grow up as targets. 

From a very young age it became clear that my body was a defining feature of my value. Anyone and everyone could have an opinion about it that was more valued than my own. Boys teased me for being flat chested, not being allowed to shave my legs, and for getting red-faced when I was hot. When my body developed I had to constantly battle fashion to find something between "frumpy" and "slutty". When I walked in public I was always aware of every part of my body. Why? Because it had all been commented on at one point or another, not just by men I knew, but by acquaintances and strangers. 

I didn't know that I had experienced sexual harassment until I took a Human Sexuality course in college and realized that's what that was called when men made crude comments and touched me inappropriately. I mean, I knew it was wrong, I knew it didn't feel right, but I was also unintentionally taught that it was my fault. I was in the wrong place, I was around the wrong people, I was wearing the wrong thing. I was a girl in a man's world. 

When a man followed a friend and me around a store with his hand down his pants, I was asked what I was wearing to cause him to do that. When a loved one was sexually assaulted, she was reprimanded for putting herself in that situation by some and slut-shamed by others, while the guy responsible was left unquestioned. If I voiced disapproval for unwanted advances or comments I was told I should feel complimented. That or labeled a "bitch." I was angry, but because I was either laughed at or shrugged off when I spoke out, I felt helpless. 

I know so many wholesome guys who sit back silently while they listen to other men spew degrading, crude, and misogynistic garbage. I've asked why they don't say anything to try to stop it. Why not say out loud, This is disgusting and I'm not going to listen to it anymore. The answer is always the same, "It's not going to change anything." 

I refuse to believe that. 

Women are taking a stand. We aren't politely ignoring things anymore. Men, I challenge you to do the same. This is not just a woman's fight. This is a human fight. Remaining silent is a big part of the problem. That's why Trump's words (that were not just words, but also confessions of sexual assault), especially as a potential leader of our country, should not be shrugged off as "locker room banter" or forgotten with a half-assed apology. If the savage rape by Brock Turner that resulted in an embarrassing excuse for justice has taught us anything, it's that we can't afford to continue to set an example of apathy toward the value of women. Our daughters deserve more. Our sons deserve more. We deserve more. Don't sell yourself short.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Nothing You Say Can Fix Your Depressed Friend

"You know how you can be having a good day, everything is fine, nothing about life hurts too much, people annoy you but not in an unbearable way. And then suddenly, in a single instant that comes from and out of nothing and nowhere in particular, just while you bend over to pick up someone's lunch order from behind the desk, it's all gone. You're just left feeling hollow and your mind is separate from your body so while maybe you go through the motions, joke with a coworker, smile and greet people, issue badges but you're just watching yourself do those things. And it's more of a feeling than a thought but if it was a thought it would something like: life is incomprehensible and so fucking long. I do so many things to keep living and I enjoy so few of them and I enjoy living even less."

This is the beginning of an email from a friend of mine. I asked if I could share it because this particular email described depression better than most clinical articles. The hardest part about depression is that there is this idea you can conquer it, or at the very least control it. The truth is, you can only try. But at any moment it can sneak up on you and swallow you whole before you've even glimpsed a warning sign. There are good periods when it seems to be in a safe, distant coma. And there are periods where you feel some semblance of control, you are doing all the things you know how in order to keep the monster at bay, and it feels like it's working. It's tempting to feel in control and maybe even feel accomplished. People who don't understand the disease are proud of you, they think you've gotten your demon in the bag, and they are glad for you to be able to move on with your life. These people get terribly disappointed when the good times don't last. They start to wonder if you really want healing and they start to take it personally when you don't get better on the timeline they deem healthy. People who know depression, on the other hand, are happy for you, not because they think you've found a solution, but because they know those breaks are what save your life. 

"There is no point. Even if God and heaven and religion were real to me, there would be no point even on a conceptual level."

The above sentence could be the beginning of an entire book. When you want to give up on life, people want you to pray, trust in God, read the Bible, go to Church and prayer meetings. They want you to do these things because they want you to experience hope. The unofficial definition of depression is the inability to have hope. You don't just "not feel it." Hope ceases to exist. The word is meaningless. Life is meaningless.

"Sometimes I watch people around me and try to study them. How and why do they keep going? Who else is a hollow puppet just acting of memory that's drawn from rote memorization of how it should look to be a human in the world?
Sometimes the fact that tomorrow will be here and I'll have to go through another day with no mysteriously provided purpose showing up in the night is so overwhelming that I don't even have to think beyond it to next week or month or year to stop my breath and make my heart beat erratically.
I fake everything. I have no future in any of the meager skills and experience I have. I can't even find a reason to continue in my writing. What's the point? What's the difference between someone else reading what I've written and no one ever reading it?"

We who know depression, know how to fake life when we can't summon the desire to live it. It's how we survive. It's easy to think that a person is depressed because of their life. The way they describe it to you might make you think, "Well do something about it! Just change this and that and then your outlook will change!" I could have told my friend to put her efforts into learning useful skills, find a job that will lead her in the direction she wants to go. I could have told her to use her dissatisfaction to change her life for the better. But guess what? You would never have guessed it from her description of her life, but she is actually highly educated, one of the smartest people I know. She is extremely skilled and hard working. She is disciplined and self-controlled. When she is healthy. Discipline and self-control are hard to hold on to when you lose the desire to live. That's the thing about depression and why it can lead to death. Even if you don't want to end your life, the desire to live is sucked out of you. 
"It's slightly better, being at home. But still that nagging question of why? why anything at all? the desire to burn bridges spectacularly. (I'd be the type to set fire to my former place of employment and everyone would say, but she seemed so quiet and sweet and innocent. that's what you get for calling me sweet mother fuckers! ha! okay not really something I would do or even really contemplate because empathy. fuuuuuuck it.)"

There are periods in depression when all you can really feel is anger. This anger makes you pull away from people, turn inward, and fight all the nonexistent battles that rumble through your brain. You feel like people are judging you, so you judge them harder. For me, this anger often turns into self-hatred. Because I'm the real monster. I am everything that is wrong in the world. Me, me, me. We can think about people only in the way it relates to ourselves, because  depression turns you inward until you can't see anything else but this twisted reality that is nothing but a big ugly picture of yourself. People often think they can save you from this by trying to get you to think about others. Think about the people who have it so much worse than you! Think about the people you are hurting! Think about all the people! Needless to say, this doesn't work. Because depression is not a choice. Depression is not an act of selfishness. Depression is a disease that destroys all that is good. It takes everything away.

"I'm going out to meet a friend at a full moon thing at an art gallery. I don't really want to. I want to just take a long shower and drink a lot and curl up in bed and pretend I don't exist. But honestly leaving is better for me today, as much as I don't want to and even if I don't enjoy it when I'm there. Staying here won't lead to good things. My logical thinking abilities are short-circuited. My patience is nonexistence (and my dog has a new hot spot on his tail but won't let me do anything for him and keeps trying to lick it and I seriously want to be so violent with him in a way that almost frightens me). I can't logic my way out of cutting or distract my way out or find any way out besides actually going out, to a place with other humans. Because you can't just take a razor to your arms in the middle of an art gallery. Unless you are the artist, then you totally could."

We want help. Even if it doesn't seem like it (because if we really wanted help, wouldn't we be better by now?). If you have a depressed friend who is no fun, invite them to things anyway. Even insist they come. Maybe you know they don't really want to be there. Maybe they will say no 9 times out of 10. But also, maybe they will come. And being there may be keeping them from being unsafe. They might still self-harm when you aren't around, you can't save them from all the horrors of depression, but it still helps. The most important thing to remember about depression is that just because you can't fix it, doesn't mean you can't help. 

"I realize this email might be the kind that causes concern. No need for that! I'm fine. I'll be okay. I mean, in the way that I think you understand. I'll still be here tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Fine in that kind of way. (If I wasn't I wouldn't actually be writing this email.)
thanks, as always. typing this out on my phone hiding in corners at work was a life saver. actually I was mostly sitting on the roof deck. #thestruggleisreal"

If your depressed friend or family member is communicating, that is a good sign. Even if what they say is scary or worrisome. Try your best to listen without shutting them down. Things like, "Don't say that!" and "That's not true!" and "You're just thinking too much." Not helpful. In fact, probably nothing you say will help. Let them know you hear them anyway. Because more than any words in the world, knowing someone is there is what's most helpful. It's perfectly fine to let them know you are worried, but try not to make it about you. (If your friend had cancer you wouldn't tell them how hard their illness was on you, or that you can relate because your cat had cancer.) Offer to look up numbers of mental health professionals in their area (and follow through). If you live near them offer to drive them to appointments. (Also, being uninsured is a huge problem when looking for help, but every city has at least one place that accepts uninsured clients. They aren't always great, but they are better than nothing.) And try not to be surprised if counseling and medication don't fix everything. 

Last, but not least, thank you. Thank you for being a friend to someone who is hurting. It's not easy and it often feels futile when your efforts don't make some visible improvement in their lives. But more than likely you are unknowingly playing a role in saving a life. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Hello again.

It's been awhile since I've blogged. Or written at all. I'm going to start again with no explanation for the gap or any attempt to tie things together. Just, Hello again.