A Letter to Veterans from a Black Lives Matter Gal

FullSizeRender (1)Today, our country went crazy because a mentally ill man in the White House made a sweeping statement that was an attempt to divide the NFL, and ultimately, the country.  It was also probably a distraction from current findings about Manafort and Russia, but it ignited and highlighted our polarized country’s differences nonetheless.

Before I give my opinion, let me tell you a little about myself.  I’m a daughter of an Air Force Veteran – one who was stationed during the Korean War and also witnessed Black sisters and brothers being segregated, and then slowly and painfully, desegregated.  I am also an Licensed Mental Health Counselor who can make an accurate and informed judgment (see above) about our POTUS.  I’ve worked with and counseled some veterans, and I want to tell you something:

I SEE YOU.

I see the suffering you have endured.  I’ve heard it through countless therapy sessions.  I know you had to watch your friend die violently.  I see that you’re paralyzed.  I see that your  war injury makes you limp and it will be a limp you endure until the day you die and you STILL show up and teach your daughter how to kick a soccer ball around.  I know you had to give up seeing your family for months on end.  I know that you had to keep horrible, horrible secrets from loved ones, ones about the safety of our country and its citizens.  I know that all of this literal shit you’ve had to endure has caused some of you to turn to alcoholism, and drug addiction, because the pain of seeing a kid die in Afghanistan was too much for your brain to process.  I see that.  I hate that it did that to you.

I hate it so much, that I choose to challenge the way we’ve done things in our society.  Historically, we have fought wars to manage problems.   We have chosen a very stereotypical masculine way to address conflict.  With force and division and might and colonialism and torture and death.  Instead of unification and communication and art and growth and compassion.  And every time I’ve disagreed with a vet on a thread, and he starts to spout out choruses of, “You snowflake cunt!”, I feel heartbroken underneath layers of pride.  Why?  Because I know the anger is a mask he’s been taught to wear to survive.   Or he’s the victim of a traumatic brain injury.   And it’s such a goddamn tragedy.

And I know it’s not simple, and I don’t have an immediate solution.

I still think the masculine system is bullshit, though.

I hate that you aren’t protected.  That your healthcare sucks and you feel invisible.  Undervalued.

Sort of like people of color.

You see, I see people of color too.  I see that they are killed by our police and they do not get justice.  I see biracial couples are still thought of as “different” in people’s minds.  I see my best friend feeling as if she can’t be as angry as a white male because then she’ll be stereotyped as an “angry black girl”.  I see thousands of white people not willing to have a conversation about two generations before who lynched people of color because they are plainly lazy.  I see that they are seen as the “token black friend” by their white counterparts.  I see the white wives, who so quickly rush to defend their policeman or navy husband, think not a thought about Philando Castile’s black daughter, who witnessed her father being shot multiple times.  Even though their grandchild is a quarter black, they remain silent.  I see it.

And as a mental health counselor, I know this: that there is enough love and compassion to go around.  That it isn’t limited or afforded to one kind of group or people.  That there’s space for everyone’s pain.  Not just yours because you grew up poor, or yours because you were physically abused as a child.  There is space for EVERYONE’S.  And more importantly, I know that one kind of pain doesn’t trump another’s.  Being gang-raped is about as fucking awful as watching your best friend die in battle.

Another thing I know from being a mental health counselor is that people tend to make martyrs out of people.  And this is not helpful, especially when people have choice.  And what I mean by that is:

Veterans today have a choice to be in service or not.  People do NOT have a choice over what skin color they get.

So when you tell me taking a knee is disrespecting the flag, or that they should have used a different time to do it, I know that’s not true.  I know that in some cases, it’s pure racism.  I know that it’s mental laziness.  I know that it’s emotions swaying you.  I I know it’s possible to both honor those who fell, and let people of color exercise all rights of the constitution.  At the same time.

So many people used the Constitution to argue that you can’t pick and choose free speech, but I choose emotions.  Politics is PERSONAL, and FEELINGS, and PEOPLE, whether you choose to see the walls you’ve built up between them or not.

And us white people?  We’re a fairly emotionally and mentally lazy lot.

 

 

Why 12 Step Programs Don’t Work For Me

FullSizeRender (1)….right now.

It’s been about a year since I’ve been to a meeting.

For a couple of years, I went to a meeting a couple of towns over.  I was having coffee with my sponsor and another oldtimer, and they were talking about someone who was sharing their trauma history at a meeting.  The oldtimer  was ripping her apart.  I could see the potential outcomes of sharing trauma at a meeting (i.e., triggering others, setting yourself up for victimization if you’re not in a healthy place), and I also left that conversation with a sinking feeling.  It was the age old, shitty, generations-impacting, “You can’t talk about your trauma” feeling.  Rational me knew there were places to go with that trauma – therapy, etc.  But still.  It had that patriarchal, either-or, “you don’t change this rule” vibe to it.

And I sure as shit wasn’t impressed that an oldtimer was ripping into someone with one fifth the sobriety he had.

******

Let me back up.  I’m eight years sober.  Which means nothing and everything.  When I got sober, I NEEDED something like a 12 Step program.  I hated where my life was going, and I needed a community of like-minded young people I could hang with who let me say and do crazy things.  My mind was spinning so fast then I literally couldn’t speak because my mouth couldn’t keep up with my brain. I remember celebrating my first year sober with my father, then alive, and my group in Brookline.  I met an amazing woman who became my sponsor, and we went through the steps together. It changed my  life, it truly did.  I would not be where I am today without that program and those particular people.

A year in, however, I started to realize there were some “sharks in the tank”.   Five months in, I met a young man at a 12 Step conference who completely invaded my physical boundaries.  Of course, at the time, I didn’t know this, because I was 5 months sober, and I was used to men assaulting me in various ways, quite frankly.  And I wondered why I felt suicidal a couple of weeks later when the romance ended, gazing over the side of the Tobin Bridge.  Now I can see, but then I couldn’t.

A couple of years in, I started to hear some expressions at meetings that made me squirm.  “You either grow or you go.” All-or-nothing expressions that I had been taught in therapy to challenge or ignore.  “You can be too intelligent for this program.”  That initially made sense, when I was a newbie (i.e, you can analyze something until it doesn’t work for you anymore), but I started to see its limits as I moved on.  Sometimes, I’d try to challenge or explore other, more ambiguous options in my growth, and people would dismiss them with the “too intelligent” thing.  I began to see why some people never left those halls.  Because they listened to that.

Also, there was inevitably that well-meaning person who thought they needed to teach me a lesson and tell me exactly what I was doing wrong with my life after a meeting.  THANK YOU VERY MUCH, I would scream silently in my head.  BECAUSE I ALREADY DON’T BEAT MYSELF UP ON A DAILY BASIS FOR LIVING.

And the GOD THING.  Oh God.  I never had a problem with God, but I can count about 10 problem drinkers I know who have purposefully stayed away from 12-Step programs because of the God thing.

I had a baby, left the program for awhile, and came back to a meeting that saved my ass…for a bit.  My dad was dying, and I was getting married. What a mindfuck. The donuts, conversation, company and commitments distracted me.  I truly loved some people at that meeting.

AND….it was at that point I noticed myself embodying some of the qualities of that young man I encountered 5 or so years earlier. I was using other people to distract me emotionally.  It wasn’t OK, or fair to anyone.  It snowballed and snowballed until I left that meeting, a little over a year ago.  Turns out the program could be just as triggering for me as a bar, at times.

When I stopped going to that meeting, I literally felt as if I was having withdrawals. I missed the meeting and had to do something to distract myself on Thursday nights.  Then, I started to work later, and I slowly forgot about it.  I’d remember from time to time, and wonder what they were doing when it was 830 on a Thursday night.  Over time, I forgot completely.

It was then I realized I was addicted to the meetings, and to people at them.

******

Over the past year, I have gotten healthier and healthier. I’ve never eaten better. I’ve noticed that my tendency to seek joy or fulfillment through other individuals has decreased.  It’s almost died out, actually.  I don’t think about drinking often, and I’m 100% submerged in my life.  Which does not mean it’s perfect!  IT IS LIFE.  Which means it can be annoying and messy and just plain hard. Especially when my husband wants me to check in more to our marriage or my daughter is pinching or hitting me because I wouldn’t let her watch TV during dinner.  But I’m in it, and I’m feeling shit.

Do I think 12 Step Programs suck?  NO WAY.  They save people’s lives and marriages and families.  Do I think they need some work? Absolutely.  And I think we need to do away with not challenging some tenets of the program, and talk about what’s wrong with it.  Because let’s face it.  What Bill W created in 1935 may have lasted, but it doesn’t fit 2017 so snugly.

So yeah.  The program isn’t for me now, but it might be sometime again.  But not right now.  I do therapy and exercise and writing and other spiritual work as my self care. And where I stand with it makes me no better than you.  Maybe you need it every day.  And that’s cool.

Cause different things work for different people.

(I picked that gem up at this 12-Step Program I went to.)

 

 

 

Why “If Mama Ain’t Happy, Nobody’s Happy” is a Bullshit Lie I Live

IMG_6863There comes a time in you life when you are doing something really mundane, like going on your daily run, when you realize,

Shit.  I’ve been selling out.  I’ve been settling.  I’ve been settling for behavior from others and myself.

And there are layers to these epiphanies.  My first one?  Came when I realized I wanted to recover from my eating disorder.   My second?  When I wanted more from my life than forgetting the night before because of too many rum and cokes.

My 45th came today when I realized I don’t want to yell anymore.  And I don’t want a partner who yells either.

*****

I am a mother.

I am a wife.

I am a co-owner of a business.

I have a shit ton of stress.

Because, as a woman, I’m expected to “do it all”.  So not only do I manage the money, I make the majority of the money upfront, and I also am expected to do all of the housework, manage my child’s appointments, playdates, extracurricular activities AND manage the psychological well-being of my child.

It was very furtive, wasn’t it?  How, in the span of 70 years, men have continued to deftly sidestep responsibility in any way they can.  Shit, I have to chores now? Guess I can still be lazy emotionally.  Sweet.

Before any right-wing idiot or plainly, insecure men jump down my throat, I want you to do something.  Walk up to the woman in your life.  Ask her what she’s worried about.  Chances are, her experience will be more rich than yours. She’ll be worried about being able to schedule their child’s gasto-intestinal appointment in between the clients she sees.  She’ll be thinking about how her husband yelling at their child mimics the traumatic experience she had as a child and how she’s failing.  She’ll be wondering if she can work out while the baby sleeps because somewhere, in the back corners of her mind, a demon tells her to be attractive for her boyfriend.  Now ask yourself if you have those same thoughts.

The pressures are not equal. NOT.  YET.

So when I hear, “If Mama Ain’t Happy, Nobody’s Happy”, I want to scream.

Why?

Seems to be yet another misogynistic turn of phrase, so eloquently masked as feminism.  It’s misogynistic, because it puts all the pressure on the female to chart the course, when males are perfectly capable of doing some of the emotional work. They’re perfectly capable of putting themselves first, taking care of themselves so they don’t take it out on their children.

It’s just that we haven’t EXPECTED them to, since the dawn of time.

And it reinforces that disgusting, martyr-like dynamic in older women that I despise. “Poor me, I’ve put up with so much from your father.”

EXACTLY.  You put up with it. You’ve enabled it.  Women have enabled it.  And that’s our part.  And that can be changed.

*****

Am I a sanctimommy who expects herself or others to never yell?  No.  But let me tell the truth and talk about yelling, because a lot of us have a ton of shame over it.  And it’s important to talk about during this time of year, when kids are going back to school and transitions are driving us parents nuts.

We’ve been yelling too much in my house.  I know my part – part of me has been justifying my and my husband’s trauma histories.  A refined form of “If we were ok, then she’ll be ok.”  “I’m a good parent.” “I’m doing the best I can.”

Maybe I’m fucking not.

Maybe I’ve been enabling years and years of the masculine approach to things.  The masculine approach of anger, of forcefulness, of yelling.

All I know is, This Mama Ain’t Happy.  Period.  And I’ve been justifying stuff I’m not OK with.   That’s my part.

And it’s my husband’s job to work on his.

How Telling Your Child to Be Positive Is Worsening the Opioid Epidemic

IMG_84791It is a crime to teach our children to “Be positive”.

I’m sure you think I’m nuts.  It’s totally fine.  People have literally thought that about me since I was 5.  I stand by what I say – we do ourselves and our children a disservice every time we tell them, “Hey, it could be worse!” or, “Be the change you wish to see in the world!”

In fact, you could be contributing – not causing, but contributing – to the opioid epidemic that is happening right now in our country.

Now I bet you think I’m really crazy, eh?

Let me explain a bit further.  There are positively viewed emotions like happiness, joy, silliness.  And there are negatively viewed emotions like anger, jealousy and sadness that are typically stereotyped as morally “bad” to experience.  Think about it.  Would you want to be labeled as a jealous husband who rants at his wife about where she was?  Or an angry mother who yells at her children seven times out of ten? No, of course not, because if you’re emotionally abusive you’re in the “bad” category.  Even though the wife most definitely played a part in his jealousy. And if you’re the shouting mom, you most certainly are not as good as all those attachment mothers.

But here’s the thing.  Anger and jealousy isn’t good or bad.  They are simply ingenious little signs our bodies gave us to tell us where to go.   Here’s a little answer key, courtesy of Pixar’s “Inside Out” and Glennon Doyle:

Anger: Tells us when something is not fair.

Jealousy: Tells us when we want something someone else has.

Fear:  Keeps us safe.  Physically and emotionally.

So yeah, negative emotions aren’t that negative, it turns out.   They’re actually pretty fucking vital to our existence, and if you’re making fun of them, you’re living by an extremely outdated code.  However, in a Trump era, where pull-yourself-up-by-the bootstraps-baby-boomer-either-or attitudes exist, this can be hard to remember.  And some people can make you feel like embracing emotions means you’re weak.  This, I tell you, is complete bullshit.  Humans can hustle and work 12 hours a day and still tune into their feelings.

The smartest, healthiest, most successful people I know follow their gut intuition about situations and others.

Let me get back to my point about all of us contributing to addictions.

Say your child got up and started whining about going to school. “Mama, I’m so tired.  I can’t go to school today.  I hate going to school.”

“Honey, you have to go.  I can’t do anything about it.  You can do it!”

VERSUS:

“Mama, I’m so tired.  I can’t go to school today.  I hate going to school.”

“Honey, I bet you’re super tired after your first week back. I can’t even imagine.  I feel like that about work too.”

Because the thing is, we do indeed live in a super insane world that doesn’t provide for enough sleep for our children.  And it’s ok to validate that for them.  It doesn’t mean you still can’t teach them the value of showing up for something when they don’t feel like it.  They’ll feel seen and they won’t be taught by you that their negative feelings need to be squashed immediately.  Because what’s one way addicts can start to be addicts?  By having strong emotions, and being told they’re “overdramatic” or to “get over it”.  Then they find tricky ways to numb their strong emotions that their community or society rejects.  Eating a whole pan of brownies.  Drinking their mother’s beer.  Shooting up the next town over.  All because they were taught not to sit with themselves and their strong feelings.  I’m sure some 12 Step programs will disagree, but that’s ok, I didn’t fit in there either.

The truth?  We all have to feel a feeling until it’s done coursing through our brain.  And the more we push it away, the bigger it will come back.

A lot of people – including my husband – accuse me of being too cynical, too pessimistic.  Nah.   I’m usually just telling the truth or calling the situation as to how I see it.  I, in turn, think they’re (typically) uncomfortable with the negative emotions I point out because society has socialized them that way.

Humans are these super amazing, instinctual beings who literally know the way like Moana, if only they listened to every emotion.

And am I the perfect parent who meets her daughter where she is every minute of every day? No fucking way.  On a bad day, I push my anger away, which makes it bigger, and then makes me scream like a crazy woman at my daughter.

But I’m shooting for meeting myself where I am.

 

9 Handy Etiquette Rules for Posting on Social Media

Don't make my mistakes.
Don’t make my mistakes.

If you’re reading this, you most likely have a Facebook or Twitter or Instagram account.  And I’m sure you’re aware by now that certain things are kosher, and certain things are frowned upon.  Things that may alienate you at the next family gathering or work event.  Well, I’m here to help you navigate through that sticky, unpredictable world we call the internet.  Consider my obsessive, overuse of social media as a sacrifice for you.

1. Pretend like everything’s fine.   Nothing’s wrong!  Everything’s fine!  My kids always look like they’ve been coiffed by Chanel’s hair stylists!  God forbid you offend that mom in your neighborhood who can’t deal with anything being wrong or negative.  You know she’s there, breathing down every post you write.  That would be mean if you reminded your social media community that kids are dying in Syria.  Just plain rude.  Don’t be that person.

2. DO NOT TALK ABOUT FEELINGS.  Now, there are many downfalls to this common social media blunder.  In fact, so many I have created a sub-categories.  You’re welcome.

a.  A friend or family member will project all of their discomfort with feelings onto yours, criticize the hell out of you, and accuse you of unethical things.  Speaking for a friend, of course.

b.  You may be labelled a “snowflake”.  Even though this is an uneducated attempt by the right to twist literal chemicals in your body that keep you alive into weakness, you don’t want this.  Believe me.  No-no-no, YOU WEAK LITTLE SNOWFLAKE!

c.  Someone will pity you.  And that’s DAMN annoying.

d.  You will get that reputation.  THAT reputation.  Like, that crazy Mom that everyone talks about on the playground.  “Did you SEE what she wrote about her husband?!  She must be off her meds.  And he handmade a Moana cake for their 5 year old last year!!”

e.  People will immediately assume you meant only this one emotional outburst for the rest of time.  Like, if you said you hated slow Dunkin-Donuts workers, people will immediately jump on your back for being discriminatory against disabilities.  Snowflakes.

3.  Don’t take political sides.  You’re so above that.  Plus like, you live in a small town and so-and-so voted for Trump and your kid is friends with their kid and WHAT IF you got in a Facebook fight with them about how the meme they posted said that it was OK to lynch people of color again.  You definitely don’t want to be the person who stands up for what’s right.  That’s sickening.

4.  Don’t ask for parenting advice.  Aunt Gladys will tell you to slap them, the attachment/Montessori moms you know will scorn you for even mentioning the words “sleep training”, and then there’s the moms who will say in no fewer words that you’re crazy because THEIR kid never did that.  NOT EVERYONE LOOKS BACK ON THE FIRST SIX MONTHS WITH ROSE COLORED GLASSES, OK MIRANDA?

5.  Do not take selfies if you’re over 35.  You will be known as that selfish, self-obsessed Mom who never really grew out of her adolescent phase and people will laugh at your confidence.  The people you know will drink wine and scoff at you.  “Why can’t she hate herself intensely, the way women are supposed to at our age?”

6.  Do not correct Uncle Rick when he posts…anything.  YER SPOSED TO RESPECT YER ELDERS, YA HEAR?  IF UNCLE RICK WANTS TO BUILD A WALL IN HIS YARD TO KEEP IMMIGRANTS OUT, LET HIM!

7.  Definitely invite people to Jamberry Parties and make them give you Candy Crush lives.  People love that shit.

8. Do not post song lyrics.  This is sort of like #5.  Half of your friends will think you’re bipolar, and the other half will wonder if a hormonal 15 year old boy hacked into your computer.  Especially if it’s Mumford and Sons.  Also, expressing yourself with song lyrics is way more combative that telling Uncle Rick to f%ck off.

9.  Do NOT have an identity outside of “Parent” if you are one.  How selfish.  Seriously?  I baked like 354 organic lunches for the rest of the year.  While I did Crossfit WHILE balancing the baby in a Boba wrap.  Plus, modelling happiness for your kids is so 1995.

Now, this list is by no means exhaustive.  You may feel it appropriate to add your own experiences that you’ve garnered through piloting your way through the dark corners of humanity  social media.  But, dear reader, remember this, above all else:

Definitely do not be a real, messy, flawed human being.

You heard it here first.

 

 

 

 

365 Ways to Get Pregnant

InfertilityWhen Fiona was conceived, we didn’t. even. try.

In fact, we didn’t do much of anything.  We didn’t understand each other the way we do now, we didn’t communicate well, we didn’t take care of our bodies the way we do now…we weren’t even engaged.  We were like two toddlers, equal parts whiny and silent, stumbling into this love thing, wanting to do it, with no clue how to.

And yet…it was so easy.

She came bursting into life, without a plan.  When I was eight weeks pregnant, I was driving down Rt. 16 in Revere, and I knew, all of a sudden – she would be strong.

Flash forward 6 years. Flash forward through lots of hard emotional work.  Flash forward through couples therapy, individual therapy, AA, Alanon, messes of our own making, and losses that somehow made our sharp edges smoother.   We were ready.

And then…nothing.

********

The first 6 months weren’t hard.  It would take awhile, we knew, as I was 35.  I was over that invisible line that rendered me less than those mothers who had done everything right and gotten knocked up in their twenties.  Or had they?  I knew plenty of mothers who had borne multiple children early on and weren’t happy with their lives.  ‘I wish I had gone back to school’, they would muse.  But they had three kids.  And I had one.

Our failed pregnancy last year sent me to darker depths than I had imagined possible.  It’s a strange, strange thing to have life cease to exist inside of you.  It was a failure of growth, on so many levels.  It was akin to losing my Dad.  But, akin to losing my Dad, the first three months were hard, and after that, I stopped feeling like the world was ending.  I secretly named her Annabelle, from the Poe poem.  She was a soul, fuck you, I would scream silently.  Just because she was a mass of cells to you  doesn’t mean she was nothing.  Just because you had seven miscarriages and I had one doesn’t give you the right to laugh at my minute suffering.  Science, science, science is your God as much as the one you detest.

We kept trying.  A year passed, and nothing.  We decided to get help around November of 2016, and our blood was tested.  Our insurance didn’t cover certain tests, so we were limited in what we could do.  I was told my thyroid was low, and so I took extra thyroid.  They put me on Letrozole, which was supposed to stimulate something in my body.  We did four rounds of that.  Nothing.

We called our out-of-state insurance company to see if they covered IUI’s and IVF’s.  No dice.  We then found out that the average IUI cost 865$ without insurance, and the average IVF?  7 grand.  We don’t have that kind of immediate money.  So my desperation grew.

I had heard good things about acupuncture, so I pursued a referral for that.  I soon found out that our delightful out-of-state insurance didn’t cover that, either, so I began to pay 67$ two times a week to have needles stuck in me.  Along with this, were the following recommendations from my acupuncturist:

I stopped running, because running is “hard” on the nervous system.  Running, may I add, i one of my favorite coping skills for depression and my body image issues.

I started eating congee every day.  It’s basically brown rice boiled slowly, and it’s pretty goddamn bland.

I started taking two disgusting droppersful of herbs, three times a day.  The tinctures contained scant amounts of alcohol (which is OK for someone in recovery if it’s prescribed by a doctor, but you better believe it gets the mind going with cravings).

I learned how my body was “too hot”.  That I was “too stressed”.  That I didn’t handle stress the right way.

And so, when Letrozole and extra thryoid and needles and herbs and stopping running and eating rice everyday for breakfast didn’t work, I started to beat up on myself.

That should work, right?

Maybe if I wasn’t so ambitious, I could get pregnant.  Maybe if I could just calm down, like all those emotional idiots say, it would happen.  Maybe if I wasn’t an alcoholic and depressed in my twenties, my life would have been seamless and perfect  and “look right” and I’d have three kids, playing with each other now.  Maybe it was because of my eating disorder.  Maybe starving myself earlier on had made me barren.  Yeah, it was definitely my fault.  I screwed up the timeline, and now I’m paying for it.  Either that, or it’s some kind of sick karma for all the wrongdoing I caused others.

You see, my mind works so fast, I start to think about how maybe “my kind” isn’t meant to reproduce.  That “my kind” doesn’t have what it takes to survive and is too needy and too emotional and doesn’t fit in with the rest of this world.

Long story short?  Infertility can take you to some dark places.  And John and I feel all these feelings whenever we see a pregnancy announcement or when you deliver your baby.  And it’s not something you need to feel guilty about.  But as much as you need to show off pictures of your new baby, we need to talk about this.

*******

The irony of having children later and having difficulty is nothing new; we realize this is an age-old story. As people become more educated, and wait longer, childbearing is just more difficult.  At the end of the day, I know there isn’t any wacky karma shit involved.  It’s just age.

We (I think I, more than John) have arrived at the point where adoption is an OK, accepted thing in our mind.  But as much as I know there are many children out there that need to be taken care of, it is a loss to accept that you might not be able to have another of your own.  Not as much of a loss as the woman who may never have a child, but a loss.  Because we worked hard.  And we were ready.

I will end with this:  Yes, I write selfishly.  I write so I keep my identity and myself sane.  But more importantly, I write about infertility and the not-so-fun things because YOU deserve to talk about them too.  We have been taught to sweep these things behind closed doors and focus on the POSITIVE and that is a lie.  The person who can reveal their vulnerabilities will inevitably be someone you connect to, because yeah, you struggle with that too.

Thanks for bearing with me.

(Image provided by Scientific American Blog Network)

 

 

 

Being Mentally Ill In The Trump Era

IMG_7157“Mentally ill”.  Now there’s a heavy label.

A part of me, the high-functioning counselor/writer/runner/Mom part of me, wants to forget that part of me, and exist as that picture you see of me on Facebook, the silly one of me and my husband dangling my daughter upside down.  The “everything’s fine” me.  The “I have a warrior high-feeling family who soars through their ups and downs” me.

But the truth is, I have had three, count em three, mental health diagnoses.  I have depression, and I’m in recovery from alcoholism AND an eating disorder.  All three of which have made me realize I have to tell the truth about who I am in order to survive.  And even more importantly, I have to surround myself with other truth-tellers who don’t pretend everything’s fine and that feelings are for wussies.

So when you are striding along confidently in recovery, and all of a sudden you are hit with a political environment that reduces half our country to “snowflakes” because they care about their fellow man, how do you think that affects those of us with invisible illnesses?

*****

When I watched Donald Trump mock a developmentally disabled person, I felt sick.  It was at that moment I could not understand how anyone could support this man.  Someone who mocked those with less privilege than him.  I don’t support him for a host of other reasons, but that stuck with me.  As his supporters grew louder with choruses of “Aww, shut up you wussy snowflake, I hope you get cornered in a dark alley by a Muslim” (read: real comment to me on social media), I quickly realized I was living in a world that did not condone experiences outside of the patriarchal norm.  And that patriarchal norm included not talking about feelings.  Making feelings into a moral issue, when in fact they’re simply instinctual responses from our brain that guide us.  Science. Who’d of thunk?

So I stopped asserting my opinions on certain social media boards.  Who might see them, and utilize them to their own advantage?  And I stopped going to family functions where I knew that patriarchal norm was supported.  Because my mental health wasn’t going to get any better there.  I even began to be more aware of the patriarchal structure that existed within self-help groups I attended, and decreased my attendance there.  Because they made fun of “special snowflakes” at some of those meetings.  And it reminded me of the conservative right.  Those phrases made me feel stupid for having such strong feelings.

And I became more isolated.

And we all know how good isolation is for depression.  And alcoholism.

I am very aware I cannot blame the severity of my mental illness on Trump.  But I also believe you cannot underestimate the effect the current political climate may be having on yours.  We are currently run by a very dysfunctional family, one made up of Trump and Spicer and Sessions and Conway, whose supporters believe everyone just needs to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps and be a real man/woman”.  Tell that to the bipolar individual whose depression renders them catatonic.  Tell that to the anxiety-ridden kid who can’t breathe in class.

One thing I know from being a counselor is that dysfunctional families will revolt against you if you drink lemonade instead of the kool-aid they drink.  They will do anything, ANYTHING to hurt you, knock you down, or stop you from shattering the status quo that they’ve been surviving on for ages.  A system will always try to flush out the truth-teller, even if that means retaining the current, hurtful, dysfunctional system.

Remind you of the current leaders in power any?  Of Twitter rants that we’ve been seeing?

For better or worse, we’re all one big American family.  And it’s really dysfunctional right now.  There’s a bunch of people in power that think “since I could do it, you should be able to”, and simply put, that’s damn arrogant and ignorant.   And it’s time for the truth-tellers to start shattering the unhealthy family patterns, but it’s really hard, because when we tell our truth, we get hurt.  People make fun of us and affect our mental health.  And we isolate further.

So that’s what it’s like being mentally ill in the Trump era.

It kind of sucks.  It kind of feels like I should hunker down low and not trust anyone.  Silenced.  At the risk of being persecuted.

But, I was raised by a parent who repeatedly taught me to “Give em hell”.  So here I am.  Telling you that feelings are chemicals in our brain and that science backs it up.  That it’s not just me but your neighbor too who’s been to a counselor before.  That Trumpcare will not require Medicaid to cover addiction and mental health services.  That the mentally ill isn’t just that alcoholic bum you see on the street, something you can shield your eyes from.  It’s your brother, it’s your kid, and the quicker we start integrating emotions into health, the richer we will be as a society.

Why Taking a Walk in the Woods Won’t Cure Depression

sadmandaI was a weird, weird kid.

I used to sit on the bus and stare at the back of the seat in front of me.  It was dark green and had lines running through it.  I remember the light filtering through the window, passing above my knees in a streak. I was five, and I was newly aware of mindfulness.  “Now is now”, I repeated to myself.  My mind was blown – almost to a dissociative level – time seemed to stand still when I thought that now was truly now, and there would never be another moment like it.

I wasn’t really aware of my uniqueness until I grew older, and realized all of my friends watched shows I never did, and did sports, and were just KIDS.  Most of my teenage years were spent going to stores with my mother and Nana, checking out in my head, living in a fantasy world, perhaps because reality was too hard.  Who knows.  All I knew growing up is that gratitude didn’t help me – it made me feel guilty, because I knew I had privilege and had some nice things but it just didn’t register.

As I got older and went to college and grad school and self-medicated with alcohol and restriction of food, I wasn’t aware that I was wearing a different pair of glasses than everyone else.  I wore dark, shaded sunglasses, while the rest of you wore regular near-sighted glasses.  You could see things as they were, the good and the bad.  But I could only see the bad.  Everything had a dark shade to it.  And the thing is, I thought this was completely normal.  I thought everyone laid in bed for hours on end and cried everyday and had fights with their friends because of it. So when I saw peers moving on and having successful relationships and having confidence I began to be bewildered.  Why couldn’t I get it?  In fact, a friend in grad school once remarked, “Amanda, I will be so happy the day that you say things are just “good”.”

10 years later, with 7 years of sobriety, individual and couples therapy, self-help groups, and medication, things still seem darker than I believe they do for most.  And let it be known I’m not negating “regular” people’s troubles or moods.  Everything everyone feels is valid.  However, I’m a sensitive soul, in all meanings of the word.  If I don’t get the right amount of sleep, my depression is triggered.  If I don’t exercise (which is a natural antidepressant), I run the risk of having a worse day.  This can get tricky when it comes to the eating disorder, because I also can’t get into repetitive, joyless exercise that I only do for my waistline.

When I have normal events in my life happen, I only see the bad.  For example, when my daughter was born, everything seemed tortuous, because I wasn’t sleeping which triggered my depression which also made it impossible to exercise because who can  or should exercise on 2 hours of sleep anyway?  I could see she was beautiful, but couldn’t enjoy it.  When it comes to being married, my dark sunglasses show me only the fights, the unnaturalness of staying with one person the rest of your life.

And when Robin Williams committed suicide?  I got it.  I wouldn’t ever do it, because I have a beautiful daughter to take care of, but I got it.  When life’s stress piles up over those dark sunglasses, it can seem like too much to stay here.

Do you see how it is chronic?  Well-managed but still chronic.  Easily affected by any little change.  And isn’t simply cured by a walk in the woods.

Don’t get me wrong – things are WAY better.  I get to help people with the same problems every day at my job, and I consider myself to be somewhat of an emotions ninja, someone who can, on a good day, utilize my drive to master any shots depression takes at me. And I’m a really good interpreter.  When my daughter asks me questions about emotions, I know what to say.  I know what to say in a current world full of people who call emotional souls “snowflakes”.  Which is sad, because emotions are directly connected to our medical health.  Why do you think married couples die so close together, so often?

Here’s how I try to live my life.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color, super poor, or LGBTQ.  So I don’t try to tell those people what their perspective should be.  Because I’m not them, and I simply don’t know.  But I do know something about mental health, and eating disorders, and alcoholism.  So listen up.  This shit can’t be cured by just a walk in the woods.

 

“Mama, Do You Want A Bikini Body?”

My five year old and I were lounging on the couch after school one day, snacking and snuggling.  An ad promoting a new fitness guru’s workout routine popped up in between her regular animated favorite.

Fiona, knowing my penchant for exercise, eyed the ad cautiously, like a liberal might eye any of Donald Trump’s cabinet picks.  “Mama?” she said, “Do you want to do that?”

Oh, baby girl, I thought to myself.  That’s a loaded question.

*****

I have wanted a bikini body before just to have a bikini body…I will admit to that.  I wanted once to have chiseled abs and a super low BMI.  Because when you look at someone like that, you look at someone who has no perceived flaws.  Someone who is perfect and probably has no problems and thinks everything is great.  So if I had that, I would be happy then, when I got to that perfectly chiseled point, just like that perfect woman on the television.

OK, I still want that on some days.

But on my healthy days, I know I looked like this when I wanted a bikini body:

skinnyamanda

And when I use exercise and food for the right reasons, I look like this:

img_6475

So, it’s reversed for me.  When I’m doing well and healthy, I don’t get compliments for “looking great”.  My stomach bulges a bit, and my pants fit more snug than they did before.  But I can also run 4 miles with no fatigue, do 30 minutes straight of lunges and squats, and I can lift whole couches by myself.  And typically, I’m doing better in my career, and accomplishing internal goals rather than external ones.

So do I love exercise and all the reps that foster a bikini body?  Absolutely.  But more often these days, I move for the powerful feeling I get after a run; that feeling can carry me through eight tough client sessions.  I do it to wake my thirty-something muscles up so I can be a good enough mother to my energetic, unstoppable daughter.  And I do it to remind her and myself that woman’s bodies are capable of very strong things, and that they are not just to be looked at.

So yes, I enjoy being fit.  I want to be fit.  But I want so much more than that these days.

I want to make sure my daughter is fulfilled and does things that make her happy.  I want to enjoy and develop my relationship with my husband.  I want to make sure my mother, who lives with us, has what she needs and I want to thrive in my career.  I want to be connected. I want to have hobbies and hang out with friends and do things I believe in, and sometimes, all those things that I want don’t leave time for perfectly chiseled abs or arms.  They leave time for a fit, happy woman…a woman who doesn’t necessarily have men gawking at her or a thousand facebook likes.  And that’s totally OK.

*****

I turned to Fiona and smiled.  “Yeah, that’d be ok!  As long as it made me happy.  Mama works out to stay happy.”

Fiona nodded, continued munching on her snack, and turned her attention back to her show.

And may you always seek what makes you happy, I echoed to her in my head.

amandabikini

 

 

When You Say “Butthurt”, I Hear “Lazy”

Butthurt.

Have you heard that word overused lately?  I sure have.  In particular, it’s been used most recently to describe American voters who are unhappy with the outcome of the past election, and are exercising their right to speak about it.  A couple of weeks ago, I was chastised by men and women on a self-help Facebook group for asserting that using the word “butthurt” to describe others’ feelings might be invalidating, unfair, and lazy.

In addition, I was on a friend’s social media page, where I saw this video.

In the friend’s comment section, someone described this and anyone who expressed these sentiments as “butthurt”.

YOU LISTEN TO ME.  NOW. 

That is not “butthurt”, those comments endorse sexual assault.  And sexual assault is against the law.

This is not the left being dramatic, or “too millennial”, we are seeing things AS IS.  We are supporting laws.  If you choose to use the word “butthurt” to describe those who decry statements such as the ones Trump has made, I firmly believe you are making a statement against the law.

And if you’re turning a blind eye because sexual assault has never happened to you, you’re part of the problem too.  What about your sisters?  Your fiance?  Your mother?  All of these women at some point have probably experienced either rape or some form of an unwanted sexual advance.

So when you dismiss our free speech, our grave concerns about the rights of women and minorities and the LBGTQ community, as “butthurt” –

We see you as lazy.  

Too lazy to consider to someone else’s feelings because they inconvenience your privileged, white, Trump-winning, victorious world.

Too lazy to put themselves in the shoes of a woman who was taken advantage of when she was drunk.

Too lazy to imagine what it’s like for a black girl who’s everyone’s token black friend and is treated like a pariah.

Too lazy to consider the feelings of the families of the Pulse victims, whose son or daughter was gunned down because of who they were attracted to.

(By the way: the first example happened to me, the second has happened to my best friend repeatedly, and the third…well, we saw that on the news, didn’t we?)

I mean, do you really want to stand on that side of justice?  Dismissing others’ feelings about death and sexual assault as “butthurt”?

What would be much more law-abiding, more understanding, and mature would be the act of listening.  And believing someone’s perception of life, simply because it’s theirs.  And not getting defensive on a facebook comment thread, because actually looking at the history of sexual assault and hate crimes and taking responsibility for it is too painful for you to acknowledge.

Maybe it’s you who’s “butthurt”.

So yes, if speaking up about rape culture and sexual assault and hate crimes makes us butthurt, then we are butthurt.  If supporting laws that forbid these crimes make us butthurt, then you can call a spade a spade.

But we know the truth.

You are lazy.

And it’s sick to dismiss those who have had to endure rape kits and physical assault as “butthurt”, when they’ve had real live wounds to attend to.