“Mushlike memories perform
a ritual on my lips
I lie in stolid hopelessness
and they lay my soul in strips.”
–Maya Angelou, from “Remembering”
“Mushlike memories perform
a ritual on my lips
I lie in stolid hopelessness
and they lay my soul in strips.”
–Maya Angelou, from “Remembering”
does your child appear to love life? is your adorable child hyper & creative? a fountain of energy and smiles? does your child marvel at the wonders of nature, and laugh and shriek with bliss when running and playing, yet appear restless when forced into a math class? does he prefer running, swinging, and joking to sitting still for 8 hours at a time? does he display normal personality quirks like procrastination or difficulty getting organized?
he’s probably got a mental illness. give him medication. amphetamines. it sounds like attention deficit disorder, with which 1 in 5 school-aged boys in the USA supposedly suffer.
1 in 5.
how about his best friend? does she love to read? what about introspective quiet time with a journal? is she passionate and creative, preferring to learn about her favorite dinosaur or her favorite part of history rather than waste a day with things she likes less? does she have “unusual facial expressions,” whatever the hell that means? how about intelligence? is she well-spoken (yes! this, too, is pathologized)? does she read? is she clever?
sounds like autism. it’s a spectrum, you see, and your perfectly wonderful and brilliant friend is quite sick. get her the help she needs.
and the sensitive one? the empathetic one? the one who cries for a dead pigeon on the side of the road?
dangerous clinical depression. give the child anti-psychotics.
what if someone is a bright streak in a gray world? what if they are blindingly creative? a painter, maybe, or a poet, or a sculptor? what if they speak in metaphor after studying zen koan, and begin to meditate or pray? what if they are deeply spiritual, and feel connected with life? what if they start to sew, and create their own magnificent and strange outer-worldly clothing?
sounds odd, eccentric, and peculiar – a dangerous symptom of schizotypal personality disorder.
when an adult says, “i need help with my mental health,” it is completely real, and i am not discounting these experiences. this is about adults deciding that children (or other adults) are sick because they aren’t like the others.
by creating this impossible and unpleasant norm, we pathologize everything interesting, everything fascinating, every personality quirk and every uniqueness. we live in a society where “peculiar” is a SYMPTOM. we have to band together, to love and support each other, against this. we have to resist this machine that pathologizes creativity and life. we can resist. we will resist.
the next time someone mentions the dsm like it’s gospel truth, remind them that there are no tests for mental illness. remind them about autonomy. remind them that being gay was considered a sickness just 40 years ago, and that “gender identity disorder” was still a “sickness” in 2013. remind them that peculiar is beautiful.
remind them that the MAD PRIDE tides are rising.
i am not broken. i am not damaged. i have been changed, due to trauma, and i can be changed in other, better directions if i work at it.
i am allowed to change. i am a river. i am changing course because that’s what rivers do.
i am not disgusting. i am different.
i am not responsible for you. and you are not responsible for me.
i do not need a modern horoscope like a myers-briggs test to tell me that i am not like you. we are not the same. nobody is the same. one twin is outgoing. both twins change.
maybe today i feel like a doll with its legs splayed at impossible angles. maybe today i feel like the hollows under my eyes. maybe today i feel like an empty hand. maybe yesterday i was doing pretty well but i picked it back up again today. maybe today i feel like nothing can ever change. but it always does. it always gets better.
maybe today i was going to kill myself, but then i found this half-written prose-poem about how i am a river and i remembered my banks and my reeds and how i will look next week when i can see the sun.
maybe today i feel like scribbles on a page.
but i am not the things i think i am.
2 sleeping pills and 3 shots of whiskey, 4 shots, 5
how come you’re not getting tired? it’s so late.
you don’t even weigh 120 lbs… you can’t handle that much to drink even without the benedryl. you should be on the floor right now.
where does all this energy come from?
2 hours pass. you smoke a bowl. and another. and another. you don’t feel fucked up, though. in fact, you feel completely sober.
you feel superhuman.
you feel like substances don’t affect you like they affect other people.
like nothing can touch you.
like you’ll never be tired again.
you look for something on the internet to make you tired. you try watching a television show about cooking, but it turns out you hate television shows.
an empty bag of chips lies across your feet, at the foot of your bed. you have been meaning to throw it away for about 3 days. it hasn’t fallen off as you’ve slept. you’ve been too fucked up on drugs and alcohol to move much in your sleep.
you get up to throw away the bag and suddenly notice the garbage that has been accumulating. you haven’t vacuumed your room in a month. you have been having a hard time breathing in part because of the dust and moldy dishes. you start to clean. sweep, straighten, sort. wash dishes. organize. gather 2 bags of trash. realize you’re being quite loud for 3am. try to crawl back into bed, but feel jittery, pressured to move, or play some fast game, or dance, or talk and laugh and joke. but you’re alone. get back out of bed and throw away math homework from august.
realize slowly that it’s december. and 4am. 5am. sun is coming up. you can barely think, but you know that you can do things nobody else can. you know you can drink more than anyone your size. it’s 5am and you find the beer you left in the kitchen and forgot about. you should really go to sleep, but fuck it! you’re alive. & the beer isn’t going to drink itself!
you go back to sorting. you aren’t even mildly tired. you sort through papers, and find a letter you’d forgotten. you received it one day when you felt like shit, and shoved the letter into some papers. you are so excited. you are overwhelmed with emotion. what a good friend, to mail you the card! what a shitty friend you are, to forget to write back! you brush away tears and jump up, inspired to redeem yourself. you couldn’t be more awake. you leap onto your bed and root around next to it, looking for a pen. aha! the good pen. but your bed feels comfortable. you rest your head for a moment and find you are nodding off. you sweep the pens off your bed with the back of your hand, and they clatter to the floor.
turn off the light.
fall asleep instantly.
you will sleep for five hours and wake up wanting to hit the gym. or you will sleep for 11 hours and wake up crying, for no reason, and stagger to the bathroom to stare at the mirror. you will not dream at all, because the drugs depress the creative and beautiful parts of yourself. or you will dream of fantastical, magical forestscapes, where your childhood friend tends potato gardens at the watering hole. or you will enter a dreamworld where you are raped for hours in a diner while waitresses walk past you carrying plates of eggs and buttered toast. you will have no idea until it happens.
you will have no idea if you can tackle tomorrow until tomorrow happens.
until then, you are finally asleep. and you will sleep, even though you are super-human.
who knows you’re mad, if you see yourself as mad?
or, if it’s helpful for you to think of yourself as sick, how many people in your life know you are sick?
i have been thinking about disclosure and stigma.
i think of myself as a person who actively tries to fight against stigma re: mental health issues, and i am trying to learn a radical mental health perspective so i can be kinder to myself, and yet i totally rarely disclose my issues to people who they may seriously affect when those people are connected to me professionally. i thought about this a lot recently, and then i couldn’t stop thinking about polarized: life from both sides entry about “the differences between secrets and lies”.
this person, like me, feels like being out as bipolar would negatively impact peoples’ opinions of our abilities.
in that sense, i think that shame is a much larger part of my life than i tend to think it is. i think in some ways, some people like us are controlled by shame.
i realized i am completely terrified of coming out of the closet about most of my issues to the people it affects the most. it isn’t politically correct to hate gay people, but it’s expected that people will exclude “crazy people” from their inner circles of friendship. i can say i’ve dated different genders before with no hesitation, and yet i’m terrified to come out as a nutcase to people i don’t know well, people i know professionally, and yes – even friends.
at what point do you tell the person you’re sweet on about your issues?
do you wait for them to like you for who you are, and then hope they don’t run once you both like each other? at what point is it a blatant lie to omit this information? how many dates can you have before you mention just how different it is to know you long-term?
“i seem eccentric but otherwise pretty normal on our dates, right? haha fooled you! because as soon as you leave my house, i cry for hours/talk to voices/throw up/cut myself/get wasted/sleep for two days/freak out completely/get sad for a week.”
is it ethical to withhold that information from a potential housemate, a potential employer, a new friend, a drinking buddy, or a new lover?
what if you know for a fact that someone doesn’t respect a radical perspective on mental health, and you know that they would try to encourage you to ruin your life with electro-shock, or toxic medications, if you’re a person who chooses to live without them? what if you know they will lose respect for you, or begin to walk on eggshells around you, or break up with you, or fire you? or just treat you a little differently from then on, like all of a sudden they pity you?
on the other hand, as adults, we have the luxury of autonomy in many parts of our lives. will stigma ever lift if nobody’s “out of the closet” about our experiences? how will people know to treat me with kindness if they do not know about my abusive childhood? perhaps, paradoxically, ‘normal’ people are -less- inclined to write off my behaviors as ‘crazy’ if they know not to take them personally. maybe it would give people empathy and perspective. perhaps coming out would fling open a door to a community of others like me.
…or perhaps it would leave me even lonelier, cut off from “normal people”… whose world i don’t fit into, anyhow.
mad pride is such an incredible movement. i would like to think that i am working towards a point where i can feel proud of myself as a creative, resourceful, wild, compassionate, rad, somewhat not-the-stupidest, messy and magickal little moodmonster and not feel like a gigantic fucking mess, like a person imprisoned by a broken mind. like it could be okay to be a little sadlet sadding along some days because i am not my sadness – i am a writer, i am a body, i am a cooker of foods and a brightener of days. and i should be proud of who i am – mental health hiccups and all – and you should, too.
because, overall, you are pretty fucking amazing.
so, what about you? are you “out” to everyone? what do you think about stigma and disclosure?
radical communities have been on this “sex-positive” tip for a long time now.
i don’t feel like a sex-positive person.
in fact… i think i’m sex-negative.
i can already hear it:
YOU’RE NOT SEX-POSITIVE?
YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN HEALTHY SEXUALITY, IN CONSENT, IN A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO BE BOLD AND INDEPENDENT?
YOU HATE WOMEN?
YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN SAFER SEX? YOU WANT EVERYONE TO GET STD’S?
YOU’RE A SLUT-SHAMER?
AREN’T YOU EMBARRASSED TO BE A WOMAN AND SAY SOMETHING LIKE THAT?
SEX IS GOOD FOR YOU!
here’s the disgusting truth:
sex positive communities do not always respect people who choose to abstain.
i have had friends lash out at their “prudish, Victorian, hopeless, sexless, celibate, tight-ass vanilla friends and family” with me in the room, unaware how shaming it is to have your “sex-positive” friends be so negative about your sexuality.
I WAS MOLESTED FOR A GOOD PART OF MY CHILDHOOD.
I DO NOT ALWAYS FEEL POSITIVELY ABOUT SEX.
i do not always feel positively about my own sexuality, i don’t usually care about others’ wild sex lives, and i am certainly never going to feeling positively about a culture that places SUCH A STRONG EMPHASIS ON SEX.
i told this to one of my best friends, who is a sex worker and understandably a good deal of her life is dedicated to fighting peoples’ negative stereotypes about this kind of work. as well it should be. it’s important to her for her friends to know that she is in control of her body and her sexuality, and she is proud of it. she isn’t forced to do it. she doesn’t have a controlling pimp. in fact, her profession allows her a lot more flexibility (no pun intended) than most corporate jobs. i respect her right to wear whatever she likes, and to choose any job she likes, including sucking someone’s cock for rent money. i don’t care what she does. i’m not going to call her a slut, or stop respecting her. i do not believe sex is a sin. but why is it a sin for me to be different?
it’s not like i never attempted your “free love” lifestyle.
it just doesn’t fulfill me emotionally or sexually.
but i think you should do whatever makes you happy.
because of this, people always tell me, “oh, come on, that’s different, you’re still sex-positive, it’s not like you think everyone should be ‘little house on the prairie’ all the time.”
but what if a “sex-positive” person DID have a friend with “traditional” views of sex? what if that WAS my perspective? what if i WAS influenced by a judeo-christian narrative that holds female sexuality as powerful and therefore potentially dangerous? what if i DID find sex to be a sacred covenant between two people who want to connect more deeply? would that be sex-negative? would i be an enemy? why are traditional perspectives acceptable to mock?
& why does nobody in the sex-positive community seem to care that they are making so many survivors of sexual trauma feel bad and guilty about their “boring, sexless, tight-ass” sex lives?
as though the world is divided in two: educated sexually liberated people, and those of us neanderthals who are too stupid to free themselves.
i am fortunate to have worked through my issues enough that i no longer feel i want to throw up when forced to deal with “sex-positive” culture. but i am fortunate. and many are not so fortunate.
you want to make THE ESTABLISHMENT uncomfortable, because you think anyone who doesn’t want to see your ass is a tool of THE MAN and hates what your autonomy represents, but the honest truth is there are tons of feminists, survivors, and other people who do not want to see your ass. and that does not make us oppressors.
not wearing booty-shorts to the queer dance party not only marks me as hopelessly lame – it means i hate women, too?
that makes it sound like you want to control me and my sexuality – and isn’t the point of your “sex-positive community” to FIGHT AGAINST THAT?
we are all trying to survive this insane culture that doesn’t let women create their own path.
don’t make it worse.
if you’re TRULY sex-positive, you will respect how damaged many of us are from sexual trauma and sexual violence, and stop judging your ‘prude’ friends.
EDIT JUNE 2015
been thinking about this a lot, and coincidentally, ran into some pretty brilliant critiques of “sex-positive feminism” that i didn’t touch on here.
“What’s wrong with the generalization that more sex = liberation? It locates sexual liberation in an experience of white heterosexual femininity. It does not take into the account the different experienes of racialization and sexualization of women and queer people of color. While straight middle-class women may have been stereotyped as pure, asexual virgins, women of color were hypersexualized as exotic, erotic beings (see hottentot, harem girl, lotus blossom, fiery Latina, squaw, etc.) For women of color and queer POC, adopting a sex-positive attitude does not “liberate” them of such stereotypes, in fact, it fuels them further. In addition, sex-positivity does not offer a critique of capitalism and the way our sexualities are commodified and exploited, preventing ‘free expression’ of sex, in the favorite words of sex-positive feminists.” – counterstorytelling: sex positivity isn’t so positive
a person who puts on a happy face in front of company? that’s fake. that person is being inauthentic. yet the person who’s asked “happy birthday, how are you?” and responds, “i have been obsessed with the fact that, turning 30, my first suicide attempt was 17 years ago” is not going to be the most popular person at the party.
our culture demands we be fake.
anything real is scorned.
we love artificial! we love unnatural!
women are not hairless, yet the reality of women having hair disgusts us. we demand that women shave, tweeze, wax. we demand this fantasy, this collective delusion.
men do not exist in a vacuum without emotion, yet they are expected to bottle everything up, and put on a drag act of masculinity. that’s what’s expected. we demand the fantasy of the their unassailable strength.
every part of our culture rewards bullshitting. how many women would sleep with a man who approached them and said, “please have sex with me”? even women like me who are aware that it is a game are turned off by this unwillingness to follow absurd and manipulative social convention.
“rudeness” is often someone being honest or real in a socially unacceptable way.
when someone asks you how you are, your culture forbids you from honesty. you’re not supposed to say, “i am worried about my parents’ mortality.” you are not supposed to say, “i feel i haven’t accomplished enough by age 30.” you’re not supposed to say, “youth is currency and i’m growing poor.” & you’re definitely not supposed to say, “i’m extremely alone, i have no community, i think my sadness is actually a deep mental illness that is spiraling out of my control and i have nowhere to turn, i have alienated nearly every one of my friends, and i’m constantly contemplating whether or not my consciousness has a right to life.”
so i didn’t say, “i am so depressed. i want a hug.”
i said, hi. i said, how are you doing. i said, you look great.
i said, thank you for coming to my 30th birthday party.
ha-ppy bir-thday to me.
it sounds like a silly question, right?
i know it doesn’t make any sense.
as though it’s wrong to be happy in a world where [whatever thing depresses you the most – colonialism, drone strikes of children, institutionalized racism, hunger, name your own!] is the norm.
and i am implicated in some sense because, as an american, my tax dollars fund wars even if i don’t want those wars.
the suicidal voice in my head always reminds me that one less consumer is one less drain of resources.
the me voice has to chime in and remind me that it is so stupidly brutally insanely important for people like us to exist. we all know this world needs our sensitivity.
but living in a world like this can be too much. too much to handle.
i have been told that when people take joy in something that doesn’t feed into the systems that want to destroy us, we are participating in a revolutionary act. sometimes i think, yes, sure, that feels nice, but i also think, tell that to people whose lives have been destroyed by these systems. tell them, don’t worry about starving; we are having a potluck to celebrate our lives so we don’t get depressed that you are starving to death and in this way, we are helping you. it is absurd. it is funny. and yet, we have to enjoy ourselves, or we will never be able to survive.
but we all know there is nothing we can do, in a global sense. whatever we do to make ourselves feel better about the shitty frustrating state of the world we live in – we all know it isn’t helping.
this is what frees me.
because there is no right answer – no best thing we can do to help every issue that makes us cry – no way to help everyone we love who is in pain – the only thing we can do is be really fucking good at being who we are. which is easy, because our people are naturally a crazy brilliant creative flowering beautiful tangle of dream shit. and sure, it sucks a lot because people do not help us remember how our people are the most important fucking people on earth because we are completely magickal – all of us crazies. look at the writers of symphonies, the tenders of gardens. the mad scientists, the artists who create things that nourish people and make it easier to be them. nutjobs are the ones who innovate and explore. we are poets. we are necessary.
but then again, isn’t it silly to think we can change the planet with our “trying to just sort of be nice to one another and pretend injustice isn’t alive” delusion, everyone’s nose is in their smart phone 24 hours a day, irreparable damage has occurred-
how depressed is too depressed about this frustrating world?
i don’t have an answer.
i found one today, from maya angelou:
if you’re not angry, you’re either a stone, or you’re too sick to be angry. you should be angry… but you must not be bitter. bitterness is like cancer. it eats upon the host. it doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. so you said angry? yes. you write it. you paint it. you dance it. you march it. you vote it. you do everything about it. you talk it. never stop talking it.
i have hated summers my whole life.
i’ve always chalked it up to the obvious – “i guess i have a hard time handling the heat”
but recently i read something that clarified everything for me.
they said something to this effect:
during the winter, everything is dreary and everyone is miserable and you don’t feel so out of place.
but everyone is outside having fun during the summer. you are exposed to so many peoples’ unfettered happiness. and it reminds you of everything you don’t have. everyone is laughing, smiling, happy, eating ice cream and happy, or riding a motorcycle and happy, or just sitting on their porch happily sipping a cold drink. and you just think, fuck you and your stupid happiness. fuck the couples in love, smiling at each other. fuck that woman and her beatific smile. fuck the peaceful and contented baby she is holding. fuck everyone who is happy and enjoying the beautiful weather. why do you get to be happy?
summer reminds me that i am not like everyone else.
on one hand, i am rational, and i know what you mean when you say, “don’t be so depressed! choose happiness instead!”
you mean, “it is possible to work oneself into a panic. it is possible to breathe deeply and lessen the panic.”
you don’t mean to come off like an insufferable know-it-all, like someone who is saying, “if i were you, i wouldn’t suffer like you do. you’re being you wrong.”
but that’s what it sounds like when you tell me to “choose happiness”
when you ask me if i have ever tried meditation
do you expect me to say, “no, actually, i have never fucking heard of meditation or yoga before”?
i have found a great solace and comfort in yoga and meditation and, yes, simple breathing and meditation exercises can alleviate some of the pain of living with deep anxiety and depression.
but for anyone reading this who has never suffered a lifetime of tortured suicidal ideation, who has never fought a constant urge to hurt themselves: just think about how condescending you sound when you try to “help” your bright and creative friends with advice like “become happy somehow”.
when i confide in you that i am hurting, that i am hopeless, that i feel like a piece of fucking discarded garbage, there are a lot of things you can say. you can say an infinite combination of things. you don’t have to say that you understand. you don’t have to say that i am not garbage. you can say whatever you want. or not say anything at all.
just do not tell me i should choose happiness.
do not ever tell someone who is suffering that they should simply stop. you would never tell someone with cancer to stop making themselves sick. your friend who is constantly upset is not choosing unhappiness. they almost definitely wish they were like you – someone who could do yoga and suddenly stop being depressed.
i am not one of these dsm people who desperately tries to draw a divide between “real mental illness” and a typical depressive episode experienced by your average everyday typically-not-sad-dude. however, i think there is something to appreciate in the expertise of someone who has contemplated suicide approximately 4,000 times and survived it. particularly when that person seems fairly worldly…
…you can pretty much guarantee that person has heard that they should stop that choosing to suffer.
yeah, come on, guys. just stop trying to kill yourself. just stop hearing voices. just stop allowing the malaria microbe to reproduce in your bloodstream. just stop allowing your cells to mutate and become affected by a carcinogenic environment – what, do you want cancer? well, then! just quit having it.
again, i am not saying that we as those who suffer should just give into our illnesses and stay in bed every day. i am not saying there is no relief. there is relief. i still fight. you still fight, too – even if you’re in bed all day! surviving is fighting, and you are winning. me, too. & tomorrow is another day. i try to do what seems to help, and i try to avoid what seems to make me worse. this brings relief. sometimes it is worse, and sometimes i can help make it better. but there is no cure-all, no panacea, no now-i’m-well.
studies do show that the vast majority of people who seek “professional help” for a depressive episode experience complete or partial recovery within 12 months. those of us who have suffered for ten, twenty, fifty years – we sometimes experience flux and feel even “well” for a while. many of us experience drastic flux and “well” feels magickal, intense, brilliantly well, finally well, perfectly well. for a while.
for a while.
until it feels that same old way again – that nobody cares feeling.
and i spend hours, which becomes days, which becomes weeks, and months, and years, and chunks of decades dedicated to reminding myself, “fuck off with that. people love you. people appreciate you. people like you.”
so to hear you suggest that i should choose happiness means you think i am choosing depression. it means you think i deserve this, in some sense, because i could easily avoid it.
we the sad people of this earth? many of us attempt every single fucking day to not dwell. to breathe. to focus on the good. whatever the fuck shallow suggestion you have, we have tried it all. and plenty you never heard of. herbs, most of us, and medications, and therapies and hospitalizations and “positive thinking” and changing diet and sleep and working and not working and talking about it and not talking about it and magick and everything you never even considered trying because you never had ten, twenty, thirty years to wish you were well.
do not, please, please do not tell your suicidal, your depressed, your bipolar, your anxious, or any of your fabulous mad friends what will fix them.
we are not children who have not yet learned how to transcend small defeats. we fucking know what meditation is. we are suffering, and our overdoses and panic attacks are symptoms. they are symptoms of a sick, fucked-up culture founded on oppression and dishonesty and imperialism and colonialism with no respect for women or queers or crazies or children or poor people . if you want to help us heal, then you will have to ask how.
if someone tells you, “i am sad,” tell them, “i like you,” or ask them, “would you like a hug?” or ask them “can i help?” or ask them, “why are you sad?” – do not tell them that they should choose not to be depressed.