when only descriptions work

It’s all in your head.  You’re feeling things that aren’t real.

It’s a silent disease so you shouldn’t expect people to notice anything. Just get over it.

You’re one of those “tortured” artists, so this all fits your creative needs.

You’re oversensitive.  You’ve always been too serious and moody.

Are you PMSing?

This is just a cultural thing, right, because of where you live? Everyone expects you to be perfect all the time.

Oh please, you think you’re stressed? Come see what I have to do in a day…

It’s just the time in your life right now as a young mother — hormones!

Well if you didn’t try to do too much in your day, you need to cut back on your schedule.

You’re not doing enough in your day. You should go back to school and take some classes, or maybe do some volunteer work.

 

3a4a4de1f0206b61a3aaaab39210c5a1These are all things I have heard from mostly well-meaning people in the past week or week and  a half. I say mostly because I assume they are.  I don’t believe anyone would be truly hurtful and I understand that I hear things with an anxiety accented ear lately.  I am gentle with others because I know that when it comes to the Land of Mental Illness, there is still a distinct boundary between the Haves and Haven-nots: there are those who have the understanding and those who have not.

It’s difficult to explain to someone what is “wrong” with me when he or she are not able to see anything wrong with me. I understand when a person is unable to understand.  What I am unable to understand is someone assuming that nothing is wrong because of a visual assessment.  Nobody wants to see what’s going inside of me.

Winston Churchill called it his “Black Dog”. My dad calls it “impending doom” while I’ve described it as “drowning in air”. I’ve had a former principal tell me that I’m just thin-skinned and need to toughen up and my mother tells me that I run too many errands in a day and I’m overtired. My mother has also told me that I just need to get over “all that stuff” that has happened in the past because I’m a mother and so I need to just focus on the kids now. My hormones are taking over, she tells me. It’ll pass.

The depression I feel is heavy, like wearing wet clothes that never dry. Medication only makes the weight unnoticeable but I still feel the water clinging to the fabric reminding me that it’s there. Maybe if I did more in my day, I’m told, the schedule will do me good. Fit in some exercise and ignore depression’s lies when it tells me I’m failing as a mother because I didn’t get around to preparing my daughter’s preschool lesson that day because I decided to go on the treadmill instead.

Reasonable people are able to do things like schedule and make sense of time in a time. Depressed people wear heavy wet clothes and perceive fifteen minutes as two hours and two hours as five minutes.

Everybody gets sad, they tell me. Eat some chocolate — it’s obviously “that time of the month” — cue the laugh track for the oldest joke since puberty and boys learned that girls get periods. Hilarious.

No.

For some reason, it becomes the heavily depressed person’s responsibility to justify her illness — my illness — to  other people. I wonder if this how people with “legitimate” illnesses feel. “I’m sorry I can’t make it to the meeting because of this pneumonia. Have you heard about pneumonia? Let me tell you about pneumonia…” This calls up an old argument with my husband when he snapped at me, “It’s like you don’t want me to understand your depression!” and he was shocked when I snapped back “Why should it be my job to make you understand?”

I live in a beautiful state with beautiful mountains around me.   Unfortunately, while this is an incredibly beautiful area of the west, it is also nestled in an area known as the “suicide belt”. Being a member of a particular church, I enjoy living near those of my same faith.  There are many others (both in and out of the church) who assume that there is a great deal of pressure on members to live perfectly. I have never felt this pressure, probably because I have long been familiar with my own imperfections. I also know that any pressure that might exist comes from people and not teachings. When I talk to others about my struggles with depression and upon realizing where I live, I know all to well the smirk that shows up on their faces — “Oh, I would be depressed and anxious too if I had to live there” is something I’ve heard. “Isn’t everyone there on some sort of antidepressant because of the pressure?”  Or my personal favorite, “Don’t they treat antidepressants like the pills from Stepford so all the wives are perfect?”

There seems to be what I call a Cake Effect when it comes to depression and suicide. We can’t dismiss depression as being something as irrelevant as being caused by culture yet when a celebrity commits suicide rally to bring awareness to depression as a mental illness.  If depression is a mental illness for celebrities and the wealthy, then it is also — obviously — a mental illness for average people living in the Rockies who happen to live religious lifestyles and believe in a faith that might not be believed in by everybody.

People might not understand depression.  People might not understand the despondency that comes from depression, but that doesn’t make it less real. And it makes me mad when it’s just tossed aside as “the culture made them do it”.  And yet time and time again, people have a difficult time in accepting that something ambiguous (to them) can cause something like suicide. Sure, if we were to break everything down into its parts, we would say the individual committed suicide, but if the mental illness was not part of the equation at all we would have to ask ourselves “Would that person still be alive?”

Depression, like all mental illnesses, is complicated. And I don’t only have depression so when someone tells me to “just shake it off” I have to remind myself that this person really does mean to be helpful. Quite possibly “shaking it off” helps this person when he or she is sad, or it might just mean this person is really into Taylor Swift. Either way it doesn’t help me. Depression is multifaceted. It’s wearing soggy wet clothes.  It’s knowing you can’t stay in bed all day to stare at the walls so instead you pretend.

It’s a lot of pretending.

It’s pretending to be normal and happy and functional. So now, instead of depression I am also emotionally exhausted from performing all day. That’s awesome.  But wait there’s more.

You don’t get just one mental illness with me, you get a few more. Grab  your shopping basket.

Imagine heading into a quiet park after it has snowed. It’s tranquil, silent, the landscape pristine condition with no footprints. You take a deep breath enjoying the moment knowing you’re the first one to walk across the snow-covered grass. However, just after a few steps you begin to get pummeled by snowballs from all directions. Falling, tripping, getting blinded by snow and ice everywhere, you have no idea which way to run in order to get away from your anonymous snowballers so all you can do is curl up and wait for the onslaught to be over.

Welcome to my life with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It could be any day at any moment when I can experience a trigger and I feel as if I’m being attacked with no way out. All I can do is attempt one of several coping mechanisms that I have learned or, if it is too much, retreat. Otherwise, the triggers can begin to overwhelm me to the point where I can completely break down and it will take me days to recover. This goes hand in hand with another issue I deal with which is agoraphobia. If you have read To Kill a Mockingbird than you may be familiar with agoraphobia because Boo Radley is a fellow agoraphobe, though I am far better dressed and I have not attacked family members with scissors. Yet.  I’m also not nearly as pale because I do go out of my house on a regular basis and while I am always looking, I haven’t saved any small children dressed up as hams.  Someday, maybe.  Like Boo, I would rather stay inside my home especially after my PTSD has been triggered.  I’m sure this makes sense: if my coping strategies have broken down and I’ve become overwhelmed by triggers, than my agoraphobic tendencies will rise and I am more prone to stay home, avoiding larger areas and people, unfamiliar places and situations.

Once I am home, though, my depression can easily escalate because I begin to feel like I am a failure for not getting out there, for being defeated, for all this’s and that’s. But then the possibility of getting out of that cycle will start the knot of anxiety in my chest and that feeling of drowning in air begins.

Boom. Anxiety attack.  The chest begins to clench like a hand is squeezing — not mine, which is worse — my pulse is racing and I’m trembling.  I feel trapped.  I can’t breathe.  It’s the frantic survival of someone who has already survived and doesn’t know it. I’m lost in my own mind and I can’t find my way out.  And so if it is easier for people to believe that I am aloof or keep to myself than to understand that I get nervous in crowded places, than okay. I can’t change that. Especially when my feeling of a crowded place is different than the average person’s.  If other people assume I don’t like going to church because of whatever reason I can’t change that either. I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to do a PSA about how I am mentally and emotionally fatigued by Sundays and I honestly believe I will mentally snap by being around so many people. I also don’t feel offended, by the way. That’s the great thing about agoraphobes. We really are a table of one.

In some ways, yes, it is all in my head.  But what I am feeling is more real than expected because it is every nightmare come true: it’s the unknown chasing me and the inability to move or scream.  And truly I believe this is what is at the crux of people’s inability to understand this mental illness. Nobody wants to face their nightmares, especially in someone they know.

C. Streetlights

I am soul. I am fire. I am red. I am me. I give a damn.

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Thirty degrees, dropping

Multi-layered weather today,

like paint coats bleeding together into a melted Degas.

Mystery begins its journey as drops through the clouds

falling into itself as snow

but changing,

always changing,

again.

From one life into the next

in one fleeting moment —

back into its original form  —

(as life goes, I suppose)

droplets once more.

Restless spirits never still

always falling,

again.

Not quite what it was before,

yet not exactly what it could be —

just somewhere in between.

Instead.

No longer sure of where it fits anymore

after falling from

layer

to

layer.

Uncertainty lands it safely (tragically) in the same place anyway:

where it started from.

Cold perspective.

C. Streetlights

I am soul. I am fire. I am red. I am me. I give a damn.

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Passing Through

He looked exactly how I always remember: white mustache and smile with just a hint of rosiness in his cheeks.  Baba, my grandfather, was seated in a chair in front of his bedroom window, the drapers were open and the sheers were drawn.  Sunlight filled his bedroom, and hugging him was the best feeling I have experienced in years since his death.  I was home.

I knew somewhere in a distant part of me that I was in dream but it didn’t seem to matter. It also didn’t seem to matter that his bedroom didn’t have his bed because dream logic isn’t the same as cognizant logic. Everything else was the same, with the same knick knacks, books, sounds and smell. Walking into my grandparent’s home always smelled like home. A combination of old house and old people, dust and memory.

My little girl was with me, hugging Baba and giving him kisses. I could hear his laughing and him delighting in her dancing. Somehow the sadness I had that Baba didn’t know my daughter was lifting and the time in this creation of mine comforted my heartache. For whatever reason, my little girl was introducing herself to Baba right here in my dream, playing with the same milk glass flower vases I played with as a small child, and Baba was talking to her about them. He was telling her stories about me when I was a little girl, telling her how I would cut the roses in the front yard and fill the vases with roses for him and my grandma.

I could see them so clearly, kneeling in front of the glass shelves that separated the dining room and the living room, I briefly wondered why they were kneeling there, but accepted it as one of a dreamworld’s peculiarities. There were the vases as well as other little curiosities I remember playing with as a little girl: the tiny magnets that held up drawings on the refrigerator, a little dog, the painted rocks I made for him… all of these and others.  Baba was murmuring to my little girl, holding each one out to her as if telling her a story and then handing them to her. She would laugh her wonderful laugh and he would laugh with her.

My heart was full at the image, this sight and sound, the grandfather clock was chiming, the smell around me, his voice.

I woke up in tears. Not quite a sob but more than just a few tears. My heart ached in the memory and it still does as I remember all that I can from my dream visit with my grandfather. I miss him more as the years pass since he died.

Many people may wish to take turns in interpreting my dream and its significance, but Baba always knew what I needed most.

C. Streetlights

I am soul. I am fire. I am red. I am me. I give a damn.

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Reconsidering Modesty

Truthfully I never thought that what I once believed to be a black and white issue such as modesty would become such an inflammatory topic.  I grew up wearing certain clothes that would be defined as “modest” never second-guessing what — or who — defined them as modest and have mostly grown up “normal”.  I wouldn’t say that I blindly followed; it would be more that I never thought about it.  I am sure my schools had dress codes… if they did I know they certainly did not outlaw the crimping irons or neon colors of the 80s and 90s. Sadly.

Moving into the workplace, I had no issue with the expectation to wear what was considered “corporate attire”. I was in front office reception and so it made sense to wear business clothes, just as when I began teaching it made sense to wear professional attire.

However, now that I am a parent, specifically a mother of a daughter, I have become far more aware of the expectations and burdens placed on our young women now.  Today, girls and young women are responsible for not only their actions but for the actions of every person they meet as well.  Regardless of age, females are told that their bodies are to blame for even the thoughts that come into the heads of people who see them. This is all in the name of modesty and I call bullshit.

Some young girls begin developing breasts as early as 7 years old. How do we explain to these young girls that their shirts are too low-cut without them asking why? And then, how do we explain why without telling them their shirts are too low-cut because “people” (specifically men) can see their newly developing breasts? We can all anticipate the question that comes next, right? “Why would men be looking there?”

Cue the deer in the headlights look.

Yes, please tell me how you will explain to these young and innocent girls why men would be looking down their shirts. While I agree there will be perverts who will sneak looks down these innocent girls’ shirts, I can also assume that the majority of men will not do so. And if they happen to see a young girl’s shirt gape open, they will not become sexually aroused. Why? Because they are little girls. So the real situation here is not that we want to protect our little girls from the millions of pedophiles that apparently roam en masse on the streets, but impose our version of reality onto them — which is “Hey, little girl, men are pigs and they look down shirts to see boobs and they don’t care who you are, how old you are, as long as you give them the chance they are going to look.” In other words, we are telling little girls it is their fault that men can’t control their basest desires.

Wow. Really? That’s what we want to tell them?  So when I’m told my 3 year old girl shouldn’t wear a bikini because it encourages men to look at pornography, then it’s my little girl’s fault that men objectify women. And all this time I thought it was the men who chose to click on the images.

Recently, there have been many news stories regarding dress code violations and high school formal dances.  Before I continue, I want to clearly state that I firmly believe it is important for students to follow policy and protocol when it has been explicitly stated and pointed out to them with plenty of time in advance.  This is what helps teach students to become good young adults in the world at large. All of us have to follow rules within a system.

However.

However, perhaps it is time to rethink the concept of dress code and modesty altogether.  Perhaps it’s not the concept of a dress code that is the problem as it is imposing one culture’s concept of modesty onto another’s. And frankly, it is time to rethink what modesty even means.

Harpars-Bazar (Public Domain)

Harpars-Bazar (Public Domain)

In 1868, there were specific skirt lengths that were considered acceptable at certain ages for young girls. We don’t have this “luxury” anymore as far as knowing exactly what to do or wear.  At 37 years old I know by instinct that when I pull what I think is a shirt off of a rack only to discover it is a dress, I probably shouldn’t wear it. Ever. How did I learn this instinct?  I learned it by experience.  Where did I get this experience? From life’s opportunities. (None of which included wearing a dress that could be mistaken for a shirt.)

If an average person were to look up the definition of “modesty”, a reference to appearance is rarely mentioned first.  This is primarily why I am adamant in believing it is time to completely reframe this entire conversation.  If this average person were to actually look up this definition, the first reference will almost always have to do with being free from conceit, vanity, or being unassuming in one’s abilities, being moderate, or a lack of pretentiousness.  Don’t forget that because this next thing will blow your mind:

In 2014, the national average spent on proms rose 5% to $1,139.  $1,139 on one dance.  According to this survey, single parents spent, on average, double than married parents. Explain to me, please, why we are more worried about strapless dresses than we are about teaching our kids that it is okay to spend the equivalent of a mortgage payment? If the argument is truly about modesty, than the issue would not be about hem length or cleavage.  It would be about expense and the spectacle that these high school formal dances have become.  Anything else is disingenuous.

Historically, proms were heavily chaperoned and held only for the senior class in order to “help develop social skills and etiquette” they were “quite plain” and “students would wear their church clothes” (PromWorks).  There is still a great deal of merit in helping students prepare social skills and learning how to dress for certain social occasions.  Just as I have learned what to wear and when through various opportunities, students need to have opportunities as well.  Instead of focusing so much attention on a dress code that is specific only to a school environment or a prom environment, why not change the type of occasion to one that is more conducive to real life application.

Realistically, how many formal events will students grow up attending? Better question, how many formal events will students grow up to attend and realize they never learned how to dress appropriately for a formal event?

For example, how does a person know how to dress for a funeral? By going to a funeral. How does a person know how to dress for an afternoon tea? By attending one.

Hopefully, students won’t need to attend a funeral but they might need to attend an afternoon tea at some point and know how to conduct themselves at one.  Why must proms or homecomings always be formal, and why must they always be at night?

Instad of insisting on a dress code filled with Do-Nots for an occasion that is impractical for its historic purpose with expectations on modesty decided by cultural standards rather than actual defined ones, why not have an occasion that is, for example, defined as “semi-formal” and than give students a list of Do’s:

  • Do’s For Young Women:
    • Wear knee-length (cocktail) dresses
    • “A Little Black Dress”
    • Dress slacks/dressy skirt with “dressy” nice blouse
    • Low heels/low soles
  • Do’s For Young Men:
    • Suit and tie (light or dark color)
    • Dress pants with collared shirt and jacket
    • Dressy shoes

And then, here’s a kicker, actually teach students in a homeroom or equivalent when they might need to know when to wear semi-formal attire, such as certain weddings, work parties, holiday parties (depending on the time of day) and so forth. Teach them how to socialize, how to mingle, the art of small talk.

Why place so much emphasis on young women covering their bodies so as to prevent salacious thoughts of others when we can use this important time of young men and women’s lives to actually teach them what is appropriate.  Not because it is modest.  Not because it is moral.  But because it is teaching them how to be adults who are able to function in the real world without spending thousands of dollars.

I would have had so much more use for a couple pairs of dressy slacks or cocktail dress after I graduated high school than formal prom dresses that I never wore again.  Even if I could fit in them. My guess is that most young women would too.

 

C. Streetlights

I am soul. I am fire. I am red. I am me. I give a damn.

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Asking for it

*Trigger Warning*
349683be31bb0eb61bb4798034fd4c13Well, really, what did she expect? She should have known better than to have photographs taken in the first place.  She was asking for trouble the moment the door was closed and she started taking of her clothes. Anyone with half a brain would have been able to know what would have happened next. Everybody always says that everything will be kept a secret and nobody else will see, but seriously. Only an idiot or someone who is far too comfortable being naked in front of strangers would fall for that, right?

Isn’t this was everyone thinks when a woman tells them she just went in for a consultation with a cosmetic surgeon? Surely this is the first thing that goes through someone’s mind when she excitedly tells about possibly having something “done”, how the procedure will take place, the recovery, and of course the vital “before” pictures to compare with the “after”. I have had these conversations with girlfriends and nobody has ever condemned anyone over photographs. Not even when one friend’s surgeon had his computer network security compromised and patient information, including photographs, were stolen. We consoled her, hugged her, and assured her that everything would work out okay. And for the most part it has.

When a recent news story broke regarding celebrities having their personal nude photographs leaked online (one news story can be found here on the Chicago Tribune) my Facebook was flooding with wagging fingers, “Don’t these girls [yes, girls] know better than to take nude pictures of themselves in the first place?!” another one, “I’ve got some advice to keep your pictures from being stolen: Don’t take them!” My favorite?  “If you’re going to take nudes than you’re asking for them to be stolen.”

Ah, yes. There it is. She’s asking for it. Of course she is.

Of course a woman would be asking for a stranger to walk into her private space, go through her personal belongings with the sole purpose of finding something to violate her in the most intimate of ways, and than use that viciously humiliate her in public.  Wouldn’t all women want that?  And is it not true that the most violating and demeaning way for a woman to be preyed upon is her body and sexuality? After all, a woman’s sexuality might as well be the final frontier of the modern age when it comes to breaking down barriers and putting a woman firmly in her place.

If a woman is too successful in her job than she must have slept her way to the top.  If a waitress earns more tips it’s because she flirts with the men at the table. If a woman earns a promotion it’s because she slept with the boss. Short skirts and low-top blouses will earn discounts and perks, right? There couldn’t possibly be any other reason for a woman to have any kind of financial, educational, social, or other advantage over a man unless it is tied to her body and sexuality.  If she has sex than she is a whore, if she doesn’t have sex she is a prude or cold fish. If she drinks than of course she is a lush but if she doesn’t than she might as well be a teetotaler.

Women have no expectation to privacy, then. When they are asking for invasion than all doors are open for perusal, judgment and scorn.  We are buffets for public censure, that is after all who feel like it have gotten off from whatever it is they’re into. If you’re a woman in Texas, you are no longer legally protected if someone secretly takes an up-skirt photograph without your knowledge. Of course, women should know better than to wear skirts anyway, right? Why on earth should women be wearing skirts when someone could just walk along and photograph their undersides? Obviously they are asking for that to happen. If only women wore pants all the time than men and other perverts wouldn’t succumb to their baser instincts. In Massachusetts, for that matter, Peeping Toms can peep to their hearts’ desire as long as women are at least partially clothed. And really, women are asking to be watched while they dress if they have windows in their homes anyway.

I was scolded heavily yesterday for saying my comparison of the celebrity nude leak and rape culture/victim blaming.  Ironically, the person (a man, obviously) said that it was insulting to rape victims because it cheapens the impact of the crime. Since I don’t wear my rape survivor status like a merit badge, he didn’t realize how foolish he sounded by implying I was insulting myself.

This is the pernicious nature of rape culture.  An excellent definition of rape culture can be found Transforming a Rape Culture by Emille Buchwald, Martha Roth and Pamela R. Fletcher:

A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.
 

It condones emotional terrorism against women, which would include a constant threat of releasing private and sexual images of the women themselves. It doesn’t matter if these women took these photographs for their own purposes or in exchanges with partners as sexting. They are consenting adults and they have not broken any crimes.  That bears repeating.  These women have not broken any crimes.  The hackers who not only hacked the images and then projected them onto the internet, however, did break the law. Why is it, then, that the women are who carry the brunt of the shame?  Ironically, a hacker who worked with Anonymous in the Steubenville rape case is facing 10 years in prison whereas the rapists themselves were only sentenced to one-two years.

Because they are women, that’s why. And they are women who were expressing their sexuality. And why shouldn’t they? Are they not as entitled to their sexuality as the men who expect them to be sexy?

Oh, but what about choices and consequences? this man berated me with. It’s not victim shaming if he is merely pointing out that some choices carry heavier consequences, especially if the choices are risky ones.

And isn’t that true, for example, if a person were to drink and drive.  If a person were to imbibe, a definite choice to be sure, and then to drive, it can not be denied this is a risky choice that carries with it an even heavier consequence. However, a person who drinks doesn’t generally set about with the purpose to drink with an expectation of privacy and an expectation that her drinking will be kept private on her own private property and then drive.

Taking nude photographs, then, is more or less a low risk one. Or should be. They are taken on a personal device, saved on a personal device, and shared with personally selected individuals. The only consequences would be those forced upon you.

This is primarily the problem and why rape culture is pervasive. The victim shaming and threats become so natural that such “common sense” wisdom seems so reasonable. Only it isn’t. Finger wagging does not remedy the startling fact that 61% of rapes go unreported.  Clearly, there is something going wrong in our communities when the first response is “They should have known better” and not “Who would do something like that to these women?”

“Rape culture is people objecting to the detritus of the rape culture being called oversensitive, rather than people who perpetuate the rape culture being regarded as not sensitive enough.

“Rape culture is the myriad ways in which rape is tacitly and overtly abetted and encouraged having saturated every corner of our culture so thoroughly that people can’t easily wrap their heads around what the rape culture actually is.” (Melissa McEwan, Rape Culture 101)

 

When people, like this man, say they “don’t care to be painted with the same broad brush” and patronizingly offer that I am “entitled to [my opinion]” while adamantly telling me all the ways that I am wrong, rape culture continues to entrench itself. And whether he wants to be painted with it or not, he holds the brush.

 

C. Streetlights

I am soul. I am fire. I am red. I am me. I give a damn.

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where I’ve been

order in the chaos