Monday, January 9, 2017

Here and Now

Life has been good. Not "Oh my god, I'm on top of the world and life is so exciting and spectacular that I need a vacation from my vacation lifestyle" great, but good. And good is beyond the best one can hope for considering I was having suicidal ideations just a month ago. Yes, you read that correctly. The girl with the confidence was so depressed she thought about killing herself. And luckily, I did not do it and sought help because I've been on this crazy ride with depression before and knew I needed help. NO, I am not ashamed of that. I am not ashamed my hormones or my brain are a bit defunct either. Depression happens. It happens to some of the best people I know and some of the greatest minds the world has ever seen. But I digress, back to my good life.

I'm not climbing mountains or vacationing. I am not even working right now and haven't sold a single piece of art in the new year or since before Christmas for that matter. Hubby didn't get a raise. My kids still have their occasional meltdowns over the little things that baffle my brain as being fight worthy. I haven't moved away from my small town to a more hip or open minded neighborhood. In fact there have been no remarkable things that have changed my mood beyond hormones and self care. BUT -my, oh my, what hormones and self care can accomplish.

At the end of last year I gave up Facebook. Not like "I'm deleting you all. You all suck. OMG Politics" got rid of my Facebook. More like "hey I need a break and I'll check in occasionally" got rid of my Facebook. And it has been amazing. Honestly. It's been the best thing I've ever done, which is both great and incredibly sad (but I'm not dwelling on that, so Sally Forth we go into how my life has become so good).

When I was in the midst of my depression, down deep in it, I believed I wasn't holding my life against the candle of everyone else's life. I believed I could spend hours a day looking at people's posts and pictures and be totally unaffected. This was naive. Without a constant reminder (Facebook) that there are other things I "should" be obsessing over (my new year resolutions, my diet, my success as a business person, etc.) I've been relatively happy. Why? Because I realize that Facebook sets collective standards that we all feel obligated to meet to be a relatively "normal" human. I mean, in real life we all set standards. You should hold doors for people to be a decent person, or dress appropriate for the weather to be sensible, or kiss your mom goodbye to be a good relative, or whatever it is you were taught to hold near and dear to your own heart by means of the people that raised you (your parents, your neighbors, your tribe, etc.). The problem becomes when we get online and we are so inundated with everyone else's standards as well as mountains of articles plastered 12 inches from our face, glowing up at us from our pocket sized computer, that tell us our standards are so very right, or insanely wrong, or right/ wrong for the wrong reasons, we then get onto this forum with all of these other people and feel the demand of society to defend ourselves and our standards or to challenge the standards of others. Hidden behind the glowing box we start wars and say brazen things in an instant online that would take a little more time to articulate politely in person. And while discussion and debate are totally how the world works (we wouldn't be anywhere folks,truly, if we didn't challenge the status quo) we are doing it on a massive level that, instead of endearing us to other people and the crazy and amazing way the human mind works and reworks information, it insights segregation, humiliation, and frustration. Constant input into our actual hardware (see brains) sets us up to constantly feed on information or to feel starved if we don't. We want to find the people and the things that further our own agenda and keep us surrounded with "the best" people and things and ideals. And in finding all the "best people" who share so many of our attributes and ideals we forget that they are different people with different bank budgets, social capital, and abilities. We begin to, in a conscious or subconscious way, compare our lives with theirs, because heck, we're so similar right? Wrong.

Any given day of the week of last year I could tell you what all of my people of Facebook land were doing. How adorable their kids were, where they vacationed, and how successful their diet/ business/ parenting was going. Or so I believed. Whatever they put out there wall became their life. I would see a vacation post followed by a picture of their family sitting at a beautiful dinner with a caption about how they were eating all organic on their travels and think "Wow. How does she do that? When we traveled I could barely manage our needed dietary restrictions. I wish I could be that well organized." I would see a post for a local business featured in a local shop, liked by all the makers I admire plus a few hundred more, and feel completely and totally inadequate. I would think "If only I could get my shit together and work harder" or "If only I had smiled more at the last show" or "If only I had the time to drive from boutique to boutique with my stuff." And the major problem with this wasn't that I was feeling this way so much as I was ignoring feeling this way. I was brushing this off as a normal feeling. "Everyone has feelings of inadequacy" I'd say to myself, as if seeing a friends vacation pictures SHOULD make you realize it's been a month since you've gone anywhere "fun" or "important." And again, I was assigning labels to things in life that were handed to me, rather than chosen by me. This was a big one that I had no clue I was doing. Vacation to Florida = fun. Vacation to Cincinnati Ohio = sad. Guess which one I took. This was something already decided. Something I hadn't chosen and never would have thought about my ability to change until I left Facebook.

So once I realized that budgeting for my family as if I were dead was seriously messed up and got some help, I turned off Facebook. The hunger pangs were strong at first. I really wanted to know what everyone was up to. I was worried I'd stop having friends. "How will they get a hold of me?" I thought. "When it's not so easy to send a message my way, will I still have friends?!" Ah, dear one, you are now showing why you need to leave. I decided friendships had to be based on more than constant interaction and that those who truly wanted to stay in contact would find a way. And then came the worry pangs. "What if someone needs me?" I'd wonder. "What if the world is just so nuts and someone feels alone because they have no one to talk to about it?" But the more I thought about this the more I realized I was giving so little to so many that the empathetic ear I had, was more than half deaf. It would be better, I figured, to give more to less people than to spread myself so thin and not be certain I was giving my best to anyone. With my fears and anxieties and worries quelled (well enough) I started to let more time span between checking in. As it is, it's been a whole week between my last check in of 10 minutes and today's check in of 5. It's a wonder to think that removing something from your life can be self care. Often we think of adding a nap or carving out time to write in a journal, which ironically, I now have time for, is self care. This all brings me to how life has changed.

Yesterday after running to Aldi for our weekly groceries I was driving past the local football field and I took in the clouds dotted across the sky as the sun shimmered over the stadium lights and I realized so much of my life has been about being something "other." It struck me that in all the time I was on Facebook I was denying this one fact that I wanted to be something other than what I already am. I would claim I wanted things and places that made me feel whole or fulfilled but really I wanted to let those things and places change me into something other than an "insignificant, small town girl." But the truth is, I am those things and those things are wonderful. I'm insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and thank goodness. I don't pull the tides or set the sun and that's wonderful because, knowing me, I'd totally forget to do it and we'd all die of floods or sunburn. I'm insignificant in that my mind and willpower alone cannot stop the evils of the world, and again, thank goodness, because it means that I will need help and that I will be part of a community that wants only the best for people. I am a small town girl, from a, sometimes backwards, sometimes rude, and yet sometimes amazingly beautiful small town. The clouds here are just as pretty as the clouds I've seen in LA or Shenandoah. The grass and plants and creatures and bugs equally as fascinating. The conversations can also be life altering. What's wrong with loving your family and wanting them to be nearby. There is joy in running to your grandmother's when snow falls to shovel her walk and then sitting and talking with her over hot chocolate when she insists you come inside to get warm. There is peace in knowing you can comfort the woman who raised you by driving a half a mile away to check on her mother when the phone lines are acting up. There is beauty in seeing your mother and father-in-law go to the local (not fancy) Chinese Buffet on lunch for their 30-something anniversary because they are happy just to spend an afternoon together. Why, as I turned the bend I wondered, had I been avoiding this realization?

All my early life I was bullied. And in being bullied I struggled. I found escapes out of my pain, trails I could follow to soothe myself. When girls with expensive clothing made fun of my cheap backpack I told myself I'd be the one laughing one day. I was going to get out of this place and make something of myself. Over and over like a prayer I would say how I was going to make it. I was going to be successful. I was going to be better. I was going to be "other." But I was wrong. No matter how far you run, you will always be unsuccessful if you use another person's version of success. When those that hurt you hold the dream in their hand, they will never let you attain it and if you've been hurt enough, it's not long before the person holding the dream is some other version of you. So I have decided to stop being fed what success is. I have chosen to stop "drinking the water" so they say. I won't debate why success if having enough money to live or being happy or vacationing because I don't even think my own goals are so rigid. Someday's being successful is having enough money to live and someday's is having the willpower to persevere when you don't. Sometimes success is being indescribably happy and other days it's knowing that happiness is a choice you can't always make and that content will suit you just fine. I am stepping away from the idea that I need to be "other" and instead getting comfortable with the idea that I need to be me. I am ever changing. I am a minefield of emotions. I burn white hot and sometimes I fizzle cold. I am successful and unsuccessful. I am here and here is the best place to being having a good life.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Compassion is a verb.

As many of you know, we here in America elected a new president this week. To say that many of us are disheartened and upset is an understatement. Terms like devastated or numb might be better. Afraid might be the most accurate.

I, personally, have been crying on and off since Tuesday night as I watched my computer screen slowly fill with red. The waves of tears tend to coincide with the times I hold and hug my young daughter or, at one point, the moment I walked into a Chipotle that was filled with white men being served by a line of black women. I would imagine, given the body love and acceptance prospective I've given over the past many years in blog posts, you can guess that I am a liberal person. And while I am in favor of progressive policies and spending, my tears have nothing to do with economics or political solutions to governmental spending or health care or even the environment, which I am exceptionally passionate about. No, I do not cry over the loss of the EPA (although it does make me sad) or the loss of a healthcare system that has allowed many with disabilities to finally get the help they previously could not get (although it does make me angry) or even because governmental spending and the tax structure proposed by the new presidential elect will likely send us into a great depression with our 401ks depleted and the stock market completely unpredictable (although it does make me cautious).  I can accept that we differ on those opinions and as a confident person I accept that my opinions are not always shared and that is okay.

I cry because we have elected a bully into the highest office. We have elected a man who has preached hate, bigotry, intolerance, greed, xenophobia, and homophobia. He has made fun of people with disabilities. He has encouraged his supporters to distrust science and facts and to call those with an education elitist. And in wake of his election we have seen a massive outpouring of hate speech, trans teen suicides, and crimes focused on minorities, women, and LGBTQ+ people. I cry because I am raising children in a world I have fought against my whole life and I am tired.

If you cannot understand my struggle inherently, let me give you the run down.

When I was two my father left my mother while she was 9 months pregnant. It was recently revealed that he was having an affair but at the time he told anyone who would listen that my mother was a slut, a N***R Lover, and a complete bitch. He took our family car and threatened to come back into our home and take everything, including the carpet. My very first memory is the night that he left, curling up on a papisan by the front door and watching him haul trash bags out of the door while screaming at my mother. I remember her stress, her throwing up blood, her fear at how we would make it. I also remember him calling to scream at her in the weeks following. It was my first look into bullying.

When I was in middle school I dreaded gym. Other children made fun of me because I was a little pudgy and weird. I have always been a curious and outspoken person who indulged in research and soaking up information like a sponge and then spraying others with all I have learned. Annoying was used a lot as a descriptor for me throughout my adolescence. Sometimes this made adults think they could take advantage of me. In a 7th grade gym class all students were told they had to have their BMI calculated. I watched as the girls ahead of me had a pinch of skin measured right above their knee. I was last because I was afraid to have anyone behind me to watch. The gym teacher, a man, reached up my leg and pinched my skin on my upper inner thigh, looked at me and winked. I assumed it was because I was heavier or something. Every time he made comments about my boobs I assumed it was because he found it funny to make a joke of me. I felt like I deserved that because I was already the joke to everyone else.

When I was a teen my sister and I went to stay with our father for a week. He was disconnected from us, barely interested in our lives, but I was always hopeful things would turn around. Yes he forgot my birthday repeatedly. Yes he thought my sister was in the band when it was me in the band and she played no instrument. Yes he took us to bars while he drank. Yes he degraded my mother relentlessly in front of me but I was a child and children always place trust in their parents. On one of our drives I told him that I am actually pretty good at math and had been placed on the advanced math path at school. So I would be taking Advanced Algebra Two and then Trigonometry. I will never forget how he responded. He laughed and then said "No. You're a girl. You're not good at math." No surprise that when I was applying for financial aid for college he told my mother he would not help because he didn't believe I could graduate high school. When I did graduate from college he refused to believe it until it was in the paper. Even still, he never said congratulations. I no longer talk to him, although he has managed to reach out to me in the past to berate me or abuse me from a distance. As a married woman he once called me (not sure how he got my number) and began screaming at me. I gave the phone to my husband and he proceeded to tell my husband that he should hit me to keep me inline.

When I was 16 I dated a boy who was charismatic and had a group of well liked friends. In public he barely spoke to me, although his friends did. In private he worked every angle to make me feel safe before he tried to force himself on me in a moment of complete frustration. While he was on top of me I screamed and kneed him and began to cry and he took me home. We never talked about it again. I disregarded what happened as a fluke because I really liked him. Less than a week later he broke up with me and then went around the school calling me Fat D.

The same year I was made fun of by someone who would not even admit they dated me although they had tried to force me to sleep with them, a girl I had been friends with wrote a four page paper about me and passed it out to the entire band. She titled it "A Geek's Guide to Being Cool" and it detailed out the things an  oblivious and annoyingly religious, un-stylish girl who longs to be cool should do in full satire. Some of the points were personal and some completely false. Although she never wrote my name it was paired with the knowledge that this piece was purposefully written about me because she told people as she passed it out. I walked into band late that day and two of my Jewish friends rushed up to me saying "We know it's not true. We aren't mad. Are you okay?" I had no idea what they were talking about. I walked over to my music stand and there lay the 4 page document. I read the first few lines, looked up and everyone was looking at me. I told the conductor I was sick and I went home. It was my sister's birthday so I didn't even tell my mother until the next day.

When I went to college I found an apartment in the middle of a cow pasture that I could afford and as the end of the summer approached I moved my things in. I was met by a slip under my door saying all kinds of uncomfortable things about my appearance and at the bottom was a phone number. I tossed it in the trash, thinking it was a joke, and kept plugging away. A week later I noticed a man sitting outside of my apartment who had a million questions, some personal, and I realized about half way through I should probably not answer them. Then, as the year progressed, I noticed the man following me around campus. One night, very late in the evening, I was putting dishes away and talking to my mom on the phone when someone knocked on my door. I asked who it was and there was no answer. I asked again. It was the man. He asked me to let him in. I explained I could not. He then started to demand I let him in, banging loudly and hard on my door and screaming at me. Telling me I WOULD let him in. I slept that night with a knife and not just my apartment door locked but the door to my bedroom. That night I didn't know what to do but the next morning I decided to call the police. The borough said they couldn't help because I was outside their jurisdiction and I couldn't get a hold of the State police. I left my apartment and went to the campus police because this man was a student. The officer looked at me, annoyed, and said "Are you sure you didn't have a 'thing' with this guy or maybe you lead him to believe you were interested." I explained that no, I have a boyfriend who goes to a neighboring college, and even if we had, that doesn't mean someone can threaten you through a door! They filed the report and told me to talk to the State Police. Thankfully, the State Police Officer was very helpful and kept in contact with me to make sure I was safe.

After I married my husband, I began working for a small museum. I have a degree in Anthropology and a degree in Art History and I had taken masters classes in Museum Studies and I was so excited to be doing something, anything, in my field. I was the only female employee for most of the time I was there. There had been a woman educator but she quit. As time progressed it became clear why. Although I had a management position, when a small child vomited on the floor, it was my job, "as the only woman", to clean it up. Often, I came in to photocopied brochures from the 1950s left on my desk. These brochures described the role of a woman in the workplace. I was told by my boss in not so specific terms to dress more like a man, in khakis and a polo, as opposed to the business attire I was used to wearing. Older gentlemen who volunteered often cracked jokes about women in my presence and when I found a full case of beer in the refrigerator we used for public parties and asked the men to move it they became indignant and yelled at me. Because the museum had no safety procedures manual for me to turn to, I gave over a months notice and I quit.

These are not isolated incidents. I have many more times in my life I was bullied or harassed. I have had many more times in my life that I felt in danger or oppressed. Some are more personal. Some I have laid to rest permanently for my own mental health. And some I cannot even admit to myself. These examples just highlight what my life looked like. And while my story is not every woman's story, the reactions to our pain by society and the entitlement of our attackers tends to be the same. Unfortunately for a lot of us, this apathy to our plight, this allowance for things to happen, this everyday cautious fear is just business as usual. This is what a life not steeped in white male privilege looks like. When you carefully select the joys you wish to share with others because saying the wrong thing will incite ridicule, when you carry your keys like a knife between knuckles to protect you from strange men, when you try to look more masculine to be heard at work, when you accept that a man touched you inappropriately because no one will believe you if you speak up, or when those in power ignore your cries for help, you will truly see what I mean by privilege. And despite what some may say about how being bullied builds character, it has been hell. I cannot, in any way, say that being bullied for most of my life built anything but my fear and my depression. I have seen three therapists, been on and off depression and anxiety medicines, and gone to the ER over panic attacks so bad I was certain I was having a heart attack. I have found it hard to connect with friends, to take compliments from my husband or even to be intimate, and in the end I'm left struggling to feel like I have any value as a person whatsoever.

In my late teens I tried to kill myself. I had a letter. I had taken pills. My sister broke in my door and my mother refused to let me follow through. It has always been the compassion of others, the love, the patience, the calm that has helped me through the storm. Bullying did not build my character, compassion did. And I would argue compassion is what we need on a personal level and as a nation.

If you don't understand the fear and sadness we feel in relation to our new president, I cannot express to you enough that it is crucial that you try to understand. It is crucial that you strive to be compassionate. Our fear and sadness are genuine. We have endured so long and we feel so exhausted that this is not a normal loss, this is the feeling of defeat. Where do we go from here? Who will protect us? When will we be allowed to stop fighting and start enjoying life. With the figurehead of our country spouting off hate speech, we are now faced with the fact that the fight has at least 4 more years. In addition, the new president elect has a group foaming at the mouth to finally "put people in their place" and when the news came out very early Wednesday morning, they began celebrating by doing just that. Is this all Trump supporters? I certainly hope not but those that have been doing it are doing it in his name and he has not come out and condemned their actions.

For the last two days I have watched as stories roll in of cars vandalized with hate messages, windows painted with antisemitic phrases, women sexually assaulted by men yelling "Grab them by the pussy!" and I am paralyzed. I have things to do for work. I have a show to promote. I have children to home-school. And I can't do anything but cry and read. Read the stories of those out in the community dealing with the fallout. Read the stories of Latino children in tears as their classmates chant "Build a Wall" at them. My heart breaks. I am afraid and I am sad. And although we should never have to validate what we are feeling, I do hope that a look at the life of one woman would give you a glimpse into what it means to be marginalized. And I would like you to keep in mind that, I am an able bodied white woman in a heterosexual relationship. I myself, cannot even begin to comprehend what my minority, gay, or disabled counterparts are feeling right now.

So those of you that voted for Trump despite his messages of hate, it's now time to show compassion. Maybe you wanted change. Maybe you wanted to disrupt the system. I get that. It's why I voted Bernie in the primaries. But now, it's time to see your scared friends, your bullied friends, your marginalized friends as people who will face an oncoming storm and give them your love. I'm not going to say it is you that caused the storm. I know people who voted Trump that do not condone the words he uses. I cannot say I understand them but I know they are not chasing Muslim women with lighters (a story I read about today) or writing Black Lives Don't Matter on walls in North Carolina. Somehow, they were able to over look the bullying and see something else. BUT I urge you, just because you were able to overlook the hate speech he continually used does not mean other people could or are able to now. And while this maybe a hard pill to swallow, it's possible that it is your privilege that made it easy for you to overlook the threats. I admit I also have privilege. I'm not proud of it. I didn't ask for it. I would give it up if it meant that a black woman could make what I make in the work place or that a woman wearing a hijab would be treated the same as I would be going into a mall on any given day of the week. My point is, if you don't get it just understand the feeling is mutual. Don't call those feeling despair melodramatic. Don't tell them to calm down. Tell them you see them. Tell them you hear them. SHOW them you love them. After all, compassion is a verb. You ask us to unify under your president but I ask you to be the olive branch. After all, in the current state of things, you have the position on dry land. Will the country move forward? That remains to be seen. I do know that we cannot move forward as a nation united if people feel they or their individual humanity is endangered.

And to those who are afraid - minorities, those practicing other religions, immigrants, women, those with disabilities, LBGQT+, etc.- please know that I stand with you. This fight is hard and we are all so tired but you are not alone! I cry with you. I am afraid with you. But soon, our mourning will be over and I will fight like hell to protect you as I know you will for me. There will be no rest until we are all treated equally with ethical dignity.

Tonight, despite the things I need to do, I am cutting off my connection. This year has been hard for me. I have had repeated episodes of autoimmune illness and I am struggling to find the things that fulfill me but that is all for another post. For now, I am taking some time for self care. While I have been connected to my phone and my Facebook for the last few days, feeling like I needed to do something, anything,  I realize I am not taking quality care of myself. So I am turning off my phone. I am going to drink some tea, and wear my hair in pigtails. I'm going to color with my kids and cry into my comforter. The road ahead is long and bumpy.  While my self care time is crucial it will not be forever. I will rest today, to fight tomorrow. And tomorrow? I will fight like hell!

For every person who has ever been bullied, we will overcome this together. <3