The Spoonie Parent

The whole “online advocate and volunteer for mental health organizations” thing didn’t actually happen all that long ago. I only got serious about treatment around 2010, and it wasn’t until after my first child was born in 2013 that I joined an online community for mental health support and wellness.

One of the best take-aways from the stories told by other people with mental illness was Spoonie Theory. I’m not going to try and break it down for you (if you want to learn more, go to the source) but I will give you my summarized version: basically, Spoonies are people that, for whatever reason, have a limited amount of resources (physical, mental, and emotional) available to them that are spent throughout the day as you go about your business. Cooking dinner, making small talk, cleaning the bathroom; even basic functions can be a significant drain on the individual.

An individual like me.

And especially now. Especially at this moment in my life, while I’m surrounded by all these plates I’ve got up on rods, spinning like tops.

Gotta work, gotta hustle. Get your money, put food on the table. Make sure the girls are not just fed and watered, but engaged, cuddled, listened to, played with. Manage the household. Keep the budget. Remind the husband. Make To-Do lists. Grocery lists. Honey-Do lists. Check off all the boxes. Remind the husband. Pick the clothesfoodtrashtoys up off the floor. Shower off the sweat. Go to bed late. Do it all again tomorrow.

I don’t mind spinning plates. I actually get a lot of gratification from it, when I’ve got it under control. When the conditions are just right, all of them whirring smoothly, I feel like I’m flying.

But the world stage? It’s foundations are a little cracked, and the floors are uneven. The whole ground shakes sometimes, and god help me, but I only have two hands. That something will be broken is an inevitability.

This isn’t to say that I don’t have help. My aforementioned husband is the bedrock of my whole life. He is solid, no question. And even though I’m often a little territorial about my forest of spinning plates, I do have friends and family that will step in when and where they can, to lend support as they are able. I am also blessed to have a home, a good paying job that I love, and all the privilege implicit therein.

I’m not complaining.

I strive to be more solution-oriented than that. Problem-solving is a tried-and-true mechanism for shoring up the cracks. Trouble is, it’s also part of the reason why I have so many damn plates to begin with. I am always ready with a solution. And in lieu of something actionable or constructive, I’ll just ruminate on the problem. I probe at it from all directions to identify a new angle. I’ll draw my plans out over time, plotting out the next weeks, months, years. I’ll make contingencies. I’ll consider the possible effect of world events, natural disasters, and alien invasions.

My mental vision board is a prime example of the String Theory trope.

Actionable responses to stress on my environment are the only productive outcome from my overactive, hyper vigilant brain, but they aren’t always easy to come by. Recently, I’ve found myself with more unknowns than knowns and I’m sort of stranded in “Well, I can’t plan for what I don’t know”-Land. That’s miserable enough as-is, but it’s also very costly. Right now it’s costing money I don’t have, spoons I can’t afford, and a significant measure of my fucking sanity. There are so many other places I’d prefer to direct those resources.

My family comes first, of course. They get all the spoons I can give them, and aside from those days when the girls seem to suck the lifeblood out of my eyeballs, we do okay. Then my job, which often gives me spoons because I’m such a lucky bitch I get to do something I completely love. There’s a flip side to that of course, because owning a small business comes with its own hazards and expenses. But it’s okay, because I can keep those plates going, no problem. I’ll just pray there isn’t another tremor. I’ll just cross my fingers that a stiff breeze doesn’t come by and knock all my shit to the floor.

That’s fine. I can keep the faith.

But where I really get in to trouble is when the combined demands of EVERYTHING far fucking exceed the number of spoons I have to give, and then a butterfly flaps it wings outside and the whole damn thing blows up.

Today I feel like that’s where I’m headed.

Because life is an avalanche. A house of cards. A crapshoot. And it builds. It builds up because they aren’t enough hours in the day to do all those things I need to do and then take sufficient time to recharge. I’m spending more spoons than I’ve had time to wash and put back in the drawer. My plates are all chipped and the sink is fucking full.

I am as bled out as these tired, overwrought dish metaphors have become.

———

I stole some time throughout the day to write this piecemeal. I started over lunch and continued while my littlest one slept. I let the older kid watch another movie on the TV. It’s been on almost constantly since 9 o’clock this morning. I’m ashamed but resigned — yes, I know that too much screen time is bad. And before someone gets all sanctimonious: yes, I play with my kids everyday. I’m their goddamn pleasure cruise director. I plan healthy, delicious meals, structured indoor activities and adventurous outdoor excursions — about 90% of the time. The other ten I reserve for self-care because here’s the thing: I can’t have a breakdown.

Essentially, self-care is an alternative means to an end because I can’t put my family and my career first if I’m a wreck. The unfortunate truth, though, is that I don’t get a break over the weekends, no matter if my nose is rubbed raw from this week’s grindstone. I’m on duty. I know if I don’t keep them busy and entertained, they will eat me alive, but sometimes the best I can do is the bare minimum. Hello, iPads and leftover Chinese food for lunch!

Yes, I feel guilty. I am aware that I am sometimes missing (my self-imposed, society-informed) mark.

It is an instinctual, biologically-programmed imperative to put my babies’ needs before my own. However, I’m also introspective enough and intelligent enough to know that if I am not equally as devoted to maintaining my health, my girls mind end up without a mother at all. And that is unacceptable to me, insomuch as I am able to prevent it.

We all have an obligation to those that love and depend on us to take care of ourselves. Our children ought to see us not just survive, but thrive, because they learn by our example and they deserve us at our best.

So, today we didn’t make it to the beach. Our only excursion was around the neighborhood, walking the dog. The girls got to watch three feature-length films while we cuddled on the sofa and played tickle-fight. I made macaroni and cheese for dinner and gave them each a Snack-Pack for dessert. I drew a fragrant, pink bubble bath and after I washed their hair, I let them play in the water while I checked social media on my phone.

Now I’m sitting at my kitchen table, listening to the soft notes of the girls’ lullaby CD drift down the stairs. They request it every night after I’ve already sung them each their own bedtime song. After I press play on the CD player Moira got for Christmas, I sit in the dim light with them while they fall asleep. I relish the quiet.

Our nighttime routine helps to center us together, no matter what’s gone on during the day, and it is sacred to me. I recall as a small child being rushed into bed and out of my parents’ hair, feeling so desperately lonely while I struggled to fall asleep alone. When I was really little, I’d scream for my mother. I have a memory of her flying into my bedroom while I cried, clearly annoyed as she told me she was going to leave me in the dark until I cried myself to sleep.

Funny thing about traumatic memories — I can’t say if this happened once or a hundred times. I can only tell you that I have relived the pain of that moment over and over again in my mind since the night she stood in my doorway with one hand on the , backlit by the hall light, one hand on the doorknob, her posture telegraphing terrible impatience before she closed the door and walked away. It’s been on my mind ever since I screamed for her in the dark knowing she wouldn’t be coming back.

That’s the sort of thing I’m trying to avoid here.

My mom wasn’t a bad person and she wasn’t an abusive mother. She was a woman at the end of her fucking rope, day in, day out, just white-knuckling it to survive her chronic pain, undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses, abusive alcoholic husband, and five needy children. She left me to cry that night because she truly had nothing left to give to me.

Been there.

I’m a fantastic mother. I know because I work hard at it, every minute of every goddamn day. My girls might sometimes get stuck inside all weekend with their eremitical wingbat mother, but in the long run they will be humans who are secure in the knowledge that they are beautiful, powerful, strong, intelligent, miraculous beings born out of pure love and light.

I know, because I’m going to teach them radical self-love by example, and make sure they never forget it.

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A year in review

2018 was kind of a big year for me. I did a lot of new things that made me uncomfortable, and it really paid off. I proved something to myself this year; that is, I realized I only needed to prove it to myself, and no one else. The ultimate task of my life these last fifteen years has been learning how to love myself like a parent would. Like my mother no longer can, like I never had when I was small.

Learning to take pride in myself and my accomplishments was the first step. The next was taking greater risks, reaping greater rewards, and finally feeling confident enough to reach even farther, to end this life as I know it and build a new one, entirely on my own terms. I feel like an honest-to-goodness Grown Up.

To me, a Grown Up is someone who takes responsibility for themselves and the things they love. They know themselves and they remember their own worth. Grown Ups construct a foundation of life experience to assemble a platform from which they may do good things in the world. They don’t just own up to their mistakes, they learn from them, and they do better. Grown Ups aren’t possessed of a victim-mentality, because they know that even when terrible things happen, they are capable facing it head-on.

After a literal lifetime of feeling like the picture of helpless and vulnerable, this sort of matter-of-fact, unapologetically self-driven, Carpe Diem attitude is a very welcome reprieve.

A lot of this growth has come as a result of getting treatment for PTSD, the result of childhood trauma and inevitable subsequent traumatization. I had been broken for a long time — not an excuse, but an earnest explanation — and I made a lot of mistakes in that time that I haven’t had the opportunity to apologize for. After leaving an abusive relationship in 2017, I came to understand in retrospect that, quite to my surprise, I had been a toxic influence in a loved one’s life at one time. It was unintentional, and it masqueraded quite effectively as love. I learned the pain I’d caused my lost friend while I was being victimized by someone else, and I came to respect their choice when I too had to walk away from someone who truly, honestly believed that they were loving me right.

People aren’t perfect, and even decent people can do horrible things. In adolescence, I learned this lesson as children do when they are confronted with the limitations of their caregivers’ great and terrible power and realize, quite intractably, that these Goliaths are merely human. I survived a childhood in the care of flawed humans and thus became a flawed human myself. Now exiting my unfortunately prolonged adolescence, I’m realizing that the best thing I can to do is confront my mistakes and then deliberately stop repeating them. Somehow, I have to dismantle the core beliefs behind these maladaptations.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the next chapter in my life will be all about how I navigate that path. I’m ready. I know I’ve got this. After all, I’ve already come so far.

Real Talk: The Yuletide Blues

“I’m usually really into the holiday season. My family is multi-faith, so we have many traditions from many cultures. That said, they’re not all comfortable incorporating my religious practices into our home. I suggested we burn a Yule log this year and my mom flat said no. I ended up just lighting a candle in my room. How can I talk to her about this? My parents know I’m Wiccan and they’ve never given me a hard time about it, until now. I feel like I have to talk to them about it, but I’m not sure how to start that conversation or what I should say.”

Uhg. The holidays can really suck. I’m sorry friend. It’s no wonder so many people are depressed this time of year, honestly.

When I consulted the cards for you, I drew the King of Swords. The King is a level-headed, perhaps even dispassionate man. He is even-keeled in times of stress, able to examine a situation from many perspectives. By doing this, he gains insight into the problem which helps him solve it fairly, justly. He is close to his family and loyal to his friends. He is seen by others to be responsible and fair.

As it pertains to your situation, I think the King of Swords is counseling you to approach this situation calmly, with finesse. To be as fair and measured as the King of Swords is to put aside your feelings and look at the situation as objectively as possible. However, when I say “put your feelings aside”, I don’t mean that you shouldn’t feel them. Rather, I think you would do best to sit with them a while, do whatever you need to do to heal a little bit. Your feelings are hurt (rightly, in my humble opinion) and trying to talk to your parents about matters now might become more adversarial than productive. Right now with the Moon in Cancer, everyone’s emotions are running a little ragged (plus it’s the holidays — the traffic alone makes me practically homicidal) but after December 24th the Moon will be in Leo and those mood swings will ease. If you want to leverage Moon energy, the best time to sit down and talk things out with your folks will be between December 26 through the 30th when the Moon is in Virgo (a time to suss out and solve problems) and then Libra (a time for balance and cooperation). Of course, you could also wait a few weeks — whenever you’re ready! That’s the important thing.

As for what to say, I’m sure you can come up with plenty in the next week or so. My suggestion, though, is to ask your parents to sit down and talk with you during a quiet time in your home, maybe after dinner or early on a weekend day. Tell them it’s about something important to you. Be honest with them, let them know how it felt to be unable to express yourself as part of the family’s growing traditions. Tell them what you’d like to change before next year, and be ready to tell them about the traditions that you want to bring into the home, like the Yule log. If they don’t come over to your side immediately, don’t give up hope just yet. This might be a conversation you have to revisit a few times before everyone is on the same page.

I wish you a restful and restorative holiday. I hope your New Year blesses you with inspiration and growth.

Cheers,

Sarah C


 

Have a question for Sarah C? Write to realtalkwithsarahc@gmail.com with your question! Want a particular kind of reading? Just let me know in your email!

Real Talk: Living is hard work.

“Hey Sarah C,
I’ve really been struggling lately, emotionally. It seems like everything is bad — it’s in the news, all over, in our faces all the time. Things haven’t been going great for me personally, either. I’m stuck in a job I hate, living in a place I don’t like, and it feels like I’m not going anywhere. I don’t know what to do anymore.”

Hi sweetie,

First, I’m sorry that you’re feeling stuck. Being deprived of opportunities to seek fulfillment is a major blow to one’s wellbeing. That coupled with complete existential dread over the fate of the world, and yeah, no wonder you feel like shit.

When I drew a card for you, I got the Wheel of Fortune. Years ago, I would get this card in readings often. I was in my mid-twenties and stunted. No matter how diligently, how patiently I worked toward my goals, I could never break through. I’d tried everything I could think of to work around each roadblock, but I still found my path occluded. I wasn’t just discouraged, I was despondent.

I saw the Wheel in my readings and I interpreted it to mean that destiny will out; eventually, the right moment would come along and everything would fall into place. But there’s another interpretation of this card that made much more sense. I couldn’t see it at the time, but this is what I want to share with you.

There are moments that will come to pass with or without our touch, that are outside of our control, but your fate, your life, is all up to you.

I know. What a useless cliché. But hear me out:

When you’re frustrated and feeling low, you develop mental blindspots. It looks like you’re stuck, like you can’t go anywhere or do anything differently — and in terms of your environment, that might be absolutely true. The thing that you can change, though, is your approach.

Maybe you’re not stuck. Maybe you’re just biding your time.

You have the power of choice, and right now the Wheel is asking you which you will choose: will you continue to beat your head against the wall, or will you choose a different course? You don’t have to stick around to chip away at those obstacles to your success. It’s not time to tackle those problems yet. They aren’t going anywhere — leave them alone, go do something different. Have some faith — faith in fate, if you want, but most importantly, faith in yourself — that you’ll break out eventually. You bide your time and you do the work. Work on yourself; build the tools and gain the skills you will need to dismantle those obstacles to your HEA (Happily Ever After). The state of the world is out of your hands, but you’re a resourceful person — do what you can with what you have and trust that it is bringing you closer to your moment. It’s on it’s way, I assure you.

Love and light, friend,

Sarah C


 

Have a question for me to tackle? I’ve got my box of tricks open and ready to go. Hit me with your best shot at: realtalkwithsarahc@gmail.com

I have different divinatory and intuitive reading tools that I like to use. When you write to me, I’ll pick a device and use the reading to guide my advice to you. All interpretations are my own.

Press Go

I have always been afraid. The reason may have varied, but by and large I’ve bee afraid because I am constantly scanning my environment for potential threats to my person or my delicate emotional state. I’m so highly sensitive, so effected by changes in my environment, that even the slightest shift in the direction of the wind makes me perk up with anxiety. I am always wondering, waiting in that liminal space between hearing first one shoe to fall to the floor and anticipating the other. The state of suspension is fraught with the possibility of disaster. When will it be? When is the other shoe going to drop and blow up my whole world?

I’ve always been this way. I have always been waiting for the next blow the land. I try to go through the motions of daily life on guard, protecting my vulnerabilities, just in case the strike should come from someplace unforeseen. Predictability is my shield and my routine is a weapon. So long as everything stays the same, precisely the same as it has always been, I will be okay. Nothing can hurt me so long as I stay quiet and still.

This stagnation is the root cause of my stunted growth. Not much progress can be made if you’re withdrawn and protective. Instinct drives me to reach out and touch the world around me. Desire for the new, the innovative, the unexplored drives me. Fear holds me back. It’s all irrational fear, to be certain, but it’s overwhelmingly powerful. My mind repeats insistently, “If we go outside, we’ll get hurt.” If I deviate from my well-trodden path, even a little bit, I’m opening the door to disaster.

Recently, though, I invited disaster in.

I can’t say what made me do it. Perhaps it was just a change in the wind. Maybe I fooled myself into thinking that it wouldn’t be that great a leap. Either way, as soon as I gathered the courage to I step off my beaten track, I ran like the hounds of hell were at my heels.

I burned some bridges along the way. It had to be done, so no unfriendly horde could chase me down and lock me in again. I untethered myself from those people and things that have fed on my fear and incited it. Their fury is great, but my drive is greater. I can see — clearly, blessedly, finally — the path that leads to the next step. I can see my best life waiting for me at the end of that path, and the road is clear. It took one bold leap to remove me from the quagmire of doubt and onto a path of certainty. And all it took to leap was one simple command, spoken by my heart to my nervous soul: press go. And so I went.

So help me God, I’m never going to look back.

 

Miss Diagnosis

“It was never bipolar,” she said. “It has always been the fight for your life.”

I felt the room tighten in around me, the air becoming thinner and the lights dimming. This is one of those defining moments, I thought, a milestone that marks the Time Before and the Time After.

“So, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?”

Yes, she said. My presentation fit every diagnostic measure, what she called the Trifecta of Abuse Survival: a mood disorder, an anxiety disorder, and an attention deficit disorder. “Attention deficit?” I asked.

“Do you ever read a book, get down to the bottom of a page and then realize that you don’t remember anything that you just read?”

All the time. Always, ever since I was a kid. Part of why I didn’t develop a love for reading until I was a teenager — it was just too difficult.

“It’s subtle. But the inability to concentrate on tasks, or the laser-focus on a particular task to the exclusion of all others is, in fact, Attention Deficit Disorder,” she explained. She referred me to some online resources, encouraging me to read more.

“We may need to put the bipolar diagnosis out and update your treatment plan.” New meds, a new therapeutic approach.

“And people can heal from this?” I asked. Several years ago when I first heard the words ‘Bipolar Type Two’, I went through each stage in the Kubler-Ross model, though I ultimately arrived at acceptance quite peaceably. I can live with this, I thought. I rearranged my entire perception of self to accommodate this new truth. Slowly, this diagnosis became part of my identity. It lead me to reach out to others with the disease, introduced me to a community of people fighting against the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. It’s part of the reason why I started this blog, to contribute to the dialogue on living with mental illness. And now this woman was telling me that I didn’t have what I thought I had. And that while Bipolar was certainly chronic and could get progressively worse, C-PTSD can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, and my symptoms could actually get better.

To use a common parlance: I was shook.

My treatment took on a new direction. My medications were altered. I started to feel better, and I felt empowered to make some much needed changes in my life. I eliminated certain influences from my orbit and I opened up to a few people about what I was going through. But in my excitement, I overdid it. I overshared and the subsequent feeling of caustic exposure grounded me for weeks. My therapist cautioned me to be selective during this process. Feelings of vulnerability might be assuaged by confiding in trusted friends, but there is a fine line in my psyche between calming and alarming. I spun back in the other direction and reigned myself in, but the damage was done. I felt raw and unsafe. I had betrayed my own confidence in underestimating the underlying brutality of latent trauma.

There were other considerations that failed to draw my attention. To the small degree that I am a public figure in my community, people did what they are inclined to do, and drew their own conclusions about what was going on behind the scenes. I found myself excluded from the narrative being shared about my life, my motivations, and who I am as a person. The lingering effects of the abusive relationships I survived is bad enough, but to be sanctioned in the court of public opinion for opting out of continuing abuse has been a tough pill to swallow. A friend told me I ought to lay low, and I did, though evidently not low enough.

In keeping this blog I’ve tried to contribute something meaningful to the writing and the mental health advocacy communities, and I have even succeeded on occasion, as people I didn’t know reached out to tell me that something I wrote had touched them. Even a few people I do know gave me positive feedback and encouraged me to keep going. And I did, so long as the abatement of fear held out, but I think that time is over for now.

When I started this blog, I thought that it was a terribly decadent thing, to think that writing about my life could be important. I thought that it might be cathartic for me, and that combined with social media outreach I could make some meaningful connections. And I did, definitely, but now the tide has shifted and I feel small and afraid. Exposed. And my only instinct is to make myself smaller, so small as to no longer be seen. Maybe that’s the best way to bookend this particular journey: I arrived and I opened my life. Now I must exit, and my life shall be closed. I’m going to escape to a place where I can feel safe again, and I hope that you, whoever you are, are able to do the same.

Hot Topics

I love true crime, and disaster documentaries, and crime procedurals. My husband thinks my interest is a little baffling. “Baby, why do you watch this stuff when you know you have anxiety?” Well, a couple of reasons: one, it’s fascinating and I enjoy it. My interest in true crime, et. al. predates the onset of my mental health problems. (Blame that early, parentally irresponsible, exposure to Unsolved Mysteries and Rescue 911 in the 90s.) And two, it’s part of a complex coping mechanism that can actually help lessen my anxiety by giving me the illusionary feeling of being prepared for the worst. It’s almost as if I can shield myself and those I love from terrible things with the knowledge of the absolute worst case scenario. (I know this is a logical fallacy. Just bear with me.)

My fascination with true crime in particular started shortly after I witnessed a horrible crime for myself. I was young and too ill-equipped to cope with the trauma I had experienced. Like many survivors, the idea that I could arm myself with knowledge of how bad the world can actually get occurred to me organically over time. That was over twenty years ago, but my fascination with the genre has persisted, and is what lead me to start listening to a new podcast a few months ago, called My Favorite Murder. This podcast, produced by Feral audio and featuring Karen Killgariff and Georgia Hardstark, is every late-night conversation you’ve had with your best friend after watching a horror movie or catching up on grim news stories. It’s true crime and comedy coming together in the holiest of unholy unions. I was instantly hooked.

I loved the podcast right away, but I knew I needed to take it easy and avoid binge-listening. I am already a regular consumer of other true crime media, and I am aware that I have to ration myself or risk an emotional crash. I’m one of those “highly sensitive personality” people you may have heard about — sometimes I empathize a little too much and a little too strongly. I’m just hard-wired that way. So, that plus PTSD, anxiety, and bipolar disorder can be a potent cocktail. Many times I have had to stop watching a show, return a book, or unplug from a story because it became too triggering for me. I usually don’t mind missing out. If it’s a news story or a true crime story, I can usually find out the interesting bits by researching the event using sources that are less graphic. That being said, trigger warnings are nice. It takes so little and offers so much potential relief. For instance, one of my other favorite true crime podcasts, Sword and Scale, not only offers a trigger warning at the beginning of each episode, they even tell you the nature of the potential trigger. So if you, like me, find violence against children particularly abhorrent, you know to skip this episode and listen to the one about Ted Bundy instead. Win-win!

Recently on the Facebook group page for My Favorite Murder, someone suggested having a document to keep track of potential trigger warnings for each episode of the podcast. She suggested it as a kindness to those in the fandom who live with PTSD and offered to do the bulk of the work herself. Stand-up gal, in my humble opinion. But because this is the Internet and we simply cannot have nice things, she was immediately dog-piled on.

le sigh.

It is a universal but often unacknowledged truth that human beings struggle to see the value in things that don’t personally effect their lives (I’m looking at you, anti-gay/anti-trans rights dickholes), but this sentiment coming from a group of people that are supposedly all about helping each other feel safe in an unsafe world is just preposterous.

In the early episodes of the podcast, the hosts, Karen and Georgia, speak to this issue directly when they explain how talking over true instances of horrible depravity and human aberration helps them feel as if they have some modicum of control in the chaos, because to know about what humanity is capable of is to be prepared, in a sense. The tag line of the show reflects this:

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#SSDGM

The Facebook fan page is replete with stories of listeners, usually women, who took the lessons of their fallen sisters to heart: “I said FUCK POLITENESS and got the fuck out” of a dangerous situation that might have otherwise ended in her being harmed.

These stories are celebrated with thousands of Likes and comments, but for some reason, when the hive mind is pushed to recognize that the “stay sexy don’t get murdered” message of the podcast is sometimes inaccessible for those individuals who have actually been victims of trauma, people get pissy.

While I was watching this conversation unfold on the fan page, it occurred to me that I don’t know why nuerotypical, able-bodied persons get so touchy when people with illnesses and disabilities start asking for accommodations. It’s as if our presence makes them so uncomfortable that the mere suggestion of it is too much to handle: “No I will NOT give you any trigger warnings. It interferes with my ability to pretend you don’t exist!”

Perhaps it isn’t that they want to ignore us, but they are actually hyper-aware of our existence and are thereby deeply offended by our collective “weakness”: “The world owes you nothing. Nobody treats me with kid gloves, so why should you be the exception?” This is actually the most common refrain I see from people who criticize the movement for ending the stigma surrounding mental illness. Their comments typically take the form of “well, just don’t do the thing” or “why are you so sensitive/sad/anxious?” or “it’s all in your head”. “If you don’t like/can’t participate in X, do something else.” “Pick yourself up by the bootstraps!” “You could ‘mind over matter’ this problem if you really wanted to.” The list of microaggressions is infinite. All of the typical victim-blaming bullshit that puts the onus of responsibility squarely back in the shoulders of the disadvantaged party to not only justify and defend their experience, but also to prove their need for accommodation and their right to be a full, equal participant in the world around them. Apparently, some people don’t see the value in equal access — because the world ought to be more dog-eat-dog, every man for himself, and fuck PC culture too, right? I mean, until you yourself need public assistance or SSDI or find yourself part of a marginalized group, that is.

cartoon
Intolerance first, ask questions never.

Honestly, why are people without disabilities so threatened by the other half? It isn’t as if we’re really asking anything substantial of you, just some compassion and some consideration. It doesn’t cost you anything, except perhaps a little time and a little energy. Whats the problem with that? This situation in particular is even more confounding: the poster was asking nothing of anyone! Simply posing a suggestion that she thought could be helpful.

Trivializing the experiences of survivors and those with disabilities is not only cruel to the individual, it is also undermines our society as a whole. When we cite “PC culture” and scream obscenities at “social justice warriors”, we are doing ourselves a disservice. Instead of empowering those who have been victimized, we are emboldening the perpetrators to continue mistreating others and shirking responsibility for their actions. The world is scary and dangerous enough, what with super volcanoes being overdue to detonate, and serial killers on the rampage, and Donald Trump in the White House; do we really need to make our surroundings more hostile by attacking each other? Let alone attacking each other over the mere suggestion of increased compassion for others — that just doesn’t make one lick of sense. We can do better, y’all.

Onward in 2017

2016 was a harrowing experience in many ways for many people. Personally, I have been blessed with health and prosperity this year, though I have watched current events unfold with great sadness and concern. The awfulness of 2016 seemed to happen all around and just outside of my life and the experience tested my personal endurance to witness suffering.

I’m grateful, though, not only for the stability and good fortune that I and my loved ones enjoyed this past year, but also for the learning and growth I experienced as a world citizen. In the last twelve months, I had my eyes opened to the machinations of many systems of oppression and circumstances of inequality that have made me angry, uncomfortable, and desperately sad in turn. I began to identify privileges and prejudices in my self and in those around me that I never recognized before, and felt empowered to work against them. For the first time in my life, I really started to pay attention to the events happening on the global stage.

I can’t say that I didn’t sometimes feel the immediate need to turn inward and cocoon myself from all the ugliness that the world had to offer — when I was too raw, too disappointed, I utilized my unique privilege as a white, cisgender, American female to withdraw from it all, and just listen.

That’s the most important thing I learned this year: the importance and the value of shutting up, and listening.

At BlogHer ‘16, I attended a transformational panel on the value of, and how to be, an ally. It was delightful, powerful, and humbling. Ultimately, one of the primary effects on my person following BlogHer was to stop blogging as much. Yes, I was busy with work, newly pregnant, and lazy, but I was also suddenly very aware of the terrible inconsequentiality of the whole thing. As I said in my very first post upon launching The Real Sarah C, “how wonderfully self-important of me”, to establish this soapbox for my own personal use, when all of the things that I want to write about, all of the things that I think ought to be read about and discussed, are not things that are happening to, around, or within me. I started reading and talking to the people that were “in the trenches”, and I stopped writing quite as much. It just wasn’t that fulfilling anymore.

I don’t know what, if anything, will change in 2017. Not just for me — will I continue to write for myself? Which causes will I become involved in? — but for all of us. There’s been a lot of hand-wringing going on in the last few weeks since the presidential election. And I get it — I’m not pleased with the outcome either, but I’m hopeful. Not just because I have this annoying tendency toward eternal optimism, but because of the tremendous response from all corners of our world. People are awake; not all, and not always in the ways they need to be, but I see some progress. That alone is worth celebrating. And all of the work we have left to do, that’s worth looking forward to.

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off

This election cycle took a whole hell of a lot out of me before the coup de grâs last night: an unapologetic bigot, racist, rapist was actually elected to the highest political station of our country. Finally, this horrible election is over, but I feel no relief. Instead, I have been looking forward to the future with increasing anxiety and fear, much like many of my friends and neighbors. 

I acknowledge, though, that my fear is largely a result of the unknown. I, as a white, cisgender, educated female, stand to lose very little personally if President Fuckface makes good on the promises upon which he founded his campaign. I might lose my healthcare, but my family could work that out if we needed to. I’m middle-class and self-employed, so my family might end up paying more taxes, but we could handle that, I think. The fact that my family has the ability to think around and plan for contingencies just illustrates our tremendous privilege. I hope that we can use that privilege for the good of others, but more on that in a minute. My point is this: yes, we all have skin in the game, but for some Americans, their very lives in this country are at stake. 

I might be afraid in an existential sense, but as I look over my Facebook and my Twitter feeds this morning, I realize that the majority of people in my social sphere; my friends, my chosen family, colleagues, neighbors; woke up this morning in a country that is no longer safe for them. Their ways of living are threatened because the people in power and the powers that be have asserted on a national level, without fear of reprisal or natural born shame, that their “differentness” is a threat. 

My step-dad was Jewish. We once had a long conversation about what it was like to face anti-Semitism in the modern era. He told me stories about his grandparents, victims of the Holocaust and eventual immigrants to the United States; how they came here for asylum but continued to face adversity. All because the powerful majority had ceased on the idea that Jews were a dangerous minority, a threat to the “common good”. My step-dad was the first adult to ever open my sweet, sheltered eyes to the reality that bigotry and discrimination never go away — it goes underground for a while until the popular opinion comes around in support of hate, and then the gross underbelly of humanity rears its ugly head. 

We have work to do.

Of course it isn’t that most people are “bad” or “evil”. Most people aren’t even bigoted, at least not in a conscious sense. We are products of a system of oppression that goes far beyond what our parents and teachers taught us about right and wrong. I agree with David Wong’s point in this article: the majority of people who voted for Trump are not racist or misogynistic. They are all feeling disadavantaged and frustrated and worried about their livelihoods and the safety of their families. They are thinking about their immediate social circle, their “monkey sphere”, and making decisions based on desperation. Our political machine thrives on fear and distrust — that’s what this election has clearly illustrated, and now we must all confront the consequences of our short-sightedness. 

So what now?

I’ve been looking for answers to that question since I woke up this morning at three o’clock, unable to sleep while my mind mulled over this new reality. I like the ideas discussed in this Huffington Post article. I think we owe it to one another to be a little kinder, a little gentler, because we are all raw in the aftermath of this election because no body really won. We need to love each other, because boastfulness, distrust, and blame will only take us farther away from the America that we want to see in the coming years. We can’t just turn away and shake our heads in disappointment — we have to keep going to work. Volunteer, donate, be an ally. Keep moving forward.

I’ll admit: I am having a hard time galvanizing myself for the fight. Last night at dinner, I overheard a woman at another table causally mention that she hopes to see Roe v. Wade overturned in the new year. Her words hit me like a threat of violence hurled across a battlefield: no one has the right to tell me or any other woman what to do with her body, and I am petrified that the minimal protections we have currently could be repealed. From that moment on, I felt myself looking at passers-by as though they were strangers, potentially dangerous threats to my safety, my daughters’ safety, and the safety of those I love. The outcome of this election has made me distrustful of my community, even living as I do in the liberal enclave of Hawaii. Fear will do that to a person, I suppose.

I see the anger and frustration of oppressed members of my community, and I feel helpless. Hopeless. And then I feel like a hopeless, over-privileged fuck because of course I am helpless. These communities have been suffering silently since forever, their experiences cheapened and mocked for the peace of mind of the majority. Michael Moore’s “morning after” to-do list points out that we must “Fire all pundits, predictors, pollsters and anyone else in the media … bloviators will now tell us we must “heal the divide” and “come together.” They will pull more hooey like that out of their ass in the days to come. Turn them off.” Because honestly, how can we possibly be expected to come together and heal when we have failed each other so grievously, time and time again?

I’m going to have to work long and hard to unpack that irrational fear and use it to build something constructive. As I mentioned, one of the most important things moving forward will be to lend increased support to marginalized and oppressed groups, to use my privilege to amplify their voices and concerns. Education and awareness are key, along with empathy. I will teach my daughters to love, to know, to will, and to be boisterous. I will teach them treat others with kindness, even if they look different, if they love differently, if they believe differently — even when those differences are diametrically opposed to every value you hold dear. I will teach them by word and by example to use their privilege constructively and without fear. 

I’m making a commitment to confront the next four years, and whatever else may come, with tenacity if not hope. It’s not enough to say “this is in God’s hands”, “trust that whatever comes is part of a divine plan”. We can’t rely on God to fix what we broke, but with any luck, we will eventually be able to rely on each other. We still have the opportunity to “continue working for change, continue standing up for what is right, continue facing hate with an unflinching gaze and steady hand — with action, with compassion, with standing on the side of all that is good in people.” So don’t panic

Okay, just, like try your best not to panic.

Bounce Back

I’ve been trying for months to spit out some words. I have started and then failed to complete any number of thoughts in a way that would be, best case scenario, marginally intelligible to readers. I had more or less given up on the idea of creating useful or insightful content, primarily because every concept I entertained eventually slipped through my sieve-like mind. The mental fog has been so great, I haven’t been able to string words together, let alone thoughts.

There were times when the desperation felt so great, I didn’t want to write at all. I crawled over each task on my belly and every word I attempted to write felt like mountain in a long, desolate range than stretched as far as I could see in either direction. Naively, I believed I was just tired, overwhelmed with work and the stress of raising a toddler. I didn’t see how my mental health was spiraling out of my control until I was on the precipice of a crisis.

The signs of a major depression are known to me and have been for a long time, but I still managed to take the sadness, the intolerance, the anger and loss of interest for granted. Recently, when my behavior escalated into full-blown mania, I couldn’t pretend that I was getting by anymore. Hard to feel healthy and grounded when your mind is propelling you straight into the sun.

I’ve been telling myself to that I need to bounce back. Pick yourself up by the bootstraps and move on. Just get up off of the floor. Stop doing this — get. up.

Every day I am trying very hard to be here.

I recognize that there will always be times that life leaves you in places of despair. This time, in attempts to insulate from those places and those people,  I chose to withdraw back into myself, knowing it was a risk. But I have tried to withdraw in the direction of the Right Things: my husband, my child, my work, my tribe. I have been trying to care for myself the way a mother would, because I know that I need caring for.

“You have to find a mother inside of yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still need to find this part of ourselves inside.”
– Sue Monk Kidd, from The Secret Life of Bees

I am searching for that part of me inside that is going to push me to bounce back in the way that I must. The woman who will nurture me and encourage me to try something new. To turn away from relationships and loves that no longer feed my soul. I am trying to identify that voice inside that says, “Get up. Breathe. You can do this. Don’t sell yourself short. Just breathe. Breathe, and go eat a good meal, and wash your hair, and then get in bed early. Get up in the morning at a reasonable time. Go to work. Do your best like you always do. Work, and work on you. And work on those things that are important to you. Brush yourself and the naysayers right off. Trust that you are a good mother. Trust that you know what you’re doing is right, because you know what’s right for you. Leave fair-weather friends behind, and then forgive them. And then forgive yourself, because you are worthy of being loved just as you are, which is just as I made you. Circle back in on yourself when you need to, but grow. And live. And love. And at the end of every day, let your final take-away be this: My darling girl, look how far you have come.