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.

A Little Hallelujah 

He’s come. My little hallelujah. My littlest, most desperate prayer, answered. My Tiny Hal:

Thank you, God. Thank you god. Thank you GOD. 

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Crisis

Crisis. An interesting word when you hear it or speak it over and over again to yourself in a short period of time, am I in crisis? I am in a crisis. A mental health crisis, meaning, a moment in time where I am a potential danger to myself, if not others. A moment in which my ability to make sound decisions has come into question. A crisis of consciousness — as in I have TOO MUCH OF IT on account of the fact that I very much want to not exist anymore, not now, not in this moment. I don’t want to be here anymore.

The first year after we lost my stepfather, I would wake up in the apartment that I shared with my mom, his wife, where we lived together still surrounded by his things and when she was in crisis I would sit with her until it passed. In the year after her death, I would be in significant moments of crisis as my boyfriend slumbered peacefully in the bed beside me as I sunk to floor in the cold moonlight and desperately tried to make peace with the sudden terrible desire to die, hating him a little bit for being oblivious to the tempest raging in the room beside him. And now I am here: hours post-triggering event, still slowly circling the drain of my consciousness just waiting to fall off the edge into what? I don’t know. It never occurred to me to care aside from my literary sensibilities warning me away from the phrase “into oblivion” — if you must be crazy, try not be be crazy and also a cliche. Make no mistake, though, that is what I want: nothingness. Perhaps not forever, but just until the storm, this “crisis” passes.

Even if the crisis never passes because it is ME I am the critical component here and the harbinger of my own descent into madness. I am the failure. I am the reason for my own sadness.

I just want to hurt in a way that I can see and touch. A pain that I can feel on the inside and the outside. I want to grasp something tangible and say THIS. This hurts, it is injured and it gives me pain and because I can touch it with my hands not only am I positive that it is real and that it is there, but I am also confident that it will heal someday. It’s a strange sort of drive that makes a person want to harm themselves — mostly, I think, it is the innate desire to have one’s insides match their outsides.

In the middle of the storm, I recorded a few of my racing thoughts. The state of crisis lasted for a few days, which felt bizarre at the time. I think that I have often considered a “crisis” to be a singular moment of tragedy, a precipitating event for a Before and an After. However, after this crisis was triggered, I saw that it bloomed into a complete mental and physical state that took several days to subside. Days during which I didn’t know exactly where I was, except for the few brief moments of clarity and presentness that punctuated the dark.

I caused myself physical harm in that time. Self-harm has been a constant blip on my radar for years, but it’s been manageable. During my crisis, the desire to self-harm bowled me over, seducing me with promises of equilibrium. Where I once felt that I was spinning out of control, my focus narrowed and concentrated on a single point in time, a singular feeling of physical pain that obliterates all other sensation from my mind. In that moment, it was a welcome reprieve, but in the bright light of day I was disappointed and ashamed of myself — not only because I had resorted to self-harm, but because I had allowed myself to be triggered and suffer a crisis at all.

I like to envision myself as fairly invincible. I frequently imagine myself in horrible situations and think myself through the step-by-step reactions I would deploy to control and ultimately survive the situation. In my own mind, I am capable of withstanding absolutely anything. In life, however, I find myself wanting. It becomes clear to me that I am not, in fact, invincible.. I am actually vulnerable and weak, and in many ways, defunct.

I can’t get pregnant. My body seems to have forgotten how to make itself a host for a new life. Despite trying for over a year, we’ve come no closer to growing our family, and I know that it’s my fault. I can’t get pregnant and my heart is broken. This isn’t how it was supposed to be. I think back to all those times as a teenager, my girlfriends and I taking turns with the awful possibility that we had gotten in trouble. Too young to be mothers, so we prayed and prayed please God don’t let me be pregnant. Now all the manic energy that went into counting the days until we bled has been translated into a deep emotional clenching trying to hold it in and support a life that we are desperate to give birth to. There was a genetic legacy that I was rather depending on, that I have since been discouraged from cashing in. None of the women in my family have been infertile; at least, not that I’m aware of. One of the last things my mother ever told me what was a good mother I would be someday, speculating how easy for me it would be to get pregnant once I was ready, and I believed her, of course, because mother knows best.

So now a new crisis: a crisis of faith. Ever the believer, ever the hopeless optimistic, I’ve not yet given up the dream. But it has cost me no small measure of peace to hold on with such determination, as if I could, by sheer force of will, make myself conceive. It’s ridiculous. I am no Mary and there is no reason to expect Divine Intervention. After all, it’s not exactly uncommon. Secondary infertility, the inability to become pregnant despite previous successes, happens to a fair share of women. Though if I’m honest with my myself, the birth of our daughter nearly three years ago is truly nothing short of a miracle. We struggled to get pregnant, and I struggled to carry her past those first tremulous weeks where it seemed all too likely that she would just slip away, out of my body and out of existence. It would appear that Moira, fated to be born, was the exception, and that my wasted body, this useless mass of flesh, has no miracles left to give.

Every wretched cramp that twists my insides, every drop of wasted blood, every excited announcement of another woman’s fecundity is a thorn in my side. Salt in the wound. I am so angry, I want to scream at someone. I want to make another person feel as hurt, as dispossessed as I feel. I want to give this grief a name and a purpose and to make this pain wearable, apparent. I want everyone to know I’m a fucking open wound, just walking around, waiting to hurt.

And then, the guilt. As I’m reeling through these feelings of loss and failure, a part of me comes to attention to remind me, with cruel alacrity, that I am not, in fact, as disenfranchised as I may feel. I have a beautiful daughter. I have a wonderful career that I love, and a family that loves me, and there are starving people in China, for crissakes, so what’s your fucking problem? You are not a victim. I am not a victim of anything or anyone except myself. I ought to be focusing in on the good things in my life with humility and gratitude. After all, there are scores of women out there, some of whom are close friends, who have been unable to conceive at all. At least I have one child. One perfect, lovely, intelligent, beautiful child. I shouldn’t be so selfish, so greedy, as to wish for more.

But it just isn’t fair. Perhaps it’s the Libra in me, this constant preoccupation with fairness that so brutally trips me up when life becomes chaotic and unreasonable, as it is wont to do. Life isn’t fair, of course, and I know that. But I’m stubbornly resistant to the notion, unwilling to capitulate to fate. I reckon that if I do everything right — if I eat right, I exercise, I keep healthy, I take my vitamins; whatever — if I do all the right things, then I ought to get the outcome that I want. That’s how we’re often taught to look at problems, excepting for those insurmountable challenges that are so far out of our hands that we are instead told that it’s God, or the Universe, or Fate, that will decide. Just be patient. Relax. Whatever is meant to be will be.

What rubbish.

I am, or at least, I have considered myself to be, a spiritual person, but instances like this test my faith. It incenses me to hear that “God has a plan” or “You never know what the Universe has in store for you.” Bullshit. I have plans. My plans aren’t good enough for God? The Universe is withholding my happiness from me because It knows better? Ridiculous!

These are the uncharitable, heathenous thoughts that intrude upon me every waking moment. I am painfully aware of how unreasonable my sadness and frustration have made me. As this writing has proven, I vacillate between petulance and shame frequently. I am struggling to float, let alone rise above the tide. Yes, I ought to deploy some focused gratitude, and center myself around what is really important. Yes, I am at the mercy of my biochemistry in some respects, but I am responsible for how I respond to the changes in the tide. I am aware of these truths and more, but the sadness and disappointment are indefatigable and merciless. I am as trapped within my spotty mind as I am within my troubled body. What is broken cannot always be mended.

 

Keto

Some people close to us are aware that Hubby and I have been trying over a year for Baby #2, without any luck. Last week, I was finally able to see a doctor to discuss my concerns, which he took seriously enough (thank goodness) to order tests. But after he had done that, he sat down with me and explained, “You know, it could be nothing more or less than your weight.” Oh. Yeah. That.

Look, I have never been thin. Even a hundred pounds ago, I thought I was fat. I have always thought that I am fat. I’ve talked about this before, how in the aftermath of losing my parents and struggling with my mental health, I ballooned up to 230 pounds in just a year. I got back down to 200, and then I got pregnant. After that, I figured, what’s the point in killing myself to lose the baby weight if I’m just going to get pregnant again in two years?

And there’s the rub: I’m not pregnant. I have been able to conceive. And it might be all my fault — well, my treacherous body’s fault, anyway.

So I took the doctor’s words to heart: I walked straight out of his office and into a new diet. I have to try, at the very least, or the medical community at large will never acquiesce to helping us have another baby, if it so happens that we need to try IVF or something like that in future. Friends of mine have had great success with the low-carb diet route. One of my close friends has been on the ketogenic diet and it gave her great results, so I decided to start there. Also, I have been on my share of diets in the past, but low-carb was never on the menu. I LOVE CARBS. I love bread, and pasta, and potatoes, and fried things, and you can take them away from me after prying my cold, dead fingers apart. BUT — eye on the prize. If I’m going to have better results, I need to try something different than anything I have ever done before.

I decided to start on a Friday, since I have heard the first few days of this transition can be hellacious. I didn’t want to be at work while going through literal withdrawal from carbs and sugar.

Day One: ALL THE CHEESE
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I can totally do this. I can totally live on cheese and meat and cream and vegetables. Om nom nom!
By lunch I have run out of no-carb options in the house. This place is Carbohydrate Hell.

I resolve to go to the market as soon as possible and start scouring the web for every low-carb/no-carb food item that I will need.

Day Two: Espresso with Heavy Cream
Not a bad way to start the day, since I am already sick and tired of eggs. Not even the avocado on top can make them easier to choke down.

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And you have no idea how much I want that romaine to be a baguette. No. Idea.

Went to the store and bought all the things the Internet said I would need for this diet. I am going to be very poor until I reach my goal.

Day Three: I Hate Eggs

I feel like death. I have no energy, I’m nauseated, and my brain is fuzzy. Today’s highlight was my friend, Steph, resident keto guru, coming over and cooking for me. She made a great soup with beef, cabbage, and mushrooms. Still, I have not felt satisfied by anything I’ve eaten in the past three days. I am not hungry. I feel pretty full actually, but, emotionally and mentally,  I feel empty.

Day Four: Food is for the Weak

I have transcended the need for physical sustenance. Coffee with heavy cream and water are all I need. All day, I have felt a physical aversion to all other (keto-friendly) foods that is reminiscent of my first few months of pregnancy. In the meantime, I stepped off an elevator today and caught a strong whiff of pizza (Sunway’s Flatizza to be exact). My reaction was akin to Edward Cullen’s psychopathy upon smelling Bella’s blood for the first time. That poor Sandwich Artist didn’t know what hit him.

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But instead of draining his life blood, I ordered a salad. Good on me.

Day Five:
I am too bitchy to come up with anything pithy to say about today. Today sucked.

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But here’s a picture of my dinner, if it makes you happy. Asshole.

Day Six: Naughty Rice

The world is not a friendly place for the no-carb syndicate. I didn’t have time to pack a lunch, so I had to go hunt for a keto-friendly option at the mall. I settled on a poke bowl, figuring that I could just toss the one dollar worth of rice at the bottom.

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Tempt me not, white demon!

And so help me God, I tried, but that delicious white sushi rice called to me in a voice both forbidden and tantalizing — I couldn’t help myself!

I had a few bites and then I threw it out. And maybe I cried a little. Whatever. Don’t judge me!

Day Seven: Finally Feeling Human Again

After a full week of keto, I finally feel like I’m coming out from under the fog. My disposition has evened out some, and I don’t feel perpetually angry. Though I’m still a little salty over all the things I enjoy that I can’t eat right now. I see the results of ketosis, though not necessarily weight loss results. Of course, I haven’t weighed myself, but I do feel a little less bloated than I did a week ago, as if my body were a balloon that is slowly losing its air. I feel cautiously optimistic. Aside from the ill-begotten rice from yesterday, I haven’t slipped up — not EVEN when offered a free gourmet cupcake.

I have never been a successful dieter, but maybe that’s because I never had a reason to be: I’ve been healthy; low cholesterol, low blood pressure; all of these years, despite gaining a considerable amount of weight. I have body dysmorphia issues going way back — I’ve never been proud of the way I look. But gaining a hundred pounds over ten years has forced me to make my peace with that. I will never be thin. I will always be curvy. And clearly, no matter what size my jeans are, I’ll always feel fat. So I came to the conclusion that I had to love myself regardless. I had to love my fattiness. I’m still not the poster child for body-positivity, but I did a pretty decent job of cultivating that unconditional love for myself since M was born.

I’m proud of that achievement, and to my benefit, it has nothing to do with what I’m attempting now. I’m not trying to get thin. I’m not doing this to look or feel better — I looked and felt fine while I was eating carbs with every meal, thank you very much. No, I’m doing this to get my body in gear to host another life, to get my insides on board with my reproductive plan. That’s a very salient with specific goal for me to focus in on. And as anyone who knows me can attest to: I can be quite tenacious when pursuing my goals.

That being said, I’m also conceding some points relating to my health that I have long ignored: I have an unhealthily emotional relationship with food. I self-medicate frequently and with abandon. So that’s something I’m going to need to work on even after my end-goal is reached. I need to get on-top of my manic binge-eating. I need to make healthier choices and be a better role model for my daughter. I know all of these things, but they are not as easy to fix as my endocrinological system might be. At the end of the day, I’m still a work in progress. But hey, at least there is progress to be had.

Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award

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On January 8th, I received my nomination for the Sisterhood of World Bloggers Award from my friend and colleague, Katy, over at CoffeeTattoos. I am honored to have been recognized by her in this way, and excited to share the following insights with my readers, as well as nominate the writers whom I enjoy reading the most.


The Rules:

  • Thank the blogger who gave you the award and link back to their blog.
  • Answer the ten questions given to you.
  • Nominate 10 bloggers for the award.
  • Write 10 questions for your nominees to answer.
  • Display the award on your blog or post.

My Answers:

  1. If you could have lunch with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? Why? What would you talk about?
    My first thought when I read this question was, of course, I’d want to have lunch with my mom. It isn’t that exciting an answer, and it’s certainly predictable, but there it is. She passed away when I was 21, and I’ve lived a fair bit of life since then. I’m also more open now, at 30, to her advice and experience than I was before. I would love to be able to sit down with her and have a candid discussion about motherhood, marriage, and becoming your own person.
  2. What are your blogging goals for 2016?
    In 2016 I would like to be able to invest more time into the Real Sarah C and deliver some good content. Though this blog began as a personal venture designed to provide myself with a constructive way to sort out my thoughts and emotions, it has taken on a life of its own. Readers who have contacted me to say that they are inspired, comforted, or amused by things that I have written have, in turn, inspired me to write more and to write more meaningfully.
  3. How are you feeling, emotionally, about the year ahead?
    Excited. Scared. As 2015 came to a close, I made some big life changes in regards to my work as a sign language interpreter, and I’m thrilled to see how things manifest in the next year. By that same token, however, life is more mutable than it has ever been, which is a challenge for someone like me. I frequently crave stability, but find myself bored with the status quo.
  4. When do you think people should have to decide what they want to do with their life? Is 18 too young?
    I don’t think anyone should ever be required to set their life course down in stone. That isn’t the way that life works in general, so why should your career or your education be laid out in a brick path before you? And certainly not at so young an age. When I look back on myself at 18 (not that it was so long ago), I see very few similarities between that girl and the woman I am now. To be perfectly frank, I’m not sure that I would trust my 18-year-old self with any decisions that would have impacted my present or my future. In that way, I’m grateful that I waited a few years before I made concrete plans.
  5. Why do you think there is so much stigma surrounding mental illness, admitting that you need help, and getting said help?
    First and foremost, people are afraid of what they don’t understand, and I find that this commonality is the genesis for more social stigmas. Depiction of mental illness in the media also plays a huge part in the misrepresentation of those with mental illness, by propagating unrealistic expectations and stereotypes. For those who have a mental illness, or fear that they do, the perceived backlash from their community is often enough to cause them to delay or even completely deny any help. Cultural values and societal norms are also extremely powerful influences.
  6. Do you believe in love at first sight or soulmates?
    Yes and no. I don’t believe that you can really fall in love with someone at first sight — at least not in the way that I have experienced love. To me, true love, whether romantic or platonic, requires a great deal of trust to be established, and that doesn’t happen overnight. Soulmates, though, are easier to believe in. I have certainly felt that there are people in my life who have completed me in some sense. I am not sure, however, if I believe in the idea of one soulmate, one partner, out of the billions of people on Earth. I think it is possible, even beneficial, to have more than one soulmate.
  7. Is there anything you want to write about on your blog but you’re afraid to? If so, I think you should write about that for one of your next posts.
    I appreciate the encouragement! Fear bridles me, as desire pushes me forward — there are things that I have in my heart that weigh heavily on my mind, that may not ever be fully articulated. I’m afraid of hurting people, of revealing too much, or acting rashly. I never publish anything that I haven’t given a great deal of thought to. That said, there are also a number of things I have considered publishing that will need to wait for their moment.
  8. When it comes to kids wanting to dye their hair (any color) or pierce their cartilage or nose when they’re in middle or high school, would you let your child do that? Why or why not?
    Absolutely. I believe that your body is your canvas, and body modification, if that’s something you’re into, is an important method of self-expression, particularly when you’re young and looking for ways to express yourself. As a parent, I would rather my daughter dye her hair pink and pierce her nose than become rebellious and sullen. The only exception would be tattoos, which are permanent (or at least, very difficult to remove) and expensive. Save those kinds of modifications for later in life when you are more stable.
  9. When it comes to planners, what do you do? Do you use a bullet journal, Erin Condren, Filofax, etc? Or if you don’t use one of those, take a few minutes to research them all and tell me what you would like to start using.
    Every year since I was 16 I have purchased a Llewellyn Witches Calendar. I keep track of important dates, appointments, and family events alongside the lunar phases, astrological events, and other witchy data. Since starting my freelancing business, I also make use of the Google Calendar to keep track of all of my assignments, in addition to appointments, birthdays, and so on. This year, though, I added a Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook in order to have everything written down and in my purse with me throughout the day. I find it easier to plan and take notes when I have it on paper.
  10. What was your favorite nonfiction book that you read in 2015? How did you find it? Who wrote it? What was it about?
    I read Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree, a book of essays by the other based on his interactions with families with children that belong to separate cultures than their parents, due to a disability or other differences. I initially read a review of the book in the newspaper and was interested in reading it due to my work with the Deaf community. Solomon had, in fact, devoted a full section of his book to hearing families who are raising deaf children, and their search for identity. I enjoyed that part of the book immensely, and was able to use some of the information therein during my work with Deaf adults and children. The other sections of the book were also very eye-opening, particularly the parts about families living with severe mental illnesses.

 

My Nominees:

Undoubtedly, some of these lovely people have already been nominated by others, but I said I’d nominate those writers who I admire most, and so I will:

Sarah Fader
Nicole Lyons
The Bloggess
Van by the River
Caffffienated
Nomad
Blue Aventurine
Lori Schafer
Terminally Intelligent
Abby Has Issues


My Ten Questions:

  1. When you are inspired to write song lyrics on your wall, as many of us so often are, which lyrics are they, and why?
  2. What life achievement, thus far, have you accomplished that you are most proud of? Anything left that you dream of accomplishing?
  3. Do you believe that literature is a transformative force in one’s life? If so, which books or stories have been most impactful to you?
  4. Given the ability to grant yourself any superpower, which would it be and why?
  5. If you were able to transpose yourself into the body of another person anywhere in the world, who would it be and why?
  6. Describe something that has happened to you for which you have no explanation.
  7. Out of all the birthdays who have had thus far in your life, which one has been the most memorable? What made it so?
  8. Are you a collector of anything? If so, what do you collect and why?
  9. Where do you most want to travel that you have not yet been?
  10. If someone were to construct a magickal circle to summon you, what five things would they use to call you?

In Defense of Sadness

Recently, M and I sat down to watch Inside Out together and I live-tweeted it, which was fun.

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I was excited to see the film for the first time — the previews looked great and as I mental health advocate, I had high hopes for this film that would be all about getting to know your feelings. As I watched, however, I felt that, as a person who lives with a behavioral disorder, the film doesn’t really do anything positive for the representation of people who have mood disorders, who are introverted, or who are non-nuerotypical in any way. Given the positive reviews this film received from the mental health community when it was first released, I was surprised and disappointed to see that this film actually promotes several negative stigmas, particularly in regard to the character of Sadness.

In the beginning of the film, there exists only Joy — that is the first emotion to come into being inside the main character, Riley’s, newborn mind. Sadness joins shortly thereafter, in a serious reversal that I believe any parent would attest to: what newborn shows an actual capacity for happiness in their first few months, let alone moments, of being? Sorry, Disney, but most babies are just crying, pooping potatoes for the first few months of life, with nary a giggle to be seen.

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Oh yeah, that’s the face of Joy right there.

Immediately following the arrival of Sadness, the two characters are shown to be in direct opposition to each other. While Sadness seems to be largely indifferent to Joy’s presence, Joy is persistently trying to be rid of Sadness. Joy’s constant attempts to undo the presence of Sadness are troublesome. In the beginning of them film, Joy says that she doesn’t know what Sadness does, that it seems that Sadness to serves no obvious purpose (at least, compared to the other emotions), and that Joy has checked and “there’s nowhere for her to go”. That’s a very sophomoric perspective on the role of sadness in the human experience. Sadness is a very important emotional function — just as much as joy, fear, anger, or disgust. However, Joy’s complete rejection of Sadness’ utility is continually played out as she persistently bullies Sadness for simply existing.

The other emotions, Fear, Anger, and Disgust, despite being negative emotions, seem to meet with Joy’s approval because they each serve a clear and present purpose in the life of Riley. The filmmakers and writers obviously tried to increase the utility of Fear, Anger, and Disgust by having each of them appear to be multifaceted in their expression of emotional states of being. While Joy appears to embody only that which is effervescent and positive, the other Emotions are observed to act both as their functionary titles and with correlated emotions. The character of Disgust, for instance, not only represents a biologically programmed aversion to new foodstuffs, but also cattiness, sarcasm, and social acumen.

This approach by the filmmakers allows the audience a fairly intuitive grasp of the purpose of each Emotion. The character designs were carefully planned out to reinforce the correlation of the given emotion to the personified character. Fear is thin, anxious, and prone to surprise. Anger is short, stout, and blocky. Disgust is green, for crying out loud! But then, there is Sadness. Sadness is depicted as dowdy, short, and plump. She wears glasses and she’s extremely soft-spoken. Despite appearing to be well-meaning, Sadness is revealed to be a trouble-maker in the eyes of her cohorts, if an accidental one. In every way imaginable, Sadness’ character was designed to imply that she is undesirable. Additionally, by casting Sadness as the foil to Joy’s character, the writers reinforce a harmful societal value: that sadness, introvertedness, and introspection are wrong and therefore we must all strive to be happy, one-hundred percent of the time.

It’s disingenuous to portray Sadness this way. Many people, myself included, don’t experience happiness in the over-wrought, excited way in which the character of Joy is portrayed. For us, happiness comes from time spent alone, in introspection, gaining energy from our communion with ourselves. In that way, Sadness might be in my driver’s seat — but that doesn’t make me perpetually sad, and it doesn’t make me wrong. It is simply the way I best interact with the world. But instead of making her dynamic as the human experience, Inside Out’s Sadness is written as a witless castaway, unworthy of merit.

Meanwhile, Joy is clearly made out to be Riley’s primary and most desirable emotion — of course, considering the only four other options: Fear, Sadness, Anger, and Disgust — Joy is the only character that doesn’t have a negative connotation to compete with. Of course you want Joy to be in charge! You wouldn’t want any of those other bad emotions to be responsible for your world interactions, would you?

This is heavily reminiscent to me of the way that I am often treated by well-meaning extroverts: Why would you want to stay home and be sad all weekend? Because I’ve had a busy week interacting with people, and I am out of spoons. Why do you listen to that sad music? It only makes you feel worse! No, this music jives with my soul, and it is healing me.

You see, just because I experience the world differently from you, doesn’t mean that I’m wrong. I am just different. Please, allow me to be different without fear of reprisal.


 

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“Being sad reminds us how to appreciate being happy.” Yeah, no.


By the end of the film, we begin to see that Emotions can work in tandem to create memories, which is meant by the filmmakers to be a redeeming moment for Sadness and Joy. I felt less resolved, though. The film still hasn’t given Sadness a purpose except as a foil to Joy. This is a harmful dichotomy for a lot of reasons, one of which we actually see play out in the film when Riley’s mother asks her to be happy about the move for her father’s sake. The end result being that Riley internalizes her negative emotions about her family’s move (with help from Joy) until she detaches from her family completely, almost running away from home. It isn’t until Riley is permitted to feel sadness that she is able to synthesize all of the feelings she has and move on from them. That’s an important lesson for us all, but the filmmakers failed to represent it as such. Instead, we are shown that Joy fights Sadness almost to the point of obliterating them both (certainly to the point of obliterating several of Riley’s internal mental structures, memories, and processes), only to finally acquiesce to Sadness’ presence, while still failing to validate Sadness’ reason for being.

In real life (read: in all of our lives) sadness actually serves a very important purpose. Though not highly valued in our current culture, sadness and other “feel-bad” emotions help us to slow down, confront troublesome circumstances, and come to a deeper understanding of ourselves. Sadness improves your memory, heightens your better judgment, increases your motivation to enact positive changes in your life, and can, in some cases, improve your interpersonal communication. Perhaps this is why, in the film, Riley’s mother has Sadness in the driver’s seat — Sadness isn’t just about feeling blue, it’s about feeling, period. Sadness allows us the increased capacity for compassion, discernment, and responsible decision-making that makes life fruitful.

To say that Inside Out was entirely upside-down wouldn’t be fair. It’s a cute movie, it was well-animated, and it is definitely a powerful tool to give children access to the language needed to talk candidly about their feelings. But as a representation of the depth and breadth of the emotional landscape within each of us, it falls short, particularly in the eyes of this gal living with bipolar disorder.

Someday, when she is old enough to have this conversation, I will have to sit my daughter down and explain to her that Mommy’s brain doesn’t work like everyone else’s brain. I may even need to have a conversation with her, in some distant future, about how her brain doesn’t work like everyone else’s brain. This film does not give us an appropriate schema for that conversation. After all, what good does it do to tell someone besieged by sadness to “let Joy takeover”? That would not be helpful, and it would not be fair to disrespect their experience so callously. Instead, we might say, “Sadness in taking the wheel right now, because it’s a road you need to travel.”

Yuletide Blues

Christmas-time is a difficult time of year for everyone, it seems. All of the togetherness, peace, and good-will toward men comes with a grand helping of isolation, sadness, and guilt. Without meaning to, the holiday season does its damnedest to remind us all of what we’ve lost.

Christmas was a big deal to me when I was growing up. My mom was positively possessed of the holiday spirit. Every inch of our five-bedroom house was decorated; the banisters festooned with garlands, mechanical singing-and-dancing merry-go-rounds on the landing, and an eight-foot-tall tree front and center in the living room. Our hand-made stockings were hung with care o’er the fireplace with limited-edition stocking holders care of the Disney Store. Special towels and holiday-scented soaps were strategically placed in the bathrooms. Stuffed polar bears, reindeer, and Mickey Mouse in a Santa hat were my once-a-year friends. These artifacts became integral to my experience of the holiday season. Without them, the holiday felt pale, lackluster, deficient.

The year I turned eleven was the last of the great Christmases of my childhood. You just can’t stuff a two bedroom apartment with yuletide glee the same way as a two-story home. Being a child of divorce made it happen that Christmas time was more “hum-bug” than “ho-ho-ho”. As I grew, I came to realize that this meant there was no home-base to return to. No childhood bedroom filled to the rafters with relics of my past. No safe-haven to return to after a bad break-up or a fight with the roommate. There was no longer a place to safely store the artifacts my my childhood until such a time came for me to pass those things on to children of my own.

Things disappeared gradually, so much so that I didn’t realize they were missing until it was too late. I assumed the ubiquitous storage units my parents each rented when they moved separately into sad-divorcee apartment blocks would be kept in perpetuity. I assumed that both my mother and father knew, instinctively, that I was counting on keeping my great-grandmother’s china, our family albums, and other assorted pieces from around our home. I assumed that my mother’s horde of Christmas decorations was just as sacred to the adults around me as it was to me personally. In retrospect, perhaps it was all wishful thinking: I wanted these things to be true.

Things were jettisoned over time, in part out of necessity. When my mother and stepfather moved from California to Hawaii in 2003, they could only afford to ship so many things with them, and my grandmother only had room in her garage for so much. Again, I assumed that the things that were being saved and stored were the things that mattered so much to me. In the end, I won’t ever know for sure if that was true.

I came to live with Mom and Al in November of 2004. By Spring of 2008, they were both gone, consumed by separate but voracious illnesses. When Al went, we kept everything. A closet full of aloha shirts, a silver menorah, and a baby grand piano neither of us could play. When Mom got sick two years later, the decision was made that she would move back to the Mainland for treatment and stay with her mother. The piano went with her, but a great deal of Al’s other belongings were passed on to his daughters or donated. We boxed up our whole apartment, including most of my journals, photo albums, and knick-knacks — I was going to live in a much smaller place with a roommate and I wouldn’t have space for it all. I assumed (what was that thing your mother always said about assuming…) that everything would be stored at Grandma’s house, next to great-grandma’s china and Mom’s Christmas Horde. After Mom was gone, it gave me comfort to know that once I was a real grown-up, I could go retrieve those vestiges of our shared past.

We lost a great many things in that fire that consumed my mother’s life. She was more than just the person that gave birth to us. She was our home and the lynch-pin that held our family together. Our greatest cheer-leader and supreme boo-boo kisser. When she went, I lost my friend. My siblings and I, we lost our memory-keeper. And in the intervening years between losing my mother and having a family of my own, I lost my history.

It’s all gone, you see. Every journal I kept from age 13 until 20. Every note and token of love from my first love, which I saved in a (literal) heart-shaped box. Crappy candids of my friends and me in school. Baby-blankets and a sweater knit for me by my Grandy. All of the tangible pieces of the first twenty years of my life. Great-grandma’s china. And all of my mother’s holiday collection.

I frequently force myself to remember that these are just things. Things are not love and they can’t replace the people that you’ve lost. I try to remind myself that I don’t need to cling to these fragments of my past or of my family, because I’m making a new family and building new memories. But it’s hard. It’s hard to decorate a Christmas tree with my daughter and think of a legacy of joy that I won’t be able to pass on to her. It hurts to sit around a table of my in-laws and listen to them tell stories about my husband as he was growing up, knowing that I can’t reciprocate by sitting him down with my mother and having her relive my history for him. It’s sad that so much of what we all seem to take for granted as being permanent and unchangeable, is in fact completely fragile.

I have had to let go of a great deal, but I carry on with traditions and hold my new family close. I’m M’s mommy now. I’m her history-keeper, and I take this appointment seriously. Her stories are written down in baby books and documented in photos. We are building a life and a foundation for her to jump off from and I will make sure that it persists in case she ever wishes to return. Every year, we buy a new ornament and add to our Christmas collection, rich with fondness for what we have and bittersweet joy for what we lost.

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Wrong. All we can do is learn to float.

 

The War on Christmas (is not)

Okay, so here’s the thing: it seems to me that political correctness is going the way of the dodo. It’s just not cool to be politically correct these days — it’s not edgy or original, and it just doesn’t get people fired up like it used to. The thing people really get excited about nowadays is arguing against being politically correct, because trying to avoid offending other people is so gosh-darn offensive! (As if inclusion and avoidance of microaggressions against minorities are personal attacks on one’s ability to be a member of the majority.) It’s like they’re arguing against “White Guilt”, but with everything: We, as white people, are not at all responsible for systemic racism — it was before my time. We, as able-bodied individuals, shouldn’t feel restricted in our story-telling, and should be free to make jokes at the expense of the disabled. We, as Christians, shouldn’t be put-upon to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” just because there are other people on this Earth who have different religious beliefs, etc. etc.

Uhg. Get real for a quick sec and unpack your privilege just a teeny-tiny bit: Only 31% of the world’s population is Christian. THIRTY-ONE PERCENT. That means, Mr. High-and-Mighty, that you are sharing this Earth with a whopping 69% of people who don’t follow the teachings of Christ the way that you do — you really think it’s okay to exclude 69% of people from your tidings of holiday joy and peace on Earth? (Incidentally, if you do think that’s ok, I wonder what the Big J would have to say about that, you bigot.)

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I just don’t think the sentiment in this message is very, how do you say… “Christian”. I also have never heard anyone request that it be called “a holiday tree.” Ever.

It is totally up to you if you want to say “Happy Holidays” or not. If someone were to tell me “Merry Christmas”, I wouldn’t be offended. Actually, I don’t know a single person who has ever expressed any offense at receiving a “Merry Christmas” from another person, regardless of their religious beliefs and practices, or lack thereof. However, I do hear an awful lot from people like Donald Trump claiming that each and every “Happy Holidays” (or other equally secular greeting) is tantamount to a war on Christmas. He even went so far as to claim that 7 out of 10 people prefer “Merry Christmas” as a greeting, which is funny since, like I said, only 31% of people are Christian. Perhaps he meant 7 out of 10 Americans? That would be slightly more accurate though that number is dropping all the time.

Despite the fact that they are the cultural, if not the actual, majority in our modern society, Christians are the only ones bitching and moaning about the “loss of our sacred holiday”, despite the obvious problems with conflating “sacred” and “commercialized nightmare”. It’s as if they believe that December belongs only to Christmas, and all other yuletide celebrations are intruding. Don’t believe me? Think about your local mega-mart — none of your neighborhood Jews complain that this represents the entirety of their available holiday shopping:

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Well, at least they don’t complain to YOU.

But you best believe that if your local Target decided to invest as much real estate in their Hanukkah display as their Christmas display, shit would hit the fan.

So what’s all the fuss about? No one is asking you to be politically correct, and no one is offended by your “Merry Christmas”. By and large, the only people who are complaining are those members of the majority who are so intensely threatened by the mere existence of minority groups, that they don’t want those groups represented or recognized at all.

I’ll let that sink in for a second.

Majority groups, like Christians, like Caucasians, aren’t actually in danger of loosing their high level of privilege, but still they are so terrified by the slightest suggestion of equal representation, that any attempt at inclusion has them flying off the handle. As if to elevate minorities would cost the majority anything more that absolute control over the world that they have monopolized since time immemorial.

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Well, I guess if I had all of the power and all of the privilege, I might have some minor control issues, too.

It’s a shame that so many Christians fall into this mental trap. (Parenthetically it should be noted that of course I am not directing these criticisms toward all Christians. It is just easier to write in absolutes, so bear with me.) Maybe it’s built in to their belief system, the whole “martyr” thing, but truthfully, y’all have nothing to worry about. So long as Christianity is the opiate of the masses… uh, I mean, the favored religion of English-speaking Caucasians, you guys are in-like-Flynn. Nigh irreproachable. (Well, sort of.) And no amount of elevation of minority group status can touch you. Go find something else to invest all of that prodigious energy into that will actually do someone some good, why doncha?