Tag Archives: #MondayBlogs

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.

 

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10 Universal Truths (about wearing red lipstick)

There are some things that red-lipstick-wearers know to be true:

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  1. The search for that perfect shade is a Grail Quest that will last a lifetime.
    And as soon as you find it, they’ll discontinue it. In the meantime, you just walk around the drug store like this:
    IMG_5186
  2. Technique. It’s a killer.
    IMG_5979 Ok, so first foundation, then powder, lip liner, stain, and finally lipstick? But not from the tube. Has to be applied with a brush. Wait, was the powder supposed to come before your first application, or after? And then blott? I don’t even know anymore.

  3. Perfection is the only acceptable paradigm.
    IMG_4340
    Nothing has the potential to look messier than red lip color.

  4. Whiten those pearly whites.
    IMG_5982
    Red lipstick does not make your teeth look whiter. Every minute stain left from coffee, tea, or your long-gone smoking habit will be heinously highlighted. You have been warned.

  5. Every water bottle you own is gonna look like this:
    IMG_5452No matter how many times goes through the dishwasher or soaks in the sink.

  6. Contouring.
    IMG_5980What is this witchcraft?!

  7. One is never enough.
    sephora I have an entire make-up bag of red lipstick, lip liners, and stains. And I’m not sorry.

  8. Friends, family, and lovers BEWARE.
    IMG_1344
    My kiss is deadly! Uh, well, I mean, not deadly, but definitely long-lasting.
  9. And your average make-up remover? HA!
    IMG_4985Try a sand-blaster, my friend. That shit is never coming all the way off. Doubly true if you touch or wipe your mouth by accident. “Oh this? Yeah, I’m just not responsible enough to wear lipstick without getting it all over myself.”

  10. In the end, it’s all worth it to apply that liquid confidence and strut your stuff.
    Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 9.41.15 AM No matter if your battle armor is applied out of a tube — you rock that mutha-f*cka.

    IMG_4516
    Ohhh yeeeah.

Cruel Intentions

So I’ve been seeing this quote from Louis C.K. floating around on my social media streams a lot recently:

LouisCKIt reads, “When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”

When I read this the first time, I thought, “Hell yeah!” because I, like most of the people who are sharing this meme, have been hurt by people who have then denied responsibility for hurting my feelings or completely negated the fact that I had any valid reason to be hurt in the first place. I think that’s why so many people are identifying with this statement — we all just want to feel validated. To have the person or persons responsible for our hurt to apologize to us, or if not apologize, simply own the fact that they perpetrated some action that caused us pain, whether intentional or unintentional, is a fairly universal desire. We all just want to feel that we have been heard.

I believe that Louis C.K., a comedian and writer whom I respect very much, penned these words to illustrate that simple fact: sometimes, whether or not we mean to, we hurt people, and when that happens, the decent thing to do is show respect for and acknowledge their feelings, particularly in light of how vulnerable one becomes when admitting their emotional experience. Perhaps you could even apologize, if you’re able. Again, as a person who has been hurt by another’s careless or ignorant actions, I can vouch for the emotional validity of Louis’ statement.

That being said, the more I have seen this phrase being tossed around — screen-capped on Whisper, added to a image of foggy trees in the background, written in flowery text — the more degraded the original message seems to have become. I’ve seen these words captioned, “Hell yes!” and “You know who!”, as if the poster were making an accusation or a demand — “You hurt me, so you owe me an apology! And whatever else I choose to take from you in recompense for having hurt my feelings!”

Whoa… slow your roll, there. You mean to tell me that just because your feelings got hurt, you’re entitled to an apology? No, no, no. Victimization and malicious intent notwithstanding, I don’t think that’s how this works.

You see, the way I learned it is that if you’ve done something wrong, you apologize. I was always very comfortable with that simple rule, which much like the Golden Rule (treat others the way you wish to be treated), doesn’t lend itself to much interpretation. However, now we’ve added an element of entitlement to the clause, implying that a.) if you have been hurt, you are indisputably in the right, despite whatever situation preceded your being “wronged”, and b.) if you are hurt, you are unequivocally entitled to an apology, regardless of the other person’s intentions or lack thereof.

This is a very slippery slope for a person like me.

First of all, I am SORRY. I’m sorry all the time. I’m sorry for burdening you, for being a nuisance, for drawing attention onto myself. I’m sorry that I’m making waves, making you uncomfortable, making you think. I’m sorry that I exist and that my mere existence has even the slightest chance of harming you one day. My id will entice me to apologize for literally anything, even things that I didn’t do or couldn’t help, unless my ego steps in to draw the line. And it must. It really must, because otherwise I will turn into a quivering ball of jelly, so desperate to please every one that I dither away into nothing.

Secondly, being the people-pleasing, conflict-avoiding, self-doubting gal that I am, I have been known to apologize for things I didn’t really feel sorry for, just as a way to smooth things over or avoid a conflict. This includes those things that I either didn’t have a hand in, or couldn’t help to begin with. I’m an apology-monger; I’ll just hand those babies out anywhere if it seems at all appropriate or desired. This is not unique to me: women are stereotypically guilty of applying the “gratuitous” or “assertive” apology, due to our collectively warped sense of politeness which requires that we preface our requests or opinions with “I’m sorry, but…”, which is supposed to make whatever comes after the “but” sound nicer, but really just forces us to undermine ourselves from the get-go. “Uh, if you’re sorry about it, then why are you even bringing it up?” Excellent question!

Knowing that I am an apology-monger, I’ve tried to become very judicious about how I use the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize”. Like, I’m only going to say it if I really mean it. To that end, some people have gotten mighty pissed with me when, due to my own carelessness or perhaps even a simple difference of opinion, I didn’t apologize either for my actions nor for how they felt. My reasoning was thus: “I didn’t mean to hurt you, offend you, or make you angry. I recognize and respect that my actions (or lack thereof) came off the wrong way, and that despite my good intentions, you were hurt. That is undoubtedly unfortunate, and I regret that it happened.” Period. End the incessant babbling that may lead me to utter an insincere apology. Even as I write this, the entirety of my being wants so badly to append that statement with “I’m sorry” — but what am I sorry for? If it was an honest mistake that caused the other person to be hurt, if there were no cruel intentions, what am I really apologizing for? That someone’s feelings were hurt?

As far as I’m concerned, the meaning of “I’m sorry” or of any apology is to admit and accept responsibility for some wrong-doing. This is where my issue with the above meme comes into play: I don’t think that, just because someone’s feelings were hurt, that the person who ostensibly did the hurting is truly responsible for that. Responsibility implies that someone actually did or was supposed to do something; to take some action. But it seems to me that when people are identifying with and extemporizing this meme, they are actually angry at someone for either unknowingly making a mistake, or simply failing to act in a way that they (the hurt-person) wanted or expected.


If I have done something shitty, then of course, I ought to apologize. Hopefully, this isn’t a point of contention or confusion for people. Generally, I think that if you’ve done something shitty, you know it. And if you know you’ve done something wrong, you ought to feel compelled to apologize. This is probably Utopian wishful thinking, to rely on a person’s innate understanding of morality and the honor system to dictate when and where sincere apologies should be doled out. I can already hear my detractors unleashing streams of misanthropic vitriol about how sociopaths and perhaps even your average person has no innate morality at all. But I’m an optimist (most days), so I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt: If you know you’re wrong, you should also know you need to apologize. If, however, you are merely regretful to have inadvertently caused someone pain, I’m not entirely sure an apology is warranted — and to offer one in that instance would be disingenuous.

I recognize that the shoe has often been on the other foot: I have, through carelessness or ignorance, hurt the people that I love. In that case, I am compelled to apologize, and I will do so in order to make amends. That is how I want to be treated. However, reading that quote from Louis C.K. made me uneasy, not only because (when taken out of context) it implies the entitlement to an apology, but also because it places the burden of responsibility entirely on the perpetrator, regardless of what actions or intentions predicated the hurt. And what if, as has often been my experience, the perpetrator was simply trying to do right by themselves?

Suppose a woman leaves an abusive marriage, and in the course of saving her own life, her mother-in-law asks her How could you do this to our family? I am so hurt by your actions. Should that woman apologize for her actions, for saving her own life? Is she actually responsible for her mother-in-laws feelings?

This is where I absolutely have to draw the line. If you accidentally cause someone emotional pain in the course of doing right by yourself, you are not responsible for that person’s hurt or for their feelings of disappointment. You are not more beholden to the feelings of another than you are to yourself.

FullSizeRenderYou are allowed to put yourself first. You are allowed to continue to develop your inner being, even if your development begins to contradict who you used to be. You are entitled to love yourself first and foremost. Being impeccable with your word, holding yourself to realistic standards, and assuming good intentions is part of the agreement that you make with yourself to be the best possible person you can be.

If we have been inconsiderate, that’s one thing. If we have merely made a mistake, that is quite another. Before we start beating eachother’s doors down for apologies and retributions that we think we’re owed, let’s stop to consider our expectations and which associated intentions precipitated our ire. After all, isn’t that how you would wish to be treated?

You Don’t Look Sick and Other Microaggressions

Having a mental illness means fighting a war on all fronts. I wake up in the morning to fight the same hellacious demons that prevented me from sleeping the night before. And while those dogs follow along snapping at my heels, I navigate a world that is filthy with social landmines: impossible-to-detect people and situations that will inevitably blow up in my face. Some of the worst of these hidden bombshells are the well-meaning, ignorant, or otherwise unaware kind. Harvard psychologist Chester M. Pierce initially coined the term “microaggressions” to connote the insults and dismissals that non-black-Americans hurl at people of color. Later, the term came to apply to all statements of ignorance made by the majority about a minority. For those of us living with a mental illness, these statements belie an underlying dismissal by those who are neurotypical on the bases of invalidation, assumption of inferiority, fear of mental illness, shaming of mental illness, and second-class citizenry.

With the help of illustrator, Ms. Alex, I am pleased to present you with a few of my favorites. (Read: things I’m really fucking tired of hearing.) I would love to see yours in the comments!


“But you don’t look sick.”

imageAnd you don’t look like a doctor. When I hear this from people, I often want to ask them what “sick” looks like. Should I be a homeless bag-lady? Would that my my illness more legitimate? I wonder if this means I need to prove my illness to you. Like, “Here is a list of my symptoms. Is that sufficient evidence to back my story?”

“But you always seem so confident/put-together/capable.”

imageI get that you probably mean this as a compliment, so thanks. I put a lot of time and energy into making it appear as if I have my shit together. And I typically don’t let everyone in on my little secret, so I guess: ha ha, I fooled you!

“Oh, I know what you mean! I’m totally bipolar/OCD/schizo, too!”

imageNo, you’re not. You just think it’s cute to liken your non-clinical experiences of sadness and anxiety to serious mental illnesses that require treatment. But it isn’t cute. Knock it off. Appropriating serious terms for various levels of average experiences within the human condition when you don’t actually have an illness isn’t cute and it promotes a negative stigma about those of us who actually do have chronic conditions.

“I know that you’re anxious/depressed/angry about ____, but really you should just be grateful that ____.”

imageWow. You’re right. I should be grateful for the good things that are going on — but check this out: I am a complex, fully-formed human being, and I can divide my attention enough to feel both gratitude for what’s positive in my life, AND anxiety, depression, or anger about another situation at the same time. Imagine that.

“Well, I’m not a mind reader!”

imageNo, you aren’t, and I don’t expect you to be. I don’t think you should have to anticipate and fulfill my needs the very moment they arise, but it would be lovely if you could have a little more compassion for how gut-wrenchingly difficult and uncomfortable it is for me to ask for help. I would rather floss with barbed-wire.

“You really only needed to ask.”

imagePlease see the above re: BARBED WIRE. I get that to you, and most other people, asking seems like a very simple thing. But I have been trained that asking places me in a high-risk situation where neglect, rejection, or even outright humiliation are all potential outcomes. My very being shies away from any course of action that could potentially cause me harm, and in doing so, I tend to either ignore my needs or run rough-shod over others in order to get what I need without their help. I’m sorry — I know that’s shitty of me. Please try to understand: it’s about my wonky brain, it’s not about you.

“I didn’t invite you because I knew you wouldn’t be interested/would cancel.”

imageYeah, you’re probably right. Can you do me a favor, though, and ask anyway? Because I tend to cope with stress by putting my blinders on, which lands me in a rut. By the time I look up to catch my bearings, I’ve overlooked how isolated I’ve become, and I need you to interrupt me with messages of love and support. I need you to take the time to encourage me to step out of the rut and try something new. And sometimes, I need to be dragged out kicking and screaming.

“I love you, but…”

imageDo you? Do you love me? Is it a love without conditions? And I don’t mean “unconditional love”. I mean “a love without strings attached”. Because I can’t accept love or kindness that comes bound up in expectations. I am clumsy. I will trip over my good intentions and my own words. I will tangle myself up all the strings that bind me to you, and I will hang myself with them. No question. So if this is the only way you are fit to love me, please love me less.

“Wow. This is mighty selfish of you.”

I know. I know, and I feel like crap about it. Try to understand: I am tip-toeing the line between “selfish” and “self-care” while blindfolded, forty feet in the air, and without a safety net. I don’t want to burden you, or land you with the sole responsibility of maintaining our relationship. I promise, this isn’t permanent — it’s just one of my bad turns, and I will get better. When I come out of it, things will be easier for us both. But please don’t leave me behind when things get rough. I have a lot to offer in kinship with someone patient and compassionate enough to love me in spite of my faults.
Everyone is always telling me to “hang on” when my brain tries to kill me — could you hang on, too?

My Bipolar Brain Hates Me

Bipolar pushes me to the end of a rapidly fraying rope.

It steals my temper and hides it inside a grenade that I must hold gingerly, never knowing when or how it might go off.

It drives me into a manic state, where every sound is amplified and the air takes on inglorious texture.

It burdens me with terrible habits and compulsions, then robs me of the force of will to control them.

It makes me depressed so I loose interest and passion in things I once enjoyed.

It curses me with a lethargy so powerful, I can barely keep up with my toddler, my work, or the demands of daily life.

It causes me to withdraw from human contact, and then convinces me that I prefer to be isolated.

It constantly demeans and belittles me, making even the smallest transgressions feel like capital sin.

It is easily distracted, never settling on one task long enough to invest time into the task’s quality or completion.

It tells me I’m fat and ugly, then demands soothing in the form of binge-eating.

It causes me to to act recklessly, to say and do things that are potentially harmful.

It constantly warps my perception of my environment, so benign things appear hostile and minor barriers become major obstacles.

It makes me paranoid, suspicious, and jealous, robbing me of my good intentions and the ability to be happy for others and their successes.

It makes me sad — so sad that I see no potential worth in myself, my endeavors, or my future.

It exhausts me in body and in soul, such that I would rather sleep my idle hours away than face the bleak stretch of time before me.

It makes me perseverate, circling the same thoughts round and round the drain of my feeble mind until nothing makes sense anymore.

It confuses my energies, steals my words, befuddles my mind, and makes my hands feel small, inept, and useless.

This is your brain on bipolar.
This is your brain on bipolar.

Bipolar depression bridles me, as mania drives me forward into the Sun. It dampens me, as the cool depths of depression well up and weigh down my limbs, my head, my mind. It is within and without. My beginning, and also my end.

Don’t Call My Baby Fat

Look, I get it, all right? I have cute aggression, too. I can’t resist those chubby thighs, those chunky cheeks, the little Michelin tire rolls ‘round ankles, bellies, and wrists.  I mean, let’s just face it: skinny babies just aren’t as cute as the rollie-pollie kind.

GAAAAHHHH!
GAAAAHHHH!

But so help me God, if one more person calls my baby a “chunky monkey”, or squeals with joy  while pinching her delicious little rolls between their forefinger and thumb, I’m going to lose it. God bless my girl friend who heard this from me recently after telling me she, “loved Moira’s chunk.” “Don’t call her that!” I said, a little snappily. My girl friend was chagrined, but listened kindly as I tried to dismantle my aversion and explain my reaction. Yes, Moira is chubby. She is rounded in all of the delightful ways a healthy young child should be. And unfortunately, I am a product of a society that equates “chubby” with “fat” and tells us that fat is just about the worst thing a person can be, so I’m a little sensitive to comments about my child’s looks. Until “fat” ceases to be synonymous with “lazy”, “unhealthy”, and “frumpy”; until “fat” is no longer antonymic with words like “beautiful”, “healthy”, and “attractive” — don’t call my baby fat. In fact, why not praise her for all other salient reasons for which she ought to be praised, rather than her looks? Her intelligence, her kindness, her joyfullness, her curiosity? Praise her being, not her body! But, that’s another blog post.


Before Moira was born, I made a pact with myself that she was going to grow up different than I did. That promise entailed a great many things, but chief among them were the lessons I learned about food, body image, and self-esteem. After I learned I was having a girl, I began to anticipate what an immense responsibility I would have in addition to being this child’s mother — I was going to be responsible for stewarding this perfect little girl through a world that would gladly strip her down to flesh and bones, both metaphorically and in body, to meet their idealized and unrealistic standards. I was going to have to fight for her right to be and do everything that made her heart feel right, damned what the world thought, because who is going to teach a girl how to be a healthy, happy woman, except her mother? Since she was born over 18 months ago, I’ve been increasingly defensive about my daughter’s body. It began with the acknowledgment of my own insecurities and a solemn promise to never share them with Moira. I can directly trace my own insecurities back to observations of my own mother, who would constantly poke, prod, and abuse herself for her plump physique. I recognize that if I don’t learn to put a cork in it (or, better, actually start loving myself), I’ll be hurting my daughter. As far back as I can remember, I was concerned about body image.  I distinctly recall being no more than seven years old (SEVEN!) and sucking my tummy in as I walked past boys in the supermarket because I wanted to seem appealing to them. But why? Where did I learn that behavior, those values? Yes, I was rounder, less lithe, than the other girls in my grade school, but I definitely wasn’t obese by any stretch of the imagination. So tell me how my self-image became so tarnished? My mother, I think, failed to realize how her example would affect me. Every time she talked down to herself, admired another woman’s thin athletic build while simultaneously degrading her own, I listened and incorporated her perspectives into my own world view. Every time she went on a crash diet, eschewing meals for “milkshakes” and killing herself on a Stairmaster for hours into the evening, I watched and I learned. When she would criticize herself in photos and compare her thighs to my grandmother’s while sighing mournfully, every time she took me with her to shop for clothes and berated herself in the dressing room, I logged it away for later use against myself.

Mothers, you are your daughter’s first mirror. She will look at you and see herself. If you tell her that what she sees in that mirror is ugly, no amount of praise or compliments will prevent her from tearing herself down.
Mothers, you are your daughter’s first mirror. She will look at you and see herself. If you tell her that what she sees in that mirror is ugly, no amount of praise will reestablish her ability to love herself.

There are probably many more reasons for my low self-esteem and my lifetime struggles with weight. I wasn’t raised to be a healthy eater. I wasn’t raised to be especially active. I had a negative self-image from very early on, but as I got a little older and started to fill out in ways that weren’t considered healthy, I was subjected to a lot of criticism, both at home and at school. I don’t recall my pediatrician ever commenting that I was overweight, but I remember my parents scolding me for what I ate, and when, and how much. Our home was emotionally fraught and sometimes violent, and I began eating as a way to self-soothe. I would binge eat and hide it from my parents, and they would become effusively angry when they busted me (Tip: if your child is an emotional-eater, there are way better ways to confront that issue than shaming them about it. See “opposite of intended effect”.) Somehow, it never occurred to them to change their own habits in order to set an example for me to follow.  People aren’t born thinking that being fat is a bad thing — we have to be taught to hate ourselves or each other, and I definitely was. I was taught by two adults who didn’t much care for their own bodies how to hate my own. I don’t think they ever considered how their well-intentioned criticism, or their own self-hatred, would influence me. I’m a parent now, and I keep my mother and father’s example close to my heart. Not because I want to follow it, but because I want to avoid it. All of the wrong decisions my parents made, and all of the wrong decisions I later made for myself, I’m using those lessons to concentrate on making the right choices for M. Still, people allow their distorted perceptions of beauty and health standards color their view of our family and even our parenting choices. Yeah, I’m fat — does that mean that my daughter will be, too? No, of course not. I suspect that many people look at me and assume that a.) I’m unhealthy, lazy, irresponsible, etc., and b.) assume that I will graft my flaws on to my daughter. However, nothing could be farther from the truth: my husband and I make very careful, conscientious decisions regarding food and activity choices in order to set her up for life-long health. Note: health, not thinness, because we’ve got our priorities straight. Does she still eat pizza? Sometimes. (“My monkey, my circus”, remember?) You see, I don’t want to take all that I’ve learned about being healthy and run to the other end of the spectrum, counting calories and obsessing over what goes into our bodies. In the end, that attitude would defeat the purpose of what I’m trying to achieve: raising a healthy, intelligent girl who is able to appreciate all things are best in moderation. Regardless of the size of her dress or the number on the scale, she will know that she is beautiful, valuable, and important, even if she does keep her chunky-monkey rolls all the way into adulthood. Eff your beauty standards — those thunder thighs are a family legacy. And we are gorgeous.

Black Sheep

A wise person whom I very much respect once said that writers should write what scares us. Right now, I’m terrified. Because I have never in my life done what I’m about to do.

Oh Lord, here we go...
Oh Lord, here we go…

Being the black sheep of the family, in and of itself, is not a big deal. Many people feel as if they have fallen far from the proverbial tree, but still feel loved and appreciated (even accepted) for their differences. Unless, of course, they are summarily and shamefully cast out.

Some, myself included, are deemed too subversive to be allowed a pass. In certain circles, there are some who are simply too different to escape scrutiny. They are so egregiously in conflict with their kin’s time honored traditions and values, that they are simply removed from the picture. Sometimes the cataclysm comes with a whisper rather than a roar. One day, you look around and realize that your roots have pruned themselves back and disappeared. Some are flung out more dramatically, of course.

The fear of abandonment robbed me of the courage to speak the truth about my family and how in efforts to appease them, I have capitulated time and time again to their tacit demands for obeisance and silence.

No more.

To be fair, they started it:

Seriously, look at this chucklefuck.
Seriously, look at this chucklefuck.

Okay, so let me give you a little background. I posted a link to this article on my Facebook page, and added a comment that I know women who have experienced this kind of treatment. In response, some member of my family — I will tell you only that he is male — felt it was his personal responsibility (nay, his duty!) to come around and knock me down a peg.

How far? How many pegs do I need to be knocked down before I am worthy of my family’s love and acceptance?

This time, I have opted to get good and mad, and thus I have been driven to a point of hatred and malice previously unknown to me.

First of all, me “stop it”? YOU STOP IT. Who the hell do you think you are to try and put me in my place? I don’t need to shrink and make myself smaller so you will feel bigger around me. I don’t need to compromise my ideals, my morals, just on the off chance that you might find my words offensive. And I do not have to dumb myself down, be less articulate, or think less just so I can fit in with this “family”.

Why put me down? Why seek with every word to belittle me? Why does making me feel small fulfill you? Yes, ours is a family that likes to fuck with each other. And fuck each other over. And fuck each other up. Ours is a legacy of hurt.

I reject the notion that to be intelligent, articulate, and well-educated is a sin. I refuse to align myself with your white-trash morality. Intelligent, free-thinking, even feminist are not swear words, except among simple-minded, misogynistic sheeple.

Baaaaaaa.
Baaaaaaa.

My soul is not for sale, and I’ve compromised for too long, allowing my affection and loyalty to be bought and sold like a commodity. In the interest of maintaining ties with individuals who will only love me on certain conditions, I’ve offered up everything. But still, I have lost.

I’m done.


I am no longer a disaffected youth, though I remain a product of my upbringing. As a result, I am chronically maladjusted.

I always knew that I didn’t fit in. I was never thin and athletic – I was bookish and articulate. And I was always tapped into something greater than myself, something that the people around me had no concept of. I have been perpetually aware of my separateness.

I don’t mean to be divisive: I love my family, but I’m not like them. I’m not sorry about that, though I used to be. I used to feel sad that I couldn’t be the same. I made choices that were engineered to try and make me blend, each with disastrous consequences.

Because when your cool, older cousin asks you to do drugs with him, ya do it. Duh.
Because when your cool, older cousin asks you to do drugs with him, ya do it. Duh.

I feel as if I have never been congratulated without being simultaneously mocked for having achieved anything in the first place. When I was a latch-key teenager out drinking, having sex, and stirring up mayhem, the family shrugged and wrote me off. One such matriarch attended my high school graduation after having offered the following sentiment on the occasion: “What’s the point? She’s just going to move in with that boyfriend of hers and get knocked up.”

I can't exactly accuse my family of having high expectations for me.
I can’t exactly accuse my family of having unrealistically high expectations for me.

But when I started to alter my course, rather than inspiring pride, each action I took seemed to cause anger and paranoia. I left California and moved to Hawaii to go to college — no, I “abandoned by family and moved to paradise.” Never mind the hardship that I faced once I was here. Never mind how hard I worked to succeed despite my circumstances. Never mind that I did everything “right”: went to college, met a nice man, got married, started a career, bought a house, had a baby, and all in that order. When it was all said and done, the sum of my achievements is tantamount to looking down my nose at anyone who didn’t achieve in the same way that I did. I’m the only person I know with such critically low self-esteem to have been so regularly accused of being arrogant, even narcissistic.

I think the primary motivation behind those accusations is the fear of my potential. The fear that, once I realized that I was better than the muck that I came from, I actually would condescend to them. That I would disappear and never come back.

This isn’t to say that my family didn’t celebrate my successes alongside of me. Simply that their inferiority complex dictated that in order to be proud of me, they must also remind me to be small: Don’t you forget where you came from! To which I respond: How could I? How could I forget when the legacy of this booze-soaked, drug-addled, emotionally retarded family hangs around my neck like an anchor? My achievements become cannon fodder and I a laughing stock, when I have done nothing — nothing — but try and mold myself into the kind of person that would be worthy of love and respect.

It has become resoundingly clear that I will never get to that point. And what I stand to gain from giving up the fight is so much greater than what I will lose from letting go.

I just want the freedom to be and to live the way that I see fit, without judgment or scorn. I’m exhausted by the accusations of arrogance and selfishness. I don’t think I’m better than anyone else based on my smarts or my success. But I will say this: I have more compassion, more love, and more understanding than was ever granted to me by that family, and for that reason alone, yes, I am better. Better than my origins, better than my history, and I am not ashamed to admit it.

I’m not sorry that I’m smart. That I maintain informed opinions. I’m not sorry that I kicked up the courage to dream up a different kind of life. That I went to school and toiled for six years to get three degrees. I’m not sorry that this cost me relationships with people who are supposed to love me unconditionally, but instead focus all of that energy on the fear of their own inferiority. If I must be excommunicated from the family for defying these values, I will accept my fate. I own everything that has ever happened to me, and if someone feels incriminated by my story-telling, they should have behaved better in the first place. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s your values that are corrupt. Not me.

So yeah, I’ll be the Black Sheep. I’ll wrap myself up in this thick, black wool. It’s so cozy and warm, I can hardly feel the cold shoulder you’ve been giving me.

But I'll be damned if I don't make this look good.
But I’ll be damned if I don’t make this look good.

BP D-Day

So it’s World Bipolar Day, and I guess that’s fabulous. I see lots of my friends and colleagues sharing photos of themselves with words strewn across: “I am a mother, a business women, and an avid reader. I am not my diagnosis.” It’s incredible to see so many empowered individuals owning their experience with mental illness and couching it in terms of “this is something I live with, but it is not who I am.

I really admire that. I’m just not sure I’m there yet.

Certainly, I agree that I am not my illness, but I struggle to cast it off merely as a condition of living, like the flu or a bad back. Bipolar disorder is part of my identity, and I don’t make apologies for that. I am who I am, in part, because of the personality quirks and general weirdness that BPD has imbued me with — and when I consider it objectively, I really like myself. It would then be a terrible hypocrisy to hate on my diagnosis.

That being said, it’s not always positive. It’s not always endearing to be a hermit. It’s not always funny to lose my temper at the drop of a hat. Sure, those things often make for fun stories after the fact, but day-to-day, I wear my illness like a shroud: it colors my vision of the world and marks up my skin. Literally.

IMG_3916It is an amazing triumph to say that I have been able to grow my fingernails out past the quick, even if my cuticles continue to be ragged. I am proud of the fact that despite (or perhaps because of?) my illness, I am able to devote myself to truly fulfilling work. Still, I am constantly aware that burn-out is a tangible possibility, and I often worry that I’ve taken on too much.

IMG_3919If I were to create an image similar to one of my friends, to express my success in spite of my illness, I guess that would be it. I mean, I have enough titles and talents to take up FOUR business cards! Goodness! But I feel that to do so would be disingenuous. I’m not who or what I am in spite of anything. I just am.

Perhaps I would feel better about #bipolarpride than “I am not my illness.” Bipolar is just a small part of who I am, and gosh darn it, people like me! (Myself included… most days.)

A story of choice

Alex asked:
What was/were the best decision(s) you ever made in your life? (Either because there were immediate benefits or it caused a chain of events that lead to something else you didn’t know you needed.)

Life is replete with opportunities to choose between two or more courses of action. Shall I turn left, or right? Should I take the long way home? Which will have the better pay off, Option A, B, or C? We make so many decisions arbitrarily, rarely considering how one such harmless and innocuous choice could alter our life forever. When you asked me what decision I made most changed my life, this is what I thought of: decisions that, only in hindsight, you are able to identify as life-altering.

Certainly, there have been times when I decided on a course of action, knowing in advance that it would result in complete upheaval. Every so often, you can see a singular moment, a choice that will alter your course irrevocably. The decision I made to move to Hawaii from California when I was 18 was one such decision. I made it during a visit to Hawaii to see my mother and stepfather, while sitting in the dark on their lanai, looking out at the ocean off of Kailua Beach and desperately trying to divine what was going to come next in my life. Many decisions are like that, you know? Made out of complete desperation. I wanted so badly for my life to start, but I was terrified of the prospect of severing ties with everything I knew in order to catapult my life out of torpidity. So reluctant was I to actually make that decision, I broke out my tarot cards and asked Spirit to tell me what to do. I don’t remember what cards manifested in that reading, nor what message they delivered, but clearly recall making that most momentous decision that very night. I flew home, packed my bags, and returned to Hawaii just a few months later, though I can’t say that I never looked back.

I knew moving to Hawaii from California was going to change things forever, though I certainly couldn’t have predicted in its entirety the complete magnitude of that decision. I had anticipated moving, going to college, graduating, and going back home. That last part, though, never came to pass. Part of it was my parents dying and the following sense of being truly marooned on an island, but there were other factors as well. A nondescript moment in my first semester of college where I sat down with my mother to choose next year’s courses and decided Sociology 100 over Psychology 101, for instance. An inane choice between the study of society and the study of the mind that had more to do with my dislike of Sigmund Freud than anything else ended up changing my life entirely — I met my husband in that freshman classroom. Had I not moved to Oahu, I never would have encountered him at all, and we may have missed each other, had we both not made an arbitrary decision to sit in Ms. Mann’s class on sociology at 9:45am on Tuesdays and Thursdays that fall.

I’ve made countless other life-changing choices since then — and clearly, the choice to become pregnant and give birth to Moira is at the top of that list. To be honest, though, I’m not sure any of the other decisions I’ve made in the last ten years have been quite so staggering as those first two. The reason being that each subsequent decision I made; to go to college, to become an interpreter, to marry William, to have Moira; all of them followed naturally after first deciding to up-end my life and move to the island, and then to meet my husband (unintended though that decision was at the time). I made a necessary, heart-wrenching decision to relocate to a strange place and live among strangers in order for my life to start — and boy, did it ever.

Introverts At War

Perception is an odd thing. I get the feeling sometimes that even introspection is flawed. The most perceptive of individuals can be misled sometimes, and it has been my introspection (introversion) that has given some people the wrong impression of me from time to time. A few weeks ago I was team interpreting with a colleague I’ve known for sometime. When I misinterpreted something, I gladly accepted her feed, but later she commented that I had given her stink-eye the moment that she had fed me the correct English term to voice. I was stunned and ashamed. Stink-eye! Me?! I frantically sifted back through my memories to that moment — had I felt any ill-will toward my colleague that could have shown on my face? Not at all! I respect her a great deal, and if I am failing to interpret accurately, well, that’s why we work in teams! Feed me, Seymour!

What had I been feeling, then? Embarrassment, surely. It never feels good to be caught in a mistake, and my audience in this case wasn’t limited to just my colleague. My internal-editor, highly developed as it is from years of practiced self-loathing prior to my becoming a professional interpreter, had simultaneously caught the error and I was already chiding myself for having done wrong. Perhaps this is what my colleague didn’t know and therefore misunderstood about my look: I already hate myself more than I could ever hate anyone else, especially you. I was simply unaware that all of that inner monologue was playing across my face.

Living with this disease has shown me that it colors all aspects of life. The way I touch the world around me, the feel of it, and the light as it enters my eyes. The sounds that ensnare and entrap me, or comfort and soothe me. Like many people with mental illness, I have a love-hate relationship with my madness. On the one hand, the quirks of my non-neuronormative mind have made me especially empathetic, introspective, intelligent, and creative. However, these gifts are tempered by bouts of extreme sadness, mood lability, anxiety, obsessive compulsive behavior, and mania. When I’m in a depressive state, I’m extremely low-energy which makes me twice as introverted as I am on a normal day. In a manic state, however, I may be extroverted, aggressive, or combative — and I have no control how I will react to any given situation.

Being bipolar is one thing, but being an introvert? Though it’s a popular buzzword these days, it can be damned inconvenient. Introverts are highly marginalized and stigmatized in our low-context culture which places a higher value on the number of words in a communication than the content of the message expressed. Americans are also by and large individualistic, emphasizing the importance of the individual over the community. Thus, if a person does not put in the requisite facetime and pay the expected homage to the highest ranking individuals in the room, that person is perceived as haughty or rude. This is where it gets tough for your garden-variety introvert. We are much happier to be on the fringes of the gathering, having deep conversations with one or two people who we know very well than engaging in small talk with strangers. Introverts gain more from high-context interactions, but our society wasn’t designed with us in mind. As author Susan Cain explains in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts, “In our society, the ideal self is bold, gregarious, and comfortable in the spotlight. We like to think that we value individuality, but mostly we admire the type of individual who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts. Introverts are to extroverts what American women were to men in the 1950s — second-class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent.”

But as with all things, it is rarely so simple. Often introversion or extraversion in an individual will vary with context. People are confounded by my introverted tendencies when I am often observed to be quite extroverted in certain situations. “Why can’t you be this much fun all of the time?” they wonder. I’m not a math problem — I’m just a human being trying to make it day by day with this disease, one that often alters my personality in drastic ways. I don’t always know if I’m doing it right, because I am convinced that my ego is flawed and my intuition is telling lies. There are days when I spend a great deal of time looking inward in an attempt to locate that truth. Sometimes, I get lost in there, wandering around the dusty halls of my wayward mind for days. In general, introverts are more likely to look inward than outward — I wonder, do we also tend to struggle with the same twists and turns of mind?

I am a trained apologist, conditioned through years of abuse and bad relationships to accept responsibility for everything in my environment, even above and beyond that which I am capable of having caused to happen. When confronted by a disagreeable individual or someone who has treated me poorly, I am far more likely to take their behavior and internalize it than to stand up for myself and say, “hey, I don’t deserve this” because I have been hard-wired to believe that actually, yes, I do deserve this. I am wrong and bad and wrong-bad and I deserve this. The doubt never subsides, and neither does the chattering in my mind that gives it momentum. Is this the secret kept within the heart of the introvert, the key to our powerlessness?

I don’t mean to conflate introversion and mental illness, but I do believe there is more than a casual link between the two. I, for one, am fighting an endless war with myself, attacked on all sides by inner demons that speak in the voices of those whom I love the most. These are the same poor souls that are sometimes unwittingly attacked when I am despondent and disassociative. I am practiced at the post-tantrum apology, as my husband can attest, but to apologize for being introverted? To apologize for having a low-energy, highly inward-turn day? This is something I can neither control nor would necessarily change, given the opportunity. That some circles of individuals, largely extroverts themselves, misconstrue my silence as rudeness is something I cannot contend with. I feel increasingly less willing to try, since despite my best efforts to combat my natural tendencies the criticism for coming across as “rude”, “selfish”, or “ungrateful” continues regardless. This is true also of others battling for their right to introversion. We seek comfort in ways that are sometimes contradictory to the terms of normalcy and happiness of the masses — but that doesn’t make us freakishly odd. Still, we beat ourselves up, and for whom? For them?

Yes, love yourself. Until someone tell you that you suck. Then drag yourself across hot coals, you slag.
Yes, love yourself. Until someone tells you that you suck. Then you go drag yourself across hot coals, you slag.

No, for them, we give explanations: “I am not being sick at you.” “I am introverted, but I need to be social for my mental health. I would like it if people didn’t misunderstand my social ineptitude for rudeness.” “I am both social and introverted. I would like to be welcomed into the group on my own terms.” We try our best to acclimatize to the surroundings in which we find ourselves and hide those things that make other people uncomfortable. We do our best. It’s no surprise, really, that psychologists report that introversion is fucking exhausting, just as much as any given mental illness or behavioral disorder. (Not to mention, as I said, the co-occurrence of mental illness and introversion.) But it’s also incredibly powerful. Just as bipolar disorder gives me a unique world view, introverts are seen to be more creative, innovative, and self-reliant. Some of the world’s best public speakers and leaders are introverts, Ghandi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Rosa Parks among them. In fact, there is some research to suggest a link between a higher I.Q. and a higher level of introversion. From Carl King, filmmaker and introvert: “A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers.” So the world wasn’t made for us — big deal! I’m used to that — I’m also left-handed.