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

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

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

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

le sigh.

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

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

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#SSDGM

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

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

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

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

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Intolerance first, ask questions never.

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

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

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My Monkey, My Circus

She is my daughter. My charge and my responsibility. I get to make the calls, decide the treatment, and set the course of action. She is my monkey. This my my circus. And there are days that I haven’t the slightest clue how to conduct the show.

There are a lot of things that they don’t tell you about being a parent.

That there is just about the most common thing you hear, ironically. So common as to be a cliché. I mean, with all of the parenting books, websites, blogs, random strangers giving you advice, friends and family imparting parenting wisdom — how could there possibly remain something that they don’t tell you?

I think I know the answer: they don’t tell you because they don’t want it to be true. The truth of the matter being that parenting comes with a big, heaping dose of shame.

Shame for different reasons, though. Maybe because you didn’t breastfeed, or because you use those awful, eco-disaster disposable diapers. Shame because you do (or don’t) ascribe to a parenting philosophy, like “the gentle parenting method” or “the Montessori approach”. People will give you stink-eye for just about anything: how you make your child’s food, where you buy your child’s food, organic versus mass-produced versus vegan, home-care versus day-care, TV versus no TV, et cetera.

The worst shame, the most taboo, is the shame of wanting a break. That is most common, most stigmatized, and most under-rug-swept dirty little secret that parents can harbor. Sometimes we are simply and completely maxed out.

Doesn’t seem that the world has a great deal of compassion for us poor bastards. There’s no chapter in any parenting book that I have ever picked up that gives you tools for how to keep on keepin’ on when you’re just about ready to throw your hands up in the air, say “fuck it!”, and let the little bastard have their third cookie if it will just shut him up.. There are no online support group for parents to talk, openly and without censorship, about how they just don’t enjoy parenting some of the time. (Except maybe this one.)

No one warns you that some days, you won’t like your child very much, and that’s all right. Nah, we judge the hell out of parents who have the temerity to admit their feelings, saying things like, “Well, you were the one who chose to have them! It’s not the kid’s fault — she’s only a baby!” and “Didn’t you realize what you were getting into? Parenting isn’t easy, after all.” “What on earth are you bitching about? Isn’t not that hard.”

But the thing is that yes, it really is that hard. Even though I knew what I was signing up for, even though I even anticipated a colicky, unmanageable child much worse than the one I eventually got, there was no way I could possibly have been prepared enough. And while I understand that M is a small child who lacks the ability to control her actions, she is sometimes a tiny, tyrannical sociopath and the truth is, it gets to me.

I can’t help it. I love my daughter absolutely and completely. I have never, would never, consider a life without her. Being a mother has been a gift unlike any I have ever known. That being said, I would like very much to be able to take a short break from motherhood, in order to reacquaint myself with, well, my self.

There are things I used to do for myself that I simply haven’t the time or money to do anymore. Parenthood has robbed me of my ability to self-care. I can’t tell my daughter that her screaming is giving me an anxiety attack. I can’t explain to her that I have been feeling very depressed and low-energy, so I need to return to bed for a day. I never expected that my feelings could be hurt so swiftly by her capriciousness, that her coy refusal to give hugs and kisses would stir my feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.

I was prepared be tired. I knew there would be tantrums. But I never fully appreciated how sleeping in two days a week was integral to maintaining my sanity. I never understood how much I needed those quiet, isolated hours spent underneath the duvet in my darkened room. It didn’t occur to me that once I started caring for my daughter, seeing to her every need, that I would no longer be able to care for my own, or that my emotions could be so heavily influenced by hers.

It feels somewhat trite to muse over all the things I don’t like about being a parent. As I said, it’s an amazing gift, and one that I jealously anticipated. My husband and I are already planning Baby #2 (A second one! My god!) because we have always known we wanted to have a nuclear family. I am also acutely aware that there are many, many people unable to have the family that they dream of, which throws my words into rather harsh light. Still, it is my truth, and the unspoken truth of many: our love is boundless and unconditional, but our patience is not. The fact of the matter is that we are only human, and repeated trials by a demanding two-foot-tall bully will deplete our mental stores. It can’t be helped. Sometimes, the ringleader of the circus needs to leave the monkeys to their devices and exit the tent.

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.)