Confrontation

I want to tell you everything that happened.
I want to tell everyone.
I want to scream it, from the girls’ dorm down to the soccer field. From the high school in the midwest to my home church on the west coast.
I want to print it on the back of every bulletin. I want to carve it in the trunk of every tree on campus. I want to spray paint it on the roof of every one of your churches and schools.
I want the truth to be as unavoidable and inescapable for every perpetrator among you as it is for every victim.
And if you still won’t do anything about it, at least the rest of the world will know what you are, and what you’ve done.

“Mark and avoid those who cause division and offense.”
It was you who taught me that; don’t you remember?
That’s what I’m going to do. I’ve been doing it out of order, perhaps – I’ve already been avoiding you for years now – but division has been created, and offense caused, and it is long past time for the marking to begin.

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Scratch

Content notice: morbid thoughts, indirect references to suicidal ideation.

The noise has returned.
It’s a scratching sound, like someone is dragging their fingernails across the inside of my skull. It’s as if my head is a coffin, and someone has been buried alive inside it, and they’re trying to claw their way out.
The noise sounds frantic. It feels more desperate this time. I’m trying to fight off the despair, to keep calm and save what oxygen we might have left, but it’s not working. The panic is creeping into my thoughts, and showing in my eyes, and seeping down into my fingertips. My hands are shaking and my breath keeps catching in my throat.
The one place it doesn’t show is on my face. The corners of my mouth stop working properly, the muscles in my cheeks fail to contract, my brow does not scrunch or wrinkle or rise. My face is blank and empty. It has become the perfect mask to hide this relentless noise behind. I know I’m supposed to recognize this a sign that some connection between my muscles and my feelings and my mind has ceased to function properly, but it’s hard to care when it’s such a relief. People don’t usually see your trembling fingers or how you keep swallowing or the way your feet drag; most of them only look at your face, and if your face is empty enough, you’re as good as invisible.
I prefer being invisible right now. When people try to talk to me I just end up feeling guilty because I can’t hear them over that damning sound. I’ll try to force a smile and nod and make affirming noises at the right times, but the smile never looks quite right and my voice is a little too loud. Everything about me seems strained, and I can tell, but I can’t seem to find a place between trying too hard and not trying it all; I can only slide from one pole to the over, and I either seem dishonest or inconsiderate. At least when I’m invisible I know others won’t be wounded by my bewildering existence, with all its rough surfaces and torn edges.
Every once in a while, when I manage to drag my feet past my doorstep, I see other invisible people with masks over their faces and shadows in their eyes. We never speak more than a word or two, if we speak at all, lest we alert others to our presences. Speaking isn’t really necessary when two invisible people meet, though; you already know by virtue of being seen by them that they must be invisible too, and that knowing doesn’t need to be put into words. It’s a relief just being near someone who can see you, someone who does not need you to explain. It’s a comfort to be able to just be for a moment, to just exist without defending yourself or hiding, without having to be completely alone.
“You can see me?”
I don’t answer. I try, but all that happens is a strange twitch in one corner of my mouth.
“Do you hear it too?”
I try to nod, but I’m moving a little too fast and my motion looks more like rocking than nodding. It’s okay though; I can tell you understand. You light your cigarette while I take the last drag of mine. The scratching gets louder, and louder still. I tell myself I’m too old for this, but the noise doesn’t care. It’s determined to find a way out. I have to walk away before it starts climbing down into my throat and tumbling out my mouth in sobs and jumbled strings of words. We share one more quiet moment, nodding silently to ourselves. We exchange a brief but understanding look before I step away. I try to wave but I only manage to move my hand up to the wrist; my arm stays hanging. You still see it though, because you know, and you nod again. I fade away down the street and you fade back into the concrete, and we both fade back out of sight.
We exist unseen except to each other, but we exist. Or at least, we existed for a moment.
We passed each other, and the moment passed us.
We pass by. We pass on.
We all do.

A Response To Countless Online Comments

Dear stranger on the internet,

You don’t know me, but I saw what you wrote about me today.
You wrote that you believe somebody should take me from my home against my will and lock me away, solely because I have a health condition.
You weren’t writing about me personally. It was much worse than that. You were writing about an entire group of people that I happen to be a part of. This group of people is estimated to include roughly 1 out of every 5 people in the United States, if not more.
You wrote this because you read an article about a man who did something terrible, and that man may have had a mental health condition. You seem to believe that mental health conditions cause violence, but that’s not true.

I don’t have much to say to you, but I wanted you to know that I saw what you wrote. I wanted to let you know that every time you say something like this, someone like me probably hears you. I wanted you to realize that this group of people you believe should be imprisoned almost certainly includes some of your friends, coworkers, and loved ones.

I hope someday you change your belief. I hope someday people like me can live freely, without having to fear being put on lists or locked up or forcibly drugged because of your fears. I hope someday we can talk openly about our health conditions without risking the loss of friends, employment, or educational opportunity. I hope someday we can all seek and have access to any and all the healthcare we might need, without having to worry about what kind of stigma might come with it.

Words About Nothing

Content warning: Depression, references to self injury. If you are viewing this page on a desktop, you should be able to see a little worm on a hook to the left (with the current theme, at time of posting). If you continue reading and reach content which you find distressing, clicking the worm will take you back to the top of the page.

I used to write all the time.

I’ve never really been good at it, but sometimes it feels like the only thing keeping me alive.

I feel like writing the most when my depression is at its worst, but the more depressed I am the more I hate what I write. It feels impossible to write anything about being depressed and miserable without sounding completely cliche. What could I possibly have to say that hasn’t already been said a thousand times by the hundreds upon hundreds of depressed writers who have already tried to capture this dark beast and pin it to paper?

I have to remind myself that I’m writing for myself, not an audience. I’m writing because it keeps my mind moving from one line to the next. It keeps me breathing, keeps me from falling into the pit of misery in the back of my mind, keeps me from giving in to the urge to drink myself to sleep or start cutting again. I haven’t cut myself in years, but I think about it from time to time. I’m thinking about it now, and if I’m honest with myself, I never really stopped the behavior entirely. I just replaced with more subtle ways of injuring myself. The behavior that started before the cutting – this frantic scratching, like I’m trying to claw my way out of my own skin, which leaves red oozing patches that turn into scars that look more like birth marks than old wounds – decreased in frequency but never stopped. It was never a controlled behavior; I never quite managed to take control of it enough to make it stop.

I don’t really have anything to say. I don’t have anything to write about. I’m just typing. It’s just words. I’m just moving across the screen because I don’t have the energy to move myself across the room, let alone out of the house. There are things I could be doing to help myself, I know, but I just don’t have the energy. I don’t have the will. It’s better to be writing it out than doing nothing, though. At least it’s something, some kind of thought, some sort of motion. Maybe it will help me build some kind of momentum, get me close enough to the edge of the hole I’ve fallen into to start clawing my way back out.

Depression is a pit. It’s a pit filled with nothingness. I can fill a page with words, I can spell them correctly and arrange them properly and use words that have richness and texture to them but the more substantial my writing is the less true it becomes, because depression isn’t a novel full of heaviness and misery. Depression is a book made of blank page after blank page. It’s less the presence of something awful, and more the absence of every good and beautiful thing. It’s emptiness, and filling a page with words about it isn’t as true as that empty page. It’s nothingness, and all the words for nothingness are less descriptive than no words at all.

Just imagine this is a blank screen that would take you weeks, maybe months, of scrolling to reach its end. That’s all this really is, and that would be a much better depiction of this thing I’m trying to describe. Just imagine all that nothingness, because it would be truer than all these words about nothing.

That’s all this really is. Words about nothing.

Nothing.

Depression through the year

Content warning: descriptions of depression symptoms, including references to suicidal ideation. If you are viewing this page on a desktop, you should be able to see a little worm on a hook to the left (with the current theme, at time of posting). If you continue reading and reach content which you find distressing, clicking the worm will take you back to the top of the page.

Some things are constant, especially those symptoms which are more tangential to the depression itself: the nightmares, certain anxieties, and my susceptibility to stress triggers. Some things will always bring down my mood and make my depression flare up: drinking alcohol, altering my sleep habits, neglecting to eat regularly. There’s a certain rhythm to my depression overall, though; there’s a pattern to when different symptoms are most likely to occur. It doesn’t come and go seasonally (it’s MDD, not SAD) but it does change with the seasons.

I always expect summer to be easier. I tell myself every year that the sun and the warmth will make me feel better. It’ll be easier to get out, and I’ll be more active, and it’ll be fun, and I won’t feel so depressed if I’m out doing things, right? It’s a lie and I know it, but it’s a lie I feed myself every year, and the denial rises up around me like steam as the summer gets hotter and more humid. The season carries with it the anniversaries of traumas, and as I approach them I find myself increasingly dissociated, and with increasing frequency, making the denial possible. I stop attributing things I know are symptoms to the depression, and start ignoring them – and it’s hard to practice self care when you’ve convinced you don’t need it. I become determined to feel something – anything – and it usually comes at the cost of my health. I stay up late, because it’s summer, even though I know my mood crashes if I don’t regulate my sleep habits. I drink, because it’s summer and we’re at a party, even though I know alcohol makes my depression flare up. I do any number of things I’m likely to regret,  because I’m so desperate to feel, even though I know the regret will cost me more than I can possibly gain in feel.

By the end of summer, I’m a sleep-deprived mess made up of questionable substances, poor nutrition, bad decisions and raw recklessness. I tell myself that summer wasn’t as great as I was hoping, but it’s okay; I’ll get back on track and this year will be better and I won’t make the same mistakes next summer. I realize months have gone by without my noticing so I get to work grounding myself, and as I get there I become aware of just how low my mood has really been. My physical health improves but I don’t really feel any better. If anything I actually feel how badly I felt all along; there’s a relief that I can feel at all, but at same time I feel worse. As the temperatures drop and winter creeps closer, dread because to rise up from somewhere inside that pit of feelings that I’d been avoiding. I hate winter – I hate the cold, I hate snow, I hate icy roads and frosted-over windows and frozen ground and the sounds of snow plows and cracking trees – and knowing that it’s approaching weakens my determination to fight off the depression I’d just finally stopped denying.

Then winter comes, and I stop fighting all together. I stop caring at all. The denial and desperation freeze over like the lakes and rivers around me, and all that’s left is numbness. I know the terrible feelings are still there, a little ways below the surface, but I don’t care. I can’t feel them. I can’t feel anything. The depression is always there, but winter is when I’m most prone to giving in to it. I sleep constantly, eat rarely, and have more of a struggle doing basic things like showering and laundry and dishes. I’m always depressed, but in the winter I look depressed, and in the winter I don’t care that I’m depressed. I’m frozen in place – cold, but calm. The numbness gets me through the holiday season; I want to enjoy the holidays, but being presentable is exhausting and if I’m not presentable I’m constantly reminded that I’m surrounded by people who try to love me but don’t know how to do it unconditionally. At least I don’t really feel it, no matter how it plays out.

Winter is when I look the worst, but the beginning of spring is really when my depression is really the most dangerous. When spring comes and I start thawing, feelings start bubbling up to the surface and create chaos. I start having thoughts again – most of them dark and shame filled. I realize I’ve just spent the last several months doing nothing, and the thoughts creep in. “You’re a waste of resources, a burden on the people you love and the world around you,” my depression whispers. “Your house is disgusting and you can’t even shower regularly, how do you expect to do anything with your life?” it grumbles. “It is never going to get better” becomes my depression’s catch phrase of choice, echoing in my head until I believe it – and once I start believing it, the thoughts of suicide take over. They continue until the temperature is staying steadily above freezing and the birds are back, and then they give way to strange, vaguely paranoid ideas. I think I’m being spied on, controlled, lied to. I start believing that everyone I interact with must despise me as much as I despise myself. I imagine leaving my entire life behind and starting from scratch, as if abandoning my life would somehow erase my past. The franticness of my thoughts rises with the temperatures until summer hits, when I begin dissociating from my wild thoughts and become preoccupied chasing anything that might break up the numbness.

This time of year, where fall is beginning to fade and winter is getting close, is weird for me. I still experiencing my fall bout of low mood and emotional distress, but my rapidly vanishing energy and the way household tasks are piling up tells me the numbness will be coming on soon. I’m trying to pep talk myself into doing something – anything – in the hopes that I’ll be able to build up enough momentum to get a few more things done and taken care of before winter really gets here, but it’s not really working. I’m close enough to my winter phase to lack motivation, but still enough in my fall phase to hate myself for it. I’m dreading the cold and the increasing snowfall, but in a way I’m looking forward to the numbness. Right now I’m feeling hopeless, and in many ways being hopeless is a lot more painful and more dangerous than being numb.

Reminder: It’s Not About Mental Illness.

An overwhelmingly common reaction to violent tragedies, especially mass shootings, is to blame mental illness. There is an apparent belief that mental illness causes violence, and as a result conversations about the causes of violence and ways to prevent it end up centering on mental health care. There is a very big problem with this: mental illness does not cause violence, and perpetuating the myth that it does is actively harmful to people with mental health conditions.

Many people believe it is only possible to do such a thing if you are mentally ill. Committing violence, according to them, by definition makes you “insane.” However, mental illnesses are not defined by singular actions – they are actual real illnesses. We can observe their effects on levels of biochemicals. We can see evidence of them on brain scans. They are tangibly, physically real and are not just behaviors or thoughts. Furthermore, not everyone who commits a terrible atrocity has one of these illnesses; the overwhelming majority of violent crimes are committed by people who are not mentally ill, and the overwhelming majority of people with mental health conditions are not violent and are not any more likely than anyone else to commit a violent act.

Can mental health problems play a role in things like this? Sure. Do we need better, more accessible mental health care? Absolutely. Do mental health conditions cause acts of violence? Nope.

It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I explain that mentally ill people are far more likely to be victims of violent crimes than perpetrators, or that the majority of people with mental illnesses are no more likely to be violent than people without mental illnesses, or that the vast majority of people who are violent do not have a mental illness, or how much evidence I provide; many of the people I know still insist that mental illness is to blame. When I try to talk about how untrue this is and how hurtful it is to me personally, I’m often told that I’m “being too sensitive” and am generally dismissed. At times like this it often feels like people see me as less than fully human, or think that I am a violent outburst waiting to happen – just because I have an illness – and over the course of these discussions, I often hear suggestions that mentally ill people should be locked up, forcibly medicated, put on lists, or forbidden from having children (hi thereeugenics), and I find myself feeling not only emotionally wounded but deeply afraid for my own freedom.

On top of being hurt emotionally, I’m frustrated by the way blaming mental illness for violence in society seems to be somewhat disingenuous and little more than scapegoating. Assuming they were being sincere, you would expect people to follow up blaming such violence on mental illness with demands for better and more accessible mental health care – which we desperately need, and I would be thrilled to see happen – but nothing seems to happen after the finger has been pointed. While organizations and politicians are busy blaming mental illness for crime and violence, mental health care remains unafforablebudgets are often reducedclinics are often closed, and patients are often dumped – and this is hardly acknowledged when the next tragedy occurs and the finger pointing begins again. The people who are quick to blame mental illness for violence are usually nowhere to be found between tragedies and show very little interest in funding treatment or research, engaging in mental health advocacy and activism, or volunteering for mental health related organizations or treatment facilities. Honestly, they rarely seem interested in even showing care and support for the mentally ill people in their own lives.

It also disturbs me that it would be so easy for so many people to dismiss my second amendment rights while fervently defending those rights for themselves; if you are willing to say the second amendment doesn’t apply to me, what other constitutional rights and legal protections would you be willing to deny me? This especially troubles me because one of the primary arguments against gun control is the use of firearms for self defense – and mentally ill people are exponentially more likely than the general population to be the victims of crimes. The need to defend ourselves, in addition to the fear of being stigmatized or forcibly hospitalized, is another reason why mentally ill people may be further discouraged from seeking treatment by this rhetoric (and any laws based based on this premise) – especially when you consider that police often do not believe mentally ill people when they report crimes and frequently end up shooting the mentally ill people they come into contact with, especially if they are in crisis. I wholeheartedly believe it is possible to create reasonable regulations on gun ownership which may consider mental health status, but if we are going to discuss preventing mentally ill people from owning firearms we need to avoid making sweeping, stigmatizing generalizations, and we need to have this conversation with care. These other problems must be effectively addressed, we should be extremely careful about the precedents we set in the process, and we need to be aware that such restrictions will not solve the problem of gun violence in general.

Facing the reality that people who are not mentally ill, people who are largely “normal,” are capable of extreme violence can be difficult, but we need to face that truth. It can be comforting to believe that, with the exception of mental illness, humans are rational creatures – but we’re not. It can be frightening for people who do not have a mental health condition to imagine experiencing things typically associated with mental illness, like hallucinations – but many do – and those experiences do not make them dangerous or violent either.  Believing in a wall that clearly separates “crazy” from “not crazy,” and then blaming the people on the “crazy” side for violence, makes violence seem predictable and makes possible solutions to such violence seem rather simple (although often horrible), and this can restore the feeling of order and sense in the universe which extreme violence steals from us – but this is an entirely false sense of security. Tearing down that wall means giving up these inaccurate beliefs, accepting that you too may be more “crazy” than you’d like to admit, recognizing that that all people (not just mentally ill people) have some capacity for violence and that mental illness is not a sufficient explanation, and then considering new possible solutions – and that can be overwhelming, but it is the crucial first step towards truly solving the problem of widespread violence.

The fact of the matter is that there is no one single cause of violence, the underlying causes of violence are complicated, and reducing violence is going to be a long-term challenge. There is not going to be a simple solution. But the good news is there are already people working on discovering and studying the factors which can lead to violence and preparing the way for possible solutions. Some of those factors include the “frustrated entitled,” “toxic masculinity,” exposure to violence, and substance abuse. As we let go of our misconceptions about the causes of violence and improve our understanding of factors which are currently contributing to violence improves, we will get better at mitigating their effects and protecting future generations from them, and violence will continue declining.

While we’re at, hopefully we can work on reducing the stigma around mental illness by ceasing to perpetuate myths about mental illness and violence as well as improving representations of mentally ill people in media, and we can improve our mental health care system and encourage and support people in seeking treatment.


[This post is a partially a mashup/rewrite of my previous posts, Yes All Women and Why I Avoid Social Media After Tragedies.]

Spirit Day

Today is Spirit Day: a day to stand up against the bullying faced by LGBT youth.

I just went purple on my “real” Facebook. I fully expect some of the remaining homophobes & transphobes on my friends list to either show up and spew their nastiness, or straight up unfriend me, but I’m trying to be optimistic.
And you know, I just don’t care. I feel the anxiety, but I don’t care. I think of my brothers and my cousins growing up hearing the same garbage I heard, living in the same hostile environment I lived in, and they deserve better. I’m willing to deal with a handful of hostile adults, no matter who those adults are, if it means they’ll get the change to grow up knowing they have at least one person in their lives who will still love them and be there for them, regardless of their orientation or gender.

I think I’m going to pop up throughout the day and post links to LGBT resources, information, art, and music. If anyone has any suggestions, leave me a comment and let me know!

First up is going to be “She Keeps Me Warm” by Mary Lambert, because every single time I hear her sing “I’m not crying on Sundays,” I immediately start crying. That one line sums up so much for me: the pain I felt when I was in love with a girl while I was in the church, the anger I felt whenever I heard people saying awful things about “homosexuals,” the raw exhilaration of finally deciding that I was done with all that hatefulness… I hear it all in her voice. And, very close to home, I especially appreciate the Corinthians 13 reference because Cor. 13 has become sort of a focal point for a very close relative of mine who has been questioning their relationship with the church and seems to be reconsidering some of their beliefs (YAY!).

In the post with my purple-ized profile picture, I also shared a link from Violence Prevention Works and highlighted these points as examples of why #SpiritDay is important and worth participating in:

  • As many as 93 percent of teenagers hear derogatory words about sexual orientation at least once in a while, with more than half of teens surveyed hearing such words every day at school and in the community.1
  • Negative name-calling and harassment about sexual orientation can be harmful to all students. Three out of four students who are bullied with such remarks are not identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (GLBTQ).2 These derogatory comments are often used broadly to inflict harm in a school setting.
  • Seventy-eight percent of gay (or believed to be gay) teens are teased or bullied in their schools and communities, a percentage significantly higher than for heterosexual youth.