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.

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.]

Yes All Women

A couple days ago, I made a Twitter to see how I was getting traffic here from Twitter (thank you for your support, Homeschoolers Anonymous; it genuinely made me feel like my voice actually matters, and I deeply appreciate it).
I had no idea I would be actually using Twitter, let alone that I would be using it so much, so soon, while crying my eyes out the whole time.

I’m not very good at this limited character thing, so I figured I’d take a break to gather my thoughts.
By now, you should have heard about the shooting in Santa Barbara.

Most of what I think needs to be said most has already been said on The Belle Jar. I’d especially like to highlight:

“We don’t know if Elliot Rodger was mentally ill. We don’t know if he was a “madman.” We do know that he was desperately lonely and unhappy, and that the Men’s Rights Movement convinced him that his loneliness and unhappiness was intentionally caused by women. Because this is what the Men’s Rights Movement does: it spreads misogyny, it spreads violence, and most of all it spreads a sense of entitlement towards women’s bodies. Pretending that this is the a rare act perpetrated by a “crazy” person is disingenuous and also does nothing to address the threat of violence that women face every day. We can’t just write this one off – we need to talk about all of the fucked up parts of our culture, especially the movements that teach men that they have the right to dominate and intimidate and violate women, that lead to this, and we need to change things. Because if we don’t, I guarantee that this will happen again. And again. And again.”

I’ve learned over the last year to avoid Facebook in the wake of these tragedies, because an overwhelming amount of people respond by immediately blaming mental illness. You see, according to some of these people, it is only possible to do such a thing if you are mentally ill. Committing violence, according to them, by definition makes you “insane.”
Look, I can’t actually explain how wrong and completely untrue that is right now. I just can’t even.  Maybe in a future post, but for now, I just want to say that it hurts. It hurts so much to see things like that and be left to wonder if these people, people I admire and people I care about and people I thought loved me, think that I am just violent outburst waiting to happen, just because I have an illness. It doesn’t 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. It doesn’t seem to matter how much evidence I provide; they still insist that mental illness is blame. Then they suggest that mentally ill people should be locked up, or put on lists, or forbidden from having children (eugenics much?), and I find myself feeling not only emotionally wounded but deeply afraid for my own freedom.

I had already had kind of a rough day. You see, I got these text messages – the guy said it was a “wrong number,” but then kept texting because he was “bored, waiting for a friend.” Maybe this is weird, but I’ve actually had quite a few conversations with “wrong numbers,” so I didn’t really think too much of it and kept texting. Unsurprisingly, after revealing my first name (which is an extremely common woman’s name), he asked for “pics.” Not in the mood to attempt to educate a stranger on how this sort of thing can make people extremely uncomfortable, I simply politely declined and expected the conversation to end. Instead, he asked if I “wanted to make some money” and then offered me $700 to go shopping with him.
If you’re familiar with how sex trafficking tends to go down in the U.S., this is a giant bloody red flag. My inner alarm bells were screaming. And it occurred to me that this may not have been a “wrong number” at all – he may have seen my picture somewhere and tracked down my number, or he might simply be texting random numbers until he gets a response that seems promising. I imagined a younger, less informed person getting the same messages – say, an underage girl from a low-income family who knows her parents would never allow her to meet this person, but sees the chance to go on a shopping spree like she couldn’t even imagine, and who thinks this person just sounds friendly and generous. I imagined some girl who has no idea what she’s being lured into falling for this, and ending up in this guy’s car, and never coming home.
I won’t go into all the thoughts I had, all the possible courses of action I considered, from just calling 911 to just doing nothing and praying he was just a lonely guy with a lot of cash. I don’t have the energy at the moment to explain all the reasons why this was a complicated decision for me (maybe in a future post, when I’m not writing primarily for the purpose of processing my own emotions), but in the end I decided to contact the Polaris Project.

Then I wrote a post about it on Facebook, thinking my friends and family near the person’s area code should probably know somebody near them is doing this so they’re prepared if (God forbid) one of them or their friends or family members gets a similar series of messages. So that had been my day so far – my thoughts were already fixed on the particular dangers faced by women and girls and the ways in which we are devalued by society and the complexities of trying to solve this problem, and when I returned to my news feed after posting, the news of the shooting had hit. It felt like those texts had been some sort of sick inverted sort of synchronicity, like the universe was trying to warn me that the ugliness and awfulness was surging and about to hit.
I am shaken to the core of my being by this shooting.

One of the things that got to me most was this quote: “I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up blond slut I see inside there.” When I read that, I thought of one of my best friends from high school. We were roommates for two years, and lived together for a time after graduating. She was in my wedding. When we met in high school, I was welcomed into her family’s home, spent holidays with them, and was shown genuine love and kindness by them that very few people have ever shown me. She has five younger sisters. All six of them are tall, thin, blond-haired, and blue-eyed. I tried not to picture it, I tried so hard, but in my mind’s eye they appeared, all standing in a row like they were at her wedding, and I pictured them in Santa Barbara as Rodger walked up. They are some of the kindest, loveliest people I have ever known – and I can’t bring myself to type what he likely would’ve done if they had been there, just because they were born into female bodies. I just can’t.

This is something I have been afraid was on the horizon for quite a while now, and I desperately wanted to be wrong. I am afraid that this is going to be just the first in a string of many mass shootings motivated by misogyny. I am afraid for my own safety – I will not let that fear silence me or keep me indoors or prevent me from living as I choose, because to do so would be to simply give up and give the people who would hurt me simply because of my gender what they want, and I cannot and will not do that – but I am deeply, deeply afraid. I feel like we are already living in The Handmaid’s Tale, or maybe The Screwfly Solution, or maybe both mixed together.

So I’m going back to Twitter, to read some more #YesAllWomen, because in the wake of this tragedy, in the wake of this violence which was explicitly designed to threaten and harm all of us and to destroy as many of us possible, I don’t know what else to do right now. All I know is that standing together and refusing to be silenced gives me some kind of hope. It gives me hope that we will keep fighting, and that somehow, we will find a way to survive this, and to end it. It gives me the hope that we will find a way to change this, because it must change. It must.