Frankly my dear…

I’m a pretty complex creature. I have good days, bad days, days of all kinds of things. I’m an extroverted introvert and I could list a ton of labels that would go on for days. What I wanted to be, for a very long time though, is frank. Just very up-front, not wishy-washy. i want to call things like I see them, and have other people understand it as I meant it.

Which is why I started blogging in the first place. It’s why I tell the hard stories, the ones that are personal, the ones that enrage. Because if no one else will say anything, I have to. And that goes double for the topics I am passionate about: mental health and ending rape culture. This should come as no surprise-I talk about pretty much nothing else.

Something came up recently that crossed my mind and I thought I’d share it here. It’s a mental health blog day, so I want to be upfront with that. I’ll be talking about self-harm (although only about scars-no descriptors or pictures) and I will be talking about moving forward and healing. I’m going to start with the story I just submitted to The Mighty.

“My self image has always been a love-hate relationship. I grew up in a world where a woman who was headstrong, opinionated and loved herself just didn’t exist. That’s not to say that I had no support to be those things, but rather that I listened to everything else. Everything that was telling me how not good enough I was, how unacceptable it was to be me.

“I started self-harming as a freshman in high school. It wasn’t a cry for help, or a plea for death. It was a desperate attempt at a reprieve. I didn’t want to die, I just had no other way of expressing the pain and the level of emotions I felt on the inside. And although my skin has been forgiving, I avoid looking at my arms. I can see each and every scar and I think that hurts more than it did making them. The few people who know say that they can’t really see them, but it doesn’t matter-because I can.

“So I decided I was going to get a really pretty tattoo-something to cover them up. The most of them were on my left arm, so the location choice was easy. I spent weeks designing, critiquing and reworking until I had everything I wanted. It was a beautiful representation, the most lovely piece of artwork I’d ever made. I chose to remind myself that if I am unhappy, I can change. So I made a promise to myself that whenever I was frustrated or I didn’t like the choices I’d made, the situations I was in, I’d move on to something I did love, and that made me happy.

“When I was explaining my choice of design and placement, I picked my words carefully. I wanted to remind myself that life was beautiful. I picked the placement so that I would never self-harm there again. Why? Because I’d worked so hard on that art and destroying it was something I absolutely could never do. The hope and love that it represented were things that simply had to last much longer than the pain of a blade, or the pain on the inside.

“Later that night, as I reflected on what I’d said, I cried. If I could have such reverence for art-why couldn’t I have it for myself? I’ve spend decades becoming the person I am. A piece of art that takes that long is something that should be treasured far more than something that takes a few weeks and yet I’d spend half that time tearing it down, devaluing it and ripping at the very fabric of its creation.

“The thing is, I only let four people know I was getting my tattoo. I told two of them the meaning behind it and I kept the final design a secret from everyone except the artist. I sat down in the chair and when I got up again, the art on the inside was finally reflected on the outside. I keep looking at my arm, not seeing the scars that reminded me of how sad I was, how fragile and full of self-hate I was. Instead, I see hope and the promise I made to myself that unless I can say “I wish for this” to my choices, I have the power to change the situation, the duty to make myself happy, and the courage to be exactly the wonderful artwork of a person that I am.”


With that in mind, I went to work yesterday and my arm was uncovered-so everyone saw. I’m quite frankly very proud of the art, and the meaning and I had no problem telling everyone about it.  I even told them why. And the looks I got back were, well, they were interesting. And that’s what got me thinking.

I wanted to tell them the story of courage and beauty and love–self love. And the reactions were varied-usually some place between a pitying “I understand” or a shocked “I didn’t know that about her”. I’m not upset at either of these, but it made me think about why I was telling people in the first place. I’m not a “sharing” person, but I wanted everyone to know about it. So where was the disconnect?

I was so frank about what I wanted people to know because if no one is going to start the conversation, then I will. And as I said, if that means people give me looks, ask nosy questions or change their opinion of me, then that’s fine. Because maybe it’s the first time they’ve come in contact with these issues-and I want them to know that their preconceived notions might be wrong.

**Disclaimer-my work people are really great. They weren’t judgy or nosy, nor did they look down at me-I’m just saying that those are the reactions I’ve had from others.

 

 

 

 

Micromanaging-Coping Mechanisms from Hell

The worst thing about residing in my mind is having a million things to say, but no way to put it into words. I’ve been typing and retyping this blog, hoping to get something down of merit-something I wouldn’t just comb over and ultimately delete. Each day I open WP and decide to work on something, but as you can see, nothing has come out (save the update). It’s not that I’ve wanted to be away, it’s because I can’t.

micromanaging

When I get stressed, I micromanage. Turns out, it’s a coping mechanism from some trauma that I hadn’t dealt with. But it’s bloomed into much more than that. It hurts my relationships, it hurts my self-image and it hinders my ability to be a human being. So of course, I want to blog about it. I don’t want to talk about it, because it feels like a weakness, but I think that’s exactly why I have to-because somewhere out there, someone else is also suffering through it and I understand.

So. Micromanaging. Literally- control every part, however small, of (an enterprise or activity). (Thanks, Google.) You see, when I get into a situation which pushes me a little (or a lot) outside my comfort zone, I immediately flip the switch and micromanage. It could be something like keeping Google Maps pulled up on my phone-even when I know exactly where I’m going, just in case there’s a detour I didn’t know about. Or it could be making a meal plan for an entire month so that I feel useful. And then scrapping it because I could do better and doing it again. And again. It involves me circling my car to make sure everything is off and locked when I park. It involves me making a nightly sweep of my apartment to ensure that everything is off and locked before I go to bed (I even press the buttons on the microwave).

Let me run down a scenario day, so that we can discuss.

Get up, take the dog out (if Ben doesn’t beat me to it). Grab one poop bag from the box, open it, put it in my hoodie pocket. Then grab the leash and clip it to our dog. Look out the peephole and unlock the door while I’m looking. Go outside, look for murderers and ruffians. Look both ways before crossing traffic areas. Go back inside-holding my breath up the stairs in case someone tries to chloroform me on my way back in. Lock the door behind me.
Grab coffee-if I’m microwaving it, put 1 cup on for 1 minute, making sure the microwave reaches 1 second left before I pull the door and remove my cup. Make sure coffee/creamer combo reaches the top of cup.
Leaving for the day-check bag twice, key in hand and leave. Lock the door and test the knob. Walk across the landing, check the knob again. Make it to the car, making sure my ankles can’t be sliced by someone under my car.
Get to destination-do car check. Get to bus stop, look at car to make sure that everything is kosher. The key has to be in my hand until I reach the bus stop-to make sure I didn’t leave it in my car.
Text Ben everything I have to do that day. Then update him every time I complete or add or modify an item.
Get in car to leave-pull up Google maps, plug in home address. Set up music, drive home. Reach home, park and do car check with key in hand. Go to apartment.
If dog needs taken out-repeat morning ritual. If not, run down list of everything that happened at destination, everything that needs to happen and everything that will be optional (even though I already texted that list and all the modifications).
Make dinner (which was pre-planned, and prepped ahead of time). While dinner cooks, make sure to check planner for anything missed.
Eat dinner, update planner, move things into next day if necessary. Plan other things-like novel, blog topic, crafts, etc.
Watch TV or play iPad games. Listen to music. Cross date off on dry eraser board calendar (that I made with color coded events at the beginning of the month).

I think that gives you a basic idea. There’s a lot more planning and checking involved, but this is the basic skeleton. And it happens each and every day. If I take an outing last minute, I plan it before I leave. If I’m walking to a class, I probably have Google Maps open-even if I’ve been there before. If things get changed before I can prepare for it, chances are I will flake on it-bailing completely.

I made a bullet journal for the year, and it’s awesome, but I’ve already filled it with ideas for better bullet journals to make. I do a budget nearly every other day. I write and then rewrite emails and letters-even if they’re to myself.

Like I said, this began as a coping mechanism for something that happened a couple years ago. It wasn’t this bad at first, but became a progressive part of me that now runs my life. I’m not saying it doesn’t have perks-I’m super prepared for law school because I’m always taking notes and doing things to help me in the future. And thanks to my bullet journal, I’ve been adequately hydrated every day this week, as well as working out much more regularly.

Micromanaging is a blessing and a curse. It puts extra stress on my life and my relationships-and that I can’t deny is a real problem. But it gives me the guise of being in control at times when I feel like anything but. Any major change or anything that feels too big for me to handle can be broken down into manageable chunks that I have control over. And having control over situations means that it’s not an impossible task, it’s just something that I need to put more work into.

In the end though, I know this has to be dealt with. I just want you to know that if you’re working through this too-I understand. And if you want to talk about it, at least you know I understand.

You can do this. You’re not broken-you’re exactly the person you need to be at this moment.

Scheduling a Breakdown

(I submitted this to The Mighty a couple days ago, but I know they’re busy, so I thought I’d share it here. I’ll snag the link if/when it goes live. Until then, you can find my articles here.)

It seems like the minute I have a hundred things to do, my brain decides it’s the perfect time for a breakdown. Even though I have no time for it, it’s not convenient and I really don’t want to think about all the things my depression brain focuses on, I find myself doing all of those things instead of my full calendar. So I’ve put together a list of things that help me put a pin in my symptoms momentarily so I can finish up a few things.

1. Set aside time for yourself.
Trust me, as someone who understands all about
procrastinating, this can seem like both an obvious thing and an impossible
thing to do. But I’m talking about a five minute break here or there. Drink
your cup of coffee, slowly. Smell the steam, watch your creamer swirl in the
cup. Live the experience fully. Go get the mail. Do you hear any crickets? The
sound of ice crunching beneath your feet? This little break reminds you to catch
a little perspective and maybe distract you long enough to work through it.

2. Let yourself be upset.
Telling yourself that you’re not that upset only makes you worse. If you
absolutely can’t be upset-do math. It can be simple, like 1+1, 2+2 and so on.
As it turns out, your brain doesn’t like feeling emotions and doing math at the
same time, so you can usually stall your tears for a moment. But if you have
the ability, just be upset. Again, it can be a little five minute moment in
which you feel like the world is crashing around you and all hope is gone. I
ugly cry, take a tissue and blow my nose then get up and grab some water. I’m
not saying I’m done being upset, but if I let myself be upset in little bits,
then it doesn’t come out in a marathon. It’s your right to be upset. Even if
you don’t think there’s a reason. The way you’re feeling is completely valid.

3. Find something you wanna smile about.
I hate the advice “just turn that frown upside
down”. Sometimes that’s the absolute last thing I want to do-and even then it
just makes me angrier, or cry harder. But what I’m talking about is finding
something that you know you enjoy and experience it. If you think penguin’s
laughing is cute-find a video (I think it’s fantastic). If you know you smile
when you make chicken parmesan, make it. Like bubble baths? Take one. Because
finding something to enjoy usually results in some kind of self-care and let’s
be honest-is that ever a bad thing?

4. Take a deep breath.
This isn’t a novel idea, but it’s important.
Your whole body needs oxygen to function. Your brain is absolutely no
different. Think about how hard your brain is working, trying to manage
everything, fix problems (especially the ones you’re worrying about “for
nothing”). You need air. Plus, if you take a moment and focus on your
breathing, sometimes you’ll find that you already knew the answer to the
problems, you were just so focused on everything all at once that you didn’t
notice.
While you’re breathing, try this little
exercise. Take one breath in and list five things you see. Breathe out. Take
another breath and list four things you hear. Breathe out. Take one more breath
and list three things you smell. Breathe out. One more breath and list two
things you can feel. Breathe out. Take another breath and list one thing you
can taste. Breathe out. Take another breath and carry on about your day.

5. Get a validation outfit.
This is one of my favorite things, and it
happened completely on accident. I got a sweatshirt a couple sizes too big and
washed it and decided that I would only wear it when I felt like a terrible
person. I told myself that while I was wearing it, I wasn’t allowed to degrade
myself. The shirt itself has a graphic about always loving yourself, so I
thought I’d wear it when I needed a reminder that I’m not a monster, and that I
matter. It hangs in my closet until I feel depressed, or feel worthless and
then I put it on and read the words. And when the thoughts popped into my head
like “I’m an idiot.” Or “I’m unlovable.” I look at the words on my shirt and
force myself to take ten seconds to say something nice about myself. “I am
fierce. I am valid. I am irreplaceable.” The nice thing about validation
outfits? They can be anything: a business suit, a pair of shoes, earrings, a
bracelet, a pair of socks. The important thing is to remember to love yourself.
Soon enough, it’ll be your favorite piece of clothing.

Life is hectic and hard sometimes. But the important
thing to remember is that you can do it-even when you’re convinced you can’t.

My Gal Kesha

My life started down the SJW (social justice warrior) path nearly 9 months ago. I came across an article about Kesha (the pop star), watched her video (on Instagram I think) and became outraged at the way she was forced to do something she so clearly should not have been. And a follow up article came up in my life today.

I was listening to the radio on my morning commute (like the old person I am) and I heard the report that Kesha was panicked that her medical records were going to be released. Naturally, I did a little digging.

Kesha’s Concerns This is the link to the Rolling Stones article. In it, the point was made that Dr. Luke’s lawyers requested (and were granted) 10 years of gynecological, psychological and rehab records for Kesha. The lawyer representing Dr. Luke requested that the court (Not Kesha’s lawyer) decide if they could release the records to the public.

I know, my blood was boiling by that point as well. Because this is the Kesha I know. I am familiar with the easy-going, wicked smart woman who stood out and embraced diversity.

And then you have people like Donald Trump. (Did you think I’d forgotten?)

I saw the video, I watch all of the debates. And let me tell you something. One of the best things I heard in response came from The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. And I have to agree with one part in particular.

People are conflating sex talk with sexual assault talk.

And that’s a REALLY big problem.

I’m not saying that sex talk is “to be expected” or “just what guys do”. Because I find that offensive and belittling to the men I know and trust. I’m also not saying that I am willing to wipe clean my ideas about sex and gender.

What I’m saying is that sex talk I can disagree or agree with. Sexual assault talk is something I CANNOT and WILL NOT accept or let slide.

And I know, as well as you, that I’ve tried to keep my blog a pretty anti-political zone unless it directly affects the issues I’m bringing up.

But in this particular moment, I honestly cannot accept that there are still people who would vote for Donald Trump. I won’t change paths and devote the rest of the election season worth of blogs to anti-Donald campaigning, but just know that it will come up as it has. Because a vote for Donald is a vote against everything I am. And probably a fair amount of who you are as well.

So what do these two have in common?

Men in power who think they can get away with whatever they want simply because they’re rich.

And that’s what I’m trying to stop. We are all equal-regardless of ethnicity, orientation, categories we use to define ourselves. Vote. Please vote. Learn from Brexit-don’t be apathetic, don’t give in to “it could never happen”.

This is how freedom dies. With little bits of loss and unacceptable actions made acceptable.

Stigmas in Suicide Terminology

thoughts.png

This article may contain trigger warnings: suicide is going to be discussed-mostly the terminology behind it though. Still, better safe than sorry.

I was having a discussion with a professor a while ago and it came up that I wrote for The Mighty. She asked what it was that I wrote about and without hesitation I said “Suicide”. It wasn’t until much later that I reflected on the conversation and realized that perhaps it seemed like I was sending a message that I didn’t mean to be sending.

I think that depression has a really bizarre way of making you rehash your interactions. My fears were that I was going to have to deal with a well-meaning email asking if I was mentally in a bad place, or worse-a phone call from the counselors on campus asking me to come in at my earliest convenience. I have the fear that if enough people find out I have a mental illness that it will come back to bite me in the ass and prevent me from living my life. Which is ridiculous for exactly two reasons.

  1. A LOT of people know that about me-because I don’t view it as something I need to keep quiet about. I’m going to talk about it because I’m not ashamed of who I am.
  2. Not a damn thing is going to prevent me from living the life I want to lead. And that’s a promise to both ya’ll and myself. If I want it, I will achieve it. The end.

So I made a “cover-my-butt” email and sent it to her. Which was probably the lamest thing I could have done. But it ended up working out in my favor because I got to talk about something that I feel strongly about-stigmas surrounding suicide survivors.

I have issue with the terminology used to talk about suicide. Not because I believe that we shouldn’t talk about it (because we should) but because of the words we use that imply things we don’t mean. Ultimately, it comes down to two questions.

  1. What is it that clearly communicates suicide (or living after) without bringing with it the negative connotations?
  2. What do we call people who live after, instead of dying?

So I was thinking about it, about all that I knew and had at my disposal and about what to use instead. Here are some phrases and my thoughts. (If there’s a *, it’s because I’m going to discuss that phrase later on.)

Commit Suicide: This harkens back to when suicide was a crime-and attemptees* who lived were tried as criminals. (From Google (and Wikipedia): “Before the Suicide Act 1961, it was a crime to commit suicide, and anyone who attempted and failed could be prosecuted and imprisoned, while the families of those who succeeded could also potentially be prosecuted. In part, that criminalization reflected religious and moral objections to suicide as self-murder.”) This implies that people who die on their own terms* are criminals, and those with suicidal ideation are nothing more than premeditating murderers. That’s not right.

Successful Suicide: I have problems with this phrase because “success” will always carry the connotation of (From Google: “accomplishing an aim or purpose”) and it seems like when people use that phrase, they wanted the person to die. I can’t get behind that.

Unsuccessful Suicide: This is the bigger problem I have with “successful suicide”. If an attempt is made and the person lives, under “successful suicide”, that person would be labeled “unsuccessful”. The problem I have with that is that a person who attempted suicide and lived would have reached a point in their lives where they felt there were no other options and the first thing they will hear is “You couldn’t even kill yourself.” You are telling someone who probably felt like they failed at life in every possible way that they also failed at death? That’s a TERRIBLE idea.

Died from Depression: I brought this one up as an alternative, but the truth of the matter is this one is very conditional. I was reading just recently about a police officer who chose his death because he’d become corrupt and didn’t want to go to jail. In this case, it wasn’t depression, and therefore it isn’t applicable to use this phrase. However, in a case like say, Robin Williams (may his soul rest), “died from depression” is completely applicable.

Died From a Complication of Depression: Like the point above, this is conditional. I framed this one by saying the following: If someone had cancer and the coroner put on the cause of death “pulmonary embolism”, we wouldn’t say “They died of a pulmonary embolism.” We’d say “They died of cancer.” The embolism was a complication caused by cancer. The problem with “Complication of Depression”? It takes a while to explain and is extremely conditional.

Selfish Suicide (also: Coward’s Death): I take offense to this one-and many others do as well. If there comes a time when suicide is being seriously contemplated because of depression, it is the furthest thing from selfish. The person will usually feel that taking themselves out of the lives of their loved ones will make those loved ones’ lives less painful, less complicated. Or perhaps it’s a matter of not wanting to continue hurting (either physically or mentally, or maybe both). Neither of those things are selfish or cowardly (and in fact the Google definition of Brave is: “ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage”). (A case could be made for incidents like the cop story I mentioned, but that’s a different post for a different day.)

Ultimate Act of Self-Care: First, let’s break this down. Ultimate (From Google: being or happening at the end of a process; final). Self-Care (From Google and Wikipedia: In health care, self-care is any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated.) Now, if you adhere to this very textbook-esque definition, I don’t have a problem with it. The only thing is, not everyone adheres to the same textbook if you catch my drift. “Ultimate” can be seen as synonymous to “highest” or “best”. “Self-Care” has been construed to mean anything from eating well and exercising to splurging on unnecessary items from the store or eating whole pies by yourself. It is this connotation that would imply selfish behavior. However, if we take this to mean “Last deliberate, self-initiated act of addressing an unmet need” then yes, this is good.

Die on their own terms: This is one of the ones I’ve been leaning on. I see it as factual, kind and flexible. The problem with it? It seems to get a lot of “Huh?” faces when I say it-to which I have to reply with the stoic “Suicide”-which defeats the purpose a little. Now, not only does this phrase fall on the ears a little gentler than suicide, it has the open endedness that accounts for mental health, “the police story”, physical disability choices and more without carrying any specific connotation or implication. And should someone live? Then this phrase starts to fall apart a little.

Suicide attempt: (From Google: make an effort to achieve or complete). I know this is really what’s been used in the past, but just as with “success” this seems a little insensitive. Now, I don’t know if there’s anything better for this act. My problem with it comes from the fact that if you attempt something you’ll either “fail” or “succeed” and we’ve already gone over that issue.

Planned/Spontaneous Suicide: These are relatively new introductions to the vocab choices.The only issue I have with these goes back to the “committed” issue. Planned sounds a lot like “premeditated” and that is definitely a word association with crime. The problem I have with spontaneous is that for the person, it’s almost never spontaneous. The thoughts are there-whether the “spectators” see it or not. Spontaneous just sounds like a cop-out for people who weren’t paying attention to the signs, or who weren’t around.

Suicide fatality/Non-fatal suicide: I tried this set, and with mixed success. I think it works better than “Successful/Unsuccessful” but it’s so mechanical. This is what I expect medical professionals, counselors and other “professionals” to use. Having been in the medical field for a short time, I understand that this phrasing would come in handy for clear and precise communication-which is why I was using it. But it seems disconnected, cold and jargon-y.

Attemptee: The person who lives is often faced with more issues than they had pre-incident. And I mean that in the kindest way possible. With that in mind, as I discussed above, I’m not sure “attempt” is the right verb choice. Depression can warp the meaning of words quicker than anything else, so for the sake of the person, perhaps this isn’t something to use.

Victim: This goes back to “crime” ideology. And for that reason I can’t get behind it.

Survivor: This is the one I use for the simple fact that the definition means exactly what I want it to. (From Google: a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died). Other people may have died from the same method-and that person lived. It carries with it the same respect as it does with other things you survive: cancer, sexual assault, natural disasters, etc. And it denotes that the living is still in progress.

 

 

So, readers, what do you think? Anything I missed? Anything you agree or disagree with? What do you use to talk about suicide?

 

Survivor’s Guilt

I wanted to share a poem I made in honor of Ulla, of all the friends and friends-of-friends we have lost to depression. I know it’s late. I know. But World Suicide Prevention Day has been on my heart all day. (Following image from Google.)

flower

Survivor’s Guilt 

In the stillness of morning
I seek you out
A touch, a smile
But there’s nothing but silence.
Flip on the lights
Awaken from this nightmare
A yawn, a tear
And then I remember.

I didn’t ask for you to leave
But I never told you to stay
And I didn’t ask if you needed me
Until they buried you.

In the bustle of the afternoon
I search for you
A laugh, a wish
But I wait for the emptiness
Pause at our spot
Bent but unbroken
A sigh, a glance
A confession in waiting

I never stopped to think
You never thought to ask
I didn’t know you were hurting
Until they asked for final words.

I expected to see you
In everything I did
You were there, but not
And I couldn’t stand it
I thought of you today
And realized our inside jokes
Couldn’t matter anymore.
Goodbye, my dear.

Until we meet again.

(c) Michelle BB 2016

What I Needed to Understand

I’m a shy person by nature. I don’t talk to strangers often, I like being introverted. Even in a manic state, I only get chatty with people I know. Interesting.

Ever since I discovered that I’m really passionate about human rights, I’ve started to see an evolution in my personality. I helped a complete stranger yesterday who couldn’t get their door to lock. Normally I would have shied away, had my husband see if he could help. And I feel chatty. Depressed, manic, all the time. 

But only about specific things.

And wouldn’t you know that the things I feel like I need to speak about so urgently are the things that I harbor in my soul.

-Depression and Suicide

-Sexual Assault Rights

-Protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

                                                                                 (Image from Google-I just happen to love it.)

It has come to my attention (or should I say, I have noticed) that I start these conversations, I make sure the people I am with are aware that there are some very big news stories going on and that they need to care. I mean, I’m sure I sound like a downer because I talk about (generally) death, crimes and destroying the earth/cultures. I know. 

But I can’t stop talking about them.

I don’t even think I want to stop.

Because, as I put so poignantly in a FB response, “If we stop talking, we stop living.” And I believe that. 

So instead of apologizing for being the bearer-of-bad-news and the news anchor in my social life, I’m going to keep talking. I’m going to keep bringing up things people might not want to talk about becuase I have no other choice.

If I stop talking, I stop being who I am. 

And I won’t compromise that. Not anymore.