I’m Not Doing Okay: Mental Disability and Oppression

I’m not doing okay. Those words scare you, don’t they? They scare me too.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability. I’ve mastered being vulnerable about my past – I’ve learned how to wrap up my hardships up in a little box and tie a ribbon on top. I’ve learned how to turn my stories of struggle into stories of hope, into stories of “I’m-doing-a-whole-lot-better-now” and “look-what-I’ve-overcome.” I’ve seen how powerful other people’s stories of vulnerability can be in encouraging others to share there own stories and reach out. But how come vulnerability is only acceptable when it’s contained to the past? How come I feel so much more comfortable sharing my past struggles, but not my present ones, the ones that need to be shared?

When I talk about mental health, I tend to talk about it in the past. Like it’s something I faced when I was younger. Something that I’ve overcome. And in a sense, I  have grown since then – I’ve learned how to care for myself and I’ve established a better social support system. But no matter how great of a job I do at self care, no matter how many times I go to counseling and no matter how great I am at remembering to take my anxiety medication, I still have bad days. Really bad days. And I don’t know how to talk about them, nor do I feel I have the space to talk about them (which is why I’m writing a post about it…forcing myself to be extra vulnerable).

I’ve learned that no matter how much self-care I do, I will still face hardship from my mental illnesses on two levels: 1) The biological, chemical level, and 2) The oppression I face for my disability.

On the biological level, I can’t help it. I’m sick. Sometimes I feel like a ticking time bomb – like one day, the depression will get so bad that I’ll explode. And that scares me, no matter how good I’m feeling, I’m terrified of that happening to me one day.

On the societal level, I am damn tired of constantly feeling pressured to normalize and minimize the oppression that I face. I took a social justice class last year. The professor was the best I’ve ever had, but I first started to notice something about the oppression I face as a person with a disability in this class – disability is always the first to leave the table. When we fell behind in class, the disability unit was the first to be cut. I attended a leadership conference a few weeks back. We did an activity about identities, where various identities were all put up around the room. Disability was not up there. I raised my hand and asked why, and was told that not all models are perfect. While that is true, I’m tired of disability being discounted from discussions about oppression. It’s incredibility important, especially when talking about intersectionality and the cross-over between other identities (i.e. race, gender, sexuality) and disability.

When it comes to invisible disabilities like mine, I feel like I’m constantly having to prove my disability to others. I’m very high-functioning. Like, in my three years of college, I’ve only missed a course because of a panic attack once. I volunteer a lot. I’m active on campus. Because of all these things, people doubt the validity of my mental illness. People assume that because I’m not having panic attacks at school like I used to in high school, it means I’m all better now.

Mental health is not simply an individual issue. Like I said earlier, I know how to practice self care. I go to therapy. I take my medicine. I work out and eat well and I do everything I can for my mental health, but it’s still not enough, and it won’t ever be enough if people continue to let the stigma that surrounds mental illness be so pervasive in society. Oppression for those with both physical and mental disabilities is real. I face it from  my own thought patterns that have been socialized into my behavior, from my peers, and from laws/policies/political rhetoric.

I’m tired of always being the voice to advocate for myself. Where are all of my friends who had my back for so long, who have seen first hand the things I experience in my mind – where are my allies? It’s exhausting enough to live with a mental health condition. It’s even more so to constantly have to speak up for myself when nobody else does.

When I say I’m not doing well, I generally get one of the following responses: Either people freak out and assume I’m at risk, or people think I just mean that I had a bad day. I hope that one day, I’ll live in a world where I can tell others I’m not doing well and they’ll understand what I mean – that I need support. Isn’t that what all of us need?

di9radxat

Falling in Love with a City Called Prague

Ahoj friends, family, and followers! Long time, no posting, and I apologize for that! I figured it was time for a longer update on what I’ve been up to during my time studying abroad. This post is directed towards my family and friends, and anyone else who wants to hear about my adventures, so it strays from my usual writing topics, and will be written much more colloquially. Enjoy!

I’ve been here just about three weeks, and it has definitely been an adjustment process. The first day I got here, I felt MISERABLE. I could barely take in the beauty of the city because the jet lag was making me sick and tired, but after a good nights’ sleep, I was ready to explore. Since there’s just so much to update y’all on, I am planning to make this an extra long post which a different paragraph on different topics!

Sight-Seeing
I’ve gotten to see so many beautiful places and things while I’ve been here! I’ve decided it’s pointless to try to blend in, and have embraced my tourist-ness. Here are some pictures of a few of my favorite places that I have visited thus far:

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The Vlatava River, taken from a river cruise we went on the celebrate the completion of the first week of the program. Beautiful!
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Taken in the Prague Castle gardens, I got to hold an owl for only four USD!! Definitely a fun experience, and an added bonus was that this was taken during a wine festival in the castle gardens.
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Hiking Sv. Jan Pod Skalou, overlooking a beautiful town on top of a very high cliff. A long walk, but definitely worth the view. It made me feel at home in a place very far away from home.
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I got to visit Auschwitz in Poland, which I think deserves a separate post of it’s own. For now, I will say that it was very informative and really put things in perspective. An experience I would highly recommend for all people.
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Prague Castle Gardens on a sunny day.
 

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I loved the pictures I got from the John Lennon Wall!
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The infamous Charles Bridge!
Overall, some of my favorite activities have been hiking, swimming at a water park, drinking good beer in a beer garden, traveling by train, peddle boating on the river with my room mates, and really, really good cheese.

 

Culture
The culture is different here, as the attitudes that people have are a lot more chill towards drinking/smoking/PDA etc. Never before have I seen so much PDA on the subway! Not that I take the subway back at home, anyways. People say what they mean here, which is really nice coming from Seattle, aka the most passive-aggressive city ever. I’m at a point in my life when I’m really done with dishonesty and people covering things up to protect my feelings, so the general aggressive-ness and straightforward-ness here is a breath of fresh air, honestly!
There are also some other cultural differences here, such as no eating on public transportation, always staying on the right on elevators, and everyone speaking at least two languages. Coming to a country where English is not the primary language has taught me so much, and I highly suggest anyone considering studying abroad go to a place that doesn’t just speak English. As an English speaker, I am very privileged in that most people speak a little bit of English in most of Europe. It was really put my privilege into perspective, and I have a lot of respect for everyone who speaks more than one language!

People
I’ve met some really amazing people here that I am so excited to get to know better! It feels like freshman year of college all over again – having to meet new people and introduce myself all over again. It’s a nice change, but definitely draining at times, and sometimes it’s really difficult when I’m too tired to socialize, but want to make a good first impression.

Adjusting
Each of the three weeks has been a different story. It’s very conflicting, because on one hand, I am absolutely in LOVE with Prague. Honestly, I like it more than any other city I’ve been too, even Seattle (perhaps that’s because I’ve been a little annoyed with Seattle lately, but regardless…Prague is my new number one). Yet, at the same time, I miss everyone back home a lot. I don’t miss being at home, but I miss my family, my boyfriend, my dogs, and my close friends. I wish I could bring them all here to visit and experience this with me! Week three has me realizing that the distance is hard and I’m really missing everyone this week. I guess I’ll have to see what week four brings me, I know that it will get easier. On a positive note, I recently booked a trip to the UK for my fall break, and I am beyond excited to see Ireland, Scotland, AND England!!!

 

That’s all I have for now! Phew, that was a lot. And is probably full of typos, but I’m exhausted, and going to say “SCREW IT” and publish this anyways. No regrets am I right? 🙂

 

Cau! (that’s goodbye in Czech!)

 

 

 

An Ode to the Girls Who Watched Me Grow Up

The older the get, the luckier I realize that I am. I am lucky to have met my best friends at such a young age, to have picked the right girls from the handful of awkward elementary and middle schoolers. I am lucky to have girls that have been by my side through the years, who still take weekend trips with me and understand my weird quirks and laugh about how weird we were.

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This is for Mary, who I met in the fourth grade, who bonded with me over sleepovers, ChatNows, and lost walnuts on the playground. For Mary, who never left my side, who laughed with me at the strange shape of Avocados and the boys who we had crushes on, who never feared to point out the obvious and awkward (i.e.: “Erin, you have a pimple on your face.” *poke*), who’s face is sprinkled throughout old pictures of awkward selfies and Listerine commercials. The peanut butter to my jelly.

And of course, there’s Abbie, the far-away friend who I met in the fifth grade. The boy-crazy, hamster-loving, Japanese-obsessed ten year old with the blonde hair and the cute hat. Abbie, who although she was always far away, first home-school and then Arizona, will always be in our hearts because we know that we are in hers. The girl who I watched grow up into one of the strongest people I know, suffering through the heartbreak with her head held high. The girl with the coolest basement and the weirdest taste in music, with the best sleepover parties and the best of laughs.

This is for Kaitlin, who I became friends with at the age of eleven, the day that Abbie invited us both over, the girl I had heard stories about but had never spoken to. Kaitlin, who bonded with me over a strange story about a witch and a knight and odd Japanese Hamtaro music, who danced with me to weird songs, who poked fun at all of my crushes, who stayed up late writing and color-coding scripts with me. Kaitlin, who let me put my head on her lap the night that I cried and I didn’t know why, who was always there with her goofy smile and awkward dancing, the Harry to my Hermione.

This is for Natalie, brought together through Kaitlin the infamous day of the “period rock,” a friendship full of sleepovers and weird pictures and bickering over things that don’t really matter, like the chocolate that dropped on the floor that she wouldn’t pick up, or the correct pronunciation of the word “bag.” For Natalie, who was always there for me, who I aspire to always be there for as well. From playground adventures to coffee dates (where we both order tea, of course), Natalie will always be there to laugh at our pasts and hope for our futures.

This is for Manasa, who I met in the seventh grade, brought together in an awkward homeroom full of cool kids and weird kids. For Manasa, who braved the waters to talk to me – I was the quiet girl in the corner of the classroom who would read and ignore everyone during every homeroom session. That is, until we became friends, a friendship beginning with imaginative soap operas that soon led to stories and novels about dreams and reality and friendship and loss. The one who always knew what to say and how to help, even if she didn’t think she knew what she was doing.

This is for Grace, who bonded with me at the age of thirteen over our fondness of British words and our mutual stubbornness. For Grace, who I watched grow up, who always cared and looked out for each of us. The late night skype sessions wearing Harry Potter merchandise, the debates over fictional characters, the midnight premieres, and the meddling with our friends. The screaming Taylor Swift songs in the car over boys who were oblivious to our feelings, having her by my side as I fell in love for the first time. For Grace, the one who I know always believed in each of us, even when we didn’t believe in ourselves.

 

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When I watch old videos and look at old pictures, it’s as if we are all characters in an old show, each of us portraying a different character-type. I cringe at the videos of us in the ninth grade, but laugh all the same. Abbie, always the dramatic one who thought our shenanigans were strange but played into them all the same, the one who always had a new and exciting story to tell. Grace, the one behind the camera, the quiet one with the eye for beauty and the heart to hold us all. Manasa, the adventurous and reckless type, yet behind it all there lies a mom-like nature, always looking out for us like we were her babies. Natalie, the goof-ball, the one who doesn’t give herself enough credit for her bravery and huge heart. Kaitlin, the spaz, the star of our parodies and videos, always dancing and screaming and confusing us all. Mary, the one who was always in every shot (somehow), dancing and laughing and making fun of us, the one who was always poking us and annoying us but we loved it all the same. And of course, me, the high-pitched nagging, bossy voice directing everyone around, striving for perfection but never seeing that it was always in front of my eyes, in each of them.

The older I get and the more wonderful friends that come into my life, the more I realize that I will never meet another group of girls like these. I am lucky to have met these girls as a kid, and to have grown up so well alongside them. Few people have this kind of connection with a group of girls, and we are as lucky as they come. I swear, our group would make a damn good sitcom…but not one of those boring ones, one with dragons and magic and also normal things, like falling in love and laughing until we cry and stressing over homework.

This is for the girls who watched me grow up, long live our friendship, until the very end.