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?

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To My Facebook Friends who are Tired of seeing “Sad Political Posts:”

 

Please stop sharing pictures of cute dogs saying that it’s better than the political debates you’ve been witnessing on the internet. As much as I love cute pictures of dogs, I am also aware that distractions are not the way to address the current political climate. Do not complain that politics are making you sad when there are people whose lives are being threatened because of the political environment.

 

Want to hear a lot of “sad” facts? No? Well I’m sorry, they’re happening right now, as we speak. Hate crimes surged after the election of Donald Trump (they may have declined since, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over). The Trump administration recently released policy to implement the Muslim Ban, reinstated a global gag rule on abortion to block federal funding from contributing to international family planning services, froze federal government hiring, and issued an executive order to continue the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

 

I don’t feel sorry for you. I don’t feel bad because you’re sad by all the terrible, terrifying news you see on your feed. I feel sorry for the people who are being affected by these policies. I feel sorry for people being held in airports, for people who have been victims of hate-crimes, for people who rely on Obamacare and are worried that they aren’t going to have insurance anymore.

 

I do hope that you take a moment to reevaluate your privilege, and realize that many people do not have the luxury of “feeling better” when they look at cute pictures and funny memes. This is a constant, on-going fear in the minds of immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ folks, and womxn across the continent. If you’re tired of seeing sad policies posts, than maybe you should take action to change things instead. Not everyone has the ability to distract themselves from these issues.

 

So, if you’re feeling down because of the news, instead of complaining about it, take action. Here are a list of resources for you to start with:

National Immigrant Justice Center

Daily Action

Call your government officials!

Wall of Us

Educate yourself about privilege.

Ask your local Church/Community Center/School what they are doing to fight the oppressive administration. And get involved!

Feminism, Shaving, and Other Things

As I grow up, I’ve learned to question the things I was socialized to believe about my identities (as any good liberal arts college student should!). That being said, viewing how I was socialized into my role as a female has lead me to question a lot of the behavior I partake in – such as shaving, dating, wearing a bra, painting my nails, etc.. I’ve read numerous articles telling girls to stop doing these gendered female activities because of the always-present-male-gaze that we are socialized, as girls, to abide to.

I think that it’s important to enable girls to be able to dress and act however they like. That’s why I’ve been frustrated, lately, by a lot of the rhetoric I am confronted with on campus. It becomes a sort of competition – who’s the most feminist? Who is brave enough to go braless and who steps away from the bounds of femininity the most? I’m not a fan of that kind of rhetoric – rhetoric that puts down stereotypically “feminine” things and urges females to act more masculine. FEMALES SHOULD NOT BE PRESSURED TO ACT ANY WAY, AT ALL. ACT HOWEVER YOU DAMN WANT, LADIES. As long as you are doing it for yourself, and not anyone else, then ladies – do whatever the hell you want.

I paint my nails and I wear a bra and I shave my legs. These are things that I have always done, and I will admit, they began because of how I was socialized. I was told I had to shave my legs once I turned eleven, I painted my nails so I could be like the other girls, and I wore my hair the way I thought the boys would like. I hate that I thought that way, and I hate that other little girls are going to think that way too.

Now, when I shave my legs, it’s different. I don’t do it for my boyfriend (I would never date anyone who told me that I had to look a certain way for them, anyway. I’m not one to take misogynistic shit lightly), I don’t do it because my friends do, and I don’t do it because people tell me to. To be honest, I go weeks in the summertime without shaving and look like a beautiful hairy goddess. I hate shaving behind my knees so I don’t (it’s very soft back there!), but the little prickles – damn, they bug me. I don’t care if they bug anyone else, but they bug me, so I shave them because I like it when my legs are smooth.

I paint my nails pink and wear pink because I like pink. At first, I was socialized to be PINK – pink means you’re a girl. Now, I’m taking the color back. I’m owning it. I’m not letting anyone tell me that it’s the only color I can wear. I wear it because I choose to.

I have a boyfriend because I am in love. Not because I’m supposed to be dating boys, but because I fell in love when I was sixteen and wasn’t expecting it. He has turned out to become my biggest supporter.

I wear a bra because it hurts not to. I’ve stopped buying push-up ones like I used to, because I wore push-up ones for other people and not for myself. Now, I wear normal, comfy bras for myself.

I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated because my whole life, growing up, I was forced into femininity. Pink, flowers, dance, cheer. Those were things I liked. I wonder if I would have liked them if I hadn’t been socialized that way. Either way, these are things I still, for the most part, like.

Yet, I’m even more frustrated, because when I came to college and finally began to understand and embrace what it meant to be female, criticism poured into my ears. As if there’s a correct way to go about being a woman, and that being female and loving my femininity wasn’t enough to smash the patriarchy.

I drink my tea from a mug that says “MALE TEARS” and I always sit with my legs crossed (not exactly “lady-like”). I’m not afraid to stand up for myself. I also like pink and flowers and shaving my legs. Sue me. Smashing the patriarchy isn’t about leaving behind femininity – it’s about allowing girls to choose who they want to be, and boys too, for that matter. It’s about allowing people to embrace femininity or reject it, if they want. It’s about taking the negative connotation away from femininity. It’s about giving girls the power to choose what they want to do, and empowering other women to choose what they want. It is not about criticizing other girls’ choices.

And mostly, it’s about empowering women and girls, together, to be able to finally feel safe in this world that is so controlled by men.

 

Read another one of my articles on femininity here635929150785520908571202620_feminism_small-003