SHORT STORY: Depression’s Apology

I was there when Cynthia’s mom died. She was only seven. She didn’t know who I was, or what I was, but she saw me. She felt me there, I think. She didn’t want to see me, though, so she closed her eyes and I hid. I stayed hidden for a while after that. Always there, but hidden.

I watched when the kids on the playground would tiptoe around her. They could all see me there, standing, hovering…watching. The visible, painful sadness, always in the room. But Cynthia? She ignored me for as long as she could.

I was there the day that the teacher with the long nose and messy hair called her out for being late. Cynthia hung her head and tried to ignore me. When the long-nosed teacher passed back her math test and Cynthia saw that she got a D-, she stuffed the test into her backpack and glanced up at me. She knew just where to look, which makes me think that maybe she knew I was there the whole time. When she got home, she let me hold her, and she cried so hard she threw up. I don’t think she was crying about the math test. Not really.

I was there when she got cut from the soccer team. The coach said she was too distracted, she wasn’t there, she didn’t get along well with the other girls. She didn’t connect. She let me hold her that day, too. I think it was my fault she got cut. I was always in her way. But she blamed herself.

I was there each time she felt a rush of emotions, waves of pain and sadness and anxiety that would suffocate her. I saw the looks her friends gave her – some furrowed their eyebrows and twiddled their hands nervously, worriedly, others rolled their eyes and snickered. “Is she crying?” the boy with the square-shaped head whispered to the freckled girl sitting on his lap. The girl shrugged and rolled her eyes. I held Cynthia’s hand when she cried alone in the bathroom stall.

Eventually, she looked at me. She looked at me for longer than a glance, she stared at me, she let me enter in through her eyes and travel down to her heart. I latched on, I made her heavier, and I held her tight. She let me wrap my arms around her each night and she let me tag along behind her at school. She let me whisper in her ear. “Worthless,” I told her, “There’s no point.” I didn’t really think that. I’d become quite fond of her, actually. But it was my job.

She let me consume her. I loved her and I think she loved me too, in a messed up sort of way. I couldn’t help it. I needed her to feed, to drain her, to fill her heart with my darkness. And she needed me to hold her at night. I think I made it all worse, but she didn’t have anybody else to hold her, not even herself. So I did my job.

The kids on the playground used to see me following her. They would look me in the eyes. They would point to me and they would hug Cynthia, thinking if they held onto her, I would go away. I never did. Eventually, they all stopped seeing me there. Stopped noticing. The more and more Cynthia gave herself to me, the more invisible I became. Cynthia didn’t see me then, when she was a wide-eyed, pig-tailed girl on the playground. But she sees me now, and nobody else seems to. Funny how that works out.

This is my apology, I guess. I know that I’m just doing my job. But I can still apologize.

I’m sorry,

Depression.

Why I’m Afraid of Netflix’s New Hit Show: Imitative Suicide and 13 Reasons Why

After watching 13 Reasons Why, suicide has been all I can think about, in an unhealthy way. I’ve been watching the show despite it being incredibly triggering, because I keep being told to give it a chance. I recently listened to a Freakonomics podcast about suicide (highly recommend Freakonomics if you’re into podcasts like me), and it was enlightening in that it talked about the issue that 13 Reasons Why has been making me fear the most – imitative suicide.

One of the most intriguing cases of imitative suicide with the most telling results happening in Austria in in the second half of 1987. Because of high profile coverage of suicides on the Viennese subway, there was a huge jump in imitative suicides. To address this problem, the Austrian Association for Suicide Prevention developed media guidelines about to address suicide, what images to show, and how to better prevent further instances. By changing the way that the Austrian media talks about suicide, there was a dramatic decrease in suicides in Austria. However, is censoring media coverage of suicide only furthering the problems with the stigma that surrounds suicide? Does starting the conversation about suicide and preventing suicide always have to be head-to-head?

For a short answer to that big question, I would say no. I’ve had successful experiences in small groups facilitating discussions about suicide prevention and I’ve seen it done on the media, in social settings, in the classroom, etc. 13 Reasons Why does provide an important conversation about bullying, sexual assault, and suicide, and my problems with the show aside, the cast is incredibly talented and diverse. Yet the show, in my opinion, is dangerous. My opposition to the show does not mean that I think suicide should remain silent and taboo – in fact, I’ve spoken out against the suicide taboo many times – but is a critique on the way that suicide is addressed in this show.

Graphic depictions of suicide lead to increases in suicide (again, listen to that Freakonomics podcast!). It’s not a controversial opinion; there is data that backs up these findings. When I first read the book, I was about thirteen or fourteen years old, and was just beginning to be influenced by mental illness and anxiety. I was hoping that a book about suicide, a topic that had been creeping into my mind, would help me better understand what I was going through. It only made me feel worse, and I can’t imagine what seeing a visual representation of the story would do to a person watching the show who is experiencing suicidal or self-harming thoughts. Granted, there are content warnings before more brutal or heavy episodes. But I know that I wouldn’t have paid much attention to them when I was younger, because I didn’t fully understand what I was going through.

Suicide cannot be riddled down to thirteen reasons or thirteen people. It’s complicated and complex. If you’re interested in the complexities, reach out to me, I’ve got access to a lot of resources and scholarship.

I am glad that the show decided to take on such an important topic, but am unhappy about the ways in which the topic was portrayed. I believe there could have  been more of an effort to talk about mental health and prevention. I know that the story is about a girl who was bullied, not mentally ill, and that thousands of suicides occur because of bullying. But I’m thinking about the impact here –  it is so difficult to access information about mental illness as a young person, especially if they are just beginning to experience mental illness, and this show is triggering to a point far beyond what I was expecting.

I know that I can’t speak for everyone. But my experiences are certainly relevant. I was bullied throughout my life – I was a bossy little kid who liked to read and would brag about my spelling test scores. Of course kids were mean to me. “Ditching” me on the playground was a game at recess – I wouldn’t go to the bathroom during the day because everytime I did, I would come out and my friends would be gone. In  middle and high school, friends talked about me behind my back frequently. Granted, we all talked about one another behind each other’s backs – but words affected me in a way that they didn’t affect everyone else. I had friends turn on me and break my heart. So yeah, I was bullied.

And on top of that, I had traumatic experiences with grief and loss and mental illness going on. So suicide is a familiar topic for me, as I’ve been in the position of feeling suicidal and I’ve dedicated a lot of my research and extracurricular experiences to suicide prevention and awareness.

I’ve seen a lot of articles and talked to a lot of people who have expressed concern with 13 Reasons Why – who feel it doesn’t represent the whole of feeling suicidal and feel that it portrays a false and dangerous message: If you kill yourself, everyone will feel bad about it and regret ever being mean to you. Even as someone who is no longer high-risk, the thought of everyone who was ever mean to me or pushed me aside feeling bad about it is appealing. And that terrifies me. If it’s appealing to me, how appealing is it to young people who are high-risk? Or are starting to have inklings of suicidal thoughts?

Yes, the show is addicting. Yes, there is phenomenal acting and representation in the show, which I don’t want to overlook at all. Maybe the show just isn’t made for people like me, who have had close experiences with suicide. But I think it’s safe to say that, if this show is having such a profound and terrifying effect on me, it’s having a profound and terrifying effect on many people. And the mere fact that so many people who identify as mentally disabled, have experience with suicide, or have experience with bullying are expressing discontent with this show demonstrates that there’s a problem. Obviously, not everyone with these experiences is expressing that there is a problem. But enough of them are.

I’m not saying that you’re not allowed to like the show, regardless of your relationship to suicide. I’m happy that there are people who have expressed love and healing that have come from this story. I’m so happy that it has facilitated a discussion about suicide, rape, and bullying.

I’m trying to say that, just  because you like the show, doesn’t mean you should discount the voices of people who are expressing concern. Do not label them as sensitive or easily triggered – I think I’ve made it quite clear that I’m not afraid to talk about suicide. My voice, and the voices of everyone else expressing concern, mean something, and that deserves to be heard and validated.

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Because I think talking about suicide and hearing stories about suicide is so important, here are a list of some of the better books that I have read that I think approach the issue in a much more accurate and less triggering way:

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

Looking for Alaska by John Green

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Hold Still by Nina LaCour

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

 

 

 

Not Just “That Time of the Month”: Living with PMDD

10 days left until period. Once my lovely period tracker app reads those few words, I can already feel the panic. Every single time, spot on, I PMS for 10 days straight. But, it’s not just normal PMS (not that any PMS is particularly normal) – I suffer from Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, or PMDD, a disorder that I was recently diagnosed with, despite knowing for years that it was happening to me. PMDD often goes untreated or unnoticed – people, even doctors, tend to write it off as “just PMSing.” This all, as too many things do, connects back to the narrative we tell ourselves about women and PMS – women’s experiences aren’t valued the same way that the experiences of men are. When I would try to explain my severe emotional PMS symptoms to doctors, I was not validated, and I felt crazy.

I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder a while ago, on top of multiple anxiety disorders. Not until recently has a clinician reassessed this and validated my experiences with depression and PMS. And unfortunately, many women have this similar experience.

Yes, I get cramps and I get emotional and I crave a lot of chocolate and fatty foods. But it’s more than that, and it lasts for 10 straight days. I have severe mood swings. I get sad, really sad, and I question everything in my life in those ten days. I have panic attacks. I’m irritable. I can barely make a decision about anything – which is incredibly frustrating, as if lasts for such a long time. I get night sweats. I’m so tired, I feel depressed, and I feel hopeless. I know that it will end; I know that once my period starts I will feel so much better.  But knowing that it gets better doesn’t stop the symptoms from happening.

The cycle is exhausting. It’s incredibly predictable and I tell myself that I know how to handle it – but sometimes, when I think about how 10 days out of my 30 day cycle are spent feeling depressed and anxious because of my period, I get really hopeless. I’ve tried birth control and that only made it worse, anti-depressants have helped treat my anxiety disorders but haven’t helped much concerning my PMDD. And the worst part is that I find myself invalidating my own experiences and belittling myself – I hear that voice in the back of my mind telling me that I’m just a crazy woman who’s PMSing. It’s been socialized into my brain to invalidate women’s experiences with their periods, even though I am a woman. That’s the most frustrating part.

Read more about PMDD here and ways to treat it (thanks Web MD!) and don’t be afraid to seek help from a therapist if you feel like you have PMDD.

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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!

What I Actually Mean When I Say That I Can’t Come Out

“Sorry, I’m going to have to sit this one in.”

“I’m really tired tonight.”

“I’ve got a lot of homework to do.”

“I’m busy.” 

It’s hard being a college student with mental illness. It’s hard growing up in a culture that celebrates things my mental illness prevents me from always doing; a culture that celebrates going out, rewards you for how many drinks you can down in an hour, and high fives you if you pull an all-nighter.

            I wish I could do those things. Some of the best stories from my best friends come from sleepless, crazy nights. The truth is, that’s not something I can do very often, and it’s not because I’m boring or lame or a prude or whatever you want to call me.

            Mixing alcohol and anti-depressants is poison. Anti-depressants have a very similar affect on the brain that alcohol does; I like to joke around with my friends that it makes me always “a little drunk.” I’m the definition of a “light-weight.” I weigh 100 pounds, 5’1”, and I am a vegetarian – less carbs in my belly to soak up the alcohol, unless I stuff my face with bread beforehand (which I would gladly do, who doesn’t love bread). One drink and I can get tipsy, if I don’t have much in my stomach. And on the days when I have panic attacks, and have to take extra medication for that, I don’t dare to drink.

            Crowds give me anxiety and big groups of people do too, and I get worried that people will judge me for not having more than two drinks. I get worried about having to walk home alone, because my anxiety will get the best of me and I’ll have to leave before anyone wants to leave.

            I feel like nobody understands how much it affects my life. I became a vegetarian, in the first place, because my anxiety was affecting my eating habits and I would get attacks about becoming overweight every time I felt full. I thought becoming a vegetarian would help me lose weight. Now, I embrace it – I do it for the animal rights and for my own personal health, but when people ask why I became a vegetarian, it’s hard to explain that I became a vegetarian because I borderline had an eating disorder and was convinced that eating meat made me look a certain way.

            I work out four times a week because if I don’t, I start to get those feelings again. I start to feel like I’m getting lazy or not being productive, and I break. I do my homework ahead of time, not because I’m a goody-two-shoes or a prude, but because my brain literally screams at me until I do it.

            It’s more than just my introversion. It’s more than me being lame or square or whatever, because I chose to stay in. It’s because I don’t want to go down that hole. I know myself well enough to know my limits, and I hate that anxiety limits me in a way that stops me from doing all the things all my friends are doing. I hate that people don’t understand; that they just see it as me not liking to go out. I don’t know if I like it – there are times when I have. It’s not a question of liking it or not, it feels like life or death for me.

            Everything in my life has been shaped by my experience with generalized anxiety and panic disorder, and periods of depression that accompany it. My worries, my dreams, my career goals, my hobbies; literally everything. When I think about it, I get so mad. Because I want to be like other people; I want to have crazy stories about going out to bars while I’m abroad. I hate that I can’t, and I hate that people don’t understand, and I hate that it affects how others see me. I’m not judgmental. I’m not a prude. I want to hear about your crazy stories and how much fun you had; I want to hear it all. I’m just tired of being judged for a part of me that I didn’t choose. I’m working on loving, understanding, and caring for that part of me, and I hope that you can too.

             

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

My Honest Review of Cursed Child

WARNING: Spoilers ahead!tumblr_nwnzkgfafg1uzswlz_og_1280!!!

This past weekend, I spent July 30th in a Barnes and Noble, awaiting the midnight release of the newest edition to the Harry Potter series. When I got home, I read until I fell asleep, and promptly finished in the morning. And let me tell you, it was one weird play.

Despite the weirdness, I completely loved it. I will try to keep this to minimal spoilers. I know there were a lot of problematic aspects of it, but there were also some amazing aspects as well. I have always been very much a fan of the books, and usually refuse to believe any kind of AU proposal to the words of Queen Rowling. Thus, even though some of the events in Cursed Child were strange, I take them as the truth.

First, I do want to address the queer-baiting. I’ve seen a lot of angry posts on Tumblr, which I completely validate and hear. However, I think it’s problematic that people are automatically assuming Scorpius is straight because he asked out Rose. First of all, BISEXUALITY EXISTS!!!!!!!! It’s quite obvious to me that there are feelings stronger than friendship between Albus and Scorpius, but that doesn’t mean that Scorpius can’t have feelings for Rose as well. Plus, they are fourteen year old boys, who are still figuring out their sexuality in a world that is, unfortunately, still very heteronormative. It’s still very bothersome that the writers did not put any openly LGBTQ characters in the play, and I am very angry about that. However, I don’t like the discussion that assumes Scorpius’s (and Albus’s, as well) sexuality is a dichotomy between straight and gay. Yet another instance of ignoring bisexuality as an option…

Second of all, despite a lot of angry Harry lovers, I think Harry was VERY true to his character. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Harry and all his flaws, but If there’s anything I’ve learned from growing up, it’s that you usually parent like your parents, and if you don’t have anything good to go off of, you have to try very hard to be good. HARRY HAD NO POSITIVE FATHER FIGURES. Sirius was reckless and treated Harry more like a friend than a son, Vernon was…well, Vernon, Dumbledore had some serious trust issues concerning Harry…the list goes on. It makes complete sense to me that Harry would have some trouble being a parent.

NOW, for the positives:

  • Ron and Hermione are still my favorite couple ever. EVER.
  • Dumbledore showing up at the beginning of the play and then not again until the end was incredibly accurate to his character. I lol’d.
  • Scorpius is like, my new favorite. He’s adorable.
  • Snape!!!!!!
  • Lesson learned: Don’t mess with time. Just don’t.
  • When I read the seventh book in the fifth grade, I decided I would name my daughter Rose because I thought I was Hermione (and still do tbh). Literally all my favorite things have a character named Rose in them, and the name becomes more important to me as I grow up. And I just have to say – my future child’s namesake is BADASS. She wasn’t in the play enough for my liking, but I loved her all the same.
  • Albus and Scorpius ❤
  • All in all, it has a lot of lessons about fatherhood, motherhood, and leadership, all important things in my opinion.
  • It shines some positive light on Slytherin, which I appreciated. I’m still a die-hard Gryffindor myself, though.
  • Things happen for a reason. I think that this play demonstrated that in many ways, which is a lesson I’m working on understanding in my own life.

Overall, I thought it was a lot of fun. Yes, there were problematic aspects, as to be expected, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it. It was fun, it was different, and it was very much a play. I hope that I can see it performed one day!