Our own civil war.

I don’t know what to think anymore.

Okay, that’s a lie.  I believe the reality is I have too many thoughts.  Too many worries.  My mind rattles with heartbreak and pain, sadness, unbelievable anger and distress.

This week we have seen the loss of life of two African-American men at the hands of police, followed by a gruesomely violent attack on police officers.  All bearing the markings of racial motivation.

I have white privilege.  As a white person, I can turn off the TV, I can stop looking at Facebook and Twitter, when things become too much.  Though some may argue that black individuals have this same ability, and while it is true in the physical sense, they cannot deny or turn a blind eye to the reality that they are being targeted.  Statistically speaking, the numbers show the unprecedented way in which black individuals make up 40% of victims from police violence when they only make up 6% of the general population.  That is an eye-popping statistic.  And it isn’t due to where they live.  There is no mathematical correlation between where these events happen and where these individuals reside.

When I walk outside, I do not fear for my life because of my skin color.  Or even my religious belief.  When I see a police officer, I do not run through the myriad of ways a situation can turn from civil to uncivil, nor do I mentally check off the long list of ways in which I have to step cautiously so as not to be perceived as a threat.  My reality is: as a white woman I am looked at differently than a black man (or black woman).  I am not perceived as a threat.  That is my privilege.

From a young age, many black men are taught to be overly cautious of their behavior around law enforcement.  Philando Castile’s mother is quoted as saying she taught her son to always “comply” regardless of the situation.  And from all appearances, he did.  And it still ended in his bloodshed and death.  Some will argue that the video Diamond Reynolds shot is the aftermath, and therefore no clear confirmation if confrontation existed.  It throws things into question: did he really do as he was asked?  Was there more of a threat than she lets on?  Was his behavior somehow a precursor to violent behavior?  My opinion is that, no, there was no threat, he really did do what was asked of him.  And he still died despite complying.  A witness in a parking lot across the street says she heard gun shots before the officer even finished saying, “put your hands up,” meaning Philando most likely did not even have time to respond to the new request before four bullets were shot into his body.  And if he was reaching for his license in the immediate moments before, there was quite literally no time to comply before the officer opened fire.  It means that if, hypothetically, Philando did not hear the officer’s command, he was shot before he could even ask, “Excuse me?”

A traffic stop.  Because of a broken tail light.  This minor misdemeanor was the beginning of the end for Philando Castile.  Something, undoubtedly, a majority of the population has on their record.  Alongside moving violations and late registration tickets.

And that shouldn’t even matter.  A record, previous criminal activity, should not be a death warrant in this country.

Alton Sterling served time in jail.  He was convicted of having a small amount of marijuana on his person, alongside a firearm, resulting in five years in prison.  This meant he wasn’t even supposed to have a gun, but again, that plays no real bearing on the fact that he was shot in the chest and back, multiple times, after an escalated altercation between law enforcement and himself.  The videos of the incident show he was being straddled by one police officer, completely blocking off the ability to grab the gun they later pulled from his pocket.  There was no way he could have turned the weapon on the police, let alone be able to reach the gun, so why was he shot?  Why did the officer un-holster his weapon when the man was on his back, being straddled by another officer, ultimately in a position of lesser power?  Why did the officer point his gun at Alton’s chest and threaten him?  Is that the behavior of someone who is trained to de-escalate situations in order to avoid unnecessary death?  To protect and serve?

There were many other ways to subdue Alton Sterling, if he needed to be subdued further.  Tasing him, using pepper spray on him, or perhaps rather than kneeling near his head holding a firearm, using hands and arms to pin his limbs.  Some claim Alton was tased.  But in the same breath they mention Alton’s jerky movements, his extremities flailing, suggesting somehow it was justification for shooting him in the chest at point-blank range.

When a human body is tased, it is contending with electrical currents, meaning a natural reaction would be to jerk or flail.  One of the officers tackled Alton, throwing him across the hood of a parked car, and then pounced on him, physically straddling him.  Perhaps Alton couldn’t breathe, the wind having been knocked out of him with the force of the movements and the added pressure of a 100 plus pound body sitting on his stomach.  Maybe his arm coming up was to hold his chest.  Or check his head after being thrown so violently to the ground.  Regardless of the motivations for his movements, they were not acts that should have predetermined use of deadly force when he was already in a position of lesser power.

My heart bleeds for the Dallas officers that were killed, and for those that were wounded.  The sniper wanted to kill white cops (he told negotiators this), said he was not affiliated with BLM – Black Lives Matter – and actually expressed anger at them (again, told to negotiators), and that his motivation was an emotional reaction to the spate of killings this week (again, told to negotiators). This is not justification for their murder, and they are definitely not justified deaths. But neither are the killings of the many black men and women at the hands of police officers.

I am utterly heartbroken by this situation. But denying or turning a blind eye to the racial tensions that exist is not going to promote peace and well-being. Recognizing them for what they are and then working, side by side, to overcome these systemic issues is the only way, at least in my opinion. Willing empathy, putting ourselves, as best we can, into the others shoes and not denying their experience because of our own skewed perceptions and misconceptions. Black lives and officers alike. I don’t know what it’s like to be of a different race, but I can appreciate their struggle and offer my open mind. I don’t know what it’s like to be an officer contending with the myriad of individuals, from peaceful and calm to belligerent and angry, but I can listen to their stories and offer my open mind. But ultimately, it means coming together despite our differences and being WILLING to open our hearts and minds.

Remembering Prince.

Also posted to my iLOVEMUSIC blog under “Saying goodbye and the question of true fandom“.

Everyone grieves in their own way.  Some people mourn outwardly – flocking to the scene of the icon’s last days, legitimizing how they feel by garbing themselves in concert t-shirts, crying openly as the first reverbs of a favorite song come through the speakers – while others show their sadness through quiet appreciation, sharing memories of the first time they heard that one song, or simply remaining silent, because it’s their way.  But to judge someone as a fan, or a “true” fan, based on these either open or closeted reveries actually dishonors the genius and talent, the magnitude and reach, of the legend.

Art is highly subjective.  One song can have 100 different meanings to 100 different people.  And by extension, one song can mean the world to a person while others need to know every single note from the entire discography to feel like they are legitimized as fans.  In my opinion, so long as the artist impacted you, either through a single moment or an entire lifetime of moments, you are a fan.

Art is meant to be appreciated.  It is meant to be passed on from generation to generation.  To live in perpetuity.  To gain new fans as years pass while remaining a comforting blanket for those who were there at the beginning.  And not every fan can be there at the beginning.  Some weren’t even born yet.  But to diminish new appreciation is to dishonor the memory of the legend.  To claim people as posers for discovering their love of a song twenty years after its advent, or even in the wake of the legend’s death, is ridiculous, and shows only a truly warped view of art itself.  So long as someone is impacted, in any form or capacity, by the importance of not just the public persona and artistic vision, but also the presence and indelible reach, of an artist, they are a fan.  And to diminish someone, to put their fandom on a gradient, says more about your own insecurities than it does about how devoted you were to the artist.

It’s sad that whenever a legend dies, these arguments and accusations always arise.

The first time I listened Prince, well honestly, I can’t remember.  I know I had a dance teacher who loved Purple Rain (the movie), so we’d occasionally do opening stretches to “When Doves Cry”.  The first time I remember truly hearing that same song was at a middle school talent show.  Something about the opening guitar riff puzzling together with the drumbeat caught my attention.  It built the same way the opening lines in a story build, somehow complex yet simple, completely shrouded and hinting at something bigger.

When the song ended and the dancers left the stage, I craved another listen through.  The song has an addictive beat.  Weaving together a drum machine, synthesizer, and guitar with compounding vocals, a listener can be acutely aware of the different parts, yet never deny the seamless production.  When I listen to this song it becomes a unique network of puzzle pieces that create a mosaic picture, like stained glass in a church.  Which is apt, because every time I listen to this song it feels holy.

This was my introduction to Prince’s musical genius.  It was the first time I grasped the idea that music can be a higher form of art, like paintings in museums.  He altered my worldview of what it meant to be a musician and tore down the imagined boundary between cultural music icon and true artist.  I began to understand music differently.

Prince never really came back into my rotation until college.  Although he helped me realize music and art were one and the same, I struggled and questioned the difference between artistry and musicianship, appearance versus reality.  If someone sings a song that was not written by them, can you respect them as a musician?  Or are they some type of sugary confection thought up by the music industry meant solely for record sales (mind you, this was during the pop-explosion of the early 2000s, where saying you liked groups like Backstreet Boys or N’Sync somehow equated to being a music neophyte who didn’t know shit about true talent).  Eventually I learned there is importance in every nuance of preformance, from vocal talent to production, even if the same song has some truly horrible and conflicting aspects, because importance is derived from how it influences the listener.

I had, and still have, a widely diverse music collection.  But unlike today, I was embarrassed by some of the artists whose CDs I bought and routinely listened to.  My social group was dominated by music lovers who believed singing over a track of someone else’s creation was something akin to murder.  Or to gain notoriety was selling your soul for a monetary pay-out that left you creatively void.  And as a high schooler, the need for acceptance outweighed and overrode the desire to expand my musical collection in as many directions as I could.  To this day, high school is the magnificently single-minded era of my life in terms of my musical exploration.

Sophomore year of college I decided to throw myself into discovering the great’s of the past.  I grew up listening to the oldies stations in the car, playing tapes of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals on road trips, dropping off to sleep with Yanni, and cleaning house on Saturday’s with everyone from Johnny Cash to Neil Diamond and Simon and Garfunkel on our old record player, which meant I had one era virtually undiscovered: the 80s.

This is when Prince came back.  I remembered “When Doves Cry” and put it on a playlist.  When my ex-boyfriend asked why I didn’t have more of his music, I shrugged thinking I had touched upon his genius and that was enough, he had been discovered and revered by me.  What else could Prince offer?

Ultimately, though, I hadn’t scratched the surface.  Prince had far-reaching influence.  He was a prolific song-writer, creating some of the 80s and 90s most memorable hits (Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares to U”, Madonna’s “Love Song”, and The Bangles “Maniac Monday” to name a few).  By the time Sophomore year came to a close, I had listened to “Kiss” at least once a day while getting ready for classes; dancing around my room to the funky beat, lip synching and pretending I could sing in that falsetto.  “Let’s Go Crazy” had me jumping on my bed and playing the air-guitar, doing a two-step and twisting my hips.  The up-tempo beat of “I Would Die 4 U” would cause me to grab a hair brush and lip-sync in dramatic 80s fashion.

Prince never really gained much traction on my rotation after that year.  Occasionally I would put “Kiss” (my favorite song of his) on a random playlist, and it was never skipped (how could it, that beat is undeniably funky and deserves attention).  But ultimately he went into the annuls of my musical library.  It doesn’t mean he wasn’t appreciated.  Or lacked influence in my life.  I cherish those memories.  I respect the hell out of his genius.  He altered my view of music as a form of art.  In my opinion, he will always be one of the greats.  And to honor his memory, I will rejoice when someone new discovers him, not condemn them for doing it after he dies, because in reality, we’re only at the beginning of his influence.  He was here for 57 years, his music spanned four decades, but his influence will live on forever.

Goals.

I have a goal.  It’s one that appears simple, to the outside world.  But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that things rarely are what they seem.  We are masters at putting up fronts that misdirect and mislead people.  For some, this is done with malicious intent.  While for others, it’s done as a means of survival.  We hide from what we fear.

My goal is to make it through.  To accept the things I cannot change.  To turn my weaknesses into strengths.

It’s not to live without, but to live with.  And to succeed.

What is success?  For me, it’s not riches and luxury.  It’s being able to take my life one day at a time and to relish in the positives, even if and when there are dark clouds hovering over me.  Even when the enormity of my mental health is putting indescribable amounts of pressure and pain on me.

When I was younger my mother coached me through breathing exercises to get through physical pain.  It’s something that has served me well throughout the years, considering the multiple surgeries and emergent care situations I have had to endure.  And it is something that will serve me well once labor pains begin in September.  The idea of these exercises can be used with mental and emotional anguish, as well.

We breathe deeper to regulate our intake of oxygen, which helps to expand blood vessels and acts as a way to slow our racing hearts when a panic attack seizes us.  The physiological symptoms of a psychological event can exacerbate the situation in a cyclical fashion, so we use physiological controls to help slow down the steam of the psychological freight train moving through our system.  But what about when there is a two-pronged attack?

I have many descriptors for my depression.  The most accurate, in my mind, is the black hole.  And while this describes qualities of depression, and to a certain extent some of the physical characteristics of depression, I think it fails to portray the minutiae of depression.

I was recently asked what occurs on days I suffer the extreme gravitational pull of the black hole.  And when cataloguing things in my head, I realized it’s hard to describe, to categorize, to really provide an insightful answer.  And the reason is because there are so many interacting levels that it all sounds like a convoluted cloud of nonsense.

Physically, depending on the severity of what I feel, I stay in bed, I write, I stare out the window, and if at all possible (which occurs rarely, and only when I feel I have adequate energy) I take a walk.  Mentally, I think, and oftentimes too much, or I try to absolve the internal monologue when it is drawn to divisive rhetoric.  Emotionally, this is the simplest answer: I hurt.  I hurt in the same way quiet can be deafening.  So much numbness can cause things to cease working, to die, to atrophy.  And in that way, the numbness of depression causes pain that can be expressed through physical and psychic outlets.

In the year 2010-2011 I experienced, for lack of a better descriptor, life.  Events were unfolding that were slowly tearing apart the fabric of my self-esteem, and I was too immature to handle any of it without becoming a monster and hurting people close to me.  I fell into one of the worst depressive episodes of my life and my days consisted of not showering, not eating, and being so paralyzed by everything that I could not even choose a movie to put on to distract me.  I would spend hours staring at the stacks of DVDs next to the television.  And not because I was engrossed in this decision, because I knew no matter what I chose I wouldn’t pay attention to it, but because the act of choosing was literally too much for me to handle.  I became absolutely paralyzed with it.

And the simplest answer to “how” this happened is that I don’t know, to a degree.  I know that my lack of nutrient in-take aided in the worsening of my condition, and as a result I try to force myself to eat whenever I start feeling the immensity of the black hole, despite lacking any physical desire to eat.  I know lack of exercise, even something as simple as taking a walk, aided in the worsening of my condition, and as a result I try to force myself to move, to take small walks, to exist outside the couch or bed and build upward from there, despite physical pain and feeling laden with lead.

While these take care of some elements of depression, the one I find the most difficult is operating with the inner monologue.  If the black hole had a voice, it would be one that advocates giving up, inducing fear and anxiety, reminding me of all the negative things not only I think about myself, but also of all the negative things others might think of me, too.  I once read that those who suffer depression oftentimes fear judgement above and beyond anything.  At first I wasn’t sure, because it felt superficial, but the more I thought about it, the more accurate this statement became.

I judge myself more harshly than anyone.  And I fear others judgement will only reiterate the negativity circulating in my head.  I do not desire being well liked.  Which is to say my end-goal in life is not to have countless friends, because the idea of anyone knowing me well-enough to truly like or not like who I am absolutely terrifies me.  It means they will have had to get through my insulation, they will have to move through the superficial.  They will have had to get close enough to see the darkness swirling behind my eyes (which also means they need the empathy to understand that the darkness there is not directed at them, but turned inward, and in my experience not many people do).  And opening myself up that much means I open myself up to others judgement.  And we are a judgmental society.

My end-goal in life is to make it through.  To accept the things I cannot change.  To turn my weaknesses into strengths.  It’s not to live without depression, because that isn’t a reality, but to live with depression.  And to succeed.

I know you’re tired, but please…

I know you’re all sick of it, ready for the politics to be over.  The amount of shit you see on your Facebook news-feed, Twitter feed, and probably even Instagram feed, tends to be a mangled combination of rhetoric regarding top contenders for the the presidency. You are inundated with Trump news, Hillary news, and Bernie news until you aren’t sure whether you can close your eyes at night without seeing some meme or article. But here’s the thing: this shit is important. Whoever gets the Presidency in this election sets the tone for the next four years, or more. They are the person we call Commander-in-Chief who is capable of bringing us into yet another war, who makes the executive decisions regarding our life and our livelihood (in addition to House and Senate candidates, which is another reason to educate yourself on down-ballot contenders). It is important. It’s one of the most important decisions, we the People, make. It’s an honored right.

​Societies have fallen due to poor leadership. They have flourished with good leadership. So participating in the primaries is actually extremely relevant. Following the primaries, educating yourself on these candidates’ platforms is hugely important. And I’m not asking you to pick my candidate (Bernie Sanders, in-case you’re wondering). I’m asking you to honestly look at each candidates’ platform, their policies and past votes, their time spent in other offices, and to evaluate whether or not you can vote for them. I want you to look at your conscience and to see whether you can honestly agree with their actions. At this point, IN MY OPINION, name recognition isn’t enough.

​​We are on the verge of a cross section of watershed moments. Climate change may bring us down an irretrievable path, as we continue to destroy the only world we have by allowing the continued use of fossil fuels and by participating in destructive behavior such as fracking. One more war can set off a chain of events that bring us to a much grander concert. The level of income inequality we currently are experiencing can lead to yet another Great Depression, especially with too big to fail banks (we have surpassed the level that existed prior to the market crash of the 1920s). The term “democratic republic” can no longer be used to accurately describe our current government due to the mass amounts of money infiltrating the landscape in the form of campaign donations and lobbying power. Our children will inherit a broken system fraught with corruption in a world that is warming faster than any previous time in human history.

​​This isn’t just about us, the here and the now, it’s about the next generation, and beyond.  It’s about positioning ourselves to improve for our children and our children’s children.  And I honestly don’t see people absorbing that notion.  There is an undercurrent of selfishness in most arguments. Or the desire to point to a person and tell them they are wrong without allowing room for growth. And it pains me.

​Please, read what you can about the policies proposed, even ones you feel might be pie-in-the-sky ridiculous. Educate yourself about the candidates, and look extensively at what they say and how they act, whether they would bring us to a better future, or maintain the status-quo, or whether it appears they do have the People at their heart’s center, or if they maintain utterly selfish prerogatives. Then choose whoever your mind and heart can allow you to choose. And vote. Participate. Spread the word.

Don’t shirk from this duty. Don’t run from voicing your opinion (although do so with respect and dignity to ALL people). And share — share the information. Get the word out. Get the vote out.

Bad Blood.

Anyone who knows me knows I am a feminist, through and through, and a proud one.  I hate to blame any problem I have on being a woman.  But there are some things in life’s experience that only women can truly understand.  And I am slowly learning that it does not equate to me being less of a feminist to look at situations through the guise of a woman.  In-fact, I feel it has made me a better feminist.  It’s made me understand that not all things can be controlled, that sometimes in life you need to roll with the punches to survive, and above all, to call out sexist arguments for what they are.

I recently saw a meme that dealt with racism, and the quote said: “If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem.  If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem.  Racism is not a question of attitude, it’s a question of power.”  Same can be said for the feminist fight.  I cannot let every sexist remark bludgeon me, but I can work to improve the climate for women when it comes to power.  And part of that is speaking up, pointing out problematic thoughts and beliefs, and utilizing my voice as an instrument of change.  But what exactly could, or should, that entail…

I am an emotional and empathetic person.  My go-to reactions are typically positive, until it gets to a point of sheer exasperation, and then the positivity curdles.  I am not particularly proud of how I have handled issues in my past, and as a result I’ve become fully committed to enacting positive change, such as removing negative influences from my life, taking a stand against detrimental verbiage and ideas, and essentially calling out behavior I believe perpetuates misunderstanding.  Especially when it concerns my person.  And my life.

My husband listens to me.  And he hears me.  I have plenty of people in my life who I believe listen, but they don’t hear me.  The difference boils down to one thing: my husband trusts what I say.  When I say I am sad, he trusts that I am just sad.  When I say I am angry, but not at him, just frustrated in total, he trusts that I am angry, but not at him, just frustrated in total.  That’s the difference between listening and hearing.  It boils down to trust.  And I know I have caused many in my life to not trust me.

Not only have I bold-faced lied, due to my own insecurities and immaturities, I have often refrained from speaking because I didn’t believe I would be heard.  Years and years of continued silence on subjects gave a false sense of security, which is proving to be more difficult to reverse, or be understood by others.  And the thing is, I must ultimately realize that their lack of understanding or willingness to believe what I say is their problem, and no longer mine, especially since I am speaking up, I am saying when I am hurt, or calling out behavior I view as, and is, detrimental to a continued relationship with me.  I own up to my faults, and I will continue to do so, but that does not mean I am the sole problem within a relationship or dynamic.  It means I am one half of a whole, and my responsibility is to speak my thoughts and my feelings, with respect, because ultimately that is all I can do.  How it is received, how it is understood, whether it is believed, that is on the other person.

How does this tie into feminism?  How does this tie into being female?  The connective tissue exists in how we, collectively, listen to, and treat, women.  It correlates to believing, and not judging, when a woman uses her words to defend her emotions and mental health.  And it means understanding the root difference between men and women: biology.  And that is the only difference between men and women.

This is not an excuse.  Men and women differ greatly in their respective biology.  Men’s hormones are different than women’s not only in kind, but also quantity.

There is an episode of Big Bang Theory where Howard uses estrogen cream on his mother, and he begins to experience hormonal side-effects because he forgot to use gloves when applying said lotion.  He begins to act out the PMS symptoms all women know and experience.  With his intolerance to estrogen, it means he is a weeping, food-craving mess who is over-sensitive to criticism.  And while this is a fairly comical portrayal of having the female hormones course through you, it is a fairly accurate one, as well.  When Howard asks Bernadette why she doesn’t exhibit the same symptoms, her quote is: “I’ve had years of practice riding the dragon.”  And many women know what she’s speaking of.

The dragon is not just the hormones, it’s curbing the side-effects of those hormones so you don’t get called “bitch” or made fun of because you cry at everything.  It means taming the wild side-effects that emerge having estrogen and progesterone course through  your system in higher doses at differing times of the month.   And it means maintaining an acceptable societal behavior that does not take into account that ever changing biology.  That’s right, folks, I am saying that part of being a woman is not only contending with these biological factors, but also contending with society’s reactions to those biological factors.  And what is deemed acceptable and the societal pressure to conform.

A boy throws a punch, he gets reprimanded, but he is also told that this is how boys and men handle their emotions.  A woman screams or cries, swears or punches a pillow, and she is called hormonal and told she must control it, told she is behaving un-ladylike, or is told she has no excuse for such behavior despite her brain and endocrine system being flooded with the same powerful hormones that help to create life.  The ones that literally alter the physical appearance of a woman while pregnant (you know those huge breasts that women get while pregnant, hormones; you know that nausea, hormones; you know how pregnant women pee all the time, hormones; the constipation, the bloating, the tiredness and restless, the physical aches, all hormone related).  The same happens for men.  That’s why they go through aggressive phases, it’s why they engage in risky behavior, all of it links back to hormones.  But it appears, to me, that it is far more socially acceptable for boys to act out their hormone induced indiscretions than it is for women.  In-fact, women are often told to hide their reactions and behavior.

Why is this unfair?  Because just as a man’s hormone induced actions are symptoms of biological factors, the same goes for women.  I remember there being times, in my teenage years, where it felt like an avalanche.  Once it began there was no stopping the onslaught of emotional anguish.  Even when I desperately wanted to NOT be upset.  I just was.  And I would sit there crying and feeling helpless because no matter how much I tired I could not not cry, I could not not hurt.  But when I would state this, a lot of the time I wasn’t believed.  I was told there had to be a reason.  And for the longest time it made me believe I was defunct, messed up, wrong, or crazy.  But the reality was I was caught in the torrent of hormonal imbalance.  Add in the truth that I was also dealing with the biological factors of major depressive disorder and clinical anxiety, and I must say I am utterly shocked I was not a suicide statistic by the age of 18.  Though I did come close.

I am sharing this because it is important.  It is absolutely necessary to understand that there will be, and are, times where a woman may not know why she is upset.  She may just be upset.  And that should be accepted and trusted.  She knows her own body better than anyone.  There doesn’t always have to be an emotional reason, or a mental one, sometimes it can be purely biology that pulls the person along.  Does this mean we accept negative behavior and allow it to happen?  No.  But it also doesn’t mean we condemn women for their emotions, because recognizing these factors and then attempting to work with them is brave and difficult and utterly exhausting.  And it doesn’t help that women are made to feel weak because of these biological factors.  These are the same biological factors that allow women to build life; to forget pain (that’s right, women are wired to forget pain, it’s how our bodies naturally promote reproduction); to be the conduit for the next generation, something requires unbelievable amounts of strength, mentally, emotionally, and physically.  And that should be respected equitably between the sexes.  And to believe otherwise is sexist, plain and simple.

 

 

 

Proud to be American?

I want to be an American that stands proud that we opened our arms and doors to the people who needed it most.  Though from all outward appearances it looks like many elected officials and people in positions of power are doing the exact opposite.

I want to be proud that we act out the verbiage on the Statue of Liberty, accepting the weak, the small, the poor, the tired. Except we aren’t.  I wish I could say I was proud to be an American, but I don’t know if I can say that, and it not only makes me sad, it shames me.

People should love where they are from. They should hold proud the ideals and behavior of their home nation, but in all honesty, I find it hard to hold my head up high when across the globe we are viewed as racist and xenophobic.  And, well, we are racist and xenophobic. We are viewed as a country who would rather brag about how grand we are than show how grand we are.

The President of France is going to honor his commitment to help relocate 30,000 Syrian refugees.  He espouses the idea that in this time of utter darkness, Paris can still be the light, and should be the light.  And in American what do we have?  We have letters and memos with words of discrimination and exclusion, closing metaphorical doors to the United States.  Over half of states mayors have indicated they would not help fleeing refugees.  I live in a state that has indicated they would refuse to relocate Syrian refugees, despite it not being in their legal authority.  And that embarrasses me.

I am shamed that I cannot claim love and admiration for this country.  But how the hell can I when it’s elected officials do everything adverse to its founding beliefs and act to tear down their constituents rather than help us up.  And these men and women are elected officials.  Though who elected them is vastly important to note. And we can thank our corrupt political system (so as not to mince words: we have an oligarchy; the US has ceased being a democracy, it no longer operates as a pure democracy thanks to Citizens United). I am appalled by the exclusionary words and actions that this country continuously exhibits. And it’s baffling considering our Declaration of Independence claims to offer the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.  But, we do not have as many freedoms as many would trust. I do not have freedoms, though I am free person.

I do not make as much as my fellow man because I have a vagina and they have a penis.  In-fact, I make 77 cents to every dollar earned by a man for no other reason than he is a man and I am not. There is no freedom in being a woman in the United States. I cannot make medical decisions about my own body without being subjected to domestic terrorism, though nowhere near the level of terror precipitated by ISIS in Syria, Iran, and Iraq. Additionally, I have officials in government actively attempting to take away that right.  We do not have freedom of leisure, an important facet to the American Dream, because we currently do not have an economic system that allows it. Too many of us are beholden to unimaginable amounts of debt because the cost of education is astronomical and the cost of living has risen drastically. We are not free to participate in education; it comes with a price tag too great for far too many. Freedom in America is intricately tied to how much money you have, therefore it is not true freedom.

I am shamed by the actions of my country, but moreover I am shamed that I dislike my country so much. I should love it. I should admire it and hold it up as a litmus of the values and ideologies I cherish. But this country has ceased being a beneficial force in the world and has devolved into a whirlwind of judgement and condescension. I am embarrassed at my level of dislike for the country I live in, but it’s hard to be proud of a place that feels the appropriate reaction to victims of terrorism is to deny them a place to come and stay.  Nor is it an appropriate time to recall when we rounded up Japanese-Americans into internment camps because they looked like those who bombed us.  It’s shameful when such a blight on our national conscience is used as a pro.  Or when the United States turned away Jews during WWII and the Holocaust because of long-held beliefs we are superior.  And finally, the argument that we don’t want to breed the terrorism in this country that is apparent there (which is not even a kosher argument because we have domestic terrorism daily, such as when a Planned Parenthood or other Women’s Health Clinic gets death threats and actual bombs kill medical professions or when black and brown kids don’t feel safe from members of society meant to serve and protect). It’s shameful.

My paternal side of the family came over from Europe when my dad was eight. They were escaping an economy and lands depressed by years of war. If they had been turned back, my life as I know it would cease existing. The American Dream was supposed to be about hope, supposed to be about providing avenues in order to accomplish the “dream” of freedom from oppressive governments, freedom to follow ideas and practices and beliefs and not suffer judgement and persecution. These were the ideals this country was founded on. And yet we are turning away victims of human rights abuses and terrorists. To clump Syrian refugees in with the terrorists they are fleeing is not only horrifically closed-minded, but it’s absolutely wrong.  Terror groups like ISIS are spreading a narrative of hate and these attacks are meant to give credence to that narrative, are meant to underscore the great divide between the “western” world and Muslims.  And let me reiterate: there is no divide.  A human is a human.  To close our doors to these people is only underscoring the narrative of hate.

I don’t even know if I can be angry anymore. I’ve been angry for years. Now I just feel saddened, shamed, embarrassed, and utterly, profoundly disappointed.

A comment and a response.

Last evening an individual attempted to leave a comment on my previous post.  As moderator of the blog, I opted to trash the comment rather than address it.  That decision did not sit well with me, and for many reasons.  I shared my story to help open up dialogue about mental health; my case is specific to clinical depression and anxiety.  Part of my impetus was to enlighten individuals about these subjects, because it’s been proven that secrecy regarding these issues reinforces the negative motivation behind them, and therefore the act of doing them.  When we opt to remain silent about the struggles we live with we give them power, we induce a level of anxiety and fear regarding otherwise rational understandings that lead to irrational phobias and deep-seeded fears.  Those who have diagnosed mental illness have an additional hurdle: our bodies’ inability, on a genetic and chemical level, to hasten response and begin operating positively in reaction to stressors.  Where one person’s brain can produce the needed serotonin and dopamine to respond to an otherwise psychically painful day, my brain is less capable.  It produces the chemicals, but not in amounts that reduce anxiety or siphon off overwhelming sadness.  To quote one of my favorite lyricists and artists: “our brains are sick, but that’s okay” (Tyler Joseph).

But, the reason I am opting to respond now is that at the first sign of antagonism I ran with my tail between my legs.  The comment not only reminded me there is still much misunderstanding regarding mental health, but it also highlighted the importance of willing empathy.  This comment was a prime example in misunderstanding.  Every person’s experience is different, and even if there are shared history or genetics, there is no way to completely predict how those genes express themselves.  And forcing an understanding catered specifically to one person’s experience is where misunderstanding insidiously blooms.  It creates harmful, not just hurtful, consequences.

Below I will re-post the comment and then respond with more in-depth detail.  I have chosen to leave the poster anonymous, aside from gender specific pronouns, since I am singling out his comment.

“Nice opening for a discussion of depression. A description… quite articulate… of what depression can be like. How it feels.

But the discussion cannot end with this. It should not end with expressions of how it feels or just empathy.

There are many options for battling this demon. And in our world of narrowly focused experts it is not a good idea to rely on any one expert. Or conclude that popping the right pill is the solution. Or risking becoming an enabler by limiting the response to creating a protective environment for the depressed person.

Psychotherapy and self-awareness can help. But is it helping when 10 years later the problem persists? The war is not over until the demon can be consistently kept at bay through improved life style habits. This takes more work than sitting through therapy sessions or popping pills.

Here is a list of holistic strategies to consider and act on.

Nutrition. Some people have unique or rare or unusual nutritional needs to keep their systems functioning in balance. Much nutritional information is based on statistical studies. Many people do not fit into statistical norms. If you are struggling with depression have you explored your individual nutritional needs? Perhaps you do need mega doses of a certain B vitamin or some other nutrient?

Exercise. We live in this sedentary world. It is not what the human body was “designed” for. Abused systems break down and get gummed up. Can at least one hour of aerobic exercise a day cure depression? Try it for 2 months and find out.

Mindset. Learn about it. Read the book. It’s not about snapping out of depression. It’s about deciding to keep exploring options and taking actions until something makes a difference.

Yoga. Exercises to control and balance inner forces. This one I know little about but it would be on my list of options to explore.

Self Help books and programs. Consume them all. It’s part of the war on depression. You will learn more than any one therapist can teach.

Acupuncture. Centuries of oriental experience must have come up with some great ideas.

Buddhism or other spiritual ideas. The quest is inner peace.

The list is far from exhausted. The point is that a mere explanation of what depression is like is only the introduction. And arguing for patience while going through years of therapy is not good enough. Life is passing by. Winning the war on depression takes an aggressive multi front effort.

I will save my thoughts on enablers of depression for another day.”

I appreciate your comment, and I agree that the discussion cannot end here.  It has to continue to spread outward, and part of that comes from those of us that have mental illness being willing to share our experience, despite knowing there will be open hostility and reprisal, even from people closest to us.  It has been an unfortunate reality of my experience, and I know others have dealt with it, as well.

I commend you for doing research on the subject, and finding a path that works for you.  I, too, have put in a significant amount of effort figuring out my disease (I apologize if you do not suffer from mental illness; I made the assumption based on the detailed list you supplied) and the way it interacts in my life, which is why I feel it is necessary to address your assumption that individuals who derive a treatment plan with their chosen medical profession only “rely on any one expert”.  It is a grave fallacy to believe that those who suffer mental illness do so passively.  There is a difference between accepting the physiological reality that I need help to produce the same levels of dopamine an otherwise “healthy” brain would be able to produce and accepting that I am fundamentally altered and therefore should let this chemical quirk derail my life.

To continue, I have not relied on the advice of any one expert.  I have relied on the advice of many experts, including medical professionals trained in these fields.  I mentioned that at the age of sixteen I was diagnosed with these illnesses.  Since that age I have seen upwards of four psychiatrists, two psychotherapists, a family counselor, a group counselor, my primary care from youth, and my current primary care.  They all come at this medical issue with varying degrees of understanding, as well as individual and unique perspectives.  Each of these professionals, along my path, have aided in developing coping mechanisms that operate on a physical level (my heart rate, breathing, etc.) and a psychic level (visualization and mediation).  Your “holistic” approaches are the exact things being discussed inside the walls of my therapist’s office.  And in-fact, these approaches have been a long-standard in short-term and long-term treatment with accredited medical professionals.  They do not eradicate depression, seeing as depression and anxiety cannot be eradicated, but they do help sufferer’s reach remission and remain in remission.  Again, it is a gross misunderstanding to believe that depression can be “cured”.  My depression is as inherent as my eye color and skin color.  It is derived from genetics and body chemistry, therefore unless I somehow alter my very DNA, there is no way I will not suffer the side effects brought on by these genetic hiccups.  The choice every sufferer has to face is how they handle those side effects.

In order to ease your mind (because I assume part of the reason behind your comment was to alert me to choices outside what you interpreted as me “giving up”) I began a treatment plan with my primary care and psychotherapist in March 2015.  I opted to resume antidepressants and therapy, with special attention towards building mechanisms that act on my physiological self, as they are the stagnate aspects to my depression and anxiety.  Regardless of what brings on an episode, or where my mind inevitably gravitates, the physical side effects of my depression remain constant, and as such meditation and diaphragm breathing have become integral tools in my recovery.  And this is something that has been advocated for by each doctor I have seen through my journey.  (This is the same with nutrition and exercise; it is part of the reason I am conscientious about the food I put into my body, and why I began a consorted effort to prepare all my own meals to avoid any unknowns.)

Though I appreciate the options you provide, please be aware that a majority of the items listed are already being used by the narrow-minded experts you railed against.  Additionally, I find it somewhat disconcerting that you opted to leave a comment that ends with “[w]inning the war on depression” on a post that not only advocates for patience and understanding, but also details the detriment and harm statements like the above can actually cause to persons struggling with mental illness.  To believe, and promote, the idea that depression can somehow be “beat” is hugely disadvantageous and oftentimes helps generate a sense of impending doom when the effects of depression present again, after a believed victory over a hard-fought war.  It’s why the metaphor of a burning building is so apt.  We do not get to choose whether or not we are in the fire, our genetics have already caused our surroundings to erupt in flame; what we can, do, though, is find ways that allow us to remain in that fire and not be burned alive by it.

To further this metaphor, let me add, we can put the fire out.  As a sufferer, as someone standing in the midst of it, I can make choices that help me remain in the flames as I fight them.  Those coping mechanisms – the exercise, nutrition, medication, meditation, diaphragm breathing, etc. _ are all choices that provide a better chance of putting the flames out without suffering too many burns and scars.  I am not sure there is an individual alive that would opt to choke on the ash-filled air over having the ability to gulp fresh-air.  If anything, we appreciate the fresh-air more.  Even those who commit suicide are chasing after that fresh-air.  They just feel they ran out of options.

My final message for you, though, addresses the idea of an “enabler” of depression.  This mythical individual does not exist.  Since depression is experienced via the conduit of our genetic expression – in laymen’s terms it is experienced due to our DNA and how those genes uniquely and non-duplicitously exhibit and interact – no one can provide more “material” or “promote” depression.  Someone can enable the actions of a depressed person, and therefore enable destructive habits, but it is impossible to enable depression.  The reason I delve into this distinction is because there is a fine line between enabling destructive behavior and supporting a person dealing with a depressive episode.  And unfortunately, there are dire consequence if the two are confused.

The reason I called people to empathy was because there is a very simple, yet extremely difficult, truth to depression: it is never the same.  Since this is an illness that is derived in genetics, there is no possible way two people can have the same experience in depression and anxiety.  And because of this simple truth the only way someone should interact with sufferers of depression and anxiety is with willing empathy.  It has to be the bridge that connects everyone else to the person in the depths of the disease.  And to support someone with depression is as simple as acknowledging the necessity of that bridge and helping to build it.

I open this up to further discussion.  By all means, the intent of the original post was to shed light on a very real and very painful issue.  Many people suffer in silence due to fear of reprisal from friends, family, and co-workers.  It was part of the reason I remained in the dark for so long about an issue that has truly consumed my life.  I am twenty-nine, and thankfully I’ve had the opportunity to explore the impacts this disease has on me, and I’ve been given time and space to reflect and garner new understanding (not everyone is so lucky).

It has not been an easy process, nor has it been pain-free, but it is mine and because of that I wouldn’t change it.  And I am not naïve enough to believe that I will wake up and be “fixed” one day.  I am not broken.  Nothing of my biology needs changed.  I do not want to eradicate this disease, I simply want to live with it.  My depression is inherent, so to desire a “me” without depression is to set myself up for inevitable and soul-crushing disappointment.  I have accepted that I will live with this disease – I do not, have not, nor will I ever, let this disease overtake me, even if I can understand, and empathize with, the motivation behind those life-ending decisions.  And that, my friend, is a distinction you failed to see.  Your condescending tone to a stranger (imagine if I was your daughter or wife or sister!) has done nothing to move your agenda or view forward, rather it has very clearly shown your inability to relate-to, support, and empathize, even if you suffer from this “demon” too.  Friend, depression is different for everyone.  I am here if you ever need to discuss the trials of your struggle, and I will not judge you or push unwanted (and I dare say unneeded) advice at you.  I will be here to listen.  And if and when you want me to respond with aid, I will be more than willing to do so.  Until that day comes, though, I will trust you are dealing with your disease in a way that works for you.