Hello, my name is Stephanie and I suffer from clinical depression and anxiety disorders.

In March of this year, I had a nervous breakdown.  It is the third in my adult life.  A litany of stressors and my lack of effective coping mechanisms brought it on.

I began therapy when I was sixteen.  A doctor diagnosed me with clinical depression and anxiety at the same age.  Though I wanted to believe it was simply teenage angst causing all the emotional upheaval, the reality was my biology made the angst into a typhoon.  Add in the hormonal changes operating on teenage women, and you can only imagine the hell I lived in, and the hell I created for my sister, mother, and father.  But that brings me to the main point of this post.  I am not sure, to this day, that anyone truly understands what that – clinical depression and diagnosed anxiety – means.  It definitely became clear within my family, after this latest event, when both parents sat me down and asked what I was feeling and experiencing, and both seemed taken aback by my mental and emotional state.  My husband often asks questions to decipher my mood and behavior so he can be there for me in ways I need, as well as suggest new mechanisms for weathering the storm.  Truth is, despite mental illness being brought to the public consciousness by social media and other outlets, partly in reaction to high-profile deaths (read Robin Williams), I am not sure many people understand the breadth of mental illness, nor do they understand that their interactions with someone while in duress can impact them in an extremely negative way.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am not without my ability to cope or deal, as I am sure others who are life-long sufferers have their methods and ways, and I do not blame others for the origin of my depression, however, there are things that people do – family, friends, co-workers – that actually make these episodic moments worse.  But I cannot blame these people for living in ignorance, though I am frustrated by it.  Societal norms have created a wall dividing those who suffer from those who do not, and I am lucky enough that discussion of these subjects have created small windows so those divided by the wall can at least communicate.  It was not always so.

What does depression feel like?  Only three people, ever, have asked me this question.  I have told others what I am dealing with, and explained to them the nature of how I experience depression, what it may feel like, and the trouble it causes with relating to, and being able to interact with, a wide cross-section of individuals; but only three people, ever, have asked me what it actually feels like, how my depression manifests, the ways in which anxiety has stunted a lot of my experiences, and more.  The reason I bring attention to this is because depression and anxiety are a part of me.  They are inherent.  The same way my hair is brown, my eyes are bluish-green, and my skin is white.  Depression is not a choice.  Nor is clinical anxiety.  It is derived from a chemical imbalance in my brain due to physiological quirks.  It’s why sucking it up, or “turning that frown upside down,” or getting over it, are not options, and they are all things HIGHLY harmful to say to someone suffering with depression.  You are essentially telling that person that their true self is something that NEEDS change, that they are somehow defunct.  Most of my life I grew up with the belief that I was broken because I couldn’t opt for happiness, because I couldn’t erase the emotional and mental anguish of my depression, nor the physical symptoms.  In-fact, it took until many years later for me to realize depression has nothing to do with choice, at least as it relates to what is felt.  The only choice within depression and anxiety is in reaction.  And the most common and notorious of those reactions is suicide.

Robin Williams death devastated me.  Not only did I adore him as an actor, but I adored his willingness and ability to discuss his struggle with depression and substance abuse in the public eye.  Ironically, almost every interview he gave would somehow tie back to his emotional health, and yet the revelation that mental illness played an integral part in his death was a shock to a large portion of the population.  I remember one particular opinion piece from The Huffington Post that brought me to tears.  I don’t remember who wrote it, but it discussed depression and the debate of suicide as a brave choice.  The underlying message was that until you feel the heat of depression, there is no way, no possible way, you can judge the choice of suicide.  I astonished myself by nodding enthusiastically in agreement.  For as much as I would love to close the gulf of space between us sufferers, and those of you who live with us, the only thing that could reach that far is willing empathy, and unfortunately that commodity seems deplete in present society.  This opinion piece went on to use the metaphor of a burning building to describe the ever-present effect depression has on those who suffer; we are left with two choices: jump out of the window to avoid being burned alive by the fire, or hope that you can stay in the flames long enough that the fire itself dies and you walk away alive, but heavily scarred.  It is the most truthful metaphor for depression, and the depression I suffer in particular, that I have ever found.  Live in the flames, constantly in fear and in pain, or jump knowing full well that you will die upon impact, and if you don’t, you will live a half-life or choose to take the plunge again.  There is no true reprieve when you suffer depression and anxiety.  You only have blissful moments where your coping mechanisms make its existence bearable.

One thing I have never done, at least in writing, is discuss how I experience my depression.  My husband knows, and to some small degree, my parents know, but for the most part, even these interlopers who have experienced the flames up close have little to no true knowledge of the devastating effect my depression and anxiety leaves.

I have oftentimes called my depression a black hole.  A massive gravitational pull that sits in the dead center of my chest.  The enormous weight of this black hole prevents light from escaping, and light can mean anything from positive emotion to actual “lightness of character” (i.e. energy, smiles, a bubbly personality, laughter, etc.).  In it’s stead there is nothing but a void.  It feeds on all emotion, not just a spectra of happiness, but sadness and anger, as well.  When my depression has devoured everything it leaves me in a dichotomous existence; I simultaneously feel void and empty, and yet I feel overwhelmed by everything around me.  A great visual for this existence would be the skeletal frame of a barn or a house.  It’s standing, yet there is no interior, no guts, and if a large gust of wind came, the strength of that frame would be put to test.  Simple acts, like showering, can zap me of energy for the day.  I have to pull from a well of strength and hope that I can preform the desired feat before the black hole notices there is more to feast on.  In my worst moments, I’ve done nothing but sit in quiet contemplation staring at a wall (literally; during one episode of severe depression I spent almost all 24 hours of my day staring at a wall convincing myself to not cut my legs or arms, praying that I could withstand the flames, praying for reasons not to make the mad-dash to the window).

The black-hole is always present, much like the reality of true black holes.  And much like the reality of true black holes, or supermassive black holes, my world, or galaxy, has to operate around its existence.  In-fact, much like true supermassive black holes, it devours my existence little by little.  Depression can exhibit in many different ways.  Most people assume someone who suffers from depression will outwardly appear sad, but otherwise look, feel, and sound normal.  Or that somehow manifestations of depression will be observed solely through the guise of mental and emotional understanding, counseling, and discussion.  Reality, though, is much more difficult and convoluted, which is somewhat ironic and hilarious when discussing this in the metaphor of a black hole.  I’ve experienced constant sickness due to a weakened immune system; insomnia; bone-deep pain; I’ve torn my hair out; cut my legs, arms, and stomach; I’ve scratched the soft tissue of my inner arm until it bleeds and scabs over; I’ve banged my wrists, ankles, legs, and arms, against things in-order to feel something outside of the void; I’ve also stopped eating, showering, drinking, and essentially existing, because of the toll of depression.  And the worst part is, I’ve been called weak.  I’ve been told to snap out of it.  I’ve been told to leave the “emotional stuff” at home.  I’ve been told that my mood dictates the tenor of a room, and that I had to pep up because I was creating a negative experience for co-workers.  When I can barely carry the weight of my own emotional health, it is beyond detrimental to hear that I need to carry the weight of those around me.  And I have been told it is my responsibility.  More than once.  And that repetition has created an awkward phobia of my place of employment when in the midst of a depressive episode.  And when I say phobia, I mean phobia (a type of anxiety disorder, usually defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational).

This is my existence.  This is a reality, not necessarily the reality of depression, but it is my reality with depression.  I hope that in reading this some of you develop empathy for those that suffer, that you choose to educate yourselves about depression and the positive things you can do to help loved ones that suffer.  The biggest thing that’s helped is having a partner who is willing to listen free of judgement and free of unwanted and unneeded advice.  In discussing my depression with him, I have been able to work through some of the difficult thought processes that lead me towards anxiety, towards phobias, towards worry.  And I hope that by reading one persons experience you are motivated to learn about others, because despite have commonalities in the physiological and chemical spheres, depression is different for everyone.  It manifests in so many diverse ways that you cannot just assume someone is not suffering.  The best possible practice is to look at everyone through an empathetic lens.  You have no idea what is going on in their life, in their mind, in their emotions, just be genuinely kind and nice, because on days I’m at my worst, those moments of kindness are like being handed a life preserver when arms are too tired to keep swimming.

Why today makes me sad.

I want to scream.

I want to react.

I want to call the people who deserve it “racist”…

I am sick of seeing the partisan reactions to everything.

I am sick of seeing reactions to everything.

You want to know what social media is?  It’s REACTIONS.

That’s it.

You may see a news story, but it’s tied to a reaction by someone who thinks he is worthy enough to voice his opinion like anyone gives a fuck about what he is ranting about.  (Additionally, that’s what allows me to post this like anyone gives a fuck about what I am ranting about.)

It’s okay not to say anything, you know.

It’s okay to quietly shake your head and disagree with behavior, but you don’t need to voice it, especially when you don’t offer up anything but disdain, hate, and ignorance.

No one is perfect.

And everyone’s idea of perfect is different.

Therefore, NO ONE CAN BE PERFECT.  NO IDEA CAN BE PERFECT.

SO WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO FORCE MASS AMOUNTS OF PEOPLE INTO AN IMPOSSIBLE AND NON-EXISTENT PLACE?

I am sick of seeing white people say that these thugs are horrible people for rioting, for getting violent.  Yet we have white people who get drunk and then when slurring their speech do things like light an effigy on fire after a football game (witness to this happening at an IA versus ISU game in 2007).  I had a drunk man at the same football game tell me he was going to kill me for wearing the wrong colors.  Another drunk man at a sporting event called my mom a cunt and spit at her.

Both these people were white, by the way.  Not black men.  Not “thugs”.  They were twenty-something whites guys.

Why is one acceptable?

Why is one not condemned by media outlets?

How come in one scenario the media calls it “celebrating” when they are igniting fires, ruining property, and destroying sections of big cities, yet when OTHERS (read any disenfranchised persons) ignite fires, ruin property, and destroy sections of big cities it’s a show of disrespect?

BOTH situations need to end, because I disavow violence.

I advocate for peaceful protests.

But I also advocate for the disenfranchised and want them to have a voice.

You see, I am privileged.

I am white.

I grew up in an upper-middle class family.

I have never had to wonder where my next meal is, because even when I had no money to my name, I had a family who was willing and able to help.  That’s the big thing.  My family was ABLE.

You want to know what the problem is?

THE PROBLEM IS THE LACK OF EQUALITY.

THE PROBLEM IS THE LACK OF CIVIL RIGHTS.

But the biggest problem is the willful blindness of the masses when politicians blame OTHERS, and the acceptance and repetition of that rhetoric.  We have voters who blame their lack of money, their lack of mobility, on poor people, because their view is poor people will misuse and abuse the system.  In reality, most of the error is wrought by administrative assistants and clerks through human error, and less than one percent of real fraud occurs with programs like SNAP.  But more people are willing to look at the recipients of these social programs and call them lazy.  If only, they say, if only they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps!  If only they tried.  If only they made something of themselves.

I make just marginally over $36,000.  My fiancé is a student.  We will have approximately $500/month of student debt, along with other necessary payments.  In Iowa, where the typical cost of living is significantly lower than other metropolis areas, we will still be barely scraping by unless my fiancé manages to land a job where he makes as much as me.  And even then, saving will be difficult.

So what about living wages – what about raising the minimum wage if you are against social programs to help people?

A living wage is a wage in which people can afford to pay basic living costs (think along the lines of rent/mortgage, some type of food, some type of energy so you aren’t in the dark, and POSSIBLY some type of transportation – such as a bicycle, money for the bus or train, etc. and that’s about it).

When I came back from California, I had at most $300 in my checking account.  I was unable to find a job for over three months.  At one point, I had -$600+ (that is NEGATIVE SIX HUNDRED PLUS DOLLARS) in my checking account, $0.00 in my savings, and no job or job possibilities.  And I was lucky.

I was lucky because I had parents who not only could AFFORD to take me in, but WERE WILLING to take me in.

THAT IS CALLED PRIVILEGE.

The reason: NOT EVERYONE HAS THIS.

In-fact, I have had more privilege in my life than even some of the people I work with now, who did not grow up in a large house, who did not have the option of a private school, who did not have college paid for by a fund; in-fact, I am more privileged than many of the people I know in Iowa, because of the upbringing I had.  And it has nothing to do with solely financials, but it also deals with the possibilities and doors open to me from living in a suburb and not inner-city; from having a two-parent household; from having a household who encouraged extracurriculars because we didn’t have to worry about me finding work to help the family survive.  The list is long.  And they are all items that are not “givens” in society.  I know my children will not have the same luxuries I did because my fiancé and I are not only pursuing careers that make much lower amounts of money, but because we are not focusing on solely making money.  We are liberals.  We are Progressives.  We want social equality.  We want social mobility.  But we realize it does not exist now.  Especially for those less fortunate than us.  And no amount of “hard work” can overcome years and years of systemic racism, sexism, and hate.  THOSE are the items we need to reform.  THOSE are policies and issues that should be blazon across a headline.  Not some picture of a guy losing his shit on top of a cop car because a kid who did NOTHING WRONG but run when he saw cops had his fucking NECK BROKEN (almost complete spinal destruction at the neck).  If someone died in police custody when they did nothing wrong, I would lose my shit, too.  And here’s the thing, when the anger, the sadness, the oppressive factors of your life get to that breaking point, MANY of us would lose our shit in similar fashion.

What would you really be thinking if Freddie Gray was white?  Uncomfortable thought, isn’t it?  Would you still call him a thug if he was white and poor?  What if he was a middle-class white kid who was in a bad part of the city and saw a cop and spooked and ran and the cop ran after him.  Would the cop even run after him?  Would there be chaos and anger and confusion if it was a white boy?  If somehow in police custody a white boy’s neck was snapped?  Thing is BLACK LIVES MATTER.  Because ALL LIVES MATTER.  Isn’t that what all the pro-lifers say?  Isn’t that the Christian Word?  Hell, it’s not just Christian, it’s the base of religion around the world, that LIFE – ANY FUCKING LIFE – matters.

The reason this is a race issue is because of the inherent racism of the system.  The reason it’s a race issue is because we’ve enacted policies that TARGET minorities so the same fucking ridiculous behavior happens because WE ALLOWED IT TO – WE ALLOWED COPS TO GO UNCHECKED FOR SO LONG.  WE ALLOWED RACISM TO FLOURISH IN OUR POLICIES AND THEREFORE INSTITUTIONS.  And sadly, even after the civil rights act, we allowed these things to continue.  We made it illegal in regulated institutions, and that’s it.  If there is a person out there who wanted to plant the seed of racism and water it, they have every ability in the world.  We know.  We’ve seen it.  It’s alive and present over at Fox News.

I am just so tired of this all.  I am so tired of people who are more willing to look down on their neighbor than to help them.  I work for a living, but if my tax dollars go to help feed a hungry person, even if it’s to treat themselves to a steak, I would probably throw in some extra money so they could get some greens in their diet, too, so they have some nutrients.  And I’ll eat leaner this week.  Because they need it more than I do.

Trying to understand but failing miserably.

I have had a hard time lately, with a variety of things, due to a variety of reasons.  After the immense pressure of the last three weeks, I feel like I should be shining like a diamond.  Rather, I hurt physically, and I am not doing too hot emotionally or mentally, either.  In fact, I feel more akin to a lump of coal.

 

I was given an article that essentially said that writers tend to deal with emotions better than lay people because they are more capable of working through their problems via writing.  They can dissect a situation or emotion, then they attempt to articulate the who, the what, the when, the where, and the why of it, which then provides them with greater insight about what they are feeling and how to move forward.  A situation arises and it creates negativity, but why?  What caused?  How can you move on?  How can I improve the situation or the reaction?  I kind of laughed at the article, not because I didn’t see merit or truth in it, but because every time I get overwhelmed with the immensity of concurring situations, I usually self-combust and explode over everyone around me.  And I wind up hurting those I care most about, even when the ones I care most about might be the ones precipitating the stress and negativity.  When that happens, the molten hot-lava of word vomit spewing everywhere, I rarely feel as if I was able to process anything, let alone learn from it.

 

This weekend I had a meltdown of epic proportions that left me sitting in the door-frame to our office and crying, snot running out of my nose and onto my sweatshirt.  The main thing I came away from this situation thinking is: it’s amazing how much pain someone can inflict and may not even know it.  Callous comments, reactionary words, lack of encouragement and support, no communication, even casual, every-day kind, and often misguided “advice” that does nothing but underline in-abilities to relate and empathize; these seemingly small, and apparently insignificant (to one party) things can really fuck someone up.  Too bad more people are not more conscientious about how their words, or lack-of words, can completely de-rail a relationship.  Or how their actions, or lack-of actions, hold the same power to tear the fabric of a relationship.

 

But that’s the thing, it’s two-sided.  Lately I have contemplated intention.  A lot of times people do not intend to hurt others, yet they do.  I think it says a lot about someone if they are able to listen, accept, and digest the information that, despite intentions, hurt occurred and therefore amends need to be made.  Who is to say that I did not hurt someone, despite well-meaning intentions?  Does that mean they forfeit the right to an apology?  How can someone apologize, though, if discussion ceases to happen?  It made me think about stubbornness, and how it negatively impacts forward movement and understanding.  To willfully believe that only one person is wrong in any given situation is naïve and, quite honestly, ridiculous.  For as many participants in an argument, there are sides and understandings.  Four different people come together to discuss something, they will have four different understandings, histories, knowledge, and reactions.  It is the mark of a solid relationship, and a mark of maturity, if you actively try to understand the why of dissenting views and not to insist in winning and only relaying your views (my fiancé recently reminded me of this).  What about in situations where the other party just fails to comply and ends up blowing off a discussion?

 

In a world full of means to communicate (phones, texts, e-mails, messaging via social media, hell, even good old-fashioned USPS mail delivery), it must say something extremely dire when one party cannot reach the other.  It means someone is actively choosing not to respond.  When that happens, when one party decides to not participate in a discussion aimed at improving rather than perpetuating the negativity, what options are we left with?

 

I am twenty-eight.  I have had a few life-altering relationships, and there has only been one person who has made me want to be better, who has made me want to work on the tough stuff, who has made me self-reflect, and that is Gabriel.  He has this embarrassingly accurate way of showing me my faults.  He doesn’t point them out and shove them in my face; he simply acts how I should act in a situation and promotes understanding, communication, and support rather than being reactionary and shutting down, something I am ace at, something that has long been ingrained in me.  He promotes a calm and collected side, someone who can self-reflect and understand the source of anger and hurt.  But, this is the first-time in our relationship where his influence is failing to produce understanding and communication.  I think the depth and breadth of my emotional pain is making it hard for me to even accept and allow common-sense to enter the picture.  And the unfortunate part is that he has to deal with it when he isn’t even the reason I am angry and hurt.

 

Like I said earlier, there are two-sides to every argument or disagreement.  In fact, there are multiple sides dependent on how many people are involved.  It’s no-good to shut down lines of communication because not only are you effectively telling the other person that they don’t matter (literally, you are denying their existence by ignoring them) but that their feelings are not worth it either.

 

I can, and will, advocate distance in order to align your thoughts, in order to register emotion and react, internally and personally, before moving forward into discussion.  But that’s the key, there has to be a discussion.  Otherwise, you are telling the person you’re ignoring that they do not matter.  And if you do need the space to reflect, alerting the other parties is essential, or else you are perpetuating negativity and hurt feelings.  And right now, I have never felt so abandoned in my life.

War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

Education is a thing of beauty.  With more information we have more opportunity at our fingertips.  That is, if we don’t get jaded and disillusioned by the overwhelming amount of shit happening in this world.  You can go on any news website and they have pages and pages and pages dedicated to the latest crisis here, the newest civil rights issue, the terror being spread across the world.  It’s disarming.  And you begin to realize in how much of a bubble you actually live.

But education also can induce empathy and sympathy in people.  Education is, in fact, one of the greatest weapons.  It destroys ignorance on certain subjects and forces issues to the fore.  The only problem, though, is when you begin to see people willfully ignoring fact and circumstance and blindly following in the footsteps of some suave spoken politician or presence.  This world is perpetual chaos and reading and hearing about all the vast nuances of communication that can make or break relationships is mind-boggling.  What’s even more mind-boggling is that we, as humans, as humanity, believe we are somehow superior to this planet we live on.  That somehow in the whole vast scheme of things we will make an everlasting impression.

We are but a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction (I can keep going) of all that has ever been and all that will ever be.

Why do we think we are the end all and be all of the universe?  Even if you take a creationist stand and believe that this world is only a mere 6,000 years old, why do you think you are more important than anyone else?  People lived and died before you.  They loved and hated before you.  Others will live long after you and die long after you.  They will love, hate, fight wars, cry, make babies, and exist just as you are now.

My mind is a great mess of thoughts and emotions right now.  I have spent a lot of the past week reading news stories on a variety of subjects, even things that wouldn’t typically interest me, but for the sake of knowledge and coming to a rounded out conclusion, I dove in and read and researched things to better understand them.  What is my final conclusion?  What grandiose idea have I come to?  We fight wars, we debate topics, and to what fucking end?  In all likelihood we will be the ones that destroy Earth, we will be the ones that kill the only home we’ve ever known, and all the while, rather than taking responsibility, owning up and rectifying it, and maybe saving ourselves in the process, rather than all that, we will be standing there pointing the finger of blame to someone else just so we can stand haughtily with our noses in the air looking down on someone or something we think isn’t as good or as important.

We are no longer a humble society.  We think because we have higher intelligence that we are somehow better, but you know what, for all that fucking intelligence we are animals that kill each other.  We have just figured out more technologically advanced ways of doing it.  Rather than claws and teeth, we use knives and guns.  Rather than throwing a fist out, we bully and condemn people for who they are, how they are born, what they think and what they believe.  I am not above any of this.  I have said harsh words about people’s beliefs and questioned their moral integrity as a way of lashing out.  We use words and actions to convey the truths we know, but in the process we close our minds to other understandings.  For what?  To what end?  So we can stand on the highest hill and claim it to be ours?  Why not act for the good in humanity and not act in a selfish, self-absorbed way that leaves others to suffer horribly.

After reading about international problems, like ISIL and Ukraine, and then reading about domestic issues, like Ferguson and civil rights, LGBTQ and civil rights, education reform, our economy, all of it; it’s overwhelming.  There is no such thing as peace.  We will never not be fighting something.  If you choose to define peace by accepting rules, regulations, or life, the world population will never be 100% satisfied.  Where does that leave us?  What is the point?

The point is that collectively, we are a global society; we are all humans, and as such, we are obligated to guarantee the future of our society, of our humanity.  Every animal has a right to fight for survival, and we do too.  It’s just a shame that we decided to fight among ourselves rather than cooperate to ensure our survival.  As a whole, we refuse to acknowledge that every person is a small part to a much larger puzzle.  We need each other to guarantee the continued existence of human life.  Every.  Single.  Person.  Every one of them plays a significant role in the future of the human race.

When you gather twigs, you can break each twig independently.  They are fragile and are oftentimes subject to more powerful forces.  When you bundle twigs they become much harder to break.  And in fact, when they are bundled, they shield each other and gain strength and can absorb the shock of attempts to break them.  It would be nice if we could reflect on that image and then bring this profound truth into our ever dissenting society.

I was telling a friend that it hurts to see this stuff.  It hurts to read this stuff.  It physically makes me ache.  I am far too empathetic because when I read about all these things, I ache, I physically ache.  My empathy, though, is what makes me strong.  It is what helps me learn and what helps me try to understand.

I may not be religious, I may not have traditional faith, I may not think that an all-powerful god exists and is writing down some all-encompassing playbook, but I do know that the harmony with which we interact with other people, with our world and earth, is important to maintaining and sustaining life.

Reflections on news media and current events.

I have tried to have a more open mind, accept differing beliefs, because I feel like a hypocrite when I complain, criticize, or levy accusations at opposing thoughts or opinions as mine.  They close their eyes, ears, and hearts to something different, and yet, I am doing the same thing.  In my adult life I have gradually moved more into a sphere of political thought.  Growing up, though certain issues always ignited passion and discussion in me, I would stay away from it because of the cornerstone idea that a teenager is in rebellion from the cookie cutter design of their parents.  If I found myself too like my mother or father, I would immediately flee from the act or word.  Ironically, it was all in the name of finding out who I was, when in reality those instinctual actions and words were the building blocks of the adult I am today.

Several things in the media, of late, have peaked an increased voracious appetite for knowledge.  Additionally, they have left me with several rhetorical questions.  Beginning with Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the missing Malaysian flight, Hobby Lobby’s case being brought before the Supreme Court, and not least of all, the extremely radical reactions to all of these through self-proclaimed unbiased news affiliates.  Media, today, has left a gaping hole in the social fabric of this country.

We have Fox News, who claim unbiased and even-handed reporting, though they spout extremely conservative ideals, ranging from the “war on religious freedom” (you see, there is no war on religious freedom, because religion is a right for all of us to have, whether it be Christian morals and ideals, or Jewish, Muslim, Agnostic, Satanic, or worshipping Carrie Bradshaw, however, it does not mean you have the right to press these religious thoughts, beliefs, morals, and ideas on to any other person, especially through government) to the apparent dictatorship of our President.  Ironically, they held up Vladimir Putin, a president in a faux-democratic society who, in reality, acts as a dictator, as this person to look at and praise, because he took action and did not sit around and wait to discuss the situation.  Our President, rather than sending in unnecessary troops to possibly begin a third World War, handed out sanctions on top officials in Russia and Crimea.  He acted with the EU and took a stand on the situation, and wanted to achieve a peaceful outcome.  Things are still not okay in the Crimean peninsula, the relations between Ukraine and Russia are tension filled, and there is still the possibility that Putin could make another land grab, but rather than preemptively attacking Russia (which would be the stupidest thing this country could do, considering we owe China, Russia’s ally, a whole heaping stack of money) and instigating yet another war, the actions taken by the EU, Ukraine, and the United States are, in my eyes, really, really preferable.  (And please, no need to bring up the drone war and President Obama’s hand in that honey pot, because I am well aware of it, and do not agree with it.)  Fox News sat and spat insults at our Commander-in-Chief, complaining of his “Mom-jeans wearing behavior” (whatever that means, because really, ladies and gentlemen, Mom’s are pretty big hard asses; the man is considered the head of the house, but women are the necks: we move the head), and essentially calling for more bloodshed, more American lives put at risk just in the name of asserting “American power” (though we are far from being a World leader, anymore, NOT due to President Obama, but due to insidious economic situation brought on by none other than their Lord and Savior, Ronald Reagan).

CNN is no better.  They have become the glorified time waster of news channels, turning thirty-second spots into three-hour segments, bringing in diagrams, simulations, designs, and models to prove the point that they do not have any more, or less, information than anyone else.  A great example of this is when they interrupted an interview with a Congresswoman to alert the Bieber fandom that he was arrested for suspicion of a DUI.  And then proceeded to waste all of our time by reenacting, several times over, the drag race he was having down a street.  Way to glorify a drunk driver, CNN!  Supposition and guesses have taken over facts; yet, they complain about Fox News doing the same thing.  Opinion, not factual evidence, has overtaken these broadcasts.  The guiding principle of journalism is an unbiased view, giving readers the factual evidence, while not implicating or directing the readership/viewership in any one direction.  Neither CNN nor Fox News follow these guidelines anymore.  MSNBC, is no better.  All three programs have become hours long editorials and opinion pieces.  In fact it seems like the only place to get any real news anymore, unbiased, unaffiliated, is Al Jazeera America or BBC (ten bucks said half of you out there immediately rolled their eyes when reading Al Jazeera America as an option for news, solely because their name has Muslim trappings).  If you fear that a brainwashing scam is present, which I might add is hypocritical and racist, I will point you towards NPR as another option for information.

CNN wasted our time, yet again, with ridiculous hypotheses about missing flight 370 (black holes?  Lost?  the Bermuda triangle?  REALLY?!), and Geraldo mocked the death of a person by supposing that an oxygen problem led everyone onboard to die and then simulated choking to death on national television.  With the uppity disdain of someone who thinks they are better, MSNBC then cast a finger at both news channels at their lack of fact-based evidence, only to have one of their own do the same thing they condemned.  This is not about who is better; a pissing contest should not be happening when lives are compromised and there are families mourning their lost ones.  Or when countries are fighting for freedom.  Or when our own American people bully each other for who they are, what they believe, or how they self-identify.

Last, but definitely not least, in my book, is the Supreme Court hearing Hobby Lobby’s argument against medical coverage.  They are arguing that Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, is infringing their religious freedoms to deny women the use of certain contraceptives.  Hobby Lobby, you are infringing the right of every female who works under you to affordable medical care; who are you to say which is more important: medical care or religion.  Additionally, you are willing to cover Viagra, penis pumps, and other medical paraphernalia and medication for erectile dysfunction, but will not consider providing birth control for your female employees.  An IUD, one of the forms of contraception you are arguing against, is not an abortion.  In fact, the sperm does not even meet the egg.  There is no implantation.  There is no fertilization.  A Mirena IUD has hormones that prevent the woman from even ovulating, much like the oral contraceptives you are willing to cover, while simultaneously prevents the sperm from reaching the end goal.  Effectively, we are throwing our bodies into premature menopause, and women who use the Mirena IUD will stop having a period altogether.  My choice to use this as a preventive measure against ovarian cysts has been the most effective method I have tried, out of countless attempts with oral birth control.  My use of an IUD will allow me the opportunity to become pregnant in the future and have children, which was not guaranteed due to my body’s inability to stop the production and growth of various forms of ovarian cysts.  You are not humble, as the bible states, to assume you can withhold coverage to women in need.  In fact, you are playing God and Government by condemning the use of such devices.  You are unwilling to help those who need it, which directly opposes His teachings.  If you choose to live by the laws of religion, do not pick and choose which laws you follow.  And do not force others to follow them.  You infringe upon their religious freedoms by imposing your religious beliefs on them.

I have found myself reflecting on these issues.  And most obviously, I have reflected a considerable amount on the so-called war on religion.  How it people invoke it any time the government does it’s job to not mix church and state; when people are up in arms about Christian mores being taken out of secular activities; when people quote biblical passages in open hostility towards the LGBTQ community.  How is it that we go to houses of worship, hear people preach about love and acceptance and forgiveness, and then turn around and spew hate?  Religion does not become more powerful by being more widely accepted, or more widely publicized.  Religion is about your personal relationship with God, as you understand Him/It.  Why are you invoking His name in acts of violence, bullying, and hate?  How and why do you attempt to infuse religion into a government that has to look out for the welfare of a multitude of people, who are not all Christian.  And the answer is not to “go back to where you came from,” because if that was the case, we should all leave immediately and let the Native Americans have their land.  I am a second generation American.  My dad was not born in the United States.  Many more people are first generation, as people flock to this country in search of an American dream, only to become the victims of thoughtlessness.  Love your neighbor as yourself: if people are following this dictum of religion, truthfully and honestly, then we are a country filled with self-hatred.

Two events, one decision.

Life has transformative moments.  You wake up one day and experience devastating heartbreak or you are floating in pure elation at some positive reinforcement finally showing itself.  This week, hell this past month, has felt like one long struggle.  There have been positives and negatives galore, oftentimes combining until I am big quivering pile of tears.  Uncertainty is one of life’s most obnoxious gifts.  You see, it is a gift.  It may make me cringe or cause the nauseated feeling in the pit of my stomach, but it is a gift.  There are times when you are walking down a path and you eventually look up and around and wonder, “How did I get here?”  You look behind you desperately seeking some hint or clue as to how you found yourself there, but nothing registers, and you are as lost emotionally as you are physically. 

Usually it takes something big to force someone off a path, or to wake them up enough and alert them that there are other options.  A few combining forces led me to look around, to shake off the dust of monotony, and to ponder the possibilities that still lie ahead of me.  First, the Italian court’s decision to convict Amanda Knox of murder, again.  Curiosity about the case led me to spend most of a day looking up as much information as I could about the case.  I vaguely remembered the headlines and news stories from her trial, but I never delved deep into the information.  Most of what happened in regards to Amanda Knox was still unknown to me.  So her resurgence in the media, and the unfortunate news of her conviction, ignited curiosity and then outrage. 

When detailing the facts of the case to my boyfriend on a car ride back to Chicago, I suddenly stopped talking and had a “wow” moment.  I think Gabriel might have thought I was in the throes of some physical pain or some psychic disturbances, and quickly asked if I was alright.  I let out a half laugh and said, “I think I want to study law.”

Law school and I have a sordid past.  When I was 21, on the verge of graduating from the University of Iowa, with a B.A. in English and Religious Studies, my parents were pushing for me to apply to graduate schools.  There aren’t many job opportunities for an English major, especially one who concentrated her efforts in Creative Writing, outside of asking frequent customers if they want whip cream on their daily triple shot mochas.  Or becoming the next Stephenie Meyer (I shudder to think) or J.K. Rowling.  And with my lack of tenacity, publishing didn’t seem viable.  Add into the mix a second major of Religious Studies, and there is no doubt HR departments and retention experts were sitting there wiping the tears of laughter from their eyes as they tossed my resume/CV into the recycle bin.  The options are extremely limited: a. graduate school, b. getting a second degree in education, or c. writing the next great American novel.  Either way, it meant applying to different programs or pulling my head out of my ass. 

My dad is a lawyer.  He went to University of Illinois and graduated with a degree in Engineering.  After a few years in the working world and coming to his own “ah-ha” moment, he applied to, was accepted, and began law school with DePaul University in Chicago.  He worked full-time during the day and took classes part-time at night.  As a result, when his youngest daughter was attempting to “figure it out” after college, his idea of help often resorted to pushing law school as an option.  And as a young twenty something, the idea of following through on anything my dad suggested was simply, and honestly, ridiculous.

I must state that when I was younger, one of my favorite pastimes was going to work with my dad and reading through his files.  I was inundated with legal jargon and he was diligent in educating me about various cases he was working on.  My job, now, deals with making sure our company is compliant with United States import and export laws.  No matter how hard I rebuked the option, it keeps popping up in my life.

The second force that caused me to look up and question the path I am on was the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.  It is devastating and surreal to hear about anyone’s death.  It seems doubly awkward when a celebrity dies, and in such a way that Mr. Hoffman did.  You feel a sense of loss, even though there is no personal correspondence or action between you and the deceased celebrity.  The first time I remember seeing him in a movie was Twister.   Laugh if you will, but this movie is my go-to when I am sick, sad, in a funk, or simply bored.  And Philip Seymour Hoffman played my favorite character.  Not Bill Paxton, not Helen Hunt, no, Philip Seymour Hoffman played Dusty, the burnt out storm chaser who listened to Clapton and Led Zeppelin.  Hoffman had a way of stealing scenes.  And the way he did it was to fully become whatever character he played.  When you watched him, you weren’t watching Philip Seymour Hoffman as someone, you were watching this fully developed person.  After my introduction to his brilliance in, of all things, Twister, I began to make an effort to see him in the diverse roles he chose.  My next favorite was his Oscar-winning role of Truman Capote.  Something that, to this day, haunts me. 

His death shocked me.  Gabriel and I were in the car driving through Chicago suburb traffic when my phone buzzed alerting me to a breaking news story from CNN.  When I looked down and saw that Hoffman had died of an apparent overdose, I felt sad and then immediately angry.  Gabe asked me if everything was okay, and the only thing I could think of to respond was how pissed I was at drug policy in the United States, that we needed reform.  If we didn’t subvert drug abuse or blame moral failing, but actually openly discussed it without hesitation or fear of immoral labeling, maybe we could prevent deaths caused by drug abuse.  Maybe we could help those addicts who relapse and feel they have no other option.  Maybe, just maybe, if we changed how we approach drug policy, we wouldn’t be saddened and shocked and angry by the deaths of those who are helpless against addiction. 

According to David Sheff’s new book, Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy, approximately one in twelve Americans over the age of twelve are addicted to drugs.  Look at your Facebook friends list.  If you have 120 friends, that means at least ten of them, statistically speaking, are addicted to drugs.  And most of the time, we don’t even know it.  When Nixon announced his war on cancer, an overflow of monetary aid flooded research in the field, which helped lead to preventive measures and information and new treatments.  That same year he announced his war on drugs, which turned addicts into criminals.  We effectively showed those with addictions that we don’t care, that we would rather see them as immoral scoundrels of the earth rather medically ill people in need of treatment. 

With the limited funds available, research into addiction has led to some advances in understanding the brain chemistry of an addict.  Thanks to these pioneers, there is scientific evidence that shows the effects drugs have on the brain, and what leads to chemical dependency and abuse.  Additional studies are providing more insight into the ways the brain adapts to continued abuse, making recovery difficult, due to physiological changes, not weakness of will.  With the proper tools and monetary backing, preventive measures outside of scare tactics can be implemented and a decrease in abuse can happen.  Understanding the human brain and the components that lead to initial use, at oftentimes young ages, are educational tools that will provide youth the independence to make informed decisions.  Rehabs and treatment centers can use new cognitive and behavioral therapies to help addicts reach sobriety and stay in sobriety.  The first step, though, is realizing that addiction is not a moral failing, but a disease that needs treatment. 

But more has to happen.  In addition to research, preventative techniques and education about drug use and abuse should be implemented, and not through scare tactics or religious guilt, but through scientific fact.  Health care reform has to occur, too.  When many people are not given the opportunity for psychological and/or psychiatric evaluations and treatment, many people will self-medicate otherwise treatable mental illness and anxiety disorders through drug use.  When addiction happens, insurance companies need to cover rehab and treatment centers.  Laws exist that allow insurance companies to refuse payment if drug or alcohol abuse is present, whether that be for rehabilitation or when someone lands in the ER due to drugs or alcohol.

As you can see, Hoffman’s death ignited another fire in me.  Public Policy, especially in regards to drug reform, has been a passion for as long as I can remember.  I have read countless memoirs of addicts and their families.  Read, in graphic detail, their descent into abuse and addiction.  I have hit rock bottom with them, went through the agonizing moments of detox, and the uncertainty of sobriety, with them.  My empathy led to the wish to gather as much information as I could on drug law and policy, as well as the history of drug use and abuse (specifically in the United States).  My bookshelves at home have a diverse selection, ranging from romance novels, biographies and memoirs, to drug policy and reform, and the Harry Potter series.  Next to my copy of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind is The Pot Book and David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy.  An epidemic is hitting not just the United States, but other countries, as well.  If the last forty years have told us anything, it is that the war on drugs is failing.  There are so many steps that this government can take to radically improve the statistics out there.  One in twelve Americans over the age of twelve. 

Amanda Knox and Philip Seymour Hoffman; these two separate people and events shook me from complacency of my path.  This new path scares me, but above all, overshadowing any doubt or fear or resignation, is an excitement I haven’t felt in a long time.  For the first time in my almost 28 years, I feel like I know what I need to do.

What is the definition of maturity?

I am sick of so many things.  I have so much I want to say, but I know this is not the platform to act on those impulses (despite my previous post, because the material I am wrestling with needs to contain a bit more confidentiality than political discourse).

 Social media has become the perfect way for individuals to feel uniquely angry and feel a sense of common injustice (and not just social media like blogs and Facebook, but also through the all too hilarious and truthful memes and e-cards).  They look for empathy in the anonymity.  And also connection.  They think, if I am experiencing this, if I am feeling this, someone else may, too, and these nameless faces will be able to nod their head in agreement.  They look for justification and indignation at the stories they tell as a way to absorb some of the pain they are feeling.  Or rather than pain, the anger they feel at a given situation.  A part of me wants to say screw it and verbally abuse the hell out of the people who have hurt me, but the more rational, mature part of me says I should let bygones be bygones, I should not stoop to their level of pettiness, and most importantly, what does it say about my character if I hypocritically attack someone who has attacked me?  Maybe I wasn’t cut out for certain things.  I know when I can hold my ground, and surprisingly when I do choose to open my mouth a sense of calm passes over me that allows my voice to steady when inside I am shaking with unhinged anger.

I cry when I get angry.  I cry when I am sad, too, but I think the biggest reason I have shed tears outside physical duress in the past five years has been such an overwhelming sense of anger that rather than it remaining a metallic ball in my stomach it sprouts out my eyes.  It’s such a horrible thing, too.  I look like a wounded puppy, something inconsolable and pathetic.  Ironically, I am nothing like a wounded animal when my mouth opens and my thoughts and feelings spill out.  Rather I could verbally tear apart whoever and whatever is making me angry.  That’s why I stay quiet.  It doesn’t mean I am okay with a situation, or that I sympathize or empathize, it means that the mature decision is to shut up.  (Side note: that is not to say that if a given situation comes up and I see something truly horrific that I would not stand up and speak my mind, but certain things call for the less is more approach, like work-related or the I-hate-your-boyfriend-because-he-is-a-tool-bag-and-you-should-dump-him-immediately situations.)  Recently, though, I am finding it hard to keep quiet.  I have either witnessed or been told or overheard so many situations where I want to respond, but I know myself, I know my anger, I know the level of hurt I can cause with my remarks, and it’s just not worth it.

Though I must admit, there is a very strong and immature part of me that wants to let loose and verbally eviscerate a laundry list of people and items. I just know, in this case, that no good would come of it.  In fact I am positive that it would either fall on deaf ears or immaturity would reflect back at me in the ever-present joke that’s not a joke (you know the ones, where someone says something really mean and then goes, “It was a joke, geez”).  However, I will admit that I need to find a happy medium between every once and awhile saying something without falling down the rabbit hole and being a continuous instigator.  If maturity is taking the high road and making the call of when to speak and when not to speak, I want to get there.  Right now I remain silent 99.9% of the time despite feeling like I should say something, and recently I have felt the need to speak up.  I think the natural progression is moving from knowing when to remain silent if you can’t say anything constructive to then being able to stay constructive in comments and replies.  When anger flashes hot in me I need the space and distance to determine if I am taking something personally when it wasn’t intended as such, if I have irrationality overruling any rational thought, or if the situation is worth coming back to when I am calmer and have had time to consider the possibilities of a. what caused it, and b. what I can do about it.

More than anything, though, after weeks for one situation, and days for another, and hours for another (yes, because three similar yet different things are weighing on me) I realize that it just isn’t worth it.  Now if only I could just let go, then everything would be fine.