Tag Archives: mental health

Today. November 9, 2016.

Oh…where to even begin.

I just don’t know. This most certainly can’t be summed up in a tweet, Facebook rant, hashtags or meme. This deserves all of my words.

In high school, I was sexually assaulted for the first time in my life. It was uninvited, it was painful, it was terrifying. And it was on school property. I didn’t report it, out of shame and fear. I didn’t talk about it, out of shame and fear. I didn’t think that I would be believed and I did not feel safe. Yesterday, all of the votes for Trump reminded me that I am still her – still unlikely to be believed, and still not safe.

My father, who worked his ass off all of his life to provide for us via his union job, and who served in Vietnam before that at the request of his country…he was injured a few years short of retirement and my parents lost their healthcare access. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was a blessing. My mother, who is going through some potentially extensive medical stuff right now, is protected via The Affordable Care Act. Protected via the access it provides and the pre-existing condition clause that prevents her from being “untouchable” in the eyes of insurers, which will disappear under Trump and his Republican Congress.

Should I have children, they are now set to grow up under a Supreme Court that will most likely make decisions further jeopardizing or eliminating voting rights, reproductive rights, and civil rights. Decisions that could undermine the role of the federal government to protect land, and water, and freedoms in that important big picture kind of way. They are set to grow up in an era kicked off by the destruction of climate change progress, leaving the wound gaping and probably terminal. Their global employment prospects will probably be lost to closed borders and trade upheavals. And we don’t even know the scope of wars that will be set into action from this election.

But these things that devastate me so personally, do not even hold a candle to the bigotry and hatred that exist for my beautiful, kind, loving, generous friends – the POC, LGBT, immigrant, “other” people who have been living in fear for decades or more and were reminded yet again that America does not value them. And it resents the shit out of them for trying to climb up out of the oppression in which they live every day. This is not new. It is in everything we do: when we reject the black lives matter movement, when we reject transpeople sharing a bathroom with us, when we harass muslim business owners for not assimilating, when we justify the police shooting deaths of mental health/disabled/culturally different people over the ability to follow directions. And sure, you may exclude yourself from this – but what do you do when your loved ones and friends show their support for these things? Do you challenge the structure that allows people to discount other human beings based on their skin color, sexual orientation, gender, citizenship status, ability, etc? I know I’m not nearly as good at this as I need to be. I challenge, when I feel mostly safe and when I feel charged up enough to take on the battle. But damn is it nice to fall back into my comfy privilege chair when I’m overtaxed and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of conversations I’m having these days. So many people just don’t get that option.

I did not do enough. We did not do enough.

We unfriended, we blocked, we disconnected. We put barriers up between ourselves and “those crazy Trump people.” We let people hem and haw over their apathy or disdain for Clinton and run to third party candidates. We wasted time arguing on why we should pick Clinton when we already felt Trump was never an option. We watched our fellow Americans sit out the vote all together (almost 200 million of them it seems). We stopped reading books, we accepted media reports at face value, we moved to our urban areas where everyone thinks like us, and we sat in our little “post-racial, post-feminist, globalized and progressive” bubbles – and missed the rest of the country getting swindled.

When you are being abused, when you are being taken advantage of, you do not realize it until it is too late. I lived for years in an abusive relationship. I didn’t seek it out, it found me. And I stayed well past the warning signs, making excuses.  Hateful things said, and then promises made, and then excuses for all that inexcusable behavior.

The answer here is not to chalk this election up to something so simple as hate and go about your life. It is so much more involved and damning than that.

If you are anyone under serious threat from your neighbors, coworkers, government – I stand with you and will do all that I can to help you survive.

If you are one of my lucky friends that is white or male or heterosexual or able-bodied or any combination of non-oppressed qualities that can protect you in the face of bigotry and hate, I challenge you to do these things:

1) Do not move out of this country. Stay, (and bonus find a swing state to move to) so your vote can change the tide. Learn why people voted for Trump – where you live and beyond. Learn the issues: absence of media integrity (both sides!), globalization of the workforce, educational disparities, climate change, lack of cultural understanding, lack of empathy, fear of the unknown. This knowledge will serve you well and provides a foundation for future change. If you see it, you can’t ignore it.  You can start here.

2) Create safe spaces for the oppressed. When black people talk about their lives mattering, listen. When immigrants talk about fears of deportation, listen. When women talk about abuse, listen. When people talk about mental health issues, listen. Listen to yourself and how you contribute to or fight the system.

3) Actively support your oppressed communities. Spend your dollar at businesses that are owned by or directly support the communities at risk. Vote with these communities in mind at all levels of government. Use language that does not denigrate them, even in jest.

I will be doing all of the above every single day, as I have been since Trump won the primary…and even before, but it was not nearly enough. In the last 24 hours, we’ve lashed out at our country and our government in anger, frustration, and pain. But I refuse to let the KKK win.

For all the Trump supporters that swear they did not vote for Trump out of hate – prove it. I invite you to do the three things above with respect to Clinton voters. Show your neighbors and your kids, your coworkers and your extended family, your fellow citizens that you support their very right to live arm in arm with you no matter who they are.

To the people that voted for Trump as an avenue of change, I think you missed something. Your vote also supported a politician of 15 years for Vice President, who has legislatively proven he IS anti-science, anti-woman, anti-POC, anti-LGBT, and anti-immigrant.  Your down ballot votes kept 30 of the 34 Senate seats in the hands of those already in Congress, though change squeaked in a TINY bit via only 24 of the 43 US Rep open seats staying with members of Congress (if I did my math wrong – let me know because I am definitely in a fog today). The rest of the 435 Reps are still there too. 

Trump is our president. Congress is still the same. There is plenty more work to be done.

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My Lens of Depression

Last week, Dr. Sophia Yin committed suicide. Her death rocked me a bit more than Robin Williams’ in August (don’t get me wrong, that was a rough one too). I wrote this piece back when Mr. Williams died, but didn’t get around to posting quickly and started to doubt the idea of posting something so heavy as my third post. Dr. Yin was (is) a celebrity in my field of work, and her fate is considerably more common among animal welfare professionals than other industries. I actually assisted her for a few days when she visited my work to teach low stress handling techniques on animals. She was all business, good at what she did, and seemed to have a dedicated support staff in tow. A woman who had it all together, changing the world of animal handling/training one book at a time. And just like that she’s gone.

I didn’t write this looking for sympathy. I wrote this because mental health is not a topic people talk openly about in this country, and it costs amazing people their lives. Sharing our truths out loud can tear down the stigma. So my hope is that my story, it helps one person think differently about a loved one or themselves. And they decide to try for at least one more day. Because sometimes that’s all it takes to get help in the form of a true diagnosis, a supportive hand or a different direction.

The first time I recall contemplating suicide as an option was in junior high. My uncle had committed suicide in fantastic fashion while I was in elementary school – he jumped in front of a train. I don’t believe that my uncle’s fate influenced my desire for it, but looking back now it seems obvious that mental health issues were/are very prevelant on my father’s side of the family. What I also know is that puberty colliding with new friends and the new environment of junior high awakened my own tendency toward depression.

My parents, while flawed humans in their own right, were actively trying to give me everything I needed to be successful. My dad worked hard to put food on the table, my mother ran a business from home to be there for me whenever I needed. My father taught me skills to be self-sufficient, my mother always had time to listen to my struggles. Yet even in a relatively stable environment, I was engulfed by self-loathing and hopelessness.

Going through puberty and finding depression at the same time was absolutely overwhelming. This was not something I could talk to my parents about (at least, I didn’t think that I could). I couldn’t confide in guidance counselors who would quickly intervene because I feared I’d be labelled and the whole school would start calling me “that crazy girl.” I wasn’t cool enough to be depressed. I didn’t wear black, or like horror movies, and I wasn’t all that into Nirvana. I was just a girl who wore thrift store clothes, listened to country music, and liked soap operas (it’s funny how much we are mini-versions of our parents until puberty hits and we want to be anything but).

I did however find someone to talk to about it, and I know it saved my life. It wasn’t the best context – two of my close guy friends and I were all struggling and we made a suicide pact. It prevented any of us from going rogue and doing it solo, and it made it okay to talk to each other about how we were actually feeling. I know any child/mental health professional would probably cringe at that thought, but it was partly responsible for me living to adulthood so I will be forever grateful to those two boys.

The other thing that kept me alive was my parents high expectations for me coupled with their generosity of love. They wanted me to have everything they didn’t, and every time I thought about suicide, I thought about what kind of mess it would leave my parents. I struggled to find a way that would be easy on them. My misery was so heavy that some days, this didn’t really matter. But the struggle of trying to find a way that was less harmful to them made me wait a day. Wait a week. Wait until I had come up with a decent plan. And that waiting to figure out the right way to do it kept me alive long enough to actually get help.

I wasn’t actually diagnosed and medicated for depression until I was 24. For over ten years, through a lot of big life decisions, I struggled to get out of bed in the morning. I struggled with waking up itself. Sleep was a refuge from all of the harmful thoughts swimming around in my brain. Sleep was the only safe place. I was just waiting to die. Depression is an ugly beast that swallows every feeling, color, sound, breath into a black hole leaving you empty and alone (see this awesome artist for an incredibly accurate depiction of what it’s like to live with depression).

I look at who I am now, seven years out from my diagnosis and I am glad I had the patience to wait. I am no longer on medication, and I use therapy when I need to. I still have very rough days, and my life is by no means perfect, but every day gives me something that is mine alone. And I am grateful for that. I have a lot of tools at my disposal – affirmations, quality relationships, a support system, and the knowledge that the bad days don’t last. None of this came quickly or easily, and it’s hard work to maintain. But the alternative? I don’t even want to give it a chance.

I’ve found these links helpful, so I’m sharing them.

Talk to someone, National Suicide Hotline

Bipolar or Depression?

Compassion Fatigue & Animal Welfare

Everyone has secrets.

Hyperbole and a Half