Sunday, August 17, 2014

Empathy Is a Powerful Weapon #Ferguson

A masked protester named Jason Ross confronted Capt. Ron Johnson. HuffPo reporter Ryan Reilly reported on the encounter.

Ross was yelling at Capt. Johnson in an "aggressive" and "intimidating" way. Capt. Johnson turned to Ross and engaged in "a civil exchange". Capt. Johnson is a #Ferguson native. He told Ross he understands how he feels. Ross calmed down and talked it over, ending their conversation by saluting Capt. Johnson.

Empathy is the most powerful weapon on the planet.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mixtape for Today: Protest Songs for #ferguson

Public Enemy's "Fight the Power"":

Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention's "Trouble Every Day":

Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddam":

Patti Smith's "People Have the Power":

Rage Against the Machine's "Killing In the Name of":

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young's "Ohio":

Odetta's "Spiritual Trilogy: Oh, Freedom, Come and Go with Us, I'm On My Way":

Sinead O'Connor's "Black Boys on Mopeds":

 John Lennon's "Working Class Hero":

N.W.A.'s "Fuck Tha Police":

Sublime's "April 29, 1992 (Rodney King Riots)":

Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit":

Morehouse College Glee Club's "We Shall Overcome":

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My Mork from Ork Suspenders: Rest In Peace, Robin Williams

Robin Williams died yesterday. An "apparent suicide". I read somewhere that he was battling depression.

When I was a kid, I loved my Mork from Ork rainbow-striped suspenders. I wore them nearly every day in second grade, when the hugely popular TV show "Mork & Mindy" premiered.

My family had moved to a new house in a new city the previous year, one month after first grade started. I hated it. I missed my old friends. All my teacher had to do was just look at me and I'd cry. Half of my family, three of my high school and college aged siblings, stayed behind in our hometown. My whole life, my relationships with people I loved, were crumbling and I didn't know what to do. I felt sick all the time. I slept a lot. I ate a lot of junk food. It was the third-most miserable year of my life, behind only the year I starved myself in fifth grade, and the year my family moved again the summer before I started seventh grade, when my last sister moved out of the house for good. Alone with just my parents who should have divorced when I was four. No friends. No siblings. Nothing to buffer me from my parents' marital gloom.

I wasn't diagnosed with depression until fifth grade. I had passed out in school. Mom took me to a doctor I'd never seen before who also diagnosed me with anorexia nervosa. I was eleven. I had been sent to Weight Watchers in third grade. Our daughter, Katie, started third grade today. I can't imagine making her drink Tab while everyone else drank Pepsi in front of her, making her pay attention to her daily carb intake while her friends played hide-and-go seek outside.

I loved dieting. I felt alive when I didn't eat. I felt strong when I ignored my hunger pangs. I felt in control of my body. In control of my life. It's a powerful thing for a girl to feel in control of her own body. Someone who has been told by others that she needs to let them manipulate her into being a proper lady. Quiet, obedient, and pretty. A sex toy.

Another great big empty hole in my life, probably my biggest check-next-to-the-box of risk factors for depression, is that I was sexually abused as a young child. It's taken me decades to feel comfortable in my own skin. Like my body is beholden to nobody. Not any lover or husband or friend. Not any social norms, or customs, or experts. My body is mine and I get to decide what I put into it, how I dress it, how I present it to the world.

I used to be much more trendy.

Those dorky Mork from Ork suspenders made me feel popular in second grade. It had been a year since I was the new kid at school. I felt more comfortable in my surroundings. I was starting to make new friends. I remember standing outside on the blacktop during recess, my thumbs resting underneath the suspender straps so I could snap them against my body. I had buttons on them. Buttons with funny sayings. Kids would read the buttons and laugh. Then we were friends. It was as simple as that. Soon, I had lots of friends. I felt happy much of the time. But it wasn't enough.

By fourth grade I had outgrown my Mork from Ork suspenders, both physically and psychologically. I no longer felt the need to use trendy gimmicks to win over people and make friends. I had become a friendly person. As if it were natural. I discovered I could be who I am and people like me.

Problem is, I don't always like myself.

Something went horribly wrong by fifth grade. After a couple of popular years, I turned into a recluse. I stopped wanting to be around people. I didn't like to leave my bedroom. I didn't want to play with my friends. I didn't want to go to school. It didn't matter how popular I was at school, how much my natural friendliness had popped out like my budding breasts. I felt empty inside and I wanted to be alone and do nothing.

I was diagnosed with depression, anorexia, and mild OCD when I was eleven. I was briefly treated by a clinical psychologist and then released when I started eating again. As long as I looked healthy on the outside, I must be fine.

But I was not fine. I was still sick with depression. I missed a lot of school. I fought with my dad. I alienated a lot of friends. I battled a full array of eating disorders, from starving myself to binging on junk food to becoming obsessed with healthy eating. I didn't understand romantic relationships, and when I did finally convince someone to date me, my rages burned whatever ties we'd made.

In all those years of suffering with depression, I wanted to run away. Everyone would be better off if I weren't around, I told myself. But I didn't want to die. I wanted to flee. Something about this amazing and mysterious planet kept me wanting to stick around longer. I can't explain it. A curious mind? God's grace? Mother Earth's smiling gaze upon me? A highly evolved survival instinct? Or plain dumb luck? Who knows.

I got help by my late teens. I started seeing a string of therapists. I read self help books. I tried different kinds of medication. Exercise. Diets. Supplements. Anything I thought would help. Anything my doctors and therapists recommended.

After several hard relapses, especially when I struggled with post-partum depression right after Katie was born eight years ago, after many false starts and experiments with various treatments, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and clinical depression and told by my current doctor that it's probably best that I stay on meds my whole life. She said:

I'd tell my patients with high blood pressure the same thing. Sure, eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise help, but some people need medicine too. You are one of those people. Your brain didn't develop the way other people's brains developed because of the childhood trauma you experienced as your brain was developing.

That made sense. I've been back on my meds for nearly a year now and most days I feel like getting out of bed. On good days I even feel like making this world a better place. Changing people's minds, helping people feel less alone. Sharing my story.

My doctor's not just a pill pusher. She encourages me to eat right and exercise, practice breathing exercises, and calming techniques. Mostly, my doctor tells me to keep expressing myself, whether through talk therapy or in my writing. This blog has saved my life.

Another thing that helps stave off symptoms of my depression is finding the right balance of alone-time and social-time. I need a lot of quiet, alone-time to process my thoughts and emotions. I like to write things out before I decide how I feel about something. That takes time. But too much time alone, and I start to feel depressed and anxious. I feel unmotivated to get dressed and leave the house, do the dishes, present my social face to the world. I just want to be left alone to the churning thoughts in my mind.

I think I do, anyway. But then someone I love, someone I trust, someone who makes life worth living breaks through and I realize how much I like to be around people. How sometimes when I'm left alone my thoughts get to me and start making me think I don't need other people.

Last night my husband Will and I walked with our eight-year-old daughter Katie to school for an ice cream social. Depending on whether or not I'm treating my depression, I either hate these kinds of things or I love them. The crowds. The small talk. The having to shower and wear pants.

Since I'm back on my meds, last night was an "I love them" experience. I enjoyed meeting Katie's new 3rd grade teacher. I enjoyed walking around to see all her previous teachers going back to kindergarten. I enjoyed seeing the same moms and dads and kids I've been seeing walking through those halls for going-on four years now.

When we got to Katie's classroom, her teacher instructed the students to pick their own desk. Whenever I get a choice, I always pick the side, or the back. Never the front or, even worse, the middle. So which desk did our child pick? Right smack in the middle of the front row. She must get it from Will.

Katie said, "Mom, do you know why I picked my desk in the middle of the front row? So I can see all the learning!"

"Who is this kid?" I said to Will after we got home.

"What?" Will asked.

"She must get it from you!" I exclaimed.

"Get what from me?" Will asked. I honestly think he didn't know. My husband does not have depression. He's extremely empathetic and caring, so he tries to understand me, but he honestly has no idea what it's like to be a neurotic mess.

"Confidence. You two both are so comfortable in your own skin. Not worried about what other people think of you. Sitting right there in the middle of everything where everyone in the room can see you. You two are show offs!"

Will looked annoyed. "Just because we're comfortable being around people doesn't mean we're show offs."

Later, Will and I were talking again. It was getting late and he was feeling romantic. He said, "You look so sexy in that dress."

I squirmed. Will knows I feel anxious when people compliment me, especially my sexual nature. He also knows I trust him.

He smiled at me. I blushed. He said, "And I love your personality."

"What?" I asked. That seemed like a stretch. Like he was trying too hard to backtrack from his "sexy" statement.

"What what?" He asked.

"You love my personality?" I asked, cocking one eye and biting my lower lip so I wouldn't laugh.

"Yes. I do." Will said, firmly. Confidently.

I rolled my eyes, but I felt butterflies in my belly. "What do you like about my personality?" I asked, honestly not knowing.

"You're so bubbly," Will said, without hesitation.

"Bubbly?!" I said, shocked. It felt like the time one of my co-workers compared me to Molly Ringwald's popular character in "The Breakfast Club". How could they not know I was surely Ally Sheedy's basketcase character?'

"Yes. You're very friendly and open. You make people feel comfortable."

Who is this person my husband is speaking of? How can he so not know me?

Depression plays tricks on your mind. Depression can convince you that you're unfriendly, uninteresting, unlovable. Depression is a big fat liar. Depression is a foggy mirror. Sometimes you need someone you trust to wipe the fog away so you can see yourself the way they see you.

People with depression need help. They can't fight it alone. It's ironic that an illness that makes you want to hide away from the world is best treated when you reach for help. And because it's so difficult to reach out to someone when you're at the bottom of the pit of despair, we must rely on other people to extend a hand.

If you know anyone who suffers from depression, please help them. Accompany them to the doctor so they don't feel so overwhelmed with all the information and instructions. Encourage them to talk about how they feel. Remind them that they are not alone and that they don't have to suffer in silence.

Don't think just because someone has riches and fame and tons of friends that they are not vulnerable to this awful illness. Robin Williams, a brilliant comedian and dramatic actor, spent his life helping other people laugh and feel good. It's sad he was unable to help himself.

From the Lifeline website:

Why call?

No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.

Who should call?

If you feel you are in a crisis, whether or not you are thinking about killing yourself, please call the Lifeline. People have called us for help with substance abuse, economic worries, relationship and family problems, sexual orientation, illness, getting over abuse, depression, mental and physical illness, and even loneliness.

What happens when I call:

When you dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255), you are calling the crisis center in the Lifeline network closest to your location. After you call, you will hear a message saying you have reached the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You will hear hold music while your call is being routed. You will be helped by a skilled, trained crisis worker who will listen to your problems and will tell you about mental health services in your area. Your call is confidential and free.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Voice Be Heard

Dorky Dancer

Whitney Way Thore is my hero.

Don't even start with the jokes. Yeah, yeah. "Whitney Weigh More". Your sense of humor is as immature as it is predictable.

After watching this video of Whitney Way Thore dancing, I feel inspired to move my ass.

I used to love to dance when I was younger. I'd head to the bars with my friends. I'd have a couple of drinks. I'd loosen up and start to feel the music buzz through me. I'd enter the crowded dance floor and start moving my body. It felt great. I felt free. I felt alive.

Then, my girlfriend-at-the-time--Kristin--blew it by breaking it to me: I'm a dorky dancer.

Kristin was a lot of things. A liar. A spend-thrift. A chronic consumer. I went bankrupt while dating Kristin. She literally left me in financial ruin and then left town after we broke up and I started dating Will. It took years for me to pay my debts, to restore my credit, to trust another person enough to share a bank account with him.

One good thing about her: I never appreciated dogs or country music until I met Kristin. We adopted a puppy from the shelter and named him Goodboy Earl after The Dixie Chicks song, "Goodbye Earl." I had been a Cat Person before I met Kristin. That I made such drastic personality changes under the influence of Kristin should have been a red flag that our relationship would end up like a country song or a corny joke.

My girlfriend convinced me to adopt a dog.
She spent all my money, then left town.
Thank God she left the dog with me.

It's not the love of dogs and country music that ruined me. For that, I thank my ex-girlfriend. What I regret the most about my relationship with Kristin is that I allowed her to blow my confidence in dancing.

When I was a little kid I'd dance around the dining room table, listening to my mom's eight-track tapes. Mom liked to listen to music while she cleaned the house. She'd pop in some Barbra Streisand, some Queen, some Broadway musical, and start dusting. I'd start dancing. I loved dancing when I was a little kid. Mom always smiled and otherwise encouraged me to dance.

I took one dance class when I was in about third grade. I wasn't very good, but I had fun. I got to wear a snazzy costume and dance in a recital on stage in some old building downtown. Living in suburban Kansas City, it was a big deal to get to go downtown. That I got to go downtown to dance made me feel like a star.

Puberty hormones left me awkward and shy. By Junior High I no longer liked to dance on stage. But I still loved to dance with my friends. In high school my misfit friends and I would play New Order, The Smiths, The Cure, and Siouxsie and the Banchees inside our bedrooms. We'd drink Boones Farm Strawberry Hill wine and dance. Or, if we had five bucks for gas and the cover charge, we'd drive downtown to dance at The Monolith, an underage dance club that catered to Kansas City's gay and alternative kids.

I didn't dance because I thought I was cool. I never thought I was cool. And I was fine with that. I'd carved a little niche for myself by my late teens, I was a hippie at heart who hung out with any underdogs I could find, punk kids, gay kids, drama kids, art kids, abused kids, alcoholic kids: come dance with me!

That was a long time ago. I'm 43 now. I long ago stopped dancing, in public. I'll never give up dancing in the privacy of my own home. I can't help it. When I hear good music my booty needs to shake. I swing my hips as I stand at the kitchen sink washing dishes and listening to the Bjork station on the Pandora app on my tablet. I hold hands with my eight-year-old daughter and dance and sing along to "Frozen" in the living room. I wiggle my way around my husband when I put on some Marvin Gaye.

But that's it. No dancing in public. Ever since Kristin laughed at me and told me I looked "dorky" when I dance.

Kristin was a good dancer. Smooth and cool and confident. It was one of her rare gifts. It came to her naturally, like suckering people into relationships long enough to swindle them. She was graceful and sexy, a wonderment. Nothing at all like she was when she wasn't dancing.

I figured someone that good knows what she's talking about. If Kristin thinks I'm a dorky dancer, I must be a dorky dancer. What do I know? Just like how I let her convince me to sell my "hippie" rattan furniture in a garage sale so we could replace it with stuff that mirrored what she'd seen on HGTV, because I thought what do I know about interior design?

Dang, I miss my rattan dinette set.

What I didn't realize at the time, what I didn't realize until now, after watching the video of Whitney Way Thore shake it like she doesn't care who's watching, is that it doesn't matter if Kristin thinks I'm a dorky dancer. I should dance because I like to. Not to impress other people. I'm the boss of my own body and I should shake it if it feels good.

Instead of responding to Kristin's cruelty by giving up something I love to do--dancing in a crowd of my fellow human beings, feeling connected to humanity through the beat, letting loose and living like there's no tomorrow--I should have said, "So what?" and gone right on dancing like the beautiful dork I am.

Own your dorkiness, Becky! Own it, girl!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Prayers for Peace

At church yesterday, Pastor Jonas read this prayer:


Present and active God, help us to be worthy of trust . .
     your trust . . . our neighbor’s trust

Help us to breathe in the desire for power
     and to breath out a desire for peace.

Help us to breathe in sure knowledge that we are right,
     and to breathe out knowledge that evil can lodge
          in our hearts too.

Help us to breathe in adversaries who bring out our worst selves,
       and to breathe out our best most compassionate             
           selves when we face those who do not trust us
               and whom we ourselves do not trust.

Help us to breathe in the “good” religious selves that we are
   and to breathe out a self awareness that admits
       that we can and do hide from ourselves . . . and you
               even in our prayers.

Help us to breathe in self seeking motives
      we label as pure,
          and to breathe out
                a more vulnerable love.

Help us to breathe in measured logic and calculated risk
     and to breathe out the foolishness of God which            
            passes understanding.

Help us to breath in a false sense of self-enlightenment,
     and to breathe out the knowledge that we can
          never fight evil as if it were something that arose
               totally outside of ourselves.

Help us to breathe in a love that is exclusively for       
      self and family,
            and to breathe out the love of Jesus Christ – a            
                   love for all people, everywhere.

-Adapted from a prayer by Nanci Self who adapted a prayer by Judyth Hill and Guerrillas of Grace by Ted Loder

Two peoples, one land,
Three faiths, one root,
One earth, one mother,
One sky, one beginning, one future, one destiny,
One broken heart,
One God.
We pray to You:
Grant us a vision of unity.
May we see the many in the one and the one in the many.
May you, Life of All the Worlds, Source of All Amazing
Help us to see clearly.
Guide us gently and firmly toward each other,
Toward peace. Amen
                                                  -- Rabbi Sheila Weinberg
Jewish Community of Amherst, Amherst, MA

Then, after church was over, I drove home, turned on my tablet, and saw this post from writer Anne Lamott:

Many mornings I check out the news as soon as I wake up, because if it turns out that the world is coming to an end that day, I am going to eat the frosting off an entire carrot cake; just for a start. Then I will move onto vats of clam dip, pots of crime brûlée, nachos, M & M's etc. Then I will max out both my credit cards.

I used to think that if the world--or I--were coming to an end, I'd start smoking again, and maybe have a cool refreshing pitcher of lime Rickeys. But that's going too far, because if the world or I was saved at the last minute, I'd be back in the old familiar nightmare. In 1986, grace swooped down like a mighty mud hen, and fished me out of that canal. I got the big prize. I can't risk losing it. 

But creme brûlée, nachos, maybe the random Buche Noel? Now you're talking.

The last two weeks have been about as grim and hopeless as any of us can remember, and yet, I have not gotten out the lobster bib and fork. The drunken Russian separatists in Ukraine with their refrigerated train cars? I mean, come on. Vonnegut could not have thought this up. Dead children children on beaches, and markets, at play, in the holy land?? Stop. 

The two hour execution in festive Arizona? Dear God.

And let's not bog down on the stuff that was already true, before Ukraine, Gaza, Arizona, like the heartbreaking scenes of young refugees at our border, the locals with their pitchforks. The people in ruins in our own families. Or the tiny problem that we have essentially destroyed the earth--I know, pick pick pick. 

Hasn't your mind just been blown lately, even if you try not to watch the news? Does it surprise you that a pretty girl's mind turns to thoughts of entire carrot cakes, and credit cards?

My friend said recently, "It's all just too Lifey. No wonder we all love TV." Her 16 year old kid has a brain tumor. "Hey, that's just great, God. Thanks a lot. This really works for me."

My brother's brand new wife has tumors of the everything. "Fabulous, God. Loving your will, Dude." 

My dog Lily's ear drum burst recently, for no apparent reason, with blood splatter on the walls on the entire house--on my sleeping grandson's pillow. Do you think I am well enough for that?
Let me go ahead and answer. I'm not. It was CSI around here; me with my bad nerves. And it burst again last night. 


Did someone here get the latest updated owner's manual? Were they handed out two weeks ago when I was getting root canal, and was kind of self-obsessed and out of it? The day before my dog's ear drum first burst? If so, is there is an index, and if so, could you look up Totally Fucking Overwhelm?

I have long since weeded out people who might respond to my condition by saying cheerfully, "God's got a perfect plan." Really? Thank you! How fun. 

There is no one left in my circle who would dare say, brightly, "Let Go and Let God," because they know I would come after them with a fork.

It's not that I don't trust God or grace or good orderly direction anymore. I do, more than ever. I trust in divine intelligence, in love energy, more than ever, no matter what things look like, or how long they take. It's just that right now cute little platitudes are not helpful. 

I'm not depressed. I'm overwhelmed by It All. I don't think I'm a drag. I kind of know what to do. I know that if I want to have loving feelings, I need to do loving things. It begins by putting your own oxygen mask on first: I try to keep the patient comfortable. I do the next right thing: left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe. I think Jesus had a handle on times like these: get thirsty people water. Feed the hungry. Try not to kill anyone today. Pick up some litter in your neighborhood. Lie with your old dog under the bed and tell her what a good job she is doing with the ruptured ear drum. 

I try to quiet the drunken Russian separatists of my own mind, with their good ideas. I pray. I meditate. I rest, as a spiritual act. I spring for organic cherries. I return phone calls.

I remember the poor. I remember an image of Koko the sign-language gorilla, with the caption, "Law of the American Jungle: remain calm. Share your bananas." I remember Hushpuppy at the end of Beasts of the Southern Wild, just trying to take some food home to her daddy Wink, finally turning to face the hideous beast on the bridge, facing it down and saying, "I take care care of my own."

I take care of my own. You are my own, and I am yours--I think this is what God is saying, or trying to, over the din. We are each other's. Thee are many forms of thirst, many kinds of water.
--Anne Lamott, Facebook post

I don't know how people like pastor Jonas and Anne Lamott have such insight into the human condition. They know just what to say when I need to hear it.Current events have been making me feel overwhelmed this week. Helpless.

But experiencing two such amazing prayers for peace on this Sunday, this day of rest and rejuvination, helps me start the week anew. Renewed. Hopeful. Ready to start over and find out how I can help.