Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Come! Live in the Light! Remix

***warning: frank talk of sex and abuse and possibly blasphemy

Physically, my body matured at a very young age. Mentally and emotionally, I was a late bloomer. I blame this on a combo of precocious puberty inherited from my dad, childhood sexual abuse inherited from our sick secretive society, and absolutely no libido.

I used to like it when I'd be cruising shot-gun down the road in my friend Heather's penis car and we'd hear the Naked Raygun song, "Libido". We called Heather's 1973 Nova a penis car because, young feminists ourselves, we agreed it was ironic for her to drive such a masculine car. We were hipsters before hipsters were cool.

I liked the Naked Raygun song about the protagonist's disinterest in sex because I could totally relate. In an era of songs such as Madonna's hit, "Like a Virgin" and George Michael's "I Want Your Sex," I felt like the oddball at the orgy.

Not that I was asexual. I had my first crush at age 4: Radar O'Reilly on "M*A*S*H". I had my first sexy dream in third grade: Han Solo. (Not Harrison Ford, mind you. The fictional character of Han Solo.) I put posters of "Duran Duran" on my wall in eighth grade, but I found myself drawn to the least flashy and most unattractive of the fab five: Roger Taylor.

I honestly think I was drawn to him less because I found him attractive and more because I subconsciously thought of the other drummer named Roger Taylor, the one from Queen, one of Mom's favorite bands. Mom used to play their eight-track tapes while she dusted the house. I have fond memories of that fun and innocent time in my life.

I had fictional, innocent crushes on people as I was growing up, and occasionally I'd "like" some kid in my class, but only because my friends had kids they "liked" and I didn't want to feel left out. I had no interest in wearing sexy clothes or trying to be flirty or any of that. I just wanted to play basketball, or barbies, or watch "Mork and Mindy".

My first major crush on a real person ended as most every one's does, embarrassingly. My love for R.W. (I'm still too embarrassed to mention his name) was unrequited, except for some minor 3rd base action, and although I have him to thank for my love of Pink Floyd and red wine, he crushed my heart. I swore off boys for a few years after R.W. told me to quit showing up at his back door.

I'd always been sexually attracted to girls. Even more so than most boys when I was very young. Androgynous girls. Tomboys, as they were called back in the day. At age four, I walked up to a kid I thought was so cute, and I asked the kid, "Are you a boy or a girl?" Like it was a question she'd been asked a thousand times before, she said, "I'm a girl." That's all we said about it and we went on to play.

I'd also always been sexually attracted to boys, but not mean, tough, uber-masculine boys. Androgynous boys. Sissy boys, as they were called back in the day.

Seems I'm mostly attracted to people who like to rip off the gender binding and kick over the fence that holds us within certain gender boundaries. I'm a sucker for androgyny.

As a late-teen and an early adult, I was a serial monogamist who dated both boys and girls, just one at a time. Each person had his or her merits, but the relationships never worked out. I was in a bad place psychologically in my life.

That's when I broke up with my latest girlfriend and moved into my own studio apartment. It was the first time I ever lived alone. When I was born, I had four siblings and two parents waiting for me at home, and another sister who lived with her mom. All my siblings were older when I was born, so instead of growing up with the kind of brothers and sisters who torment you, I was treated more like a living baby doll. They loved taking turns taking care of me.

They also dropped me on my head. Forgot to latch my high chair so I tumbled over, face first, on the kitchen floor. I got diaper pins poked into my little newborn hips, and slid out of a baby buggy my sister and brother were pushing back and forth, like I was some kind of ball, rolling out into the middle of the street. Mom had to pick gravel out of my little baby cheek. It made me the resiliant person I am today. And maybe, perhaps, a little brain damaged.

But mostly, my older siblings were wonderful, kind, entertaining, funny, and inspirational. I have spent my life trying to be as awesome as they are.

It wasn't always good. There was lots of muck too. I was sexually abused by my brother, who later died of alcoholic induced liver failure, and his friend who I lost track of long ago. It's funny to think of me being treated like an inanimate object when it's a baby doll or a ball. That's cute. But it's just sick when the inanimate object I'm treated like is a sex toy to two hormonally-charged pubescent boys.

I can't talk for all sexual abuse survivors. Each person reacts to trauma in different ways. When I was a young woman, I reacted by regaining control of my life. I lived alone for ten years. I put myself through college. I took care of a cat from the time he was a kitten til he died at age 14. I paid my bills and went to work. I read self-help books and talked to therapists. I took meds my doctor recommended. I invested in a Hitachi Magic Wand. I felt great.

So great, that I began thinking, huh, maybe I'm not going to end up in a mental institution like Jack Nicholson's character in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". Maybe I could actually find a mate and we could have a family and a life together that sometimes sucks but that's mostly wonderful.

I met Will at the library. He made me feel tingly. His smell. His long hair. His steely glare with those big brow bones framing his icy blue eyes. He's tall and strong. His hair is soft and smells like flowers or linen or sunshine. He sings and he cries at the end of good movies like "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "The Fisher King" and dear God I love him so.

We got married and had Katie two years later. It's been rocky, but so rewarding. I've struggled with my anxiety and depression, finally diagnosed as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, but I've also learned a lot from it. I've learned to let go, a little.

I've learned that sometimes it's OK to let other people do things for me without it feeling like they're doing things TO me.

Will helps me enormously. He is an equal partner--totally--in our relationship. He takes care of Katie just as much as I do. He cooks and cleans just as much, if not more, than I do. He does all the lawn work. He works full time and he's been with the same company for nine years. His reliability is fucking hot to me. Someone who has been through trauma, like me, seeks out the dependable, the care-taking, the warm arms and firm embrace.

It's weird to give up so much control of my body to another person. But I trust Will. He's the only person who's ever made me feel orgasmic without simultaneously feeling anxious. He's all, hey babe, lay back, take it easy, relax, let me take care of you.

I never thought I wanted any of that crap until I met Will. The idea of letting someone rub the back of my bumpy thighs, my calloused feel, my jiggly belly--no. There's no way. People I allowed access to my body before I met Will were allowed to touch my mouth, my breasts, my hands, my vulva, and my back. That's it. Will, on the other hand, after a decade of marriage, has convinced me it's safe to let him lay his hands all over my body. I fucking love being married.

The loyalty. The trust. The understanding.

Some people like to be single, to be independent and strong and capable. I did too once. But I've found that having the support of a good spouse helps me allow pleasure into my life. I need the trust to let my guard down.

Don't let the people who took control of your body without your consent allow you to feel shamed by it. Your body is beautiful. Find someone you trust to share it with.

If you're scared at first to venture out into the dating world, I highly recommend that sexual abuse survivors get to know themselves through masturbation. I'm sick of society making it into a dirty thing. Masturbation is a healthy thing. Doctors prescribe it to men who have pancreatitis and women who have infertility. Check out the video, "Hysteria", about the introduction of the vibrator, which was used to treat women with the medical condition called "hysteria".

Masturbation helped me learn to love my body and all the amazing things it can do. I was a late bloomer. I didn't have my first orgasm until I was twenty-six. The day my Hitachi Magic Wand arrived in the mail in a plain brown wrapper from Good Vibrations in San Francisco. That was memorable. I felt completely and totally connected to every living being in the universe. It was intense. I'd finally broken the glass box I'd learned to seal around my libido after my experience with sexual abuse.

It's hard to get from a place of thinking of sex as bad and dirty and traumatic to full of connection and amazing sensations and universal harmony. But daaaaaaaamn! It's worth it.

Why do so many people shout out, "Oh, God!" when they come? I'm telling you: having an orgasm is life's reminder that we're all tapped into the same loving energy field: God. Don't let your abusers keep you from that feeling.

This morning after everyone went off to work and to school, I enjoyed a little me time. Afterwards, as I laid in bed looking out the window at the hint of glistening sunlight shining on the tree swaying in the breeze and the blue sky in the back, I said, "Thank you God!"

I'm a weird Christian. I actually don't pray that much. I dunno. Unless you're praying for someone else, praying for something you want seems selfish. I like to think God knows whats best for me without me having to give him hints.

But I tend to pray a lot after I come. "Thank you God!" "Thank you Universe!" "Thank you All-Encompassing-Love". I don't think about it really. It just happens.

This morning, I started humming one of my favorite hymns after I played around with my Hitachi Magic Wand. Then I started singing it with my own words:

To the tune of "Come! Live in the Light"

Come! live in the light!
Shine with the joy and the love of the World
We are called to be a sexy species
to live in the freedom of loooooooooooove!

We are called to act with passion.
We are called to love tenderly.
We are called to serve one another, to stop when you say no

Come! Open your heart!
Show your booty to all those you want!
We are called to be love for the loveless,
so all jealousy and unkindness will be no more!

Sing! Sing a new song!
Sing of that great climax when all will be one!
God will reign and we'll walk with each other as poets and lovers united in love!

Sorry, David Haas.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Confidence Faithfulness Carleton Cantrell

***trigger warning: sexual abuse***

Katie sings loudly in church. She's a squirmy worm until she hears the organ start and sees the congregation rise. Time to sing! At eight years old, it's her favorite part of church.

I don't like to sing at church nearly as much as Katie does. I prefer to sit back and listen to the poetry. Like this prayer by Pastor Jonas Hayes:

Mysterious and Merciful God, we push ourselves into exhaustion with petty tasks; we offer one another faint-hearted relationships; we run after so many good things that we run out of energy; we depend on our own capacities, rather than depending on you. Interrupt our lives with your revelation. Intervene in our days. Inspire us to love. Help us in our seeking, to find you and to live in your presence. Amen.

Isn't that beautiful? Too bad I suck at following advice. I suck at depending on God. I suck at depending on anyone. I'm awesome at depending on my own capacities. That's how a sexual abuse survivor heals. When someone takes control of your body before you are old enough to give consent, you spend your life trying to take it back. Feeling capable and independent and in control feels glorious to a person whose body was once captive to someone in authority.

It sucks though, control. Because I run out of energy trying to keep it together, keep in control. I let the worlds' crumblings and injustices get me down because I want to be strong enough to save the world from all its misery, even when sometimes I lack the strength to get out of bed. It's a weird balancing act, a power trip. First you feel strong and capable and confident. Then, when your savior-energy starts to drain, you feel like a big piece of shit.

I think Jesus was brilliant to teach people to simply love. Because if that's all you do, at the end of the day you've done well. You don't have to be brilliant or smart or well educated or talented or gifted or a winner. You don't have to know all the answers to all the questions. You can suck, gloriously, because all Jesus wants you to do is love.

And funny enough, practicing love is a confidence booster. It's hard to feel like a piece of shit if you're just hanging out, loving. Jesus meant for us to love ourselves too, you know.

I'm beginning to love to sing, even though I suck at it.

For a long time, I didn't like to sing because I lack confidence in the sound of my voice. I lack practice. I don't know how to read music, so I'm often lost, wondering which part of the song we're on. I try to listen to my fellow Presbyterians and follow their lead, but it's hard for me to hear the soft voices around me over Katie's confident boom.

It was easier when, for a short time, we were attending a Black Evangelical church. If I screwed up, no one could possibly notice with all the hootin and hollerin going on, all the dancing in the aisles and interjections of Praise Jesus!

The Mostly-White Presbyterians are quieter, more reflective and subdued. Except for Katie. She sings out, loud and proud, like a mini Mahalia Jackson.

But today was different. The congregation sang two songs, and I only screwed up on one if them. Yay me! Oh wait, I mean Praise Jesus. I'm still getting the hang of this whole Christian thing.

The first song we sang was this one:

"I Will Change Your Name"

I will change your name
You shall no longer be called wounded,
Or afraid
I will change your name
Your new name shall be
Over-coming one
Faithfulness, friend of God,
One who seeks My face

--D. J. Butler

It's the one I screwed up. The second one, the one I finally didn't screw up, is this one:

"Come! Live in the Light"

Come! live in the light!
Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord!
We are called to be light for the kingdom,
to live in the freedom of the city of God!

We are called to act with justice.
We are called to love tenderly.
We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.

Come! Open your heart!
Show your mercy to all those in fear!
We are called to be hope for the hopeless,
so all hatred and blindness will be no more!

Sing! Sing a new song!
Sing of that great day when all will be one!
God will reign and we'll walk with each other as sisters and brothers united in love!

--David Haas

The reason I didn't screw up on the second song is because I've sung it before at church. I guess if you stick with a church long enough, you get to sing the hymns more than once. So that's how people like me who lack natural confidence become good singers. Practice. Sing a song so much that it just comes out and you don't even have to think about it. Because letting go of thought is where Jesus kicks in. I don't mean to say that Christians are stupid any more than Buddhists are when they meditate. Thinking is great, but over-thinking hinders action. If you want to sing, instead of thinking too hard about it, just sing. Trust in Jesus when he commands us to love. Love your voice, even when it cracks. Jesus does. 

After church, on the drive home, Katie announced that when she grows up she's going to name her child Confidence.

"Confidence Faithfulness Carleton Cantrell," Katie said. Cantrell is the last name of her eight-year-old boyfriend.

It pleased me to hear Katie make such a ridiculous statement. I know, rationally, that Katie most likely will not grow up to marry the boy she loved at age eight, let alone have his baby and name him or her such a sanctimonious sounding name. What pleased me is to hear that the kid is actually listening to what she's singing. Sometimes I worry she's just going through the motions. Perhaps even showing off. But hearing Katie talk about the song and how she wants to name her future child after it made me feel deep parental warm fuzzies. She's paying attention. She's living in God's presence. That's where she gets her confidence. She knows God's voice guides hers.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Statue of Liberty Got Lynched

This sickening video--I have no words. I'm just warning you: it's heartbreaking. Listen to this father begging officers to let him go, since he's innocent, so he can pick up his kids and go to work.

Here's more information on the case, reported in The Atlantic:

"City Pages explains what happened after the arrest. 'The man was charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, and obstructing the legal process,' they write, 'but those charges were later dropped.'"

Because he did nothing wrong. Other than waiting to pick up his kids while black.

Feels like the Statue of Liberty got lynched and she's swaying there in the harbor like some kind of strange fruit. And too many people are complaining 'cause their tour got canceled.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Excused Absence

***trigger warning: sexual abuse, mental illness

When I was a teenager I missed so much school, Mom told me to just write my own absent notes.

"Becky, I've got to get to work. I can't be late. Write your own excuse," Mom would say.

I could fake Mom's handwriting good enough. I never got caught. Never got questioned by a teacher or called into the office for forgery. Never asked why it was I missed so much school.

Please excuse Becky for her absence yesterday. She had a cold.

Please excuse Becky for her absence yesterday. She had a headache.

Please excuse Becky for her absence yesterday. She was up late vomiting and needed to rest.

Please excuse Becky for her absence yesterday. She had menstrual cramps.

I only pulled out the big guns of using menstrual cramps as an excuse in emergencies, when a teacher was starting to act suspicious about why I'd had twenty colds this semester. Generally, I don't like to pathologize my femininity, but my depression trumps my feminism.

School officials should have suspected something was up when my excuses became more and more involved. Before I started forging my own absent notes, Mom would always simply write:

Please excuse Becky for her absence yesterday for she was ill.

No explanation other than the vague excuse of being "ill".

When I was a kid I thought Mom was just being impatient. Now I think she was being more honest about my absence than I was, only she just left off the "mentally". I thought she simply wrote "ill" on my absent notes because she didn't want to bother with the details. Mom's a "hurry up" kind of person. She doesn't like to spend a lot of time on one thought, one hobby, one conversation, or one note. She gets bored and wants to move on. Change things up. Try something different.

Mom's the kind of person who, when I ask if I can get her to take an IQ test out of a book of psychology tests I'd picked up at the library, she says sure and doesn't bother setting down the afghan she's crocheting or turning off the TV. She takes the test while simultaneously watching her show and keeping her hands busy while I read off the questions to her. I, on, the other hand, am the kind of person who goes into a quiet room and takes my time with the test. Surrounded by her favorite distractions, Mom still scored two points higher than me.

The woman moved into her current apartment last December after my step-father had passed away. Since then, I've visited once or twice a month. Every time, she asks me to rearrange her living room furniture. She's changed her cable plan at least three times. She sets out a plate of hot chicken nuggets she's just pulled from the microwave for our dinner and then she says, "Or would you rather have pizza?"

I'm more of a "slow down" kind of person. I like to take my time thinking things through. I get anxious if I try to do too many things at once. I analyze all my options first before I make a decision, and sometimes even then I have trouble making up my mind.

Should I say I was out sick with the flu or diarrhea? Or maybe pink eye? What did I write on last week's absent note?

Flash forward a couple of decades. I've learned to be more honest in my excuses. When I miss work, I openly confess if it's due to an anxiety attack or if I really, truly have a cold or a migraine or some other more socially-sanctioned ailment. When I start to miss too many days due to anxiety, I know it's time to call the doctor to up my meds, or to re-enter therapy for the who-knows-how-manieth-time.

But I still have trouble cancelling personal plans. I just can't bear to upset my friends and loved ones.

The last couple of weeks have been full of events that leave me feeling overwhelmed. I live day-to-day with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder. Most days I feel pretty good. I'm on my meds. I move my body in pleasurable ways. I eat nourishing foods. I play with my kid and help her with her homework. I enjoy sharing both romantically and intellectually stimulating moments with my husband. I have a good paying job with an organization that I am proud of and excited by. Sure, I have trouble with low-energy, moodiness, indecisiveness, but most days I live well with mental illness.

Then crap starts to happen around me. I read about race riots and police brutality in the Midwestern state next door, religious and ethnic conflict in the Middle-east, the suicide of a comedian loved by the mainstream. My mom is sick. My dad's sick. They're both getting "up there," a vague age that seems to keep moving upwards as I also get older. Our old dog Sawyer is recovering from a nasty illness and the new puppy pees on the floor.

That's OK, Life. That's enough. I'm really quite capable of conjuring up worry all on my own. I don't need the world to crumble around me, too.

I write, hoping it helps. It does, but I'm not going to lie to you. It's not a cure. I still need a beer or a glass of wine or a half-of-a clonazepam to relax at night. I still need to walk it off when I start to feel like everyone around me is injured and I have no way to help them. I still need to eat salads and nuts and Lays Sour Cream and Onion chips when I'm hungry and quit listening to the propaganda spewed by the diet industry. I still need to go bed on time and stay up late when I've got something important to do and remember to nap. I need to take warm showers and wear comfy clothes. I need to feel my husbands arms around me and the warm breath of my child as she leans in for a kiss. I need to feel like the work I do each day makes this world a better place, even if it seems small.

It's hard, living with Depression and PTSD. Well-meaning friends and loved ones tell me to relax, take it easy, do something fun.

I don't know how. I get bored sitting in front of a TV screen. I worry about the laundry I need to put away when I lay on my hammock. Reading popular books and celebrity magazines makes me feel weird and misunderstood. I love to read, but generally only depressing stories about family and social dysfunction. Not stuff to lighten the mood.

"You should write romance novels!"

"You should write movie reviews!"

"You should write reviews of romance novels!"

I've heard it all from Mom. She encourages me to write because she knows it makes me feel better to express myself. What she doesn't get is that expressing negativity helps too. Mom doesn't understand why I don't like to write about "happier" things.

When I was a kid, before they divorced, Mom and I would sit on the front porch to get away from my dad. We'd talk and play games. One of Mom's favorites is The Movie Star game. Basically, you think of a celebrity and say the initials of their first and last name. The other person guesses until they guess right.

I know more movie stars of the Forties and Fifties, the time my mom was growing up, than I do about current popular entertainers. I know more about Grace Kelly than all the Kardashians combined.

Mom grew up in a lonely household with a mother who rarely got out of bed because she had "bad nerves". Mom spent her childhood listening to the radio, reading popular magazines, comic books, singing along to the advertisement jingles. I understand why mom loves celebrity culture. It's her surrogate family.

It was when I was a teenager, as I began to show signs of having a talent for writing, that Mom started suggesting I write romance novels. Or screenplays. Or murder mysteries. Or a Dear Abby type of advice column.

Mom, I can't even get a date. How am I supposed to write a romance novel?

Mom, nobody likes the same movies I like.

Mom, murder makes me cringe.

Mom, I'm 16. I don't even know what advice to give myself, let alone a stranger.

Mom ignored my protests. Mom has her flaws, as all parents do, but she honestly thinks I can be anything I want to be if I set my mind to it, and that kind of faith is uplifting.

So I'd sorta listen to her. I wanted to become famous so Mom would be proud of me, so Mom would be happy. I secretly fantasized that if I became famous and loved around the world I could somehow escape my chronic depression and crippling anxiety. How can you feel sad when the whole world loves you?

I didn't fantasize about becoming famous for the things Mom wanted me to become famous for. I fantasized about becoming famous for things that would make me feel proud: winning the Pulitzer Prize, being a Health at Every Size advocate, encouraging people to love themselves, ending world hunger AND eating disorders, striving for ways to engage in peace, both in the world and inside ourselves. You know, no big deal. All I ask is that I be the next, you know, Gandhi. John Lennon. Martin Luther King, Jr. Malala. Hedy Epstein.  A peace hero. The Princess of Peace.

You know, just your typical, ordinary Messiah complex.

Too bad I don't have the energy to get out of bed on low days. For the most part I give myself a break. Tell myself that if I didn't have Depression and PTSD, I really could do anything I set my mind to. Instead of looking at it as, "think of all you could accomplish if only you could overcome your mental illness," look at it as, "think of all you accomplish each day despite your mental illness."

So I'm not out amongst the protesters and demonstrators, community organizers and activists. Instead, I'm in bed clicking "like" on a Facebook meme and hoping it changes some minds. That's about all the activism I can muster some days. But it's better than not trying at all.

Yesterday, while scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, I saw a link to a Ted video by Andrew Solomon called Depression: The Secret We Share. Only when my neck began to cramp halfway through the video did I realize I'd been nodding my head the whole time.

Watch it here:

Here's a link to the transcript, if you care to read along. These quotes really resonate with me:

I found myself losing interest in almost everything. I didn't want to do any of the things I had previously wanted to do, and I didn't know why. The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment. Everything there was to do seemed like too much work. I would come home and I would see the red light flashing on my answering machine, and instead of being thrilled to hear from my friends, I would think, "What a lot of people that is to have to call back." Or I would decide I should have lunch, and then I would think, but I'd have to get the food out and put it on a plate and cut it up and chew it and swallow it, and it felt to me like the Stations of the Cross.

Depression is so exhausting. It takes up so much of your time and energy, and silence about it, it really does make the depression worse.

So now people say, "You take these happy pills, and do you feel happy?" And I don't. But I don't feel sad about having to eat lunch, and I don't feel sad about my answering machine, and I don't feel sad about taking a shower. I feel more, in fact, I think, because I can feel sadness without nullity. I feel sad about professional disappointments, about damaged relationships, about global warming. Those are the things that I feel sad about now.

Valuing one's depression does not prevent a relapse, but it may make the prospect of relapse and even relapse itself easier to tolerate. The question is not so much of finding great meaning and deciding your depression has been very meaningful. It's of seeking that meaning and thinking, when it comes again, "This will be hellish, but I will learn something from it."

My favorite of the letters that I got was the one that came from a woman who wrote and said that she had tried therapy, she had tried medication, she had tried pretty much everything, and she had found a solution and hoped I would tell the world, and that was making little things from yarn.

Making little things from yarn? That's my mom. In the Sixties, when she was involuntarily hospitalized with "a nervous breakdown" and given electroshock therapy--on two separate occasions--both times what Mom remembers most is making potholders. I wrote about it here.

Saying my mom likes crafting is like saying I like to write. Mom is a crafter as I am a writer. It's within us. We can't make it stop, the desire to create. Corner Mom for five minutes and she'll find the nearest scrap of paper and a pencil and start drawing a tadpole or a cowgirl or some sort of geometric doodle. Mom spent her early childhood sitting quietly in the doctor's office waiting room so her mother, my grandmother, could get her "nerve medicine". Mom would take a coloring book or some paper and pencils and keep herself distracted and content, surrounded by solemn misery.

Similarly, when I began writing down my troubles, I noticed they began to fade. I still feel sad when I have flashbacks of traumatic moments in my childhood, but I don't feel numb, like I want to hide away from the world under the bed covers.

"But you're so bubbly!" my friends tell me.

"You're so funny. And smart. And kind!" they say.

"You have such a wonderful husband and adorable child. You should feel so grateful for your life," they remind me.

And I do. That's why I know I have the illness called major depressive disorder because I do feel grateful for all the blessings in my life, and I feel like crap despite it all.

Not every day. My moods wax and wane. I've been especially down for this last week after hearing about the suicide of Robin Williams. It feels silly to feel so sad over the death of a celebrity. Someone I never met in person. Someone who concealed the suffering and pain he felt from his friends and loved ones, let alone me, just a fan of his work. "The Fisher King" is one of my all-time favorite movies.

But it's not silly to feel sad over a famous artist's death. I've been asking myself this past week, why does his death bother you so much? And I realize. And then I'm ashamed because it's so selfish. I realize it's all about me. I'm upset over his death because now I know there's no hope for my own personal cure. If Robin Williams, someone adored by so many people throughout the world, if someone so gifted and admired can succumb to the agony of depression, what hope is there for the likes of me? An unpublished novelist, undisciplined blogger, and part-time slinger of books, hiding in my safe little suburban neighborhood, with a lovely home and family, but also someone who many more days than I'd like to admit hides away from the rest of the world because I just can't put on my happy face.

Where did I learn to not tell the truth about how I feel?

Don't tell. You don't want to hurt Mom, do you?

That's what my brother said when he and his friend sexually abused me when I was a preschooler. Don't tell anyone or it would hurt Mom so much she'd have to go back to the hospital. I tried so hard not to make Mommy upset. I wanted her to be happy. Making Mommy happy made me happy. Such simplicity.

I grew up thinking I had to hide my pain and suffering. Smile. Be funny. Make everyone else feel comfortable. Keep my hurt to myself.

It's exhausting.

My first reaction to Robin William's suicide was to think, how could someone so funny be so depressed? Then I thought of all the times I've been called bubbly, and funny, and comforting. "You make people feel so good about themselves," my friends say to me. Of course I understand how he must have felt.

For far too many years as a child, a teen, a young woman, I focused on pleasing others. One of the greatest things about living a long life is you eventually learn to feel comfortable in your own skin. To live life by your rules. I've learned to tell my secrets, share my sad stories, focus on myself and my needs.

A big part of that comes from being honest with people about why I have to cancel plans, why I can't make it out of the house for the day. I got to practice last week. I was supposed to bring a cake to the Gay Christian Fellowship at my church. I couldn't even make it to the grocery store, I felt so stuck in my misery.

My knee-jerk reaction was to email Marvin and give him some sort of fake excuse.

I have a migraine.

My allergies are dragging me down.

I didn't sleep last night because of this cold and I'm just too tired.

But I'm tired of lying. I'm tired of pretending. Coming out of the closet as a person with mental illness who has her good days and her bad days is the best thing I've ever done for my mental health.

I sent Marvin an honest excuse:

I have post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder, which zaps my energy from time to time. Unfortunately tonight is one of those times. I regret it so. I wanted to bake you a birthday cake, but I don't even have the energy to go to the store. I hope you understand.

And guess how he responded?

I love you.


I understand.

How freeing it feels to be honest about my shortcomings and to know I'm still loved and understood.

So now, when I think of Robin William's suicide, I still feel sad about it. I wish he could have found a way to hang on. But I'm also oddly grateful for the way his amazing sacrifice has taught me that fame will never lift me from the abyss. No matter how much the world loves me, it's how I feel about myself that matters most.

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.