Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Thank you, friends

I'm very grateful to my friends. I had a bout of depression in the past week and they responded in just the right ways. They asked how they could help and offered to talk, but they didn't give me a pep talk or keep asking why I was depressed. They just let me know they were there for me, and besides that they just trusted me to work through it. It definitely helped to know they were thinking of me and were willing to come over or take me out if I wanted it.

Why was I depressed? That's a question you learn not to ask when you truly understand depression.  Depression isn't an emotion. Depression is an emotional disorder. It's an illness that has symptoms,  flare-ups, remissions and can pop up out of nowhere. Think of it as similar to other chronic conditions like migraines, back aches and arthritis. Sometimes depression is just there when you wake up, for no reason you can figure out. You just think, "Oh, no. It's back," and all you can do is take care of yourself and ride it out until it gets better. For a back ache, you might apply heat. For a migraine you might take a pill and avoid a lot of physical stimulation. For depression, I make sure to be very gentle with myself. What helps me most is meditation, walking, EFT and interacting with others or not, as it feels right. Sometimes I'm grateful to have a dinner party to go to. Other times I want to stay in and lose myself in a movie or book. I make sure to take my anti-depressant and my SAMe. I get plenty of sleep and try not to skip any meals. For me, meditation and EFT are most effective for dealing with the worst of the pain. But besides that, I have to just be patient until the episode ends.
 
Because I've been talking about my depression for years, my friends are getting good at giving me what I need. They know my depression isn't usually influenced by external factors; it's just a condition I live with. I love this: friends I talked to over the weekend didn't ask me why I was depressed! That was a great relief. As with migraines and arthritis, depression can be triggered by general stress or it can be brought on by nothing you can pinpoint. It would be appropriate for someone to wonder if my depression is the result of stress in general, but I still appreciate them not asking because when I'm in depression I feel like I don't know anything. Questions can be hard to answer.

There's no cheering up me up per se when I'm experiencing a depressive episode. You might be able to take my mind off of myself for a little while, but if you're clearly trying to make me feel better, that can backfire. If you try to get me to look on the bright side, it'll look like you're uncomfortable with my mood. If I sense that you're uncomfortable with my mood, I'll become uncomfortable with you. At best, I'll want to end the interaction; at worst, I'll resent you for not accepting me as I am. 

Feeling accepted is critical when I'm depressed. A psychology student recently asked me to describe depression and I said, "Depression is an abandoning of yourself. Whether it's not being able to get out of bed, or feeling angry with everyone, it's a feeling of not wanting to be yourself anymore. Or even if you're acting like everything's fine and you're good, then that's still cutting yourself off from your own feelings. Whether you're acting happy or you're totally sad or you're just numb, it's an abandonment of yourself and your feelings. Depression is not being on your own side anymore."

That's why it's important for my friends to accept me as I am when I'm depressed. It's important that they not give reasons I should feel good. When I'm depressed, I hate myself. I've got the critical voice in my head loud and strong, telling me it's stupid to be depressed and I should take some action and then I'll feel better. When others point out reasons my life is good, they only enforce that shaming voice. As frustrating as I'm sure it is, when I'm depressed, pointing out the good parts of my life can make things worse. 

It's not easy to be friends with someone who manages depression, and it's even harder to be married to one. I greatly appreciate everyone who bends and stretches to learn about depression and who makes things a little easier for me when mine comes back.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

White fragility

Recently Michigan public radio did a story called Why All White People Are Racist, But Can't Handle Being Called Racist: The Theory of White Fragility. One might wonder the following: what is white fragility? Do we need more jargon about racism? Why are we talking about white people again?

After listening to the story, I realized I've encountered white fragility. White fragility is the hypersensitivity with which white people often receive the news that, yes, they count as racist. Many white people believe that the word "racist" doesn't apply to them because they've equated "racism" with killing Black people, using the n word, believing in white supremacy and being an asshole in general. They think, "I don't believe white people are better, I've never killed anyone and I'd never use the n word, so there's no way I'm a racist." They don't (want to) realize that racism includes many more behaviors than using racial slurs and aiming guns at people of color.

I've blogged this before: racism is when you make any assumption about someone else based on their skin color. This means it's also racist to assume someone is smart or better with computers or good with children based on their skin color. All Americans are racist because those assumptions are part of our learned culture. I'm racist. You're racist. We are all perfectly nice people and we are racist. We're also implicated in racism because we're part of the American traditions and institutions that treat people unfairly according to our skin color. Racism is simply part of the fabric of American society and culture. (If you're a white person who's having a hard time with this paragraph, you're experiencing white fragility right now.)

So here's my experience with white fragility. I recently made a Facebook friend who's an American white man in his 40's. I met "Mike" recently when we both took a TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) course. Mike had linked the following article on his Facebook page: Indiana Democrat Says GOP Colleague's 18-Month-Old Son Is Racist. I believe he was being sarcastic when he commented "Perfect."

I commented that babies are very aware of skin color so, of course, an 18-month-old might be racist if it reacted to someone based on the color of her skin; babies are racist just like we all are: aware of skin color and making assumptions based on that skin color.  One of Mike's friends then commented that because babies can't carry out violence or call names, they can't possibly be racist. From what I could tell from her Facebook page, it looked like this friend was an American white woman. I directed her to my blog post of November 24, which she apparently read. She commented that she disagreed with me and asked Mike to weigh in.

Mike commented that he also disagreed with me. In addition to other statements, I responded, "Like many white people, you and Cindy are using a definition of racism that conveniently excludes you." I told him I was including myself in a definition of racism that's much more pervasive and commonly shared than he or his friend wanted to see.

I might not need to tell you that Mike and Cindy rejected my opinions. A day or so later I returned to Mike's post, only to find that he'd taken it down. I emailed him directly and said I had wanted to continue the exchange, but it seemed he'd taken down his original post. He didn't respond and some time after that he unfriended me. That's white fragility.

Do we need a new word? Has the word "racist" become too inflammatory to evoke anything but the most negative responses from white people (especially the nice ones)? I don't think so. White people who are brave and clear-eyed are able to face their own racism without their egos feeling threatened. White people who truly understand the structure of American racism recognize their place in it and know that doesn't mean they aren't good people. They know not to take it personally when someone recognizes their white privilege. And if I had any doubt that there are white people who are secure enough and brave enough to own their racism, it disappeared today when I saw the video embedded below. It's a self-named redneck talking about the need for white people to stop letting fear keep them from standing up against racist language, behavior and thinking. This video was published by "W Honky" on YouTube on April 4, 2015 and it impresses the hell out of me.


This man has no fear of the concept of white privilege, which is rare in a person with white privilege. Do you own your white privilege? (Many people of color have some, including me.)

Yes, we're talking about white people again, but there's no way to discuss racism without doing so. I remember when the "Criming While White" hashtag was trending on Twitter last December. I posted my frustration with the people of color who thought it was inappropriate for white people to take part in a discussion about the double standard with which police treat people. People thought whites were bragging about all the crimes they had gotten away with, when what was really going on was that white people were recognizing their white privilege. They were seeing it, many of them for the first time. I found that exciting and encouraging, but many people of color criticized #crimingwhilewhite as being white people taking up all the oxygen again. They missed the importance of what was going on.

White fragility makes it damn hard for people of color to talk to white people about racism. As I found out with Mike, white people can respond quite negatively to being called racist, even if the speaker is also calling herself racist.* The best chance for getting through to people with white fragility is for white people to do it. Criming While White did that. W Honky is doing that. I think people like him are the most likely to be able to successfully explain to white people how they participate in racism and why it has to stop. I hesitate to write this, but sometimes the best thing people of color can do to advance the cause is to be quiet and let the white people talk to each other.

*Uh, yeah, I probably shouldn't have been surprised by that.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

My skull ring


This is a photo of my hand wearing my current favorite ring. I love this ring because I find the idea of death comforting. For me, life is busy, loud, often overwhelming and too often painful. Life is full of people moving quickly and too many things to do and not enough places to go to the bathroom. It's a relief to know that at the end of all these responsibilities and challenges, there will be rest. There will be silence and stillness forever. I live for that. 

Ordered ring from www.theSilverDragonJewelry.com. They use only reclaimed (recycled) silver and make everything custom.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Enjoying a book about The Twilight Zone


I think I've watched all five seasons of the original Twilight Zone series enough times to be able to read this book. It's Stewart Stanyard's Dimensions Behind The Twilight Zone with a foreward by Neil Gaiman. It was a gift from my sister and it's not only a good coffee table book, it's great to actually read.

How To Cancel Service

I've been having Internet connection problems for weeks now (it started on 20 March) and have finally had it with Comcast. I'm cancelling service this week and switching back to AT&T. I only left AT&T because Comcast had a good deal back in 2013 when I moved into this apartment, but it's not worth it. I don't know what's going on with them, but my Internet service cuts out several times a week these days. One minute I have full connection, the next minute I have no connection. Maybe they're going through changes right now and it'll get better, but I'm out of patience. The worst is trying to connect with my 2010 Apple PowerBook which is the most sensitive to Comcast's crappy connection. So I'm blogging on my iPad again, using my Blogger app today. That means the font will be weird again.

TIP: if you want to cancel a service or credit card or whatever without the rep trying to talk you into keeping it, this is the answer to give when they ask why you're cancelling: "It's emotional and I don't want to talk about it." 

I just cancelled a MasterCard because I got it for a specific reason that makes it painful to even look at the thing. When they asked why I was cancelling, I said, "It's emotional and I don't want to talk about it," and the rep backed off! It totally cut the conversation short, so I'm going to do the same thing with Comcast. They might be the magic words.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Moon

Tonight the full moon slices through veils of clouds, glowing brighter than a communion wafer.

A Gentleman's Guide to Rape Culture



This is just too good to not pass along. Zaron Burnett III published this article last year, but I think it'll be timely for a long time yet: A Gentleman's Guide To Rape Culture. Zaron is a man addressing other men on how not to participate in the daily sexism that fosters our culture which assumes women enjoy being objectified. He points out, "Men are the primary agents and sustainers of rape culture," but my favorite line is:

When a guy cat-calls a woman and you don’t say something, he just treated her like a cheaply degraded sex object for his satisfaction and he turned you into the punk-ass that’s willing to allow him to mistreat a woman in your presence … while you say nothing.

Check it out.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Being divorced is great

During my protracted spinsterhood (didn't marry til I was 41), I did a lot of online dating. Being single-never-married felt like a benefit, or at least a neutral quality, when I was in my late 20s and early 30s, but that changed. By the end of my 30s, being never-married became a liability, a sign that I wasn't capable of committing to a relationship, a red flag that I was probably really bad as a partner. I remember talking to one potential first date on the phone when I was about 38. After learning that I'd never been married, he asked if I'd lived with anyone or been engaged. The answer to those questions was "no." Clearly that worried him (he said as much) and we ended the conversation without making plans to meet.

That did it. On that day in 2005 I knew I needed to get divorced. Well, obviously my primary goal was marriage, but if I couldn't get and stay successfully married, my second goal was to be divorced so I'd be a better dating prospect. It was the reasoning of someone who expected to be single for most of her life. I needed to lose my never-married virginity.

I achieved the goal of getting married in 2008. After my husband ended things, we achieved the goal of being legally divorced in 2014. At first being divorced felt like a hell of a consolation prize: I liked being married and hadn't expected to call it quits after just five years. But I had to face the fact that our marriage hadn't been what I had wanted for a while, so my husband was right: it was best to part (I'm skipping over all the work I did trying to improve our marriage. I did try). Now I know he did me a favor: my parents' marriage had given me a model of sticking it out no matter how painful and I was falling into that same behavior. It really was time to move on.

So here I am, back online, looking for first dates that might turn into second dates. But here are the differences:
  • In my late 40's, I know much better who I am and what I need.
  • My confidence has increased 100% since the last time I did this, so I'm better able to weather disappointments and rejection.
  • Having been a wife, I have none of my former desperation to get married, gotta get married, please someone marry me.
  • Comfortable with who I am, it's much easier to be myself with strangers.
  • I can now select the "Divorced" option in the self-description! YAY!
Describing myself as divorced makes me look so much more normal. Yes, I'm playing into society's beliefs about normal behavior and what people's lives are supposed to look like. I'm letting the narrow-mindedness of my peers influence my self-image. But regardless of how much I'm playing into expectations of heteronormative rites, the truth is that I feel like I've made it into a very discriminating club. At the age of 48, I have to be divorced in order to look like I'm really in the game. (On the other hand, I occasionally come across profiles of men who are in their late 40s and have never been married - a few exist - but they look fine to me.)

Of course, there's a big logical flaw in thinking that someone's being divorced shows that they're capable of commitment. I suspect what's really going on is a subconscious preference for a person who follows societal expectations. If you get married and have children by around the age of 45, then you're aligned with two of the biggest values that exist: marriage and procreation. That alignment - whether active or just going along with what others expect of you - is part of the core of who you are. People who get married and have kids are more comfortable with others who get married and have kids. That's completely natural, so why wouldn't that also apply to dating?

I wonder how that affects my online dating experience. Even though I fit the expectation of being a middle-aged woman who's divorced, I'm still unusual because I didn't have children and don't want them. Could this be part of why I'm having more trouble finding dates these days than 15 years ago? I probably need a middle-aged man's input on this. It could just be that I'm less physically attractive, or that there are fewer eligible men in my age group, or that men in my age group are pickier than men in their 30s. Who knows? But I've gone as far as I'm going to go. I've achieved my coveted divorced status, but I'm not adopting children just to fit the usual profile.
I love this ring.

Nevertheless, I know I'd probably get no responses at all if I couldn't call myself divorced. Sure, I could have lied when I was in my 30's and said I was divorced, but I hate trying to be dishonest. It feels wonderful to be able to cleanly and truthfully say that I used to be married, but it didn't work out and the divorce was final over a year ago. My divorce has given me gravitas, pain credentials, a point of common ground with other divorced people, wisdom and perspective. And one of the biggest gifts I've gotten from being divorced is that I've completely lost my former belief that I'm worthless without a man. This allows me contentment with my life as it is and patience as I consider finding a new relationship. I'm no longer rampaging around on the man-hunt. That feels so good! I love being divorced.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

12-step programs are not great

The April 2015 issue of The Atlantic has an article called The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous. In the article Gabrielle Glaser, author of Her Best Kept Secret: Why Women Drink - And How They Can Regain Control, discusses the ways that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) falls short of helping people control their drinking. Her article asserts that it's past time to consider more medical approaches to treating alcohol abuse besides AA's outdated methods.

This blog post won't be about that, athough I'm sure it's true. Glaser's article made me think about how I haven't had very good experiences with twelve-step programs. That's how people commonly refer to Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and all the other programs that use the same format as the original organization. When I first realized I had a problem with food, specifically sweets, I tried a few Overeaters Anonymous meetings back in 1994. People brought so much pain to those meetings that I actually wanted to eat more afterwards. I found the stories emotionally disturbing and felt like I picked up more baggage than I had walked in with. I stopped going after just a short while.

I tried another twelve-step program in my second year of marriage. I attended Al-Anon meetings (for the family/partners/friends of alcoholics) for a few months because I felt concerned about my husband's drinking. This time the meetings were less scary and I met some great people who felt like they could turn into real friends. But the meetings still didn't feel like a good fit. People described drinking parents with erratic behavior and stormy emotions. They described feeling trapped and helpless in the face of their alcoholic spouses. Many of them had already moved on from these relationships, but were managing the aftermath of their own pain. Again, I felt more upset leaving the meetings than when I arrived. 

This time the problem was that the stories of violence and abuse didn't sound like my husband. They sounded like my mother. I found this very confusing because my mother didn't drink; her emotional abuse was driven by mental illness. It was my husband who drank, replacing the Jack Daniels whiskey that he kept in the kitchen with surprising regularity. Yet his moods never got anywhere close to what my Al-Anon peers described in their drinking spouses. What the hell was going on?

When I found myself returning from meetings expecting my husband to be raging and driving the car into walls, I decided to stop going to them. Once again, the twelve-step participants felt like they were carrying much heavier burdens than I, and I was taking on their anxiety. I finally concluded that twelve-step programs were just not for me

I add this point to Glaser's critique of Alcoholics Anonymous: AA and Al-Anon use a very limited model of alcoholic behavior. They focus on drinkers who destroy things and abuse others, who lose jobs and "hit bottom" (sink to the lowest point in your life you can possibly reach). But there are actually different kinds of alcoholism. Sure, there are drinkers who will tear through relationships, insurance policies and careers, but there are also drinkers who hold their lives together quite well while they slowly drink themselves sick. "Highly functional alcoholics" need to drink every day, but hold jobs, raise families and are rarely suspected of having a problem with alcohol. They're in danger of destroying their livers before any external consequences force them to examine their habits. They don't tend to rage or destroy things. But highly functional alcoholics aren't even mentioned in AA or Al-Anon literature because they don't "hit bottom." They just float along until their health gives out.

AA and Al-Anon also leave out the wide range of drinkers who are now described as having alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorder refers to having a dependence on alcohol and can include many symptoms such as depressed mood, generalized anxiety, anger, social withdrawal and marital discord/neglect. Without including the various shades of problem drinking, AA and Al-Anon fail to serve many people whose lives are affected by alcohol.

Glaser's article is well-researched and points out the blinders we've been wearing with regards to treating alcohol problems. Twelve-step programs, for the most part, don't work for alcohol abuse and it's time we stop thinking of them as the be-all-and-end-all of alcohol addiction treatment. I'd add that twelve-step programs probably don't work for a lot of people, alcoholic or not. At least, that's my experience.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn

Last night I watched one of Robin Williams' last movies: The Angriest Man in Brooklyn. I don't know when he finished the movie, but it was released in May 2014 and came out on video-on-demand (VOD) in July 2014, weeks before Williams' suicide. I can only find bad reviews of the movie, but I enjoyed it. Critics said Williams' character's anger seemed energetic, but unconvincing. Because these reviews were written while Williams was still alive, they pulled no punches and called the movie predictable and maudlin. And because Williams was alive when they were writing, critics were also unable to make this comment: at one point in the movie, Williams' character predicts what his tombstone will say with this line, "Henry Altman, 1951 dash 2014." That moment was chilling for me.

I enjoyed this movie (which I watched on Amazon VOD) because it's about relationships. Williams plays Henry, a man with a big anger problem, who has ruined his marriage, his relationship with his son and has alienated most of his friends. When he finds out from a doctor played by Mila Kunis that he has a brain aneurysm that leaves him with ninety minutes to live, he goes into overdrive trying to mend his relationships with his family, hoping to do so before he drops dead.

My favorite part of the movie is Peter Dinklage who plays Henry's patient, long-suffering brother. I loved him in The Station Agent and he's even sexier in this movie. Henry's brother is the only calm, rational one in the movie, and I perked up every time he came onscreen. Besides Dinklage, I thought Kunis and Williams also came out strong. They're quite funny together and I appreciated that they didn't fall into emotional stereotypes. Henry's anger batters relentlessly at Dr. Gill's earnest attempts to help him (after an initial clash), but she doesn't fold. In spite of her own considerable pain and loneliness, Dr. Gill matches Henry's intensity and drive when she could buckle under his contempt. There are a couple of moments when the plotline could have taken the easy way out, but it doesn't.

But the main point of his post is to point out that just before Williams' death, he did a movie about a man facing death, who pegs his lifespan as lasting from 1951 to 2014. It comes towards the end of the movie and it's an eerie moment.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Trying to eat well to avoid pain

My progress towards a cramp-free life seems to have slowed. The cramps I suffered during my last 28-day cycle were better than others since I stopped taking the pill last summer, but things still got pretty bad in the first 24 hours of my period last weekend. Right in step with much of the rest of Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I began throwing up on Saturday night and didn’t stop until late Sunday morning. Oh yeah: I got the nausea of St. Patrick’s Day drunk-bingeing without any of the fun.

I suspect the problem is that I’ve plateau-ed on how much I can abstain from sugar, grains, dairy and caffeine. After my general practitioner (GP) told me to cut those out in order to regain hormonal balance last fall, I followed her advice 100% for thirty days. Since then, the best I can do is keep to about 70-90% adherence. That’s because I’ve added fruit and sweeteners back in to my diet, plus every few days I have some bread or rice, once a week or so I’ll have a half a cup of coffee, and every few weeks, I go ahead and dig into a dessert.

Eating these small amounts of sugars and starches would probably be okay if my body weren’t in such bad shape from decades of sugar addiction. But I’m in healing mode, calming down my insulin levels and retraining my cells to manage glucose, so any amount of sugar is probably still a bad idea. Apparently, menstruation is much more painful for me than it should be because my hormones aren’t in balance yet. My GP and my chiropractor both tell me that in a healthy state, women don’t experience any pain at all during menstruation, can you believe it? As mind-boggling as it is, I have to accept this as true because they’re both healthy and don’t have menstrual cramps at all. Using them as my role models is encouraging, but also discouraging because I obviously have far to go.

I’ll check in with my GP next week to make sure I’m at least roughly on the right path. If 70-90% adherence to her hormonally balancing diet keeps me healing, I can do it. The fading out of my menstrual pain might be slow, but so be it. But if she says I need another 30-day period of 100% no sugar, no grains, no caffeine and no dairy, I don’t know what I’ll do. Actually, I do know: I’ll do my best.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Nyctophilia

Nyctophilia is the love of nighttime or darkness and I am a big nyctophiliac. It’s nighttime now and I sit in a dim living room, lit only by the pinkish glow of two Himalayan salt lamps and, of course, my laptop screen. Although I prefer rooms that are bright with natural light during the day, I dislike turning on lights after sunset. I believe that if the sun is down, then it’s time for us to mostly be in darkness, with our focus turned towards bedtime. When I was married, my husband learned that if he entered a room I was in and had to turn on a light so he could see, he should turn that light back off when he left. At first he felt like that was rudely leaving me in the dark, but he eventually learned that it was considerately returning the room to the level of light I preferred.

I love bedtime. Falling asleep is one of my favorite things to do.

It might be logical to associate nyctophilia with the quality of being a night owl, but I’m not one of those. I like going to bed by 10:30 p.m. and waking up at dawn. I’m a morning person who doesn’t need caffeine to feel alert and focused well before 9:00 a.m. It just happens that I’m a morning person who prefers when the world turns down the harsh glare of daytime and softens the appearance of things with shadow.

My nyctophilia is why I like cloudy days. Rain, snow, humidity and temperature aren’t as important to me as having dim skies. My eyes are extremely sensitive to sunlight, so I have to wear protective glasses, and often a hat, when I go out on bright days. As others soak up the sun, I try to walk on the shaded side of the street or at least with the sun’s rays at my back. Yes, I admit to having this in common with classic vampires: when the sun is out, we want to just stay inside.

Chicago has had some very sunny weather this month. Too many days in a row of brightness wears on me, so I’m relieved to see that we’re due to get some rain next week.

My love of darkness is why I’ve started participating in Earth Hour on the last Saturday of March each year. To do that, you turn out all your lights between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. local time, wherever you are. This year it falls on Saturday 28 March. Earth Hour is an annual international event that draws attention to the need to conserve resources or save the planet or some such rhetoric. Whatever. I don’t care about any of that. I just like sitting in the dark.

This is the second year that I’m having an Earth Hour party. That means I invite a bunch of people over for one of my get-togethers and everything goes along as usual except that we turn out the electric lights between 8:30 and 9:30 and use candles instead. I’m a big hostess and love having potlucks, game nights, birthday parties and holiday celebrations all year long. But this is becoming one of my favorite social events: a party where I have an ideal excuse to shut off the glare, switch to soft candlelight and let everyone enjoy the semi-darkness I cherish. Last year we played cards during Earth Hour, being able to see well enough to do that. Spontaneous acapella singing broke out, inspired by “Hello, darkness, my old friend.” The dimness created intimacy, the loss of which I found painful when it was time to turn the electric lights back on at 9:30.

I wish Earth Hour happened more than once a year or lasted more than one hour. Wait, who’s to say I can’t stretch this hour? It’s my party. Maybe I’ll have an Earth Hour party with only candles all night. Oh, yeah. Nyctophiliacs, we have found our annual global event!