Friday, January 6, 2017

Prozac and Me: A Love Story

As you know, I broke my arm at the beginning of last summer, so I spent a lot of time Rear Window-ing the internet. Like all of my LGBT friends, I shared a million sorrows and liked a million rainbows for the Pulse shooting victims. I paid brokenhearted witness to the grisly murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It was a bloody, broken summer for everyone.

Around the same time, my landlord decided to landscape the weedy side yard I loved so much, wiping out my forget-me-nots and all of the jillions of wild purple morning glories. Coming home to a starkly pretty and mulched yard instead of the overgrown area I liked to keep in pleasing chaos should not have been a big deal, but it was. I tried to let the weeds grow back, but the landlord sprayed them with weed killer. Because she owns the property and they are weeds.

I marched and vigiled for the murdered people all summer, and I went back to canvassing as soon as I could, but I couldn’t move on from the morning glories. I transplanted them as soon as they popped up, enlisted the cute neighbor in re-cultivating them, bought a new trellis, and bought seeds upon seeds upon seeds, but it all seemed hopeless, I couldn’t stop checking vigilantly to see if the weed killer had come, if it had encroached on the green space I’d just started to cultivate. It seemed that the weed killer was the law of the land, the only thing true, and I felt helpless against it.

I wrote to my (very kind, thorough, and attentive) landlord about it and she predictably (and as nicely as possible) said that it’s her property and she’ll use weed killer if she needs to. Perfectly reasonable, but I couldn’t stop myself from seeing hate in her landscaping choices, from feeling that she was trying to force me out along with the lost weeds/flowers. Her email came the night before my 42nd birthday and resulted in me crying on the floor and insisting that the world was trying to push me out.

I have suicidal ideation once or twice a year, when I ruminate too far and can’t climb out of deep depression fast enough. It never goes as far as planning or action, but the “I have to die” thought does come. More often, I have the feeling that I don’t exist, wasn’t supposed to be born, or that I have to erase my personality completely to be loved. It usually passes within a few hours when I stop talking about it.

After poor Amy calmed me down and I had a pleasant birthday doing voter registration in Wissahickon Park, I realized that if I was going to cultivate a life, if I was going to hang on to the work and connections I’d already accomplished, I was going to need help. I felt too raw and defensive to try talking to a new therapist, so I took my primary care doctor up on a years-ago offer of a prescription. Since I was a teenager, I’ve stubbornly refused to be medicated for depression, but I realized that my brain was not going to be able to help me on its own.

And it was like a miracle. I’m still sensitive, defensive and insecure, but I have new resourcefulness and hope. Sometimes, for seemingly no reason, joy surges out of me in laughing bursts and I feel closer to the best version of myself. After a year or so of dressing invisibly and forgetting about the possibility of romance, I started to feel pretty and feminine and inclined to get dolled up like I used to be.

But I still didn’t understand depression’s toll on my life until a couple of weeks ago. I was talking to my peer counselor at William Way LGBT Community Center (CALL THEM! They are amazing and you can have eight weeks free counselling per year, in person or by phone.) I was making 100% of a problem out of 5% of information, filling in the other 95% with self-defeating worst-case scenarios. Once she helped me realize that math, she simply said “That’s depression.”


I never really saw it that way—depression is the weed killer. It tries to destroy whatever I’ve managed to cultivate and even tries to un-happen wonderful things that have totally already occurred! I always saw the sadness as inextricably linked to the rest of me, and in some ways it is, but it’s such a relief to see it as something that’s separate from me, something that can be treated.

So treating depression is my main theme for this year. I’ve signed up for counselling at Women Organized Against Rape and I plan to attend their support group as well. I want to be generous and kind and loving and understanding toward myself, and of course I’ll keep taking the Prozac as long as insurance exists. Thank you for coming with me on this ongoing journey to serotonin. I couldn’t do it without your loving support.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Ten Pretty Pictures from 2016

Pennsylvania Primary Day!

My favorite spot at Rosemont College
A Weaver's Way rainbow
Oswego Fourth of July Parade

My other favorite spot at Rosemont.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Gratitude List for 2016 (Brought to You in Part by Prozac)

Depression is a superpower. Because I have to fight hard to see the good in order to survive, this damaging, heartbreaking year still looks like my best one yet—even with getting hit by a car!

1. I’m grateful that I had Hillary Clinton with me in my heart every day. Her courage helped me to stand up to the biggest bullies in my life and pushed me to fight for my ideals. Fighting for her was fighting for me, for all of us. She married me to the premise that women are people and that LGBT people deserve equal rights and equal respect. She faced so much ugliness, gaslighting, horror, and humiliation and stayed herself throughout it all—working hard, doing her homework, having a plan, and standing up for those who need it. She and my wonderful campaign organizers and fellow volunteers made me into a better, stronger, and more hopeful person, and any future good I get to do will be thanks to them. Working on the campaign made me more connected to my neighborhood, my country, the world, and myself, and I hope to cultivate and honor that connection for the rest of my years.

2. I’m grateful that I fell in love this fall. It didn’t work out, but he’s a good sort, and something that doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal profoundly changed me. He got me writing a million paragraphs (and one poem!), kept me company through my election work, made lots of art with me and the library kids, and reminded me what it’s like to feel beautiful and sparky and ridiculous with someone. I remember the day I went ahead and let myself feel it: I drew stars all over the paper he’d given me to read and gave him an A+. Oh yeah, and then there’s the music—what if Frank Ocean hadn’t found his way into my heart? The most exciting thing is that even though the love is unrequited, I can still enjoy it—the love itself feels like a companion, even separate from him, and it keeps me warm and hopeful most nights. I think I’ll owe my future loves partly to him.

3. I’m grateful for retracing my steps and reconnecting with dear friends whom I briefly lost to divorce grief. It’s so heartening how friendship can just stay there and wait for you to be ready for it, how these reunions sometimes feel like no time has passed. I’m lucky to have so many generous and reliable hearts in my life.

4. I’m grateful for Hamilton, especially getting my niece and nephews obsessed! I got my four-year-old nephew a “Not throwing away my shot.” T-shirt for his birthday. My niece and I bond over our love of Lafayette (Well, he IS everyone’s favorite fighting Frenchman!) (Did you know he’s currently on black-ish? Merry Christmas to me!) I’ll never forget the drives to the comic shop belting out the king’s song, or the drive back from apple picking belting out everything. As a bonus, it seems like Hamilton might be one of the things holding our nation together, so yeah, I’m pretty glad it exists.

5. I’m grateful that I got to march for the Pulse victims, for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, for reproductive rights, for religious freedom, against the evil Nazi president elect. It’s a good thing I like marching, because it seems like it’s time to do a lot more of it.

6. I’m grateful that I got to thank John Lewis, Hillary Clinton, and Cecile Richards for their work. Also very grateful that I didn’t faint when I met John Lewis—his handshake was so warm and his “Thank you for your work” was so humbling that I’ll feel fortified by it for years to come.

7. I’m grateful for my neighborhood. In Mt. Airy, you can staple a watercolor to a phone pole and it just stays there! That’s how loved and safe and curated I feel.

8. I’m grateful for my jobs. All three are rewarding, relaxed, and fulfilling. I’ve gotten to make so much art and friendship and happiness at the library, help so many students at the bookstore, and create a warm and productive bond with my tutoring student and his family. I’m especially grateful for my Lego Day playlist, for singing “Lean on Me” and “Shine Bright Like a Diamond” and “Love on Top” and “Everything is Awesome” with the kids and feeling like the luckiest person in the world, like a goddess surrounded by beautiful treasures, because that’s exactly what this year let me be.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Bye November, Hope for December

November was a month that included a panic-inducing election, a near-relationship-thing that (predictably, it seems) turned to heartbreak, and an almost-total Thanksgiving fail in my part. I hope I can get unlost in December, I'll do my best.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Against White Fragility and Entitlement (Especially My Own)

I’m ashamed to admit that it took me more than four decades to learn the above sentiment, and probably I’m still in the long hard process of learning it. In my twenties, I remember refusing to join the Gay Straight Alliance at Syracuse because I thought they were too hard on straight people. When my feed erupted with grief about Ferguson and Charleston and all the other white atrocities of the past few years and my friends all called out for white people to wake up, I’m ashamed to admit that it hurt my feelings. I’d been doing my best to fight racism and I wanted credit for that, like some kind of get-out-of-racism-free card.

That’s white fragility—we’re so used to not having to think about our racial identity that it feels upsetting when someone asks us to examine our role in things. My entitlement was in thinking that for acknowledging the existence of racism, I should somehow get a pass, should get some kind of gratitude. The poets asking white people to wake up weren’t necessarily even talking about me, but I felt indignant anyway, entitled to credit and rewards for caring about justice, which is really the bare minimum of what every human being should do.

Those at the top of the privilege pile (Here I’m talking about white people, but this also applies to male, straight, cis, Christian, and all of the other American entitlements) we feel hurt when we’re questioned because we (unconsciously, I hope) think that our status entitles us to be the ones doing the questioning, the shaping, the defining of even the most deeply personal parts of other people’s lives.

The thing that makes me the angriest about entitlement is the way that we colonize other people’s identities. We superimpose our idea of what people should be and refuse to let them define themselves. That is an evil coercion that threatens and warps the basic, unique, loving perfection that each individual is born with. I would love to see what we’d all be like without the personal colonizations of the power structure.

One of the most sickening examples of white entitlement is the idea I keep hearing from white people that if people of color “showed more respect” to the police, they would not be hurt. This is an abuser’s mindset, and there is absolutely no way for abused people to win it. As someone who grew up with abusive parents, I can understand a tiny fragment of what this might feel like. You bend and twist and hide and equivocate to try and please your oppressor and create some kind of safety for yourself. You learn the moods and whims and warning signs and you shrink yourself down as far as you can go, but you always, always still get hit, hurt, punished. Or in the case of so many people of color, murdered by police.
            The insidious idea beneath all of this is the same one that fuels rape culture: the assumption that if something bad happens to you, you must deserve it. My mother        broke my heart when she suggested that Trayvon Martin must’ve done something we didn’t know about.

            People embrace this false reasoning to protect themselves from the sadness all around them, and I can feel compassionate about that, but it isn’t okay the way it allows us to turn a blind, callous eye toward the people who need us most. Blaming the victim is what allows all cycles of abuse to continue, what makes the fight for fairness feel so impossible.

            But I’m mostly writing this to expose my own very regrettable blind spots. Last spring, in a fight about something only vaguely related, a former friend said that I’d failed as a teacher because of my entitlement and cowardice. Mean, but not entirely wrong. There were a million things that made me a bad fit for the classroom, but there was also this:

            In retrospect, I think I felt entitled to a level of respect from the children that was not directly proportional to my basic person-ness. As a white person with primarily black students, I think that on some level I expected the kids to treat me better because some creepy, awful part of me thought I was better. In times of stress, ugly things came out of my mouth that I will never forgive myself for. At my last school, I got livid when parents would rather talk to my African American grade partner, despite the fact that she had four decades of experience on me, vastly more insight into the children’s lives, and was generally all-around awesome. (She tried so hard to convince me that I was a good teacher, to prop me up as I collapsed under anxiety, and I should probably write her a letter of thanks.) I went into education to fight the achievement gap and be a resource for African American children, and I am deeply ashamed of how much gratitude I thought I deserved for that.

            White entitlement is only a tiny piece of the sociopolitical tangle of life in those classrooms, but it was a thread. I’m not telling you all this to ask for absolution, but to share some important missteps on my road to imperfect but steadfast allyship. I’m so ashamed, I’m so sorry, and thank you for sticking with me in spite of my failures.

            To change things, we all have to be able to check our assumptions and examine our underlying motivations, our ugly inherited selfishness about our place in the world. Today, I try to be always ready to say I’m sorry, always ready to listen. I feel so grateful to everyone who has been a bridge for me, who has let me cross over into other circles and cultures and make stupid mistakes so I can get better. It’s a very lucky life, and I’m going to keep trying hard to honor it.