On Depression: An Important Confession

depression
Unsplash

This post has been an incredibly difficult one for me to write. For months, I’ve thought about it and have even written ideas down in my notebook, in my phone, and on post-it notes that get stuffed to the bottom of my purse. Even now, as I’m finally sitting down to write it, I’m thinking about all the other posts I could schedule for tomorrow instead, all of the topics that would be so much easier to write about. Despite all that though, I think it’s important that I write this post, if for no other reason than that I know there are other people out there who it might help, even just as proof that someone else is facing the same thing.

So here it is, without too much preamble and without words to make it sound easier or more socially acceptable: I suffer from depression.

It’s something that I first recognized in myself towards the end of high-school and that, I’m sure, I will never fully stop recognizing no matter how much I wish I could. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy hiding from it, because the word itself scares me and has such a stigma surrounding it. Because to acknowledge it signals weakness for so many people. And because does anyone ever reach a point where they fully have a handle on it?

But all of that is the exact reason why I know it’s so important for me to write about it here (again, because I wrote about depression once before after Robin Williams’ death, without ever acknowledging that I understood on a personal level). Because I know I’ve spent years feeling like I’m the only person out there experiencing it, and I know how much being able to put a label on it and recognize others as dealing with it as well has helped. Because every post or article or slam poem I see circulating online, I know how incredibly difficult that had to be to write, but I also know how much it meant to me.

I’m not here to say that I’ve “beat it” or even that I have tips, because I don’t (if you do though, I’d love to hear them). I’m here because this is a piece of who I am and, for every incredible article or video out there, there are a thousand commenters telling the author that it’s their own fault, that they should smile at themselves in the mirror each morning (because we all know sheer willpower fixes cancer, so why shouldn’t it work on depression too?), or that they must just be weak-willed. It’s 2015, and the overwhelming majority of discourse surrounding mental illness is horrifyingly cruel, and the subject itself so entirely misunderstood.

I started this post tonight with the intent that it would be more useful or, at least, more shareable. Somehow less rambling. But the more I’m staring at the screen debating whether I should even post this, the more I’m realizing that the only way to write this post is how it is right now. That if I’m going to put this out there, it can’t be disguised as anything but what it is: a confession. Because in 2015, we still look at mental illness as something to be hidden.

On Charlie Hebdo and Freedom of the Press

As a disclaimer, I want to say that I realize this is a very difficult subject, with a lot of gray areas. Because France is an entirely different culture than America, I’m sure there are things I’m misunderstanding with regards to content published in Charlie Hebdo. The recent events in France are heartbreaking, and they are not what I’m writing about today. Instead, I am writing to make the point that cruelty should not be misunderstood as heroism, regardless of the name given to it. 

This post has been edited since its original form to reflect information about which I was corrected. 

charlie hebdo
Unsplash

Last week, the world stopped for a few hours when a popular magazine in France – Charlie Hebdowas attacked. Since then, most of France’s allies have rallied (I say most because here in America, it only just occurred to us that maybe we should head over and help our friends out right about now), as has much of the rest of the world to support the country and, more specifically, the magazine. The attack is one problem in a small series of them which ultimately, is resulting in increased police and military activity throughout major cities and surrounding well-known landmarks.

Ultimately though, that’s not what I want to talk about today. My opinion on terrorism should be a given more than anything, because who needs to be asked that question? Who would disagree that it remains one of the worst crimes perpetrated against humankind and which, once experienced, never quite goes away?

Instead, what I want to talk about is the magazine targeted, and the world’s reaction to that magazine post-attack. First though, I want to explain that this is a horrifying event that I can’t even begin to understand. As someone who can hardly understand war, acts of terrorism are absolutely beyond my comprehension, and I can’t even begin to imagine the grief French citizens are experiencing right now.

That said, I think it’s important that we recognize what Charlie Hebdo was: an exceedingly cruel “joke” masked as free speech, something which I condemned in my post on Monday, and which I’ll say again now.

Tweet: The rights to free speech and press don’t entitle you to treat people with cruelty. http://ctt.ec/_pLIa+

While the attacks in France are unimaginable, it is also unimaginable to me that one would choose to make their career out of demonizing someone based solely on their beliefs or for that matter, on anything. Why spending your days imagining new ways to target the same group of people who have already been targeted more than anyone should have to endure seems ideal or courageous.

Since the attacks last week, the Internet has swelled with support for a magazine that has spent years paying its dues by treating people with disrespect based solely on their religious beliefs. While I recognize the rights to free speech and press as being two of the greatest rights we’ve been given, and ones which we cannot take for granted or dismiss, I also recognize that as human beings we should see a limit to those rights. A line we will not cross, despite the realization that we can.

I cannot applaud the writers of Charlie Hebdo for their continued efforts or their cruel “jokes” because what they’re doing isn’t a joke and isn’t easily forgotten for those being targeted. Because without our ever realizing it, thousands of people take the covers of Charlie Hebdo and other similar media representations to heart, an excuse to prosecute and condemn those people being targeted.

Why Debate is a Necessary Part of Our Society

debate
here

I’ve mentioned before that one of the biggest things college taught me was to have an opinion.  As a communications student, I sat in classrooms where the students spoke more than the professor, where speaking up and sharing your opinion was a part of your grade, and if you walked out at the end of the semester not having changed your mind about something the professor felt as if they’d failed you somehow.  More than anything else I learned in my four years in college, I value this lesson: that sharing our differing opinions is one of the most important things we can do as a society.  That without debate, we can never move forward or change as a society.

Last week, while having a discussion about abortion on Facebook, a girl I was friends with commented that we should both shut up before we upset someone with our opinions.  Before our ability to have a civilized, grown-up discussion about an incredibly important subject insulted someone.

The thing is, we weren’t fighting over what color to paint a room.  For that matter, we weren’t fighting at all.  This discussion was between me and my best friend, whom I’ve known since the 9th grade and whose opinion on the subject I already knew.  We were sharing opinions, pointing out flaws in one another’s arguments.  We were reaching a middle-point, a center on which we could both agree.

It’s a problem I’ve seen more and more lately, this idea that opinions should be kept to oneself and we should all go through life imagining that we all agree on everything lest we should find that someone have an opinion differing from our own.  Just the mere suggestion of a debate, a professor asking his law-school students to have an opinion – whatever that opinion may be – on a controversial subject is apparently so upsetting as to cause petitions to be signed, tests to be forfeited, and professors to apologize for breaching the subject lest they should lose their jobs.

It’s a subject that’s particularly upsetting for me, as someone who thrives on debate and knows how important it is to our continued society.  Who knows that without it – without differing opinions and the sharing of those viewpoints – we would never move forward together.

Without opinion, Rosa Parks would never have sat at the front of a bus.  Without debate, women would never have gained the right to vote.  Without difference of opinion, freedom of the press would not exist, and you and I would not be here writing every day.

If you take nothing else away from what I write here, I want it to be the same thing I took away from college: that your opinion matters.  Voicing that opinion in a civilized way, discussing it with people who don’t necessarily agree, is important.  Because without disagreement, we would never find a middle ground.

A Discussion of the CIA Report and Finding a Moral High Ground

Disclaimer: I know that this is going to be a controversial post, that there will people with more information than me, and people who do not agree with me.  However, at 23-years-old I feel confident that my opinion on this subject is not going to change.  I believe in debate and the power it has to spark conversation and growth, but I ask that you keep your opinions civil and that this not degrade into the likes of a Rush Limbaugh talk show segment. 

CIA Report
Unsplash

I can remember in third grade, my teacher telling me that one day I would understand war.

This was about a year before September 11, so looking back I can’t remember what war she was talking to a third grade class about, or why she thought to tell an 8-year-old that war makes sense and that one day, she would agree.  I just remember feeling confused and obstinate.  Utterly sure that at no point in my life would I understand killing people to make a point.  For the first time in my admittedly short life, I doubted an authority figure and what they were telling me.

I don’t know why I thought of this on my way to work Wednesday morning, other than the recent situation with the CIA and the sudden realization, all across America, that we never really had the moral high ground after all.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the CIA released a report earlier this week detailing the tactics they’ve used over the last 13 years in the fight against terrorism.  The release of the report was a conflict in itself – the left saying that we need to admit to our mistakes and grow from them, and the right saying that all this report could do is make matters worse.  If that was bad, the report itself was even worse, filled with details about the just-barely-within-Geneva-Convention-laws torture that our CIA has been using to find information that debatably, they never did find anyway.  Waterboarding, anal feeding (I don’t know either, so don’t ask me what that is), sleep deprivation, chaining a person with broken legs into a standing position against a wall…

I’ve read very little about the report and the debate that it’s sparked.  All I really know is what my mom and I discussed briefly, the few articles I’ve read since, and what my daily email from The Skimm told me.  But for me, that’s enough: names of torture tactics that I can’t even guess what they might be.  Tactics designed to break a person, to get information that we never were able to get.

To fight for a moral high ground that, as it turned out, we never really had in the first place.  And while I realize there is a fight for the greater good at stake, that there’s a lot I still don’t know and may never know, I think I know enough to say that I don’t understand.

I don’t understand how, in 2014 we’re still at a point in society where our go-to response to a disagreement – however big or small – with another country is to grab our weapons and kill until we see who has the least men and women left standing.  I don’t understand how we’ve yet to overcome this most base instinct of ours as human beings, that which is supposed to separate us from animals.  As someone who subsists off of words and knows the power behind them, I don’t understand how language isn’t enough to stop us from this. 

I always have, and always will stand behind the men and women who risk their lives to fight for our country and my freedom.  I am grateful beyond words for what they have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice.  But I don’t understand what they are sacrificing for, why this is the only way we know to solve a problem.

On Struggling to Understand: A Discussion on Michael Brown and Eric Garner

struggling with race

A couple weeks ago, when a Ferguson police officer was not charged in the death of a black teen who he had shot to death, I said nothing.  It was hard to take a stance with so much conflicting evidence, opposing witness accounts, and inconclusive ballistic evidence from Michael Brown’s autopsy.  I had no idea how to take a stance because frankly, I hardly knew what my opinion was.  Last week though, when I opened my email from The Skimm telling me that another black man had been killed by a cop – this time on camera, and with absolutely no reason at all, and that the cop in this case had not been charged either, I nearly cried.

I’ve spent days trying to wrap my head around the situation.  Trying to understand what made an officer – a man who is supposed to be serving and protecting us – choke a man who had done absolutely nothing wrong (except maybe sell some cigarettes tax-free – which I’m fairly certain that even that didn’t happen) to death, despite his cries that he couldn’t breathe.  What made his partner stand by and let it happen, and a Grand Jury find him innocent of all charges.  I’ve tried every way I can think of to imagine what made a Grand Jury find that man innocent for a crime which has been ruled a homicide, and for which they had video recorded proof, but I’m still coming up blank.

And that breaks my heart, that somehow I love in a country where officers can kill for absolutely no reason, with no provocation at all, and not be charged with any sort of a crime.

In the past few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of opinions on these two situations, and a lot of people saying that this isn’t a race issue.  It’s a human issue.  And they’re right – it is a human issue, a condition of our existence which somehow we can’t seem to overcome.  But at it’s heart, this is also a race issue – both in the actual crime itself, and in the discussions which we have about them.   The issue of race is hidden in the hundreds of members of Facebook saying “well he did rob a convenience store” and in the officer who saw absolutely nothing wrong with watching while his partner held an innocent man in a chokehold.  It is in the people saying that justice needs to be served, regardless of how petty the crime – up until that crime is murder, and then it’s somehow okay.

The race issue here is so ingrained, so a part of our society and our thinking, that we can hardly see it when it’s right in front of us. It’s in two white cops killing two black men, and being found innocent by a mostly white Grand Jury.  It’s in our discussions which somehow focus on the bad things a black 15-year-old did, and not on the even worse things that a grown white man did.  In the discussions that popped up about Brown’s robbing a convenience store, but those same people being silent when an innocent man is choked to death.

I still don’t know how to talk about this, because I still can’t wrap my head around it.  My closest comparison is in dystopian novels, in Thought Police and legally-required curfews, so I’m struggling to relate this to the real world, to the country I thought I lived in.  I don’t know what to say about a man being killed in cold blood, and the man who did it being found innocent, because I didn’t think that could happen in America. I don’t know what to say to the people saying “there must be something we don’t know” with regards to a video-recorded murder that otherwise, they would see as absolute binding proof of a crime committed. I don’t know what to say about a justice system that allows this to happen and does nothing about it, or the people in my news feed convinced that this isn’t about race.

I don’t know what to say about what’s been done, and how it’s been handled. But I do know that this is not our entire society.  This is not the world we live in, just a piece of it, just like the protests are part of it, and the people standing up to say that this is wrong. It is a sign of something needing to be fixed, but there is something beautiful in the people standing up the make that change.

On Expectations and Not Being Who I Thought I’d Be

expectations

As a little girl, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, there was a while when I said “Van Gogh.”  I guess he was the one artist whose name I knew right off, and I wanted that – to be an artist.  To create things people loved to look at and were inspired by.

I jumped from thing to thing: one day writing a novel, the next drawing what I was sure would be a masterpiece.  Singing, painting, crafting, photographing, sewing.  I tried it all, and my parents supported me every step of the way – enrolling me in art classes, driving me into the city every Saturday for a writing class at the University of the Arts, buying me an expensive camera, a keyboard to practice piano on, and a sewing machine, taking me to ballet classes and coming to my handbell performances. Whatever art I thought I’d excel at, whatever forum I thought I’d try my hand at, they supported, even though they had to know that my paintings were the worst in the class and my voice was never meant for singing.  They supported it all even though I think they both knew it would be writing all along.

Most of the time, realize that it’s writing.  Just writing, and some of the time not even that.  But I still fill my room with yarn to crochet scarves and blankets out of, with everything A. C. Moore has to sell so I can try my hand at painting, at quilting, at making dream catchers.  I spend hours wandering up and down the aisles of the local craft store, and scour Pinterest for all the pretty things I think I could probably make.

And sometimes, I manage – I crochet a scarf that my friends love, take a photo I’d love to frame – but never the way that five-year-old me imagined.  Never on the level of the artist I tried to emulate so many years ago, or the levels of friends whose work I can’t imagine being able to make.

And it makes me wonder about what we’re capable of.  About, more accurately, what I’m capable of.  If our expectations for ourselves really matter in the end, or if the things we say we want to be when we grow up have any really bearing on who we become.  And I guess I don’t have a point, other than to say I thought I’d know who I am by now.

You are More than Beautiful

more than beautiful
Unsplash

Over the last several years, campaigns focused on the beauty in every woman have started to pop up everywhere.  Dove has made an incredible advertising campaign out of the idea, regularly using their brand to make every woman feel better about herself.  In 2009, Caitlin Boyle founded Operation Beautiful, an organization founded on the idea that every woman is beautiful and deserves to know it.

It’s an idea that’s as pervasive in our society as it’s counterpart – the idea that beauty is a level that only certain women have risen to; and it’s an idea I’m certainly not immune to (the number I’m constantly hoping to see on a scale and the three outfits I try on each morning before settling for one are proof of that).  I think it’s an amazing campaign, and I love the idea that every woman is beautiful – because she is.

But here’s the problem with that thought: beauty is entirely subjective and doesn’t say much about a person beyond their ability to appear physically attractive enough to meet someone’s vague standards. “Beautiful” does nothing to define the absolutely hilarious jokes you tell, or how amazing of a friend you are. “You’re beautiful” does not define your accomplishments or your strength. “Beautiful” does not define you. 

Tweet: beauty is entirely subjective and doesn't say much about a person beauty is entirely subjective and doesn’t say much about a person

From a young age, girls are taught that “beautiful” is one of the best things they could ever hope to be. The media depicts women swooning over men who tell them just how lovely that dress looks on them, and of female powerhouses like Hillary Clinton being decried because her suit isn’t in style this year.  Most channels are inundated with makeup ads and beauty products promising that you’ll look 30-years-old until the day you die, and weight loss regimens “guaranteed to help you lose those last five pounds.”  Rarely do you see men complementing their dates on a meaningful conversation, or a television show encouraging young girls to pursue their dreams of working in politics.

As women, as human beings, we are so much more than a frankly meaningless observation about our appearance.  We are smart, talented, driven, human.  We are powerful and strong, and beauty is far from the most we will ever amount to.  Of course we are beautiful, and having the person you love tell you that is an amazing feeling.  But first and foremost, I’d rather we strive to be admired for our wit or our strength, complemented for the amazing ideas we bring to a conversation or the lengths we will go to in order to help a friend.

I’d rather teach girls and women to strive towards those things than towards a level of attractiveness that the media defines as beauty.

What Harry Potter Means to Me

What Harry Potter Means to Me

I can remember buying my first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  I was probably eight or nine years old, and was in New Hope with my mom, my brother, and a couple of our friends.  I came home that day with two new books, which were the “toys” I always preferred, to be honest.  I can’t remember how Harry Potter had made it into the cart next to Falling Up by Shel Silverstein; most likely, my mom had heard other mothers talking about it, and had decided it was something I should try.

When I didn’t start reading the book on my own – instead, my brother and I liked to make fun of the title of the first chapter, The Boy Who Lived – my mom started reading it to us.  Each night before bed, we’d crawl into her’s and my dad’s bed, and listen to her read “just one more chapter” of the book.

As each new book was released, my mom would take my brother and I to Barnes & Noble at midnight, even when she had to be at work at 7AM the next day, to get the book as soon as we could.  When the movies started coming out, it was the same thing – going to see the movies at midnight, no matter who had school or work the next day.

In ways that I don’t think my mom ever anticipated when she put that first book into our shopping cart, these books brought us together, and taught my brother and I lessons that I doubt we ever could have learned in school or from any other book we had read, because these books stuck with us.  The lessons – the friendships and the morals and the meaning – that we took away from these books are ones I never would have remembered if Cinderella or Barney had been teaching them.

The series was so much more to my childhood than seven books and eight movies.  It was more than magic and dragons and fairies.  More even than best friends, and learning who I wanted to be, although these are all things that the books absolutely did.  These books were a piece of my childhood, and of who I am today; and honestly, they’re a connection between me and almost my entire generation.  Thousands of now-men and women who grew up with The Boy Who Lived.  Who have attended midnight release screenings, read and re-read and dog-eared their books.  Have created spinoffs and have had real, intelligent conversations about a series of books that from first glance, are simply about magic.

I’ve always loved books, and I bristle at the thought of banning any story or novel.  But somehow, I get defensive when I hear people claiming that these books will harm their children, probably because I know what these books did for me, and I know the magic they still bring when I pick one of them up.  I can’t imagine a life without them, and certainly not one in which they are banned or considered evil.

Being an Introvert : Why I Struggle with My Personality

being an introvert

I’ve mentioned before that I’m an introvert – that I like my alone time, don’t mind Friday nights in, and probably watch too much Netflix.  It’s a part of my personality that I’ve always struggled with – battling between wanting to want to go out, but instead wanting to do nothing but stay in and read, watch Netflix, and blog.

My being an introvert is something that I know there’s nothing wrong with.  If you told me you were an introvert, I’d tell you all the great things about it.  But when it comes to myself, I sometimes feel as though I could be – want to be – “fixed.”  As though I take it to a new, defective level and that one day, that joke my friends make about me being a crazy cat lady will come true and my only friends will be furry and unable to speak.  As though it’s something that, with the right words or a certain level of practice, I can shed and become the social butterfly type that seems to thrive in our society.  As though my being an introvert is merely a stage before I get to who I am.

It’s one thing to want to accept your personality – to know all the amazing positives that come with who you are – and trust me, I do.  I know that there are things I’m great at, and that it’s most likely because of my being an introvert that I thrive in those areas.  And I know I wouldn’t want to give those things up – my love of reading, and my ability to write as well as I do.

But it’s difficult to accept the downfalls, the desire to stay in on a Friday night up until 10PM when you hear everyone outside your window on their way to the bars or a party.  The inability to small-talk, to the point where you’d rather tell a near-stranger a barely-in-context story about yourself and your life just because it’s something to say.  The complete fear that when you meet someone new, they’re going to hate you; and constantly needing reassurance that your friends don’t wish you’d just go away.  Those are the parts of being an introvert that I don’t want to know about myself, that I wish would go away.

It’s something I struggle with, and something I want to accept.  But at the same time, I want to be better – a more sociable, easy-to-talk-to person.  And I don’t know how to reconcile those two desires, because they are so opposing to one another.

It’s something I don’t know if I’ll ever stop struggling with, but I’d like to start somewhere, to try to acknowledge the great things about myself, like my ability to get a job done quickly, and well; my writing-skills; my love of a new book or a blank page; or a challenge in my work.  My abillity to take a to-do list a mile long, and have it finished by the end of the work day.  These are all great pieces of my being an introvert, pieces that I know I may not have if it weren’t for my personality.  Pieces that I’d like to try to focus on the next time someone asks about the weather, and I respond with an anecdote about the power going out at my apartment last year because of the snow.

So what about you? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? And either way, is it something you struggle with?

I Want to Always Remember

9/11
here

When I was in my sophomore year of high-school, 6 years after 9/11, I waited the entire school day for someone – a teacher, a classmate, the principal – the say something about the anniversary.  By 7th period, after hours of discussing isosceles triangles, Hamlet, and World War II, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen.  That somehow, we manage to remember our birthdays and how many days till the next party, and where and when and how we met our boyfriends, but 9/11 somehow seems to slip our collective minds.

This year, somehow, I forgot to write a post about it.  I scheduled photos I took over the weekend and didn’t realize until I woke up this morning that photos weren’t what I wanted to be sharing today.

Thirteen years ago means that this tragedy happened while most of us were alive.  I was in fourth grade, on my way to typing class when every adult in the small school building was called immediately to the principal’s office and we were all left waiting in the hallway, arguing about who had cooties.

I’ve never had a chance to see Ground Zero, which I guess seems fitting since I also never had a chance to see the World Trade Center before that day.  But the image of them is printed into my mind as though I’d seen them a thousand times, walked past them on my way to school and work for more years than I can count.  And I guess I have because as much as people neglect to say anything on this day each year, more photos and articles pointing to conspiracy theories, blaming Bush, blaming Obama, blaming religious people who had nothing to do with that day, claiming freedom and happiness for America…they crop up everywhere.

What I don’t see, what I think a lot of people forget even as they distinctly remember the numbers, are the thousands of people who died that day – in the World Trade Center, in the Pentagon, in those planes.  The firefighters and rescue workers who lost their lives in the aftermath, trying to save whoever they could.  The terrified men and women who were as old as I am now, who looked up and realized that their only option was to jump.

Those are the people I want to remember today, because as thankful as I am for the people who have risked their lives since then, who have lost their lives since then, all because of this day, these people never knew what was coming.  They woke up that morning with no idea how their days would be ending, and their lives are the reason we are in this place that we are in now.  I want to never stop remembering them, and their families, and what was lost that day.