Labels are for pickle jars

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I’ve been thinking a lot about labels lately and today, I got news that crystallized my thoughts. My favorite band, Enter the Haggis, is changing their name to Jubilee Riots. Leaving aside whether or not I *like* the new name (I’m digesting it), I had a variety of reactions starting with shock and winding up with wholehearted approval.

Here’s why.

Bottom line, we grow up. And as we grow up, we try on a lot of identities. Some we keep, some we discard, depending on how they work for us. Some of these identities are imposed by other people and are nothing we’d ever choose for ourselves. Some we hang on to for way too long, because it’s easy or because we’re afraid to change. But eventually, we shed what doesn’t work, keeping those bits and pieces of self-knowledge that we gained along the way.

The name Enter the Haggis hasn’t worked for the guys for a long time. It’s a bit silly, hard to market, and they outgrew it long ago. I’ve known that and, apparently, they’ve also known that. But it takes a great deal of courage to shed an identity you’ve carried for nearly 20 years (20 years? Ack.) and in some of the guys’ cases the majority of their lives. From a simple marketing perspective, abandoning your brand after building it for that long has got to be terrifying. I’m sure they’re going to get some blowback from people who want them to be what they always were, not understanding that change is as inevitable as it is required for growth.

When I got my diagnosis of Type 2 Bipolar in 2009, I had some stark choices to make about identity. Was I still going to be me? What did this label mean? Was I going to reject it? Was I going to embrace it and tell people? Would they treat me differently if I did? Did I feel different than I did when my label was simply “weird and moody?” It was all unknown. I willfully chose to accept the new label, tell everyone, and own that shit. The label was imposed externally, but the decision to seek a diagnosis was mine. I decided to change my brand, so to speak.

Adopting the new label allowed me to grow into myself. It gave me words for things I’d always known inside, but which were not necessarily visible to others. It gave me access to resources that had been closed to me before. It gave me a way to explain myself. “Hey. You know those things I’ve always done? Well, guess what? There’s a name for that and it’s way better and more informative than the one I had before.”

It’s the same with ETH. They’ve abandoned a label they acquired more or less by default and willfully chosen who they want to be going forward. That’s a phenomenally gutsy, self-aware move and I applaud them for it.

Because I know how hard it is.

peace…

p.s. Go listen to their music. You won’t regret it, I promise.

What are all these violent images doing to us?

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Leah Backus:

And oddly, just a couple hours after my last post, I came across this incredibly thoughtful, detailed post about how even the people reporting the news are affected by the imagery they see. This is one social experiment that I’m opting out of for a while…

Originally posted on Dart-Throwing Chimp:

Early this morning, I got up, made some coffee, sat down at my desk, and opened Twitter to read the news and pass some time before I had to leave for a conference. One of the first things I saw in my timeline was a still from a video of what was described in the tweet as an ISIS fighter executing a group of Syrian soldiers. The soldiers lay on their stomachs in the dirt, mostly undressed, hands on their heads. They were arranged in a tightly packed row, arms and legs sometimes overlapping. The apparent killer stood midway down the row, his gun pointed down, smoke coming from its barrel.

That experience led me to this pair of tweets:

tweet 1

tweet 2

If you don’t use Twitter, you probably don’t know that, starting in 2013, Twitter tweaked its software so that photos and other images embedded in tweets would automatically appear in users’ timelines. Before that change, you had to…

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Garbage in, anxiety out

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I’ve really been struggling lately with all the bad news in the world. Ebola, racial unrest here in the US, Russia acting like an asshole, ISIS (what is *wrong* with those people?? Who *does* shit like that??), climate change. Last week, I spent a lot of time curled up in a ball, crying and shaking with fear of the imminent apocalypse. Normal people worry about spiders and scary clowns. I go big or go home. The bad news just goes on and on and on.

Except…it doesn’t.

You might think so, if you watch 24/7 cable news. Or read the newspaper regularly. Or spend a lot of time on the Internet (depending on how careful you are about where you go). And that’s because there are a lot of people who get paid to scare the crap out of you. Good news, for whatever reason, doesn’t sell. It never has and it never will. I’m quite sure that when the ancient Sumerians chipped out their cuneiform tablets, there was a fatal house fire on page six.

But the good news is out there. People just don’t focus on it. I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t know why people pay more attention to bad news. What I do know, though, is that there are some serious, ironic shenanigans going on. Because here’s the question: why do people focus so much on how we feed our bodies and so little on what we feed our brains?

There’s an epidemic in this country, but let me tell you, it’s not obesity. It’s stress. And it’s partially caused by people consuming a media diet that keeps them in a constant state of fight or flight. And since stress causes all kinds of physical effects (some strikingly similar to those caused by obesity) why is there not a national fight against the “stress epidemic?” I don’t know. But if I was First Lady, there would be some serious questions asked, in addition to the toned arms and the organic vegetable garden.

So what can you do? Well, I think it’s pretty obvious.

Turn that shit off.

  • Take all the social media apps off your phone. Take Facebook messenger off your phone. If you’re really far gone (like I am) take the browser off your phone. Because you see that square box in your hand? It’s a phone. If something important happens, someone will call you on it. Promise. You don’t need to be connected all the time.
  • Limit your news consumption to an hour a day of high-quality, reasonably unbiased reporting. I like NPR. But I’m a liberal. Sue me.
  • And while you’re at it, stop feeding your brain with crap TV all the time. It’s one thing to watch “The Walking Dead” once a week. If post-apocalyptic horror is your thing, who am I to argue? But if all you watch are crime dramas, shows about meth dealers, prison, and serial killers, trust me, that stuff is going to change your frame of mind. You might think it isn’t, but it is and you don’t get to control that, your stress hormones do. Before you say it, I know watching TV doesn’t turn people into serial killers or criminals or what have you. But I defy you to tell me that what you watch doesn’t control your mood and actions. There are billions of advertising dollars that say I’m right about this.

I did it. I turned it mostly off about five days ago. I read Slate magazine once a day. I check Facebook briefly in the evenings. Well, sometimes not so briefly, but I’ve curated my list to the point where the majority of doom-and-gloomers are quarantined. I removed all social media, messaging, and browser from my phone (although I may or may not have been up past my bedtime the other night reading about US-Russia relations on my Wikipedia app. I admit nothing. Hey…it’s a work in progress.)

It was pretty hard the first couple days. I did a lot of video game playing (those ones where you swap the candies or whatever the shape du jour is). I kept reading The Three Musketeers. I started redecorating my house with French country accents. I watched Doctor Who and So You Think You Can Dance. I talked to friends on the actual phone. My work requires that I be on the computer quite a bit, so the temptation to visit certain sites and Google scary things is strong, but cutting the tether to that information while I’m out and about has helped immensely.

Next time you start feeling anxious about the state of the world, I want you to question that feeling. Question what you are being fed. Question what you are allowing into your brain. Because there’s a whole lot of light out there waiting to get in, if you make room for it.

peace…

Cowboy up cupcake…

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As I alluded to in my previous post, there has been a lot of sleeping, lying around, procrastinating, and general malaise going on around Diva Headquarters lately. For about the last week and a half, I just haven’t wanted to do very much of anything at all. Nothing seems to really rouse me from my semi-permanent stupor. Except The Musketeers. God I love that show. I digress…

Unsurprisingly, this coincides with an increase in the dosage of my Depakote, back to 1250mg per day. This is the dosage I was at a year and half ago when I was basically so depressed I could barely climb a flight of stairs because it seemed like too much effort. I went back on Depakote because nothing I’ve taken has ever controlled my mania (which presents as anxiety) quite so well. But I knew when I chose to do that, that becoming depressed was a possibility.

This is the hell of psychiatric drugs. There is no question in my mind, nor in the minds of anyone who knows me, that I need these medications. I would not be alive without them. Read that again. I would not be here.

But…ah, but…such a carnival ride. What’s going to work? Anti-depressants (hell, no)? Anti-psychotics (aw, HELL NO)? Mood stabilizers (OK, maybe…). Now, choose between side-effect profiles. Blind (no, thanks)? Panicky (rather not)? Dead (um…)? Fat, tired, and bald (well, if that’s the best that can be expected). Dosage? Somewhere in the sweet spot between Tigger and Eyeore, please, even if it takes six months of tinkering to find.

I tell you, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But I do it. And oddly, I only kind of do it for me. I do it mostly for the people who love me and have to be around me. If it were just me, by myself, I’d be tempted to go live with my dog under a bridge somewhere. I do it for them, because they are the people who moor me to this earth on the worst days. Like today, when I am so burned out and hopeless and tired and my hair is falling out and I’m getting fat because that’s what these meds do.

But I persevere. I take my medicine. I go to my therapy. I visit my shrink. I use my phototherapy lamp. I promise (and fail, mostly) to get up every morning, not sleep all day, do stuff around the house, eat right, exercise. There’s only so much I can do, really and when I can’t do it for myself, I can do it for the sake of those who love me.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows here. Not every post is going to contain perky advice or wise social commentary. Some days it’s just going to be this. Me. Raw and unfiltered and imperfect.

Some days, the mantra is just, “Cowboy up, Cupcake.”

And that’s good enough for now.

peace…

Psychic armor for the digital age

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In just five minutes this morning, these were three things that popped up on my Facebook feed. I’m paraphrasing, but this was the gist of it:

“You’re not really a vegetarian if you eat eggs. Think of the chickens!”

“The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is stupid/boring/not important enough/taking attention away from other charities(!)”

“Psych meds are a crutch.”

Might as well just go back to bed because apparently, I’m just doing life all wrong. (As an aside, there has been entirely too much going back to bed around here lately. I love sloths. Cute little critters. But I’d rather they not be my animal totem, if you know what I’m saying.) I always have at least a moment or two of shame when I read something like that because it reminds me that I am not perfect if everyone doesn’t agree with all my choices and that, according to some near-stranger on the Internet I am fucking up.

Here’s the thing. The statements above? Intellectual bullying. Worse, pseudo-intellectual bullying. Here’s how I know.  The statements above are all other-directed. They’re not about what the person making them is doing in their own life. They are about tearing other people down, not about building them up with solid advice and loving support. The Internet amplifies this stuff to ear-splitting decibels. “You are the wrongest person in the history of wrongness wrongity wrong wrong wrong.”

Now that we know what these statements and articles are all about, how can we deal with them? Because I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not close myself up in a cave and live like a hermit (which is what I’d have to do to avoid this kind of thing entirely). We start by recognizing the sources and motivations of the statements, then modifying our own behavior, which, as in most things, is all we can do.

Source: Mainstream media articles, news broadcasts, etc.

Recognize that “you’re doing it wrong” or “we’re all going to die” or “unpopular opinion” stories are produced for ratings and clicks, nothing more. Believe me, no one in the mainstream media has your personal best interests at heart when they write this stuff. They know, through long experience, that nothing sells better than stories that play on your insecurities (unless it’s blood and guts and frankly, I think that’s arguable). How to deal with it: Tune it out. Turn off the TV. Don’t read articles on major news sites. If something important happens, someone will call you. Alternatively, file it away in the back of your brain until you can sit down and do a little research for yourself to see if it’s actually something you need to worry about.

Source: Social media

This is the great echo chamber of the Internet. Here, people actually do share information because they think they’re doing the right thing. They want to promote a cause, or share something they heard and believe. They do it, I am convinced, with all good intentions. But the end result is still a barrage of critical information that can make you feel pretty bad about yourself. How to deal with it: Curate your social media spaces. Use the various controls on Facebook to train it to know what you are interested in. Create interest lists. It’s imperfect, but it does work. Twitter is a little harder to control. The best you can do there is simply unfollow feeds that post too much critical stuff.

Source: Friends

There are some damned critical people out there and they’re pretty easy to spot. Know-it-alls, false experts, doom and gloomers, people who love to poke holes in stuff just because they can. How to deal with it: Block, unfriend, or unfollow people who annoy you, depending on the closeness of their relationship to you. It’s that simple. You are under no obligation to these people. Don’t trick yourself into thinking you are. With those who remain, be assertive about protecting your space. Tell people what you need (“I’m venting and I don’t want comments right now.” “Keep it civil.”) and gently guide the conversation in your posts in more positive ways. Don’t be afraid to walk away. You don’t have to have the last word in every conversation. “Well, this is what works for me and I don’t need more information right now, thanks,” works well.

General advice

  • Laugh it off.
  • Have a mantra. “I trust myself.”
  • Have empathy for critical people. Obviously, they’re fighting their own demons.
  • Vent. I don’t think there’s a thing wrong with taking to your podium and calling out your critics, or critics in general.
  • Ask questions. If you really want to engage, “Why do you think that?” is always an enlightening question.

Finally, engage in radical positivity yourself. Praise people. Give them compliments. Kill them with kindness. Be respectful and gentle in disagreement. I’m warning you now, sometimes doing these things is going to make you clench your teeth so hard you get a headache. But it’s worth it. Sometimes your mama was right. Being the better, bigger person does feel good. When all else fails, turn everything off and read a good book.

peace…

p.s. Speaking of books, I’m reading “The Three Musketeers.” What are you reading right now?

Depression and lived experience

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“It’s all in your mind.”

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

“Stop playing the victim.”

“You brought it on yourself.”

What do these statements have in common? And what do they have to do with depression?

All the statements above are dismissals of what is called “lived experience.” Lived experience is a scholarly term used to describe the “first-hand accounts and impressions of living as a member of a minority or oppressed group.”(1) Interestingly, the above statements, taken out of context, could easily be (and often are) applied to people who have experienced sexual abuse, racism, gender discrimination, or other forms of systemic cultural discrimination.

But today, we’re talking about depression because that’s what we do here.

From a personal perspective, the statements above hurt more than they help. I’ve had friends use them on me. Often, they’re well-intentioned; delivered by people who would never dream of hurting me and would be shocked to discover that they had. And here’s the thing…I’m sure I’ve done it to other people myself on other issues. I’ve done it and I’ve learned from it. I’ll share what I’ve learned and maybe it will help you.

The thing you’ve got to realize…the thing you have to hammer into your psyches every damned day…is that no matter how connected you are through social and traditional media, no matter how many mentally ill friends you have, no matter how many books you’ve read or classes we’ve taken, you DON’T GET IT. You don’t. Because you haven’t lived it.

And you know what? That’s OK.

You are not required to have struggled with depression in order to support someone who has. Just like you are not required to have struggled with racism or sexual assault to support someone who has. But if you haven’t experienced those things, how can you help? Glad you asked.

Listen more than you talk.

Be humble about the fact that there are things you don’t know.

Exorcise the world “should” from your vocabulary (those people should, you should, I should)

Accept that people are heavily influenced by their lived experience, which is not the same as yours.

Understand that you are not required to have an opinion on every issue.

Forgive yourself for not having a solution to every problem.

Do the best you can. You are an imperfect person in an imperfect world.

Listen…

Listen…

Listen…

peace out…

(1) http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Lived_experience

The happiest depressive on the block

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I’m  a mentally ill person but I’m also a fundamentally happy person.

I can hear your head-scratching from over here. “But Diva? How can that be true? Isn’t depression about sadness and despair?”

Yes. It is. But not all the time. Lemme’ splain…no…is too much. Lemme sum up…*

Luna_Moth_by_JoeyEvery day has the capacity for happiness. It’s just that sometimes it comes in tiny little bursts. Maybe your fried egg came out perfectly this morning. Maybe the sight of your dog running across the yard with a goofy, doggy-grin on her face made you smile. Maybe someone did you a small kindness like holding a door for you or letting you merge in traffic. Maybe something big happens and horrible darkness suddenly becomes bright, like this. Maybe, like me a few weeks ago, you saw a luna moth perched on the screen door and you’d never seen one before and that was cool (I keep seeing them. I don’t know what that means).

If you take a mindful approach to life, and I do, you notice those things. You store the memory of them up against the dark times so you can bring them out and fondle them like Gollum with the Ring of Power (preciooouuuussss voice optional). Maybe you write them down in a journal or on your phone so you can read over the list before you go to sleep.

Happiness is something you do, not something you have.

Now I can hear your skepticism. Who knew the Internet was such a good amplifier of people’s thoughts? “Diva. This is the same self-help crap I’ve heard all my life. I did not come here expecting schlocky Oprah Winfrey bullshit.”

Sorry.

Actually no, I’m not. Because did you ever stop to think that some advice gets repeated because it’s good advice? Because it *works*?

I know you’re sad. I know the world looks so very dark. I know you feel like you’ll never be happy unless you can achieve those big things we all want. Success. Money. A life partner. A house. Hell, maybe it’s more baseline than that. Maybe you just want food on the table and a roof over your head. I don’t know your situation.

I know you don’t want to journal. I know you don’t want to do “exercises.” I know mindfulness feels like a distant weirdo Zen concept when you can’t even tame down your brain to tie your damned shoes. You don’t want to try something you might fail at or not be perfect at or add something else you can beat yourself up for not doing (#100happydays anyone? ugh.).

I know this because I’ve been there. Remember? I am there.

But I also know for certain that waiting passively for happiness will not make it manifest. I know if you crush those small moments of happiness and refuse to recognize them because they’re not big enough, you won’t ever learn how happiness feels. You will wind up not knowing happiness if it reared up and bit you in the ass.

You are already happy. You are. The Diva would not lie to you. You are happy. Maybe not all the time, but sometimes. You just need to learn to recognize it in the moment. Like all things, it is a skill that you can learn with itty little steps.

  1. Watch for a happy moment.
  2. Remember how it feels.
  3. Jot it down, just for you.
  4. Drag it out when you need it
  5. Wear the memory of it like armor against the dark.

Today, a big part of my happiness is how warmly people have embraced my writing. It’s an incredible gift to be able to share my experiences and thoughts with you all.

peace…

*This movie is one of my personal happys. Also, does the concept of happiness armor make anyone else think of Monty Python? Or am I just weird?