Two women seeking equality in a state where some couples are more equal than others.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

MI Gay Monday

So I wrote this a couple years ago, near the tail end of my MA program, but I found it languishing as a draft today, and it made me chuckle. I should really do more of these. I would love to compile a few more of these from LGBT friends.

9:00 am
Wake up. Greet my gay houseguest. (She really is gay, but that is not why we are friends. We met while taking a Spanish class during our undergrad.) Chat with her a while.

10:00 am
Take a gay shower and wash my gay hair.

10:15 am
Put on gay clothes and say good morning to my lesbian, homosexual, female partner. The clothes are not gay, although they did come from Target, where Salvation Army bellringers are forbidden to chime. Perhaps Target knows that Salvation Army is very anti-gay rights.

10:30 am
Eat gay pie for gay breakfast. As in a previous post, I will admit that this is a very subversive choice. For those of you who are concerned about my gay nutritional needs, I will defend my choice by saying that each slice of pie contains a whole apple. I have a gay piece of MSU Dairy Store cheddar cheese as a protein supplement. The Dairy Store is not gay, just delicious.

Commence my gay workday of staring at my gay computer. My work is not gay, just me. The computer is not gay, although it would not shock me to learn that Macs are the preferred technology for the LGBT population. I read some gay articles, create a gay reading guide, and spend time using the gay library search sites. The articles, reading guide, and library site are not gay, just me.

My lesbian, homosexual, female partner leaves for a meeting about residency match. These are just the sorts of things that prevent her from being a properly subversive LGBT woman.

Have a gay lunch of gay leftover pizza. The pizza really is gay, since I made it myself by hand. (Gay money is very tight right now, so ordering pizza is too expensive.)

Return to my gay work.

My lesbian, homosexual, female partner and I take a gay dessert break from our gay work. These sorts of breaks are important. Without them, we might become weary of our exhausting, subversive lifestyle.

Return to my gay work.

Leave for my other gay work in the gay ESL Help Room. The room is not gay, just me.

Return home to make gay dinner. It is not remarkable - just spaghetti and garlic bread.


Lately, things have happened to make me feel livid. And frustrated. And sad. Things have happened to make me feel so much of these things that for a few moments in time, I wanted to give up on choosing love unconditionally, choosing more love, and falling apart without taking others down. I was tired of being a model minority, tired of writing the wholesome, respectable, ladylike narrative, tired of checking every box except "straight" and still experiencing discrimination.

As one friend said, I wanted to "blow **** up." It was true at that moment and became even truer the next day when another issue piled on.

I found myself repeating "I will not blow things up" as a mantra. I found myself reviewing respectable methods of responding. I considered how I could handle my anger responsibly. I reflected on the work I would destroy if I lit the fuse at that moment.

In short, two things happened.

The first was that I tried to find ways to choose love while protecting myself, as much as reasonable, from future hurt.

The second was that I remembered a quote that my high school librarian had shared: "Well-behaved women seldom make history."

So I will choose love. And I will not light fuses without reflection. If I demolish things, I will plan for the asbestos cloud, place my explosives strategically, and prepare for the new building I will leave in their place. I will try to clear people out when I can first. I will attack structures and laws, not individual persons.

I will not blow **** up. I will choose love.

An Open Letter to a Grieving Student

Dear Student,

The timing of all this seems unfortunate. It feels like it has been no time at all since I posted about Self Advocacy and Mental Illness, but a minute since I published A Message to a Grieving Mother, and not so long since I shared His Absence, My Absence. I fear that I am becoming an expert, not academically, but emotionally, on the grief that stems from suicide, particularly the suicide of the young. This is not a specialty I would wish on anyone.

I hope that you have never experienced this grief before, and I hope you will not again. Having lost one of your best friends, you now belong to the club of people To Whom the Unimaginable is Now Imaginable. You told me that you didn't even know that she was sad, that you wish you could have helped her more. We often do not know that people are sad. I'm sure that you helped her more than you know. I'm sure, knowing you, that you loved her the best you could. Perhaps for you, she lasted one more day. Perhaps because of you, her load of pain was lightened, if even slightly.

I struggled when you told me this to know what to do. I always do. I always will. Even having been through it, I can't claim to know what you want or need. You probably don't know. I didn't want to offer you cheap platitudes or meaningless cliches. I wanted you to feel heard, to feel cared for, to know that you're not responsible, to understand that however you feel right now is okay. I only see you once a week, but from the fact that you come see me during lunch, I'm guessing that we have connected, and so my guess is that my reaction to this matters.

So what did I say? What did I do?

1. I hugged you.

It was a little awkward, but you seemed okay with hugging. In reality, all I had to offer you was my presence, and a hug is a tangible gift of that.

2. I asked you if you wanted to tell me about her.

Not everyone does, but a lot of people do. People who do not belong to the club of Unimaginableness might feel uncomfortable doing this - it can seem morbid or tense, or they worry that it will make you sadder. I know that nothing will make you sadder. I don't know if telling me about her helped, but even years after my brother's death, I find myself wanting to talk about him with strangers who don't know what to say or who are shocked that I can speak of him calmly.

3. I offered you a tissue.

Again, I have little to give you, but the dignity of wiping your eyes and blowing your nose is a small grace.

4. I stood next to you and was quiet.

This felt awkward to me. It feels awkward to most people. But in light of the fact that I knew I had nothing constructive to say, I offered you my presence.

5. I told you to drink hot beverages.

Sheldon Cooper would approve. Everyone grieves in their own way, and some people eat ice cream, or chocolate, or drink tea. I'm not sure that hot beverages actually helped after my brother died, but I was doing something, fighting to survive and not collapse so much that I never got out of the black hole I felt might swallow me up. Making tea, or coffee, or hot cocoa was a ritual I could perform as part of self-care. Self-care. You may be tempted to ignore your own feelings and try to take care of others you know whom you feel are suffering more than you. You may be tempted to try to carry on like this didn't happen. I hope you don't. But find your kind of self-care and pursue it relentlessly. Falling apart is okay. Collapsing into a sinkhole permanently isn't.

6. I talked about ways I help myself remember and feel close to my brother.

In my case, I listen to music he liked, post on his facebook wall, and eat his favorite chocolates around his birthday. I know that he will always be in my heart, and I think about him every day. You will too. Sometimes having a way to express that more tangibly - whatever that way is for you - helps.

I will not see you for two weeks because of Election Day. I hope when I see you again, you will have found ways of processing your grief. I hope that in the end, this strengthens your beautiful spirit and encourages you to love more sweetly and fiercely. These things don't happen for that. I'm not telling you that everything happens for a reason. But I hope that you will choose to love coming out of this, and not to withdraw.

You will be on my heart and in my prayers, sweetie.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Self Advocacy and Mental Illness

The title for this post has been languishing for months in the pile of things I wasn't sure I wanted to share. I've finally come to a point where I think I can no longer stay silent.

Mental illness is all around us. My family has certainly been impacted heavily - see my post about my brother's death almost three years ago from depression complications. I will avoid posting names or specifics of anything else because of the unfortunate stigma that mental illness still carries, and I will refrain from posting statistics because if you care you can look them up yourself. Recently, a student died of similar causes, and I wrote again about that. I have written little about my own experiences for fear of repercussions in work or social situations, but for those of you who know me personally or have been reading for a while, I'm sure you are unsurprised.

I avoid ranting. I will do my best here to avoid ranting. But after what I have seen, this is a serious issue and merits address.

The way that our healthcare system is set up is broken, in many areas, but particularly in the area of mental health. Mentally ill people are already suffering intensely, often with intellectual and emotional difficulties, some of which move into physical pain. Their ability to eat and sleep can be affected. It is unsurprising, then, that many consider suicide. Suicide is the outcome of an untreated mental illness in the same way that death is the outcome of most untreated cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.

Often, the solution for mental illness appears to be self advocacy. We say that people should have called someone, or made an appointment with a healthcare professional, or found some strength inside themselves, or, or, or . . . This ignores reality. Mentally ill people are at their lowest capacity to advocate for themselves. I am not suggesting that they should be involuntarily committed (I could write a whole post about psych holds and the conditions in psychiatric facilities), but expecting them to make appointments with strangers or call someone or argue with an insurance company or navigate a government bureaucracy to get community mental health or Medicaid or whatever is unreasonable. Or, if they have already done this but changed jobs, moved, changed insurance carriers, etc, expecting them to find a new provider and go through the whole process again is unreasonable. Expecting them to feel badly or reach out only on weekdays from 9-5 is unreasonable. Expecting them to continue seeking help after they are told that there is nothing wrong or are misdiagnosed is unreasonable.

Once people do get help, usually the first interventions are medications and talk therapy. Psychiatric medications are no joke - even widely used, generally safe ones like SSRIs can have pretty serious side effects, especially if the diagnosis is wrong. Many cause drowsiness or lack of cognitive function, which can for some people feel as debilitating as the original illness. These drugs can be extremely expensive, even with insurance, and will often be cocktailed in ways that make it difficult to understand how they are working and which ones are causing side effects. There really is not much research going on to develop completely new drugs that avoid these issues, given how much large pharmaceutical companies are already making off these drugs.

The other first line treatment is usually some form of psychotherapy. For this to work, the patient really needs to find a good fit, but referrals can take quite some time (in my case, I've been looking for a new one since late June and am having my first appointment tomorrow), and there is no guarantee of a good match the first time. With every new therapist, it is expected that the patient will run through a life story that often by that point contains a great deal of pain, reliving terrible experiences in the narration. This can become highly traumatic, again, for patients who have changed insurance coverage and can no longer afford to see a provider they liked. I seriously doubt whether describing everything bad that has ever happened over and over is a valid path to healing.

Treatments such as diet, exercise, lifestyle changes, sleep hygiene, osteopathic manipulation, lightbox therapy, and so forth are not taken seriously in terms of treating mental illness. Most insurance companies do not cover these treatments, perhaps because big pharma has convinced them not to, perhaps because there is little funding for this research, perhaps because compliance with them is lower. Whatever the reason, many patients will never be told that the vast majority of serotonin is produced in the gut and that dietary changes may help significantly. Many will never experience the body/mind release of pain and acceptance of care from a proper osteopathic balance ligamentous treatment. The objection is that these treatments are usually too expensive, but some psychiatric meds - an individual med, not the whole cocktail of two or three or four - can cost upwards of $600 a month and end up preventing people from working due to side effects. Noncompliance is also a serious issue with psych meds, often because of the cost or side effects.

I don't often make sweeping policy recommendations, but I will here.

1. Abolish insurance network restrictions, at least in the case of mental illness, so that once patients find providers that work for them, they can keep them. (While we're at it, let's have universal healthcare coverage that is not employer-based. This would address mental healthcare disparities in populations of color and the LGBT community.)

2. Require coverage of alternative mental illness treatment, not after everything else has failed, but to initially complement or even avoid pharmaceutical therapy.

3. Train healthcare professionals, educators, religious groups, etc to recognize signs of mental illness and take a systematic approach in concert with the medical establishment to support those suffering.

4. Require reasonable accommodation of those with mental illness and training for employers to understand what an individual illness might actually mean. Many mentally ill people avoid seeking help because they fear (often correctly) that if people find out they are ill, they will be perceived to be unstable, dangerous, or incompetent.

5. Fund research into alternative management of mental illness, using the therapies listed above and others. Currently, I cannot identify any clinical trials that use no pharmaceuticals (if you know of one, let me know), but I have actually found the best management to be in alternative therapies.

6. Allow homecare or hospice for patients experiencing significant suicidal ideation that allows for caregiver relief but keeps them in their homes, where they will be most comfortable and theoretically have access to their best support system (family, friends, pets, soothing activities, religious communities, normal food) - things that are generally not accessible in an institution. If people are suffering enough that they could kill themselves at any time, this is not significantly different from a terminal cancer diagnosis, and they should be allowed dignified treatment.

7. Create teams of healthcare providers with different specialties. Psychiatrists, family practitioners, dietitians, social workers, and others should be working together closely. Cancer patients often have collaborative relationships with multiple doctors who will meet together to discuss therapies. Given the wide range of symptoms and side effects experienced by mentally ill people, it doesn't make sense for a psychiatrist to prescribe something but then refuse to be involved in managing its side effects.

I am sure that I am missing some recommendations. I am sure that most of these recommendations will never be implemented, and that even if they were, mental illness would not completely disappear. I am also sure that if I remain silent, I will not be part of the solution. So I am advocating, on behalf of myself and my brother and my student. Maybe if you join me, we can do something.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

My Response to "All About that Bass"

A catchy new song claiming to be "body positive " has hit the airwaves. "All About that Bass" features lines about not wanting to be a silicon Barbie doll and not worrying about your size. And yet, I find it problematic.

I will not claim that skinny shaming is the same as fat shaming. It's not. But implying that skinny women are bitches just for that or that they are actually undesirable to men does nothing to encourage women to be comfortable in their own skin. 

When I hear this, I wonder if I am considered a skinny bitch. I have certainly never been overweight medically, but I am not a size zero. I like the lines of my body now and feel good in my favorite clothes, so I guess it doesn't matter. And it's not really my concern if men like "a little more booty to hold at night." I think my booty is fabulous, whether or not men want me. Whether or not women want me.

Is it possible that we could have a song about how beautiful a woman's laugh is or her sense of humor? Let me hear a song about how she supports her friends or rocks out or can present an awesome marketing pitch. I am so much more than my body, and I am not for you.

As I Fall Apart

I can't even tell you how many people have privately messaged me to thank me for posting the last entry on Sunday mornings. In fact, that post has already, in just a few days, received half as many views as the most popular post ever.

Some have commented on facebook. Some comments were helpful, and others continued to complicate the matter or feel a little like victim-blaming.

I will not use names to delineate these comments. I don't use names. I've talked with multiple people about why I obscure identities on this blog when I don't have to. I could call people out. I could try to shame them or make them look ignorant. I could do it. It might even feel good for a hot minute to try to hurt people the way that I have been hurt (by zombies - yep, that's passive voice there, to avoid assigning blame/agency). But I'm not really into flambeing things. I use a lot of gentle simmer - softly stirring, slowly heating, watching lazy bubbles of understanding rise up and trying to reduce this whole thing into something worthwhile, much as I did for a batch of ricotta earlier. Maybe it comes from being a teacher - after all, it's not possible to ever stop teaching once one truly starts. And it's not really about what anyone specific said - it's about the sentiment behind it and whether it came from the best place, or from a place of ignorance, or from some other place I want far away from me.

Many of you believe that I am strong. I don't know about that. I don't see it. Much as you thank me for my honesty, so many times I'm posting to keep from falling apart, or while falling apart. And I have kept things from you, readers, because I have had to. Someday, perhaps, when the context is different or my career is different, I will tell you things. I will post the entries that languish as drafts. I will be strong enough to be completely honest about things that I am not proud of, and things that could continue to hurt me. If you would like true honesty, if you want to ask real questions, I will reiterate that you should plan to come for dinner or hot beverages.

Some would say that setting this all on fire, dumping the haters, laying out complete honesty, would be a sign of strength and power. I have heard that I am defending people that don't merit defense. I have heard that if people are willing to say/write things, they should be willing to have them shared. Here's the thing: there is great power in having the ability to do those things. Once they are done, though, the power leaves too. The reality of blowing things up is that after a chemical change, short of alchemy, they don't go back to the way they were. And once that bomb drops, I'd be out of ammunition after starting a potential war.

So I will tell you this: I am falling apart right now. For a lot of reasons, some of which those of you who know me already know. Some of which you might not. In some cases, I may have brought this on myself - some would say that I have brought this all on myself. I don't know.

I read this quote on a blog sent by a friend recently:

"I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being." ~ Hafiz

I have been lonely and in darkness sometimes lately, as we all sometimes are. I am writing hoping that there will be a flicker here that will reach out to others who are lonely or crave illumination.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Uneasy Like Sunday Morning

Sunday mornings are supposed to be easy, at least according to Motown. Easy has been popping up in my shuffle quite a bit lately, and I've been reflecting on some of the lyrics.

The Commodores

Know it sounds funny
But I just can't stand the pain
Girl I'm leaving you tomorrow
Seems to me girl
You know I've done all I can
You see I begged, stole
And I borrowed

Ooh, that's why I'm easy
I'm easy like Sunday morning
That's why I'm easy
I'm easy like Sunday morning

Why in the world
Would anyboddy put chains on me?
I've paid my dues to make it
Everbody wants me to be
What they want me to be
I'm not happy when I try to fake it!


I wanna be high, so high
I wanna be free to know
The things I do are right
I wanna be free
Just me, babe!

Except as a member of the LGBT community attending a reasonably conservative church, Sunday morning is not easy. Every time I meet someone new, every time I introduce Rebecca as my wife, I worry. I worry that the person to whom I speak will judge me and/or the church I attend solely by this fact. I worry that I cannot be open about my shortcomings because I am already maxed out on the allowable number of failings. 
Being a unicorn is exhausting. Defending my marriage all the time, being a representative of the LGBT community as a full-time job is exhausting. Defending the church to nonbelievers or other members of the LGBT community is exhausting. I've done all I can, and yet the last two churches I've attended regularly have still not been willing to affirm my marriage or even truly defend me against members who felt that they should get an opinion on my marital status without even getting to know me.

Perhaps I should go church hunting again. Except I've done that. I'm tired. I wonder now if I was deceiving myself to ever believe that there was room for me - a woman, an intellectual, a lesbian, an activist, a writer, and a tender heart - in the church. Perhaps many will comment that I should not give up, that I should try one more church. I don't know if I can handle the pain. Recommending a church based on the fact that they are gay affirming reduces me to only one element of my identity, and, for that matter, hypersexualizes my marriage. Maybe I will reach a point where I am not too exhausted to continue fighting. But church should not be a fight. Worship is not supposed to be a battle. Fellowship should not be fraught with pitfalls and worries.

So no, I'm not easy like Sunday morning.