Why I’m Not More Politically Engaged, Or Anxiety: A Mental Health Snapshot

I’ve been working a lot on myself lately, trying to trace and tackle the roots of my anxiety and prune the log-like branches of my oversized guilt. So, here’s me, loving my limitations through reaching out, speaking truth, and making something (even if it’s just words on a screen).

The Washington state Democratic caucus is this morning, and as much as I’d prefer a Party Candidate Sanders, I’m not going. Even if I wasn’t having the worst menstrual symptoms I’ve had in years, things out there are getting heated in a way that make my already lukewarm investment in electoral politics turn into a cold, wet anxiety. The thought of putting on a public face, getting myself downtown, and standing in a crowd fully connects the circuitry that switches on the heat-lamp-like ray of a tension headache that spreads from my jaw to temple as it slowly warms.

I have always had a difficult time connecting to society. A lack of early boundaries bloomed into an incomprehension of them. I too easily loose my sense of self in large crowds, which have almost always made me feel infinitely alone. I don’t know if I’ll ever understand what other people get out of crowds, but it’s not from a lack of trying. My best guess is that other people either don’t loose their sense of self, or they do but then enjoy being filled by the group that surrounds them. If you have any insights, I’d appreciate if you would take the time to share them.

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Reminders 

I had a pretty terrible day. I found out that the manager at the job I left actually had been upset with me since I put in my notice. I had been telling myself that she really wasn’t being passive-aggressive, and that it was all in my head. But she was and it wasn’t. I’m still having a difficult time accepting what happened, but I will. I’ll get over it, and I’ve leaned many things first-hand that will do me well in the future. 

One of the things I’ve learned over and over is that my intuitions have merit–which is kind of like saying I have merit. I honestly don’t know what it’s like to not constantly doubt myself and I don’t know what I would do with the excess of energy I would have if I no longer needed to build up my confidence on an at least daily basis. Navigating society exhausts me. I don’t tend to fit in, and I don’t like how I feel when I’m pretending to be someone I’m not. As a result, I’ve gotten really okay with being on my own. I like to think I’ve also gotten pretty good at spotting people who will be true friends, which had the interesting dual effect of being able to spot people who want things from me I’m not willing to give. But just because I’m not willing to give up parts of myself doesn’t keep others from asking, either on purpose or by carelessness.

So I build up my resilience, my patience, and my strength. I remind myself that I always have the choice to act with grace and dignity. I lean heavily on the people who know me when I need them, and hope to be able to lift them up when I think they need me. And I am thankful for this life.

A Lesson in Faith

Now that I put in my notice, it’s as if my internal zoo gates have been flung open and all the unruly, exotic beasts in me are running roughshod through my mind. Everything I needed to pen in so I could survive is coming out. At the same time there are moments where I miss Dad so acutely I can’t breathe. What an interesting time.

This weekend was a hand-picked gift, wrapped in the vibrant colors of changing foiliage in the Pacific Northwest and perfumed with the crisp scent of autumn in the air. I felt something more than lucky–I felt as if I was being rewarded for having faith. 

I recognize how silly I may sound when I say the inclination to utterly trust whatever happens began on Friday evening when I found the perfect pair of nude pumps and a non-wrinkle, white blouse both for 70% off, but that’s just how it went. On Saturday C & I headed to Issaquah for a light hike, but instead found ourselves at the Issaquah Salmon Days Festival. In a previous life I would have snootily turned my nose up at almost any festival, but here I was, so I doubled down on my determination to have faith. I felt akin to the salmon as we walked around during peak hours, but was incredibly rewarded when we got to the hatchery. I felt a bit like my granddad, who enjoyed learning about and watching all kinds of animals. And it was so tenderly bittersweet to stand on a bridge overlooking the salmon that were left struggling upstream as the leaves slowly fell from the surrounding trees. Then, on Sunday C & I found a church. 

Before the weekend started I had decided that we should take up our search for a church again. I had previously solicited some suggestions for a church to attend, and after perusing some websites I decided to start at the top of a short list and work my way down. I suspected that the first recommendation could easily be the end of our search, and so it was. Near the end of the service I felt the sorrow of my loss so swiftly and purely that the only thing I could do was live it. And then it passed.

Now the weekend is done, and I’m back trying to process my feelings as I work through the mundane. But I am a different person. I continue to be a different person since the night Dad died. And I am grateful for this first-hand knowledge of the fruits of faith.

Charity 

While I was visiting the family, I had 10-15 inches of my hair cut off.


Voilà!


Just like that, it was gone.

I had one person ask me if I was crying yet while it was being cut off, and others have expressed surprise about how short I went (I’ll include a picture at the end). After growing my hair for five years it was a relief to be rid of it. I have told very few people in my daily life that I donated it to Locks of Love, because that seems like the type of thing you say to people who are basically strangers in order to gain their attention, and I don’t want that kind of attention. Or, perhaps more truthfully, I want to minimize the chance that anyone will say what only one person has said so far: “How nice of you.”

Because I am socially adept enough I understand that these words are somehow supposed to make me feel good about myself. However, as a transracial adoptee who grew up hearing about how grateful I should be to my parents for adopting me, these words bring up an immediate gag reflex. I don’t understand what’s so nice.

Is it nice that I didn’t have the hairstyle I wanted for a couple years so that a child I’ll never meet may feel slightly less awful about the probably harsh reality of their day-to-day?

Or is the nice part that I donated my hair instead of tossing it in the trash?

Perhaps the nice thing is that who I am doesn’t appear to be combative to differential beauty standards that fetishize women’s hair and are so invasive that they effect every member of society?

I feel like what that one person was saying when she blanketed me in the banality of niceness for this minuscule charitable act is the same as what people mean when they tell me all about how great my parents are for adopting me. “It surprises me that there are people who care about other people who may look and be completely different and whom they may never meet.” To me, that is the translation of the combination of those types of casual words with that particular soft and non-committal tone.

Now, I say what follows with love and respect, both of which call for truth. As someone who lives on the line of this artificial boundary–who has been told that immutable facts make her the object and actor of charity–let me tell you that I appreciate the intentions, but that appreciation doesn’t negate how tired I get from parsing intentions from words so that the speaker had a smooth interaction. This is work, and it wears me out. I don’t think less of people who say these things, I just think it would be so sweet to live in a world where what we see as charity becomes commonplace because everyone envisions caring about all the people, regardless of how much or how little those people acted or looked like them.
As promised, here’s the haircut:

Lost & Found

My grief split open like an overripe peach and swallowed me whole. For a while I flailed about in the pulpy, suffocating mess, but then I gave in. I cried and cried, and my tears made a layer of buoyant saline until I finally floated to the top of all of my feelings. The swelling around my eyes receded, and gradually I found that I could look up and see that things were not yet dire. We, the survivors of my granddad’s death, are all still here and I have been given the great and important gift that is the knowledge that my love for my family is fierce and bottomless.

When I was in high school and just after, I thought that I could manufacture a family that could replace the one I was so baffled by. I was convinced that I didn’t belong. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I began to realize how woven in to my family I am. He said that meeting each member of my family was like finding a new puzzle piece that made up me. How reassuring to hear after years and years of thinking of myself as an alien.

And so, after the diagnosis of my dad and after the death of my granddad, I fell apart when I heard that my uncle was suddenly, nebulously unwell. I felt as if I had just met these people I took for granted for so long and now they were disappearing. Dramatic, I know, but admitting that my feelings were both selfish and melodramatic did not actually do anything to decrease them.

But I didn’t start writing this to rhapsodize about my family, or to outline all the things that have happened to them that make me sad. No, I started writing this because a series of things has happened that have enraged me. It’s possible that I would not have felt so strongly if the background of my life had been different and less grief-stricken, but that is not life.

Since we moved back, I have realized how terribly selfish people who say they care about me can be. I quickly realized that one person I reconnected with, while mildly interesting over text message, would not actually speak to me when in person no matter how much I prompted. Additionally, she regularly sent me whining texts asking me why I didn’t want to see her anymore when she flat out told me that I would need to plan everything every time we got together because she was “not that kind of person.” These texts did not acknowledge the various times I invited her out and she said no. For some reason, she also expected to not have to pay for her drinks, and that I would drive 45 minutes to pick her up. All the awfulness of the tail end of a short-term romantic relationship without any of the benefits…who wouldn’t be interested in that?

However, that pales in comparison to another person I had been hanging out with on and off. Each time I saw him, his comments became more suggestive, and I blamed myself. I told myself that I needed to enforce my boundaries more forcefully, that I was reading too much into his comments, that he must be a good person because he’s religious, that he was just an affectionate guy. You name a rape myth, and I can tell you how I applied and internalized it just to keep this guy as a friend.

The last time I saw him was a couple days ago. I told him that I was exhausted from work and sad about everything going on with my family. His response? “By the end of the night maybe you’ll say something happy.” I get that other people’s grief can result in people saying stupid things, but I thought that this was a person who cared about me. Even worse, my immediate reaction was to think that he was right and that I ought to try to be nice to be around. As the night wore on, I realized that he didn’t seem to be listening to anything I said. He ignored me when I repeatedly told him I was tired, and we ended up walking around for hours. I also became aware of all the different ways he tried to touch me, how often he commented on my appearance, how he told me what he thought I should wear, that he tried to modulate how quickly I ate. He also, out of the blue, asked me sexually explicit questions about what my husband and I do, and I had to tell him twice that that is not something either of us was going to talk about.

 

Since that night, I gave in to my grief and came out the other side slightly more whole. I’ve also had time to reflect on why it is I keep allowing people into my life who see something in me and want to possess it as some kind of status symbol. There has to be some middle ground between being on high alert for any acts or words that might be informed by matrices of inequality and domination, and being subjected to someone who I thought actually valued me as a person joke about how he imagines me whipping him (honestly, I am now certain that was not a joke).

 

I went through a phase in college where the only t-shirts I wore were political t-shirts. When we moved back, I retired them, but some have slowly found their way back into rotation. It seems weak to me to end this piece on a cliché, but I don’t care how I seem anymore. I know that I’m strong.

 

So here is a pronouncement from the trenches:

Patriarchy is not dead. It is alive and kicking and taking on ever more covert and insidious forms. It is trying to worm its way into your life in the form of everyday minutia, in the form of entertainment, or under the guise of someone you don’t really know who only pretends to care. All of us need to identify it and fight it.

 

And here is a pronouncement from my current favorite t-shirt:

“Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist. Keep loving. Keep fighting.”

 

Stay safe, dear reader. Wrap yourself in the warmth and protection of the love of the people who know you best. No one is getting out of this life alive, and while we are all each other’s responsibility, we also need to claim responsibility for ourselves.

And for the love of all things good, be kind.

“Where Do We Go From Here???”

I began this blog because I could not picture a time in my life that would not revolve around race, class, gender, and other aspects of identity politics. But that’s not the whole story. I also began this project because I was acutely, painfully lonely. I had moved to finish my bachelor’s degree, and I found myself surrounded by people I had very little in common with. On a certain level, this was to be expected—I have always been strange, and have always had difficulty relating to most people. However, what I found was worlds away from what I thought was possible.

I was prolific when I was 14. I cranked out drawings, charcoal sketches, poems, narratives, several awful attempts at detective novels, and several even more awful and embarrassing attempts at fan fiction. I carved out little worlds for myself that I could hide in whenever my own life became too boring or too difficult or too sad.

That has been the role of this blog.

I was so lonely and sad to discover myself in a strange environment that felt vaguely hostile, and that pain spilled over until I shaped the excess into this.

 

I think about this little space, and the immediate question is: Now what?

See, my life has fundamentally changed. After I graduated, my spouse and I packed up and moved back. It wasn’t easy, but the change in setting has made it easier. Like it or not, this place is the closest we’ve ever had to a home. The biggest difference moving away had for me was that I stopped feeling safe. I stopped being able to rely on anyone else whether it was for a helping hand or a simple nod of acknowledgement. At home I knew what to expect, and I had been raised with the belief that everyone is important. Away from home I realized how much I had taken for granted.

Truthfully, my life no longer revolves around identity politics and social justice. Rather, I feel that I have consumed and will continue to consume these issues. They, in turn, feed me, becoming a part of my bloodstream and body. The difference between then and now being that identity politics and social justice are no longer the be-all and end-all they used to be for me.

This brings me back to the question I have been asking myself for months: Now, what is this blog? Do I throw caution to the wind and upload a picture of my beach-ball-like face and loudly proclaim that this is mine!? Or do I simply shuffle through, hoping that if I do have regular readers they are the type to put up with sporadic posts riddled with my attempts to maintain anonymity? Moreover, dear reader, I can’t figure out what the hell you might be getting out of this.

 

While I was Away, I thought I was forming myself. To an extent, I was, but to a much larger extent, I was getting lost. After we moved back I got stuck. I became hypercritical of myself. I painstaking fashioned a bow and arrows, which I used to shoot down all of my dreams. I roamed my psyche collecting their near lifeless bodies to burn on altars of news stories and editorials about Supreme Court rulings and immigration reform. I thought that this would appease whatever haunted me day and night with whispers that nothing I would do would ever be enough.

I was snapped back to reality and into embracing my subjectivity by a number of different factors, but the catalyst was human interaction in the form of an extremely encouraging friend, and, very oddly, taking a job in retail. Even though I have a long track record of abhorring retail, I recently took a customer service job that I genuinely enjoy. The people I work with are helpful and kind, and the customers we serve are mostly patient and good-spirited. The company itself makes an effort to be ethical, and I enjoy working in an atmosphere in which friendliness is encouraged. All that coupled with the fact that I have begun reaching out to people and that I no longer work to reject affection means that by and large, I am no longer quite so lonely.

I don’t know what that means for this blog. That’s part of why the book reviews have surfaced—I still love this space, I just no longer know what to do with it.

Stick with me, dear reader, and earn my gratitude as we see where we will go. Or, jump ship, and I won’t love you any less. This is an exciting and unknowable time. It is the start of a new adventure.

Taking Responsibility

We were having so many problems for so long, I still don’t think people understand how all encompassing it was. His grandmother says, “I called and invited you over,” but it’s the way she says it and I wish I could say to her, “I just couldn’t. He was so broken that I became broken and I look at you with all of your expectations and it takes all I have to stay in this room.” But instead I smile and turn to his father who feels more like my father every year, and I think of his mother and the ways I’m trying to repair what I’ve damaged and I begin to feel like I’m on solid ground. I love his family because I try to love everyone, but I love his brothers and his grandmother because I love him and because I love his parents.

That is what I never understood: love is a choice.

And when I’m talking to my own mom, relieved to be hearing her familiar voice, she says, “Isn’t it nice to be around family during the holidays?” I tell her that it makes me miss our side of the family, but I see our side of the family in his more and more, although I’m still not sure if this sharpens or eases the ache of feeling so far from people who express love in exactly the ways I was trained to receive.

 

I talk about college to his middle brother, who is still an undergrad, and I just feel exhausted. I’m tired of explaining my interests. I’m tired of wondering if my jargon is isolating. I am insurmountably fatigued of people telling me not to give up on my dreams, as if the entirety of my dreams is held in writing academic papers and teaching undergraduates about rape as a product of gender inequality. There is some part of me that appreciates the encouragement, but I am beginning to read it as an inability to listen.

You see, dear reader, I have done the unthinkable. I have obtained a job.

After 40 hours of training and First Aid and CPR certification, I am to emerge, transformed by an information cocoon, into a residential counselor at a group home for at-risk youth. I am told that I will primarily be serving children placed outside of their homes because of neglect or sexual abuse. The day of my interview I walked into the office of this non-profit and it was so familiar it felt like a second home. My hours are to be similar to my partner’s, and we are to be poor in materialistic wealth, but already I feel enriched.

The therapist my partner has been seeing has somehow gotten through to him. I have not met her, but I sense that she knows him like I know him and this goes a long way in easing my worries. And, with less worry I am free to cook and bake and clean and read. These actions are satisfying and sustaining in a way that writing papers never was.

 

Truthfully, I don’t miss academia. I felt a little displaced after I was graduated because it was such a large part of my identity, but it forced me to make my self. Gender is a social construct. Race is a social construct. Sexuality is a social construct. Our society is intellectually manufactured, but removed from academia I feel these beliefs deep inside me in a way I didn’t when I felt as if I had to constantly justify and “prove” them. I don’t miss having a long-term plan, which nearly everyone is academia has. I enjoy living in each day and I am finding that outside of the academy my secret self has begun to bleed into my external self.

I don’t care anymore about impacting the academy with my theories. When I was still in my undergraduate studies, I thought scornfully of social workers, believing that they were too focused on the micro to make any lasting impact. Since leaving university I’ve realized that without foot soldiers there is no war.

And whose life is it if I give it up to the judgments of others?

Now I know that this life is mine. Owning my life has instilled a more clear sense of strength and purpose than receiving my degree (which was rather anticlimactic) ever did.

 

I wish you happy holidays, dear reader. I wish you a sense of peace and sense of purpose, and wish that those feelings and that knowledge stay with you year-round.