P!nk and Janelle Monáe Show Us How It’s Done

Ziya Tamesis:

I’m way more interested in what Dr. Maggie DiNome is doing to eradicate cancer than anyone’s dress size.

Originally posted on Dances With Fat:

NO Negative Body TalkThis week two stars gave us glowing examples of how to deal with the bullshit that many people think they deserve for doing their jobs well.  Let’s start withP!nk.  She went to a benefit to raise money for literally curing cancer.  As usual people were not able to keep their eye on the ball and had a go at her for her weight.  P!nk was not having it, tweeting:

I can see that some of you are concerned about me from your comments about my weight,” You’re referring to the pictures of me from last night’s cancer benefit that I attended to support my dear friend Dr. Maggie DiNome. She was given the Duke Award for her tireless efforts and stellar contributions to the eradication of cancer. But unfortunately, my weight seems much more important to some of you. While I admit that the dress didn’t photograph as…

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I finally did something I should have done at least 2 years ago: I contacted the disability resource center on campus regarding accommodations for my mood disorder. It feels like signing my own death sentence, or at the very least admitting defeat. I would never have done it, but I need an extension to complete my degree (I “should” be graduating this semester) and my academic adviser suggested this as my first step.

disability form

part of the registration form requesting information about the type of disability, problems it causes in an academic setting, previous and currently-requested accommodations

I’ve been putting the whole thing off because of internalized stigma around mental illness, and possibly also some ableism. Saying I have a disability – rather than “I’m going through a rough time” – marks me as different, deficient, other. Possibly for life.

My hope for the future has relied heavily upon the belief that the difficulties I’ve been facing (my whole life) are temporary – “a minor setback” – and soon I will “recover” and have a “normal” life. Ironically, I was able to take this step because I’ve been feeling better: with more hope, positive self-esteem, determination, energy… but the obstacles to functioning in society are still real. I keep saying I just need things to settle down a bit so I can get my feet under me, but experience says they never will. (And to be honest, I’m not sure I’d want them to. For things to settle down as much as it seems I need, life would be boring.)

Life is chaotic. Our society isn’t built for people like me. (It actively and persistently oppresses us.) I can learn, grow, adapt, take meds, reach out for support, request accommodations… I recently learned about MTHFR mutations and suspect they may be a contributing factor; I plan to talk to the APN about genetic testing and supplements that might be helpful, in hopes we can get my insurance to cover them. But even with that: much if not most of the food that is available to me has been “fortified” with folic acid, the very substance that may be interfering with my body’s functioning.

My point is, social, institutional, economic, and other norms need to change before marginalized groups and individuals will be able to live “normal” lives.

If that’s what we even want. “Normal” as defined by whom? I don’t want to “be productive” and “contribute to the economy.” I want to thrive. I want to express myself creatively, share joy with others, feel safe and whole and loved…

One of the things that makes requesting disability accommodations at school so painful is that academic excellence used to be a major strength – possibly the major strength – I relied on to survive. I wasn’t being challenged on my level in elementary and middle school, so all I really had were my grades. They were my proof that I was worthy of existing. They provided some stability in a chaotic home. Even as I began to be challenged in high school and undergrad and developed a love of learning, my grades were a primary source of self-confidence and pride. Academic excellence was – and to some extent still is – an important part of my identity. Too bad it doesn’t actually mean all that much in the real world.

A woman smiles broadly while holding up a letter.

Maria was very happy to receive an A for the term!

Now my classes aren’t really about learning information and answering questions on a test or writing papers. I can do those things – when I manage to concentrate, which is becoming quite difficult. They’re about practical skills, social skills, being and doing and interacting – often on a deeply personal level. They’ve been churning up the painful realities of my life – that’s what forced me into therapy. I can’t just put my blinders on and memorize facts anymore, I have to look in the mirror, internalize things, face my worst fears, and guide others through them.

I have to juggle academic responsibilities with everyday life, which has become a lot more complex since I graduated college. There’s always something. Getting Fox to and from work every day. Remembering to take antibiotics that are making me sick following periodontal surgery. A problem with our plumbing that’s got Mom stressed out. Everyday chores… I never got the hang of them. And for some crazy reason I’ve decided that now is a good time to adopt new pet rats…

from reelmomevents.com

from reelmomevents.com

The worst part is, I have to prove that there’s something wrong with me. The head of the disability resource center replied to my email: she won’t even schedule an appointment to talk to me until she receives documentation of my difficulties. The guidelines for said documentation are quite intimidating:

  • a complete DSM-IV diagnosis (which Wakana actively avoids and psychiatric professionals have disagreed on)
  • description of my specific symptoms (I could write that)
  • my current treatment
  • “identification of the substantial limitation on a major life activity presented by the disability” and how that applies to academics
  • recommendation of specific accommodations that are supported by the diagnostic information
  • all this information has to be on official letterhead that includes the mental health professional’s credentials and contact information

I think Wakana and I could come up with something useful for most of those items, but we’ve drawn a blank when trying to come up with specific accommodations relevant to an academic setting that would actually help me. (I doubt “not having to demonstrate the skills I’m supposed to have been developing over the course of the semester” is an option.) That’s part of why I wanted to talk to the head of the disability resource center: to explain my situation and learn what requests might be considered relevant and reasonable. (e.g. What accommodations might reduce the social anxiety I experience around having to demonstrate my skills?) There’s information on the website, but it’s not really relevant to my situation.

It also irks me that throughout the site, “it is the student’s responsibility to” fight tooth and nail for these accommodations. I’m thinking perhaps the people who came up with these policies do not have disabilities – psychiatric or otherwise. At the time(s) when I would have benefited the most from having a documented disability and certified requests for accommodations, I was in no condition to be acquiring such documentation and meeting with indifferent strangers. (One might argue I was in no condition to be taking classes, but that perspective might exclude me from higher education indefinitely. Isn’t that what the disabilities resource center is supposed to help avoid?)

Reaching out for help with psychiatric issues isn’t easy. People say “go get help” like it’s the easiest, most obvious thing in the world. It’s not. It’s counter-cultural. It’s acknowledging a reality most people don’t want to accept: that we’re vulnerable and have fears and doubts and feel pain … That dedication and hard work (and good grades) don’t provide happiness, wellness, or financial stability. People don’t want to consider the possibility that maybe the dominant Western cultural expectations aren’t realistic and may even be harmful. They don’t want to believe that we’re honestly having a problem; they tell us we’re being lazy.

In a way applying for disability accommodations is admitting defeat, it’s saying: “I find your game too difficult, so I need you to change the rules for me, specifically, because I’m less capable than everyone else.”

Except that clearly it’s not everyone else.

And when we do reach out for help, the response is far from welcoming and supportive. We’re put on waiting lists, required to fill out mountains of paperwork, interrogated, told we can schedule an appointment after providing documentation, etc. It fuels the cognitive distortions that are common in depression, especially “I don’t matter.” and “No one cares about me.” It makes following through on the initial request for help very difficult.

Almost as though the very people who are supposed to be helping us don’t want to.

How Does One Actually Recover From Life’s Daily B__S___?

Ziya Tamesis:

an excellent article that touches on some of the reasons why I’m uncomfortable with the term “recovery” when applied to mental illness

Originally posted on Pride in Madness:

Guest Blogger!

The following is an edited version of an essay written by the author for a class on critical mental health. This piece speaks to some of concerns I have with using recovery language so please enjoy and discuss respectfully in the comments!

How Does One Actually Recover From Life’s Daily B__S___?

By: Cathy Huynh

During a guest lecture in class, Tania Jivrag, a Madvocate, read one of her slides: “Recovery – ‘to be myself again’…but what are we in the meantime if not ourselves? Is a person who is not happy, not motivated, not friendly, angry, upset, suicidal, not themselves? Are we only ourselves when we serve the agenda of ‘normal’” (Bellows, Jivrag & Pasini, 2015)? The class fell silent, it felt as though she took a hammer and hit the nail on our heads.

But first, what is Sanism in regards to recovery? Sanism when we ask people dealing with…

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Postpartum Depression- Jessie Heninger

Originally posted on lily pups life:

 IMG_1404 (1)

This is a guest post written for us by Jessie Heninger. I’d like to thank Jessie for her patience in me getting this posted in the middle of this crazy writing class! I know you’ll enjoy:

 I’ve always been a healthy, happy person. Except for some dramatic years in middle school you could say I was “emotionally stable”. Not to say that there was never sadness, or anger or hurt in my life. Of course there was but I was equipped to handle it. I grew up in a loving supportive home, I was married to a wonderful man, I had a degree in psychology and was currently involved in ministry…

Then we were asked to leave our job. My parents moved across the country taking my sisters with them, and I was pregnant with our first child, a girl. Through it all I felt a calm and peace I…

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I had my long-awaited periodontal treatment yesterday! It was surprisingly straightforward: she accessed the inside of my gums, flushed the area with water, did the bone grafting, and stitched me up. I estimate the whole thing took maybe 45 minutes. The worst part was getting the local anesthesia.

I was very proud of myself. The radio was on when we were first setting up; it sounded to me like people were yelling at each other. I found it was amplifying the anxiety I already felt about having the procedure and anticipated feeling while people were working in my mouth. So, I requested that it be turned off “to help me manage my anxiety.”

(I think my mom was the one who actually got the staff to comply with my request – not the doctor. I don’t think she would have done that if I hadn’t said something. I’m grateful that she advocated for me.)

As soon as the radio was turned off, I instantly relaxed. It was like I had been naked under a thick, heavy blanket made of an abrasive material that covered my whole body and shrouded me in darkness. When the shouting (on the radio) ended, it was like someone had removed the blanket; I was suddenly wearing comfortable clothing in a room with just the right amount of light. I could breathe easier – literally. It was amazing.

I tensed up to varying degrees throughout the procedure, but was reassured when the periodontist checked in and told me what she was doing. The worst was when she needed to give me an extra shot of painkillers. There was adrenaline in the mixture and it made my heart start racing. I managed to communicate my distress; she told me to breathe deeply, counting to five, and exhale slowly. That made the rest of the procedure much easier to endure – even when my sensitivity returned before she was done with the stitches. (I decided I’d rather endure that discomfort than the pain of another needle.)

I was irritable and out of sorts afterward and actually told my mother I needed her to stop talking to me about stressful things. I took the medications they’d prescribed and relaxed for a couple hours.

And then I went to class. Not only did I exist in class, but I was fully present. I took notes and contributed to class discussion. I did my best to support a group member for whom the material hit close to home and disclosed that I am actively struggling with depression. My group mates acted like it was no big deal; I’m simultaneously relieved that this revelation probably won’t impact their acceptance of me… and annoyed that I didn’t get more attention! But perhaps they handled it in the way that’s best for everyone involved. I need to be just another person in this big scary world, not someone who’s considered different, deficient, “other.”

I even role-played a member of the most difficult population for me to face: cancer survivors. I’m very fortunate in that I’ve never had cancer myself, but it has had devastating effects on my family – and, as a result, my mental health. I have mixed feelings about survivors: of course I wish them well and support them in their efforts to overcome a horrible illness – especially the social pressure they face to “stay positive” during an extremely stressful time. I also… experience them as a painful reminder of what – who – I’ve lost. Some of my most painful memories.

I consciously and very actively set up mental blocks to protect myself emotionally. (e.g. “I have no idea what cancer survivors are going through.”) The blocks prevented me from getting – and staying – in character, but it was what I needed at the time. I saw a threat, made a conscious decision, established and maintained a boundary. Yet I was able to talk about it with my group mates, remain present with them, contribute to their learning (I hope), and learn quite a bit in the process.

The periodontist said the prognosis for my tooth is poor due to the location of the bone loss (between the roots).

I say eff that! I want to keep this tooth, so I will! I’m going to make a full recovery.

Sims 3 Legacy – The Next Generation

It probably comes as no surprise that the founder for my Sims 3 Legacy Challenge, Aurora Bonaventura, was indeed able to bring in the second generation of her matriarchal bloodline. One of her love interests randomly stopped by one evening after she’d graduated from University and resumed her culinary career. It seemed the perfect opportunity to start her family…

Aurora feeds her baby in the living room. Going clockwise from 9 o'clock, one can see the kitchen, bathroom, children's bedroom, and master bedroom around her.

Aurora feeds her baby in the living room. Going clockwise from 9 o’clock, one can see the kitchen, bathroom, children’s bedroom, and master bedroom around her.

She gave birth to a baby girl near the end of summer. Then her love interest visited again; she gave birth to a baby boy in early winter. Raising the two children on her own proved to be quite the challenge. It didn’t leave her any time or energy to work on other things.

A genogram (family tree) depicting Aurora (upper right) and her children: Brianna (lower left) and Brandon (lower right). Their father's family is depicted in the upper left.

A genogram (family tree) depicting Aurora (upper right) and her children: Brianna (lower left) and Brandon (lower right). Their father’s family is depicted in the upper left.

Family photo: Brianna sits in the foreground, while Aurora holds Brandon (as a toddler) in the background.

Family photo: Brianna sits in the foreground, while Aurora holds Brandon (as a toddler) in the background.

Aurora climbed her career ladder until she reached her lifetime goal of becoming a celebrated 5-star chef, then retired. She’s written 2 books so far: an autobiography and a guide to improving upon recipes.

The kids excelled in school, successfully juggling academics and part-time jobs (as teenagers). The girl, Brianna, developed a passion for painting and writing. The boy, Brandon, dedicated much of his time to improving his chess strategy.

I played until Brianna became a young adult and graduated high school.

Aurora (left), Brianna (center), and Brandon (right) take a celebratory photo soon after Brianna's graduation from high school

Aurora (left), Brianna (center), and Brandon (right) take a celebratory photo soon after Brianna’s graduation from high school

Aurora died of old age a day or two later… except that the cat (whom she had adopted shortly before having Brianna) begged the Grim Reaper to let her live. (Autonomously: I was controlling one of the kids.) The cat’s plea was successful!

Aurora is still alive… for now…

My Past

content note: language (to describe ease of using skills) that is based on my experiences as an able-bodied individual

I have a turbulent relationship with my past. I have longed for it: for long-gone friendships, fond childhood memories, deceased loved ones, “simpler times.” I have shunned it, disconnecting myself from identities and ways of being I felt did not serve me well, and embracing the anonymity of a new school. I have been taunted by it in dreams where that person I miss so much is alive again – but for some reason I never get around to interacting with them directly in a meaningful way, and I wake up feeling empty. I have been tortured by internalized abuse and actions I regret. I have blamed my past for my current problems. I have hated it and run from it, and yet I can’t stop looking back.

Yesterday was the first time I truly and consciously thought of my past as a tool. Fox’s dad was telling me about a time he was surprised by his ability to do something he found challenging, but later realized that he’d managed something similar over 30 years ago! It was a skill set he had already developed, that was just waiting to be used. “Like riding a bike,” as the saying goes: once one learns to ride a bike, one can do it again at any time (assuming no change in physical abilities, e.g. from an injury). It gave him confidence for a new direction he wants to take his life.

I connected his story to my ability to lead a group music therapy experience with my classmates on Wednesday, despite feeling overwhelmed, emotionally exhausted, and inadequate. They were role-playing children; I used a familiar children’s song to facilitate group interaction. Once I’d received enough support from them that I was able to focus on the task at hand, my past experiences kicked in. Years of playing guitar guided my fingers between two familiar chords, even though I hadn’t so much as looked at my guitar in months. My brief experience of working in a daycare for young children (seven years ago) jumped back into the here-and-now: I was singing the same song, having the same fun, and using the same strategies to keep the group from descending into utter chaos. This was augmented by related experiences in some of my music therapy fieldwork (five years ago).

Even the new suggestions I got to try out in the moment were supported by what I’ve learned through past experiences and reading. I was able to consciously focus on them and be more intentional in my overall approach because so much was happening automatically. All I needed to do was allow myself to be fully in the moment, past and present working together.

I see it in other areas of my life, too. Being in my thirties is great because I clearly remember things that happened ten, fifteen, occasionally even twenty years ago. I’ve been driving for well over a decade; it’s become as easy and natural as walking. I’ve been actively and voluntarily developing my music skills for over twenty years now: singing in choirs, studying instruments, becoming fluent in music theory, composing and improvising. Reading and writing and looking up information… forget about it. They’re all active skills I’ve nurtured for so long, they’re just part of my nature.

I can use them, trust them, develop them further. Too often I fear going into new situations alone, like I’m completely unprepared and I’ll fall apart as soon as things become unpredictable. But I’m never alone. I have all these years of experience to guide me.