Who Decides What Is Funny?

People seem to like making reference to mental illness, whether it’s for humour or to support their political arguments. When they do, it often is not in the context of trying to help people with mental illness access quality care, experience less stigma, gain the social & financial supports we need, or to help our families. When they do call for better access to care, it is often to solve another problem that would be better addressed by all people examining their privilege, biases, enacting sensible policies, and standing up to those who perpetuate the problems. I find it rather frustrating.

I recently saw a joke implying that people who think X have a mental illness – and yes, it explicitly used the phrase “mental illness” within the context of a doctor-patient interaction. I asked the person to take it down, said it’s not funny, and explained why. In response: one person questioned my reasoning abilities, one person told me to “find something better to do,” one person argued with me about why it is funny and said if I’m that sensitive I shouldn’t hang out online. And one person stood up for me, supporting and adding to my argument. I’m so grateful for that last person, and I wish more people would have a similar response.

Different people find different things funny. Maybe some of the people who find jokes like that funny have mental illnesses/mental health issues – who am I to judge?

The problem is that people use the terms “mental illness,” “crazy,” “have issues,” “something wrong with their head,” etc. to cast judgment on others who do or think things that are perceived as inappropriate, unacceptable, or downright wrong. I’m not comfortable with that; I think jokes or serious statements that reference mental illness to judge others contribute to the stigma people with mental illness face.

Maybe there are times when a person doesn’t mean it that way and I’m not helping by assuming they do and calling them out on it. Maybe I need to take a step back. I’ll give folks that. I’ll try to resist the temptation to respond in the moment, and instead formulate a response (or choose not to respond) after I’ve cooled down a bit.

But I think, if anyone has the right to determine whether a reference to mental illness is appropriate or funny, it’s the person with a clinical diagnosis – followed by caregivers and close family members of someone with a clinical diagnosis, followed by mental health professionals. We generally give that kind of deference to people with other health issues and members of marginalized groups – in some cases to the point of removing words or phrases from our vocabulary. I think that’s appropriate and necessary. I think people with mental illness (and members of other marginalized groups, particularly people with disabilities) should be given the same respect.

Different people find different things funny. Something that offends me might make another person with my diagnosis literally roll on the floor laughing. That person has every right to disagree with me. For that matter, people with no personal experience of mental illness (if such people exist) have every right to disagree with me.

But I think we can (or should) agree that no one has the right to attack or insult me for calling a frivolous reference to a serious health issue that has threatened my life and the lives of people I love inappropriate. If I say “I have a mental illness and I don’t think this is funny; please take it down,” people should take my request seriously. Even if they disagree with me, even if they choose not to take it down, their response should convey respect for the fact that I too am a person who deserves to be treated with dignity. Is it really so much to ask?

Still Abusive

TW: full text of a conversation with my mother, in which her responses are abusive (gaslighting)

It started with an online swimsuit sale. I’m not sure why my mother decided I need a new swimsuit – I think the ones I have are fine – but she “strongly encouraged” me to take advantage of the sale… and have her buy the items for me so she can get “points” (credit card reward program?). I haven’t completely overwritten my programming, so I agreed to do the online shopping in her apartment, even though I knew I should have known better.

Clothes shopping has always been triggering for me, and swimsuit shopping is the worst. I’ve been working hard to love my body the way it is, but the internalized fatphobia and body size-related insecurity that tortured me my whole life springs up anew when I simply cannot find clothing in my size.

And then there’s the whole being non-binary thing. At least with everyday clothes it’s possible to do some gender-bending: no one needs to know I wear “men’s” boxer-briefs and an undershirt instead of a bra. T-shirts are considered unisex. Socks and shoes – who cares?! So far I haven’t ventured into trying to find “men’s” pants that might fit me, mostly because they’re simply not designed for hips that are considerably larger than the attached waist. But finding a pair of jeans shaped to my body feels so good, I can keep wearing “women’s” pants without too much dysphoria. For now.

Swimsuits are very gendered. Just the fact that men are expected to run around bare-chested and women have to cover up sends my brain into a dysphoric frenzy. Ideally I would love to just swim naked – I had the opportunity to do that once and it was glorious! No gender performance, just diverse bodies. Everything floats when it’s not tied down by a swimsuit. I loved the sensation. I felt so free!

So I’m swimsuit shopping online with my mother. She’s sitting at the computer with me mostly behind her, looking at what she thinks I’ll like. Fortunately, we agreed that the “women’s” swim shorts this company offers are far superior to typical “women’s” swimsuit bottoms… but she was going to get a shorter length than I wanted (so I had to argue with her about that) and the ones I wanted were out of stock in my size (of course). I convinced her to add the swim leggings (way more coverage than I’d like, but still better than the alternatives). And I don’t remember if we added a couple pairs of “men’s” swim trunks together or I added them myself later, but either way they’ve been ordered. Maybe they’ll even fit! (A bit of a long shot, since the measurements are smaller than my hips.)

Then we started looking at tops. I would have been happy with a simple “shelf bra” tankini thing. They all have underwire or soft cups. Ugh. We get in an argument about it. I’m concerned because with a tankini one has to consider both chest (“bust”) and hip measurements, and mine are too different to have one size fit both properly. I think everything I own is too big on the bust and too small on the hips – I just try not to worry about it. We have another fight, I get her to let me sit at the computer and look at stuff myself, without having to try and convince her to click on each item for me. Nada.

I decided to look at bikini tops, thinking it might solve the hip-bust ratio problem. Bad idea. They’re all basically bras. I don’t know what I was expecting – maybe something more like a sports bra at least? But no, my dysphoria went through the roof. I eventually found and selected a couple “men’s” rash guards, which as far as I can tell are essentially fitted t-shirts designed for swimming?

Again, way more coverage than I wanted, but probably a million times more comfortable than the weird boob-obsessed gendered performance nonsense Mom probably would have bought for me.

So, it was pretty cool that this company/site had these options. And Mom was pretty cool about “letting” – god, I’m an adult, who they hell is she to decide what I’m “allowed” to wear or buy? – me get mostly “men’s” swimwear.

But look at me, writing over 700 words about swimsuit shopping! Throughout our interaction she kept saying little things that were bothering me: “You really need to give yourself more time to get places.” “I went in your apartment and thought ‘I just have to help them out,’ so I did your dishes.” “I don’t know how you’ve been handling your finances.”

That last one was the last straw. I used to keep my checkbook perfectly balanced. I used to have my own income, so I could save money every month and otherwise be a financially-responsible adult. But I don’t have my own income, and I haven’t figured out how to consistently track finances for two people (especially since Fox is the one who makes all our money and spends most of it). I’ve been reduced to checking our bank account balance once a month, to make sure we have enough in there to pay our credit card bill. I’m not happy with the situation; it feels wrong; I’m embarrassed by it. But between my mental health issues, the work I’ve been doing in therapy, volunteering full-time for the Bernie Sanders campaign (which I love), and being primary caregiver to our pet rats, I consider it an accomplishment that I manage to pay the credit card bills on time. And eat, occasionally. That requires constant vigilance.

So I walked out. “Please don’t walk out on me.” I barely even looked at her. I’d fallen mute. I couldn’t say or do anything. My legs just carried me out the door and down the stairs and into my apartment.

A little while later she was leaving the house, so I hugged her and apologized and told her I love her. She told me that she wasn’t pushing the bra-like tankini innards on me because of gender, but because she likes to have support for her anatomy. “You want some support,” she said to me. “No, you want some support,” I told her. “That doesn’t mean it’s what I want.” I escape the conversation – mostly because she needs to leave. Everything seems peachy.

She even called on her way wherever she was going to say she’s proud of me for all the work I’m doing on the campaign.

Wednesday.

On Wednesday she posted one of those image-with-text meme-like things on my Facebook wall:

I am not your friend. I am your parent. I will stalk you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare, & hunt you down when needed – because I love you.

I got very angry, hid it from my timeline, and proceeded to send her multiple text messages:

Posting threats on my Facebook wall is not going to improve our relationship – quite the opposite. You and dad and your in-laws and other family members already drove me insane; that’s why I’ve needed to work my ass off in therapy for the past 6 years.

You’re not my friend, you’re my parent – so ACT LIKE ONE. Get the therapy you need to be able to do it properly. Stop using me as your therapist. I’m not your friend or your therapist I’m your adult child. Respect that I’m an adult and respect my boundaries. Help me in the ways I ask you to; give me the advice I ask for; listen to me and support me! And think about how what you say might impact me before you say it.

I’m grateful for everything you do for me and I understand that it’s not easy. But enough is enough. If you think it’s okay to stalk me and knowingly do things to “drive me insane” then you need to make some effort to learn how to parent responsibly.

“I do these harmful things because I love you” is what abusers say.

The rest of the conversation proceeded in a rather alarming fashion (from my point of view) during which she did not apologize.

M: “I do not abuse you. You are taking things too seriously.”
Z:  “No, YOU are not taking me seriously enough. You never have.”
M: “Stalk you?”
Z:
M: “Not a threat. I thought it was cute. And told you that I love you. Something parents always say. We make many sacrifices for our children. We should talk later. Take things lighter. Love you.”

I freaked out and called Wakana. She got so upset with my mom, I had to ask her to stop yelling. She told me about a million times that I was not overreacting, I was having a healthy response, I need to separate emotionally from my mother, and I should unfriend my mother on Facebook. So that’s what I did, and that’s the text I sent Mom.

The next text I got from Mom was telling me I needed to move my car. We haven’t spoken since. No apology.

I’m not talking to her until she apologizes to me.

In the meantime, I got a nice short androgynous haircut that I love and everyone has complimented me on. I have a street to canvass and volunteers to call this afternoon. I’ll be working in the campaign office for a handful of hours this evening. And then we begin our GOTV (get out the vote) efforts in earnest. 9am-9pm Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. And, I imagine, the full time polls are open Tuesday. I signed up to be part of the voter protection team on Tuesday, so I will either be doing that or juggling it with work in the campaign office. It’s finals week on steroids. Crunch time.

If you can help us out go to map.berniesanders.com for local events and/or berniepb.com to phonebank. If your state’s primary is on Tuesday, visit canivote.org to look up your polling place and/or other useful information.

This is what’s been keeping me going. I need Bernie to win on Tuesday.

I successfully ran the campaign office for an evening, with the help of another very dedicated volunteer. We set up and sent a couple volunteers canvassing. Then he did some phone banking while I called volunteers who hadn’t arrived yet. One said he hadn’t gotten the email with the address, so I told him and he came. So I got to send out another canvassing team.

One of the volunteers I called cancelled for today, but signed up for most of the remaining events this week. She asked The Question and I almost panicked – I didn’t want to lose a(nother?) volunteer… But I was able to diffuse the situation by saying I’m too focused on helping Bernie win the primary to think about the general. She accepted the answer and we had a very pleasant conversation. Whew!

I did some of my own phone banking, chatted with the volunteers when they came back, and did data entry. The dedicated volunteer was very helpful and we had a good conversation.

All in all a good shift and I feel like I accomplished a lot by empowering others to do the actual work that needed to be done. Well, the direct voter contact part, that is. I like having a leadership position and getting to meet all sorts of interesting people who seem happy to work with me. I feel so much more confident.

Edit: I should probably mention that all this was after I did some useful stuff at home, then took a nice long nap. I felt refreshed and energized going into it.

When I was feeling energized by my volunteer efforts, I couldn’t help thinking: “This isn’t going to last, and when I crash it’s gonna hurt. So I’m gonna make the most of it.” And, well, the crash has come. I’m exhausted. I’m starting to let the naysayers get to me – either dragging me down, or making me angry. And sometimes it feels like there’s no point….

I’m not sure when the transition started, but yesterday I had a huge anxiety attack that prevented me from going to the march I’d planned on attending. It really took me by surprise because I’d gotten used to being much more confident, almost like my anxiety had melted away. I almost felt like a different person… and yet there I was, back to panicking and sabotaging any possibility that I might have made it on time. Once I got to the office things went well. K was there being his usual ridiculous self and I finished the turf I’d been canvassing. I’d even recruited a couple new volunteers!

Today I’m just exhausted. I showed up feeling exhausted and made volunteer recruitment calls… they went okay. Then a couple of volunteers came so I tried to get them set up with phone banking. I felt bad because I was kind of ignoring Volunteer A to help Volunteer B. The latter had technical issues and decided to go home – ostensibly to phone bank using his own computer, but I have no way of knowing.

Volunteer A made calls for a little while, then asked if I would join him to canvass, “show him the ropes.” I agreed and we went out and I made a bunch of wrong turns and it was generally awkward – though he was fun to talk to and I think he felt the same about me. We didn’t get the best reception once we started knocking on doors, though.

And then there was one very nice older couple who support Bernie and are going to vote for him in the primary, but don’t think he’s going to win the nomination. (?) They were wonderful to talk to… until the wife asked me if I’ll vote for Hillary in the general election.

I made the mistake of answering honestly, and then all hell broke loose. They took back everything nice they’d said. They told me I don’t care about the direction of this country. They insulted me to my face. And worst of all, they refused to listen when I tried to defend myself. I got very angry and joined in their yelling match. It took me quite a while to calm down afterward.

I might have yelled some obscenities once we reached the sidewalk.

I feel horrible. So hurt that they attacked me like that, embarrassed that it happened right in front of a fellow volunteer, worried that our interaction might have turned them away from Bernie, and angry with myself for losing control. I might also be questioning… everything. All this passion, and where has it gotten me?

I did some phone banking after coming home. Mostly wrong numbers, no answers, and not homes. A couple of people laughed at me; one even said he felt sorry for me. (!) I identified some Bernie supporters, though, and a couple more volunteers. I hold on for the supporters and volunteers. I don’t know how much longer I can keep it up though.

It seems like I’m going to be running the office for the rest of the week. That basically means answering the door, signing volunteers in, training them, setting them up to phone bank, and sending them out to canvass. When I’m not doing those things I should be recruiting more volunteers or finding something else useful to do… but I think instead I’ll bring earbuds and watch YouTube videos.

I’ve been working in the local Bernie Sanders campaign office for at least a week now: recruiting volunteers, training people to canvass, even going out and knocking on doors myself. It used to be fun while K was there; we just seem to click, you know? Similar interests and personalities, it’s like we’re on the same wavelength. His jokes were what helped me overcome my anxiety about calling random strangers to ask them to volunteer. His leadership is what freed me to go out knocking on random strangers’ doors. He has expressed appreciation for my efforts, considered my ideas, empowered me to organize in my town, given me leadership roles. It’s awesome.

But now he’s not going to be around most of the time (he’s helping another office), and instead M is running the joint. She seems nice enough, but her entire demeanor is different. She’s very down to business. “That won’t work, you should do this.” Maybe it’s just that I’m tired; I had a very busy day yesterday and my heart wasn’t entirely in it – I really didn’t feel like making calls. So I emailed people who signed up for events without giving us their number and called potential volunteers. Nada.

I hadn’t planned on canvassing because my feet hurt from the day before, but I grabbed the list I’d started and went out anyway. Door after door after door, not home. Not home. Not home. Someone finally answers. “No, they’re not here.” “We’re having dinner.” “We’re all voting for Hillary.”

I swear, this is like a gambling addiction. I keep looking at the list: “Okay, they’re 23, they’ll probably be a Bernie supporter.” Not home. Or moved. “The light is on.” Not home. “Well, you never know, my mom’s in her 60s and she’s voting for Bernie.” … that one never ends well …

But every so often, for a few shining moments, I get to talk to someone who says, “Yeah, of course I’m voting for Bernie!” Those people tend to be “too busy” to volunteer, though. And on rare occasions I get to talk to an undecided voter and hopefully sway them toward Bernie, even if just a little bit. Last night, when someone said he supported Bernie but didn’t plan to vote, I asked why. He said he didn’t think he could vote in the primary because he’s not registered as a Democrat. Well, it turns out that in my state he can – he’ll just have to declare at the polls – so I told him. Hopefully this will mean 1 more vote for Bernie. Enough of those, and we win.

(Go to CanIVote.org to verify your registration and party affiliation, and for information about how to vote in your state’s primary. It’s a nonpartisan site.)

It’s hard, holding on for those moments. Just one more house. Maybe this will be it! No… oh, well, maybe this next one. Maybe this next one. My feet hurt, I’m hungry, I’m tired, and I’m using my phone as a flashlight. But I push myself to go to the next house, to be warm and friendly when I greet its occupant(s).

At one of the last houses I went to, there were 4 or 5 names on my list, but only one answered. She seemed determined to block access to the others. I introduced myself, asked my questions. “Well I’m definitely voting for Hillary.” “Can I give you a flyer for the other members of your household?” “No, we’re all well informed. We’re all voting for Hillary.” I might have raised an eyebrow. “And you know, I really think he should drop out. He’s made his point, now he should just stop!” I blinked, and talked about how I’m glad Bernie’s staying in the race so – after over a year of supporting him – I’ll finally get to vote. I don’t think she was listening, she seemed to think I was trying to persuade her to vote for him.

I checked in at the office, grabbed the stuff I’d left there, called my husband to apologize for being the worst spouse ever, and came home. I went to bed fuming.

I think, if I get another person like that, I might not be so polite. I get it, I’m knocking on your door completely out of the blue to talk to you about a candidate you don’t support. Fine. Most of the Hillary supporters I’ve talked to have been friendly. Many have thanked me for my activism. Some have even wished me “good luck.” (Which seems a little ironic, but I’ll take it.) It’s not so difficult to say “No, thank you.” I’ll even accept it if you simply refuse to talk to me.

But to tell me that Bernie should drop out of the race is completely unacceptable. If you have that opinion, fine, but it’s very rude to say so to a canvasser.

Bernie Sanders has spent his entire political career – longer than I’ve been alive – fighting for nearly everything I believe in. He is about as close to my ideal president as it’s possible to get. I have enthusiastically supported him since the day he announced he was running for president. I have donated to his campaign multiple times. I have held my breath awaiting the results of every caucus and primary. I have beaten myself up over the anxiety that prevented me from volunteering sooner. I have pushed myself a million miles outside my comfort zone and overcome agoraphobia (okay, “agoraphobic tendencies”) so I can participate fully in the political revolution.

Now Bernie’s campaign is in my state, and I’ve essentially made it my full time job. I’ve put everything else on hold for it. I’m tired, but I’m showing up at the office anyway. I haven’t eaten in 6 hours, but I’m standing on your porch smiling while you tell me that coming here was a waste of my time. My feet hurt and my shoes are crappy, but I’m walking down street after street anyway.

I’m doing all these things because I believe Bernie Sanders’ campaign – and especially the political revolution he’s incited – is the most important thing that has happened in my lifetime. I am proud to be a part of it and I will do everything I can to make sure it succeeds. I sincerely believe that he can win the general election even if he has to run as a third-party candidate. That he is the president this country needs. The world needs. I and my family and the millions of Americans who are less fortunate than we are need. Universal healthcare, pronto. Lower interest rates on student debt, or we may never be able to pay it off. Addressing climate change as the threat it is. Using the tax revenue from the wealthiest nation in the history of the world to educate our people, build up our communities, ensure the veterans who have sacrificed so much for our freedom have homes and income and receive any and all treatment they need.

Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who is talking openly about the need for better, immediately-accessible mental healthcare.

And I can think of nothing more feminist than an old white man who could easily retire and live comfortably doing everything in his power to empower those of us who have been marginalized, disenfranchised, made invisible, tread upon, taken for granted, and stolen from for decades.

Bernie promised that he will take his campaign all the way to the Democratic Convention; he needs every pledged delegate he can win to make the strongest case possible for why he should be the Democratic nominee. He has said, multiple times, that everyone in every state should have the opportunity to vote in this primary, to have our voices be heard. Every state – including mine. Every voice – including mine.

I have waited for over a year to vote for the person who I believe is the best presidential candidate this nation has ever seen. If you disagree with me, fine. Vote for whomever you please. Just do not tell me that my voice should be silenced. I have just as much right to vote for my candidate as you do for yours. I deserve to have a say in who the Democratic nominee for president will be.

To say anything else is completely and utterly disrespectful, a slap in the face, and I claim every right to defend myself.