Thoughts on Mad Pride

I’d like to encourage readers to check out a new blog, Radically Mad, where cheshirekit will also be writing about experiences with mental health issues. Although she has several psychiatric diagnoses, she prefers to consider herself “mad and neurodivergent.” Near the end of her Introduction, she explains the meanings of these terms:

Neurodiversity and disability rights refer more to physical and cognitive disabilities, while mad pride and radical mental health refer to psychiatric diagnoses.  The basic idea is that humans are meant to be diverse and have diverse ways of perceiving, experiencing, and acting on the world, and this actually improves society as a whole rather than hurting it.  Having a brain that is wired differently, though it can be challenging at times since our society at large is set up to be convenient people with “typical” brains, does not have to be a bad thing, and can in fact be a source of pride.

I like this way of thinking, but I have yet to examine my own relationship with it.

Whatever labels people might stick on me, my basic experience is that I have very strong emotions. I’m learning what to do about / with them – how to express them safely; how to channel them into a healthy activity; how to respond to the situation in which they are arising so as to meet my own needs while still respecting others; etc. Right now I’m taking medication intended to make them a little bit easier to handle, but most of my work is on coping with them.

I don’t want my intense emotions to go away – they are an important part of who I am! They give me energy, creativity, the passion and drive to do amazing things. I often find it difficult to function in a society that devalues emotions, demands conformity, sensationalizes tragedy, and over-stimulates the senses. Worst, I’ve internalized messages from society that take the form of very harsh, critical thoughts with the power to decimate my self-esteem. But as painful as the lows may be, on some level I value them just as much as I value the joy that can rise in response to the simplest things. The depth of the emotions I can experience is meaningful to me; it is the genesis of my art. Having experienced the lows helps me to appreciate the highs so much more. They’re also an important part of how I connect with other people – empathy.

So I guess for me Mad Pride is recognizing these aspects of who I am as a way of being that, while undervalued by society, is valuable in its own right. My emotions aren’t “pathological,” society just isn’t really built to handle them. My journey isn’t about “recovering” from an “illness,” it’s about learning the skills I need to live and function in society, while still valuing, expressing, and utilizing all of my Self. It is in this way that I can make the most meaningful contributions to society.

… Though any change that can occur in society, to make it more accepting of and accessible to people who are mad and/or neurodivergent, is certainly a big help. That’s where activism comes in: changing the structures of society to be more inclusive; to make diversity more visible; to value respect the myriad of ways humans can be in the world – rather than considering one way “normal” and marginalizing everyone who doesn’t fit into this narrow mold.

I Don’t Need to Be “Beautiful”

This random guy tried to call my attention to him as I walked down a busy street the other day. He said, “Hey, beautiful,” as I passed by. My first response was to feel harassed, but I tried to talk myself down from it: “Feel good – he thinks you’re beautiful!” “Maybe he wasn’t even talking to you. He was probably calling someone else beautiful.”

The thing is, I don’t want or need to care what a random stranger thinks of my appearance. I just want to go where I’m going in peace. That’s what it all comes down to: people just want to go about their lives without being subjected to everyone else’s (observable) appraisal of them. Half the population is (generally) able to do this. But the half with boobs (or the ability to grow them) are subjected to it so frequently it’s considered “normal.”

Even just having one’s attention drawn to one’s appearance is invasive: it distracts from more important thoughts such as where one is going, what’s going on in one’s surroundings, whatever else is on one’s mind – such as thoughts related to one’s job or family life or important social / political / economic issues, etc. In my case, I went from feeling confident and happy about the task I’d just completed to questioning whether anyone could possibly consider me “beautiful.”

Why should I care? That’s his opinion; they’re his thoughts. They have nothing to do with me, my strengths and weaknesses, what I’m doing with the rest of my day, my interpersonal relationships, my career, etc. Let his thoughts stay with him. I have enough thoughts of my own, thank-you-very-much! And, frankly, I have enough mental health issues to work through, without being plunged back into the insecurity about my appearance that plagued me in high school.

Why do men do this? The only answer I can think of is that they want that “beautiful” woman to pay attention to them, even if only by making eye contact for a moment. Why? To inflate their ego? To feel powerful?

But it’s not really fair to blame the man who does this on the street. Yes, he should choose not to do it, but he’s just repeating what society tells him is appropriate. He might not know about the potentially harmful aspects of what he’s doing. He probably thinks he’s paying me – or the woman behind me – a compliment.

The real problem is much bigger than he – or his ego! –  will ever be. Why is this man’s self-esteem dependent on a “beautiful” woman paying attention to him? Is his social, political, and/or economic power so limited that the only way he can feel powerful is by expressing his opinion of and demanding attention from women? Why does he feel entitled to solicit attention from a random stranger by breaking the usual unspoken rule: let people go about their day in peace!? Okay maybe he wanted to be friendly – there is certainly a place for that. But it’s better accomplished by saying “hello” or “good day” – some greeting that is appropriate between beings who regard each other as equals. There is no need for one such being to give hir opinion of the other, especially not regarding something as shallow as physical appearance.

And then we come to the other side: Why are those of us who have boobs programmed to feel flattered by the word, “beautiful,” to seek it out, to respond automatically when someone applies it to us? I know I am smart, creative, resilient, determined, compassionate, etc. Why should I need or want to be “beautiful,” too? All “beauty” does is make me – or a moment of my attention – desirable to someone who knows nothing about me. I don’t need that! Why would anyone want to draw that kind of selfish attention to zirself?

If I care that you think I’m “beautiful,” then I am acting as a mirror for you! I’m reflecting that your opinion of my appearance matters more (at least in that moment) than everything else that’s going on in my life. No! I’m not a mirror, I’m a person! I have places to be, people to interact with, things to do, thoughts to think, masterpieces to create, a royally fucked-up world to change. If you need a mirror, go buy one at the dollar store.

I don’t want to be “beautiful” and I don’t need it, because I’m already powerful. That is, I have a lot of personal power – my social and political power are limited by the structures of inequality that privilege the few at the expense of the many. But I can use my personal power to work through my difficulties, to weaken the foundation of those structures (e.g. cultural values such as “beauty” which limit one’s ability to tap into personal power), to empower myself and others, and to live a life that I find meaningful.

Grace

I was really hurting last night. I didn’t even recognize it until I was selecting tags for my last post. I looked at my most used tags, even though I already knew which ones I wanted to use, and found myself clicking on “guilt.” Maybe there was something my subconscious knew that I did not, so I went with it. I even kept it, over other possible tags that seemed more logical.

That post was about guilt. Even my “little bit of positivity” was about guilt. So much of my life – probably, most of my academic achievement – has revolved around guilt! Namely, trying to appease the universe and my inner judge. “Look at all the good things I’ve done! Can’t I please have some forgiveness, comfort, peace?” … And if what I’ve done isn’t enough, I can do more. I can go without sleep. I can torture myself emotionally.

Last night I tried to do something to help myself fall asleep – namely, listening to relaxing music on Songza. Focusing on the music helped me stay linked to this reality – held my anxiety at bay – and occupied my mind enough that I couldn’t torture myself. But, eventually, I had to turn it off to actually sleep. And then I was alone with my pain.

I lay there desperately wanting the comfort of a mother, the comfort my biological mother will probably never be able to give me. She might have done at some point when I was little, but now she has too much of her own baggage. I needed so much more than I can ever ask of her; I needed it straight from the Source.

And it came.

The Mother said, “I’m here, and I love you.” She wrapped herself around me and filled me with her love, her peace. Every part of me relaxed; I felt as I imagine a baby must feel while being held and loved and fed by a mother: completely at ease, trusting, nurtured, loved, whole. Fully one with the Divine. It only lasted a few moments, but that was all I needed.

Even now, the memory of that moment fills me with peace.

I’m no expert in theology, but I think this is the kind of thing Christians are referring to when they talk about grace, particularly in the context of grace vs. works. It’s having the courage and confidence and humility to ask for what you need, knowing that you are already worthy of it – and that whomever you are asking (whether human, divine, natural, etc.) is willing and able to give it. I exercised grace when I opened up to my loved ones last Saturday, cried on their shoulders and allowed them to meet my needs.

You don’t have to do anything to have your needs met – you don’t have to get straight A’s or maintain a successful career or be the perfect parent/spouse/child/sibling/friend/entertainer/etc. or write beautifully or invent something spectacular or save the world.

You just need to believe – not in any particular religion or deity, but in yourself, your own inherent worth. Maybe religion can help soothe the logical part of the brain that requires justification for why you are worthy or how you can possibly be worthy; Christians believe Jesus already died for their sins, a choice freely made out of love and desire to have a meaningful relationship between the Divine and humanity. My worldview has tended toward perceiving the Universe itself as the Divine, so as part of the universe humans (individually and collectively) are inherently divine – as are all things, living and nonliving, including the very planet on which we live. But these are just explanations; they’re not important in and of themselves. Any explanation that doesn’t justify mistreating others will do. What’s important is the belief.

Depression attacks this belief. The U.S. healthcare system tears this belief to shreds. Mainstream media are equally if not even more guilty. Please don’t get me started on politics.

So much in the world humans have constructed for ourselves demands works – demands that we measure our worth by what we have done (e.g. how much money we’ve made; how physically beautiful we’ve made ourselves; how many followers we have; etc.). Worse, it turns us against each other, into harsh judges of each other’s worth. We tear our own ability to know and value our inherent worth to shreds.

But maybe it doesn’t have to be this way.

Love for Women Everywhere

This is an ode
To women around the world
Who have chosen this day
To Rise

My sisters who refuse to be seen and treated
As a commodity
Who demand that their rights
To their own bodies
Be Respected

Who have suffered abuse
Raped, beaten
Underpaid, hidden away
Their sexuality and their lives
Taken

NO MORE!!!

This is an ode
To the Women who Rise
And those who are afraid to

Women bound by the chains
Of mental illness:
Depression, anxiety, eating disorders
Borderline personality disorder, codependency, substance abuse
And too many others to name

Women forced into the sex trade
Constrained to motherhood
Kept out of the public sphere
Their voices silenced

NO MORE!!!

This is an ode
To the Women who Rise
And the men who stand with them

Love for women is not
Chocolate, roses, romance
Respect is not a pedestal
Or poetry

Love for women is Rising
Against violence
Hypersexualization
Devaluation
Forced conformity

Love for women is having courage and strength
To question society
And talk about the things
That scare us into complacency

NO MORE!!!

This is an ode
To Women Around the World
Those who Rise
Those too afraid to
And the men who stand with them

onebillionrising.org

in response to today’s prompt from The Daily Post:

It’s Valentine’s Day, so write an ode to someone or something you love. Bonus points for poetry!