Medicating the Jerkbrain and the Single Story of Mental Illness

Over at Greta Christina’s blog, there’ve been some.. interesting.. conversations recently around dealing with having mental illnesses that will probably need indefinite medication, and the responses other people have to that. Last week I talked here about my own experiences with having been on meds for my own jerkbrain and the things that allowed me to more-or-less recover.

I’m lucky. I don’t have to take meds anymore. But I can tell you that I’m a happy, drug-free person because I took my drugs when I needed them. I spent, all in all, the better part of a year on Lexapro, and while I’m glad I don’t have to deal with side-effects anymore (did you know Lexapro can make you need to pee all the damn time? Now you do.), those little pills gave me the leg-up I needed to get out of the worst of the maelstrom I was in and sort my shit out. I would not be in the place I am now if it weren’t for many things. One of them is those little pills.

It’s a crutch!

People talk about jerkbrain meds saying things like “it’s just a crutch”. They’re right. They’re a crutch. They prop up bits of your brain that aren’t working right now, just like a physical crutch stands in (seewhatIdidthere) for your leg when it’s too broken to take your weight itself.

Sometimes crutches are temporary. You’ve broken something badly and after a few weeks or months, a cast, and some moderately unpleasant physiotherapy you’re able to put it away and walk unaided. This is great!

Sometimes crutches aren’t temporary. You actually, really, genuinely, have a leg that is (now) intrinsically not able to hold you up while you walk, or that would lead to excruciating pain or balance difficulties or injuries if you did so. So you use the damn crutch, and you get from where you are to where you need to be, and that’s also great.

Sometimes jerkbrain meds are less like crutches than they are prostheses, correcting for things that your brain simply doesn’t do, bits that just aren’t there or don’t work the way you’d like them to in ways we can’t fix. And yeah, having a prosthesis is probably a lot more of a pain in the ass(/leg/arm) than having a limb that does the stuff without having to think about it. But that prosthesis? Is great.

The Single Story

There’s a lot that we, as a culture, don’t get about mental illnesses. We act like depression is the same as feeling down in the dumps, describe ourselves as ADD if we’re distracted one day, and bipolar if we’re hangry and need a snack to get back on the level.  One of the biggest things that we do, though, is act as if each of those labels actually describe just one thing- as if depression is like the measles, a specific thing that we can isolate and treat.

They’re not, though. I didn’t get diagnosed with depression after a bunch of blood tests and scans with fancy machinery. My doctor talked to me for a while, asked me a lot of questions about my life and how I was feeling, and ascertained that I was definitely suffering from the symptoms that we clump together with words like “depression” and “anxiety”. Having those words meant that I had a name for what was going on, and that we (me, my doctor, and the therapist he made an appointment for me with right there in that office, knowing that people you’ve just diagnosed with anxiety might not be people who are good at making scary phonecalls in a timely fashion) had a variety of tried and tested options to choose from for helping me to feel better. That was all.

There isn’t a perfect depressed person sitting in a vacuum in the Smithsonian. We’re not all shadows of the ideal depressed person flickering on the wall of Plato’s cave. Depression’s just a word we use to describe a phenomenon where some things happen together, and it varies as much as the people living with it.

It’s when we decide that mental illnesses (and for that matter, many physical illnesses) are one thing, that we start making harmful assumptions about what to do about  them. We all either are or know someone who had an unpleasant bout with a mental illness that they managed, after a hell of a lot of work, to get past. That doesn’t mean that all mental illnesses can be overcome with bootstraps and gumption, any more than it means that amputated limbs can be grown back because broken bones can heal.

Sometimes bones or minds are broken and heal up fine. Sometimes they can’t.

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Frozen’s world full of men

LE Frozen Dolls

LE Frozen Dolls (Photo credit: pullip_junk)

I love Frozen. I really, really love Frozen. I’ve watched the film… more than one time… subjected people to god-knows-how-many different versions of Let It Go, and the soundtrack to the film is the new soundtrack to my apartment.

I think that the message about true love is wonderful. I love how the primary relationship in the film is between two sisters, no matter how many others try to distract from it. I love that one of the major points the film makes is that even with the best intentions and a pure desire to care for and protect others, with the wrong perspective you can still mess things up horribly. And I love that the arc is all about figuring out who you are, embracing that, and learning how to temper the destructive aspects of your nature while bringing out the creative and powerful. I even adore Olaf- that walking, singing proof that underneath all of Elsa’s pain is someone warm and loving.

There’s just one small problem. Aside from Anna and Elsa, how many named speaking characters in the film are.. women?

I counted. Of the other (wonderful!) characters in the film, almost all are (snow/troll)men. There’s the loveable, grumpy Kristoff, sun-loving snowman Olaf, the obligatory prince Hans, the Duke of Weselton (who I only realised yesterday was played by Alan Tudyk!), Grand Pabbie the Troll King, canon-queer-character and shop owner Oaken, and the loving but misguided King of Arendelle. That’s seven, by the way.

Named female characters? There’s Elsa and Anna’s mum, the Queen of Arandelle. And there’s the troll Bulda. I can’t think of anymore, and neither can Wikipedia. Of those two, only one- Bulda- has a personality or lines that I can actually remember. As for the Queen? I had to watch it again, because I couldn’t remember a thing but knew she must have said something since Jennifer Lee’s down as playing her. I found three words: “She’s ice cold!”, but throughout the intro to the film, it’s the King who takes centre stage. He knows where to go to heal Anna. He speaks to the trolls- who, by the way, upon seeing the family simply say, “It’s the King!”, and never exchange words with the Queen. He shuts the castle down, and helps Elsa learn to conceal her powers. The Queen.. holds onto Anna and has some facial expressions.

Bulda, of course, is awesome. Even if she technically takes second fiddle to the Grand Pabbie when it comes to dialogue, Fixer-Upper is all Bulda. And let’s face it- it’s the songs, not the dialogue, that you’re going to be humming along to for the next few months.

That’s all. Aside from Anna and Elsa, the only women we hear from are their mum (who says three words in the entire film and is dead by the end of the second song), and Kristoff’s (delightful) adoptive mum. In this film all about the relationship between two sisters, men get to be princes, kings, fathers, dastardly dukes, snowmen, shop owners, ice traders, and even reindeer. Women? Women can be princesses and mothers.

It’s sad that even in a film like Frozen, with its wonderfully positive story based on two very different women, two-thirds of the characters we see are men. It’s also sad that it this is such an ordinary thing that I didn’t notice it for weeks after watching it for the first time.

I wonder why the world of Frozen is so overpopulated with men? Is it because the writers felt that people wouldn’t watch a film, even one primarily about women, without a background full of male characters? That the only way to get men and boys to watch a film is to have the majority of people in it be men? Or was it far less deliberate- simply that the default for any character is male, and without a good reason to do something else, that’s how they’ll stay? Either way, it’s sad. Not just because of Frozen- this is just one story after all, and it would be ludicrous to expect every story we write to have precisely proportionate numbers of people from every group we come from. It’s more because this is one small drop in an ocean where we are so used to half the world being grossly underrepresented both in numbers and variety that we don’t even notice it happening anymore. Even in a story that’s all about that half of the world.

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Cherry trees.

I walked home lateish last night after a couple of drinks in the local with my derbywife. It was a warm enough night that walking home felt comfortable. We split up at the river, I set off down my road.

I don’t feel scared walking at night anymore. I don’t feel scared in the daytime, either. Walking home last night I realised two things. I am happy. I was not happy before.

Two years ago my life felt impossible. I was still reeling from the losses of the months before, spending my days in a job that felt pointless and that I didn’t have the money to leave. I would wake up in the night in terror- not from any nightmare, but from the idea that I could be stuck. That my life wouldn’t get better. That five or ten or twenty years from then, I wouldn’t have escaped, and that I would have wasted these only years I’ll ever get. I woke up in the night in tears because I knew there was so much more joy to be had in life and I felt myself hanging of a precipice of never experiencing it.

It feels overdramatic, really, but there you go. That was real, for a while.

A year and a half ago my attempts at making things better- studying for another qualification, finding another job, dragging myself out of the pit I was in, grasping for something- left me one morning sitting on the floor of my apartment, finally giving in after the tension and the terror had built up enough that I couldn’t eat, sleep or even keep water down for long. My desperation to get out had me feeling that this one chance was the only chance. I had to grasp it and take it or else I’d be trapped again, falling back into that utter pointlessness and drudgery and I couldn’t take it and in the midst of this another death, this time of someone far too young, and that morning it became too much. I quit.

I quit, and my friends were there to catch me. Even though I had failed. Even though I was someone who patently couldn’t cope with my life right then. That morning, a friend of mine was there to hold me and to tell me that it was okay to fall apart. That evening, two. I’ve never known so suddenly that I had made the right decision. My friends plonked themselves down next to me on the sofa. My family talked to me on the phone. That was the week I found an incredible therapist who coached me through the next year of my life. I had no idea what I was going to do next, but for the first time in so long, I felt something close to safe.

I think that was the moment when I realised that being an adult doesn’t mean never needing help.

A year ago, things were getting a little better. A lot better, in fact. After I quit my job (a few weeks before the lease on my apartment was up), another friend offered me her spare room to live in for six months. Those months and that space meant the world to me- every day I knew that I was loved and cared for and that the people in my life felt that I was worthwhile. We would curl up on the sofa with TV box sets and a bottle of wine and share our days and in those moments my loneliness and tension started, oh so slowly, to dissolve. I started to write again, blogging almost daily, words and ideas and enthusiasms that actually seemed to connect with others in a way that I have never stopped feeling astounded by.

Six months ago.. six months ago, another decision just for me. I moved out of the city into this town for no good reason other than that I wanted to and that the friends moving with me were people I thought I’d be happy living with. Turns out that making decisions purely because you think they’ll make you happy can work out pretty damn well. I knew the internship I was working on was going to end soon. I knew that I wanted out of that- that I wanted to be paid for the work that I do, to be able to volunteer my time as I saw fit, and that I wanted to live somewhere with room, sky, the sea, and green.

And yesterday night I walked home and knew that right now, I am happy. I live with people who are not only wonderful, but who are compatible with how I live my home life. I wake up in a bright and spacious room with the sun streaming in my window, in a home that feels comfortable and safe. I have a job where every so often the hours I’m at work provide the highlights of my day. I spend my evenings with incredible people working my ass off in a sport that builds me up and fills me with inspiration, love and power. And.. and now, I have time to write again.

Two years ago, I was terrified, plagued with nightmares of dying at the end of a pointless life and the plodding, dreary decades in between. Now? I look to today, to next week and see every day filled with meaning and joy. I got here. It’s okay. I’m okay.

Shouldn’t you be happy if guys are paying attention to you?

From I Once Had A Guy Tell Me:

I never really got much attention from guys in high school. They either made fun of me or just ignored me. When I started college,I started getting catcalled a lot on the street. I told my best guy friend that it made me uncomfortable and his response was was,”Why? Shouldn’t you be happy that guys are finally paying attention to you?”

There’s a premise in that statement, and it’s ugly.

You see, we don’t (need to) seek attention from people who we see as equals. If we are equals, we pay attention to each other. Or we don’t. It’s not a big deal either way, unless we’ve a preexisting connection. The people we (need to) seek attention from? Are those who, in one sense or another, have a higher social status than us.

If I need to talk to my boss, I make an appointment. If my boss needs to talk to me, they just pop over to my desk and say hey.

The idea that women should always be happy if men pay attention to us, regardless of who those men are? Would be utterly meaningless if we were seen as equal.

It’s a little icky.

Hey there people!

Just a quick update to say: sorry for the hiatus! I have some real life things going on at the moment- all good stuff, by the way! With a new job and derby taking over my life and leaving me an exhausted, happy mess at the end of the day, I’m taking a break from writing for a few weeks. 

See you all on the other side!


Sports and the Death of Impostor Syndrome

Here’s something I love about the whole doing-sports thing I’ve gotten into lately: it completely wrecks your impostor syndrome.

Like most mortals out there, I suffer from a sometimes-paralysing sense that, unlike everyone else in the world, I’m just making it all up as I go along, flying by the seat of my pants, and someday someone’s gonna find out I’ve been faking it all this time. If you told me that everyone reading this blog is in fact my mother, logged in from a shedload of different locations, and maybe some people who just showed up to laugh at my terrible writing? A little part of my brain would believe you. Sounds legit, like.

I’m no expert (not even pretending to be) but it seems to me like impostor syndrome is fed by two big things: the fact that you can’t hear the uncertainties in everyone else’s head, and the way that the validation we get for most of the things we do is so fuzzy. Take here: I know some people read this. I know how many people read it. I haven’t a clue what the vast majority of you actually think of it, ’cause we don’t live in a world where people grade every article they read on the internet.

Sports are different. There are skills I can do (most of the time, at least) today that I couldn’t do a month ago. I know that I can do those things, because I try and do them and don’t fall on my ass. Or I try and do them and only fall on my ass half the time. At the gym, I know I can pick up heavier things than I used to be able to pick up, because when I go to pick them up, they actually leave the floor. I can skate eleven more laps in 5 minutes than I could this time last year, and I know that ’cause I skate as fast as I can for 5 minutes and count my damn laps.

It’s real, concrete, physical skills, and physics doesn’t lie. I can’t tell myself I’m faking those abilities, ’cause I know I don’t have a hidden mechanical exoskeleton or a cunningly disguised extra system of weights and levers helping me along.

And that’s a really nice thing. I’m not sure how much it translates to everything else- if after a while, your brain gets used to the idea of actually being able to do the things you can do, and quits worrying about whether everyone’ll find out you’re faking the stuff you aren’t faking at all. But it’s still nice.

Women’s Sports are Boring

If I had 50c for every time I heard someone say that men’s sports are just more interesting that women’s? I’d have the world’s fanciest pair of custom skates, a wall of wheels for every occasion, and a whole new wardrobe full of that fancy workout gear made of space-age fabrics with go-faster stripes. And maybe even a pony.

Women’s sports aren’t interesting? Y’know, whenever I hear someone say that a sport is less interesting to watch when women play it, I mentally file them away as someone who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about athleticism, skill, teamwork or dedication and who’s just into sports as a way to… damn, now I’m trying to think of a non-ciscentric way to say “wave their dicks around” and I’ve got nothin. (Anyone wanna help me out there?)

Sports are interesting or they’re not, and different types of bodies playing the same sport makes it MORE interesting, not less. Because sports are all about the combination of skill, knowledge, aggression and physicality, and different kinds of bodies bring different approaches to doing just about anything on a field or a track or a rink or a pool or a slope or a pitch.

Women’s sports tend to be less well-funded than men’s. We tend to have a lower profile. We don’t get tens of thousands of people watching us play. We rarely get the fancy sponsorship. We rarely get to play as a profession- we fit our training around our day jobs instead.

And we play, even though we don’t get paid, and even though we don’t get acknowledged or taken seriously. When you watch women’s sports, you’re not watching people who are in it for the adulation and the glory. You’re watching people who live and breathe their game, who love it and dedicate themselves to it despite the fact that hardly anyone outside their circles gives a rat’s ass about what they’re doing.

But, y’know, if you’d rather watch a bunch of overpaid guys run around the place.. be my guest.

Oh, and if for a second you think that men’s sports have a monopoly on mindblowing feats of skill or flat-out aggression? Watch and weep:

Edges are Important and Hauss the Boss is EPIC: credit rdjunkies

Credit Masochistic Eventuality. THAT is Fuck You Get Past Me derby.women

But that’s just my favourite sport. What’s yours? Who’re the amazing women playing it? Who do you love watching play, and how does she blow your mind every time?