“Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.” –Thoreau

12 August 2014

From a Dark Place

Robin Williams has died. They believe it was suicide.

Mr. Williams has been sick for a long time, battling clinical depression and anxiety. When I heard that they believe his death was self-inflicted, I just... It hit me in a physical way. I can't imagine what Mr. Williams was thinking or feeling, what prompted him to take his own life. Only he knows exactly how his depression affected him.

But I can tell you what it feels like for me.

It starts with anxiety. Normal anxieties: money, due dates, doctor's appointments, chores of all kinds. Then some less-normal, more intense anxieties: election results, chemicals in our soap, unexplained illnesses, an empty fridge that needs filling, preschool placement, bad cat behavior, potential dental work. And then some totally absurd but terrifying anxieties: cars crashing, planes falling out of the sky, terrorism, muggings, burglary, kitchen fires, cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, immunizations, rabies, dogs that bite, black widow spider bites, bug infestations, bedbugs, wetting the bed, poisoned drinking water, acid rain, and so on. And on and on and on.

The anxiety feels like a monstrous fist inside your chest. Sometimes the fist relaxes a bit, lets you breathe, but it can tighten up again at any moment. The anxiety itself becomes cause for great anxiety. All of your energy becomes focused on controlling that anxious feeling, preparing for it, holding it off as long as possible. The pressure slowly builds, until you cannot contain it anymore without fracturing.

The next stage is guilt. Profound, crippling guilt. Remember, you've already been anxious for a long time, so you haven't been performing normal tasks in a normal way. You've missed things, put things off, while you deal with controlling the anxiousness. When you layer guilt on top of anxiety, it turns into something like this: "I have not called my best friend in a month, and she is probably so angry with me because I'm a terrible friend, a terrible person, really, and I can't possibly make it up to her with one, too-late phone call after a month (a MONTH) of friendship failure, and oh god, that means I'm a failure as a friend, a total failure, and what a terrible thing to do. No one should have to be friends with such a terrible person. I'm a terrible, terrible person."

So you do not call. You can't.

Because guilt is immediately followed by inertia. When I say guilt is crippling, I mean that literally. It weighs down your limbs and your heart. There is only so much guilt and anxiety that your body can take, and so it has to shut down. It has no choice. You tell yourself, "Come on, get up, you have to get moving," but your body isn't listening to your brain anymore. Your brain has been running you ragged. Your body rebels. It is a tired, inert rebellion. Even opening your eyes in the morning feels like too much to ask. Your heart and mind race an anxious, guilt-ridden marathon every day, and your body responds as if it ran a marathon, too.

This is the dichotomy of depression:
Your brain won't stop, and your body can't go.

It is very hard to find help when you're clinically depressed, even if you recognize the signs. When you are stuck in this place, in this loop of anxiety-guilt-inertia, you cannot crawl your way out of it. You are crippled. You are helpless. And if you are stuck in the loop long enough, you are hopeless, too. It's not enough to say, "I will be better tomorrow." You can't turn off the loop by force of will, because you no longer have any willpower. You're just too damn tired. You are fighting your own brain for your sanity, and you can't even put up a fair fight.

This is where depression takes you...

Everyday, you fight a battle that no one can see and many think isn't real. The opposing army has held the high ground from the start. You are terrified and exhausted. The voices inside your head are your own, and they tell you the world is a place you should fear. They tell you that you are useless, worthless, because you cannot fix the world. They tell you that you should be ashamed. And you can't make your own voice stop... it's your head, so you're to blame. What good are you, really? What's the point of you? You can barely crawl out of bed.

So, now, ask yourself: What are your options? What hope is left for you?

I know people want to believe that prayer or time spent in nature or the love of family can save a person from him or herself. Sometimes, I'm sure that it can. But this is my experience, and I can honestly tell you that none of that made a bit of difference to me. What worked for me? Drugs. Prescription drugs and psychiatric help. Without those two things... I don't know. What were my options? What hope was left for me?

I don't really have a message here. I'm not trying to make any particular point. I just felt like it was important--right here, right now--to be totally honest about depression. About what depression feels like to me. This isn't easy for me, because it takes me back to a very dark place. But we all have dark places inside ourselves, and I think, with the right trigger, those dark places can swallow us whole. I wish it weren't true. I wish he wasn't dead.

Robin McLaurin Williams, 1951-2014

We miss you, Mr. Williams.
You are finally out of the loop.
I hope it has given you peace.

09 August 2014

Mindful Sobriety

I made a decision as a teenager to wait until I was of legal age to drink alcohol. At 21, I decided I didn't want to drink alcohol at all. I'm almost 29 now, and I've never regretted it. Here are the answers to all the standard questions:

1) I am not a teetotaler. My husband drinks, my parents drink, my friends drink. If she wants to, and she's of age, my daughter can drink, too.

2) I've never had problems with drugs or alcohol. I've never tried drugs, and I've only had a few alcoholic beverages in my life, but I don't have a tendency toward addiction.

3) I don't feel I'm missing out on anything. Ever.

4) My religion does not forbid alcohol, or even frown on its consumption.

5) I'm not judging you. My life choices have nothing to do with you.

Why don't I drink alcohol, then? Like most major life decisions, it's complicated.

When people ask me why I'm not drinking at parties or in restaurants, I say, "I don't like the taste." This answer is both honest and simple; it doesn't provoke much argument, and it can't be interpreted as judgmental.

It isn't easy to be sober.

The older I get, the more people look at me sideways if I tell them I'm not drinking. The assumption is that I am a Mormon or an alcoholic. I'm neither, but this doesn't offend me. I have no problem being lumped together with either group; in fact, I sympathize with them in many ways. It is not socially acceptable to be a nondrinker in the USA. It takes backbone, an ability to tell people that no means no. It also requires you to drink a lot of disgusting soda fountain lemonade. After many years of voluntary sobriety, I know that "I don't like the taste" is the best answer to the question. But it probably wouldn't be worth it if that was my only reason. It's only part of the story.

I've struggled, all my life, to feel connected to something bigger than myself. There is a conscious hum in the universe, and its vibration is very real to me. There is a deep part of me that needs to be tapped into that larger consciousness--the group soul that grants us a unique and abiding empathy.

My oldest memory of this feeling took place at my father's summer resort in Minnesota when I was five or six. I was sitting on the dock in the lake, looking out across the water, and I was overwhelmed by a sudden feeling of smallness. Not insignificance, really, but the general sense that I was very little and the world was very big. Although it didn't scare me, it was incredibly dissatisfying. I wanted to be a part of that bigness.

As I grew older, I realized that other people weren't feeling the hum. They didn't think of themselves as small, and they didn't seem bothered by a desire to be big. So maybe it's my personal neurosis; maybe being a small part of the bigness is only important to me. In my teenage years, the conflict between wanting to be an individual, wanting to be like my peers, and wanting to be linked to something larger broke me into pieces. I clung to the few absolutes I could find: no drinking, no drugs, no unsafe sex. Absolutes were easy.

My friends and relatives use alcohol to relax, to escape, to give themselves an excuse to have fun. It does look fun, and it also looks very mindless. It frees people from the stress and thoughtfulness of ordinary life. I don't mind admitting that the mindlessness of it scares me. It isn't what they do that scares me; it's that they become new versions of themselves. I often wonder what my friends would have done, thought, talked about if they hadn't been buzzed.

I have no desire to be mindless. I don't even practice that kind of meditation. I want to mindful. I want to live with a mind so disciplined, so rigorously open, that the bigness of the universe can rush in. I want to truly hear, truly feel what it is telling me.

Whenever the universe has something to give me, I want be ready to receive it.

Why don't I drink alcohol? Because I don't do anything that will deaden my mind or my senses. I don't want false feelings. I don't want chemical relaxation. I want to be sharp, thoughtful, bright and shiny. It's what I need to do to find my small piece of what's big. That is vital to me.

I am sending blessings and mindful moments to you all. With love.

01 August 2014

It Matters If My Daughter is a Lesbian

Sometimes I get publicly shamed on the internet. It happens a lot, actually, because I can't keep my virtual mouth shut. If I think something is unjust, or one-sided, or just plain stupid, I'm probably going to respond. I try to do so diplomatically, but I'm not perfect. I push too hard sometimes.

Recently, I got yelled at by a woman for suggesting that there was nothing wrong with her 2-year-old son. He likes to dress up like a princess. She seemed to want reassurance that he'd outgrow it, that it didn't mean he might be effeminate or gay (which aren't the same thing, folks). She got plenty of that kind of reassurance. Instead, I suggested that it didn't matter if he was either of those things. He might outgrow it, sure, but who cares? I actually used the words "it doesn't matter."

I was wrong about that.

It matters if my daughter is a lesbian.

Yep. It matters a lot.

It matters because she might like princesses, or trucks, or ninjas, or dollhouses, and people in her life will draw assumptions about her sexuality based on that preference. As if the two are connected. They aren't.

It matters because her preschool teacher will assume she wants be the mommy instead of the daddy at playtime, and press an apron into her hands. She might not want to be either. What a stupid assumption.

It matters because jerks in her classroom will repeat the hateful, homophobic garbage their parents have been spouting for years. And she'll believe them, because we all believe our peers more than our parents, even when our peers are idiots. That sucks.

It matters because some of her family members might not understand--not that there is anything complicated about homosexuality. They might say things that hurt her, that linger within her for the rest of her life. And I can't protect her from all of it. Even though that is my job.

It matters because straight guys will try to "turn her" and joke about threesomes, as if her sexuality is some kind of "mistake" she made. As if she just needs to be reminded how much she likes men. Sometimes they'll be very aggressive in their pursuit. This terrifies me.

It matters because dickheads on the internet will taunt her, and flag her posts for removal, and call her a femi-nazi or a dyke bitch. No one will call them out on it because no one wants to be targets themselves. No one will have to take the blame because the internet is an anonymous black hole. How can these people live with themselves?

It matters because someday she might want to get married, and the woman she loves might be funny and accomplished and smart, but their right to be legally responsible for each other will depend upon the state in which they live. Not their love, not their commitment. This country is still a pretty unjust place to be. It makes me so angry I could scream.

Yes, it matters if my daughter is a lesbian or bisexual or transgender, in ways that won't matter as much if she's straight and cisgender. It matters to me, because it will matter to her.

But however she was born--whomever she chooses to crush on--I hope the world is ready for a fight. My daughter has a mother and father who will pull no punches, allow no nonsense, when it comes to protecting her precious soul. Gay or straight or something else entirely, she was born that way. Perfectly herself. We will defend every ounce of that perfection.

So, okay, fellow internet mom. You're right to be worried. But you better get used to worrying for the right reasons. The shame you want to throw at me is nothing. I can take it. Your son could have much, much worse bearing down on him, and you need to arm yourself for the battle. You need to be prepared to be his fortress, his safe harbor.

Mom Up.

That's my rallying cry:

Mom Up.