Day: April 3, 2016

Four Friend Requests and a Funeral

I boarded the plane headed for Phoenix. One of my Facebook friends had suddenly died and we were all going to her funeral. We were in her private Facebook group called BFFS, after all. That meant a lot to us.

Jennifer had stopped posting on our pages and leaving opinions in our comment sections. She seemed to completely disappear from the cyber realm in which we existed together, and we were all wondering where she had gone.

A quick glance at her profile answered our questions. Her sister Anne had recently posted an explanation online; it seemed our friend had been in a car accident. She was killed instantly.

Her Facebook page immediately became a memorial website, rapidly filling with messages about how much we’d all miss her.

Jen’s Facebook friends were invited by her sister to the funeral in Phoenix this weekend, and many of us agreed to attend. It was a sad excuse to finally meet the people we’d been getting to know online for so long, but we decided Jennifer would have wanted it this way.

Anne had been remarkably helpful in facilitating the attendance of Jennifer’s online friends at the funeral, arranging to pick each of us up at the Phoenix airport. She even made a deal with a nearby hotel to provide affordable rooms. I was touched by the kindness of the airlines and lodging, providing cheap rates and discounts for us all.

The funeral was scheduled for Saturday evening, so we decided to fly in Friday afternoon to have an impromptu memorial service and meet each other in person. Anne suggested this, actually, and rented the recreation room of the hotel we were all staying in to give us a large meeting place.

Despite the sad reason for being there in the first place, I was really excited to meet these people I’d been getting to know online for over a year. Jennifer had always been a boisterous, fun girl and said, “Any excuse for a party!” I hoped she really meant it and wasn’t looking down on us from the ghost world for having a getting-to-know-you celebration in the aftermath of her sudden death.

I deplaned and walked through the Sky Harbor terminal until I saw the sign with “Alexa” on it. That’s me, I thought as I greeted the driver. We drove away from the airport, passing palm trees and saguaro cactuses as we traveled along the heat-shimmering road.

The hotel was really nice and I couldn’t get over the low price as I got ready for the Facebook friends BFFS party. Make-up and hair to my liking, I walked down the hallway to finally meet my online friends in real life.

At the entrance to the large recreation room, there was a big sign that shouted, “Welcome Jennifer’s Internet Friends!” in a bold font. I couldn’t believe Anne went through the trouble to have such professional-looking signs printed up for this gathering. She really had her wits about her for someone who had just lost her sister. I felt momentarily jealous of her coolness under pressure, decided that was unkind of me and entered the room.

There were over fifty people there. An anorexic-looking blonde girl quickly walked over to me with a somber smile and introduced herself. A man with a large camera followed her closely, filming our meeting.

“I’m Jennifer’s sister, Anne. Thank you so much for coming… Alexa?” she said questioningly.

“Yes, I’m Alexa. Call me Alex. How did you know?” I asked.

“I recognized you from your Facebook pics,” she replied.

She gestured toward the camera.

“I hope you don’t mind that I’m having Jennifer’s memorial filmed by a professional crew. There were a lot of internet friends who couldn’t make it to Phoenix, and I want to put this on You Tube so they can feel like they were here. Jennifer would have loved it.”

“How many Facebook friends did Jennifer have?” I wondered aloud. It seemed like the room was full of people.

“Oh, this isn’t even a third of her Facebook friends. She was also popular on Twitter. My sister was a friend to everyone she met,” she said, shaking her head sadly.

She quickly had me sign a release form so that she could use my filmed moments in her You Tube memorial, stating it was just a formality. I didn’t mind. I had nothing to hide, after all. That’s why I was on the Internet in the first place, right?

After thanking her for being such a great hostess and offering my condolences on her loss, I left Anne and the camera guy to walk over to the open bar. I decided that Jennifer and Anne must come from money, as I ordered a free beer. I left my usual twenty percent tip because I’ve had that job, took a deep breath, and looked around.

Standing at the bar, I scanned the room for familiar faces. Everyone was engrossed in conversation, with Anne and the cameraman recording the memories people shared about Jennifer. Some people were crying in front of the camera while others laughed, expressing different thoughts on the loss.

I quickly drained my beer and ordered another one. I was really nervous about meeting all of these people with whom I’d been chatting so intimately on blog comment boards for the last year. We knew so much about each other, yet nothing at all. It was a strange dichotomy, and hard to marry with my usual go-to friendship formula.

I spotted Kaitlin. She was a sassy, outspoken woman with cool Nordic blonde good looks and one of those mouths that makes even the straightest girl feel stirrings. She met my eyes as I noticed her; the recognition clicked and her expression brightened.

“Alexa!? Alex! Is that you!? It is you!!” she squealed, and came running over to hug me warmly. “It’s so nice to actually meet you in real life!”

I told her it was great to meet her too, and asked her what she thought of all the cameras.

“It seems kind of weird to me, honestly,” she whispered under her breath. “But if Jennifer’s sister Anne thinks it’s necessary, then I guess it makes sense, right?”

I nodded and we stood together making small talk, surveying the crowd of people that seemed to be growing larger every minute. We noticed another friend we often talked to online as she walked through the door, with the cursory introduction and welcome by Anne and the cameraman. She refused to sign the release form. Brooke. Of course.

Brooke was petite, with pale skin and dark hair. She had goth vibe going on. She liked the Vampire Wars application and sent fanged fairies as Facebook gifts. She was dressed in her usual all-black attire, leather boots and wore her signature blood red lipstick. Thinner than I expected with dark under-eye circles, she looked like Snow White’s sister who freebased poison instead of eating tainted apples. She didn’t look like she ate much of anything, actually. Kaitlin and I recognized her instantly.

“Brooke! Over here!” We both shouted her name and waved her over.

She glided our way and stared around the room incredulously. “What the fuck is all this shit?” she asked us.

Brooke was a blunt person. She didn’t waste time on niceties in the written comment format, so it didn’t shock me that she’d work blue with her first sentence spoken in real life. I would have been more shocked if she acted sweet and demure, honestly.

“We don’t really know either,” I told her. “Jen’s sister Anne seems to think Jen would have wanted her online friends who couldn’t be here to be able to watch her informal friends-only memorial on You Tube.”

“Well I think that having a film crew at a private memorial is completely fucked up. I’ll probably write a blog about it when I get home,” she answered. “I’ll put it on my WordPress site and we can talk about it some more, because I feel like an asshole complaining about it here.”

We agreed to revisit the topic in our blogs and continued to walk around the room, drinking free booze and meeting all of the people we knew only from online pictures and occasional written blurbs. It was a strange sociological phenomenon that made me uneasy and out of my element all night. The whole thing felt like a weird dream I’d have after drinking and playing on the computer too late.

After foolishly moving from beer to the hard stuff and drunkenly slurring to the cameras about what a cool person Jennifer was, I hung out with my new/old friends and stumbled back to the hotel room late. I used the laptop computer I’d brought to see if I had any new messages waiting before I passed out, already dreading tomorrow’s more serious service.

I awoke the next day feeling hung-over and strange. I had the “Where the hell am I?” moment as I looked around the hotel room until I remembered. Today is Jennifer’s funeral. My stomach clenched with nervous energy. I was not looking forward to it.

I grabbed the water bottle I’d placed next to the bed in a burst of surprising drunken forethought and chugged. I felt like I’d crawled through a desert with straight vodka in my canteen and only cigarettes to eat.

After spending the day online chatting with friends (some of them in the same hotel), I got in the shower and prepared for Jen’s evening service, wondering if her sister Anne and the camera guy were going to film the actual funeral. It seemed kind of disrespectful and I really hoped not. I also knew I would cry and I didn’t want it caught on tape for all to see.

The funeral home was conveniently a few blocks from the hotel. Anne seemed to have planned everything out perfectly. Once there, I found my internet inner circle of blog commenters and we huddled together in a group with our fold-up chairs pushed together.

The funeral home looked brand-new, like it had been very recently built. The light fixtures were Eames-style modern, like hanging cream bubbles with brushed nickel hardware, and the floors were tiled in a rich chocolate brown. The shiny, black coffin was up front on a huge stone table—it almost seemed like an altar—placed on a shaggy, furry cream rug. White roses in silver vases and deep red candles covered every surface, flames flickering. It didn’t have the seventies, drab wood paneling feel of most funeral homes. It felt like MTV Death Cribs.

I could see Jennifer lying peacefully in the coffin, just the very top bit of her pretty face. She looked like she was sleeping. Her hair looked great. I’d never been to an open-casket funeral and thought the dead would look much worse than she did. She was holding a bouquet of white roses and wearing dark red dress that matched the candles. I had no idea that death could be such a fashion statement and was once again impressed with Jennifer’s sister for her amazing attention to detail.

I noticed the Guns ‘N’ Roses song “November Rain” was playing through overhead speakers. How unbearably trite, I thought to myself, vowing to write down the songs I wanted to be played at my own funeral.

As we waited for some sort of religious leader to walk to the front and start the proceedings, I realized I didn’t know to which religion Jennifer belonged. I realized that I didn’t even know her last name; where she grew up or where she went to school. It hit me that I really didn’t know anything about her, or any of the other living people in the room, for that matter.

I was suddenly overcome by the urge to run out of the funeral home back to the hotel. This was all starting to feel really weird. I looked around uneasily and noticed many other people murmuring to each other, with confused faces like mine.

Before I could bolt (or more likely, discuss bolting with my friends), Anne walked to the front of the room with a cameraman behind her, filming every word. She said loudly, “I have an announcement to make and all I ask is that everyone here please listen to every word before you rise to judgment.”

The murmuring stopped and the room was silent in anticipation. Anne nodded, smiled and continued addressing the room.

“This is not actually a funeral and I am not actually Jennifer’s sister. My name is Anne, but I work for a television network. This event we’ve been filming is the pilot for a new reality show that we are hoping will be a really big hit. Those of you who signed the waivers will be featured on the first episode. It’s called Virtual 2 Reality and the premise of the show is to help people who have met solely through social networking websites meet in real life for the first time. We think it will be a fascinating sociological study of the new ways we make friends via the Internet and… most importantly… really great television!”

We stared at each other with mouths agape in disbelief as she continued.

“We didn’t mean to trick you, but we didn’t think as many of you would agree to come if it wasn’t for a serious reason. We apologize for the scare and you will be reimbursed for your travel expenses, as well as paid a respectable fee for your camera time. And I think you will all be happy to know that Jennifer is an actress who is alive and quite well!”

She clapped her hands and Jennifer, who had up until this moment remained motionless in the coffin, suddenly sat up and smiled, waving at the room full of people, still seated in our chairs in shocked silence. Someone started to clap along with Anne, and soon much of the room broke out in applause.

Some people sat still with furious hands in their laps, and some people were crying tears of relief, but overall, the group seemed to recover from the shock very quickly.

People jumped up and ran over to Jennifer as she climbed out of the coffin for hugs. I could see them already vying for their fifteen minutes, schmoozing Anne and the cameraman, giving interviews and reactions to the bogus funeral. Kaitlin was up front, laughing and smiling for the camera, and I was shocked. I never pegged her as an attention whore.

You know the people I mentioned, the ones who were not clapping and furious? Yeah, I was one of those. I looked at Brooke, who had more color on her pancake-pale face than I’d ever seen. She hissed, “This is fucking bullshit. I’m out of here, Alex,” and stood up. I followed.

We went straight to the hotel bar and got ridiculously drunk. We talked for hours and exchanged phone numbers, vowing to make a point of getting together in person at least once a year. We hugged at the end of the night and went to our rooms to sleep it off before the morning flights Anne had booked for us.

I arrived early at the airport, got a cup of coffee at Starbucks, cursing their moronic sizing system as I asked the snooty barista for, “I don’t know, a really big one, I guess,” with a roll of my eyes. I found a table and opened up my laptop. I had one hell of a crazy blog to write.

Advertisements

Do Better, Henry

I recently read a Spin article discussing the stance Henry Rollins took on the topic of suicide via his website; that it is a selfish act, rather than something depressed and desperate people fighting mental illness do because they can no longer tolerate the pain of being alive.*

I used to be ignorant too, because I was genetically “blessed” with the opposite of depression: I am diagnosed with generalized anxiety and panic disorder with associated agoraphobia. So rather than “pick-me-up” pills like anti-depressants, my brain functions better with “calm-the-eff-down” pills, which I take daily, with success.

Because I had never experienced depression growing up, I never understood it. I had always felt happy to be alive, grateful to be given every day I received, and I too, used to think depressed people simply needed an attitude adjustment. Back then, I might have nodded my foolish head along with Henry Rollins as he recently stated: “Fuck suicide. Life isn’t anything but what you make it.”

In my youth, I wasn’t openly dismissive of the depressed, but would privately think, “Why don’t they just get some fresh air and take a walk, exercise, read a book, or go be with nature?” because these were things that comforted or uplifted me if I needed peace.

As if people are all the same. As if what worked for me would magically cheer up other people. As if my particular brain chemistry applied to all.

I was so stupid.

***

My 20s panic attacks were an occasional thing I attributed to either low blood sugar or asthma. I felt humiliated when they happened and lived in denial, because if they weren’t happening for a physiological reason, that made me one of the weak people who couldn’t handle life; one of the people Henry Rollins has spoken out against with his disdain** for depressed people.

What I didn’t yet understand is that anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental illnesses DO happen for physiological reasons, and are as beyond the control of the person experiencing them as any other illnesses.

If I had been experiencing seizures because of a chemical imbalance in my brain, for example, I would have immediately headed to a doctor for anti-seizure medication. But because so many people chastise those with the brain chemical imbalances behind mental illnesses and dismiss them as weak, I’d bought into this theory, too.

So I didn’t seek help, and would instead try to hide when the panic attacks happened in public. When my chest would tighten and I’d begin to gasp for air, when my vision would start to tunnel, when I’d drop my basket in the middle of the store and run for my car, soaked with sweat, my heart-pounding, and when I’d have a panic attack in the car while driving, pulling into the closest parking lot to cry tears of terror, I was bewildered because I had no idea why my body was doing this.

And I was ashamed. So very ashamed. I am weak and pathetic, I’d think to myself.

And I was terrified, wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Am I dying?

But then the mean, all-logic, no-emotion voice in my head would chastise me.

“Come on, you wimp. Pull up your big girl pants and move on,” my inner drill sergeant would bark, “You’re lucky to be alive, somebody always has it worse than you, and you have no reason to be crying, so get on with it!”

I’d take deep breaths, finish crying, feel utterly humiliated by my self-perceived weakness… and I’d eventually get on with it.

***

Cut to me at age 34, a book-loving, classic introvert with severe social anxiety. In bars and at parties, I used alcohol as a natural sedative to function amongst people without breaking out in hives. At work with the public, I wore an over-compensatory cloak of extreme friendliness to hide my social fears that employers loved, as an always smiling, non-confrontational employee makes any company look great.

(I waited on Henry Rollins while working at a Trader Joe’s in West Hollywood, by the way. He was always very kind, polite, and really loves cheese popcorn.)

I had been playing in bands for the last 12 years, which people who really know me have trouble understanding, considering my anxiety. The best way I can explain it is that onstage, I got to be someone else, and that girl wasn’t the shy, awkward chick who couldn’t make small talk to save her life. (It felt like an acting role. It was a beautiful escape from The Unbearable Lightness of Being Me.)

Then I got married, pregnant, had a baby at 35, moved from Los Angeles to Tulsa, and was suddenly isolated from all family and friends, no longer playing music, while staying with a lovely and kind member of my husband’s family.

The once-carefree, guitar playing and singing rocker chick was now alone all day in the suburbs with a 2-month-old who didn’t sleep more than 2 hours in a row until his 9th month (and stopped napping at 2-years-old).

We now know his sleep issues were symptoms of his ADHD/gifted neurology, but at the time I just thought I was doing everything wrong, as new parents are wont to believe. I was deliriously tired to the point of hallucinating, and… BAM. I experienced depression for the first time in my generally happy life.

I need 8 hours of sleep a night to function, and I was now going on months without REM. Sleep deprivation is used as torture for very good reason. I think this, combined with roller-coaster-ing postpartum hormones, had everything to do with my depression, and I hazily remember tears pouring down my face as I fed the baby.

I was strung out, wrung dry, beyond exhausted, alone without the support of my family or friends, and for the first time in my usually positive, high-energy life, everything felt pointless.

I logically knew I was the luckiest woman alive, with a healthy (albeit sleepless) new baby, a husband who loved me and treated me well, a roof over my head, and food on the table.

But despite all logic to the contrary, my emotional side simply couldn’t grasp that I had no real problems and nothing about which to complain. Sadness was sitting on my shoulder like an unwanted gargoyle of misery, and I couldn’t shake the ugly bastard off, no matter what I tried. Exercise didn’t work anymore. Nature wasn’t cutting it. I was officially depressed.

Possibly the weirdest thing about my depression was that I didn’t even have the will or desire to complain… I just felt kind of numb. I’m a lot of things, but numb isn’t usually one of them. I’m a fighter of injustices. I’m a complainer. I kvetch. I speak up – like I’m doing right now. The numb feeling was my main clue that things were very, very off inside my brain.

The old me that could look optimistically into the future, the girl who simply appreciated “every day above ground” was gone, and in her place was a drained and empty shell that couldn’t figure out where she’d misplaced her hope. It was so weird to logically know all was okay, yet emotionally feel a huge disconnect. I had no reason to be depressed. Nonetheless, I still was depressed. But logic and emotion, as we all know, are two completely separate things.

I had a new understanding about the physiology of mental illness, and oceans empathy for anyone experiencing depression. I vowed to never be of the callous, unsympathetic “People who commit suicide are selfish!” mindset again. Because I wanted to stop feeling sad more than anything in the world, and there was no way to “choose” happy anymore. I finally realized that for many people, happiness is not a choice.

And it’s insulting and cruel to say this. Are you really telling depressed people they’re choosing to be miserable?

I stopped breastfeeding at 6 months, even though I’d wanted to continue for at least my son’s first year. But I needed sleep. My brain chemistry was obviously imbalanced and I was horrified by the fact that I couldn’t escape the fog of sadness. I never reached the point of suicidal thoughts, but I’d definitely checked into Hotel Hopeless, and that was scary enough.

I started getting more sleep, and very slowly, the fog of depression lifted for me.

Because I got lucky.

***

I was entering my 40s before I finally spoke to a psychiatrist about my anxiety, and the only reason I did this was because my hyperactive son needed a calm mommy, and the panic attacks were now happening on a near-daily basis. Only because I could no longer function as a parent (as “leaving the house” is necessary for that job) was I forced to the doctor.

I got on daily Xanax and the panic attacks stopped immediately. I feel no euphoria on the medication, and only like a calmer version of myself who doesn’t go straight into “fight” mode at every perceived threat. The medication gave me back my life, gave my husband back his wife, and most importantly: it makes me a better mother for my son.

I only wish I’d sought help years ago. I’ve wasted so many years living in fear, and it’s partly because people like Henry Rollins who equate mental illness with selfishness made me feel like the chemical imbalances in my brain were a sign of weakness, and something I could control. Because my life isn’t anything but what I make it, right, Henry?

Wrong. And fuck anyone who thinks so. I now know I’m not weak, as I once believed – I’m actually incredibly strong for dealing with my anxiety alone and without help for so long. And I feel the same way about every depressed person on the planet – yes, even if they kill themselves.

***

Two of my mom’s brothers (my uncles) committed suicide in their 20s. They held onto life as long as they could stand it, and killed themselves because the pain of being alive was unbearable, and I don’t see anything selfish in that. It just makes me feel really, really sad for them. Because I have empathy.

Mental illness is legitimate and real, and it’s time we stop making people feel ashamed and alone for physiology beyond their control by ostracizing them for their “icky” feelings because we’re too uncomfortable to talk openly about them. Everyone has a different life perspective, and everyone is allowed to interpret their experiences any way they will, without shame.

What might be “no big deal” to one person can severely traumatize another, because we’re not fucking robots.

Pain is not a contest.

And showing pain is not a sign of weakness.

You’re not stronger than the person dealing with mental illness because you’re handling rough situations better than they are; you might have simply gotten a luckier roll of the genetic dice.

Or maybe you compartmentalize bad things more efficiently.

Or maybe they’ve been pushed over the edge into darkness, and you haven’t yet. Who knows?

But maybe instead of feeling cocky or stronger than them, you could try feeling grateful or compassionate.

Or shit… feel whatever the hell you want to feel… but please stop shaming others for their feelings, because you’re making them feel too humiliated to seek help, and that’s just mean.

 

What anyone who thinks depression is a “choice” made by people who aren’t “making their lives into what they should” needs to realize is that the one thing in the world depressed people wish they could be more than anything else is happy.

 

Nobody “chooses” depression.

 

All Henry Rollins has done with this ignorant opinion is potentially shame people suffering from depression by making them feel weak and pathetic, and possibly too embarrassed to seek help.

 

Way to go, Henry.

 

 

*I am not linking the website of Henry Rollins because I don’t want to increase website traffic for someone with an intolerant and uncompassionate view of mental illness.

 

**Actually, on his website, Henry Rollins spelled the word disdain as distain, but as an English major and Hall & Oates fan from way back, I can’t go for that. (No can do.) Both are official words, which is probably why he didn’t catch it with spellcheck, but in this context, he was clearly using it to mean “scorn or contempt,” which is the definition for disdain.

 

Also: Here’s an excellent article about suicide I highly recommend:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/katie-hurley/theres-nothing-selfish-about-suicide_b_5672519.html

My Parents Are Exhausted and They Don’t Have to Enjoy It

602093_10200780580462065_199201462_n

I was so tired I wasn’t sure if his shirt was real or a very literal and accurate hallucination.

The below piece by Toni Hammer is brilliant, and spot-on for me. As I read it, I mentally screamed, “Yes! Thank you!” because I thought I was the only one. Being told to “enjoy every moment” of parenthood by well-meaning strangers has always had the same guilt-tripping effect on me. “Is there something wrong with me?”  I’ve wondered, while feeling mildly ashamed.

I’ve felt flawed, or emotionally cold, because I don’t yearn for the baby days or look back longingly to when my son was an infant the way I often hear friends saying about their own children. At all. (Okay, maybe the smell of his baby head, but that’s it.) Those were the hardest days of my life. I didn’t yet know my son had ADHD neurology, so I felt bewildered, and like a constant failure. We tried every suggestion from every family member, friend, pediatrician, or book — yet nothing worked for us.

Our son was such a difficult baby and toddler that when combined with a hard look at our finances, we decided to stop at one child. We were being financially responsible, but I often wonder if we’d had a quiet, easy baby the first time around, we might have had the two kids I always wanted.

In fact, even though he’s 9 and much easier, I still often find myself looking forward to my son growing up, becoming easier, and less high-maintenance. So when people tell me to “enjoy every moment,” I’m acutely aware that I haven’t enjoyed every moment, and it makes me feel bad.

Am I a terrible parent because of this?

My son didn’t sleep more than 2 hours in a row for the first 9 months of his life, and then we were still only lucky to get 4-5 hours in a row. I didn’t enjoy a moment of that. I did, however, become clinically depressed from sleep deprivation and start hallucinating because I hadn’t experienced REM sleep in 9 months.

Once he started to walk, my son never stopped moving, but did stop napping by age 2. I did not enjoy that.

He went through a phase where every single time I gave him a bath, he shat in the tub. I did not enjoy that.

He didn’t fully potty train until he was nearly 4-years-old. I did not enjoy that.

Kids with ADHD neurology have a developmental delay in the part of the brain that controls executive functioning, and are generally at least 2 years behind same-age peers emotionally, so we experienced the “Terrible Twos” at age 4. And in case you were wondering, it’s a lot harder physically to carry a wildly thrashing 4-year-old child throwing a fit away from the scene than a smaller 2-year-old, and so unbelievably humiliating. I did not enjoy that.

My son has changed my life for the better and taught me so much. And obviously, there are many, many beautiful moments involved with having a child… but they aren’t all beautiful. And they aren’t all enjoyable. In fact, sometimes things happen that we’d rather forget. And that’s okay.

Great writing… check it out:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/toni-hammer/please-stop-telling-moms-to-enjoy-every-moment_b_6498336.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000037

Fitness Faux Pas: 5 Ways You’re Doing the Gym Wrong

6785168533_22e0a671ce_z (2)

 

Every day, I go to the gym after I see my son off to school. I’m diagnosed with ADHD and generalized anxiety/panic disorder, so after I have a green protein shake and my delicious daily Xanax, I go to the gym. This allows me to burn excess energy, get the positive endorphins flowing, and work off anxiety.

And every day, the people in my gym unknowingly cause me some of the anxiety I’m there to alleviate.

I’ve been working out at home and in gyms since I was 14, and am well-versed in proper weightlifting form. I’m one of those wacky people who’s always loved to exercise, probably because it corrects a lot of my brain chemical imbalances and raises my low self-esteem. (Let’s hear it for body image issues! Woo! No? Just me?) If I start my day with a good workout, I have a better day. It’s guaranteed. So not going to the gym isn’t an option.

Because of the aforementioned anxiety disorder, I belong to a smaller gym. I chose it because I can see the exits from everywhere in the gym, and the front is made of glass. If this sounds odd to you, familiarize yourself with the symptoms of generalized anxiety and panic disorder (similar to PTSD), and you’ll understand.

(I don’t like crowds, I need a clear escape route wherever I go, I have an overactive startle reflex, and I trust no one. Xanax literally gave me back my life; at least the life outside of my home.)

But the people. Oh, some of the people in my gym. Just… wow.

I should say that most of the people in my gym are nice, have great manners, we say hello, and they’re lovely humans. But there are a few that stress me out on a regular basis, and those are the people I’d like to discuss here.

With this in mind, I want to send out into the intellectual ether a list of annoying gym habits, so people may nod their heads in agreement with me – or will please stop doing these things if they recognize themselves.

***

 1. The Super Slammer— 

Hi, Meatbird. May I call you Meatbird? No? Okay, sorry. It’s just that you seem obsessed with amassing flesh on your upper body, while completely ignoring the lower half. Your workout regimen is giving you the appearance of a bulky, top-heavy bird, and calling you “Turkey” seemed rude. Forgive me. I’m probably just being bitchy because I’m jealous of your delicate ankles.

Anyhow… Chad. Todd. Blake. Whatever your name is. If you could stop slamming the weights down after every… single… one… of the 5 reps you’re barely able to do because you’re lifting more than you can handle, that would be great. (<— Say this in the classic “Office Space” annoying boss voice for extra points.)

Because firstly, you’re scaring the ever-loving shit out of everyone in the gym who isn’t looking in your direction when you loudly drop the weights. Yes, even the people who don’t have anxiety disorders.

And secondly, those who are knowledgeable about weightlifting realize that controlling your repetitions on the way down is just as important for muscle-building as the upward movement.

In short: You’re being such a loud jackass that I can’t even drown out your crashing noises with my headphones cranked to the max. Stop it. And learn proper weightlifting form, brah. You look like total newb.

 2. The Heartrate Hog— 

Hi, Lady at My Gym Who Wears Jeans and Does the Crossword on the Recumbent Bike for an Hour. I just wanted to let you know you’re being rude.

“Why?” you may ask. Or not. I don’t care. I’m going to tell you either way. You’re being rude because there are only 2 recumbent bikes in our smallish gym for middle-aged people like myself who trashed our knees via youthful running, and can now only do knee-friendly cardio. Since we can’t fit a swimming pool in our gym, this leaves only the bikes for bunk-kneed folks like me.

Except… when you monopolize 1 of the 2 bikes while the other is in use to pedal so slowly you’re able to legibly write words across and down. Then, this doesn’t leave any bikes at all. Just you. In your jeans and cardigan. Doing the crossword. For an hour.

It’s sometimes written via signs on gym walls, but mostly it’s an Unspoken Rule of Gym Club (it’s the second rule, actually… I’m breaking the first rule with this article) that if all versions of a cardio machine are full, polite gym members limit their cardio to 30 minutes per machine.

Did you know this? Of course you didn’t, or I’m sure you would stop your rousing hour-long game of newspaper trivia to let someone else have a chance to bike.

In short: Why you don’t spend your gym membership money on a recumbent bike for your home, and give those of us who want to break a sweat a chance to do some fucking cardio? Thanks.

3. Just the Pro-Tip, I Promise— 

Hi, Brian. I’m calling you Brian for this article, because that’s the actual name of the guy at my gym who used to give me constant pro-tips. Because of this, all pro-tippers will forever be known as Brian to me. Sorry, nice Brians of the world. It’s not your fault. Brian at my gym ruined it for you. Blame pro-tip Brian, other Brians.

Even though I don’t know Brian at all, Brian likes to walk over to me while I’m doing leg lift machine reps and give me amazing pro-tips like “twist your legs from side to side to work all the muscles.” I stupidly tried it. This resulted in my wrenched knees becoming so painful from twisting them while lifting that I couldn’t walk the next day.

Brian also gave me a pro-tip that involved my neck muscles, which are easily hurt ever since I was rear-ended by a distracted driver doing 50 MPH as I waited for a light to turn green. I told Brian this, but he assured me that no, it wouldn’t hurt my neck. That pro-tip set my fitness regimen back about a week as I waited for my strained neck muscles to heal.

Now I ignore Brian, and all the other pro-tip givers trying to “help me” (read: boost their insecure egos by condescendingly trying to teach someone who already knows how to exercise).

In short: Unless I’m paying you to be my personal trainer, get the fuck out of my face and let me work out. And save your ego issues for your therapist, unless you’re going to pay me to help you with those. Brian.

4. My Long Lost Relative— 

Hi, My Long Lost Relative! It’s great to meet you!

What do you mean, we’re not related? I don’t understand.

No, I’m not crazy, I promise. It’s just that you left so much DNA via the oily rivulets of fluid dripping down the seat and back of the weight machine you last used, that when I sat in it, I figured we became automatic Sweat Siblings.

So what you’re saying is that we’re not Sweat Siblings now? Darn.

I’m disappointed because I was hoping that you could be the younger Sweat Sibling. And then cleaning repulsive human secretions off the weight machines would be a chore our Sweat Mom would make you do. You know, since you left them there and all.

In short: You’re disgusting. See all the free paper towels and bottles of cleaner our gym has conveniently placed in all areas? Use them, you horrifying perspiration beast.

5. The Lazy Lifter—

Hi, Lazy Lifter! Yes, you. I’m talking to you.

“But I’m at the gym… how can I be lazy?” you ask?

You’re lazy because you come to the gym, in theory, to exercise, and then despite the signs asking you to rack your weights, you still leave them on the bars and machines for someone else to take off.

I notice this most often when I walk over to use the leg press machine and there are 4 heavy weights on the bar – on each side – that have been left by the last user. This makes me worry that someone is still using it, and also, that I’m going to pull that pesky weak-ass neck muscle I mentioned above as I unload the 8 large weights you left behind.

This is equivalent to getting a glass of milk and leaving the carton out for the next person to put into the refrigerator for you.

This is equivalent to taking a big dump in a toilet and leaving it for the next person to flush for you.

This is equivalent to being an inconsiderate asshole who leaves weights on the machines for the next person to take off for you.

In short: There’s no short version of this one. If you don’t know what I’m asking you to do, you’re as dumb as the weights you don’t put back where they belong.

***

This concludes my current list of top gym etiquette frustrations, with a bonus shout-out to the guy who “saves” machines by putting his gym bag on the one he’s not using at the moment, like we’re in a high school cafeteria rather than a gym.

Also: An extra-special bonus shout-out goes to the large man who was at the gym the one – and last – time I tried to go at 4 a.m. to avoid the crowds (and be guaranteed a precious recumbent bike).

When it was just you and me, alone in the gym, sir, and you growled in a disturbingly sexual way while lifting weights, and then counted your reps out loud in a raspy serial killer voice behind me, I decided I’d never go to the gym in the dark again. Thanks for the extra terror-calories I burned that day, dude. My hot bod will totally be worth the nightmares.

*Cool photo at top by SandyJo Kelly, via Flikr Creative Commons.

Public School and the Island of Misfit Boys

on_the_island_of_misfit_toys_by_guttergoo-d4iimum

 

It’s often discussed amongst parents and teachers that our public school children aren’t getting enough exercise to work out their “kid energy.” We older folks remember having multiple recesses, while simultaneously wondering why obesity is becoming a problem for our country’s youth.

P.E. and the liberal arts classes that teach children creative thinking — a trait every bit as valuable as math skills and English rules — are now referred to as “specials” at my 9-year-old son’s school, and rotated throughout the week. This means the kids only get one of these types of classes each day. When I was a kid, we had daily P.E. and music or art multiple times per week.

~

I recently went to my son’s school to eat lunch with him, where the kids are allotted exactly 20 minutes to file into the room, wait in line to get their school lunch, or find a table and start eating a home lunch. I almost always pack my son’s lunch because he tells me this gives him more time. Never enough time to finish his lunch, though. He always brings the unfinished part home to eat after school.

The sweet little girl who sat next to me was trying to quickly eat the apple on her lunch tray. She told me, “I always try to eat as much of the apple as I can before they give the 5-minute warning, then I hurry to try to eat the rest of the lunch.” I watched her throw away half of the uneaten apple, with the rest of her unfinished lunch. She wanted to eat the healthy apple. She was unable to eat it. This is ridiculous.

~

I know you’re probably thinking at this point, “Well they’re kids… they’re probably talking rather than eating during the 15 minutes they have in which to eat after settling down at a table with their lunches.” And I thought this too, since my son always brings home part of his lunch uneaten. That’s why this visit was so shocking for me.

Because, no. It turns out my son’s cafeteria has two teacher’s aides who walk around with microphones to silence the children who’re constantly reminded to quiet down, and rushed to eat, with the last 5-minute warning being a period of complete silence. I watched a table of 8 kids try to eat their food, and only one of them was able to eat the entire meal. (He was shoveling food into his mouth, which seems like an unhealthy habit to force a child to establish.)

~

As we sat in silence, with the kids trying finish their lunches, I wondered why I was there. It was the opposite everything my childhood lunches had been: we’d had time to socialize and chat with friends while enjoying a meal. We were always able to finish eating, with time to spare.

As the microphone-carrying women admonished the children who dared to talk while eating, the room felt militaristic and creepy. And despite the “prison guards” with their amplification devices, most of the children still didn’t finish their meals.

The kids then ran outside for the one recess they get per day. That’s right, you heard me: one chance to exercise, one chance to work off some energy so they might be better able to sit still in class. That’s it. One.

~

My son is officially “twice exceptional,” which means he is of gifted intelligence combined with atypical neurology. He is diagnosed with ADHD, and on an extremely low dose of ADHD medication, which makes me wonder if, were he allowed to have more recesses and daily P.E. like we were as kids, he might be able to handle the rigid structure of the public school system without medication.

We’ve tried to take him off his medication, and he can’t handle it, however. He has the energy of a joyful puppy, and he needs chances to burn it off in order to focus. But he’s not getting any guaranteed chances beyond that one recess.

I don’t understand why I can see that more physical activity would help all children – male or female – do better in school, yet school officials don’t seem to get this. Every country ranking above us in global education prioritizes physical activity as an important tool for helping kids learn, and it’s proven to work, yet we, the overweight Americans are moving in the opposite direction.

~

There are 3 boys in his class, my son tells me, who are allowed to stand while doing work. While I applaud his teacher for offering a solution to this problem, I don’t understand why my son’s school doesn’t recognize that so many children having excess energy and causing classroom disruptions could be drastically reduced by giving the kids more opportunities to exercise.

My son knows 2 other boys on ADHD medications, and boys tend to (very much in general) be more immature and therefore hyperactive/impulsive than girls, but this need for more exercise and creative free play time applies to girls as well, obviously.

I was a little girl with both-undiagnosed gifted intelligence and ADHD, for example, who sat bored and restlessly staring out the window. Teachers wrote on my report cards that I “daydreamed too much in class,” yet even then, I was getting much more daily exercise and liberal arts classes (that we’re slowly eliminating and calling “specials”) than today’s youth.

I feel that my son, all our sons, and all our daughters, are not being given enough chances to move around, and be silly, goofy kids during the school day.

I’m dismayed that my son’s school lunch time feels like a boot camp meal.

And most of all, I’m extremely displeased that so many parents of hyperactive kids are forced to medicate our children to boost their immature prefrontal cortex development and executive functioning… simply so they can attend an unrealistically restrictive public school.

~

I understand the physiology behind ADHD and don’t deny that my son has a neurological developmental delay; but considering that a minimum of 10-11% of the population has ADHD (this number is only the percentage of the officially diagnosed), I think it’s time for the schools to change the way they teach our children. And I’d like this change to start with more physical activity. More free play, socializing, and recess, so our kids can better learn when it’s time to sit still and focus.

Why? Because I shouldn’t have to take my son to a behavioral therapist, a psychologist, and feed him scary medications just so he can fit into a rigid and intellectually inhibiting system that sets up smart, inquisitive, energetic kids for failure, no matter how hard they try.

~

My son is advanced enough that we were offered the chance to move him up a grade, but because his ADHD neurology makes him unable to conform to the behavioral expectations of a higher grade, this is not an option for us.

So he is bored, and when un-medicated, disrupts the other children by talking out of turn and not sitting still. He then gets in trouble and feels like a bad kid for something he can’t physically control, so the cycle of low self-esteem and anxiety progresses… along with our therapy expenses.

Much like the misfit toys featured in the popular “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” TV special we see every winter break, my son doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. There is no place for him in the current public education system, yet when I discuss homeschooling him, he cries and begs me to not do it, because he’s so gregarious and outgoing, and would miss his friends.

Because we can’t afford private school, we are officially out of options.

~

Structure is important and necessary, lest the classrooms become chaotic, and I applaud all good teachers for their patience and everything they do. This is not a teacher-bashing piece, but instead a cry for help aimed at the public school system.

In short: My child doesn’t attend a military school, but it feels like it, and I think that’s wrong. Our young public school kids are being forced to conform to what I believe are near-adult behavioral expectations, and this causes them – and their parents – unnecessary anxiety, and hampers the educational process.

If anyone reading this has the power to change the direction of public education, please consider refocusing on more opportunities for physical exercise, such as multiple daily recesses, and more emphasis on music, art, and physical education classes. These were once important parts of our public education, and most of us who remember having them don’t understand why they’re being taken from our children.

The next time you’re contemplating how to fix our obviously broken and underfunded public educational system, giving children more opportunities to be kids every day would be a great starting point. They’ll have the rest of their lives to be adults, after all.

***
~

*Cool artwork at top copyright CJS 2011 a.k.a. guttergoo at DeviantArt.

Gym Probs: No, You Can’t Intimidate Me While I Lift Weights

Middle Finger

Yesterday afternoon, I decided to go to my gym.

After my usual 30 minutes of warm-up cardio, I moved to the weight machines. My gym has 6 leg machines in an area where I do 3 sets of 15-20 reps on each, waiting only 30 seconds between each set so I don’t cartelize the machines.

There’s a guy who monopolizes the machines by checking his phone between sets for 2-3 minutes, for example, which keeps him on a machine for at least 15 minutes. I don’t want to be that rude person. So I try to be considerate and do my 3 sets quickly— plus the “hit it hard” factor of 3 sets with only 30 seconds of rest between each really builds up my legs. Not rude machine hog + tired muscles = a win-win.

***

There were 4 people in my small, empty gym. This means that there were plenty of machines open. I normally do my upper body and core/ab exercises at home via DVD, so I use the gym for my cardio and legs of steel. (That’s right… steel, I say. They’re not skinny, but I leg press 200 pounds 20 times for 3 quick sets like it’s nothing, pals. Mama got some big strong legs.)

So I used the inner and outer thigh machines, and after those I normally move to the leg press machine, then use the 2 hamstring and quad-building machines. But this guy kept using the leg press machine, walking away across the gym, then coming back to use the leg press machine again. So no big deal: I used the machines in a different order, trying to not get in his way. He had probably used the leg press machine for 6 or 7 sets when I finally had nothing left but that machine.

My husband and son were waiting for me at home to go to a family gathering, so I needed to finish up. I figured the big dude had used that machine 6+ times—surely I can whip out my 3 sets (again, I allow only 30 seconds of rest between each set… I’m fast) and get out of here. I tried to stay out of his way and use the other 5 machines, but this is all I’ve got left, and I need to get going. I should mention that we also have a lying-on-your-back “sled” leg press machine at our gym that was open this whole time that basically works the same muscles.

***

So I got onto the seated leg press, ready to whip out my last 3 sets and go, and after my first set of 20 reps, I rested for 30 seconds.

Guess who came to sit on a bench 10 feet to my left and stare at me between my first and second set? Yep. The same guy who’d now used the machine at least 7 times. I’d tried to be considerate for this man by saving my time on this machine for my last exercise, because I thought, “Surely he’s going to be done using it soon? How many freaking sets are you going to do on the same machine, dude?”

I sensed he was going to come ask to “work in with me,” so I quickly started my next set. He sighed loudly, obviously, doing the bodily version of an eye roll, then stalked over to the other side of the gym. You know, the other side where the identical-except-you-lie-on-your-back leg press machine lives? Yeah.

***

So I had 2 of my 3 sets down, and was giving myself the 30 second rest break before I started my last set. One more to go and my workout was done. Annnnnd… then Sir Douchebag came back over to sit on the 10-feet-away bench and stare aggressively at me. Again.

I turned my head to adjust the weight, to let him know I was ignoring him. This seemed to anger him, the same way a toddler gets mad when you ignore their attempts to get your attention during a tantrum. I tensed my legs to push through my final set on the seated leg press machine.

I wear headphones to the gym to block out sudden, unexpected noises because I am diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety and Panic Disorder and PTSD, and the weight slamming of lazy-lifters (i.e. people who lift more than they can handle, and don’t understand that controlling the weight on the way down matters just as much as the upward movement) has sent me shaking to my car, fighting a panic attack.

So I didn’t hear this guy walking the 10 feet toward me. He gestured and was saying something, but I couldn’t hear him over Queens of the Stone Age, so I pulled off my headphones, and said in an irritated voice, “Can I help you?” because I knew damned well what this idiot wanted.

He wanted to “work in with me.”

In case anyone is unaware, what “Hey, can I work in with you?” means when you’re a woman in a gym is: “Hey, I’m a big guy, and your girly workout is less important than mine because I’m stronger and feel entitled because of this, so move out of my way.”

Whether or not that’s how it’s intended, that’s how it feels, guys. Deal with it. But most importantly, try to understand it.

Also realize my gym is not a crowded gym in a large city, where “working in” might be necessary. My gym is a tiny, empty gym in the Great Plains region of our fine country. There were exactly 5 people in the gym this day, including me.

Never mind that I’ve belonged to this gym for over 2 years and I’ve never seen this guy before.

Never mind that I’ve been working out since age 15 and have better lifting form than he does (he was one of the aforementioned loud ‘n’ lazy-lifters, by the way).

Never mind that he’d already used this particular machine 3 times as many times as I had.

Never mind that I pay the same fucking monthly dues as he does for the machine usage, and was in the middle of my workout.

HIS workout was obviously more important than mine. HE felt entitled to sit like an aggressive asshole, 10 feet from me and stare at me in an attempt to make me uncomfortable, giving no thought to how physically threatened that might make a woman feel— or perhaps giving ALL thought to how intimidated that would hopefully make me feel.

Unfortunately for this dipshit, I have an anxiety disorder that sends me past freeze or flight, and directly into fight when I feel threatened. This is not something of which I’m proud—in fact I’m working on stopping this response, because when I finally blow, I go dangerously big, and I have a child who needs his mother—but I learned young that if you show fear, the aggressive men see you as prey. And I will not allow myself to be victimized without a fight ever again.

***

So I said “No. I’m going to finish my set.” And I put my headphones back on.

He continued to sit, glowering at me from the nearby bench to my left, staring as I now slowly, passive-aggressively did each leg press, adding 10 more reps onto my usual 20 just to prove to him I wouldn’t be bullied off the machine.

In the middle of my last set, while he glared at me, I again pulled off my headphones, and said, “There’s a gym full of other machines you could be using right now. Is there NOTHING ELSE you could be doing besides using this machine?”

He replied, “It’s the last thing I need to do before I’m done.”

I replied, “Me too. So I’m going to finish,” and continued until I was done.

He then made a big production of hastily jumping on the machine like he was in a huge hurry when I got off.

As I grabbed my purse to leave after that, I noticed this guy (again, with only 4 other people total in the gym, he was easy to spot) on the other side of the room, getting busy with another machine.

So, not only was he a self-centered asshole who thought his workout was more important than mine, he was also a liar.

Last thing you had to do? Yeah, whatever, asshole. The actual last thing you had to do was fuck with me while I tried to squeeze my 3 quick sets in-between the 8 sets you’d done on the same machine while I stupidly tried to save it for last… because of I was trying to be considerate of you.

I won’t be considerate again. And fuck you.

Women who lift weights, I want to remind you that your workout is as important as anyone else’s, so don’t ever let anyone intimidate you off the machines this way.

If, like myself, you’re hustling and working it—not playing on your phone, or chatting while sitting on a machine—but actively trying to get some strength training; you have just as much of a right to be on that machine as any guy in the gym. Don’t let them intimidate or bully you out of their way.

This is not a writing about gym etiquette, this is a piece about a male being oblivious to his privilege. Being male and not realizing how threatening you can seem to women equals you being oblivious to your male privilege. Wake up. And stop it. Imagine someone frightening your daughter, mother, or significant other this way if it helps you find your empathy or understand.  

And guys who do this: shame on you for being completely insensitive to how scared you can make a woman feel with your body language and words, and for assuming your needs are more important. Your parents obviously raised you poorly, so I guess the rest of us will have to teach you to recognize that the world doesn’t revolve around your entitled ass for them.

Lucky us.

5 Things to Kindly Keep in Mind with People Processing Violence

The_diary_of_a_birthday_doll_(1908)_(14757074136)

Children learn what they see, so please, lead by positive example. Psychologically healthy parents protect their children, they don’t hit them. Fear and respect are not the same thing, and children deserve to feel safe.

 

People who’ve survived any form of physical abuse or threat are often left with hard-to-heal emotional scars. The damage can take many forms, such as: sexual molestation, rape, being physically struck or beaten, experiencing danger, and military service. But no matter how personal safety violations are inflicted, any may lead to psychological dysfunction.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, dissociation, denial, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are some issues experienced by humans whose nervous systems have been pushed beyond their limits. People who experience assault-based trauma are more likely to develop PTSD, but everyone has a different level of stress they can handle before becoming permanently overwhelmed. Because all humans are different, there’s no way to predict psychological disorders, and no guaranteed cures.

Some common symptoms felt by those who’ve been in threatening situations may include hypervigilance, being easily startled, insomnia, never feeling safe, brain fog, irritability, an exaggerated fight-or-flight response, mood swings, and panic attacks involving dizziness, nausea, sweating, rapid heartbeat, tunneling vision, or a sense of impending doom.

Below are 5 things to kindly keep in mind while talking to people processing violence:

  1. The Compassion Competition—

One of the worst assumptions to make about a person affected by violence is that they lack perspective or don’t understand that somebody always has it worse. Abused people know they’re not the only person to which injustice has happened, and unless they’ve never been on the Internet, they’re obviously aware of life’s many atrocities.

Examples of this might be saying, “Well, at least THIS WORSE THING didn’t happen to you…” and giving an example of something you consider a greater wrongdoing.

This reaction completely invalidates the feelings of the person who trusted you enough to confide, and insults their intelligence. The fact that bad things also happen to others doesn’t magically erase the bad things that have happened to them, no matter where you’d place the abuse on your spectrum.

In short: Pain is not a contest. You can show empathy to more than one person at a time without dismissing the feelings of anyone. Because regardless of how someone was hurt, it always matters.

  1. The Dance of Denial—

Many victims of physical or sexual abuse find themselves alone with their pain because the topic makes others feel uncomfortable. This can be especially true if the person was violated by a family member.

Families sometimes brush unflattering stories about sexual or physical abusers under the rug because it’s hard to believe a relative is capable of such brutality. But this reaction can re-victimize people by invalidating their pain.

Often, rather than helping those harmed by a family member or stranger, friends and relatives defensively ignore the issue, allowing the perpetrator to get away with something evil. This lack of justice or support can severely hamper the healing process, because a person can’t heal from a wound nobody will acknowledge.

In short: Abuse at the hands of a stranger -or- a family member hurts, and all forms of abuse are abuse. Ignoring the “icky” can make those harmed feel like they’ve done something wrong, rather than the person who caused the damage. Listen, believe, and strengthen instead of shaming.

  1. The Blame Game—

If you ever feel like saying, “Well that person is a ____, so what did you expect?” or, “I just accept that they’re messed up, and ignore it. That’s just who they are!” about the person who harmed someone, go ahead and keep that thought to yourself, because it reeks of victim blaming.

You may have the best intentions, such as trying to commiserate with the person who’s sharing their painful experience with you. However, what they often hear instead is: “Shame on you for being stupid. You should have known what you were dealing with, and anticipated your own violation.”

In short: Nobody in a civilized society should ever have to expect violence. Don’t imply that people could have predicted their own abuse and avoided it, because this only makes you look uncompassionate.

  1. Downplaying the Damage—

There is nothing more unhelpful than someone telling you to “get over it” in reference to anything, including the violation of your personal safety. Unless you have the ability to crawl into another person’s psyche and assess how something has affected them, dismissing their damage can be downright dangerous.

Everyone has a right to feel safe, and whether you’ve experienced similar things or not, your decision that everyone else has to deal with emotions exactly the way you do is thoughtless and condescending, at best.

Being told you’re “histrionic” or to “put on your big boy/big girl pants” are examples of thoughtless advice, and often given by those who choose to live in denial, rather than being brave enough to deal with their problems. This form of blatant invalidation is heartless and harmful. If someone has the courage to face their personal demons, rather than attempting to humiliate them into silence because of your own cowardice, you might instead watch and learn.

In short: Gaslighting is gross. Stop trying to make people feel like they’re overreacting or incorrectly imagining their own abuse. Everybody’s emotions are valid, and your motives are questionable if you’d prefer people in pain “suck it up and move on.” If you feel this way, why don’t YOU move on… somewhere out of hearing range.

  1. No Pity Parties, Please—

Most people who’ve been hurt by someone else are furious that they were forced into the role of victim, and don’t enjoy it. Treating them with compassion is lovely, but viewing them with pity can be upsetting. Being helpless is the worst feeling in the world, and nobody who’s experienced it ever wants to feel it again.

The word “survivor” is preferred over the word “victim” by many because it implies strength, rather than weakness. Surviving doesn’t have to mean someone has survived a life-or-death situation, either—it simply means someone is trying to accept and cope with what’s happened to them.

In short: Nobody chooses to be abused, and treating people like they’re fragile or broken because of the violating actions of another can frustrate them. Let them know you think they’re strong for moving forward, despite those who’ve tried to hold them back. Survivors of abuse would much rather you celebrate their courage than pity them.

***

People on the path to wellness don’t appreciate roadblocks created by other humans, well-intentioned or not. If you truly want to help someone move past bad things that have happened to them, listen to and believe them, don’t invalidate their feelings, and try to empathize.

Kindness and understanding go a long way in this world, and by avoiding the potentially harmful reactions listed above, you might give someone the compassion and support they need to heal themselves.

Victim Impact Statement

kindergartenT

Me, age 5.

When I was 15 years old, my biological father viciously beat me up via repeated closed-fist punches to both sides of my face, eyes, and mouth. He has grossly downplayed his brutal actions over the years by lying to our family, as many shame-filled, violent offenders do.

I am writing this Victim Impact Statement because I am tired of explaining the ways in which my father repeatedly punched me in the face to people who wonder how I could possibly have an anxiety disorder or PTSD.

If a stranger had jumped anyone in an alley to beat them as severely as my father did me, no rational or intelligent person would be surprised to learn they had an anxiety disorder from the experience.

I will be sending anyone who wants to understand from where I’m coming to this writing from now on, because I’m creating a personal boundary I’d like all to respect.

Every time I am forced to discuss my father’s violence, it makes me think about a bad experience I’d rather not relive via repeated dialogue.

I refuse to deny what happened, because facts are facts, and it very much affected me, both emotionally and physically. To deny it is to deny the truth, and I won’t do that.

The truth is that my father should have been in jail for what he did, and had I called the police, he would have been. And he knows this. Not because I would have been lying, but because I was unrecognizably bruised and swollen, bleeding, covered in my own blood—and he didn’t have a scratch on him.

But I accept that it happened, and also that I can move forward into wellness, even if nobody believes me.

I would like to officially invite all doubtful people to join me here in Acceptance World. Because Denial World is not a place in which anyone can heal. And Nobody Believes Me Even Though I Have No Reason to Lie World invalidates me and hurts my feelings, so I’m not letting anyone send me there anymore.

You can believe me or not—that’s your prerogative—but my truth is no longer on trial.

I am not awaiting your verdict.

You can, however, consider yourself a part of a very disturbing problem if you believe the grown man who beat up a 15-year-old girl was in any way justified for this horrendous action.

If anyone needs further confirmation, I am still in contact with many school friends who saw my swollen, beaten face, puffed-up lips with cuts inside that bled if I smiled, two bruised eyes with one swollen shut, and chipped front tooth. The same friends who saw me drink my “lunch shake” through a straw for a week until the inner mouth cuts healed enough to stop bleeding, allowing me to chew again.

My science teacher was so shocked by my post-beating appearance she called Child Protective Services, causing a social worker to come to our home, who offered to drive me away on the spot. This means my abuse was legally recorded by my school and the Arizona Department of Child Safety (teachers are legally required to do this).

There is also an impartial non-relative witness to the event: my former stepmother, who screamed at my father to stop punching me, cleaned up my bloody, swelling face, and disposed of my blood-soaked clothes.

It turns out mouth cuts bleed a lot. Until my father repeatedly punched me in the face, I didn’t know this. I’m getting ahead of myself.

I think what I’m mostly trying to ask of you is please, stop blaming the victim. Start believing the victim.

(Also, please realize the victim doesn’t consider herself a victim and hates that label because it implies weakness and she’s one of the strongest people you’ll ever meet, but can’t think of a better way to say the above. Thanks.)

Below, I’ve written for anyone wondering, exactly what happened. Not “my version of what happened” but what actually happened.

You may have been given a different version of the events by the man who beat up a teenage girl, and I would like you to please use basic common sense and realize the person with nothing to hide and everything to lose is telling you the truth, not the man who is rightly ashamed of beating up a girl.

I am not afraid of legal repercussions or slander charges as I write this, because I know I am telling the truth and have nothing to fear. My father has lied to my family over the years, describing what was actually 6-7 sudden, hard, closed-fist punches to my face as “a slap to the mouth” to make me look like I’m exaggerating.

He recently confessed to his sister that yes, he actually did punch the shit out of me, but then lied about the circumstances, prompting her to tell me I deserved to be beaten up, as if there is ever a justification for a 36-year-old man to beat up a 15-year-old girl.

(I can forward you the email in which she admits he told her he beat me up if you still need proof.)

She stupidly believed his lies, once again. Yes, that’s right. She believed the person with every reason to lie—the man trying to make something he did look less disgusting or somehow justifiable—over the person with no reason to lie. She abused her daughter, too, so I think she’s hoping that by justifying my father’s violence, she can justify her own.

I now realize they are both very sick, psychologically damaged people, and am officially done trying to salvage a relationship with either one. I will explain this further below.

Because of my father’s fists punching my eyes, my optic nerves are permanently damaged with no other explanation. My eye doctor has confirmed that being beaten to the point of having swollen shut, blackened eyes without medical treatment is likely the cause, as I have no other glaucoma symptoms. (He couldn’t figure it out until I finally shared that I’d been punched in the eyes and face repeatedly without medical/anti-inflammatory treatment. This can cause permanent nerve damage.)

I have to get the chipped tooth my father’s fist knocked out replaced whenever the composite filling falls out.

I will pay for my father’s violence for the rest of my life financially and physically. I’m working with psychological professionals to heal the emotional damage, because that is the only thing I can hope to lessen.

chippedfronttooth

On the way to get a chunk of front tooth my dad’s fist knocked out replaced a few years ago. Again. No, he’s never offered to pay for this, even though he caused the damage. A real stand-up guy, right?

 ~

I share my story because I’m one hundred percent tired of discussing it and trying to convince even my own family members that this happened to me. It did. I have no reason to lie. By ending contact with my father for my emotional and psychological well-being 10 years ago, I lost a large financial inheritance… and it was worth every penny.

Because love is what matters in this life, not money. On your deathbed, the amount of money you amassed means nothing. The difference you made in the world, and the kindness you’ve shown others is all that matters.

At least, that’s what I believe will matter to me. Was I a good, honest, compassionate person with integrity? If I can answer yes to this question, I will be satisfied with my life.

I don’t feel sorry for myself, I am not seeking pity, and I am aware that worse things happen every day all over the world.

And this fact doesn’t negate what happened to me, or make my feelings about it any less valid.

Below is a detailed account of my father’s abusive actions, and the psychological impact his violent, sudden, and completely unjustified attack had on me.

~

My biological father was sitting in my newly-painted stark white bedroom – the one he’d destroyed in a fit of immature rage while I was at school that day. Every music poster I’d saved to buy had been torn down and destroyed, all color and life drained from my room via coat of white paint, creating what it already felt like to me anyhow: a prison cell.

The latest thing I’d done to piss him off was bleach my hair white blonde against his wishes because I wanted to look like a Madonna album cover. It was the late ‘80s, and I thought her hair looked rad. My father, upon seeing the hair color I’d secretly bleached told me the next morning before school I looked like a cheap whore. I told him I thought it looked cool, and assumed our latest conflict was over… until I came home to my completely-stripped-of-all-personality bedroom.

~

When my father walked into my Benjamin Moore Jailhouse White-painted bedroom to lecture me, I’d been sitting on my bed listening to a record. He lectured me about my disobedience, this time in reference to my bleached hair, although there’d been previous incidents that contributed to his worn patience with me.

I’m diagnosed with ADHD, and have always had extra nervous energy to burn off every day. Sometimes I’d catch myself rocking in place, or tapping a foot without realizing I was doing so. Unfortunately, this was a foot tapping time.

My dad noticed I was tapping my foot to the beat while he lectured, saw it as an act of defiance, and lost his temper.

~

He had a sudden, flash, blackout rage-type of temper. When he got back from Vietnam, I experienced it in the form of hitting, smacking, and having to go get the belt.

One cruel memory that stuck with me was when he snapped each of my individual crayons in half and dropped them, one by one, into the kitchen garbage can while my mom and I begged him to stop. My sister had left them on the floor, and not me, but I was punished anyway. He smiled as I sobbed.

Another disturbing memory involves his arriving home, taking off the black horrible-smelling socks in which he’d worked construction all day in the Phoenix heat, holding me down, and putting them over my mouth and nose. I would nearly suffocate trying to not breathe the horrible smell, and would struggle—little girl versus large man. If I peed my pants or accidentally kicked him during these struggles to escape, he would smack me as hard as he could. It would sting like bees wherever he’d hit me, so being 5 or 6-years-old, I’d sob until he told me to shut up or he’d “give me something to cry about.”

Luckily my mom divorced him when I was 7, remarried when I was 8, and moved us away to Kansas. My biological father still managed to occasionally smack me on summer vacations with him, but at least the majority of the year was spent far away.

~

But now I was 15, and once again unsuccessfully living with him. My father’s well-known temper this time culminated in his grabbing the record spinning on my player, and snapping it in half in front of me.

“There! NOW will you pay attention to what I’m saying?!” he yelled.

The nervous foot tapping. Whoops.

I told him to stop breaking my records. He grabbed another from the pile, pulled it out of the jacket, and snapped it. Then another. And another.

I’d already lost every music poster for which I’d saved, and was now watching my record collection disappear, one snap at a time. I wasn’t a rich kid, and had saved every allowance or bit of birthday money to buy everything I had. Often I skipped school lunch so I could save the few extra dollars per week that allowed. I knew I’d never replace everything in my room he’d destroyed that day.

Desperate to get him away from my quickly-depleting record collection, I ran to the living room to grab one of his records, holding it in the air, poised to snap, just as he’d destroyed mine. It was an album by The Beatles. The difference between my father and me was that I couldn’t do it.

He yelled at me to drop the record, and I replied, “Then stop breaking my fucking records!”

My mom told me later when I spoke to her on the phone about the beating that the f-word had triggered him to smack her across the face when they were married, too.

He dropped the record he’d carried out of my room to punch me repeatedly in the head and face, three or four hard, closed-fist punches with his right, then three or four blows with the left. He was an equal opportunity abuser, according to both sides of my now-swelling, bleeding face.

The attack was so sudden and vicious, one blow after another, that it took me a moment to stop trying to defend my 15-year-old self from a man with weight machines in his garage and a history of hitting women and children. I think I tried to block with my arms. I should’ve run after the first punch. It just happened so fast. There wasn’t really time to react beyond instinct.

Punchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunch, his fists rapid-fired at my head like gunshots.

I finally ducked, turned, and ran for the front door, blood pouring from my mouth because my teeth had been knocked so repeatedly against my gums that the area above and below inside my lips was shredded. My peach sweater and white skirt were blood-soaked from the gushing mouth cuts, and the skirt proved a traitor, allowing my father fabric to grab, preventing me from fleeing.

Thwarted from escape, I curled up into a ball, trying to protect my head and face, and my father kicked my curled-up body, sneering at me, “Stop being so dramatic.”

Being dramatic? That was when I heard the screams. I hadn’t realized they were coming from me until he spoke, snapping me back to reality, and stealing the protection of psychological dissociation from my traumatized brain.

I remember looking up into the light coming from the beautiful etched glass panels in the front door my dad and his current wife had picked out through the one eye that hadn’t swelled shut. I was groggy and confused, wondering why I hadn’t made it to the other side. I didn’t understand why so much warm liquid was running out of my mouth.

~

My stepmom had my infant half-brother in her arms when my father started punching, and now that she’d found a safe place for the baby, she ran to where he stood over me and the puddle of blood forming on the concrete beneath. She yelled at him to stop, to leave, to go to his sister’s house down the road, but he wouldn’t, instead storming down the hallway to their bedroom to cool off.

She took me into the guest bathroom where I didn’t recognize the girl in the mirror.

I looked as if I’d been in a car accident, my face ballooned round because my cheeks were swollen and bruised, my lips huge, both eyes rapidly bruising, with one closed. One of my front teeth had a big chip missing, I’m assuming from his wedding ring.

All of the teeth in my mouth were loose enough to wiggle for a week afterward. I remember lying in my bed afterward, testing them one by one. I worried they were going to fall out from the trauma.

I remember being amazed by how the numbness from the extreme facial swelling took away the pain.

I’m positive I had a concussion, because all I wanted to do was go to sleep, and my brain had been sloshed around via repeated punch to my head.

My stepmom kindly cleaned me up, put me to bed, and disposed of my ruined, blood-stained clothing.

They would be divorced within a year or so. I wasn’t surprised, and always wondered if watching her husband beat up a 15-year-old girl showed her exactly what kind of man she’d married. I also want to tell all family members who don’t believe me to ask her what happened that day, as her son is fully grown, married, and no longer very much in touch with our shared biological father.

I would never have asked her to talk about my beating while my brother was in my father’s care out of protection for him. She couldn’t jeopardize her son’s safety, and I wouldn’t have wanted her to do so. In case you’re wanting to blame her, I also want you to know that I don’t and never have blamed her. She had an infant son to protect, and any action taken to legally or criminally prosecute his father could have been dangerous for her child. As a mother, I understand completely that she couldn’t risk her son’s future.

I only blame the adult man in his mid-30s who thought that violently beating up a 15-year-old girl was morally or legally acceptable under any circumstances.

But now, my former stepmom could talk, if asked. She has no reason to lie, after all. She’s not related. I would challenge every disbeliever to ask her if my words are true. I have to wonder if maybe, since some family members have written me off as “histrionic,” they’d believe someone with no reason to lie.

Or would they still defend a grown man who beats up teenage girls?

What a sad question this is, in a culture full of victim-blaming, to wonder if a girl beaten up at age 15 by an adult male will ever be able to convince her relatives, the people who are supposed to love her, that she has no reason to lie.

There’s a magazine cover floating about our media right now with 35 women who’ve experienced the same shameful phenomenon.

~

To this day, one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t call the police on my father, because then at least there would be photographic proof to show family members who still can’t believe their relative could be capable of such brutality, and wrongly assume I’m being hyperbolic.

If I’d just made it out the door, to the road, to the neighbors’ house for help, my father would have been in jail for assault and battery when the police saw the blood-soaked and badly beaten teenage girl, and her completely unharmed father. I looked like I’d been hit by a truck; he didn’t have any injuries at all aside from sore knuckles. It was a clear case of assault and battery: a “no-brainer,” to use a trite term.

My father would be a mugshot on the local news if he did today what he did to me back then.

I also wish I’d called the police because if I had a photo of my face to show, there’s no way any rational, compassionate human would decide that I “deserved it” or that my father “deserves love and forgiveness,” as I’ve been told by family members. They would recoil in disgust, and likely feel stupid for suggesting I forgive him.

If he was a stranger who had turned my face into someone bloody, beaten, and unrecognizable, they’d only want justice for me.

If a man did to their child what my father did to me, they would be filled with rage on behalf of their child.

But because it happened to me, their empathy disappears.

Except for my violent, child-beating father. Everyone feels incredibly sorry for the man who beat up a teenage girl. So much empathy for my abuser.

I want to ask my family, where is the love and understanding for me, when they ask me to forgive someone who’s brutally beaten me without remorse? My father not only never apologized for the damage he did, but is still lying about it.

How can they not see how hard it is to forgive someone who won’t even acknowledge they’ve harmed you?

Why do the people who are supposed to love me care more about the feelings of a man who violently beats up teenage girls? He doesn’t care about my feelings or forgiveness, so when asking me to forgive him, perhaps ask yourself, why is it so important to you? And please don’t give me some “enlightened” answer about how it will heal me because my healing journey is my own, not yours.

I tried denial disguised as “embracing positivity” for decades, after all, when I had a relationship with the man who caused so much damage. I tried to be the Forgiving Good Daughter. We spoke on the phone, had occasional visits, and guess what? It didn’t change a damned thing. In fact, it was harmful to me. The pain was still there because he never apologized, and he is still, to this day, justifying his actions with lies.

So my dad deserves forgiveness and empathy for beating me bloody at age 15, and I deserve none?

I’m supposed to magically heal and forgive a person for violating me, even though he refuses to be truthful about or acknowledge what he did?

Are you really going to pretend a grown male in our society didn’t know that violently beating up a 15-year-old girl was wrong, because, as one family member actually told me recently… that’s just how he was raised and he didn’t know any better?

Because of course he knew better. He still knows better. And the fact that he won’t tell you the truth means he has no respect for you, either, by the way. He’s lying to you, because that’s what people who are ashamed of what they’ve done and realize they’re in the wrong do: they lie.

Stranger hurts family member: everyone wants justice. Family member hurts family member in the exact same way: everyone wants silence. I will never understand this phenomenon. Wrong is wrong.

Abusers often downplay their violence to make the damage less damning, attempting to make themselves look less horrible, and to make their victims look histrionic. This is a known fact about violent men, making it especially disappointing when female family members don’t believe what happened. They of all people should be emotionally savvy enough to know this.

I was recently told by my father’s sister, for example, because he told her I yelled “Fuck you!” and hit him—two things I never did—that I deserved to be beaten, and that any person in our family would have done the same.

The fact is, she’s a sadistic idiot, at best, for believing a grown man’s weak attempts to justify beating up a teenaged girl—especially considering that he’s lied to the entire family for the last 20+ years, including her, telling them that he’d “only hit me in the mouth” before only recently confessing to her that oh wait, yes, he did violently beat me up, followed by the fake justification given above, as if there is ever justification for a man to repeatedly punch a teenaged girl (or to beat anyone not attacking them, for that matter).

Rather than explain to her that she was stupidly believing lies he’s created to make himself look less awful… again, I instead gave up on her. And him. Forever. She also violently beat her own daughter, and actually sent her 16-year-old daughter to live with our grandfather, the pedophile who molested her daughter while fully aware of what he did to her daughter—so I’ve finally had to accept that my father and aunt are very sick people with whom I have no desire to communicate again in this lifetime. They were both abusive, sociopathic, terrible parents – so of course they want to rewrite history. They’re ashamed of themselves, as they should be.

I’m not engaging with either of them anymore because he’ll obviously never tell the truth, and she’ll keep defending his violent behavior in an attempt to justify her own. And I don’t have time in my precious life anymore for ridiculous, toxic, lying people—related to me or not.

~

Fortunately, I have multiple friends with whom I’m still in touch who saw my face when I returned to school a few days after the beating who can back up my truth. This helps, knowing there are people in the world who believe me because they saw the damage, even if my own family won’t listen. One is a close female friend of mine who cried because she barely recognized my battered face.

I told most who asked that I’d been in an ATV accident because I didn’t want them to feel sorry for me, but one teacher, a smart woman who saw through my story, called Child Protective Services and reported the obviously beaten up teenager sitting in her science class.

The social worker came to our door and had me sit in her car to talk separately from my father. She asked if there was anywhere else I could go, but at that point I felt like I’d ruined relationships with every available adult in my life, so I told her no. I felt like I was a bad kid, and must deserve the painful thing that had happened to me.

As an adult, of course I realize I should have called the police and pressed charges, but I was 15 and scared. I felt alone in the world. I begged her to let me stay, even when she told me we could drive away and she’d send the police back with me later to retrieve my belongings. I truly felt everyone hated me, and that I had nowhere else to go. She ended up giving me her card, making me promise to call her if it happened again or I changed my mind.

~

Despite all of this this, 8 months ago, I tried to reach out to my biological father in forgiveness, for my own peace.

I realize now I don’t forgive him at all, because I would never do to a child what he did to me. A better word than forgiveness would be acceptance. I accept that what happened, acknowledge that it shaped me in many ways, refuse to let it define me any longer, and will stop allowing it to negatively impact me as much as possible.

So I extended the olive branch to my father via letter telling him I forgive him and would like to have a relationship on whatever terms he’s comfortable, trying to find peace. I even apologized for the abrasive way I cut him out of my life 10 years ago because I expressed my anger in an unkind way.

That’s right—I apologized to my father for expressing anger at him for beating me up and never apologizing to me for it or acknowledging it. I apologized to him. And I had no expectations of an apology or anything from him, I was simply trying to move forward. I wanted to permanently place my pain behind a brain door labeled “This Bad Thing Happened” and get on with life. Acceptance. Peace.

And guess what, all you “positivity” hashtag-sharing people telling me to forgive my father because it will heal me, and he’s a good person, and surely it couldn’t be that bad, and blah, blah, blah…?

My loving, kind, poor, misunderstood, teenage girl-punching father blew me off.

He never answered my letter. So because I took everyone’s advice and tried to forgive the man who violently beat me up, never apologized, has lied about it to everyone for years, then admitted to doing it but still tried to justify beating up a 15-year-old girl… now, I am more hurt than I was before.

Yup. I gave him a second chance to hurt me, and he took it.

And great advice, everybody. Thanks for your help. #positivity #forgiveness #bullshit

Sorry for my bitterness. I know the people pushing positivity and forgiveness were only trying to help.

But I would like to ask anyone who blindly does this to please realize you don’t know the details of personal relationships, so this advice can possibly harm, rather than hurt. Sometimes a person seeking emotional wellness needs to close the door on a toxic person and move forward, not try to embrace the toxicity.

So this was obviously disappointing and hurtful for me—my lifelong deadbeat, unsupportive dad once again not being there for me—and there might have been some closure to be found if my father and I could have put this behind us.

But as my husband always says about my biological father: What do you expect from a pig but a grunt?

~

I am now done trying to maintain a relationship with him out of some sort of “good daughter” guilt trip-expectation society places on people who’ve been harmed by relatives.

This double standard is one of the weirdest aspects I’ve noticed about my father’s violence. If a stranger had violently beaten me the way my own father did, my entire family (and most members of a civilized society) would want justice. But because I’m related to him, this somehow means I’m supposed to forgive and forget about pain this person has inflicted on me without remorse or apology? This makes no sense to me.

And it goes against the principles of basic biology to harm one’s own offspring. The number one priority of any mammal parent is to keep their progeny safe from danger. Because I know firsthand how worthless it makes an emotionally underdeveloped psyche feel, I will never understand how a parent can hit a child. My son is nearly 10, has ADHD neurology, and it has never once occurred to me to smack or slap him, much less punch him. The thought makes me physically ill. My job is to protect him from the danger, not BE the danger.

Another odd phenomenon I’ve encountered is the idea that being beaten up by someone I know—by the person who should be protecting me from such things—is somehow less traumatizing than a violent beating at the hands of a stranger, rather than more traumatizing.

A stranger doesn’t know me, so it’s not personal if they hit me.

But growing up feeling physically unsafe around the one person in the world who should have made me feel safe?

That’s worse than anything a stranger could have inflicted upon me.

~

As I was telling my psychiatrist about the recent discovery about my eyes, I embarrassingly started angry-crying, because this permanent optic nerve damage was completely avoidable had my father acted like an honorable man instead of a malicious bastard.

My doctor asked me if I have bad dreams or relive it, and I told him I relive it whenever I talk about it too much, and yes, which recurring nightmare would you like me to share, because I have five?

I confessed that I often have to sleep with a hunting knife folded up in my hand because I never feel safe.

I think every noise or creak of the house is someone breaking in, and patrol windows in the dark, trying to protect my son from unseen dangers.

Sudden noises have me shaking in an adrenaline rush of terror, I can’t be in crowds, and I always have to be facing a clear exit in restaurants.

If my son playfully sneaks up behind me, I have to hide the anxiety attack-tears he causes because I don’t want him to feel guilty for something “normal” moms can handle.

I’m damaged, and I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Spending the earliest, most formative years of your life being afraid of a parent who should be making you feel safe and loved will do that to a person.

Being violently beaten up by your own father at 15 will also do that to a person.

Because Child Psychology 101. It’s really not that hard to figure out.

My psychiatrist then diagnosed me with PTSD, and gave me an antidepressant he said is commonly given to people with PTSD.

Desperate to pull myself out of the pool of anxiety, fear, and sadness I’d felt since I found out my optic nerves were damaged, I tried the SSRI antidepressant. It made me feel even more anxious and scared, and after giving it a week, I stopped taking it because it was making everything worse.

My doctor told me I’d done the right thing the next time I saw him and prescribed another antidepressant in case I wanted to try a different one, but we both agreed that I should probably stick to only anti-anxiety meds. I never filled the second antidepressant prescription.

I am currently seeking a behavioral/talk therapist to help me learn how to avoid being “triggered” or upset when discussing violence.

~

What I would like anyone reading this to know is that I’m not crying or upset as I type, I’m actually calm, because writing is cathartic and soothes me. I’m not wishing to be considered a victim by sharing the truth about a bad man, and don’t want pity. It makes me furious to think of someone feeling sorry for me, actually.

I would also like to make it clear that I recognize someone always has it worse. There is nothing I loathe more than a Compassion Competition, so telling me things like, “At least you didn’t have THIS happen to you…” only makes me think you have problems with which you need to deal and are living in denial, or perhaps that you are lacking in empathy.

Because yes, I get it: of course there are one million worse things that might have happened to me. But that doesn’t make the pain of what happened to me any less valid. Pain is not a contest. And neither is empathy.

I also want people to understand I write about painful things because reading about similar experiences from other people has made me feel less alone, and like someone else in the world understands. I’ve experienced a lot of gaslighting from family members who’ve chosen to believe my father’s downplaying of the facts over the truth—all doubts that could be erased in seconds had one person snapped a picture of my face after he violently beat me up.

And no matter what anyone thinks I did— no matter what a sad old washed-up piece of shit whose three children barely speak to him has to say—this 15-year-old girl didn’t deserve to be brutally, repeatedly punched into permanent facial damage for any reason. There is no justification and no excuse for what my father did to me.

I am not my PTSD and I’m not my anxiety disorder. What I am is a good-hearted person who had a crummy thing happen to me that I’m actively trying to work through and move past for emotional wellness.

Thank you for listening, and especially for believing people like me who have no reason to make up stories.

Non-spiration: Choosing to Not Share Dumb Platitudes

12592686_1097841256913858_922096414315063533_n

***

I don’t really mean to tell anyone to fuck off, but I am tired of this version of “inspiration.”

I would have written “WHATEVER” in place of the “FUCK OFF” actually, because if it works for you, great.

I guess.

Unless what you’re saying is stupid and thoughtless.

Then: WHATEVER.

I’m one-hundred percent done with the “words over a scenic background” approach to mental health and wellness. Can we just talk, please? Whatever happened to talking about things?

Are we becoming so stupid we can only share our feelings via short blurbs and quotes from other people placed over pictures of things?

Are these enjoyed by the same people who need pictures to point to when they order from restaurants?

I especially dislike the “Happiness is a choice!” graphic floating around in various butterfly and rainbow-laden forms lately.

Happiness is not always a choice.

Two of my uncles committed suicide, for example.

For my two dead uncles, happiness was not a choice. Death was the only “choice” they could visualize. They were mentally ill, and for this reason, people implying that my uncles chose to die rather than choosing happiness makes me feel stabby.

(It’s not that simple, but if you think it is, your brain might be. And wow, enjoy that, you lucky duck. Ignorance is bliss, after all. Keep “choosing happiness” with your fortunate blend of brain chemistry and genetics while all those silly depressed people who just don’t “get it” will keep choosing to die. Because gosh, they must not realize that all they have to do is choose happiness! It’s so easy! Hey, maybe you should write a book! You could CURE SUICIDE.)

When Robin Williams killed himself, there was Team He’s Selfish versus Team Suicide and Depression are Mental Illnesses Beyond the Control of the Sufferer. (Or something shorter and more concise than that. I’ll workshop it. I was on the team with the long name, obviously.)

Hey! Guess what, people who called him selfish? The autopsy confirmed what intelligent people already know… his suicide had many potential causes based on biology, not some weird, imagined desire to hurt the people he loved. He had Lewy Body Dementia, which likely contributed to his depression and suicidal thoughts, as it has been known to do to many.

For Robin Williams, happiness was not a choice. He was biologically messed up beyond his control, and calling him selfish for that is like calling someone selfish for a cancer diagnosis. Stop it.

So when someone shares this chirpy, oblivious-to-the-physiology-behind-depression message with me, that “happiness is a choice,” I not only think they’re a blithering idiot, I kind of want to throat punch them.

Or maybe I’d just say WHATEVER.

But you’d know what I really mean, wouldn’t you, friends?

***

Extinguishing Road Rage: 5 Ways to Chill When You’re Feeling Hotheaded

car-923425_640

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ugh. Are we there yet?

There are some seriously bad drivers out there. The person who pulls out in front of you, forcing you to jam your foot on the brake. The texting driver who crosses the line, making you slow down to avoid a head-on collision. The person who lazily left-turns into your lane rather than the designated one. There are so many bad drivers on the road that it can often make a person feel like they’re trapped in a videogame.

The devolution of driving skills may be happening as driver’s education classes are no longer taught in school, and because there is more technology to distract us than ever before. Or it may simply be that there will always be drivers who don’t understand the basic rules of the road. Clearly, no matter what the cause, defensive driving will continue to be more important than ever.

One thing is for certain, however: getting angry and losing one’s temper never diminishes a bad situation, no matter how satisfying it feels in the moment. We know from news stories that people can take road rage too far. Many have pointlessly died because rather than moving on, they were infuriated by another’s poor driving, and reacted in a dangerous manner.

Below are 5 ways to hopefully help you keep your cool in the middle of a heated driving moment:

1. To Err is Human; To Forgive, Drive-ine—

One of the quickest ways to not allow the bad motor maneuver of another person to ruin your day (or even your next ten minutes), is to remember that everybody makes mistakes. Yes, even you. Remember those “Pobody’s Nerfect” T-shirts kids wore back in the day? Truth, baby. Truth.

Rather than screaming at the person who just did a dumb driving move, maybe think about the times you didn’t perform at your best. Also keep in mind that next time, you might be the one who spaces out at the green light, or almost pulls into an occupied lane, etcetera. It happens. We’re flawed. We screw up. And that’s… okay.

So instead of feeling furious, try to feel humanity. If it boosts your ego to know that you’re a better driver than that yahoo you see making mistakes, then go with that, too. Whatever helps keep you calm in the face of another person’s failure is fine. Your blood pressure will thank you.

2. Care for the Cars—

Driving skills suffer when we’re going through a rough patch. Ever noticed someone crying in traffic, or an elderly person struggling to maintain independence? Driving through tears or cataracts is tough, and many don’t have anyone in their lives to help. That’s really sad, and if you honk or yell, you’re only making life worse for them. Not worth it, and not nice.

When you get behind a person driving poorly for no apparent reason, it can be frustrating, so kindly thinking of potential reasons for their performance might help. Maybe they just got dumped, or fired from a job. Maybe they don’t feel good, or are having an anxiety attack, and it’s all they can do to get to wherever they’re headed. Maybe they’re even headed to the doctor.

The fact is, we never know what another person is dealing with, and if we can focus on that fact, it may help us be less annoyed by bad behavior in any situation.

On the road, these types of compassionate thoughts can help us remember there’s a person driving the vehicle—however poorly—and perhaps not feel so furious.

driving-562613_640

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t forget there’s a human being with friends, family, and feelings behind the wheel of every car.

3. Zen Out— 

As a lead-foot living in a state where everybody seems to drive 10 MPH under the speed limit, often while blocking the left lane, rather than keeping to the right, I’ve had to learn some coping mechanisms (beyond the one where I pretend I’m part of a parade, I mean).

One helpful mental device I use is to decide that the universe has me exactly where it wants me. I know it sounds a bit hippie, but it helps to think that maybe—as I creep along the road behind someone who apparently has nowhere to be, ever—just maybe I’m being held in place for a reason.

This is where I’m supposed to be right now, I might think to myself, as I repress the urge to honk at the double lane-blockers. Sometimes I’ll even go full Sliding Doors and imagine the accident I would have gotten into had I been 5 minutes further down the road. (Thank you, slow, seemingly oblivious people, for protecting me from danger!)

It sounds silly, for sure, but this thought process has helped me not sweat the small stuff. Because ultimately, unless you’re trying to get an organ to its transplant recipient or something else very serious, driving from point A to point B almost always qualifies as small stuff.

cars-925788_640

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traffic jams are frustrating, for sure. They aren’t, however, life or death situations. This too shall pass.

4. Cancel the Confrontation—

Glaring at a driver you feel has wronged you, or flipping them the finger might feel good in the moment, but we all know this confrontational approach can have harmful results.

Lots of folks are stubborn, and have tempers; yet some are worse than others. Many involved in road rage incidents have described a “black-out” type of fury where they felt out of control, as if on auto-pilot.

The problem with confrontation is that you have no idea with whom you’re engaging, and if they’re the kind of person who lets anger overcome their common sense, you might not survive what you thought was only an argument.

Be the bigger person and try not to start something that might end up ending your existence, rather than proving a point. Nobody listens well when they’re really mad anyhow, so try to let annoyances go and wish them peace on their journey instead. Chances are, they need it more than you do.

angry-man-274175_640

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This guy is having a bad day. You don’t have to hug him, but engaging with him might be a bad idea.

5. Take the Time—

Guess what part of being a grown-up entails? Managing your time well. And guess whose fault it is if you’re late for work or an appointment? Yours.

It sucks, right? But if being consistently late is an issue for you, or traffic is unreliable on your commute, this can be incredibly stressful. And stress is bad for you. So rather than letting lateness send you into daily hypertension because the people on the road won’t move fast enough, why not leave early instead?

Get on the road fifteen to twenty minutes earlier than you normally need, find some good tunes, podcasts, or audio books for your car, and decide to enjoy the leisurely pace rather than rushing, cursing, and fretting all the way there.

Life is too short for road anxiety. Slow down, use hands-free entertainment to focus on something pleasant in the car, and most importantly, give yourself extra time so you won’t be mad at other people for something you absolutely can control.

small-driver-867577_640

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t manage my time because I’m too young to understand clocks. What’s your excuse? 

***

Every motorist has moments when they’d like to have harsh words with another driver. It’s completely normal to feel upset when someone puts your well-being at risk.

But two wrongs don’t make a right, so if you can possibly use the above techniques to keep your cool, you might feel better about yourself once you calm down and realize you rose above the obvious reaction. Because you know from experience that being the bigger person always feels better in the long run, don’t you?

Happy and safe travels to you.