Category Archives: personal

A Break for Some Art

A friend of mine who writes a gaming blog recently posted a fabulous article on gaming mechanics and mental illness.  Interspersed between his ideas, my friend posted art created by mentally ill people about their various experiences and struggles.  I dabble in art myself (I created the cartoon jackalope banner at the top of this page), so his post inspired me to translate some of my own experiences with mental illness into imagery.

I’ve talked a bit about my diagnosis in the past, largely to give some potential readers something to relate to.  When I was first diagnosed, the sudden onset of new symptoms was terrifying.  Having a friend who suffered a similar disorder (not the author of the article cited above) was an amazing relief, because he was there to tell me, “This will happen sometimes, but you’ll get through it.  It’ll be okay.”  Knowing that there was someone else who had been through what I was going through made it less frightening and unpredictable. I talk about my own experiences periodically with the hope of recreating some of that comfort to readers who might have disorders like mine.

To that end, I think art can communicate on a more personal and intuitive level than some other modes of communication. Given that many of my symptoms are poorly understood by the layman, I thought the following might provide some readers with a much needed reassurance that they’re not alone.

Among other things, PTSD is a dissociative disorder.  This means that the brain will sometimes forcibly remove you from reality in order to deal with something.  This can manifest in a number of ways, from seeing things that aren’t there, to losing time or feeling that the world around you isn’t real, to going full-on catatonic, the real-world version of the meme-ified “thousand yard stare.”

There are a number of things that could be going on inside someone’s brain after they zonk out, and I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, the most notable dissociative episodes take a few distinct forms.

1. A minor flashback:  This is what happens when something sets off a time-travel trigger, but my brain catches it before things get too ugly. It’s like floating through the space between the past and present, seeing shadows of another time but unable to move forward or back. It’s distressing, but not panic inducing, and all the while I’m uncomfortably aware of my inability to move my body.

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Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.

2. Some stimuli are (apparently) more than I can handle in that moment, so I’m dropped into a sort of temporary stasis, a hazy dream state, while my brain figures out how to deal with the stimulus.  This is inconvenient, but otherwise quite pleasant.  It’s not unlike that fuzzy, relaxed feeling right before falling asleep.  It’s less like being frozen and more like being suspended in air, and I just chill there until my mind is done processing.  Though I’m often aware that boiling under that fuzzy surface is something extremely unpleasant that’s waiting for me when I come out of the haze.

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So it goes…

3. Not all flashbacks are minor.  If I pass by someone who smells like one of my exes, or some other intense lizard-brain reminder of some obscure past moment, I can be transported backward, which can mean hearing voices, seeing people I very much don’t want to see, or physically feeling a prior experience on my skin.  It’s every bit as horrifying as it sounds.  Typically I’ll be stuck in place in a fetal position, mentally begging it to go away while a panic attack rages in my frozen body. Often I have difficulty breathing, which creates a negative feedback loop of anxiety, panic, and asthma.  In short, this is the absolute worst.

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Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment.  There is no why.

4. To end on a less frightening note, not all episodes are nasty. The above examples occur sporadically when something reminds me of unpleasant events. The better I get, the less often they occur. But this one is constant: when I look in the mirror I don’t see my own face. Usually I see one of a variety of women, with roughly my hairstyle, who don’t look at all like me. Well, I’m assuming. This has being going on so long that I have no idea what I look like. Some of these faces are rounder or sharper or more square. Some are covered in cuts and bruises.  One is twenty or so years older than me. Another is an adolescent. Very occasionally I’ve seen a young girl, or a boy, or an alien creature with long, spindly limbs, gigantic eyes, and unnatural joints. It used to frighten me, but now I find it fascinating.

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All of this happened, more or less.

The figures in these drawings are intentionally somewhat androgynous, because, as always, I want to constantly remind you all that, just like every other human experience, my disorder and the events that led to it are not specific to women.  I may draw more of these at a later date.  And by the way, you get 10 internet points if you know which book I’m quoting in these captions.

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Silly Anti-feminists, Tumblr is for Kids

At the risk of alienating some of my more opinionated anti-feminist readers, I’m about to do something that most of you probably didn’t see coming: I’m going to defend Tumblr.

Especially in the anti-feminist parts of the online world, I see an awful lot of posts about Tumblr, Tumblr feminism, Tumblr social justice warriors, and other silliness, usually with captions like “This is what feminists actually believe.” This usually comes along with general sentiments mocking the site and its bizarre notions about sexuality, equality, and personal identity, and blaming it for the degradation of sanity and toughness we see in modern cultural trends, but I just don’t think that’s fair. There’s a reason I never bring up Tumblr’s particular brand of feminism or social justice when I talk about egalitarian and men’s issues, and that reason is simple: Tumblr is a children’s website (or, at least, the parts of it that these types of arguments highlight).

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Take this paradigmatic example of a post on one of their forums (taken from some rant on Facebook about how far down the rabbit hole feminism and related movements have gone). Yes, this looks downright out of touch with reality, when you look at it from the assumption that internet users are adults, but that’s just not true of Tumblr (google their demographics if you doubt me). Most of the users that produce content like this are children and adolescents, and let me tell you something.

This is really common behaviour for children and adolescents, and it’s nothing new. The only difference is that now we are teaching 3-year-olds how to use technology, so new generations are working their way into internet forums much earlier than we did (so now, their embarrassing childhood silliness is codified into public internet permanence to embarrass them later).

Don’t believe me? Let me give you some examples. At the risk of airing all my childhood ridiculousness for the internet to see, here are some (yes, SOME) of the things that I personally convinced myself when I was between the ages of 8 and 18:

  • I was from Mars, and my parents found me as a baby alien on their doorstep.

  • I had superpowers (this was a recurring theme in various incarnations throughout my childhood, and is unbelievably common of children).

  • Harry Potter books described a real secret world, and I would get a letter from Hogwarts. (Let’s be realistic: most Harry Potter fans at least hoped for that letter.)

  • I had some kind of psychic or magic connection to Harry Potter, and that’s why I get migraines.

  • I can become a character on a cartoon show and live as a cartoon superhero, and this is something that will probably happen.

  • I can perceive and talk to ghosts, have ghost friends and enemies, and sometimes even fight those ghost enemies.

Yes, I really believed these things growing up (much to the dismay and bafflement of my parents, who had never had a child before). And you know what? I had friends, lots of them, that believed them too. In fact, every one of these silly little narratives was part of a game I played with one or more friends. Some of them were people I met online through games, forums, or other digital communities. Some of them were people I knew in person, friends from school or other real-world communities. And I knew other people who insisted that they were mythical creatures, real-world incarnations of fictional characters, religious figures, and beings they themselves made up. I had a friend from Quizilla (anyone remember Quizilla?) who claimed she was part demon, part angel, part vampire, and the physical incarnation of an anime character. And that was 15 years ago, long before Tumblr was a thing.

And now that I’m a teacher, I’ve overheard many middle and high school students over the years engaging in play like this. Because children and adolescents are in desperate search of their identity. They’re building their personalities and self-stories. They’re breaking from the parts of them that are constructed by their environment and upbringing and forging individual humans as they develop, and a lot of this, just like everything else children do, comes with some egocentrism, a great deal of imagination, and a certain detachment from empirical reality. There’s nothing weird or scary about it. After all, we don’t panic when a little girl sits in a cardboard box and claims it’s a spaceship. We don’t tell her she’s mentally ill for thinking she’s an astronaut, and we don’t suggest she’s having a delusion that has a harmful effect on culture or policy. She’s just a child, and children play.

Now, the worry I often hear is that of the legitimizing effect of a gigantic global online community of people, using formalized language to describe things that perhaps shouldn’t be legitimized, but this just doesn’t worry me, and I’ll tell you why.

When I was a kid, we legitimized each other’s wild ideas in person, and it reinforced them just the same. In middle and high school (here’s more information to indict my mental health if I ever run for president), I had a group of friends who used to hang out in the basement and play with a Ouija board. Lots and lots of kids do this, but we built one hell of a complex world using this toy. We invented characters with relatively complex personalities, rules for how that world worked, and an elaborate mythology in which all this took place. We constructed a jargon to describe this world and mythology, too, just like Tumblr does. The only difference is, there were about half a dozen of us, rather than a few million. We pretended to communicate with these beings and even allow them to take control of us, and we totally believed that shit. Sometimes the characters did frightening or terrible things, and we believed that too. We would get legitimately scared or upset, invested in the characters and the effects we supposed that they had on our lives. We talked about it, we discussed and problem solved. We played out the solutions. And we did this stuff for years.

When I was a young adult, I looked back on this in fear and confusion and questioned the hell out of my mental health. But then I started studying education and developmental psychology. Perhaps my friends and I were a bit more imaginative than the average kid, but overall, this type of play is totally normal. I encountered it in others when I was that age, and I see it all the time now that I teach (like the young man who told me that the poltergeist that lives in his bedroom tried to push him out the window). It’s not an indictment of our culture, it isn’t scary, and by no means is it a product of Tumblr. In fact, not only is not scary and not harmful, but it’s actually an evolutionary mechanism by which we learn how to perceive, understand, and navigate the world. That’s what play is. Just as kittens play fight or pretend to hunt to learn to do these things for real, a human child plays through imaginary scenarios to learn to problem solve and develop other cognitive skills, and in the process, just like kittens, they look a little silly.

The tumblrite SJW stuff is no different, either. Who among us hasn’t had ridiculous, misinformed opinions that they grew out of when they started to experience and read about the actual world? Tumblr politics are no more or less than the ideas of young people who are just starting to try to understand the world from a sociopolitical perspective, and pointing to them to criticize actual adult politics is intellectually lazy and dishonest.

I’ll give you one more embarrassing story from my personal childhood. When I was maybe 8 or 9, I was really into Captain Planet. I’ve always cared about environmental issues, but as a tiny human, my understanding of the way such things worked was pretty limited. One day, my uncle came by to dig a big trench in our yard to install some kind of piping. In my limited understanding of the planet Earth, influenced by a children’s cartoon, I decided that this trench was a wound that harmed the planet, and since (unsurprisingly, I’m sure) I’ve always fancied myself something of an activist, I snuck out after the digging had been done and replaced as much of the dirt as I could before the piping could be laid. Yes, I actually did that, more than once after my uncle repeated the process, and my family was very upset with me when they found out what had been happening. Of course, it eventually turned into a big joke. Every once in a while, some members of my family will still tell this story. Because you know that I was a child when this happened, you might be laughing right now, too. Of course, it was a ridiculous act on my part, a hilarious misunderstanding of any reasonable environmentalist position. But you wouldn’t use this story as a representative argument to indict actual adult environmentalism. That would be dishonest and unfair, and this is why I never talk about Tumblr feminism.

But is this community of young people a dangerous thing to expose to that section of the adult population that could be described as dysfunctional products of the self-esteem movement, who may use it to validate their misguided narcissism? Maybe, but that’s more the fault of failing education and mental healthcare systems (and the movement that produced said individuals) than an online forum for children to play and discuss the construction of their identities. You and I grew out of our childhood games, and so will they, whether it’s attention seeking behaviour or they truly believe what they’re saying. After all, many of my friends who once believed they were superheroes, ghost hunters, or vampires have long since grown into successful, productive, healthy, and quite reasonable people (in fact, one of them grew up to be a prominent student leader at an ivy league university and went on to make even grander accomplishments that earned international recognition). An adult that never grows out of these behaviours is a separate issue entirely, and should be addressed from an educational or mental healthcare perspective.

Listen, I don’t like Tumblr either. So I have a simple solution. I don’t go there, for the same reason I don’t watch Disney Channel shows and I don’t play in the ball pit at McDonald’s: I’m an adult that isn’t interested in those things.

So, if you wouldn’t hate on Disney Channel or ball pits, don’t hate on Tumblr. It isn’t for you. If you don’t like it, use a different social media site, and stop using it as a straw man to attack adult politics. You’re literally picking on children just because they’re easy targets, in addition to committing some pretty egregious cherry picking that makes the anti-feminist community look like a bunch of buffoons. Kindly stop it. There are plenty of perfectly good arguments to be made against actual practiced and influential adult feminism. How about we focus on those?

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My Story

I’m a gender equality activist who has spent the past few years doing my best to put my ideas out there, and it occurred to me that it was about time I started a blog.  I identify strictly as egalitarian, and not feminist. I find ideological feminism and its corresponding worldview unfairly biased, unempowering, harmful to both men and women in a number of ways, and often divorced from reality, and a lot of my blog is going to be about that. I could spend hours throwing out examples, arguments, studies, and links that may or may not sway you (goodness knows I spend enough time doing that), but I’d rather start off like this, with my story.

I was raised on Henley’s poem Invictus. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth a quick google. I have it memorized. The last stanza goes like this:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

My parents are staunch Republicans, and despite leaning definitively left of center, I always managed to hang onto the values of self reliance, self respect, and personal responsibility with which I was raised. Henley’s point was that no matter how bad things get, you always have choices that you can make. You have agency. I truly believe that perceiving yourself as a victim is the first step toward being one, and that in order to rise above adversity one must only conceive of doing so. I get that that is a trite message and a known platitude, but I do my best to live it, and it has served me well.

Being the child of decently wealthy white people in the suburbs, I never really encountered any adversity. I was a typical self-serving, self-interested, whiny privileged adolescent. I mean, I was bullied because I liked to think outside the box more than occasionally, but that hardly counts as adversity. In fact, I tend to lose some degree of respect for people who think a little name calling is any kind of tragedy.

But one thing a conservative upper class family doesn’t like at all is any non-traditional expression of sexuality. When I was 20 I realized I like women. I’ve never been a jealous person, and had always questioned monogamy as an institution, so I entered into a polyamorous relationship with a couple (a married man and woman). I didn’t intend to tell my family about this at all unless it ever became serious, but someone I considered a dear friend at the time had other plans. In a jaw-dropping display of narcissism and utter soullessness she outed me to my parents in a letter.

They came to visit me at school one weekend, letter in hand, shouting and sobbing. There were a lot of “no daughter of mines” and “where did we go wrongs.” They threatened my then boyfriend and degraded my girlfriend, as if the consensual relationship choices she and I made were somehow coerced by his patriarchal brainwashing witchcraft. My father told me it was the worst day of his life. My mother told me she would rather I have a terminal illness than be doing what I was doing. They decided not to continue helping me pay for school (a luxury, I know, but it was the meaning that bothered me), and more or less stopped talking to me except to chastise and attempt to coerce me. I know this is a common story for LGBTs, atheists, and other “undesirables” across the globe, but nothing hurts like knowing the love of your parents is conditional.

Without their financial assistance, I pretty much had to move in with my significant others. My family distanced themselves further from me. I didn’t go home for the holidays. The threats continued. My father googled my partners and their families, found out where everyone lived. He threatened to hurt people. He threatened to hire someone to hurt people. Cops were called. The relationship(s?) became strained, because nothing puts a damper on a relationship like “your father might actually kill me” and “I gave up everything in my life for this???”

Unfortunately for everyone involved, my partners both turned out to be selfish, emotionally immature, and abusive (this is not a statement on the poly community at all – indeed, I now know some incredible poly people whose rationality, love, and integrity amaze me – but these two were less than great human beings and poorly suited to that relationship model to begin with). When I felt like I had nothing, they still made me feel worthless. I left them one morning almost a year later. I packed my bags and snuck out while they slept. They got a divorce shortly after, and while she never spoke to me again, he tried to call me almost daily to make amends.

I was young and dumb, and gave him a second chance. He was a sociopath, and I mean that in the clinical, diagnostic kind of way (not because he was a man, but because he was a shitty person). He drove a wedge even further (if possible) between my family and me just by being in my life. He put himself in opposition to my friends, put pressure on me to stay in when I would otherwise have gone out, and somehow convinced me to isolate myself until he was the main influence in my life, and then he insisted I move with him to another city. He was pretty much all I had at that point, so I did.

I have scars from the following years. My thumbs and wrists are fucked up from being held down. My jaw is often sore (though was miraculously never fractured) from all the times I was slammed into my carpet face-first. My hearing isn’t what it used to be, and neither is my voice. I have aversions to sex in certain contexts. If I am surprised or hurt unexpectedly, I sometimes black out and start swinging. I have been diagnosed with PTSD. In my defense, I never allowed myself to be wholly helpless. I broke his foot and nose, and nearly reversed his knee, all on separate occasions and all in self defense, in addition to some other more minor injuries. But it was bad. Four years of idiotic bad. Most people who knew me before I was with him have no idea. I’d rather die than see the look of shock and pity on the faces of people who have always known me to be driven and strong.

About two years into this new hellish incarnation of the relationship, I was working for an institution that was full of corruption in which I refused to take part, so I lost my job. I had been told all my life that if you get fired in my field, you never work again. I found myself working at a shitty call center to make ends meet. I cried on the way to work every morning. I guess it was the last straw, because four months later I tried to kill myself.

It didn’t work, somehow, and I got back on track. I found another job where my integrity was appreciated. I started making friends, and an old friend I thought I’d lost came back into my life.  His support played a big role in helping me kick that bastard out of my house and out of my life for good about a year and a half ago. I had to pay him off to get rid of him and ensure his cooperation in removing his name from the deed and bills. I still have nightmares that I wake up to find him in my house at night (among a slew of other weird and crazy symptoms), but things are getting better.

I have a job I love, friends who mean the world to me, and people who love me without ever hurting me. My mother converted to Buddhism to eliminate the conflict between her religion and her daughter (though things are still, understandably, strained between my family and me, and forgiveness is not an option). In light of everything, I think I have a richer, happier life than most. And I think a big part of why I’m so happy is because I have such an unbearable low to compare this high to. No matter what happens, it will always be better than isolated, unsafe in my own home, suicidal, and rejected by my family.

I despise people that tell women they are victims. Making someone out to be a victim, telling them they are helpless and need beg for their humanity from some larger cultural force, is the opposite of empowerment. Putting me on a pedestal and telling me society wronged me does nothing to help me regain control and dignity in my life, but instead denies me agency and humanity. I made poor choices, I met horrible people, and bad things happened to me. I played my part. I suffered, and I learned. Wallowing and raging won’t help me now, and I’m disgusted by people who drive their self serving social and political agendas with stories like mine. And in spite of my suffering, I wouldn’t take any of it back if I could, because I now know how to handle a crisis, how to defend myself (or royally kick someone’s ass), and how not to make mountains out of mole hills. I actually do wake up every day grateful for all the simple pleasures I once took for granted.

I know this all sounds like a cheesy motivational self-help speech, but it’s my story. You’ll have to take my word for it, but every word is true. I hope it was inspiring, or whatever those kinds of stories are supposed to be. I hope to use my story and the lessons I’ve learned to promote true empowerment of survivors who are women, men, and everything in between.

And that’s the thing. After everything that happened, I started to do some research. I learned that my experience was far from specific to women. I learned that about as many men suffer these types of violence as women, but they are ignored and often denied legitimacy and justice for their suffering. And then I started learning that many men I know have been through what I have and worse. Now I’m an activist, because I want the justice, support systems, and basic human empathy to which I have unquestioning access to be extended to all survivors and sufferers of violence. I stand up and speak out on behalf of the men I love and everyone like them, who deserve the same kindness I have received and the same empathy and support that’s given to me as automatically as blinking. No one should have to suffer alone or be ridiculed for their pain.

In this blog, you can expect to see my attempt at actual empowerment of women and violence survivors, anti-feminism, men’s rights advocacy, egalitarianism/humanism, broader discussion of gender issues, and other rants and rambles. Read on if you dare.

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Filed under activism, antifeminism, domestic violence, personal