Stop It. Just… Stop It.

So, apparently it’s Mental Health Awareness Week or something, which means that it’s time to the obligatory, well-intentioned-but-poorly-executed Facebook statuses. What follows is a literal copy-and-paste of one of these statuses.

“Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are NOT a sign of weakness. They are signs of having tried to remain strong for way too long. Would you post this on your wall, at least for one day? Most people won’t but it’s Mental Health Awareness week. Did you know that 1 in each 3 of us will go through this at some point in our lives… It is sad but true”

I’m not ashamed to admit that I struggle with both depression and anxiety, both of which can be, at times, absolutely debilitating. But as someone who desperately wants people to actually understand these conditions, I’m begging you, please please please, for the love of God, stop posting stuff like that. You are not helping.

Let me explain. I see all manner of things spreading misconceptions about depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. I’ve seen comedians stand in front of packed theaters and get belly laughs from the audience while talking about how antidepressants are a con because he’s been through all this horrible stuff and if anybody should need them, it’s him. But he obviously doesn’t, because, well, obviously. I’ve seen church signs that boldly proclaimed, “Too blessed to be depressed!” And though you, fellow Facebookers, mean well, it only perpetuates the lie that mental health issues can be blamed on something.

I won’t lie and tell you that a traumatic experience of some sort can’t send you into a depression, because it totally can. Just as some can cause anxiety, too. But, and I cannot stress this enough, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, it just happens. Sometimes, you just wake up one day and realize that you can’t remember the last time you weren’t sad or angry or anxious or just plain empty most of the time. You can’t remember you had a good night’s sleep or actually enjoyed a meal or wanted to spend time with other people. For no good damn reason. And honestly, I think that kind of depression is worse, because you can’t link it back to a single source. You can’t point your finger at something and say, “Yeah, that’s the one, I should probably sort that out in my head.” There’s nothing. It’s big and amorphous and omnipresent, and you’d fight it if you could, but there’s nothing to fight against. This brilliant post over at Hyperbole and a Half sums it all up pretty well, but in case you don’t feel like reading another blog post, I’ll quote the most poignant line for you. “But trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back.  A fundamental component of the plan is missing and it isn’t going to work.”

It isn’t fair. There ought to be something or someone to blame. There ought to be something to fight against. There ought to be a reason. But there isn’t always a reason. You’re not always safe inside your own head. And that’s one of the worst feelings in the world.

My father is one of the kindest, most reasonable men I’ve ever had the good fortune to spend time with, and while he himself managed to dodge this particular bullet, he did have to watch as his siblings spiraled into alcoholism and self-destruction because of depression, and I’ll leave you all with something that he told me when I was still getting a handle on my situation.

Sweetheart, it isn’t your fault. I know it feels like this is your whole world right now. I know it feels like if you could just buck up, if you could just give yourself a stern enough talking-to, you could snap out of this and go back to the way things were. But you can’t, because some of the chemicals in your brain aren’t doing right. And it’s okay. It’s nothing and no one’s fault, and it’s okay. You can get help. With some determination and whatever medicine you need, you can get better. It will get better. And you will be okay.

No Is No

First off, the boys are doing great. They’re happy (broadly speaking), healthy, and enormous. Next week they will be 13 month old. I still stay home with them and they are still a joy. Michael is walking pretty well now, and Mark just refuses to, mostly because crawling is faster, I think. They babble like crazy, inherited more of my temper than I’m comfortable with, and are scary smart. Next month Andrew and I are having them baptized at the local Catholic church and our friends Brad and Melissa, my cousin Holly, and Andrew’s brother Matthew have agreed to be godparents. I’m extraordinarily busy, like, all the time, but I’m finally confident enough in my baby-wrangling skills that we’re starting to leave the house with the children for stuff that we don’t actually have to do. Tomorrow, I’m joining my cousin Lindsay’s playgroup on a trip to a Christmas tree farm, and next month we’re going to start going to story time a one of the local libraries. Exciting times.

But, you know, other stuff has been going on. According to the Internet, I haven’t posted on this thing since July. A lot of stuff has happened since then. A lot of stuff has happened — locally, nationally, globally — that I want to talk about. Stuff that I think is important. Stuff that I don’t know how to put into words right now. I wanted to talk about how wonderful shared joy can be and how gut-wrenching it is to watch a loved one’s grief. I wanted to write about how excited I am for the future and how, a decade later, I’m still not ready to write about September 11. I wanted to write about all the things that make me happy and angry and absolutely incredulous.

Instead, I’m going to write about a huge step forward in the struggle to end sexual violence toward women. And I’m going to be using some fairly frank language and talking about some sensitive topics, so if that’s not your thing or you like reading my blog to your six-year-old, you should probably just stop.

On Tuesday, a panel at the FBI voted to broaden the definition of “rape” for the first time is 1929. This is really exciting for advocates for rape victims. It makes the federal definition of rape a lot closer to what a lot of states and municipalities use, will make national statistics more accurate, will allow investigators to make stronger cases against rapists (as in, actually being able to charge them with rape as opposed to more minor charges like sexual misconduct or harassment), and will also make it easier for victims to come forward. This is a very good thing.

The old definition of rape was very narrowly defined as “Carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” It’s not a very good definition. It doesn’t include woman on woman rape, man on man rape, object rape, anal or oral penetration, or rape by coercion, which made it really hard to make cases involving any of those things. The new definition is “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” That pretty much takes care of all the problems with the definition that I mentioned previously.

Rape is a serious issue. It’s the most under-reported crime on the books. Because of that and the statistical challenges faced under the previous definition, it’s hard to get an accurate picture of just how prevalent rape is, but the estimation is that about 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. For women in the armed forces, that number goes up to 1 in 3. Almost everyone knows someone who has been a victim of sexual assault. You may not know it; they may not have ever told you — or anyone else, for that matter — but you probably do. It happens every day to people of all ages, races, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation. It’s never okay. The victim is never “asking for it.” It’s not something to joke about or brag about. It’s an incredible violation. And there’s no excuse for it.

Preachy McJudgypants

Almost everybody I know wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds. I know I could stand to lose more than a few. I’m not really so much concerned about the aesthetic aspect of things — genetics and pregnancy have eliminated the notion that I’ll ever have a model’s figure, and I’m very much okay with that. I would much rather be a collection of curves than a collection of angles, and my husband heartily agrees with that. But science consistently bears out that being significantly overweight is dangerous to one’s health. We all know this.

But we are living in a world where physical appearance is desperately important. So much so, in fact, that it can actually effect whether or not you’re hired for a job. I wish I were making that up. But seriously, being slim has become a status symbol. And, you know, that makes sense. Let’s break this down for a moment. Being fit requires money and time, two things that not everybody has an overabundance of.

Money: Eating isn’t free, you know. Food costs money. High quality food costs more money than low quality food. You want wholesome, healthy, filling foods, it’ll cost you. And if the choice is between high quality food or being able to afford diapers, ramen is going to win that fight very time. Eating less is a luxury. You have to know where your next meal is coming from before you can skip the one in front of you. And when you don’t know, five dollars worth of double cheeseburgers is a safer caloric investment that five dollars worth of celery sticks and apple slices. Also, once you get your fresh, healthy, minimally processed foods, you have to cook it properly. Or pay someone else to cook it properly. Again, that costs money. Most people want to eat better, but not everyone can afford it.

Time: The other part of this equation is exercise, and exercise takes time and, to a lesser extent, more money. Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. That doesn’t sound so bad, and it’s not… if you have the free time to spare. This is where I remind you about opportunity costs which you may or may not remember from your high school economics class. But to put it in terms a little easier to understand, I started writing this post at about 11 a.m. My computer tells me that it’s currently 12:43 p.m. Why has it taken me almost two hours to write something I could have hammered out in about 20 minutes? Because I’m incredibly busy. I have two 8-month-olds, a husband, and a house to take care of. I almost never get to give anything the benefit of my full attention anymore. Hell, half of this post has been written one-handed as the other hand is occupied with holding a baby. And even then, I should probably be doing something more productive, like laundry or dishes or vacuuming or any number of other things. I always have something else that needs my attention. And that’s why exercise falls by the wayside for a lot of people. I want to go for a walk, I’ve got to time it juuuuuust right so that both boys are awake and fed, but not too sleepy, and the Tylenol I took to ease the pain in my arthritic knees so I can take the walk has had time to kick in. Then I can pack up the boys in the stroller and go for the walk that’s not too long or the boys will get tired, cranky, and too hot or too cold (depending on the season). And all the while I’m doing that, chores are not getting done and meals are not getting prepared. I suppose I could get a sitter to keep the kids while I exercise, but that’s money. Or I could join a gym that offers childcare, but that’s more money and more time because I have to go there and come back.

It’s easy to assume that people are overweight because they’re lazy and gluttonous. And sometimes that’s true. But sometimes it’s because they don’t have the time and/or money to be as fit and slim as they should. Sometimes it’s illness, injury, or medication that causes weight gain. And sometimes food allergies and intolerances make it harder to shed the excess weight.  More fiber in my diet? Crispy steamed veggies? I’d love to, but my guts just won’t let me. You really don’t want to hear the story of what happened the last time I tried to eat sweet potatoes, much less bell peppers.

Do I want to get rid of the weight I gained from steroids and firm up my twin-skin? Of course I do. But not at the expense of my family’s happiness or my sanity. Nor am I willing to put us in debt to do it, either. As my kids get older, I think (I hope) that keeping active will get easier. I guess we’ll just have to see on that one.

But the point is, I guess, that there’s no easy answer to weight loss, nor is there one reason for weight gain. So, you know, ease up, people. Because if I see one more “get a flat belly using this one weird tip” ad on a website, I’ll probably use a swear.

That Awkward Moment When You Realize

Unless you are completely cut off from the rest of the world, odds are very good that you know that Osama bin Laden is dead.

Andrew and I were getting ready for bed last night when the email alert from CNN came in, so we went back out to the living room to watch the news and the President’s speech. We grinned at each other. We kissed and hugged. We made indelicate jokes. We opened the bottle of Knob Creek Single Barrel Kentucky bourbon (aged 9 years) that we had been saving for a special occasion and drank a toast. We celebrated.

Today, the world is a different place. And, as if the Earth herself were rejoicing, it’s a beautiful day here. But it is another day. My babies needed tending, groceries needed buying, and Andrew went off to work. The Earth still goes around the sun and time continues on. And, one day, likely when I least expect it and when I’m least prepared, I’m going to have to explain all of this to my sons.

And that’s a tricky one. I can’t explain how I felt and what it meant the day bin Laden died without explaining how I felt and what it meant on September 11, and all the days intervening the two. I don’t know how to adequately put into words the change that happened inside of me. I was sixteen, I was a senior in high school, the world was mine to do with as I saw fit, and I was flush with the infinite possibilities that only young people can imagine. I was living in the best of times in the best of countries, untouchable. And then, quite suddenly, it was different. Everything was different.

I will never be able to adequately explain to my children the profound grief of that day and of the days that followed it. Or of the near-decade of anger and frustration of a nation as we kept sending our young people out to defeat what could not be defeated, to continually break ourselves against misunderstanding as waves against rocks. How could I possibly put into words how we let ourselves rip ourselves apart with fear and mistrust and anger and hate, letting the wounds fester?

And then, one day, we killed the face of it. The most wanted man in the world, who had eluded us for so long, was finally dead. And something inside of my chest loosened and there was one less thing to fear in this world and the tiny spark of hope grew a little bigger inside of me that maybe this whole effort, this insatiable god of war, that we, as a nation, had been sacrificing our children to hadn’t been for a loss.

But even so, how do you justify celebrating the death of another? How do you explain why it’s okay to be pleased about this? How do you tell your children that sometimes the things that someone does are so bad, so hateful, so evil, so destructive, that that person has forfeited his place among the living? That that person gave up on being a human being?

It is not appropriate for decent people to take joy in death. John Donne wrote, “Each man’s death diminishes me, / For I am involved in mankind.” Even so, I feel no shame in celebrating that there is a little less evil in the world. I don’t want to make this an object lesson about forgiveness. And maybe at some other time I can point out something about comeuppance. But right now, really, I’m just glad he can’t hurt anyone else.

Stand Back, I’m Going To Try Science!

Modern medicine is a marvelous thing. I, along with millions of other people, rely on it in order to have an acceptable quality of life. But, as great as it is, modern medicine hasn’t been around forever (hence, the “modern”), and before people were popping pills for whatever ailed them, they were relying on other things to get the job done.

Granted, it didn’t always work that well, and sometimes it was just plain stupid, and I, for one, am glad that they stopped bleeding patients with leeches — for the most part, anyway.

Regardless, natural and homeopathic remedies do exist and I think that people do themselves a disservice by disregarding them outright. The same, of course, can be said of modern medical practices, too. Unfortunately for homeopathic remedies, they tend to be touted by fruitloops. You know that guy, the one who runs around in his Chacos and hemp jewelry, smelling of herbal tea and patchouli, going on about how if you’re not going to exclusively eat an organic raw vegan diet you should at least think about increasing your flax seed intake. Nobody likes that guy. But, you know, I’m not exactly comfortable with just medicating my children every time some little problem comes up, so I started looking around.

On the advice of a friend — a reasonable, well-educated friend not prone being suckered or, you know, lying to me — suggested I look into hazelwood and amber for myself and for the boys. The idea is that hazelwood neutralizes excess acid in the body which, therefore, relieves the symptoms of various ailments such as ulcers, acid reflux, heartburn, teething, skin problems (psoriasis, eczema, acne), arthritis and arthrosis, constipation, migraines, and dental cavities. Yeah, I know. It sounds like complete bullshit. But this friend bought a hazelwood necklace for her husband, and it apparently really helped his eczema, so maybe it’s not that ludicrous. Amber is a little better, from a skeptic’s standpoint. Amber contains high concentrations of a naturally occurring chemical called succinic acid which is, among other things, an analgesic and anti-inflammatory, and has been used as “teething jewelry” in Europe for centuries. Great. So, I’m supposed to just put this jewelry on me and/or my children, and in a few days we’ll magically feel better?

Now, we all know that everything on the Internet is 100% true and not exaggerated in any way. Even so, I decided to run a little experiment. I bought some jewelry with both hazelwood and amber for me and the boys to see if this stuff actually works. If it does, awesome. If not, well, it’s pretty cute jewelry, so I won’t feel completely taken advantage of.

Like any good scientist, I must document my observations.

Mark and Michael are both teething and having a miserable time of it. They drool copiously and constantly. They’re fussy and in pain and constantly chewing on their hands. Their appetites are poor. They have trouble sleeping. Add in the reflux they were already dealing with. All in all, they are enormous pains in my butt.

I am exhausted. Thanks to the boys waking during the night again, I’m not getting as much sleep as I used to, and what sleep I do get is fairly poor quality, and a recent blood test has revealed significant anemia with no currently apparent cause. I have psoriasis that is constantly threatening war with my skin. For a wonder, my Crohn’s Disease is under control, but lately I’ve been dealing with constant and brutal joint pain and headaches. Other recent blood tests indicate significant inflammation with, again, no currently apparent cause. Lupus is suspected.

The jewelry arrived this afternoon, and we all put them on between 5:30 and 6:30 this evening. According to the Internet, this stuff can take up to a week or two to take full effect. I’ll do my very best to keep you apprised as time passes and the symptoms alleviate (or don’t, as the case may be).

Michael sporting his new necklace

insert name here

I’m not the smartest person in the world, nor am I the most highly educated. But I never paid anybody to write my term papers, either, so that probably puts me ahead of a lot of graduate students. The point is, I guess, that I’m not a blithering idiot and I’m not laboring under the illusion that if someone on TV says it or it’s typed, it must be fact. And even though they’ve started playing Pearl Jam and Nirvana on the classic rock radio stations, I’m a young woman.  Despite that fact, I still manage to have (as my father would say) all of my poop in one sock.

The problem is that we’re coming up on my least favorite time of all time: election season. Soon, the television and the radio will be flooded with horrible, sensationalized political ads urging the populace to put their faith in some douchebag they’ve never met because the other guy is even douche-ier and probably gay or a terrorist or has congress with the devil. Or all three. I will be lectured on family values. I will be told that any number of things are what’s wrong with America today and only <insert name here> can hold back the flood of immorality, debauchery, and Sharia. <insert name here> — usually white, usually male, usually “Christian” — will be tough on crime and never ever ever cater to the will of big business. <insert name here> will have a proven track record. <insert name here> knows what’s best for America. <insert name here> knows what’s best for me.

This is all, of course, utter bullshit.

I dislike other people intruding into my life. I dislike being told what to do. And, maybe even most of all, I dislike being lied to.

I understand the need for government, maybe even more than most people. I’ve studied American history. I’ve studied American government. And I may not be a Constitutional scholar, but I’ve read it (yes, the whole thing), so I know what it says and what it doesn’t. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I’m of the opinion that it’s one of the most perfect documents ever written. But that’s not the point.

The point is that I know when you’re full of it, okay? I’m exactly what you fear the most, <insert name here>. I’m an educated voter. I know when you fudge the facts. I know when you overstep your bounds. I know when you flat out lie to me. And I don’t appreciate it. I don’t appreciate having to pay for your bad decisions. I don’t appreciate your condescension. And I certainly don’t appreciate your unshakable belief that you know better than I do.

I know your game, <insert name here>. You rely on the laziness and apathy of others. You prey on the desperate and the weak-minded. You thrive on the misplaced hope of the masses. Your stock and trade is sowing mistrust and anger and hatred. You make no distinction between disagreeing and arguing, between arguing and fighting, between fighting and war. It is not in your best interest to listen or to compromise or even to accomplish anything because somewhere along the line you forgot that what you have is a temporary assignment.

I’m exhausted, <insert name here>. I’m so very, very tired. And I feel like I spend most of my spare energy being angry at you. This is not a healthy relationship. You promise me all these nice things, you promise me you’ll change. But you know, <insert name here>, it’s always the same. It’s not me. It’s not even you. It’s the other guys at the office, they just won’t play ball, the boss won’t listen to my ideas, that big project went to someone else, no baby I still love you I promise we can go out this weekend and do something nice just the two of us just like old times I swear there’s no one else come on baby just give me one more chance we’ve had some good times baby don’t throw it away over one little mistake…

So go on, <insert name here>. Tell me how it’ll be different this time. How it’ll be better. How we need to get back to old-fashioned family values. How we need change. How much better it’ll be. How horrible the other guy is.

Tell me like you mean it, <insert name here>.

Why My Children Will Never Rule The World

It’s been a while since my last post. I’m understandably busy, but that’s not why I haven’t written anything. Well, that’s not entirely true, because I have written things — pages and pages — but I’ve not actually gotten around to actually posting them. Mostly because I’ve been too disgusted with the subject matter.

Being a stay-at-home mom doesn’t mean you’re oblivious to the world around you. It doesn’t mean that the stuff going on outside your home doesn’t matter anymore. Because it does. It matters more than ever. Because one day you’re going to have to send your children out there, so you sure as hell better know what you need to prepare them for.

I’m very fortunate to be able to surround myself with people who aren’t complete blithering idiots about everything, and that’s a big bonus for me. Because if there is one thing I despise more than willful ignorance it’s willful ignorance that’s convinced it knows everything it needs to. And you can’t argue with that. Arguing does no one any good if those arguing aren’t willing to change their minds. It serves no purpose. None. Because you can’t teach someone who already knows everything.

And when I look beyond my circle of loved ones, I often despair. The world is filled with greed, corruption, hypocrisy, fear, and hate. And I don’t just mean some mythical place Over There Somewhere. Everywhere. Here. Even in our own hearts. It is everything I do not wish for my children. And I can’t imagine that anyone would wish it for their children. Why would they? It’s debilitating and heartbreaking and exhausting. So why the hell do we allow it in ourselves?

We teach our kids more than we’ll ever know. The things we do and say to and around them will echo through their lives long after we ourselves have gone the way of all flesh. Turn on the news. Look around you. Is this what you want your children to become? Is this what you want your children to inherit? We owe it to them and ourselves and the whole of the world to be the things that we want for our children.

I’m convinced that we can do better than what we’re doing. That we can be better. What does it matter what someone else calls God? What does it matter what color someone’s skin is? What does it matter who someone loves? Really, honestly, what does it matter? Not a single damn thing.

I’m not an idiot. I know how this goes. Most people would rather do and think and believe what other people tell them to because they’re too lazy to have an opinion of their own. And just about anyone who got to a position to be able to do the telling was some kind of son-of-a-bitch or another. I know that. And that’s why my children will never rule the world.

Because I won’t stand for that kind of behavior.