taking a bit of a leaf from the structure of Tom Morris’s recent post, which you all should read. It’s much more coherent and relevant than this, I promise.
I’ve had a really down couple of days, when the pressure builds in my head and I just can’t do anything productive, but can’t explain why not.
I just realized it isn’t because I’m sad, but because I’m frustrated, vengeful, and just plain angry.
I’m angry that I’m an undergrad and to tell my parents “actually, I think evolution makes sense” is still beyond me. Much less to tell them about my sexuality.
I’m angry that I’ve been trying to write an essay for five hours and gotten three paragraphs done, despite my best efforts.
I’m angry about having to deal with customs, two busy numbers and one that has been discontinued, and entirely unhelpful helpline people. For an item I need as soon as possible.
I’m angry that even remotely expressing doubts about the particular brand of Christianity some people subscribe to provokes them to anger.
I’m angry that I missed the actual deadline for this essay because for several days I couldn’t get out of bed.
I’m angry about the Christians whispering behind my back.
I’m angry about the tweets that twitter account @homophobes retweets, that half these people have photographs and I can see that they’re real people, of both genders, of color, and yet they’re so incredibly hateful.
I’m angry about the teenagers who yell out “hey, dyke” when I walk past, then collapse into laughter and mocking threats.
I’m angry at people in authority who either dismiss mental health issues or demand to know every detail, or stigmatize you because of them.
I’m angry at the “It Gets Better” videos on youtube.
I’m angry that I don’t know why they make me angry. They’re supposed to be such a beacon of hope, and some of them are beautiful. I watched maybe a hundred in the last few days. I’m angry that I don’t know why I felt the need to.
I’m angry at rude drivers who stop for you at zebra crossings then decide to hit the accelerator and nearly run you over.
I’m angry that whenever I’m depressed there’s a voice in my head whispering “maybe they were right and being queer/ accepting mental illness / <insert thing I’ve done here> is wrong and that’s why I’m miserable.”
I’m angry at the weather, and that I’ve been sweating and carrying around a jacket, raincoat and scarf one moment, and wearing all three and still getting cold and completely soaked a few hours later.
I’m angry at my parents and how they brought me up. Denying the existence of mental disorders, denying my brother’s (obvious) Asperger syndrome, instilling a black-and-white morality (yay Israel, go National party, Google and Microsoft are evil, gays are disgusting degenerates who need help, psychology is trying to poison people on quack drugs) which never let me quite go. Denying the shit that happened to me as a child.
I’m angry at Singapore for doing much the same via their education system.
I’m angry that I’m so angry, for so many reasons I can read back and tell myself are not worth getting angry over.
You’d left me in the cold since long before
my teenage years arrived. You never thought
to smile at me, or question what I wore—
it would have been some solace if we’d fought.
No, I was always left to stand alone.
You passed me by with not a single glance.
The way you looked at me cut to the bone.
I found approval in your dark advance,
confused the father-role with what you asked.
(How different could intimacy become
from that in which a younger child would bask?)
I never breathed a word of it to mom.
I should have known you’d one day have your fill.
I gave my all and got a dollar bill.
when teachers nagged me out of reverie
and I said “I did it in my head”
by ‘it’ I meant you.
urgently explore each inch of warm brown skin
leave blushing marks on creamy white flesh
when you reached for my hand, then stopped short
and we exchanged that longing look
I raged at our fear.
transparent, playful, endless sparkling depths
still pools framed by ebony fronds
when they said in jest “you two
are so close you could be lovers”
I ached to tell them.
interlocking fingers, squeezing, soft and warm
eyelids flutter shut, salty tongues and bitter tears
when doors were locked, our tangled limbs one frame
and, nestling in, I murmured against your breasts
I said “I love you”.
caustic ebbing away at ragged passion
peeking through the cracks
the first of what will be many posts spawned from the ideas in Out of the Well by Lisa Eskinazi: original post here.
Lisa writes about coming up against an uncaring, passive school administration which ignored hateful vandalism about her and everything from slurs to threats of physical violence to actual violence.
People tend to get riled up about this. “Surely”, they say, “this can’t be the case.” It’s either “This is terrible!” or “Are you sure this kid is telling the truth?” Either way, the implication is the same. “Decent people wouldn’t let that happen.” More problematically, “this could never happen at our school.” But it does. Time and again, it happens at what is “our school” to some. And there is never one easy answer. Why does it happen at places where there presumably are decent people?
Surely Lisa’s school had some nice, decent people at it. There’s never an entire suburb of complete psychopaths bar one person. The problem is that for any given incident or victim not all of those decent people will ever hear of it, let alone know much of the story. And the few decent people who have a chance of changing things may not be the ones who are brave enough to do so.
So here’s my tips for schools.
- “Nothing like this happened back in my day” does not mean it’s not happening now. You are one person. Your school life may have been idyllic, chaotic or bizarre, but regardless of this it won’t be representative of the experience of any given student under your care. Never be too quick to dismiss something as ridiculous or exaggerated.
- Don’t assume that kids are decent people.This probably sounds terrible. But really, it does more harm than good to brush things off as just “horseplay” or “fooling around”. While direct action may make it worse for the victim, the situation should at least have an eye kept on it. There are cases where ten-year-olds have committed horrific murders. When I was nine, some friends of mine were sexually abused by some kids aged twelve and thirteen (who, in hindsight, were probably abused themselves.) Everyone brushed it off as ludicrous when I escalated it, which made things much worse for me and the victims.
- Never assume someone else will deal with it. So you’re not the school counselor, or not the dean of the student’s year level. Hell, so you’re the bus driver. So what? You can escalate it if need be, but if someone is being harassed in front of you, your silence is implicit approval, and will embolden the bullies more than anything else ever could.
- “It’s not likely” doesn’t mean it’s not going to have an impact. This is one that people are especially likely to neglect. The important thing is not whether the student is really going to have their “head smashed in”, or be “fucked up the ass behind the art block tomorrow”. The important thing is that the student feels threatened. If they’re worried enough to break from the “we’re all in this against the authority together” ethos of students and bring it to you, they need to be made to feel like they’re being heard. Dismissing it as “oh, those guys are actually quite nice, have you tried talking to them?” or, as Lisa recounts, “have you tried watching funny TV shows?” is both insulting and incredibly damaging for a frightened, vulnerable young person.
I’ve been reading a book titled “out of the well” by Lisa Eskinazi. It’s this young Australian woman’s chronicle of her struggle with extreme bullying and mental illness, and a lack of support from her family, school system, and mental health system.
She sued the department of education for negligence and won.
And… I don’t know. Something about her bravery and complete honesty struck a chord with me, compelling me to share my own thoughts—on her points, but from my story.
These are the points that stuck out to me.
- Bullying is often minimized in schools, even when the bullied are being physically harmed.
- Victim-blaming is a ridiculously common syndrome, stemming from denial.
- Public health systems make mental health help very inaccessible, either due to the cost or the hoops that have to be jumped through to get help. Generally it is after the shit hits the fan well and truly that help is extended.
- Religious groups have an exceptionally high risk of harming the mentally ill.
There’s absolutely no way I can cover all of that in one post without either seriously upsetting myself or making it completely unreadable. But it’s good fodder for a series of posts on topics I’d probably write about at some point anyway.
So here goes. It may be all in my head, but it doesn’t minimize it. More people need to know that.
I’m a full-and-a-half-time student. I have seven hours of classes a day between two institutions (and an additional out-of-class workload of about four hours a day), an hour-long commute between them, and the same to get home. This in itself is manageable if I’m productive nearly every hour of every day, eat on the run, sleep no more than six hours a night.
But there are days—like today—when nothing can get done. When memories pile up behind the dam, when emotional circuits shut down, when all I can manage is to put a song on repeat (it’s Anberlin’s Fin at the moment, introduced by a Christian friend; sums up my disillusionment with the rather fundamentalist upbringing I’ve had) and just… not think. Go into hibernate. Go through the motions, take a shower, stare blankly at an assignment or four I know I should start on, read a chapter of a textbook but take nothing in, open an email from someone in authority or refresh my Wikipedia watchlist or look at the angry messages piling up on facebook and not even have the energy to cringe at all the people (or even the unspoken expectations) I’m too weak to say no to.
I call it zombie mode. Perhaps sleep mode is fitting, since I’ve been compared to a computer more than once. But it’s a bit more than that. There’s that sense of no longer being alive, of going through the motions but rotting inside. When nothing gets done, not because I’m physically ill, but because I’m somehow no longer human. No longer bound to time or obligations, just dead inside. Overloaded. Blowing a fuse is what I sometimes call it. All systems just power down except the emergency backups.
Surely someone else knows what I’m talking about?
I have become that which I once despised—
those lovers drowned in sentiment so bold—
for every single time I meet your eyes
I cannot help but melt. If I grow old
it would be heav’n to do so by your side,
to spend each waking hour in your arms
and many, many sleeping hours beside;
I love you. This I say and bear no qualms
For though I know the fickle heart of youth
I think mine true. In meeting your dear self
My life has changed forever—and in truth,
I’d pledge my love in sickness and in health.
If I have loved not wisely, but too well,
too late: my heart is yours, not mine to sell.
One of my earlier pieces. Rather classically optimistic, but I still quite like it.
It’s ridiculous that in the rather homophobic slice of society I live in, less people have hassled me about the fact that I don’t identify within the sexuality binary of gay/straight or even as bisexual, than have confronted me inappropriately about my little pile of issues.
What helps least is the… the “oh”s. The sorta implied “I have no idea how to deal with this, shit” when I’m aggressively questioned about missing an entire two-hour tutorial and explain that I had a meeting with my case workers (“what case workers? what institution?” “a mental health institute.” “…oh.”), or when I file for a fucking six-hour extension on a deadline to make up for a particularly paralyzing episode, or when I’m in any way open about the way my head (mal)functions.
I guess part of it is the “drama” of my main diagnosis. PTSD implies some kind of terribly scarring event—and somehow my being an outspoken, bright young female amplifies this intrigue. I hate the pressure to be vulnerable, the fact that for some reason I’m expected to feel and act vulnerable when I disclose it. I hate the “wait, post-traumatic?” or the “so you had a tragedy?…you had a tragedy? Not just witnessed one?” I will talk about it to people I want to talk about it to, thank you very much.
To tutors, profs, bosses, office secretaries out there. To a certain extent most of you I’ve encountered have, to your credit, got it into your heads that who I sleep with is none of your business. Similarly, my having a disorder-with-a-name does not make my past any more of your business than it would be otherwise. I may not have been born this way, but rebuilding my life is hard enough without you passing judgement when I’m counting on you to facilitate my being able to do the best I can and live my life.
I understand it’s awkward. I understand that in some way you feel sorry for me. Some of you feel like it’s a pity I’m the way I am, a loss of potential I would have had were I “normal”. Some of you veer the other way and just describe me as a “messed up kid” when you coax me into “telling you about my feelings”. Some of you go on to forward such a description to the entire fucking department whether or not I deal with them.
Just… don’t. Please.
Compassion is staying within the role you had before you knew. It’s not tripping over yourself to try to “be there for me as a friend”. Not if you never were.
your gentle smile; your unassuming air;
the way you brighten up when things you love
come into conversation; your soft hair;
your open mind about the things above;
your shyness and your out-of-closet geek
(not ‘inner geek’ at all!); the way you are
so easily distracted by my sleek
skin; when disconnected, how you “grar”;
your tender eyes so brown; your tongue, your lips,
your hands—oh god, your hands—how they caress
first lovingly, then longingly, my hips;
against my skin, your warm desirous breath;
the way you turn to smiles my every frown—
for once, with you, my world’s stopped breaking down.
the “you”s in my sonnets invariably are my lover and muse, who convinced me that something other than fucked-up psychopathy could flow from my heart to my pen, and helped make it a reality. Here’s to poetry and those who inspire it.