“Just a Spring Clean for the May Queen”

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Ahhhh. The start of my favorite month of the year. I love May, its my birth month and usually feel my best in the Springtime sun. I have a annual mood cycle, a bell curve–April through October is the flat range on top.  I say it matches the “mood” of trees and flowers and animals of all stripes. My mom was just saying that we all have a cycle that is centered around when we were born, I will buy that because I really feel brightened up this time of year. (Lets talk in mid December, if you can find me, I might be hiding under the covers).  Funny we call it Spring Fever, this pep in our step. The glum side of the coin is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I am not even sure if Affective is used correctly but it sure makes a great acronym.  You know what, I call BS on this “disorder.”  My cycle is what is–a  part of nature, as we are human beings.  Moods change.  A little “bustle in your hedgerow.” Humans must be the only species on Earth that don’t accept this cycle. Instead we pile on tinsel and fake cheerful music during the quiet somber months of December. An obvious effort to divert. Anyhow, we are on the up cycle now, time to enjoy the moment.

So in honor of May. In honor of International Worker’s Day.  And in honor of feeling productive. I am going to commit myself to publishing a one of a kind blog post written by yours truly , everyday for the entire Month of May. Just to see if I can do it, maybe to test myself, or to just keep working on my craft. (I ALMOST deleted this because now I have to keep to this pronouncement…or not.  Whatever its my blog I can do what I want).

I will mainly focus on articles and stories that capture the spirit of new thoughts, the wide open, anything that pushes the boundaries of how we live and think today.  I love researching, its something I do well and its always what I want to do for a living. Research topics and comment and analyze.  This will be the thrust of this lovely month. I don’t want to perpetuate outmoded cycles, the same conflicts and paradigms. So a little less navel gazing and more looking for the bright spots in the world. If we want to make a difference we have to perpetuate change.  ‘Tis the season!

“So you must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear,
To-morrow ’ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year;
To-morrow ’ill be of all the year the maddest merriest day,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.”

—Alfred Lord Tennyson

From Self-Loathing to Self-Worth

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I should be working on a final term paper for my marketing class, but I feel like procrastinating.  As I was “taking a little look at the internet”  I got sucked into this weekend’s edition of The New York Times Magazine and read this amazing article called The Problem With How We Treat Bipolar Disorder. Linda Logan, wrote in a literary style that I wish was more prevalent on blogs and articles and she elevated the conversation with her very painful and courageous story. The notion that we treat mental illnesses as a list of symptoms only to be controlled through medication and therapy, without any connection to a person’s psyche can cause a lot of confusion and may even stunt recovery.

Based on my own experience, psychiatrists and sometimes even therapists are only trying to get at the root cause of the illness, asking about symptoms and only working to alleviate these issues–which is just not the whole picture. Its true, as the article pointed out that little to no conversation is centered on the erosion of the patient’s self. There is usually no work done to identify the changes to a patient’s personality, or talk about important aspects of a patient’s self, or how to cope with the harsh reality that their self identity may be changed forever. There is a very apparent connection between mental illness and the loss of self and anyone that is suffering can attest to this idea. I have struggled with losing touch with my inner self, as I wrote in a previous post, I felt like an out of focus lens. This is a frightening place, the wavering vision of your own reflection only fuels more anxiety and isolation.

Raising a child reminds me of how the self is formed and how strongly we identify with our self from almost the start of our lives. This is the reason kids can seem selfish and self-centered. The age we call “terrible twos” is really the first outcropping of our self identity. I always thought that it must be overwhelming for our young minds to realize for the first time there is a “me” and that the world is not  just outward stimuli. Between the frustrated moments of tantrums, I remember feeling empathetic toward my daughter watching her struggle with a the idea that she has a name, that there is a “me” and that this growing idea of self wants and needs attention and of course her own way. In fact, my favorite aspect of raising a little human is watching a personality form into a unique combination that is all her own.

I realized as I was reading Logan’s article that being lost in the fog of anxiety and depression is an attack on our own identity. We self-loathe, berate, beat down and hate our own “self”. That little self, the very one we protected as children on the playground, that talked back to our parents and threw fits over bedtimes rules–somehow becomes our sworn enemy. How did we let this happen? And as we realize what has been lost in the battle, we begin to grieve, mope around, lay prostrate and lose interest in the world. Reading Logan’s article, brought on the same questions she was pondering, why not focus on getting to understand our new self? She is so right on when she states;

For many people with mental disorders, the transformation of the self is one of the most disturbing things about being ill. And their despair is heightened when doctors don’t engage with the issue, don’t ask about what parts of the self have vanished and don’t help figure out strategies to deal with that loss.

In a way, this journey that I am venturing through in this current phase of my life is simply my way of getting back to my self, or more accurately embracing the hodge-podge of my new self. I guess I must have figured out that I did need to understand the transformation of my self. It makes sense that a person struggling with any kind of mental illness would feel disconnected from themselves. The past can feel like an out-of-body experience, except its someone else’s life played by an actor that happens to look exactly like yourself. I often think back and feel uncomfortable pangs of regret, but at the same time don’t truly identify with that person. Logan explains that, “the sick self has no accountability; the improved self has a lot of explaining, and often apologizing, to do.” I have done my fair share of apologizing and have tried to explain my condition many times–sometimes people get it other times I am met with blank stares or courteous nods. 

For now, I am focused on changing patterns, doing things in a new way and molding together a better image of my newly crafted self–with parts of the old and new. I could probably do with a bit of healthy grieving for the bits of my self that have been lost. I can think of a vibrant 17 year old, a kind of naive and overly exuberant young girl, a part of my self that has been chipped away. She may not be the same, but what is left standing is a stronger and wiser self, with moments of that same youthful energy. This is why I found Logan’s article so important, because she is still searching for new ways to reach out and understand how to make the process less painful, perhaps even more rewarding. As she began to share her story she learned that “the more often I spoke, the less traumatic my experience seemed, the less sad, the less painful and, somehow, the less personal”. This is key, if we all could open up and relinquish the hold that this very common illness has on ourselves, friends and family, perhaps we can reduce some pain. There is no need to go on suffering alone. I have talked about the process of writing releasing me from so much pain, giving me new levels self-worth. My other intention is to pass along some inspiration to just talk more openly and plainly about any type of mental illness, without stigma and shame, so that more selves can be set free. There is no point to life if we just keep things inside and pretend things are okay. I have been trained to always tell people that I am “fine”. Its no wonder that when I talk more openly about my suffering that I am met with surprise from some (my close confidants know my story all to well).

Obviously, I still enjoy a bit of self-loathing, procrastination probably falls in this realm and I still feel the monolith of work towering over me. I could use a good night’s rest without twisting around in worry over a paper I should have started last week. So I better get off the soap box for today, it did feel better to get this off my chest.

What do you all think we could better to help with any kind of mental illness? Not just dragged to the hospital and put on lithium type of illness, but also for those of us who are functioning as the walking wounded. 

I can has no more cheezburgers!

I have some useless addictions that have cropped up over time, probably to fill the holes of past addictions. I am on the cusp of some bad behaviors taking hold of me and I need to share. I keep gobbling up horrible 24-hour cable news and starting today I am stepping away from the TV. I turn it on because its a kind of annoying form of white noise. But, I often catch myself popping up every few minutes, like a gulping whack-a-mole. Then I get annoyed, with unanswered questions and loop-de-loop answers and go back to my work. Of course this gives me good cause to berate myself, because I am also addicted to guilt and shame. Honestly, I am aware that this is a game of diminishing returns. This is why I am admitting my faults!

The other day, I heard a newscaster announce in a halting tone that raised in pitch with each word, reaching a crescendo of hyperbole that is so typical it has lost its effect. “You. Won’t. Believe. This. Next. Story. AND. IT. MAY. NOT. EVEN. BE. LEGAAALLLL!” But I still popped up to listen, this is crazy, it can’t be legal! Then, I was tricked into a calming nano-second of a moment by an official, someone with title and expertise, so he said and the broadcaster confirmed. Oh good, he will tell us this is dreadful, it should never be committed against the finest citizens of the world. The newscaster was frothing at the bit, asking leading questions loaded with innuendo. But the expert stayed on point, even acted responsibly and simply confirmed that it was all perfectly legal and constitutional as proven by the courts and in fact a very good thing. A pretty far cry from the screeching accusations of foul play. He was rushed off the air with more halting thank yous and fake platitudes. I felt so let down and completely annoyed that I had fallen for the trick–yet again. But the TV stayed on and I went back to my task, letting the blaring voices swirl around me providing a very artificial comfort.

This when I realized I had a problem.

I remembered reading “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” by John Irving. It’s funny, I do recall the story in bits and pieces but the strongest memory I have is finishing the books in tears, sad that the story was over and I had to say farewell to characters I had grown to adore.

Owen Meany was the star of course. But the narrator of the novel, John Wheelwright drove the story. One of his many obsessions was reading the news, particularly following the events of the Vietnam War. He ranted and raved about the coverage throughout the novel, keeping track of casualties and battles. I know I would have done the same thing and still find myself wanting to dig into accounts of our current wars, although the information is buried knee-deep in horse shit these days. Probably thanks to some of the more revealing coverage of the Vietnam War.

Anyhow, in Irving’s illustrious novel,  John Wheelwright said it best;

“Newspapers are a bad habit, the reading equivalent of junk food. What happens to me is that I seize upon an issue in the news—the issue is the moral/philosophical, political/intellectual equivalent of a cheeseburger with everything on it; but for the duration of my interest in it, all my other interests are consumed by it, and whatever appetites and capacities I may have had for detachment and reflection are suddenly subordinate to this cheeseburger in my life! I offer this as self-criticism; but what it means to be “political” is that you welcome these obsessions with cheeseburgers—at great cost to the rest of your life.”

John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

See my point! I am eating way too many cheeseburgers! Shoot, I am even super-sizing the meal and ordering extra fries and apple pie. Even John Wheelwright wouldn’t be able to remain political, not without clogging his arteries. I pay for this junk food with my logic and tranquility. I can feel the empty calories rattling around in my brain, raising my blood pressure with angst. My temper flaring at injustice and the obvious omission of detail, leading me down an endless pipeline searching for facts that more closely resemble the truth. Sometimes I find more muck than I can handle and other times the search is futile. I will always remain political and will have to live with the costs, because I am certain that the obstacles are put in our way to divert our attention. But I have to get better at avoiding the junk food and find more organic sources of news. I know, I know, I can listen to jazz or classical music for a higher standard of white noise. And I also know, turning off cable news is the first step to clarity.

Are you there Judy Blume?

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“I’m a part of the women’s movement, even if nobody knew it but me.”-Judy Blume

As a girl, I learned so much from Judy. I learned about periods from reading her books. You know menstruation not grammatical. Seriously, I thought she meant the period at the end. One of the girls on my block with an older sister had to tell me about the bloody kind. Of course, I was horrified and somewhat intrigued. I never asked my mother, instead I read every Judy Blume book I could. I even hid away and read “Forever” with the girls on our block and at age 8 or 9 and that book reaaaally freaked me out. But this was sex education in the 80’s. Our mothers were busy with work, raising a family and probably even trying to discover themselves as well. I know my mother did not come from a family that discussed anything remotely sexual. It was definitely not a topic that my mother ever tried to broach with her daughters.

Why am I even thinking about all of this? The other night, I finally watched Makers: Women Who Made America, a documentary about the Women’s Movement, covering the last half century. Judy Blume was one of the women highlighted and her quote is from this show. I have to say I was riveted and I definitely got sucked into the emotional tie of the movement. For a minute, I felt bad I didn’t support Hillary Clinton’s bid for presidency. But I know there will be a woman in The Oval Office in my lifetime.

I was a young girl in 80’s and many of the events are still memorable. I can clearly recall Anita Hill’s testimony and protesters burning abortion clinics. But those events were merely in the background, for me life at home meant being a latch-key kid, with two parents who worked their butts off. My mom was always proud she made her own money. Self-sufficiency is a big deal for my mom, it was and is still a message she often repeats. I know her biggest fear was that we would be stuck, beholden to a man, without our own power or money. In a way, we did listen to this advice.

But where are we now as women? Where is the “movement”? Do we not care as women? Why are we not out in the streets? A few women in the show answered for us and projected the idea that maybe our generation feels that there is nothing left to fight for and we are taking feminism for granted. Maybe we even feel entitled. Obviously this is far from the truth. Every time this question came up in the show, I just wanted to shout..MAYBE WE ARE TOO BUSY AND TIRED to march in the streets! Plus I don’t want to protest, I want to change things without too much shouting.

I loved that the show featured Abigail Pogrem, the daughter of  Letty Pogrem one of the founding editors of Ms. Magazine. Abigail quit her job as a high-powered TV producer to spend more time raising her family and admits that her decision to stay home and slow down was concerning to her feminist mother. Abigail described the “ambivalence of motherhood” as the state all of us reach when we hit a wall and wonder “How are we supposed to do ALL of this?” For me this is the unanswered question and legacy of the feminist movement and we should not spend our time wondering why we are not marching in the street and screaming about injustice toward fellow women. We need to go deeper and start providing tools and guidance for all women, mothers and non-mothers, that allow us to be flexible, authentic and to form our own unique brand of feminism. There should be no war or judgment.

I’ve come across many brands of feminism and recognize and cherish the message. But sometimes, I do find it confusing and hard to figure out how to process all of the choices. The paths are not so clear cut any longer. There are so many flavors of feminism and I feel worried that these ideas are not simply honored as different facets of the same movement. Instead the dissent gets labeled as cat fights and wars. What good does do for all of us? We are are struggling in the trenches trying to make ends meet, trying to do our best.

In the end, I remember the sacrifices that were made by my mother and many strong women around the world. My mom woke up at 430 am every morning to drive an hour each away, working a very rough and tumble job at Airborne Express, where I know she endured sexism and racism. I am pretty sure she got about 5 hours of sleep almost every night and often chose to work an extra shift on Saturdays. She made this choice, so she could be home early enough to pick us up from school or at least shorten time with babysitters. Eventually, she retired from this job after nearly 30 years, with a good Union pension. Meanwhile, my father got us girls ready every morning, waking us up to brush our long curly hair and tied into two neat ponytails. He drove us to school, blaring KNX 1070 AM news, that is still seared into my brain. So my parent’s tried, they both worked hard to raise us and give us more than perhaps a young girl in India would ever have at our age.

For me, I still struggle with the legacy of American-style feminism. I watched Makers and was inspired but also noted the glaring omission of storylines from immigrant mothers, low-income families, women without degrees and single mothers. I noticed that a conservative viewpoint was also looked upon with slight disdain, as if women could not have a choice to stay true to their Christian upbringing. I feel as women, we need to set an example and break the division ourselves. An Indian family is a great example where both conservatism and liberalism collide. In most families, women still play a very feminine role that is still a prevalent identity. Most Indian women strive to create a strong family, provide home-cooked meals and may even have some conservative ideals. Yet there is a liberalism to the way Indian women look at their role, although it may not seem that they are the “head” of the household, many women take pride in running the house and know they are engine of success for the family and have a silent power that the world is a better place precisely due to their mothering ways. Yes, not very progressive but this sentiment is strong with with Indian women. But a modern Indian woman can still strive to be smart, outgoing, feisty, loud-mouthed, highly educated and a progressive career women and still make an Indian feast for the in-laws, without feeling guilty. I am not downplaying inequalities, just describing the Indian women I see in my own family here and abroad. Basically, don’t mess with an Indian mother.

This is the mash-up of feminism that I desire and I hope for it to be neither conservative or liberal. I feel so deeply rooted in my role as a mother and this shouldn’t be judged as selling out. Cooking a meal and keeping a tidy house does make me feel accomplished for the day. But I am also ambitious and independent and strive for more. I do not create an obstacle for my husband to be involved, clean and do chores. I don’t make him feel like he can’t do things as well as I can. We are both partners in this household. When we had our daughter, I made sure not hog her away and or put up any barriers. He held her and would try to soothe her. I remember training myself not to run to the rescue when I felt the urge or worried she was crying for too long. Eventually, he did calm her down and still has a special way with her that is irreplaceable and different than my approach. For me this is the feminist blend that I hope to strengthen and is how I “march” in the streets. We are still trying to learn so much about our role as women and I know that the movement is not over. I want it to progress so that more viewpoints are included. That the ambivalence slowly begins to fade. I am raising a daughter, so I feel ever connected to the feminist cause. We certainly don’t feel entitled, especially when we see that women still struggle for equality all around the world. And if it takes some marching, we  will make time for that too, with our kids in tow of course.

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