Monday, July 20, 2015

On Everyday Life

I don't post here much anymore - partially because our lives are a whirlwind of moments and I have a house to clean and (temporarily) five children to watch after five days a week, and three the other two, and partially because I simply don't find myself interesting enough to talk about - but I feel the need, now, at least, to try to share some of what goes on in my head.

Things here are.. Okay. We have good days and bad days, and there are moments when I close my eyes and sincerely wish that things were different, but most of the time I wouldn't give up anything I've got in the world. Being mom to an eight year old, a (nearly, in three days) six year old, and 18 month old is absolutely overwhelming, but it's an amazing experience. The downside, of course, is that I'm learning all too well how frighteningly quickly time passes, and that while I may be nearly 30, I don't FEEL like I'm a day over 20. I know one day it'll hit me and I'll suddenly feel absolutely ancient, but until then I keep telling myself I'm still very young. That I'm not likely just under halfway through my life. That the next ten years won't zip by, that I won't be watching G graduate from school when I'm 40. I try not to think about the fact that every moment we're given is a blessing, because if I do, I'll be reminded that nothing is guaranteed and we never know what will happen next in our lives. I try not to remember that I live in an area prone to dangerous thunderstorms, that cars go fast and things fall from the sky sometime and occasionally buildings collapse and that there are deranged idiots in the world who seek only to hurt others or take lives for the sake of having something to do. I have to try not to think about the fact that someday someone may, intentionally or otherwise, seriously hurt or kill one of my children, and I may never know why, or understand the rationale behind their decision. I have to forget about diseases and infections and complications and problems that could arise at any point in time, things I can only do so much (if anything) to protect my children against - and even then there are things like heartache or mental illnesses that I can't predict or foresee. I have to put out of my mind, at least for now, that I cannot control everything and simply hope that I am a part of the lives of my children for as long as humanly possible, and that during that time, nothing hurts them.

I don't want to imply that my children are not intelligent, or aren't capable of taking care of themselves or that they can't adapt and learn to cope with whatever situation presents itself. I don't want to imply that they have especially compromised immune systems or underdeveloped emotional responses. My boys are brilliant, though I'll be the first to admit a certain familial bias toward that opinion, and they are relatively healthy and competent. They have learned thus far to cope with the childhood complications that develop our emotions and have shown themselves able to contend with the stages of grief and to reason through situations and thought processes that are a bit above that which I might equate with a child of their age. They're good kids (though I don't think there's such a thing as a BAD kid) and I adore them.

Honestly, I'm being selfish here, and I'll be the first to admit it: I'm worried about how I'LL react. Not to say that I don't think my children deserve to have long, healthy, fruitful lives - they do! - but I know in my heart that regardless of the situation or diagnosis or complication, they will handle themselves with dignity, honor, and reason. I think they're old souls, that they've been around this life thing once or twice already. I think that when their time comes, as much as I don't want to think about it, that their age won't matter to them so much - they'll know that they lived amazing lives and that they were fantastic people. I'm not sure, however, how I'll do when it comes to that transition (though I hope it doesn't happen while I'm around to see it). I already don't cope well with the issues outside of our direct family when it comes to illness and life transitions, and the idea of something like that occurring within our little family is overwhelming. If thinking about it alone is enough to drive a shiver down my spine, what will happen when it actually occurs? Will I be prepared? Will I be able to be strong for everybody else? Will I be able to coordinate whatever efforts are necessary, make the best decisions, honor my child's wants or legacy appropriately and with a modicum of respect? Will I be able to avoid collapsing into a mess of emotion so that I can continue to be an adult in an otherwise challenging situation? Will I be able to get up the next morning, and continue my life, for the sake of my family?

I have so many questions - all that doubt my capability while espousing the candor of my kids. I don't doubt them at all. I can't bring myself to. But me? I know that, no matter what happens, I'll be continuing to look to them to make me a better person - whether or not they realize that's what's going on.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

On Stupidity

I saw an article shared by several Facebook friends today, entitled, "A Christian 'Defense' of Josh Duggar" (you can read it here) and I made the HUGE mistake of going to actually go read it. I'd make a comment about how you can go read the full text of it yourself, but the article is so absolutely godforsakenly HORRIBLE that I feel the need to actually go through the entire damn thing and respond bit by bit to the drivel I've read. And I'm not holding back punches, either. So here goes. The article is in black; my responses are in red.
You were probably as shocked as I was to learn earlier this week that Josh Duggar had been accused of child molestation as a teenager. Shocked? Well, I was surprised that something had FINALLY come to light. To be honest, I wasn't shocked that someone in the household had done something completely deplorable, given that they are a very closed-off family that doesn't provide their children with a well-rounded secular education that includes comprehensive health and reasonable sex ed courses. Since this news became public, Josh has resigned as executive director of the Family Research Council.

Josh’s actions as a 14-year-old boy were inexcusable and wrong. I should hope they're wrong. He was fourteen - not two, not six, not even eight or ten. HE WAS FOURTEEN YEARS OLD. At fourteen a kid is already experiencing sexual awakening, is aware of masturbation and knows its purpose and likely how to do it (although in the Duggar household this is arguable at best; god only knows what awful things they told their children would happen if they touched themselves). A fourteen year old also understands the difference between right and wrong when it comes to touching the bodies of others, and SHOULD have a semblance of knowledge of the concepts of personal space and of consent. Josh knows that. Does he? Because up until today there has been absolutely no real backlash for his actions, no repercussions whatsoever. He and his father reported the incidents to the police over a year after the events occurred, and that officer was a family friend who also happened to be a state trooper, who failed to file an appropriate report or start an investigation, and who was then later convicted on several counts of child abuse, served prison time, then REOFFENDED and was RECONVICTED so I'm pretty sure that he was not the most reliable person to be reporting this information to, Josh and his victims received counseling Jim Bob admitted that the only "counseling" that Josh received was spending the summer one year with a family friend to help remodel houses, and absolutely NOBODY has stepped forward to give any information on exactly what counseling the victims received, who provided it, and whether or not that person was a licensed counselor who could provide adequate non-faith services, and Josh admits and accepts the consequences for his actions. And those consequences, up until now, have been NIL.

Once again, before we go any further, let us repeat: Josh was wrong. He was more than wrong.

For a third time, just to clear up any confusion, all together now: JOSH DUGGAR WAS WRONG. Okay? Okay. No, not okay, and oversimplifying this situation with a blasé "he was wrong" is EXACTLY WHY more sexual assaults aren't reported.

Josh was also 14 years old. Is there a point where we say, “You messed up. You were a stupid kid. But you corrected your behavior, turned your life around, and we forgive you. Let’s move on?” Yes. It's the point at which a child goes from an unassuming minor who is either pushing their limits or is experimenting for the sake of learning about life to a sexually awakened and aware adolescent/teenager who is purposefully and knowingly doing something inarguably WRONG to his SISTERS. If this was ANY OTHER FAMILY people would be outraged. But it's okay for the Duggars. Right.

Dare I say it? Very few in the mainstream media – very few – talked about Lena Dunham’s documented molestation of her younger sister. Even less called for any type of repercussions for her actions. I had to look into this because before tonight I had honestly never heard of Lena Dunham nor what she was accused of. I found that when she was younger, under the age of ten, she admits to have on occasion looked at, even touched, her significantly younger sister's genitals. I'm not saying that's okay, but I WILL say that my five year old and eight year old still try to poke one another's penises, and that child psychiatrists the world over agree and acknowledge that part of growing up is learning the differences about each other's bodies, finding similarities, and that while it may make adults uncomfortable it is perfectly developmentally normal for YOUNGER CHILDREN to touch each other or themselves in what is perceived as a "sexual manner" even if it is not done with the intention of initiating sex or sexual acts. Look it the fuck up.

Dunham was wrong, but she too was a stupid kid doing stupid, wrong things. The glaring difference between her and Duggar? Dunham laughs about her childhood incidents and shows zero remorse for them whatsoever. And that’s that. The majority of society wrote off Dunham’s incident as childhood stupidity, though it was very, very wrong. Because it WAS childhood stupidity. That's one of the big things here. CHILDHOOD. STUPIDITY. Kids doing kid things. Yes, you're right. I should go turn in my eight year old now. Jesus christ, seriously? 

So it would seem forgiveness for childhood failures is completely possible in today’s society. Nope, childhood failures are completely forgivable as long as they aren't to the degree of abuse or murder. Unfortunately, Josh wasn't a child when he abused his sisters. Unless, of course, you’re from a Christian conservative family. I don't care if the family was a left wing Libertarian family. It isn't okay. Christian conservatives aren’t allowed to fail. Sure they are. We all are. But sexually molesting your younger sisters, who are as young as four, when you are FOURTEEN and are in a position of power over them, is not okay. Not at 14. Not ever.

Earlier today, I tweeted this:

Oh, good, you outed yourself as a disgusting apologist right away, great.
I received many responses along these lines:

That's the most common sense I've seen so far from this article and it wasn't from the author.
The thing is, you guys, they do. By 17-years-old, 48% of teenagers have had sex. And for the vast majority of those teenagers it was consensual sex with another teenager no more than two years older or younger than them. One out of every three teenage girls gets pregnant before the age of 20. Of course, this number fluxuates depending on the area of the country you're referring to; southern states, ironically enough, tend to have a higher teen pregnancy rate than EVERY OTHER STATE. And it doesn’t count as consent just because you’re both under 18. No, but the majority of kids under 18 who are having sex don't end up prosecuted for it because their parents or other caregivers understand that they are old enough to make decisions for themselves regarding their sexuality and that said "kid" doesn't magically become more responsible or more able to make wise decisions just because their 18th birthday rolls around. Never mind that most kids don't tell their parents, whether or not we want them to, that they're sexually active. So this is not relevant. You're basically saying that it's okay if you're under 18 and don't consent because pretty much half of everybody else you know has already fucked around, so you should just go along with it. Twenty-six and a half percent of 15-19-year-old girls are giving birth to kids which is a regionally specific number, so I'd love to know where in the nation this information is from – and those are just the ones that aren’t having abortions. Abortions aren't even relevant in this discussion. And 17% of those births are to unwed mothers who already have at least one other child! 1) I'd love to know where in the nation her numbers are from. Again. Also, so? Unwed does not mean unsupported, does not mean that they are not in a long-term relationship with a loving partner. This "15-19" arbitrary range is also pretty damn convenient because, even assuming only people 18 and up are getting married and having babies, that's two whole years of extra inclusion in which people are legal adults in ANY state but are still being lumped into this age range like somehow it's relevant. It isn't.

Yes, Josh Duggar was wrong. Stupid, dead wrong. Wrong. Josh admits his wrong. He and the young girls affected by his actions will live with the repercussions from those incidents for the rest of their lives. It’s an incredibly sad story that unfolds far too often in today’s society. Does it? Because I am not specifically aware of the number of sheltered 14 year olds who go around sexually molesting their SIGNIFICANTLY younger SISTERS on NUMEROUS OCCASIONS. No, I actually don't think this specific occasion happens often.

So what do we do now – 15 years later? Everything we legally can, right? That's the right answer? Now that all this time has passed and these girls have been completely let down by their families, clergy, and the law, we use our newfound information to help bring them justice. That's what you're going to say, right?

Is the answer to teenage failure, “OFF WITH THEIR HEAD!” because of something someone did when they were 14-years-old? Kids are stupid. They’re sinful. They do bad things. Criminal things, perverse things even. Yup. Sometimes kids steal some gum from the store or even some shoes, or punch someone that makes them really angry, or lose their handle on their emotions and say some pretty hurtful, dumb things. Sometimes kids make mistakes. Stealing is criminal. Threatening someone is perverse. But none of those things are.. Dammit, I'm going to have to repeat myself, aren't I.

How do we handle childhood sin? First, I need to get over the fact that you're lumping sexual molestation in with telling a lie. Yes, they should know better, but kids mess up. If we discipline them, they suffer consequences, repent, and turn their life around… What then? WHAT FUCKING CONSEQUENCES DID HE SUFFER?! How the fuck do we KNOW he has turned his life around, when his ENTIRE FUCKING FAMILY went so far out of their way to ensure that the undoubtedly NUMEROUS times he SEXUALLY MOLESTED HIS SISTERS were covered up until this happened to come to light NOW, over a decade later?! Do we show them grace and give them another shot at life? Or do we simply throw stones from our glass houses? Not much of a glass house when I don't fucking molest kids.

Could it be that pointing at someone else’s sin – especially if it’s someone from a family with *gasp* standards! – makes us feel better about our own? I'm pretty damn proud that my family doesn't allow an older child in a position of authority over their siblings to molest said siblings knowingly and repeatedly and then cover it up for years after not providing any counseling for anyone involved or any legal repercussions for the offender.

I also tweeted this today:

If I prayed, I'd sooner pray for his sisters, that they will find peace even with the knowledge that every single fucking person who was supposed to protect and shield them did the exact fucking opposite.
And got lots of this in return:

Do we not understand what was happening in the “first stone” story? A woman was caught in the very act of adultery – which in Jesus’ culture was justifiably punishable by stoning. Jesus didn’t say, “If you’ve never committed adultery, pelt her now, as hard as you can!” Nope. It was if you’re without sin. Without any sin. I can't.. I can't even.

Sin is sin is sin. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. No argument there. Wrong is wrong. Consequences are a different ball game. For example, the consequences for lying are quite different than those for murder. Josh Duggar’s sin will have a lifetime of consequences. FOR HIS SISTERS. For those who were molested by this man. THEY WILL SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES of not being provided a loving atmosphere in which they were acknowledged as the victims and provided ample and adequate counseling from a trained counselor who can.. Goddammit.

I’ve never molested children or shot anyone or done drugs, but guess what? I’m still a fallible human being. I’ve messed up. A lot. I, too, am imperfect and need forgiveness. I can’t throw that “without sin” stone. Can you? No, but I can still throw the "I never molested anybody" stone and you can bet your ass I will.

On Homeschooling (and why it isn't "the problem")

I've seen a couple of articles going around about Josh Duggar and the situation in his family, and it seems like there's a good one from Patheos that seems to condense the information into an easily understood list of information that makes perfect sense.

Except for the last point.

"Homeschooling can limit children’s ability to report abuse."

Now, to a degree, that's a statement that kind of makes sense. In a traditional school environment kids interact with all types of adults all day long - teachers, administrators, counselors, assistants, etc. They see all sorts of people who might notice a change from the norm and who might ask questions or probe enough to get a shy or threatened child to talk about what's going on at home. The ideal situation, of course, is that if a child is subjected to abuse at home that they will eventually feel as though they can or should open up about it to a trusted adult, and if they go to a public or parochial school, they will inevitably encounter more adults who can be told. Unfortunately, this ideal is pretty much irrelevant, for a couple of different reasons.

1) How many children out there either never told anyone and nobody found out about the abuse until it was too late, or are being abused and are too afraid to come forward to ANYBODY? The problem is, we don't really know. Abusers either threaten or condition the children they prey on, and all too often kids won't open up to anybody about anything - and when the abuse is emotional or sexual but not physical, kids often are brushed off as either lying or exaggerating their experiences. (Especially when the abuse is sexual and the abuser is a close friend or family member.) Given the ages of the girls involved and the subject matter at hand, there is a VERY good possibility that being in a traditional school never would have made a difference. You cannot coerce or force a child to admit to something with a serious social stigma attached when they sincerely believe that they or their family will be at risk if they reveal sensitive information.

2) How many kids anymore seriously get the chance to open up to their teacher and befriend said teacher enough to feel comfortable sharing something this intensely personal? Class sizes have exploded over the last ten years and teachers often have little down time with their children to sit and talk. Kids are ushered quickly into classrooms where they immediately begin their days and are ushered out just as quickly at the end. Older children may well be able to find the time and comfort to sit with a teacher they've known a while, but younger children rarely get this luxury and honestly don't often bond much with any of their teachers. Not to say that teachers of younger children don't make a difference, don't bond with students, and don't report incidents when they're made aware of them - they do, by all means! - but unfortunately teachers just aren't given the opportunity to learn enough about their students anymore to notice when something is off. I'm fairly sure that every single teacher I came in contact with during my time in public school would have immediately reported any sign they encountered of a child at risk of abuse, but in all honesty, I think unless there is obvious physical damage present, a teacher may not notice or be made aware enough to report it.

3) People are easily swayed by money and notoriety. Say a teacher had been made aware of what was going on - there is ABSOLUTELY NO GUARANTEE, be they mandated reporters or not, that they would have reported the incident in a timely fashion to someone who would have followed through, especially when the family involved is one that involves a former state representative and a well-known and publicized family who is espoused for their morality and spiritual belief. And even if they had, who's to say that the person who they reported to would have done anything about it? Everyone in the line of mandated reporters must follow through without question and immediately in order for something to be done in time to prevent further abuse. If just one link in the chain is weak, multiple children can be swiftly shoveled through the cracks. The possibility is there, yes, but assuming that things would have been different if they weren't homeschooled is tragic and places blame where it doesn't belong.

I want more than anything to only consider the good in the world, but assuming that this would have come to light sooner if they were in a traditional school setting gives even more bad light to homeschooling parents. There are thousands of families who homeschool out there who are NOT doing awful things to their children, who aren't abusive, and who aren't withholding information or purposefully teaching their kids incorrect information just because it adheres to a specific religious belief. (There are unfortunately also a number of families with children in public or parochial schools who are systemic abusers.) I would even go as far as saying that Christian homeschooling isn't the problem here (despite my disagreements with the general lack of evolutionary/scientific teachings) - it's the fact that these parents aren't teaching sex ed, they aren't teaching kids bodily autonomy. They teach an environment of "I'm in charge and you do not say no to me or your older siblings" and that fosters an unhealthy "I must say yes/comply" attitude that leaves young children thinking they can't say no to someone who is an authority over them. They don't teach kids what touches are okay and what aren't, who is okay to touch and who isn't. It's when you teach a child to be ashamed of their body and think that anything they do to themselves is sinful that you get children who grow up with an unhealthy bodily image. And given their supposedly unwavering fundamentalist upbringing, you certainly can't blame it on a lack of morals - so the fact that they are staunchly religious in and of itself isn't a good excuse.

Homeschooling, though, is not the problem here, and it should not be blamed, nor even brought up.

(General disclaimer: I am aware that the vast majority of parents, either homeschooling or making use of public or parochial school systems, are not abusive in any form. I am aware that there are and hopefully always will be more families in every environment who are loving, nurturing, and attentive than those who are not. I am aware that generalizations do not help either side and am not intending to vilify or generalize anyone into a single category - the only exception being the severe and standard lack of sex ed and mainstream scientific information and education in the fundamentalist religious homeschooling community. I do not wish to vilify public schools, as my entire family has attended public school, and I have loved and respected nearly every educator that I or my children have come into contact with over the years.

The point of this? Being in public school would not have guaranteed that this situation would have been appropriately reported and dealt with within a reasonable time, nor that the outcome would have been any different, and I am very tired of seeing people suggest otherwise.)

Friday, May 22, 2015

On The Duggars

After a long, LONG silence, I finally feel like I should (or maybe can) come share a post. Mainly, my thoughts - at length - on the hubbub surrounding the Duggar clan and the controversy about the oldest son, Josh.

In case you missed the clusterfuck, it's this group of lovely individuals AND I DON'T THINK THIS IS ALL OF THEM.

I'm sure you know what's going on by now, but in case I need to rehash:

The Duggars are part of the Quiverfull movement, which basically says that 1) men are in charge and women should always be subservient, which includes foregoing secondary education and holding any meaningful job outside the home, 2) the purpose of relationships is for procreation to make a "quiver full of warriors for God", and 3) that children should be taught according to the unquestionably abusive "training" methods akin to the drivel that the Pearls spew (which includes blanket training). They use the opportunity of being homeschoolers to avoid teaching their children meaningful science or any form of sex ed.

Basically, they're already emotionally and mentally abusive, so they've already got that going for them.

Somebody asked Jim Bob to recite all the kids' names. 

So, in other words, this is already a pretty dysfunctional family - and that's ignoring the fact that they do a lot of other things (like courtship) that might have been adorable a hundred years ago but today are pretty unfeasible and allow new couples basically no opportunity to get to know one another.

So yesterday a lot of major media sites started posting articles about how there were allegations that at some point about ten years ago, Josh Duggar may or may not have been involved in the sexual molestation of young girls. At the time, he was a minor touching minors, so everybody kind of played the situation off as bad decision making and likely something that happened between him and family friends.

Then someone said the police report was available, that it was from 2006, and that it mentioned a LOT of interesting points.

Touching little girls: about as American as it gets.

First: The girls that Josh allegedly touched included several of his own sisters and likely a close family friend or other relative who would have had reason to be sharing sleeping quarters with his siblings.

Second: The allegations only came to light after a family friend found a letter in a book they'd borrowed more than a year after the abuse occurred.

Third: The abuse had been reported to authorities but no action had been taken; that being said, the family had supposedly gotten counseling for Josh and for the victims.

And everybody was pretty upset, but, you know, nobody's perfect, he was just a kid, he made a mistake, etc - you know, things that basically let him off the hook. Excuse his actions. He was a kid who made a mistake, right? Because surely a 14 year old can't possibly know that touching another person without that person's consent is wrong. Of course not.

Then things got worse.

Josh admitted it. Which, I mean, that's good, since at that point trying to deny the allegations wouldn't have gone well. But at that point it stops being potential allegations and starts being a lot of fucking truthiness. He admitted the affected girls were several of his sisters and another unnamed individual. He admitted that he told his parents about it, and that he'd been sent to "counseling" which then turned out to have been a family friend for whom he helped out doing house renovations for a couple months during the summer. (No mention of the counseling for the girls, of course.) He said he'd told his dad, who had acted on the recommendations of church elders (mandated reporters, of course), and who had gone on to tell a family friend that also happened to be on the police force (another mandated reporter) who proceeded to do jack shit. Never mind the fact that the "family friend" wasn't informed of this for several years, until well after the statute of limitations on sexual abuse had passed in their state, but that the "friend" handled the whole thing by talking to Josh about the repercussions of his actions and then doing jack shit (later this same authority was arrested on multiple counts of child pornography, so there's that). Josh's wife, Anna, with whom he has three small children and another on the way, admitted that Josh had been open with her about the abuse he'd leveled on his sisters before they had begun courting.

Nothing about whether or not Josh was then kept from being able to access his sisters.

No word on what counseling or support his sisters or the other victim received.

No comment about how it had affected the girls, or if Josh had gone all that time still able to prey on young girls (which one must assume he has, given that he is not segregated from the family and has his own children).

Nothing at all about how this case of incest and sexual abuse needs to be investigated and how the entire family should be individually counseled and these children seriously talked to about what's going on and whether or not any of the rest of them have experienced something similar.

So damn wholesome. If you can ignore the touching little girls part. Oh, look, a little girl.

So now what? Good question. TLC has, luckily, responded appropriately and while they haven't cancelled the show as of this moment, they have pulled it from the air. It's a good very small start but it doesn't account for the health and well being of the children involved - girls who are now nearly adults, or who are teenagers, who are still woefully unaware of their bodies and what they're experiencing, and who have had no real guidance on coming to terms with the abuse they've experienced in their short lives. 

If I can be honest?

Every single one of those kids, from the youngest to the oldest still at home, needs to be removed from that household. I do NOT say that lightly, as I am very aware of the tendency of the law and many Department of Human Services employees who overreact to situations and who remove kids from houses where it is hardly necessary or in their best interest. But here, it needs to happen and FAST.

I consider these necessary weapons of child rescue. Also, it'd be fun to put a good hole in their door.

These kids need to be individually interviewed and counseled. They need to be given age-appropriate sex ed and health information. They need to have the situation explained in the most basic of terms and be told what has happened. 

This includes Josh's kids. The main problem there being that if either is being abused they're too young to vocalize it and share their experiences, and will likely not remember it either. Given that Anna knew Josh's past when they married and still agreed to have kids with an unconvicted, admitted abuser who had never gotten help, I'd say that she'd be willing to hide any evidence or knowledge about anything her husband is currently involved in.

Will there be closure for this family?

It's hard to say. I hope so - I can't even imagine what these girls have endured. Knowing the principles of the movement and the fundamentalist mindset, I'm guessing they were probably told it was somehow their fault for looking or acting in a sexual manner, and that their big brother was completely innocent. But it's hard to say.

Monday, November 17, 2014

On Being Enough

I've always felt inadequate.

When I was little, other children reminded me I was actually too much - too "weird", too fat, too much an introvert and too unable to emotionally cope with the day to day interactions of other kids. I could lose myself in a fantasy world all my own, a coping mechanism I developed coming into middle school, and that too was strange. I dealt with the emotional and physical repercussions of not fitting in by creating a world of magic and intrigue in my head that accepted me as whatever I wanted to be, and that appreciated my participation and existence. When I was old enough to get involved in extracurriculars like music, I was always reminded that I was not particularly GREAT at anything I did - by the results of tryouts and mandatory testing of skills and comprehension - and that my skills were always lacking at least a little.

By the time I was old enough to begin truly comparing myself to my peers (and especially to my close friends who participated in the same things), I found myself more concerned about what my mother had to say about what I was doing. Sure, I knew thanks to my teachers and the less compassionate among my peers that I wasn't particularly talented in the long run, but I also heard the comments from my mother who took pride in reminding me that one friend was a first chair in one of her three chosen instruments, was doubling up in performances, had joined jazz band and was a favorite of our band teacher, while another was trying out for drum major and accomplishing great things in her chosen instrument; others were far better performers vocally or could also dance and were far thinner than I, putting them in positions in show choir or other choirs I could only dream of being in. Not that I didn't try out - I did - but I was never good enough. There were always those whose abilities far exceeded my own, and I quickly became self-conscious. Whatever talent I had became quietly wasted, shared only with myself (and my by then long distance boyfriend, now husband), behind closed doors where I knew only I would be judging my ability.

Once high school was over, college became a secondary point of contention. It was no longer necessarily me being concerned about what my mother or any other parental figure thought, as I was suddenly an adult who supposedly needed only to be concerned about whatever judgement she passed upon herself. It became me versus my instructors, namely my choir teacher, whose push for perfection and need for impossible commitment from his students led to me leaving my two week old firstborn behind with my mother, effectively killing any attempts at breastfeeding that I'd begun (I dried up while I was away, as I had no idea how to pump and no ability to store milk) and essentially destroying the mother-child bond that I am still working on fixing and establishing seven years later. I was still not good enough when it came to the few things I enjoyed doing, but I had by that point accepted it; as I was in a smaller, less competitive environment, my lack of talent didn't prevent me from participating in certain activities and in some groups, because they were desperate for performers. The down side was that I still heard second hand about the things my friends were accomplishing at the actual colleges they had left town to attend, which proved absolutely soul crushing as I attempted to maintain my relationship with my husband, raise my child, afford to live, and continue school. I ended up dropping out, unable to cope with my chosen major, unhappy with my place in life, and unsure what I wanted to do with myself. Nothing really made me happy, and (adding insult to injury) I had to face all of this head on as the fantasy world that had protected me as a child had completely disappeared when I had grown up.

Now, a long time and three kids later, here we are. Unable to competently provide for my family I pursue the only hobbies I have as a source of income, only to be proven all the same that I am still not good enough, not talented enough for it to be worth my time and effort. I struggle with emotional and physical issues and silently cry out to finally be good enough, to finally be a decent enough person that someone is surely proud, yet I am still not enough - mostly to my mother, the one person I have always tried to impress. Nearly 30 years of existing and I still have yet to make her proud, a lack of accomplishment that sits heavy on my heart. The expectation of caring for my own children and house, running our errands and her's, spending time away from my family several weekends a month to specifically spend time with her and run even more errands for her, and I am told I should be at her house multiple times a week, vacuuming her floors and caring for her dog and making repairs on her house and cleaning for her. I should be doing all these things, I am told, because what I do is not enough. What I do is never enough - not for my kids, or my husband, or my mother. And it absolutely breaks me.

Friday, August 22, 2014

On Unhealthy Relationships

One could argue that the relationship that I have with food is mildly unhealthy in the way that one could say that Adolph Hitler was well meaning but slightly misled. The same in that a certain subsect of people would agree but in fact both statements are incredibly inaccurate. The fact of the matter is, my relationship with food is incredibly destructive.

Really though, this guy was a douche.

It may sound like an overstatement, but it's the truth and unfortunately it is a painful truth that I live with every day of my life; that I must face in front of my children, my husband, my friends and my family, every new person that I meet. I am morbidly obese. It is not illness that prevents me from managing my weight and my problems are entirely my own - they are my own creation, my own issue, and unfortunately figuring out my problems has been something that I have struggled with for nearly three decades with no success.

It would be easy to claim that I am exaggerating, but anyone who has ever known me knows exactly how unhealthy my relationship is with food. It is destructive, it is hurtful, and ultimately my dependence upon food to lighten my mood and to better destroy painful emotions is what will eventually kill me. That should be a terrifying eye opener but instead it drives me back toward the chocolate and the comfort foods that I and millions of other Americans turn toward daily for comfort and sustenance.

But mostly food.

"But surely you understand what you're doing is bad."

Well, of COURSE I do. I'm not an idiot. A smoker can likely name off a good portion of the health problems associated with imbibing in their addiction and may even deny entirely that they rely on smoking to calm them, entertain them, and to satiate their inner need for peace. (Of course, some smokers are completely aware of their situation.) The recent and tragic death of Robin Williams has brought to light the disparity in America of the treatment of obvious physical ailments versus mental problems - issues like anxiety, depression, BPD, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and every other mental disability under the sun aren't going to just go away if someone changes their frame of mind or thinks positive thoughts. Hell, Robin Williams played fucking Peter Pan of all people in Hook and the life lesson of "thinking happy thoughts will set you free" didn't exactly help him, did it?

Hulk new friend named "Ground". Strange name for new friend.

So, yes, for the majority of us who realize that most of our issues started in our heads, we're well aware of what we're doing and that it is inherently destructive. The problem is that knowledge of where the issue originated or even just knowing that we are not "physically" ill isn't enough for us to suddenly sigh in relief and declare that our problems are solved because they aren't. Not by a long shot.

Think back to when you were in grade school. Wanda told Billy who told Jenna who told Frank who told Amanda that Pat doesn't actually like you like you, just sorta likes you, and OH MY GOD you spent the next TWO WEEKS wondering what the hell you did wrong and was it that Mickey Mouse shirt you wore last month because seriously as much as you love that shirt you will totally give it up forever if it means that Pat will give you the time of day again. You spent every single moment of every day playing out scenarios in your head and preparing for anything and inwardly telling yourself that you just must not be good enough because if Pat won't like you, nobody will ever like you. Ever. At all.

What WERE you thinking, anyway?

Now imagine that being every day of your life, except you're an adult and people expect you to get the hell over things like any other human being. They do not expect you to have such insanely low self confidence that you avoid looking in the mirror, they don't consider that you refuse to look them in the eye because you struggle with social anxiety problems, they don't really want to think about the fact that you are over two HUNDRED pounds overweight not because of the thyroid problem you claim to have but because that girl looked at you funny and also you are behind on your bills so TIME TO EAT! 

Is it healthy?

Of course not.

Do we know that?

Hint: Yes.

But the problem is that as long as people think that mental issues of any kind can be resolved purely through thinking about puppies, we as a nation will continue to shutter those who are truly in need of help into the dark recesses of our society because we just don't want to think that maybe, just maybe, our problems are caused by something we cannot easily predict nor change without serious help and dedication. Or sometimes with therapy and medication.

My problem with food is one of those things that will require a complete mental reboot. 

And since I look like pretty much every other fat person out there, before you pass judgment on someone because of their size.. Consider their state of mental health.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

On Social Anxiety

I am not a particularly social person. That is to say that while I do have friends and enjoy the company of other people, I am not fond of new interactions unless I am already aware that I have a reasonable amount in common with someone. I don't often like going out in public to places where there will be a large number of strangers, because that further encourages my social anxiety - there are PEOPLE there. I will have to INTERACT with them. What will they think about me? What if my innately weird personality grates on them? What if they do not understand or appreciate my dry, sometimes dark humor?

Please don't make me go out there.

Of course, there are those of us with social anxiety who are lucky enough to be able to manage our symptoms (think full-blown panic attacks at the store when the cashier asks us if we want paper or plastic) through innocuous methods like deep breathing, redirected thinking, and the fact that if we don't go out and do things stuff may never get done. It's a tough road to walk down but all of us manage somehow, whether it's through guided therapy, medication, or being able to somehow weather the daily storm of human interaction all on our own.

It helps when we find people that either by force or by choice we are able to communicate with - typically parents, siblings, a few close friends, and children. We can talk to those few people, or at least agree to do things with them on a semi-regular basis, without immediately having to take a deep breath and remind ourselves that despite how terrifying being around other people can be, it's at least kind of okay with these people, because they know that we are fucking nuts and they at least aren't completely bothered by it.

We are not good at communicating feelings either.

The hard part is forming those relationships outside of the boundaries of our families. At least when it's a parent or sibling or child or spouse, it's someone we more or less see every day. We become comfortable to some degree through force of habit and through the weird bond of genetics. We may never fully be secure in our surroundings, but when we're with family, we're at least somewhat sure that our particular brand of crazy won't skeeve anybody out so much that they feel the need to leave the room.

But new people? No. Forget that. I am the kind of person who, if asked to call a restaurant to place an order, will give you puppy dog eyes to guilt you into doing it or try to find a way to order online. Please do not make me interact with strangers. I don't want to answer the door when they get here. When I am out in public I will mess with my phone just to avoid making eye contact with someone. I will look at the floor or the shelves. No, guy in the store, I do not want help finding what I'm looking for and I do not have questions - partially because I have been in your shoes and I'm willing to bet that you probably don't actually know where what I'm looking for is, but also because I do not want to have to actually speak to you.

I should probably get this t-shirt so everybody goes into this situation aware of who is the problem here.

The irony is that one of the ways I combat my extreme social anxiety is by playing myself off to be an extrovert. I've been told that I can't possibly suffer from social anxiety if I'm able to channel my emotions and fears into the facade of a person who is happy about being in the limelight and who flourishes in social situations, which I think is just a great way for a person to say, "I see your coping mechanisms, and I raise you the pair of your pants that I preemptively set on fire."

Like any other problem, I've found it's really easy for someone who has never had social anxiety issues to roll their eyes and say that you just need to get over it, or things aren't really as bad as you think, or it's all in your head. Well, yes, thank you, I KNOW it's all in my head because unlike some conditions, social anxiety doesn't exactly show up as a tell-tale rash on my shoulder blades accompanied by a wheezing cough and tiny black pock marks.

I hear ya, Katherine. But if you'd just think positive thoughts that plague would go away!

What it DOES show up as is the near-constant sensation of being on the edge of a panic attack at the mere idea of having to possibly make eye contact with a total stranger. Considering the fact that I think most store employees would assume you're in the midst of some kind of demonic possession if you suddenly curled up on the floor and screamed at people to please not look at you, I'd rather learn to calm that sensation and play it off like it's no big deal - and I should note that taking it to the opposite extreme and being incredibly friendly toward everyone not only lets me appear as though I am a confident, functioning human being, but that I am not spending every last second worrying about what you think about me and how I am supposed to actually TALK to you, much less LOOK at you.

So there you go. That's how I deal with my social anxiety, and now that you know that I have it, please be kind to me if you run into me out in public.