An Echo Off a Mountainside

mountains-2011776_1280
Image via pixabay

It feels like an avalanche. That’s what I told my best friend last night. It’s like an avalanche and when it happens, it buries me.

When it happens, it feels as if there beneath a pile of snow, a piece of myself dies. That there’s no getting out from under it all. I give up beneath the weight and whatever finally emerges is a colorless ghost of what remains below.

I’m trying not to think in those terms anymore. I told her I really want to try to instead imagine that as soon as the avalanche runs its course, I begin scraping away. And maybe my fingers leave streaks of blood across the white of the snow and ice. But I emerge, whole, ready to keep trudging along and fight my way to the top. Holding tight to all the things that make me who I am, no matter how far away the top always seems.

I’d never described shame in these terms before.

Mainly because it isn’t something I ever talk about. With her or anyone else. Even in therapy.

My therapist knows it is something I struggle with. But I’ve never shared details about the things that invite that avalanche. The desires and emotions that feel like screams against a snowy, fragile mountainside.

I don’t know how it got to this point. I only know that radical acceptance feels like the only answer.

I support you. I want you to have that. That sounds wonderful for you.

I told my husband once that those are the only words I want to hear. When I share some part of myself with someone, those are the only words I want to hear in return. Anything less, anything different, and I’m awash. I’m rolling backwards down that mountainside.

Buried once again.

I’m the girl in a corner somewhere being screamed at, spittle flying because the many ways I’m a disappointment, and a failure, and a slut, and a cunt, can’t even be described in any manner that’s calm. They have to be shouted with a vitriol that’s physical and dripping with disgust.

Those words, that screaming, never happen in any way in my life now. Nobody treats me that way now.

Except myself.

I climb halfway up a slippery, frozen mountainside just to admit something I desire. Something that isn’t what society may say is normal.

I finally voice it. Not in shouts, but in whispers.

I support you. I want you to have that. That sounds wonderful for you.

If that isn’t the echo that answers my whisper, if those words aren’t on the wind that rolls back in reply, it begins.

An avalanche of shame that buries me anew.

I’m trying to imagine that as soon as the avalanche runs its course, I begin scraping away. And maybe my fingers leave streaks of blood across the white of the snow and ice. But I emerge, whole, ready to keep trudging along and fight my way to the top.

Holding tight to all the things that make me who I am, no matter how far away the top always seems.

I’m trying to keep whispering. No matter what rolls back down the mountainside.

I’m trying.

baby bird

Image via pixabay

 

You’re here, he says. You keep coming back. Let’s acknowledge the bravery in that.

I nod. Silent.

How does it feel for you to hear that?

I’m not brave enough to answer.

————

A friend mentioned fearlessness to me today and it hit me. That word doesn’t even exist in my vocabulary.

Fearless. Brave.

Those adjectives are fake storefronts propped up in an effort to convince anyone approaching that there isn’t a paper shack hidden behind, ready to blow over in a breeze. The truth is I keep going back to therapy out of desperation.

I keep going back for my kids.

I keep going back because I’m afraid of the alternative.

I keep going back because I don’t have insurance and they accept sliding scale fees.

Because so long as I feel as if I’m doing something, anything, to get better, I’ll hopefully keep putting one foot in front of another.

Because I don’t feel like I have a choice.

—————

That word fearlessness especially worries me. Maybe because my anxiety tends to translate into feelings of fear for me. So I would never ever use that word to describe myself.

I think I have sporadic moments of bravery and I think I can be tenacious. Calling for my first appointment took six months of working up the nerve after a two and a half year depression that rendered me barely able to answer a text, let alone ask for help.

Moments of bravery.

I’m determined to see this through until there’s a moment where I feel like I’ve done it. Like I’ve made sense of most of what I’m struggling with. I know there is never a finite end to working on all this stuff.

Well, except for death.

But I am hopeful there will come a time where I feel as if I’ve got enough tools in the toolbox, so to speak, that I can move forward without therapy.

Or at least without so much of it.

All of that, for me, comes from a place of fear. The fear that if I fall into a deep depression again I won’t make it out. Ever. Or alive.

—————

Another friend and I discussed self-acceptance.

Radical self-acceptance.

Refusing to compromise one’s identity.

That, to me, is where fearlessness and bravery take flight.

My wings are not yet feathered.

What the Fuckers in Congress Want You to Forget: You Already Pay For the Healthcare of Others

Image by Thomas Breher

 

I can’t stop thinking about my friend.

We met last year. Actually, our kids met and hit it off. But it wasn’t long before we did, too. She has a very calming presence about her that I like being around. We make each other laugh.

We were friends for a few weeks before I realized she was pregnant. I suspected it, but one does not ask a woman if she’s pregnant without first independently verifying she’s actually pregnant.

Unless you don’t really care to be friends.

The thing is, she’s so petite that it was hard to tell she was pregnant unless she wore a certain outfit.

Plus, she was so active.

Keeping up with her three daughters. Playing basketball with my two younger sons. Chasing my youngest and her youngest as she pretended to be a monster.

We talked about arranging their marriage so we could be family. Both of us agreeing nobody wants to deal with unpleasant in-laws.

I started teaching her to crochet. She found plans for a shawl she wanted to make and use as a nursing cover. I started making it for her baby shower.

We talked about names for her son.

Until just before Christmas, only 3 weeks shy of her due date, when she went into labor. She arrived at the hospital and they sent her across the street to her doctor. There they performed an ultrasound and informed her that her baby passed away.

She delivered her silent son later that day.

The new year began. After the holidays, spent explaining to her daughters what happened, and after the funeral, she did what any mother does in that situation.

She got up. She played with her girls, though there were less giggles. We didn’t laugh as much together. She seemed tired a lot of the time, but who could blame her? I couldn’t imagine the Herculean effort it took her, every single day, to just . . . rise.

But, as weeks turned into months, the low energy and sadness became pain.

Physical pain.

And I imagine in the beginning maybe she believed it just another symptom of grief. A tangible manifestation of the ache her heart felt for her son.

Until we all noticed.

I can’t stop thinking about my friend.

Of how she went from chasing down preschoolers to shuffling along like a grandmother. In hospice.

She became hunched. She had trouble sitting down and standing back up. Days went by where she couldn’t get out of bed.

She held her arms crossed in front of her chest. Her hands curled in front of her shoulders.

She couldn’t use them anymore.

I can’t stop thinking about my friend.

Especially the day she turned to me, stoic and quiet, and said, “I feel like I might die any day now. Because I’ve never felt so sick and I don’t know what’s wrong.”

We jumped to help her with the kids, even as we all, her friends, whispered behind her back.

What could we do?

Who could we call?

There had to be someone who could help.

She went to the hospital and they sent her home. She went to a doctor but they couldn’t track down the name of the doctor she’d seen in the hospital. She called another doctor and, after speaking with a nurse of her concerns, was told, “We don’t prescribe narcotics here.”

I can’t stop thinking about my friend.

The way she cried because she didn’t want narcotics.

She wanted to know what was wrong with her.

But that’s what happens in America when your husband is unemployed and you’re uninsured and you’re black and you’re female and you’re sick . . . take your pick.

She’s all of that.

She’s also my friend and a mother and daughter and she went from being an energetic 29 year old to being an invalid in a matter of weeks. She started swelling. Her ankles and fingers and face. We made her sit and put her feet up and placed bags of frozen peas on her ankles.

All the while feeling as if our hands were also curled in on themselves. As if we were powerless.

A national spectacle unfolds before our eyes. Government representatives who don’t seem human. Not for the choices they make, but for the way they repeatedly set themselves apart from the very humans they swore to represent.

They don’t know us.

They don’t even see us.

As we fret and care for our loved ones, they don’t even know we’re there.

I once saw posts from a page on Facebook devoted to crochet about one of the page founders having a serious medical event that required him to be hospitalized in critical condition. Fans of the page clamored to ask if a fund had been set up yet to help out.

The man’s partner finally responded, informing everyone that they live in Canada.

Crowd funding not needed. At all.

But that’s how we do it here. We hear of medical catastrophe and everyone starts sending money. Whatever we can to those who need it most. To those we most love.

“You don’t have the right to spend my money on other people’s health care!” I hear people yelling. They forget, I guess, that they do it all the time. That they donate to friends and loved ones who suddenly fall ill.

Today, the House voted to pass a shit storm along to the American people.

People they don’t see. People they don’t care about in any sense of the word, no matter what steaming pile of bullshit falls from their mouths.

And I can’t stop thinking about my friend.

Discharged yesterday, after a week in the hospital. Because her husband finally took her there when things got bad. Because someone there finally took the time to see her and said, “You’re not leaving until we get some answers.”

Once again, she came home with empty arms and a broken heart.

Along with a lifelong, debilitating disease that will require extensive physical therapy, medications, and specialists.

Those in power don’t see her.

But I do.

I’m sure we’ll crowd fund at some point. It doesn’t matter what fucked up political party you pledge your misguided allegiance to, you still pay for the healthcare of others.

Some of us do it gladly.

Because she’s my friend.

And I can’t stop thinking about her.

You’ll do the same for yours.

The Roar Only I Can Hear 

Image courtesy of 
Efes Kitap

Pay attention to your body and what it tells you.

But that isn’t always easy, especially at times when your body is rebelling. When it’s doing things that don’t feel good. That you feel you have no control over.

I’m in a dark room right now. Everything hurts. I want to sit at my computer to type this out, but I can’t physically bring myself to do so and emotionally . . . the small screen of my phone feels safer somehow. 

I want to pay attention though. I want to fight this. Anxiety is wearing me down. I can’t manage it anymore. Control of it slips further and further away, like a feral animal through a gate in the night.

So this is what my anxiety feels like. This is me paying attention and putting it to words. This is my experience. It may not be someone else’s. But keep it in mind the next time someone says they have anxiety and you think they look fine.

I start pretty okay. I had a meeting to attend this evening and I expected it to be pretty low key. I felt a low level of nervousness, just in regards to getting the kids where they all needed to be, making sure everyone would have dinner, and then getting myself out the door in time.

At the meeting, shit went sideways. Nothing awful. The outcome of the meeting was not affected at all. But dismissive language was used. 

My eyes welled up. My breathing felt tight.

All because I knew I was going to speak. There was no way I would sit there and not speak up.

I used a break in the meeting to step outside. I sat in my car in silence. And I wrote out a two minute speech. 

The meeting resumed and I gave my speech. 

By the time I got back to my seat, I felt lightheaded. As soon as the meeting was over, I left. Quietly, but immediately. Halfway to my car I felt tears on my cheeks.

I wasn’t upset.

The speech went really well and I was proud of what I’d said.

Tears are just how all of the pent up anxiety finally starts to release. Everything I didn’t allow anyone else to see. Like a pressure cooker finally releasing some of its steam.

There isn’t anywhere else for it to go. It finds its way into two tear drops that drag themselves from my soul, their hind legs paralyzed, in a bid for relief.

By the time I get home, just ten minutes later, my head is aching. My shoulders are in pain.

By the time I get in bed, two hours later, I have a full blown migraine. The back of my neck is sore from the pain radiating out of shoulders. My lower back feels like I’ve spent the day moving into a new home.

And I’m silent. 

I don’t make it known. I may mention I have a migraine as I pop ibuprofen. Other than that, I try not to make a big deal of it. As if ignoring it might make it go away.

Tomorrow I’ll be exhausted. Physically wrung out from the emotional turmoil.

Which always perplexes me. I spend the day in awe of my body and its reaction. 

How can I experience so much physical fallout from something nobody else can see?

A roar only I can hear.

At Sea

 

at sea
Photo Courtesy of Michal Jarmoluk
I’m trying to stay afloat.
Huge waves toss me because I’m nothing. They’re not enough to drown me, but enough to remind me I’m small in the face of it.
I flounder and kick, trying to right myself. To fling myself out straight onto my back, where I can bob atop the turmoil.
Get lost in the stars.
“I feel as if it’s behind me, but I can’t get away from it,” I whisper in therapy. “It’s this looming, grim reaper-type figure that’s always there. Always casting a shadow only I can see.”
So I seek the stars, knowing it isn’t there I’ll find relief. I just need something bright that’s all my own.
Something that will burn beneath my skin upon capture.
A guide to light my way.
The waves still and I remain silent. Prone.
The struggle ends, for the moment.
But the silence is where it’s hardest to breathe. Where my breath becomes shallow and caught in the small space between the top of my lungs and the base of my throat.
Caught there with my voice and all the words I cannot say and everything that longs to break open on shore.

Why We Still Need Feminists

We are not looking in our rear view mirror at rights that have made us equal for generations.

typing-pool
Typing pool, circa 1950’s. (Photo: Wikipedia.com)

I graduated high school in 1995, having never taken one elective class I’d really wanted to take. Every year I asked my mom, and every year she told me she would refuse to sign off on any schedule in which I tried to register for the class.

 

Keyboarding.
This was just before the advent of the internet, when everyone was on a computer, mobile or otherwise, at all times. Keyboarding, at that time, was a legitimate endeavor. Mainly, you were taught how to type without looking at all at your hands, with your fingers in set positions on a QWERTY keyboard. You were taught to type with decreasing typos and increasing speed.
She flat out refused to let me take it.
For me, the class was a chance to hang out with a different set of kids. I was always in Honors classes, which meant I generally moved through my day surrounded by the same group of classmates. Electives were my chance to maybe sit next to a new guy or see my best friend who didn’t take any Honors classes.
My mom wasn’t having it.
Sure, there were other electives. But orchestra, which I took every year, tended to have mostly those same Honors students in it. Art was a good mix of kids, until I ran out of art classes to take and took an AP Studio Art class that allowed me to take photography as an independent study.
There were five kids in that class.
I’d ask her why and she always answered that there were so many electives available to me. Pick another one.
Within a year of my graduation, the internet exploded with dial up and AOL and chat rooms.
I was working part time for my mom and her friend the summer after graduation. They’d started their own benefits consulting firm. My dad had left the previous year and my mom needed to earn more money in order to support us alone, so her and her friend figured that was their best shot at higher salaries. Paying themselves.
She’d give me a document or letter to type up and I’d tease her.
I could be typing this way quicker if you’d have let me take keyboarding.
She’d give me a smartass reply and move on.
That fall I started college at a private, four-year university nearby to which I earned a partial scholarship. Two weeks later, without discussing it with my mother, I went down to the registrar and signed myself out.
She’d had to declare bankruptcy and sell our home after my dad left. We were living in an apartment, her and my brother and I, and she was trying to make her new business work so she could better support us. It felt like, at the time, the best thing I could do was not strap her with more debt. Not be another source of worry for her. I felt it was best if I got out and got myself a full time job and supported myself. So I found one and quit school before we were responsible for any tuition.
That night we sat at our kitchen table discussing what I’d done.
She looked tired.
You always said you wanted to be a lawyer.
I shrugged. Yeah, well I’m not really feeling that anyway. I’d be racking up all this debt when I don’t really know what I even want to do.
My mom wasn’t having it. She begged and cried and I was stubborn and cried. Then she finally told me.
I never let you take that stupid keyboarding class because I wanted you to have all the opportunities I never had. When I went to school, all the girls were told to take keyboarding. Because if you weren’t going to be a teacher or a nurse, you were going to be a secretary somewhere until you found a guy to marry you. Which is exactly what I did. I never let you take that class because I wanted you to be in a position where you could hire your own fucking secretary if you needed something typed.
 
___________________________________________
Men, and often women, comment on my writing about feminism.
You want equal rights? You got ’em. Shut up already.
What are you even marching for?
I have never felt inferior to men. I earn the same as them. I don’t know what you people are talking about.
It doesn’t seem to matter to these people what our national statistics say. Or that the statistics are even worse for some minorities.
I am a feminist because we are not treated as equals.
 
Our pay is not equal. Our representation in government is not equal. The men in government are making decisions that affect my health and body, and that is not equal.
I am a feminist because minority men and women are not treated as equals.
 
Their pay is not equal. Their representation in government is not equal. The men in government are making decisions that affect their health and bodies, and that is not equal.

Putting aside all of that, I am a feminist because our hold on these freedoms you claim we have feels tenuous, at best.

We’re not talking about generations of freedom. One generation ago my mother had to take a keyboarding class in order to graduate high school because that, typing out letters, was considered her best option for employment until she got married.
One generation ago, my mother was married and a mother before she was legally allowed to have a credit card in her name. And that was only because a female congresswoman, unbeknownst to her colleagues, added the language banning discrimination based on sex and marriage. The law was going to be passed without it.
One generation ago, my mother was married and a mother and could legally be fired from her job for getting pregnant.
One generation ago, my mother was married and a mother before she could even report sexual harassment. Actually, make that less than a generation ago. Because sexual harassment wasn’t legally defined until I was three years old. 
Less than a generation ago? In MY lifetime, my mother still could be excluded from being on a jury because she was a woman. Still could legally be discriminated against in regards to housing and credit because she was a woman. Still had her husband considered “head and master” by many states in regards to jointly owned property. Still could be legally passed up for promotion in a law firm for being a woman. Until I was 16 years old, it was still legal in some states to rape your spouse. Until I was 16, a woman had to prove she’d been physically or psychologically harmed in order to claim she’d been sexually harassed. (Click here for a quick reference to all the claims made in this paragraph.)
Just because you personally are not experiencing something, doesn’t mean others, elsewhere, aren’t experiencing it. Women across the country are earning less than their male counterparts. We are severely underrepresented in government. That includes local and state representation, not just federal. We are not looking in our rear view mirror at rights that have made us equal for generations.
So I’m a feminist. You don’t have to agree with me, but it would be nice if you stopped trying to tell me to give it up.
Either way, I’ll still be a feminist. For all of us.

Women, A Strike is Not the Time to Be Polite

female_lion

By Brocken Inaglory (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Today the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington officially announced March 8 as a national women’s strike.

Their action calls for “a day of striking, marching, blocking roads, bridges, and squares, abstaining from domestic, care and sex work, boycotting, calling out misogynistic politicians and companies, striking in educational institutions.”
Already online I’m seeing the following responses:
We should get a permit.
We shouldn’t block traffic.
Let’s not disrupt local businesses.
We can make it like a parade!

No.

In fact . . .

Fuck. NO.

This country elected a man to office who openly degrades women, brags about grabbing women without consent, talks about his own daughter like she’s an object to be used for sex, and less than a week after taking office signed an executive order that issued a global gag rule on abortion.
States across the country are defunding Planned Parenthood.

And these are just the issues grabbing national headlines now.

In an op-ed for The Guardian, organizers pointed out the following:

While Trump’s blatant misogyny was the immediate trigger for the huge response on 21 January, the attack on women (and all working people) long predates his administration. Women’s conditions of life, especially those of women of color and of working, unemployed and migrant women, have steadily deteriorated over the last 30 years, thanks to financialization and corporate globalization.
Lean-in feminism and other variants of corporate feminism have failed the overwhelming majority of us, who do not have access to individual self-promotion and advancement and whose conditions of life can be improved only through policies that defend social reproduction, secure reproductive justice and guarantee labor rights. As we see it, the new wave of women’s mobilization must address all these concerns in a frontal way. It must be a feminism for the 99%.

If you are truly committed to getting the nation’s attention, to getting the attention of our nation’s policymakers, then the time for being nice and demure is over.

It’s been over for a long time now.
A house cat trying to get its paw into a man’s soup will merely be swatted off the table.
A lion upending the table and dousing a man with hot soup is going to get his full, unequivocal attention.
We all put on our pussy hats a few weeks ago.
Did you put it on to be a house cat with a soft meow? Or to be a lion with a deafening roar?
I don’t need a permit to tell me I have a right to be heard. I have a right to make noise.

It’s time to be loud. To own our space.

It’s time to take up space.

If that means blocking traffic and disrupting businesses for a few hours? I’m all in.
Whatever you do, when you show up on March 8, 2017, do not do it their way. Don’t be polite and quiet. This isn’t a quaint get-together.
This is a strike. A protest. A national movement to defend and improve our rights.
Roar like you mean it, women.