Gone

I’ve been gone for a few days, in part because I started school, and in part because there was a tragedy at school. I couldn’t muster interest in Internet Words when I wasn’t even able to offer useful words to people right in front of me.

Which brings me to this.

I’d like you to do something for me. It might just be for me.
Or you might use it to help someone else later.

Take out your phone (or, if you’re reading this on your phone, congratulations on efficiency!)
Open your contact list, or whatever, and type an ‘A’. Hit the space bar, and then type in ‘Suicide Hotline’.
The extra first letter means that the number will always be at the top of your contacts–useful in an emergency, and a good reminder that you have it.

The actual number to use will vary, but here’s a (very incomplete) list:

US of A: 1-800-273-8255
The Netherlands offers online therapy, as well as phone-in services.
The UK: 08457 90 90 90
Australia: 13 11 14
Israel has Mental Health Aid hotline(s) for a variety of different language speakers. Click the link to find the correct one.

So put it into your phone.  Acknowledging suicidal ideation is messy and complicated, and too often we decide it’s easier to pretend they aren’t really serious, they couldn’t be that depressed. Don’t do that. Call this number. Hand over the phone.

You don’t know what to say? You don’t have to. You just have to take them seriously, and try to get them the help they need. This is a first step.

Do it for me?

Feel free to add numbers for other countries in the comments 

The Friend Manual, Part IV

This one is all from you–from the brilliant comments on Part I, Part II, and Part III of the Friend Manual series. You made me think of new things, put into words things that had been percolating in my mind, and in the case of this comment from tolladay, reduced me to unexpected tears over my laptop.

So here you go, the advice of your co-commenters:

15. Unsolicited Advice is Awful
(From Ashley, herself!)

Please don’t tell me what kind of medicine is good/bad, what kind of therapy is good/bad, and how I should cope with things UNLESS I ask you for that advice. If I complain of depression, a headache, an allergic reaction, a panic attack, or PTSD, the correct response is not “Why aren’t you taking [MEDICINE]?” or “Why haven’t you dealt with that yet?” or any other attempts at help that read like you think you know more about my life and conditions than I do.

Even if you have the best possible intentions, just don’t do this. It always manages to sound like the worst mix of unsympathetic and nosy. If you simply can’t contain your medicinal Holy Grail, start with “I might have a suggestion–are you interested?”

16. Just Listen
(From anthonyallen)

What helps me most is to have someone just simply listen. You don’t have to solve my problems for me, you don’t even have to understand them, but if I work up the courage to actually speak about what’s gotten me into my latest spiral, all I need from you is that you care enough to really listen to me. That alone helps me more than all the therapy in the world and all the meds there are.

17. Don’t Make Comparisons
(from Nepenthe)

The biggest thing I ask from friends is that they don’t make that comparison, unless they actually have depression/an eating disorder.

It’s like… no, your temporary sadness does not have any meaningful comparison to the suicidal ideation that has plagued me for 15 years. Have your down days ever led you to be sequestered in a locked ward against your will? Has your diet ever led you to burst into tears in a grocery store because the thought of dealing with food was too overwhelming? No? Then I think we have very little in common in this regard.

18. And Another Thing About Not Being A Therapist…
(from chrislawson)

I’d add one more point (although it’s in a sub-class of trying to be a therapist), and that is: Don’t suggest new therapies that you read about in a magazine/on the news/in a pamphlet at your local health food shop. Most people think they’re helping when they do this, but they don’t understand that people with chronic illnesses (and not just in mental health) get bombarded with crappy information from well-wishers who know nothing about the illness or the evidence (or lack thereof) for the treatment they are enthused about. Essentially what they’re saying is “I know nothing about your condition or this suggested treatment, but if I pressure you to put in the effort of researching and/or trying it, then I get to feel good about myself.”

The Friend Manual, Part I
The Friend Manual, Part II
The Friend Manual, Part III 

The Friend Manual: Part III

Part III of the Friend Manual is (finally) here!
Have friends with mental illness? Read this.

A fourth post will be coming with the best from the comments sections, and you can find Part I and Part II at the links.

10. Quirks vs. Symptoms

Some people have quirks. They only like open-faced sandwiches, they whistle while they ride a bike, they hate certain words or tastes or sounds. Idiosyncrasies are just a part of being a person.

The thing about quirks is that you can joke about them. You can tell other people because it’s just a thing that makes them…them like red hair or nailbiting. That’s one of the ties that bind–the little jabs and the light banter.

Do not ever treat symptoms or triggers of someone’s illness as quirks. They’re no less painful when you joke about them–and even harder to speak up about.  Faking a laugh is easier than justifying your own tears, after all.

If you’re unsure what’s a quirk and what’s off limits for disclosure or funnytimes, you can just…ask. If you can’t ask your friend if your words are going to hurt them, you aren’t doing friendship right.

11. Yesterday is Not Today

Yesterday they were chipper and giddy and sparkling? That’s lovely. That was also yesterday. Having one good day, week, or year does not equal some kind of ‘cure’.

One of the most vicious things about mental illness is that you can’t always feel it coming. I’ve had some of my worst days show up in my morning coffee after my best nights. There was a point where being too happy meant depriving myself more, which in turn made me feel better about my body. It quickly became a horrible cycle, ending only after I had a very bad day.

“But you were doing so well yesterday!” is meaningless at best, a shaming reminder that you could be doing better at worst.

12. You Can’t Fix Everything

…and trying to can make it worse.

Not everything is help-able. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes the best you can offer is your arms and silence and tissues. Sometimes what’s even better is going away. Maybe it’s not you. Maybe it is. Maybe your voice is too loud; maybe you’re too sympathetic. Maybe you ask the wrong questions; maybe you ask the right ones and the answers hurt.

Ask. Check in. Find out.

What can I do? Do you want me to stay here, or do you want to be by yourself?

Do you want to be distracted, or would you rather sit?

Can I give you a hug?

13. Sometimes, Nobody Knows What To Do

“How can I help?”  is a good question.

It’s just not always the right one.

Sometimes you don’t know what to do–and neither do I. Sometimes I’m so busy trying to keep it together and look as though I’m in control that thinking about just one more thing is too much. Sometimes I have no idea why I can’t stop crying–and stopping the big teary mess takes precedence over making you feel better about it. You can step back and just wait. Channel your inner stuffed animal–huggable and cozy and comforting without being demanding.

If you don’t want to be alone, I can just sit here until you’re feeling okay. I don’t have to do anything until [this afternoon/tomorrow/dinnertime], so I’m here until you don’t want company.

14. You Don’t ‘Deserve’ to Know Things

You’re a best friend, a cousin, someone who’s known them since they were born? You don’t have some special First In Line Pass for knowledge. This is an idea that infuriates me (and will probably merit a longer post at some point). Pressing people for more, more, more information, and claiming that your relationship justifies it is the worst kind of caring.

You won’t know everything, because you aren’t them. Sometimes sharing is painful, sometimes it’s just easier to pass the popcorn and try to forget that horrible episode you had last night. Sometimes that other friend was there at the right time, and it feels silly to tell everyone. I usually find it easier to tell people with similar experiences first, work it out in my own words, and then decide to share (or not). Demanding, explicitly or implicitly that information about my brain’s functioning should be available to you is the worst kind of patronizing.

The Friend Manual, Part I
The Friend Manual, Part II

I’m going to put together a final section with the best from the comments–feel free to add more below.  

 

Prop 8 Update: on the SCOTUS conference docket

The first SCOTUS conference of the session is today and both DOMA (multiple cases) and Prop 8 are on the docket, meaning the Court will (probably) decide whether to take one or the other up in the next term. The votes of four justices are required for a case to be heard by the Court.

Although they are on the docket, it’s not uncommon for cases to be rescheduled, so it’s possible for the day to end without any information on whether the Supreme Court is planning on hearing the cases.

So what do we want?

Well, because of the extremely narrow ruling in the Prop 8 trial, it would probably be better for the court to decline to hear it. As I understand it, this would make gay marriage legal in California, effective immediately. It would also mean that the court would not be ruling for universal gay marriage, but they are somewhat unlikely to do that off of the Prop 8 decision — again, because of the narrow ruling in previous courts.

DOMA, on the other hand, looks like it could be fully destroyed by the court if it is picked up.

Gay marriage might resume in California very, very soon.  We shall see.

The Friend Manual: Part II

Part II of the Friend Manual is all about what you can do to be a better supporter for your friend(s) who have mental illness. It’s not the Don’ts–it’s the Do’s!

You can find Part I of the Friend Manual in yesterday’s post.

6. Set Boundaries

You don’t have to be available for me at all times. As I might have mentioned, you aren’t my therapist. I might be really distressed and unable to take the hints you’re trying to lay out about the homework you need to do. So, instead of feeling like a doormat, take care of yourself.

Oh no, it seems like you need someone to listen. I’m not available right now, how about Friend X/therapist/counseling center? Will you be okay for the night if I call you at [name specific time] tomorrow morning? I’m not in the right place to be helpful to you right now, but I want to make you feel better.  When can I do that?

7. Be Really Specific

So you can’t hang out tonight? Awesome, because you know, you don’t have to be available at all times (See #6). Be extra-super specific about why.

I’m sorry I can’t talk right now–I promised Josie I’d have this apple pie baked by five, and since she’s helping me with writing my resume, I think it’s important that I don’t flake on her.

I know we said that we’d meet for coffee, but I’ve just realized I have a deadline for Project Gadget at noon tomorrow, that means I have to send a lot of email and wait for responses. I’d rather not be distracted and leave early–can we pick a better time when I can listen to you fully?

Cancelling or disappearing with little to no clear warning can be really really stressful, particularly if you are someone I traditionally look to when I need support. I know that clear communication isn’t exactly the status quo in our society, but taking the time to adjust your Something Came Up to a Real Explanation can prevent me from spending my evening working myself into knots over the idea that you hate being near me.

8. Do Some Reading

(Look, relevant Cumberbatch .gif!)

Doing your research doesn’t make you an expert, and it doesn’t excuse you from items 2 and 3. But this will prevent you from blaming penis envy, or saying something jaw-droppingly ignorant, like “well, doesn’t everyone have depression?”. (Hint: No.) I also find myself significantly more comfortable with friends who ask personal questions in the form of “I’ve heard most people experience X when they have your disorder. Do you ever have that?” What that says is “I’ve done some sort of poking around because I want to understand what you’re feeling, but I’m not you, so I’m asking about your subjective experience.” That, dear readers, is true friendship.

9. You Do Not Have to ‘Get It’

Quite honestly, this policy covers more than mental illness, but it applies very very well. The link is a long form explanation (and well worth reading), but here’s the short deal.

Say I have something you find completely irrational. Paralyzing fear of purple-painted toenails, for instance. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s the most ridiculously silly terror on the face of this planet. I feel it. Treat it seriously, and I will feel better–mock me, make it a joke, treat it as a quirk (more on that later) and I won’t.

Understanding is overrated, and deciding that you just have to “get it” makes for lots of prying conversations and explaining over and over and over again. Accept that unless you have the same disorder with all the same features and triggers, you aren’t going to understand. The best you can do is accept. Accepting isn’t some second-class action to understanding. It’s coffee and hugs on good days, and the voice on the other end of the phone on the bad ones. When I know you accept what I tell you, I tell you more. When you to try to understand, I feel like a bug under a microscope.

I still have some left–feel free to keep adding to the list! Part III will be up tomorrow.

The Friend Manual: Part I

Part II
Part III
Part IV 

I am a friend to some lovely brilliant people with mental illness. I also have my own experiences with persistent brainfail, and some really wonderful friends who show up and give me hugs, talk me through the worst nights, and know that when I say I’m not doing so well and need space…I really need space right then and there.

I also have acquaintances who cannot do this. For them, when I want to say “I am incapable of normal interaction right now, please come back later.”, what actually comes out of my mouth is “Oh man, I have a really bad headache.” I am sure that these people, who have always meant well–and include Don’t You Know That’s Bad For You Person and Sometimes I Forget To Eat Too Person–would be shocked, shocked to hear that they’ve said tactless things. After all, that’s how it works–you don’t realize.

Don’t want to be that person?
Have a friend with mental illness?
(Chances are, you probably do.)
Want to make your friend feel like a valued part of society that you care for? If the answer to this is no, artist Ologies has this for you.
With that idea in mind, I’ve put together some basic  ideas for being the best human being you can for someone who’s just told you they have Disorder X.

A Most Important Caveat: It may be that your friend has no interest in discussing anything past the original disclosure. Please make sure to continually check that they are comfortable answering questions….and emphasize that they can tell you to stop at any time, or refuse to answer personal questions they are uncomfortable with. When I feel that I cannot leave or postpone conversations once they’ve begun, I will do anything to prevent them from starting in the first place. Safe spaces aren’t safe when they don’t have an exit.

1. Words Matter More Than Anything
So they found the words to tell you how they feel? Pay attention. Words are the best way we know to get others inside our heads, and the words they use to describe their experience are the most important tools they are giving you. She feels fragile? That’s not the same as depressed. So he is feeling depressed? That is not called feeling sad. I feel most understood and valued and listened-to when I hear someone work within the bounds of how I’ve described my feelings.

You said you were feeling like you had no momentum. Do you still feel like that? Will you feel better if I take you out to dinner and we catch a movie? Or would that make you feel like you have to pretend to be enjoying yourself?

2. Do. Not. Assume.

I know that one of the most basic human instincts is to relate to one another by shared experience. Do not try this.

So, you had that one friend with bipolar disorder that one time back at that one place? Cool story, bro. I can assure you that I am not that friend. In this particular example, there’s the problem that there’s two expressions of bipolar disorder. Didn’t know that? That’s cool. You don’t have to. All you have to know is that I am Me, and that Me is not the same as That Other Person With Disorder X.

3. You Don’t Have to Be Their Therapist

You know them so well, and if you could only get them to consider… No.

Stop right there.

I get it, and you do have a special frame of refernce, but Stop It. Now. Make like a pumpkin and squash that feeling.

4. No, Really, Please Don’t Try to Be A Therapist

If you’re my friend, we have a give-and-take. Sometimes I listen to you talk about that one time you tried to explain an Important Thing to your mom/boyfriend/girlfriend/professor and they Just Didn’t Get It, and sometimes you listen to me grouch about my stressful day at work. We trade off on this, and if we didn’t, I would be a bad friend, and it would be totally fine if you called me on it, or just decided to find the right kind of friends.

This is not how therapy works. Therapists and counselors and psychologists get paid the fancy money to do things like get mad when their clients don’t do their homework and ask really personal questions, and as a result, their clients can expect that they will be given attention, that their problems will be the focus, and that if they don’t seem to be getting the right kind of help, they can fire the therapist. The friendships are far more complex, and as a result, you don’t get to fire your friends, and you don’t have to pay them.

5. I Mean It. You Aren’t A Therapist.

Really, if there’s anything you take away from all these words, let this be it. It will be painful, uncomfortable, and probably downright annoying. You aren’t qualified, and I’d rather have my friend.

What you can do is offer to find local counseling centers. Take me to my appointments if I can’t get there, or give really big hugs when I leave them and I still feel bad. There are therapists out there, and lots of them. Possession of a dusty degree in psychology or that one textbook from freshman year Intro Psych does not somehow negate your Friend Identity. Even if you were a therapist, you should never ever try to treat your friends. So really. Don’t do that.

I started this post, and suddenly I was sitting around with two thousand words on my computer. Part II will be coming soon–in the meantime, leave me suggestions for things I have left out or could have said better!

Chick-fil-A Decides it’s OK to be Gay!

And I think that means I can decide it’s OK to eat Chick-fil-A!!!

http://www.sdgln.com/news/2012/09/18/chick-fil-agrees-end-anti-gay-donations-mandates-equal-treatment-gays#.UFlvlf8MRs8.facebook

After months of negotiations with Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno over its anti-gay positions and donations, Chick-fil-A has agreed to cease donations from its non-profit charity to anti-gay organizations and issued a company-wide internal mandate calling for the equal treatment of all employees and customers.

Neiman Marcus attacks Women’s Shelter over name

Neiman Marcus apparently has a brand they’ve trademarked called “LAST CALL” through which they sell high-end clothes.

Columbia, SC, has a charity resale store called “Revente’s Last Call“, which is essentially a Goodwill, that gives all of its procedes to the local Women’s Shelter.

RLC was opened in 2010 to benefit The Women’s Shelter. We donate ALL of our net profits to the shelter and also clothe those in need through referrals from various local agencies.  As of May 1, 2012 we have donated over $40,000 to the Womens Shelter.

Well, Neiman Marcus is apparently concerned that “Revente’s Last Call” is going to be confused with “Last Call with Carson Daly” “Last Call by Neiman Marcus” and has sent a letter threatening to take legal action against the charity.

Sometimes, corporations have just no idea that they are coming across as complete jackasses, do they?

My immediate instinct would be to encourage a boycott of the local Neiman Marcus but, oops, there isn’t a Neiman Marcus in Columbia, SC.  In fact, there’s not a Neiman Marcus in the ENTIRE state.  But they feel really threatened by The Women’s Shelter charity anyway, I guess.  Their Facebook statement to the complaints:

Like all businesses, we have a responsibility to protect our trademarks. Our VP of corporate communications can be reached at (214) 573-5822 if you would like a more detailed statement from us. Thank you.

Oh hey, look there’s a number we can all call!  So call that, and if you want to write about this and help ensure they get the bad PR they deserve, please do! I will even link to you if you want!

And here’s a wonderful suggestion by Christopher Bickel:

Neiman’s team could have been more proactive in sending a letter stating “We believe that your store’s name unintentionally infringes on our mark, but we are prepared to help you defray the costs of changing it in light of the mission of your organization” or alternatively “we would be happy to allow you a non-exclusive license to use the mark so long as your store continues to serve the community as a non-profit.” Sometimes protecting your PR is as important as protecting your legal rights.

The fact is, Neiman could have been a lot better about this in a dozen ways.  For example, picking up the phone and calling the charity instead of sending them a legal letter.

My recommendation to all corporations: Before you wave around your legal dick to threaten people over sketchy, petty bullshit, make sure you’re not doing it to a company that does something like feed orphans, save battered women, or clothe homeless vets.

Lucky

I’ve been lucky.

I haven’t spent time in hospitals, on phone lines, waiting on test results.
Cancer hasn’t made me stand at a gravesite, hold an urn. It’s been an abstract idea to me—a scientific problem, a thing to be fixed.
The smell of a hospital isn’t an old memory.

I signed up for the Light the Night Walk months ago–I’d just begun blogging, using a pseudonym, and, you know, why not? I was spouting all this lofty stuff (albeit to approximately five readers) about how atheists were good without gods, and wasn’t it time I got involved in godless fundraising?

A couple weeks later I got a packet of materials, which promptly disappeared into the whirlwind of my dorm room, because fundraising is hard, and apparently the $200 I wanted to raise was just going to spring out of thin air. How’s that for rational thinking?

I’m not entirely sure what I thought I was getting into. Maybe I’d put in a few words and write a blog or two and then hang out with my friends while we felt congratulatory and walked around a nice park.

In August, I started as the communications intern for Foundation Beyond Belief, the organization partnering with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to make Light the Night happen. Part of my responsibilities included transcribing videos in support of the Walk, and eyeing blog posts by supporters…and suddenly Light the Night wasn’t a feel-good social venture.

There’s something powerful about listening to Miriam Jerris talk about the suffering of her friend–something in the way she smiles when the happy conclusion comes–when the LLS steps in and covers the chemotherapy copay. I watched it over and over again, trying to catch every word and piece of punctuation, trying to make sure the transcript caught how she paused and emphasized and parsed. I can almost say it along with her now.

And about two months after that [pause, half-inhale], the multiple myeloma came back, [her forehead wrinkles at the memory] and he was a very sick man indeed. In fact, they told him to go home and say goodbye to his family.

Then there’s this brilliant, clear, passionate post from Debbie Goddard:

I was tweeting playfully about my recent Lyme disease diagnosis (third time!) and how glad I was to catch it before getting Bell’s palsy (because this guy’s face gives me the willies. It’s the eyes.). Elyse (who recently had a tumor removed from her stomach) and Sarah Moglia (who had some bowels removed a couple weeks ago and is in a ton of pain) sent well-wishes my way. Then it hit me. I thought, Wow, all I need to do is take a round of antibiotics and I’m good! It’s not cancer. It doesn’t involve my GI tract. It probably won’t affect the rest of my life. I don’t have to worry about dying from this. Waking up with a drooping face one morning wouldn’t be easy, but…cancer. I thought about being young and having cancer.

So I’ll say it again–something I wouldn’t have thought through without Light the Night–I’m lucky. Lucky cancer hasn’t poked holes in my life, but luckier still to be involved in this project.

Fun disclaimers and informational linketies!
1) I wrote this because I wanted to, because it was important to me, not as part of my internship responsibilities. That being said, interning at Foundation Beyond Belief is spectacular, and you should give it a try! (Positions open several times a year–the next being in winter.)
2) You can join a walk, start your own, or contribute to the effort here. The teams with the best fundraising get cashmoney, and the Stiefel Freethought Foundation will be matching the contributions up to $500,000. Really, you want to be part of this. 

The food of my childhood, the food of Southern poor white trash

I am having a hard time with all the visceral disgust being aimed at the show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, because so much of it seems to be just hate aimed at Southern poor people.  I suppose I understand that the behavior of a family from the rural south  is much different than the behavior of most of the viewers, but I don’t really understand what’s so offensive about it.

The show, if you’re unfamiliar, follows a little girl, who calls herself Honey Boo Boo Child, and her family as they go to pageants (they are Toddlers & Tiaras alums), coupon, and go to things like the redneck olympics.  They are from rural Georgia and are not the typical people who get their own reality programming — the mother is 33 with 4 daughters and a granddaughter (with 3 thumbs) and she weighs 309 pounds; she is unapologetic about all of this.

Today someone on Facebook, who I am very good friends with and like very much, posted:

Flipping channels caused me to land on this damned Honey Boo Boo thing, so out of curiosity I decided hey, why not see what happens in five minutes? In five minutes the little girl says “it’s been a while since I done had roadkill in my belly.” So I guess they’re using ground beef to make “sketti.” The sauce, though. The sauce? The sauce is butter and ketchup melted together in the microwave. “It’s an old family recipe.” No shit? Butter and ketchup? Margarine. Margarine and ketchup. An old family recipe? Grandma passed that down, did she? DON’T TELL NO ONE THE SECRET! Then they throw the noodles against the kitchen cabinets to see if they stick, and scream at everyone to let them know it’s done. This family is an abomination. Oh, and some of the kids are eating out of margarine tubs. People watch this? And like it? I hate this country so fucking much sometimes.

I can understand thinking the show is “rednecksploitation”, but I am really surprised at the amount of vitriol that is aimed at that family — and I find it genuinely upsetting.  I know that’s silly, it’s a TV show, but it feels personal and like I should be ashamed of how I was raised and who I was as a kid.  I totally ate that way growing up.  I haven’t had this particular recipe, which is known as “depression spaghetti”, but I definitely ate out of old food containers and threw noodles on the cabinet to see if they were done.

I wasn’t poor, but I grew around people who were poor or had been raised poor, and they eat some things that not-poor people find weird.  I didn’t learn that until I was older.  So, I’ve come up with a list of things that I ate as a kid or people I knew ate, I’m curious which ones are weird.  Y’all eat any of this?  Y’all eat anything weird too?

  • Mayonnaise sandwiches
  • Ketchup sandwiches
  • Stale cornbread in milk
  • Saltines in milk
  • Hot dog and baked bean casserole
  • Tomato sandwiches
  • Cows tongue
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwiches
  • Mayonnaise and banana sandwiches
  • Peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches
  • Peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwiches
  • Tuna noodle casserole
  • Vienna sausages wrapped in American cheese
  • American cheese and mayonnaise sandwiches
  • American cheese garlic toast
  • Hot dog meat sloppy joes
  • Saltines in thousand island dressing
  • Canned fruit with Cool Whip
  • Coke with salted peanuts (yes, peanuts in the coke)
  • Mashed potatoes with ketchup
  • Eggs with ketchup
  • Peanut butter and pimiento cheese sandwiches
  • Pimiento cheese and tomato pie

EDIT: I’m adding more as I remember them