On Sometimes Feeling Okay and Sometimes Not: Grief and Cancer Diary, 12/19/12

So I’m having this situation. It has to do with my recovery from cancer surgery, and with my depression, and with my grief over my dad’s recent death.

There are stretches when I feel pretty okay. When I feel pretty good, even. My health is getting better every day, and I have minutes, hours, days even, when I feel like my old self: cheerful, optimistic, energetic, motivated, engaged.

And there are stretches when I really don’t. There are stretches when I can’t make myself get off the sofa: when I sit there thinking about all the things I need to do and even want to do, and cannot make myself do any of it. There are stretches when I’m irritable, anxious, needy, pissy, all out of proportion. There are stretches when I’m just tired, and have to rest.

So here’s the situation: When I display one or the other of these facets of my life right now, in the public sphere or even to my friends and family, I feel like a fraud.

When I talk about how hard the depression is; when I talk about my grief about my dad; when I talk about how my post-surgery stamina is still low and I need more rest than usual… I feel like I’m giving a false impression. I feel like I’m making it look worse than it is. I feel like I’m being self-indulgent, whiny, lazy. After all, I went to the gym for an hour and a half two the other day. I just stayed up until two in the morning writing about human rights violations against atheists. I’ve been joking around on Twitter about Hug Club. How bad could it be? What’s all this darkness and exhaustion about?

And when I’m doing better and am talking about the silly fun things that bring me joy in life, when I talk about music and atheism and politics and kittens and Christmas and going to the gym… I feel like I’m giving a false impression, too. I feel like I’m making it seem like everything is hunky-dory and awesome and totally back to normal now — when it’s really not.

Complicating things is the fact that one of my most common coping mechanisms, especially for depression, is acting more “up” than I really feel. It’s the whole “fake it ’til you make it” thing. If I feel the self-perpetuating downward spiral of depression coming on, I try, if I possibly can, to make myself be social, or go to the gym, or even just dick around on Facebook and Twitter. Acting as if I’m engaged in my life is a big part of what gets me genuinely engaged in my life. But when I’m still in the “faking it” part of “fake it ’til you make it,” it feels… well, fake. Like I’m putting on an act. And the flipside of that is also true. If I’m in a funk that I can’t pull myself out of, it feels fraudulent and self-indulgent: since I was able to pull myself out of it the last time, obviously I should be able to do it again now, and this whole depression thing is just bullshit, I’m really just a lazy, self-involved whiner and malingerer. (Yes, I know. People who aren’t depressed typically don’t spend long hours berating themselves for being lazy, self-involved whiners and malingerers.)

And because I’m generally a self-conscious person even at the best of times, and because so much of my grieving process has been about endlessly parsing how it looks and whether I’m doing it right, I’m worried about what these false impressions are going to make people think of me. When I’m being upfront about the grief and depression and illness, I worry if people are going to think, “Gee, she seemed fine the other day — was she just putting on an act?” And when I have a stretch of being more positive and upbeat, I worry if people are going to expect me to be all better now, to be like that all the time now… and if they’re going to get irritated and critical when I can’t keep it up. I worry if people are going to think, “Wait a minute, what do you mean you don’t have the energy to (meet a deadline, go out for drinks, blog about misogyny)? You were just (dicking around on Twitter, ranting about atheism until two in the morning, hitting the gym for an hour and a half)! What’s wrong with you?”

(And then I get into a pissy defensive argument with those imaginary people in my head. Always useful.)

Not sure where I’m going with this. I guess I maybe just want to say this, to put it officially on the record: I’m doing better — and I’m still sometimes having a hard time. I can do a lot of what I could do before the surgery, and before my dad died and the depression hit — and I can’t do as much of it, I still need long stretches of rest and can’t take on as much as I used to. I can do some work now — and I’m still behind on a lot of stuff. Where I am right now is very in-between: on the road to Wellville, but not there yet. And the in-between state, for the physical health stuff and the mental health stuff and the grief, doesn’t always look like a subdued but calm even keel. It sometimes looks like a seesaw. (So imaginary people in my head, cut me some slack already.)

And I guess I want to put this out there: Does anyone else ever get this? Especially if you’ve been having a hard time, if you’ve been recovering from a bad illness or have a chronic illness or are dealing with bad news or grief or something… do you ever feel like a fraud because you don’t feel the same way all the time?

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Fish-men

It’s beginning to look a lot like fish-men
Everywhere I go;
From the minute I got to town
And started to look around
I thought these ill-bred people’s gill-slits showed…

I still think that Christmas Rhapsody is the best Christmas song parody ever. But this is a damn close second. My only problem is that I find myself humming or whistling it jauntily, and people think I’m whistling the Christmas song, and they have no idea that what I’m humming to myself is, “As I try to escape in fright/ To the moonlit Innsmouth night/ I can hear some more.”



Courtesy of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. Enjoy!

Christmas Rhapsody – My Favorite Christmas Parody Song Evar

queen bohemian rhapsodyIs this the Yuletide?
It’s such a mystery
Will I be denied
Or will there be gifts for me?

Come down the stairs
Look under the tree and see…

And it’s time, once again, for my annual plug for my candidate for the Best Christmas Song Parody Evar: Christmas Rhapsody, Pledge Drive’s Christmas-themed parody of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” written by my friend Tim Walters and his friend Steve Rosenthal.

Alas, there’s no video. Which is a shame, since I think this thing has potential to go seriously viral some year if there were a good video to go with it. Interested videographers should contact Tim through his Website. In the meantime — enjoy the song!

And if you like that, Tim has even more holiday music on his site. My fave: Down in the Forest, described as “A dark and slightly confused Yuletide nightmare. It has something to do with the Fisher King. Maybe.” Have fun!

The first rule of Hug Club…

Over on Twitter, Sasha Pixlee (@sashapixlee) tweeted this:

Lets make something like fight club but for hugging.

(Here is the original that this is satirizing, for those who aren’t familiar with it.)

So I immediately came up with these:

1st rule of Hug Club: Let’s talk about Hug Club a lot!

2nd rule of Hug Club: Let’s talk about Hug Club some more!

3rd rule of Hug Club: If someone says “stop” or goes rigid, the hugging is over.

4th rule of Hug Club: As many people can hug at a time as they want!

5th rule of Hug Club: All the hugs at a time!

6th rule of HugClub: Shirts and shoes are fine if that makes you more comfortable. If everyone agrees, you can take them off.

7th rule of Hug Club: Hugs will go on as long as we want them to!

8th rule of HugClub: If this is your first night at Hug Club, you can hug if you want, and you don’t have to if you don’t.

BTW, if you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m @gretachristina .

No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus

(A reprint of a piece from last year. For those who aren’t familiar with the famous essay, “Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus” which this is satirizing/ commenting on/ replying to, here’s the original.)

“Dear Editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

-Virginia O’Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are right. There is no Santa Claus. It’s a story made up by your parents.

Your friends have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except when they see. And good for them. Skepticism is healthy. It keeps us from being duped by liars and scam artists and people who want to control and manipulate us. More importantly: Skepticism helps us understand reality. And reality is amazing. Reality is far more important, and far more interesting, than anything we could make up about it.

Your friends understand that there is plenty about the world which is not comprehensible by their little minds. They understand that all minds, whether they be adults’ or children’s, are little. They see that in this great universe of ours, humanity is a mere insect, an ant, in our intellect, as compared with the boundless world about us. But your friends also see that the only way we can gain a better understanding of this great universe is to question, and investigate, and not believe in myths simply because they’re told to us by our parents and teachers and newspaper editorial writers.

Or maybe they don’t. Maybe they simply understand that Santa Claus does not freaking exist.

No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. Love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. But Santa Claus does not exist. He is a story made up by your parents. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you otherwise.

And far more importantly: You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that you’re a bad person for not believing things you have no good reason to think are true. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that, in order to experience love and generosity and devotion, you have to believe in Santa Claus, or any other mythical being there’s no good evidence for. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that “childlike faith” — i.e., believing things you have no good reason to think are true — is somehow in the same category as poetry and romance. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that the world would be dreary without Santa Claus: that without Santa Claus, the light of childhood would be extinguished, we would have no enjoyment except in sense and sight, and existence would be intolerable. That is one seriously messed-up idea.

Adults know that there is no Santa Claus. If they tell you otherwise, they are lying to you. That’s okay: some parents tell their children that Santa Claus is real as a sort of game, and there’s no evidence that this does any real harm. But if anyone keeps lying to you — about Santa Claus, or anything else — when you ask them a direct question and explicitly ask them to tell you the truth? That’s a problem. And if anyone tries to make you feel ashamed, or inferior, or like your life will be dreary and intolerable, simply because you don’t believe in this lie they’re telling you… you should be extremely suspicious. They are trying to manipulate you. It is not okay.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! And that would be excellent. That would be exactly correct. Fairies don’t exist, either. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, and if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? A fair amount, actually. The Santa hypothesis claims that Santa comes down chimneys on Christmas Eve and gives presents to children: if every chimney is carefully watched on Christmas Eve, and nobody sees anybody coming down any of them, that’s very strong evidence that the Santa hypothesis is incorrect. Nobody sees Santa Claus — and that’s a good sign that there is no Santa Claus. There are certainly some things in the world that we can’t see directly — atoms, black holes, radio waves — but we can see or hear or otherwise detect the effect they have on the world. The most real things in the world are those that children and adults can see, or hear, or otherwise detect. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not. Nobody has. Nobody has seen any fairy tracks, or fairy nests, or any signs of fairies whatsoever. And that’s pretty good evidence that they are not there.

Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world. But we can try. In fact, trying is one of the finest human aspirations there is. We may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside — and if we do, we might get a better understanding of how the rattle works. And in doing so, in understanding how this one small rattle-shaped part of the universe works, we might gain a better understanding of the universe as a whole. But there is no magical veil covering an unseen world. And not the smartest person, nor even the united intellect of all the smartest people that ever lived, has ever given us any good reason to think that there is.

Fancy, poetry, love, romance… all of these are delightful, incredible, hugely important parts of human life. But they are part of the physical world. They are processes of the human brain, developed through millions of years of our evolution as a creative, exploring, social species. That doesn’t make them any less magnificent or wondrous. In fact, many people think it makes them even more magnificent and wondrous. Many people look at the fact that, out of nothing but rocks and water and sunlight, living beings have developed with the capacity for fancy and poetry and love and romance… and we’re knocked out of our seats by how marvelous that is. But there is no supernal beauty and glory beyond the natural world. There is only the natural world. Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

And it is completely messed-up to say that faith — i.e., believing in things we have no good reason to think are true — is in the same category as fancy, poetry, love, romance. Fancy and poetry and love and romance connect us with reality. Faith tells us to ignore it. Faith cuts us off from it.

No Santa Claus! That’s right. He doesn’t live, and he never did. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will still not exist — and no amount of fatuous, manipulative bloviating will make him real. And the heart of childhood is still made glad: by fancy, by poetry, by romance, by beauty and joy, by truth and knowledge, by love and generosity and devotion, and by the boundless magnificence of the universe.

(Oh, and while we’re at it: Your Papa is high. If you see it in the Sun, it is not necessarily so. Do not believe everything you read in the newspaper. Including this one.)

Planet Fitness: Does “Judgment-Free Zone” Not Extend to Trans People?

Via Fit and Feminist (a blog I can’t believe I didn’t know about until now) comes this ad for Planet Fitness. Supposedly about how they’re a gym for non-gym-rats*. Actually about how disgusting and laughable it is to be (a) a woman with big muscles and (b) a person whose gender can’t be immediately determined by a total stranger — and how they’re a safe haven from these dreadful people.

The tagline at the end of the ad: “Not her planet. Yours.” Right. Because the whole world is just one big safe playground for trans people to run around in. Bathrooms especially. So Planet Fitness is thoughtfully creating a safe haven, the one place in the world where “normal” people can be untroubled by the sight of people whose gender presentation doesn’t fall neatly into one of two clearly demarcated gender identities. Including trans people, or even just cisgendered women with big muscles.

/sarcasm

Not her planet. Yours. That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?

Caitlin at Fit and Feminist has this to say (among other things — her whole piece is well worth reading):

Planet Fitness has been trying to carve out a niche for itself as a gym where so-called normal people can exercise in a “judgment-free zone” but ironically they can’t quite seem to accomplish that goal without coming across as judgmental assholes themselves.

A “judgment-free zone,” huh? Well, you know what? I feel judged by this ad. I’m not even a trans woman, and I feel judged by this ad. I’m a woman who loves to lift weights, whose health care routine largely centers on lifting weights, who loves seeing her muscles get bigger and more toned and defined, whose identity as a woman includes “strong, powerful, healthy, loves her body.” And I’m a woman with many friends and colleagues who are transgendered, and who doesn’t feel welcome in places where they’re not welcome. Was there really no way to get across “we’re a gym for non-gym-rats” without conveying “if you don’t fall into a strict gender binary, we’re going to mock you and humiliate you and explicitly tell you that this place isn’t for you”?

Not much else to add, really. Except this: Fuck you.

*Side note: It occurs to me that “gym for non-gym-rats” is a pretty slick racket. My understanding is that gyms typically make a big chunk of their profit margin off of people who join, eventually quit going, but keep their memberships and keep paying their monthly dues because they don’t want to admit that they don’t go and convince themselves that they’ll start going back any day now. If everyone who paid a monthly membership fee actually went to the gym regularly, gyms would be hugely crowded and way more expensive to maintain. So marketing yourself specifically as a gym for non-gym-rats basically means marketing to a demographic that’s a lot more likely to slack off — and your ratio of “monthly membership fees” to “maintenance costs for people who actually go to the gym” is a whole lot higher.

Caturday: Snuggly Kitties

URGENT UPDATE: All three snuggly kitties are in a pile, right now.

All three kitties in a pile

—————————————————

On the other hand: Here are some pictures of snuggly kitties.

Houdini and Comet snuggling

Houdini and Comet snuggling

Houdini and Comet snuggling

Houdini and Comet snuggling

Houdini and Comet snuggling

Talisker and Comet snuggling

I know, right?

The Newtown Shootings: It Is Not Too Soon to Start Talking

I have very little to say right now about the Newtown shootings. Except maybe this:

It is fucking well not too soon to start talking about gun control.

When abortion clinics are bombed, we start talking right away. When Hurricane Katrina happened and the levees broke, we started talking right away. When terrible tragedies happen, and we think they might have been preventable, we start talking right away about what we might to do prevent them from happening again. When terrible tragedies happen, and human beings are fully or even partly responsible, we start talking right away about what we might to do prevent ourselves and each other from doing that again. We may disagree, passionately even, about how the tragedy might have been prevented, and what prevention methods we might consider, and whether those methods would be effective, and whether the cure would be worse than the disease.

But when terrible tragedies happen, we use our grief, and our rage, and our shock, to drive us to action.

That is not the worst of us. It is the best.

I don’t know what exactly I want to say about gun control, except that I’m for it. But as many people have been saying in the last few hours: It is not too soon to start talking about gun control. It is too late.

There’s a good conversation over on Pharyngula. Check it out. Or talk here if you like. But if you talk here, do it kindly. I don’t have the strength or the stomach right now to moderate a flame war. Thanks.

Republicans and Fundies: Reaping What They Sowed

So I’ve been thinking about the last election. I’ve been having this thought about the Republican party, and how they’ve gotten shackled to the hard-core Christian fundamentalists as their base even while this strategy is alienating moderate and even conservative voters. And it occurred to me:

They are reaping what they sowed.

In the Reagan era, the Republican party made a very conscious decision: the decision to wed big money with the religious right. They decided to make a base out of hard-core right-wing Christian fundamentalists; fund them with huge money from hugely rich corporate overlords; and twine the ideologies together, convincing Christian fundamentalists that lowering taxes on the super-rich and eliminating regulations on enormous corporations was exactly what Jesus would do.

It was very successful at the time. Hard-core right-wing Christian fundamentalists were pretty numerous; fervent in their willingness to work and turn out for the G.O.P.; and — at the time — only somewhat wildly out of touch with average American values. Fueled with enormous funding from obscenely wealthy corporate overlords, they ruled the land for many a year.

But it’s finally started to backfire. Hard-core Christian fundamentalists are becoming less numerous, especially among young people, who are leaving religion at a rate that’s unprecedented in this country. And they’re becoming more and more out of touch with average American values: especially on issues like gay rights and birth control, which most Americans now not only support, but think are uncontroversial and no big deal. Most Americans have moved forward on these issues… while the Christian Right has stayed entrenched in them, and if anything has gotten even more wildly hard-core. They have moved so far to the right, they’ve fallen off the map.

But the Republican Party is now committed. It’s going to be very hard for them to move back toward the center, even back onto the map, without alienating the people who they’ve made their base. They let themselves build a base on a demographic that is, by definition, stubbornly out of touch with reality. In fact, their base demographic isn’t just out of touch with reality: they are deeply committed to being out of touch with reality, as a core identity and a foundational moral code. “We will believe in the literal word of this holy text written thousands of years ago by Bronze-age goat-herders, replete with internal contradictions and glaring factual errors and grotesque immorality, and will ignore the stark human reality that stares us in the face every day. And that is what makes us awesome.”

When you shackle yourself to a demographic that is morally committed to the denial of reality, you shouldn’t be hugely surprised when you eventually start to alienate the rest of the population. Especially when you’ve been using the supposed moral high ground of the committed reality-deniers as a smokescreen, distracting the rest of the population while you pick their pockets. You shouldn’t be hugely surprised when people start to notice, “Hey, the platform of the Republican party is batshit and evil… and why are taxes on the super-rich so low, and why is my union getting busted?”

They made a conscious decision to wed their economic policies to the Christian right. Both are bankrupt. They are reaping what they sowed.

Everyone Knows It’s Comet!

It’s cat-themed song parody time! Sung to the tune of “Windy.” For those who aren’t familiar with the Legend of Comet, here’s a bit of context to help you understand this particular cat.

Comet on fridgeWho’s peeking out from under a shoebox
Leaping and twisting high in the air?
Who’s bending down to pilfer my yogurt?
Everyone knows it’s Comet!

Who’s tripping down the sofas and bookshelves
Leaping at everybody she sees?
Who’s reaching out to capture a shoelace?
Everyone knows it’s Comet!

And Comet has stormy eyes
That flash when she claws my thighs
And Comet has teeth to bite
Upon my toes
Upon my toes…

Who wakes us up at six in the morning
Poking my face and biting my nose?
Who snuggles up, then nips at your finger?
Everyone knows it’s Comet!

Who’s chowing down on all the phone chargers
Tussling with every kitty she sees?
Who’s reaching out to dig in the laundry?
Everyone knows it’s Comet!

Other posts on this theme:
The Comet Song: Theme from “Cat Over the Fridge Up High,” by ReasJack