Prodigal Daughter In Katamon: Returning to Jerusalem 15 Months After Seminary

Recently I returned to Jerusalem for the first time since leaving seminary in April 2016. As many people know, my year in seminary was difficult for a multitude of reasons. Returning to the neighborhood I lived in for nine months was, unsurprisingly, emotional and I journalled sitting on one of the streets I used to escape to. The following are words and pictures I recorded from that day. 

20271818_851220355025170_950624209_n.jpgAnd, just like that, I’m back. Back in the place I learned so much but none of it Torah. I suppose it’s the closest thing I’ve had to the school of hard knocks. I think people think it’s funny when I talk about my experiences in seminary. Funny that I came here in the first place. Funny that it all went so horribly wrong. And it is, in many comedy-of-errors-like ways. 20196751_851220408358498_1529179668_n

Someone literally impersonated me, I lived in my own filth, every effort people made to help me went hilariously wrong. If it wasn’t my own pain I’d think it was totally funny too. But it is my pain. And here I sit on a crocheted bench that reminds me of the Sukkot fair here when I still felt hope and saw art. 20272006_851220348358504_735182406_n.jpg 20271957_851220468358492_1362381608_n.jpg

A man drives up to the curb and asks me in Hebrew (and then English at my momentary confusion) to watch his car for a second because his daughter is sleeping in it. He goes to buy a lottery ticket. I want to tell him. This place is no place for vulnerable daughters. Tell him that this is my first time back in fifteen months. My third time in Israel total. That I once slept in this neighborhood, my own windows open, relying on the protection of impotent strangers. 20179878_851220415025164_2050489031_n.jpg

That I played my luck here and the number was 3:48. I won unwarranted accusations based on the lies of shallow girls I thought I was supposed to be. Namely, frum and from New York. And it is not that that bothers me most. Perhaps the worst was when the supposedly licensed social worker effectively put me on suicide watch because she could not properly hear my hurt. The hurt which no one truly heard, or at least it seemed. People asking my roommate how she could bear to live with me.

20272114_851220535025152_251907897_n.jpgThey did not take from me a goal, an experience, a year. They stole from me a dream, an identity, a feeling. My innocence, really. But this isn’t a fucking bildungsroman or chavaya. This is where I fell in love with Jerusalem and out of love with halacha. This is where the smallest freedoms-a few inches of cloth, a couple of words said among friends-became the biggest rebellions.

20179854_851220585025147_1743016457_nThis is where I found myself. Distorted. Disgraced. Through warped lenses I didn’t even know existed. I keep thinking (can’t stop thinking) that I’m seeing people I know walk by. Rabbis. “Friends.” But this is where the words dai and die became synonymous. A petit mort, but definitely not the good kind.

20187930_851220718358467_1659797010_n.jpgAnd it was in those days I would come to Derech Beit Lechem, Emek Refaim. The Way of the House of Bread, The Valley of Healing. And here I am, back in this place like you could barely tell it happened. The small stones of the sidewalk bear no scars or splattered blood. My favorite falafel place is already closed for shabbat, the bagel place on the corner closed with no trace of its former self.20271732_851220738358465_1301513076_n.jpg

A couple of middle school boys pass speaking American English-what had I been so afraid of? The racist teachers? The misogynist Torah? The group of alien girls who made me forget why anyone could find me loveable? I’ve processed and processed and overprocessed so much in the past year that it is difficult to recall the exact feeling.

Instead I simply feel an animal dread. Danger. You are not safe here. 20271891_851220368358502_2024745834_n

I cross the street with some abandon because my bench has become too hot and wouldn’t it just be the most dramatic of ironies if I were hit by a bus on this street. Not just any bus, but the Kav Sheva. The one with the bus driver who’s plastered his entire bus with weird chamsas and stuffed animals. I’m sure he, Boaz, whould not even recognize me if I asked him. How a place forgets so easily yet sticks to you like sap. It’s as if I never left. It’s as if I never was here at all. 20271903_851220708358468_1393960856_n

20272108_851220665025139_204368532_n

 

 

Why My Existence Disproves Your Concern For Fat People’s Health

I am not fat. Never have been. I could be in the future I suppose, but there are many factors that keep me thin now that I don’t anticipate changing anytime soon. In the vast bulshittery that is western understandings of the female body, I think I categorize as slender-looking or at least “average.” I’ve certainly never been told by a doctor or my peers or strangers that I am overweight or at risk of becoming so.

I mention this not to make any statements or value judgements on my own body, but rather to educate and call out those who shame fat people out of “concern for their health.” First of all, while I do not deny that “excess” weight can be detrimental to one’s health, I object to the ideas that 1) all weight that has been gained is loseable 2) that the way to encourage people to lose weight is to exclude, objectify, or shame them and 3) that the weight loss itself is the key to achieving “better health.” 

I was a lucky kid. My parent’s rarely engaged in negative body talk or shame and, quite frankly, I didn’t have a lot of female friends to scrutinize myself with a la Mean Girls. I have always had some level of  understanding that all bodies are good bodies and that media ideals are toxic. I honestly spent much more time worrying that because what’s on the inside mattered, my insides might somehow turn out to be evil.

On top of this relative acceptance of my body (in size, at least) I still have always had food issues. I’m allergic to several foods, I keep kosher, have attempted vegetarianism several times, and I’ve recently realized that I basically suffer from clinical picky eating or food aversion. All these restrictions both ethical, biological, and psychological mean my weight has always been in flux, mostly dropping downward at certain periods before bouncing back. (Again, I have never had an unhealthily high or low weight, this is all within a “normal” BMI).

If I go to a restaurant or an event or even to a friend’s house for dinner, I have literally no guarantee that there will be a single thing for me to eat. Even if the food is kosher and free of allergens there are so, so many foods that I simply cannot put in my mouth (trust me, I’ve tried). And this, of course, is only the start of my issues.

While mental illness is not precisely a physical impairment, many of its side effects can be quite somatic. I have had many experiences (involuntarily) throwing up meals because I could not stop the fluttering in my stomach and pain in my chest from anxiety. I often get reflux or cramps or some other type of pain if I try to eat too much when I’m panicking.

I’ve also lost many valuable calories from depression. Again, I don’t not eat to punish or change myself but I often don’t eat very much when I’m deeply depressed. If you think about it, eating is a small act of expressing a will and desire to exist. I have never dangerously starved myself or even wanted to starve myself, but I certainly have denied myself basic needs out of feeling like I didn’t deserve them or want to keep going (the same logic applies to not showering, doing things I enjoy, etc). Sometimes it’s also just a matter of not having the energy to even get up and get something from the fridge/call for a pizza/ or go out to a restaurant, much less gather the materials to cook myself something healthful.

I say all of this because I am so sick of body politics. This past semester at school I lost about ten pounds because I couldn’t eat very much at the dining hall. When I got home certain extended family members said things along the lines of “you look so skinny, you look great.” Persisting to say this (in front of a ten year old female relative) even after I had told them the way I had lost the weight. And that’s fucked up.

Beyond that I know and know of so many people who have been taught that their worth is in a dress size when literally women’s clothing sizes are not standardized at all. I own things from a size extra small to a size 16, this shit is not objective. There is so much pain and fear around even saying the word “fat.” As if it’s not just an adjective. As if it can only be used as a weapon.

Many of the ideas I have written here I have gotten from various fat activists and any mistakes in the theory are my own. What I can say with certainty, though, is that I am a thin woman who rarely exercises and often eats like shit if she eats at all. There are so many people who are vastly larger than me that are in better shape than I ever will be. My main hope is that we can stop immediately assuming that weight gain is bad and weight loss is good. Some people gain weight during happy times in their lives (going out on a lot of dates, celebrating an occasion with food, etc) and many lose weight in their darkest moments (whether from eating disorders, physical ailments, or something else).

So please, don’t judge my health on how it physically manifests (or its lack of physical manifestations.). Instead, we should see our bodies as, yes, part of ourselves, but also somewhat arbitrary vessels for the things about us that really matter. I think gonna go have a snack now.

 

 

Some resources if you want to know more:

https://fitfatandfeminist.wordpress.com/

http://theadipositivityproject.zenfolio.com/about.html [warning: this one has some nudity in the name of body normalization]

https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/

http://www.themilitantbaker.com/

https://www.facebook.com/TessHollidayOfficial/

http://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/page/body/espn-magazine-body-issue [warning: nudity for body normalization purposes]

http://www.themilitantbaker.com/p/resources.html

 

On Sadness Porn And My Disdain For Literature

I have never really like literature. I know. I know what you’re thinking. Um literature spans huge amounts of space and time that’s not even possible define ur terms plz. Fine. I mean literary fiction, I mean “the classics.” Classics are classics for a reason, you sayAre they though?

Snooty-Professor-Credit-iStockphoto-137206350-630x420
Don’t let snobby professor dude catch you with dat mass market paperback.

I mean, they are in the sense that the white, straight, cisgender, Christian, male academic elites have defined the canon as we know it [I’m sorry I had to fall back on that old chestnut of a rhetoric, but you have to admit that it was relevant]. The reason is because we value what we perceive as a break from all the bullshit of the world. We value pretension or at least perceived complexity. We want to read what everyone else is reading, because if so many smart people are reading it must be important, right?

There is a quote by an author whose books I’ve never read that goes

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

(That author is named Haruki Murakami, in case you’re curious). I love this quote because it has often been true for me. I have always held a staunch identity as a reader, both by myself and others. I used to read in every spare moment I got (and still do), scanning the backs of cereal boxes or street signs when I could find nothing else to satisfy my cravings. Some of my fondest memories are sitting with my family on Shabbos afternoons and reading in silence together. In short, I really fucking like words and stories.

lil girl reading
Representative footage of me reading the heck out of something or other. Source: http://househatke.tumblr.com/post/82189805816/three-sketches-drawn-in-the-same-sitting-of-the

However, I’ve never been a “fangirl,” able to name every character, reading along with a community and swapping theories. It’s not that I never read some of these books (the Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games trifecta included) but that I have never been obsessed with them. I have never idolized a work or author, believing it beyond fault. I mention this because I have equally never been an unwavering devotee to the words of Shakespeare or Joyce or Salinger either.

I know, I know, people who love literature don’t believe that texts or authors are beyond fault, if anything they latch onto those faults as a source of meaning. Trust me, I’ve been there and I’ve taken that AP Lit class. And, admittedly, there are some classics I like-FrankensteinHamlet, Pride and Prejudice. I’m not opposed to being proven wrong about a given text, but the canon as a whole? Both for popular literary fiction and more academic tomes? Yeah, no.

13 reasons
Some problematic mental health bullshittery courtesy of 13 reasons why. Source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1837492/mediaviewer/rm184761856

I don’t judge or condemn people who do like these books, but I would like to elaborate on why they so repel me. As a rule, I do not read stories about abuse, genocide, rape, war, self-harm, suicide, or even just garden variety ruminations on cruelty or the futility of life. Strangely, these topics seem to show up in an overwhelming and disproportionate amount of “great literature.”  There are some exceptions to the rule, of course, but as the Netflix adaptation of 13 Reasons Why shows us, these topics are often poorly handled. In fact, I have historically called these works sadness porn. I simply cannot stomach casual mentions of horrific traumas used to spice up story lines or cheap, masturbatory fixations on pain.

Wait, you say. These issues are important, how will people learn if we don’t tell these stories? This is the way the world really is, how dare you hide from other people’s pain? Well, I have two reactions to that. Firstly and simply, I do not oppose the discussion of difficult issues. I just reject the notion that excruciating detail of traumatic events should be used as a plot device. Indeed, many experts have found that these narratives only hurt vulnerable people. I also firmly oppose the idea that novels have to be devastating and hopeless and soul-crushing to be moving, meaningful, or even realistic.

The second reason, though, the real reason I don’t read or enjoy these texts, is something completely different. The second reason is about emotion. I don’t read about these issues as an act of self-care. While I’ve never experienced true trauma (and actually many previously traumatized people intentionally turn to these stories as safe ways to understand and relive their experiences) I do know from deep emotional distress. Some people read these novels to “feel something,” but I have always feel too much.

You might close the book and move on, changed but functional, but its images give me nightmares, make me shake and turn my stomach, long after I’ve stopped reading. I am already a preternaturally anxious person whose thought patterns lean towards deep empathy, a miserable sense of responsibility for others, and a vicious cycle of intrusive negative thoughts. In short, I do not need others to add to the scripts of my terror or personal culpability. If I am going to psychologically torture myself in the name of understanding or helping the world, I’m at least going to do it through nonfiction.

Most importantly though, liking or disliking literature, in all its depressive glory, depends on why you read. Some people want to linger on every word, challenge their own feelings with an unreliable narrative, use each letter as an opportunity to figure out the limits of human language and existence. I am not these people. While I am not fully opposed to this style, I prefer poetic prose when used sparingly. I like when flowery turns of phrase and shocking revelations happen as a crescendo within the larger story, rather than an incessant bashing of the cymbals for the entire symphony.

For me, the best prose writing is writing you don’t even notice. Writing where the words are so immersive it is as if you are thinking them yourself, as if the events are unfolding before you. I do like abstract and artistic plays on language- I usually turn to poetry for that (though I still have the same rules about disturbing content). If I want to ponder something in a deep and complex way, I more often than not turn to nonfiction.

It is not that the books I read and love do not transform me. It is rather that when I read on my own time it is not to analyze opaque symbolism, but, rather, to heal. Reading as therapy, then, is not about exacerbating angst. It is about imagining better realities (hence my love of romance and science fiction novels) and embarking on an unpretentious search for truth (hence my extensive collection of comics and young adult works). And yes, reading, for me, is about escape from my own existence, if only temporarily. Perhaps, next time, you’ll join me.

Says: "The Ripped Bodice: Purveyors of Fine Smut" with a pile of books with various romance author's names written on the spine
A lovely image from one of the only all romance book stores in the world. No matter what you read, though, you can always sit with me <3. Here’s a link to the Ripped Bodice website which you should definitely check out! http://www.therippedbodicela.com/

P.S. I have a few book reviews in the works so hopefully soon you can see what kind of books I do like!

 

Self Care; Or: How To Person

[Note: I wrote this post mostly to articulate and archive these ideas for myself. Meaning, I didn’t edit the lists I wrote last night in hopes of keeping this more readable. I also put in a lot of fun mental health comics for illustration (that you should totally read more of) just because I thought they were cute. However, I hope the abundance of self care activities and visuals can help give you some ideas 🙂 ]

Since we were chatting about mental health, I figured it would be worth talking about the most vital part of maintaining good mental health: self care. Now, if you took a cursory scroll through Tumblr you might find that self care involves sleeping in and bubble baths and eating an entire tub of ice cream. I mean, that can be what it means. If you’re someone who works yourself half to death and denies yourself rest and small pleasures, self care could very well mean ice cream. I think, though, that it’s important to define what we’re really talking about here.

Define self care
Regardless of what I say here, remember that only you can decide what’s good for you 🙂 Source: https://www.instagram.com/frizzkidart/?hl=en

Self care, as I understand it, is doing the things you need to do to be a functional, healthy, and satisfied human being. Basically, being an adult. You need to imagine yourself as a baby/body you’ve been given that you need to raise and care for in order for it to be successful. Imagine yourself as your own personal secretary, or therapist, or parent. What do you need to be doing in order to succeed and survive?

The other night I had a minor break down. I was nervous about the new volunteering position I’m starting soon and cried pretty uncontrollably for about 10 minutes. Not the most logical thing, given that I worked for the same people last year and they clearly really liked me. Truly, the problem was that I had let my self care slide a bit. I had missed a dose of meds last week, wasn’t exercising, forgot to eat real meals or drink water.

There are different levels of self care and for some people showering regularly, getting work in on time, or eating healthfully might come naturally. For many of us, though, it does not. Last night I did an exercise for myself (that I do periodically) writing all of the things I consider self care actions. I tend to see self care activities as falling into four main categories. Here, I’m going to define each category and give examples of that category on my list.

Necessary Maintenance

self care medals
I’m personally of the opinion that we should clap every time a nervous human makes it out of bed ~but that’s just me~  Beth Evans’ website: http://butthorn.tumblr.com/

Necessary maintenance items are the things you MUST do (usually every day) to function. Depending on how well life is going for you this can vary, but for me it’s just my (semi-aspirational) most basic survival skills. Here are a few of mine:

  • Eating when I’m hungry in order to keep my energy up
  • Brushing my teeth
  • Showering (at least every other day)
  • Taking my meds
  • Doing some kind of Yoga or meditation
  • Being on top of my chores and school work
  • Drinking water
  • Keeping a To-Do list
  • Going to therapy
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Doing my laundry (about every two weeks, though I can usually stretch it to a month)
  • Spending time with people I love
  • Being intellectually stimulated
  • Journaling/ writing
fragile
Do the Scary friends! Do all the Scaries until you aren’t scared anymore! Source: https://jeremyville.myshopify.com/collections/prints-csas/products/open-up
  • Seeking out physical touch
  • Doing Shabbos
  • Conquering my fears that keep me from doing all of the above or anything that keeps me from functioning

These are things that, if I skip them for too many consecutive days I either fall into a downward emotional spiral or risk my health. While some of these come naturally or are self rewarding, others are more difficult. Keeping up physical hygiene can be pretty hard for me when I feel stressed out or physically overstimulated. I’m a picky eater (again, problems with stimulus) and I also have allergies and sometimes I’m in situations where I genuinely have nothing to eat if I don’t plan ahead.

While all of these things are necessary for my emotional, physical, mental and spiritual health, practicing them can still be a challenge. A good example of my last bullet point is when I went driving today. I got into a (all in all minor) car crash last April, shortly after I had finally gotten my license. I basically stopped driving after that, but decided that when I came home this summer I would learn to drive again.

This is because driving is a very practical thing that I genuinely need to do in order to function as an adult, at least when I’m at home or in places without good public transportation. Taking on driving again is as necessary for my future well-being as any pill I take with breakfast.

Important

The important ones are things I try to do quite frequently, as they keep me motivated and inspired. However, I do not need to necessarily do these things every day or week in order to be happy.  These are more like things that I do that make life infinitely better, but when I’m busy or in survival mode can do without.

be yourself
Friends are important, but so are you. Source: http://thesadghostclub.tumblr.com/post/138818310661/rule-1-from-the-sad-ghost-clubs-guide-to-making
  • Eating 3 meals a day with at least 1 fruit or vegetable with each (I know this should be in the necessary pile but this is where I am in my food struggles right now)0
  • Consuming good art
  • Consuming good baked goods
  • Reading
  • Meditating
  • Cleaning my room at least 1x a week
  • Being silly/laughing/watching comedy
  • Carrying a journal/ pen and paper with me everywhere
  • Going to the library every few weeks
  • Accomplishing small chores and tasks (giving myself small successes)
  • Surrounding myself with mental health/life inspiration
  • Helping people in some way
  • Being social and meeting new people
  • Taking time to be silent
  • Going outside
  • Connecting to God/Judaism/Jews
  • Having a calming music playlist downloaded on my phone

Nice

Nice self care activities are ones that aren’t required, or even crucial, but they’re things that I am always trying to do more of. I don’t need them to be functional, but I want them to be happy.

  • Having role models (putting their pictures up in my room, talking to them, reflecting on why I look up to them)
  • Going for walks
  • Learning new things in my free time (listening to podcasts, reading books on a specific topic, reading articles, etc)
  • Being ahead in my school work (while it’s not necessary for me to be ahead of things, I don’t work amazingly under pressure so doing things way before they’re due really improves my quality of life)
  • Seeing plays, movies, concerts (immersive creative experiences)
  • Bein’ cozy 🙂
  • Eating out somewhere nice (either by myself or with friends, depending on my mood)
  • Travelling/ seeing the world (but being mindful of exhaustion)
  • Learning new hobbies or skills

A big part of self care is realizing that you deserve to enjoy life. That you’re worth your own aspirations and own your own successes. The first two categories are mostly about living, this one is about having a life.

Electives 🙂

There probably doesn’t need to be an electives section here, but I think it’s important to keep track of small things that make you happy and seek them out when you can. These things aren’t necessary to function or even have fun, they’re just things that I know make me feel good.

  • Going shopping for weird art/clothes/jewelry (I’m a bit of a craft fair fiend)
  • Gettin’ pretty and putting on colorful makeup
Cutest cutie
Me @Me every time I get fancy -Couldn’t find source for this
  • Crafting (I’m kind of a serial crafter always trying out different things)
  • Smelling nice/ being around things that smell nice
  • Baking/ Cooking (this one’s a bit aspirational but I do feel good when I make something)
  • Making collages (still a craft but also kind of an idea board thing)
  • Being playful/ playing with dolls and miniature things
  • Reading new comics
  • Hearing interesting things/ learning from new people
  • Spending time with babies or dogs
  • Going to cool indie bookstores
  • Keeping a list of compliments I receive
  • Teaching something I know a lot about
  • Surrounding myself with colorful things and glitter
femme
Learn about my gender expression, because femme mentality really informs a lot of my mental health ideas. It’s okay to be soft and whimsical and vulnerable. The world needs more of that

Finally, I leave you with a true expression of my necessary self care activities:

do a thing
I’ve been meaning to print this one out for a long time. It makes me feel happy and hopeful and is MOST DEFINITELY part of the cute discourse.

The Fuck It Method

While I work on a more *scholarly* piece for this blog I figured I should still publish something a bit lighter, both to Please My Rabid Following and because I’m really trying to create good writing habits and positive reinforcement. I think a real short thing I’d like to talk about here is fear.

As established in my last post, I am a Professional Afraid Person. I can be pretty afraid of other human beings, academic challenges, getting out of bed, the state of world politics, administrative tasks, etc. Unlike normal fear though, anxiety takes over your body. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve lost feeling in my extremities, my fingers tingling and my neck and throat cramping up. I go light headed and my abdomen starts to sporadically contract, as if flinching from an anticipated punch. It’s one of the less fun things I’ve experienced.

As we also established in my last post, I’ve gotten much better at handling my fears through meds, therapy, and practice. Truly, I’ve just gotten better at ignoring the fear and controlling the physical symptoms in order to do what I wanted to do in the first place. One moment I was able to break through my fog, though, was during my high school graduation.

me after graduating
Me on the day I graduated high school 🙂

volunteered to speak even though I knew I would sweat through my dress and probably make ALL of the poorly timed Freudian slips. I still kinda think I was crazy to do that as someone who has a terror induced adrenaline rush just knowing I have to interact with another human being. That being said, the speech actually went pretty well. In an ironic sadistic quirk of my Creator, I’m actually good at and weirdly enjoy public speaking. And, as I’ve continued to improve my mental health, I’ve done this kind of thing more and more.

DISCLAIMER: THE ADVICE I AM ABOUT TO GIVE IS FOR PEOPLE WELL INTO RECOVERY OR WHO DO NOT STRUGGLE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS IN THE FIRST PLACE. DO NOT FEEL BAD IF YOU ARE NOT THERE YET. THIS ADVICE MAY ALSO NOT BE GOOD IF YOU ARE AN OVERLY IMPULSIVE PERSON, WE ARE ALL SINGULAR DELICATE FLOWERS WITH INDIVIDUAL NEEDS. THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME.

Okay, now that we’ve got THAT out of the way, I would like to outline my technique for dealing with fear. STEP 1: Determine whether your fear has evidence to back it up. Is the thing itself scary or dangerous or are you just worried about fucking up or not being prepared for every uncertainty? Figure out why you’re scared and if the fear is coming from you or other people or societal expectations.

STEP 2: Fuck it all to H*ck. That’s right, if it’s safe (meaning you won’t die or cause terrible tragedy) just do it anyway. If you piss your pants while giving your presentation? Great, you wouldn’t be the first. Afraid you’re going to vomit in your date’s mouth if they try to kiss you? Hey, it’s something to tell the grandkids. If the human you love tells you they don’t love you back, heck, you wouldn’t want to be with someone who doesn’t absolutely adore you, right?

dog afraid of cats
Do not be a diffident dog when you could be a curious kitten. Source: This photo is from the Facebook group “heartwarming content”

I know, I know what you’re thinking. This is hard! Easy for you to say after you’ve done the things and been successful! Have you ever even been publicly humiliated before!?!?! Whatta n00b!

Okay so first all, rude. Second of all I have D-E-F-I-N-I-T-E-L-Y fucked up loudly and in public before. Every time I’ve ever asked someone out, I’ve had to call them back because I didn’t actually articulate what I wanted to say the first time. Every. Single. Time. I’ve walked around with butt sweat stains for longer than I care to admit and no one bothered to tell me. I’ve auditioned for an improv group and couldn’t stop laughing and breaking character even though no one else was laughing.

The Fuck It/ Just Do It method is really paradoxically simple. The best advice I can give you is to just keep Doing It. Allow yourself to recover after vulnerable moments, but make those vulnerable moments an inherent part of life. Message people on dating apps. Write a blog. Tell people you like them. Go braless. Submit an application for a position you want but think you have no chance of getting. Give yourself so many opportunities to be rejected (along with reinforcing yourself with small victories) that one specific rejection just becomes a thing among many, not THAT SUPER EMBARRASSING THING I DID, y’know?

The Fuck It method isn’t reckless, it’s just about refusing to let fear be a reason not to do anything if it’s actually good for you and you wanna do it. You can fuck up playing it safe, so why not fuck up by taking chances? Embarrassment is human and, more than that, anyone who judges you for taking risks or being embarrassed isn’t someone you want to hang around with anyway. After my improv audition (and the resulting rejection) one of the other people who auditioned came up to me in the dining hall and told me he thought I was really funny. I had actually thought he was the funniest one there so it was ultimately a nice way to connect with someone new and gain confidence.

But did you die
No matter what happens, it probably won’t kill you. Image Source: https://www.facebook.com/thebodydepartment/photos/a.1396165177296623.1073741828.1395718364007971/1934891513423984/?type=3&theater

So yeah, be safe and smart and make good decisions, but also Do The Things. Do all of the things until you feel so alive you actually deserve to spend a day in bed to rest from all of your awesomeness (instead of just staying in bed to hide from the world). Whether you’re afraid of getting out of bed to do laundry or you’re nervous about pouring your soul out to someone, remember that we live in a gigantic death trap and it’s a miracle any of us survive past infancy. And who knows? You might have fun or something.

 

Meet My Mental Illness; Or: Coping With Happiness

For the first time in a long time (my whole life?) I feel sustainably happy. Not joyous- I was always capable of joy-but happy. Content. Grateful. While life has objectively thrown shit in my face over the years, the worst shit it threw was a brain that makes me feel like life is shittier than it’s actual shit level. You feel?

idiot
Real life footage of me and how I think. Source: http://heckifiknowcomics.com/

Anxiety and Depression are like the worst mirror ever. Everything is flipped and the worst parts are distorted beyond the scale of normal and the best parts become barely visible. I had always been a moody (though not necessarily unhappy) kid but my transition into to high school was really when shit started to hit the fan. (Shush, I’m seeing how far I can take this inarticulate metaphor).

I had panic attacks daily and reached a point of self loathing that is pretty much beyond the hate I could ever imagine feeling towards another human being. Another person can be given compassion and the benefit of the doubt, but you know every crevice of your own imperfections. Or, at least I did. This may sound absurd given my quite scholarly nature, but I truly believed I could not succeed in high school (spoiler alert: I could). I thought that all of the A’s I had received in middle school had come too easily to be sustainable and I worried constantly that I would be discovered as a fraud. I thought I had somehow deceived everyone into thinking I was intelligent and to me, my intelligence meant everything.

More specifically, moral excellence (which included intelligence for me) tyrannically determined my self-worth. I felt the weight of nations. I literally used those words in real conversations with actual human beings because #angst. I took the idea of activism to an extreme that I think many are still falling victim to today. I threw myself into causes without any concern for my own health. I expected and believed myself capable of being a Martin Luther King Jr. and hated myself when I fell short (at the age of fourteen, mind you). I felt responsible for everything and everyone’s happiness but my own.

1622513_10203792394917078_6044370126228242046_o-e1494989769787.jpg
Me: Winning awards (this one’s for Drama and Arts) while simultaneously believing myself unworthy

After almost seven years of therapy my illness is not over or cured and it never will be. I think some people get confused about this, but I tend to think about it like diabetes. Some people get diabetes from life circumstances. They might be stuck with it forever but, if caught early enough they could go on with the rest of their lives not needing diabetes treatment. This is like situational or episodic mental illness. These types of illnesses only become a problem when exposed to certain trauma or stressors. They are more preventable. And, though they are not less real, I think they’re better understood.

However, some people are born with type 1 diabetes. It is not an illness that can be cured, just one that can be well treated. Someone born with type 1 diabetes will die with type 1 diabetes. All we can try to do is make sure that they don’t die because of it. Chronic or hereditary mental illnesses are like this. There will be no cure or finish line. Only growth and better coping strategies.*

For the first time in a long time (perhaps forever?) I feel happy. The happiness terrifies me like the thrilling belly flip you get on rollercoasters. I’m having fun but sense the inevitable drop awaiting me. The happiness terrifies me like a newborn baby. It can get lost or sick or die. It can get taken away unless I really take care of it and even then nothing is for certain. Babies stress me out tbh. Now that I am getting better at counteracting the ways I make my own life miserable, though, I start to worry about externally induced pain. Pain that I have even less control over. Death and illness and cruelty do not send “save the date”s in the mail six months to a year before they happen. You cannot prepare for them. You cannot be sure that you will be wearing the right dress on the day of the occasion.

I can only cope with being happy the way I cope with being scared or sad- one day/hour/moment at a time. I can only grasp at the good in life when it is in reach, and prepare for hibernation. I can do yoga and write and take my meds. I can shower and brush my teeth. I can tell the people I love how fucking awesome they are so they can subsist on that while I am too numb to love properly.

As one of my favorite authors, Jenny Lawson, puts it:

“When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker … but as survivors. Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand….” and because of that “I AM GOING TO BE FURIOUSLY HAPPY, OUT OF SHEER SPITE.” -Quote from her book Furiously Happy

Ah yes furiously happy. An almost manic joy and gratitude that bursts through in moments when the fog lifts. Feeling more alive because you’ve finally remembered why you don’t want to die. The happiness that pops up before, during, and after mental illness episodes is almost indescribable. But it is tempered by this fear of recurrence and pain caused when trapped in your own mind. So I am not just happy for the first time in (forever?) a long time. I am furiously happy. Saying it out loud. Jinxing myself. Daring the world to spit in my face but enjoying myself until it does.

 

*Plz excuse me if I have messed up the science on this. It’s a metaphor. You get the idea.

Akher

I thought about writing a long introduction to this poem but I think sometimes these things need to stand on their own. This is a poem I wrote after I tried to learn some Torah on Sefaria today. I don’t always feel this way, but these conflicted emotions are definitely a part of my Jewish identity right now:

I scroll through pages

digitalized archives

words that elude my comprehension

 

I whisper

tell me why you’re worth it

tell me why you’re worth my time

make me love you

again

 

the sound of you on my tongue

the slip of you beneath my

charcoal-stained fingertips

 

be real again

not this

emptiness

that eats me whole

 

let your lilting rhythm mean

something other than pain

to me

 

Dear Torah:

you have been stolen from me

by the dark grasping of fundamentalism

they sharpened your edges

in order to draw blood

 

while my body’s blood

free from violence

is incarcerated behind black lines

 

God

Is laughing

and I am unsure if it is with

or without malice

Yet

here I am

drawn in by abusers’ sins

 

like a child I touch the pages

through a screen

I am always behind a screen

waiting for characters and punctuation

to seduce me

 

But I do not feel ravished

sated like I do after my

other intellectual pursuits

I am just picking at the scar tissue

slowly

 

In seeking to undo previous pain

I’m just making it worse

Reasons Not to Wish Someone a “Happy Mother’s Day”

Ah, Mother’s Day. A time for day drinking, family strife and last minute gifts. Jokes aside, though, I love my mom. Living away from home (and growing up in general) has been an ongoing revelation in terms of how I think about her. As I’ve begun to comprehend the true effort it takes to be a functional adult my awe has grown for the domestic and emotional labor my mother took on for us. My laundry was always done, my dinner was always made, and she always came early to the after school pickup line. She compromised sleep, sanity, and God knows what else so that we, her children, would feel comfortable, safe, and loved. She still does.

Another great thing about my mom is that as I’ve grown she’s become one of my primary sounding  boards for thoughts and ideas. Today, for example, we ranted about the Mother’s Day practice of wishing every woman (of a certain age) a “Happy Mother’s Day!” without actually knowing that person’s life situation. As beautiful as a day that celebrates motherhood is, we hurt a lot of people in our platitudes and vague good wishes. I would like to present here four reasons you might want to think twice before wishing a random female a “Happy Mother’s Day.”

Death and Illness

A huge problem with large scale and randomized Mother’s Day wishes is the issue of health. Many people have lost their mothers-some even in the past year-and the constant reminder or anniversary can no doubt be painful. It can be difficult to know how to celebrate Mother’s Day when one feels newly motherless. Others have lost their children and no longer “look like a mother” with a live child to care for, but they certainly have complicated feelings about their identity as a mother and feel grief at the loss of this role.

Similarly, though many mothers or children may be physically alive, wishing a stranger a happy Mother’s Day could still trigger difficult feelings due to illness. Everything from a mother with Alzheimer’s to a child with a terminal illness could make someone feel like they’ve lost the motherhood relationship they used to have or thought they would have. Others worry about whether they will be able to spend next Mother’s Day with their child or parent at all.

To the people going through these struggles today: I’m thinking of you.

Abuse and Estrangement

As much as many of us would like to believe that a mother would do anything for her children, this, unfortunately, is not true for everyone. A number of people have been physically, verbally, emotionally, or even sexually assaulted by their mothers or mother figures. Less often, mothers have had to cut abusive children out of their lives, as well. This is tragic and awful but there is a large likelihood that someone who has endured this is somehow a part of your life. While obviously you are free to celebrate your parents and all they have done for you, it would be deeply kind and sensitive of you to keep this in mind. Some people’s lives are healthier without their mothers in it, so remember that as you thank your own mother. The fact that her love and commitment to you is not a given should make it all the more meaningful to you.

To those who were feeling this today: I’m thinking of you.

Infertility

There are women who spend years enduring physical discomfort and financial strain in hopes of having a child. Whether someone is going through IVF, mourning a miscarriage or stillbirth, or even adopting, the celebration of motherhood can hit hard. On this day of the year someone could be anxiously savoring the feelings of a new pregnancy or mourning their inability to have biological children. The process and struggle of infertility is often painful and isolating (particularly in religious communities) and I could not imagine the mix of emotions one might feel in the face of Mother’s Day festivities.  Everyone approaches this journey differently but I think we would all be better and kinder for keeping those with infertility issues in our hearts on days like Mother’s Day.

This is a video by YouTuber Missy Lanning who has vlogged her experiences with infertility and motherhood. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MosAkwGMJYM Continue reading “Reasons Not to Wish Someone a “Happy Mother’s Day””

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