Grief is a Kaleidoscope

Anger is one of the stages of grief, or at least that’s what literally every self help book says. This week I’ve been angry. Easy enough, right? I know that my temper will be shorter than usual, and I’ll be mad at people who don’t deserve it. I’ll take my emotions with a grain of salt, and try not to put myself in stressful situations. There’s ways to deal with this.

Except that anger doesn’t always come out in those clear, straightforward ways you expect. It distorts things. It makes harsh lines and colors where the world is really soft and confused. I have been numb to politics and injustice for months now, too drawn up in my personal anxieties and sadnesses to expand my empathy beyond immediate family and friends. Yet suddenly, I am strident, passionate, full of declamations about mental illness and President Trump and self harm. Somehow grief has turned into this righteous anger at the state of the world.

And then there was the funeral, and suddenly the anger was turned to religion, and it felt righteous, and I know that it was just sadness. Anger seeped away, and my throat went tight. I haven’t been able to swallow properly in days, the tightness in my shoulders edging upwards until it feels like I’m going to puke out emotion.

Yesterday I had to admit to myself the hard truth. Grief is turning to my familiar friend depression. I’m beginning to lose joy again. It’s the first thing that goes when depression appears. It’s the empty sucking hole of inert disinterest. Why bother to go on living? It barely feels like anything anyway. The books tell me that depression is a stage of grief too, but perhaps that’s easier to bear when you haven’t lived for years under the weight of depression. Any return feels like an ending. Fear overwhelms the depression, and I begin to panic, wondering if the reprieve of the last two years was a blip in the larger flatline of my life.

What’s hard to explain is the way that the grief turns things. I thought I knew anger, I thought I could predict the path of healing. But it splinters your life in ways you don’t expect. I find myself sitting at work, reading the same line over and over again. I’ve never done that before. I get home, and my head hurts, my body aches, my chest feels hollowed out. I have no energy. I have always been active, but not today. Grief is not the same as the depression that is so familiar. Depression is a dark lens, but a predictable one. Grief is a kaleidoscope, turning some things bright and some things distorted and breaking others into a thousand pieces. It is the essence of unpredictable.

I am splintered and scooped out and empty inside. And where yesterday was righteous anger, today I can’t write a word about impeachments or intelligence leaks, all I can write is this emo bullshit that does nothing but lets it out and lets you in.

I’m grieving, and waiting for acceptance.

 

Life and Death Muddled Up

Last week, my fiance’s father died.

I don’t know what to write after that. It’s less than two months until our wedding. Later this summer, fiance’s older brother is moving away to complete a pastoral program. In the fall, there’s a new nibling on its way. Fiance’s family packs a lot of life into six months.

I live in the future and in the past. My therapists inform me that this is not the best way to live if you’re looking to minimize suffering. The present can only contain so much suffering, but the past and future are infinite you know. But here we are, which means that my mind is already two, four, six months into the future, imagining vows and journeys and births.

And I’m looking at a dead body.

I don’t do well with contradictions. It turns out that one of the traits of autism is black and white thinking (whodathunk), and for me that is particularly acute when it comes to emotions. I live my life in themes. I remember moods and underlying concepts. High school was anxiety and driven perfectionism. College was exhaustion and depression. Graduation was confusion and exploration. And now? Now I am all things, and I cannot understand any of them.

I never imagined that executive functioning might be the reason I struggle to parse my emotions into manageable pieces. I feel them as wholes, overwhelming waves of SOMETHING that is indescribable and undefinable. They cannot be chopped into reasons and elements and components. They just exist. But it turns out that emotions aren’t actually incomprehensible, unreasoning beasts. It turns out that there is a rhyme and reason to them, and with the right skills you can break them down in ways that make sense. And there’s the rub: my brain’s particular foibles make this mess of allthethingsthatlifecanhold not only overwhelming, but incomprehensible. How can I feel joy and excitement, then cry five minutes later?

Life doesn’t actually happen in clear, delineated pieces that allow you to process each one separately. The whole process of planning my wedding has been intermingled with fear, anxiety, and sadness at father in law’s diagnosis and decline. One month after we were engaged, he was diagnosed. And now, just over a month before we are to be married, he’s gone. Even in its chaos, life gives me some shapes and patterns to hold on to. Patterns are the only way that I know how to cope. Rituals, routines, comfort. 3 comes after 2, and it’s easy to rely on orders that don’t change.

My mantra these days is that events are separate. They feel mixed in and mushed together, but despite the fact that this death will affect my wedding, my wedding is still a separate event, fully contained, with its own joys and anxieties. I am allowed to feel all of on its own terms, without guilt. He is dead and I am making happy, exciting promises to my future husband. He is dead and there is a baby coming. Life doesn’t exist in “but”s, it exists in “and”s.

Rather than exchanging rings, my fiance and I have decided to get ampersand tattoos (no comments on the wisdom of wedding tattoos please). The symbol feels more fitting now. We aren’t removing the part of the sentence that was his father. We are adding to it. I hope that would have made him happy.

 

Picture thanks to Kaitlin Mackenzie Photography.

Housekeeping and Updates

Hello all! It’s been quite some time since I posted, and I am so so sorry that I haven’t been keeping up. Life has been throwing a lot of curveballs my way, from a death in the family, to some wedding planning panic, to being short staffed at work during our two largest events of the year. But I’m back and plan to keep up my regular posting schedule of one post a week from here on out!

With that said, I’d love to hear some feedback from you! I’ve been writing this blog for over three years now, and in that time I’ve covered a lot of ground. There aren’t quite as many things burning in my fingers to get out on the page. Do you have ideas for what you’d like to hear me write about? Send them to me at oliviajames27@gmail.com. Thanks buds, can’t wait to get writing again.

Your Action Items: Valentine’s Edition

I found a couple cool resources that folks might want to take advantage of going forward. Action Against Trump has a ton of resources, including this spreadsheet with call scripts, action items, and phone numbers. I strongly recommend saving it to your drive.

This week we’re going to do one script that’s a little bit different. It’s a thank you script. Betsy DeVos did get confirmed, which is a big old bummer, but on the plus side every single Democrat voted against her, and we need to recognize that they did what we asked.

Take a quick look to see if your representative voted against DeVos, then follow this script if they did: “Hi, my name is ___, I’m your constitutent from [ZIP]. I want to thank the Senator for voting NO on Betsy DeVos. I appreciate their willingness to stand up for the education of American youth. Thank you.”

The second issue on the table is one that is ongoing: DAPL. I am going to give you a script for Trump on this one because as far as I can tell there is nothing for Congresspeople to do.

“Hi, my name is ___, and I am an American citizen from ___. I am getting in touch to urge President Trump to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline. This pipeline was diverted through Native American lands because white Americans did not want it in their land, and it is wholly inappropriate that the Native American population is being treated as second class citizens in this way. The pipeline will damage sacred sites, and potentially contaminate the Missouri River. Please do not allow this project to continue.”

Twitter: @realdonaldtrump NO DAPL. Native American lands deserve the same respect as any lands.

Sorry for short scripts this week everyone, work is incredibly busy for me right now. Hopefully I’ll get some more in depth info to you next week, and until then good luck with all your efforts!

Weekly Action Scripts February 7

Welcome to your weekly scripts! Last time I gave scripts for calling and tweeting elected officials about various issues related to disabilities. This week let’s talk immigration. This one will not be quite as long as last week’s as there aren’t quite as many issues immediately on the table right now, but I promise there will be more.

The biggest issue on the table at the moment is the travel ban that came through an executive order from President Trump. There’s not a whole lot that legislators can do about this one, as it’s an executive order, but this is a good time to bombard Trump’s social media and phone lines to make it as clear as possible that we do not condone an act that seems to be motivated by blatant racism and fearmongering.

In my previous post I outlined the best ways to contact the White House, as the comment line is no longer open. Make sure you check that out if you’re planning to make calls. Here are some basic scripts for contacting President Trump to urge him to end this ban.

Twitter: @realDonaldTrump your immigration ban does nothing to improve safety and hurts people who need help. END IT.

Phone call script:

Hello, I am calling in regards to the travel ban that President Trump has put on people from seven Middle Eastern countries. I am calling because as an American citizen, I believe that this ban is inappropriate, cruel, and not in the best interests of the American people. Immigrants already go through a heavy screening process, and it is inappropriate to leave refugees with nowhere to go. This ban does not make America any safer, but it has broken apart families, left many people in confusion about whether it affects them, and sent a clear message that America is not friendly to people of different nationalities and religions. I urge President Trump to reverse the ban. Thank you.

The second issue I’d recommend making yourself heard on is the wall on the Mexican border (it feels like a goddamn post apocalyptic caricature to even type that).

Twitter: @realdonaldtrump Mexico will not pay for a wall. Immigrants should be welcome in America, and this wall puts people in real danger. NO WALL.

Phone call script:

Hello, I am calling in regards to President Trump’s proposal to build a wall on the Mexican border. I am calling to urge President Trump to reconsider, as this will be exorbitantly expensive, ineffective, and does not represent the attitudes of the American people. We should welcome those who come to us for a better life. Please do not move forward with this wall. Thank you.

As always, feel free to adjust these scripts to suit your needs. I had a friend turn last week’s into postcards, which was fantastic! If you have a particular issue you’d like some scripts for, let me know in comments. Thanks all!

Of Course I Want Donald Trump to Fail

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This image has been floating around my Facebook feed for a couple of days now and I’m getting to a point where I need to rant about how inaccurate this metaphor is. It’s easy to feel clever when you stumble upon a metaphor that you think explains a situation, but if there are major and important discrepancies between the metaphor and the real situation, all you’re doing is confusing things.

“But this is an apt metaphor!” you might say. Well no, it’s not. Obviously no metaphor is perfect, but there are a couple pertinent areas where this one does not map accurately onto reality. There are two that seem highly important to me.

The first is that this metaphor implies that if we fail, Trump fails and vice versa. A pilot has a vested interest in landing a plane safely because if it crashes then they will die too. But here’s the problem: TRUMP IS NOT ON THE PLANE WITH US. If we (America, the American people, minorities) get fucked over, crash and burn, and die, Trump does not. He’s got a little golden parachute or an escape pod or maybe he’s just on a totally different plane. Our dear president has the money and resources to survive whatever he might do to the plane (our country). This is actually true of MOST presidents, although Trump is wealthier than most and appears to have this uncanny knack of just suing everyone who suggests he might have failed. But it is absolutely possible for a president to “crash” the country while remaining 100% safe and fine themselves. That’s one of the reasons that people are concerned with the perceived temperament of a president: he does not have a personal motivation to keep the plane in the air, so we want someone empathetic enough to care about those of us who will die if it crashes.

But the other, perhaps MORE relevant concern is that Trump’s stated goal is a goal that involves either kicking a lot of minorities off the plane to their death, or just nose diving the plane into the ground, depending on how many of his stated goals you believe he actually wants to put into action. This is where the metaphor truly breaks down.

Yes, I do want Trump to fail. I want him to fail because if he does what he wants to do, our flight will crash and burn. Honestly, I think the more apt metaphor is that America is in one plane with Trump and his cronies in another plane and they’re shooting at us. I would really really like them to fail. Not because I’m willing to fuck over America in order to see a politician that I dislike fail, but rather because from the perspective of the people who are protesting, writing letters, afraid, etc. Trump succeeding means that we lose. We lose our health care, our marriages, our legal gender identities, our access to abortion and birth control, our freedom of speech, our ability to freely enter and exit the country, our access to college, our good public education…in some cases we may even lose our lives. I would like him not to succeed at hurting me and all the people I love.

It all depends on what you mean by “succeed” and “fail”. If by succeed you mean “is a good president who doesn’t start WWIII, doesn’t follow through on any of his campaign promises, and generally doesn’t do anything”  then yeah, I’m for it. But if by succeed you mean “gets a fraction of the legislation that he promised through Congress” then no. I do not want him to succeed. Because I think that would make him an awful president, and would fuck over our country.

There’s nothing unpatriotic, selfish, or petty about hoping that someone does not accomplish a goal that you think is awful.

Your Weekly Action Scripts

I was talking on Facebook with some friends yesterday about the fact that the cost/benefit of calling my congresspeople just isn’t worth it for me. I could do it, but it would sap all my energy. I asked for ideas of other things I could do to help, and one of my friends made a great suggestion: write scripts for others who can call. Now THIS I can do! So I’m making it my mission this year (and possibly throughout the entire Trump administration) to identify one issue a week and write scripts for you to contact your Congresspeople, the White House, and any other relevant parties. I’m also going to include some pre-written tweets, so that if you have a Twitter account you can tweet at your representatives.

All of these scripts should be adaptable for letter writing, although if you are planning to write a letter I would urge you to include something personal in your letter as it gets more attention if it’s a unique letter. Apparently postcards also get through more quickly than actual letters due to the anthrax scare, so keep that in mind.

This week I’d like to focus on disability issues, as I complained enough about them not getting enough attention in my last post. There are three main concerns that I have right now in regards to the disability community. I would recommend calling your representatives over the course of a couple days and each day using one of these scripts.

Issue One: Repealing the ACA

Why this is important: Trump and a variety of GOP lawmakers have vowed to repeal the ACA. This is of particular concern to the disability community because the ACA made it illegal to deny someone health insurance based on a preexisting condition. For those with disabilities, this made health care a possibility where it had not been.

Calling script for your Senate and House representative: “Hello, my name is ___ and I am your constituent from [location and zip]. I’d like to speak with the individual in your office who handles calls concerning the ACA.”

They will either transfer you or say that they can help you out. If they do not transfer you, ask for the name of the individual who handles calls concerning the ACA. You can use this name in future calls. Then proceed with the script: “Thank you. I’m calling to urge Senator/Representative _______ to oppose any attempts to repeal the ACA. The ACA made it illegal for insurers to refuse someone based on preexisting conditions. This allowed thousands of Americans with disabilities to finally access important, life saving care, and I urge Senator/Representative _____ to remember those Americans when the time comes to vote on the ACA, and ensure that insurers are not allowed to deny Americans based on preexisting conditions.”

The staff member will likely thank you and may ask if you want a response from the representative. You can say yes or no. They may also take your full name, phone number, and address. There’s a possibility they will tell you that the representative will not do what you’ve asked. If so, you can simply say “I will call again tomorrow. Thank you.”

Calling Script for the White House: This one is a little bit tricky. The main White House comment line (202-456-1111) appears to be closed. You can try it, but it appears to suggest that you use Facebook or the comment form on their website. Teen Vogue (the unexpected head of the resistence) has put together a useful article on contacting Trump’s businesses, as this appears to be the quickest way to actually reach the president. A strong note: please do not harass anyone working for Trump’s businesses. Remain polite.

“Hello, my name is ___ and I am calling to leave feedback for President Trump. As his White House comment line is closed, I am choosing to contact him through his business holdings.”

The person you’re talking to might be confused. They may try to ask you to make a reservation for a tee time or a hotel. If that happens, you can ask for a supervisor and repeat the above line. If they say that that’s not appropriate, simply say “please pass along my comment to your higher ups. I would like my President to receive my feedback. I will not take much of your time.” If they listen, use the following script.

“I am an American citizen, and I am calling to urge President Trump to cease his efforts to repeal the ACA. The ACA made it illegal for insurers to refuse someone based on preexisting conditions. This allowed thousands of Americans with disabilities to finally access important, life saving care, and I urge President Trump to veto any legislation that would allow preexisting conditions to return. Thank you for your time.”

Tweet for senators: @[your senator or representative] vote against repealing ACA. Preexisting conditions make it impossible for disabled Americans to get coverage!

Tweet for White House: @potus do not repeal ACA! Denial of insurance based on preexisting conditions kills disabled Americans.

Issue Two: Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education

Why this is an issue: Betsy DeVos is a problem for a wide range of reasons, but the ones I’d like to focus on are the fact that she did not know what IDEA was when asked during her hearing, and is very focused on school choice and deregulation. IDEA is the legislation that protects disabled students and gives them access to accommodations in their education. Her focus on deregulation is likely to remove many of the protections for disabled students, which are already underfunded and weak. This would likely leave disabled students with little to no support, or put away in separate schools that are not held to the same educational standards as other schools.

Calling script for your Senate and House representative: “Hello, my name is ___ and I am your constituent from [location and zip]. I’d like to speak with the individual in your office who handles education.”

They will either transfer you or say that they can help you out. If they do not transfer you, ask for the name of the individual who handles calls concerning the education. You can use this name in future calls. Then proceed with the script: “Thank you. I’m calling to urge Senator/Representative _______ to oppose Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Ms. DeVos showed during her hearing that she did not know the basics of IDEA, a key piece of legislating protecting disabled students. She has also urged for deregulation of schools, which would further undermine supports for disabled students. This is disastrous for any students who require accommodations and supports to succeed in school, and will put future Americans with disabilities at a disadvantage in employment, life skills, and higher education. Please ensure all students have access to a free public education by opposing Betsy DeVos and demanding support and funding for IDEA.”

The staff member will likely thank you and may ask if you want a response from the representative. You can say yes or no. They may also take your full name, phone number, and address. There’s a possibility they will tell you that the representative will not do what you’ve asked. If so, you can simply say “I will call again tomorrow. Thank you.”

Calling Script for the White House: see above for notes on contacting the White House.

“I am an American citizen, and I am calling to urge President Trump to rethink his decision of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Ms. DeVos showed during her hearing that she did not know the basics of IDEA, a key piece of legislating protecting disabled students. She has also urged for deregulation of schools, which would further undermine supports for disabled students. This is disastrous for any students who require accommodations and supports to succeed in school, and will put future Americans with disabilities at a disadvantage in employment, life skills, and higher education. Please encourage President Trump to ensure all students have access to a free public education by finding a different Secretary of Education who will support and fund IDEA.Thank you for your time.”

Tweets for Senator/Representative: I would recommend looking up whether your representative has come out in opposition to Betsy DeVos and select the appropriate Tweet.

For those who oppose: @[your representative or senator] thank you for opposing Betsy DeVos. She is wholly inappropriate for Sec. of Ed and will do harm to all students esp disabled ones

For those who do not oppose: @[your representative or senator] please oppose Betsy DeVos as Sec of Ed. She does not know what IDEA is. We need support for disabled students.

Tweet for POTUS: @potus Betsy DeVos is an inappropriate choice for Sec of Ed. She does not know what IDEA is. We need support for disabled students.

 

Issue Three: removal of all mentions of disability from WhiteHouse.gov

Why this is an issue: it’s fairly normal for an administration to change up the website when they move in, but what isn’t normal is for entire issues to be removed entirely. President Trump has replaced any mention of disability with issues like “America First policies”, because apparently Americans with disabilities aren’t important enough to be on his docket of issues.

For this one, all communications should go to the White House. See above for notes on calling the White House.

Script for White House: “I am calling to urge President Trump to add disability issues to whitehouse.gov. All mention of disability issues was removed when he entered office, erasing the concerns of millions of Americans. Please encourage President Trump to remember these Americans and fight for their rights. Thank you for your time.”

For the White House FB Page and White House comment page: I am deeply concerned that President Trump has removed disabilities from the list of issues on Whitehouse.gov. Americans with disabilities make up 19% of the population, and in the past have experienced serious discrimination, oppression, and abuse. Please return disability issues to the table and include them on whitehouse.gov. Disabled Americans deserve the support of their president, not someone who will erase them from the conversation.

NOTE: you can find the comment page here, and the FB page here. Feel free to adapt and expand this for a postcard.

Tweet for the White House: @POTUS I am appalled that you have removed all mention of disabilities from whitehouse.gov. Disabled Americans cannot be erased.

Look forward to next week’s scripts on Sunday. I hope to tackle some immigration issues. Together we can make our voices heard.