Ferguson and Force

We all know what happened last night in Ferguson. We all (hopefully) know why it’s complete and utter bullshit. What we seem to be in disagreement over is how we should respond.

I am all for nonviolence. I tend towards pacifism when all else is equal. I understand the impulse to encourage protesters to remain peaceful and not escalate the situation with further violence. But now, all else is not equal. Protesters have spent three months being peaceful, and now they have been told that their peaceful actions can be met with force, violence, and murder, and no action will be taken on their behalf.

People have the right to return force with equal force. We have the right to defend ourselves. If you are being shot at, you have the right to respond violently in order to save your own life. Suggesting that black people do not have this right because it will “make them look bad” is the same as taking away their defenses.

About a year ago, I wrote about learning what it meant in my life to return force with equal force. This doesn’t just apply to my ability to set boundaries and get angry when someone is sexist. It is on the same spectrum as the right of these protesters to be angry and violent in order to protect themselves. The impulse to tell minorities and oppressed individuals that they don’t get boundaries is all wrapped up together in the pleas of (mostly white) people for (mostly black) people to remain peaceful in the face of serious violence.

If the state is allowed to use tear gas and riot gear, where is the equal response that the protesters are allowed? Why are they not given equal space in our system to defend themselves? Why have we not learned that these peaceful protests are not enough?

Violence is always horrifying. But when the alternative is more horrifying, people have the right to defend themselves.

The Reality of Chronic Depression

I’ve known for quite a while now that I have chronic depression. I first struggled with it when I was 14 or 15 and got hit with my first major bout at 17. What followed was a good five years of nearly constant depression, with some slight reprieve here or there. Depression runs in my family, as do a variety of other colorful diagnoses, making it more likely that my depression has genetic components and thus will not change with changes in circumstances. I’m not sure what other signals I would need to illustrate that mental illness will probably be a part of my life forever, but if I did then a diagnosis of a personality disorder and an eating disorder (both widely known to be stubborn creatures that never really go away) would do it.

But despite knowing all of these things for years, I’ve always had some measure of hope that things could get better. I mean they had to get better. There was no way I could continue living if they stayed the same. Some day my brain would switch back over into “not utterly unhinged” territory and I’d be able to make it through days at a time without bursting out into tears or struggling to breathe due to anxiety. There was another version of myself that I imagined, maybe not one who was ebullient and joyous and energetic, but one who was functional and content. That version was waiting for me if I chose to accept her.

This past summer, I finally knew what it was like to be her, at least for a while. Getting relief from depression is one of the most amazing feelings I’ve ever had. You get tiny realizations here and there: it’s been weeks since I last cried. I’ve laughed every day this week. I ate three meals yesterday and didn’t notice until now. Each one is a victory, a delight. I’d find myself giggling in joy over my life for no reason.

Last night I got hit with an attack of the jerkbrain. It’s been dark and cold lately, something that’s always hard for me. The day started out well enough, but somewhere in mid afternoon the undercurrent of worry that asks whether I’ve done enough today to be worthy of living started to swell. What if my life is not enough? What if I never do anything worthwhile? What if no one actually likes me? Behind the questions is simple despair. There are no words to make sense of it, and it comes from nowhere. It just hovers over me and trickles in when I have spare moments. Sometimes it brings its friend, panic, which takes up residence in the lowest pit of my stomach and bubbles up and over into my heart, just to keep me on my toes.

I know how to deal with these things. I talked to my boyfriend, I left the house, I gave myself permission to go out for dinner instead of cooking. I had some ice cream and played Dungeons and Dragons with my friends. I systematically listed all the things I needed to get done in the next week and ticked off all of the ones I had already completed, making it abundantly clear that I was not behind on anything. The feelings receded and today I feel average.

What I don’t know how to deal with, today, in the aftermath of that little depressive episode, is the reality of chronic depression. I knew before that it existed, but it has only been with the contrast of feeling good that I’ve internalized I am never safe from my own mind. No matter how much work I have done or will do, no matter how many wonderful people I have in my life, no matter how many things I accomplish or if I find my dream job, there will still be days or weeks or months during which everything will be a struggle.

On some level I always knew this, but feeling it is different. The randomness of a depressive attack is what hurts the most. It makes me feel childlike, dependent, incompetent. It reminds me that my mind isn’t really my own. It says that recovery is always temporary. This is terrifying. There is nothing more scary to me than the possibility of feeling the way that I did for the last five years. Nothing except for the sure knowledge that I will feel that way again, there is nothing I can do about it, and I don’t know when it will hit. Life is Russian Roulette.

And tied into all the fear is the inability to explain it to the people around me. Sure, they get it, but when they ask what’s wrong and all I can say is “I’m worthless”, they’re left trying to help an unhelpable situation. I’m afraid to inflict myself on other people.

I’m reminding myself today that the people who love me see something in my ability to continually feel like this and continue on that is worth caring for. I’m reminding myself that chronic does not mean constant. I’m reminding myself that the episodes are smaller and shorter now, and that I get so many happy days. I’m reminding myself that when I think about my own survival, I am in awe of my own strength. I’m reminding myself that writing that sentence is hard and I did it anyway.

The reminders help. I know that chronic depression doesn’t have to define my life. But under the reminders I’m scared for the next bad night.

Simple Answers

Today’s post is going to be short and sweet.

I was scrolling through my Google alerts when I saw the headline “Should It Be Allowable To ‘Diagnose’ Mental Health In the Press?”

Let me make this simple: no. It is never allowable to diagnose anyone’s mental health unless you are their mental healthcare provider, have thorough information on their mental state, and have the appropriate training to diagnose someone. The only exception to this is self-diagnosis, because there are lots of people out there who can’t afford to get an official diagnosis but understanding their own mental health and having a label for it can still be incredibly helpful.

Why shouldn’t you be allowed to diagnose someone else’s mental health when you’re not their mental healthcare provider?

You don’t have enough information.

You will probably be spreading misinformation about whatever diagnosis you put on them because YOU DON’T KNOW IF THEY HAVE IT OR NOT.

You continue the stigma of “craziness” by labeling weird or abnormal behaviors as pathological.

Outing someone’s mental illness, if they do in fact have one, without their permission is not an ok thing to do thanks to the continued stigma against mental illness.

Your opinion is utterly irrelevant when it comes to someone else’s mental health, as their diagnosis should be to the public. There is no reason for public opinion on someone to change because of a diagnosis. The only reason it gets reported is for sensationalized stories about “crazy people” or to dismiss violent actions. More stigma. Don’t do it.

Basically, don’t comment on someone’s mental health if you aren’t their therapist/doctor/psychologist/psychiatrist/counselor/etc.


Words: Yes They Do Have An Impact

People suck at talking about mental health issues. Oh sure, there are some people who have taken the time to educate themselves who know not to use “OCD” to mean “neat, tidy, type A”, but the media as a whole is just not good at portraying mental illnesses as real, serious, and illnesses rather than choices. More often than not, writers rely on a few stock phrases to describe mental illnesses. And more often than not, these phrases are misleading, reductive, or flat out wrong. There have been a plethora of examples of a few of these recently, and I’d like to highlight two that are damaging and overused.

The first one caught my eye after an odd kerfluffle involving a pair of Victoria’s Secret models. One commented that she would never have a body quite like the other’s and that she thought the other was beautiful. Not too outlandish of a thing to say: even models have some insecurities and compare themselves to other people. The response? “Accusations of anorexia”. Sorry what? Accusations? This is somewhat akin to saying “accusations of having pneumonia”. Grammatically it sort of makes sense, but in the actual ways that we understand the word “accusation” it implies some weird things about anorexia. Namely that it’s a choice, that it’s something bad or wrong, that it’s something offensive and you should feel ashamed of it.

It’s a phrase that gets bandied about fairly often, as if anorexia were some sort of character flaw that we should all be above. In discussions of “skinny shaming” (a phrase that should have its own post), naturally thin people often comment that they are accused of having eating disorders because of their body type. It makes sense that no one would want to be told they have a mental illness if they don’t. It implies that you need to change or that there’s something wrong with you. More often than not, it’s impossible to convince the world otherwise if they already believe you have a problem. That sucks. Of course it does.

But having someone mistakenly think that you’re ill is not the same as being accused of something, and using that wording does a huge disservice to people who actually do have eating disorders. It tells them that their disorder is something they should feel some amount of shame over, something they shouldn’t be open about because it’s clearly still seen as a choice or a character flaw rather than an actual illness. The phrase often perpetuates the idea that people with eating disorders are all skinny and that you can identify them on sight, because it’s most often leveled at thin people with no other evidence of an eating disorder beyond “you’re really skinny”. Very rarely is someone “accused” of having an eating disorder because they express unhealthy or damaging attitudes towards their body.

Other ways of phrasing this idea might not be quite as succinct. “Believed to have an eating disorder” doesn’t come across in nearly as dramatic a light. But it is more accurate, and that means that it’s preferable. The way we talk about eating disorders contributes greatly to the perception of them and whether or not we see them as serious. This is an extremely easy adjustment to make that can help decrease the stigma around eating disorders.

On the other end of the spectrum we have the endlessly overused phrase “battling depression”. In my Google alert for depression today alone I saw three articles that used this phrase in their title. There are probably times and places to use the word “battling” when describing someone’s relationship with depression. There have definitely been times in my life when I’ve felt as if I’m waging a war inside my own mind. But it should not be the only phrase we can come up with to describe an illness. Especially because depression is not always incredibly active in someone’s life, even if they do still have it, the phrase “battling” can be misleading about what it’s like to live with depression. Sometimes you’re surviving. Sometimes you’re struggling. Sometimes you’re being beaten up by your depression. Sometimes you just have it.

Of course it’s hard to have depression, and most people who have it end up fighting back against it in some fashion or other at some point in their life. But not all of us feel like we can do it all the time. Not all of us have the energy to constantly be “battling”, and the implication that having depression is always a battle means that if you aren’t fighting back then you’ve accepted it and you’re not trying hard enough. While depression has started to move past some of the stereotypes and stigmas that still seriously plague eating disorders, we do tend to have a single narrative about it, and it’s rarely one that recognizes the complexity of what it means to experience depression.

We rarely note the fact that people with depression live like most other people, have hobbies, sometimes enjoy themselves, have relationships, hold down jobs, have good days and bad days, sometimes let the bad feelings happen and sometimes work really hard to feel better, just like most other people. They have an additional stressor to deal with, but they’re more complicated than a single trait.

I’m certainly not proposing a complete ban on the phrase “battling depression” but for goodness sakes could we shake it up every once in a while? This is just getting to the point of extremely bad writing, and we can do better.


Benedict the Misguided

I love Benedict Cumberbatch. Who doesn’t get a little thrill at those sharp cheekbones and piercing eyes? Unfortunately, the dear Bendydick Cuminyourpants is not always the person we hope he will be. This was the sad case a few weeks ago when Barleycorn Fannypack informed us all that his character Sherlock is asexual. Now that in and of itself is not a problem. Many fans read Sherlock as asexual, and joyfully appreciate seeing a decent representation of someone who doesn’t seem interested in sex on mainstream TV.

Where the problem came in was when Ballsnickety Camelsnatch explained why he believed Sherlock to be asexual. “He’s asexual for a purpose. Not because he doesn’t have a sex drive, but because it’s suppressed to do his work. Cold showers, looking at a lot of dead bodies … that’ll do it for you,” No, Blasphemy Chowderpants, no. That is not what it means to be asexual and you are actively harming people who are asexual by continuing to misrepresent them as repressed, cold, and broken. Asexuality is not the repression of an active sex drive. It is a lack of sexual attraction. Huge difference.

Considering how important Sherlock as a character is to many asexual nerds, Tiddleywomp Cabbagepatch’s comments are just another blow after all the gay-baiting that show runner Stephen Moffat has thrown in to the script. There are so few characters, particularly heroes, who are not driven by sexuality in media today that Sherlock gets a lot of attention from asexual fans. So please BBC Sherlock, stop destroying this character. And pretty, pretty please Blubberwhale Frumblesnatch, stop talking about things that you know nothing whatsoever about.


U Suck@Words: Textspeak Isn’t Bad English

Hello dearest readers! It’s been a long two weeks, and I have missed you. I know, I know, I said that I wouldn’t be around for the month of November, but I finished my 50,000 words of novel yesterday and clearly I have more writing in me, so I’m back. You can’t get rid of me that easily. We won’t be back to fully scheduled programming for a bit yet, but I should be posting semi-regularly. Now onwards, to blogging!

A couple weeks ago an article about textspeak caught my eye. Slate had reprinted an answer from Quora to the question “will textspeak ever replace standard English?” The answer was an emphatic no, the reason being that it’s too hard to read textspeak (and thus it wastes time), and forcing language to change is nearly impossible. Changing wholesale over to textspeak would be like forcing everyone to learn a new language and no one wants to do that, so standard English (which is better for you because it has more extra content to make it easier to process) will always be the English we use.

There are so many things wrong with this answer that I’m astounded Slate even bothered to publish it. The main thrust of the piece is that because the author finds it difficult to read textspeak quickly, no one else will ever want to use it and it will never catch on with society at large. There’s an elitist undertone to a lot of this that rings of ageism: no educated person who knows what mistakes are wants to read something riddled with mistakes. They’d have to stop and fix it all in their brain!

He imperiously states “My eyes stopping to read each word will strain me to no end. That’s the reason why you will get a lot of hate for using textspeak in front of a learned crowd.”

What he really means is that older people who aren’t used to textspeak will get angry when you force them to try something different, even if it is entirely natural to you and contains no mistakes according to the rules of this dialect. As per usual, when a non-linguist feels the need to grace us all with their opinion about language, we get the conviction that standard English is Right, and other dialects are Wrong, and everyone should adjust themselves to standard English because it is inherently better.

Viswanathan even goes so far as to compare textspeak to fat because it holds too much information in too short of a space. This makes so very much sense when there are languages that don’t even write out their vowels, or languages where entire words are a single character that get comprehended without any difficulty. Not. Of course if Viswanathan were right and having extra letters was really helpful for reading, then we wouldn’t have contractions, or language change that shortens words, or abbreviations. Language tends to change in cycles: certain words will get shorter and shorter as speakers are lazier and lazier, but when speakers want to use the language creatively to express new things or stronger emotions, it tends to grow larger to accommodate that. It’s part of an entirely natural linguistic cycle for speakers to be adjusting the way they write and speak so that it’s more convenient and efficient.

It’s an arbitrary defense of his personal preferences, couched in an excuse as to why the standard is better (I’ll give you a hint about why he thinks that: it’s because it’s associated with money, power, whiteness, and success, not because it has any awesome properties).

And of course, of course this piece of prescriptivist nonsense has to include all the reasons why language can’t change, why language changing is bad bad bad, why no one will ever accept language change! Entirely truthfully, he points out that attempts to standardize or change language in the past have failed miserably. Similarly, artificial introductions of new words into the lexicon haven’t done so well either. He spends about two sentences contemplating why this might be, and comes to the brilliant conclusion that “People simply loved the existing language so much”. Also it takes too long to rewrite books (because apparently it’s impossible for us to read books written in older dialects. Like that Shakespeare guy. Nobody reads him anymore).

Of course the reason language reform doesn’t work isn’t because people love their language too much it’s because language change happens organically. “People like the way it is for a number of reasons—tradition and culture, for instance. Of course, there will be an addition and deletion of a few words, but nothing too drastic.” AHAHAHAHAHA ok, how bout you go read some Beowulf for me then. Oh what’s that? None of the words are the same and the grammar structure contains things you’ve never heard of? Could it be that languages change both in drastic and small ways over time? Could it be that this person’s conviction that textspeak is horrible has no grounding in any linguistic study whatsoever?

Over time it’s highly likely that textspeak will become more incorporated into our daily lexicon because many people have found a use for it. Younger people don’t read the changes as errors because they have grown up with it, and the easier it becomes for users to rely on a particular usage or structure, the more it will be adopted into the language. It’s like any other language change, including slang or spelling changes that happen organically or new words being introduced or new constructions or verbing nouns and adjectifying verbs. These processes are natural and will happen whether older generations find them easy to adapt to or not. Young people are always changing language in ways that older speakers find weird, but those older people did the exact same thing when they were young because language is a living thing that grows and adapts to the needs of those who use it.

In all likelihood, some elements of text speak will stick around and some will drift away like other language fads. No one can really predict what will or won’t, and that’s entirely ok as long as we can still communicate.