The Real Violence of Mental Illness

One year ago Niki died. You may not know Niki. I wish you had. She was loud, smart, thoughtful, funny, and very, very ill.

She was physically ill and mentally ill. She was the kind of mentally ill that makes people look away, or say “Oh, THAT kind?” She was the kind of mentally ill that people sweep under the rug. She was the kind of mentally ill that doesn’t get services and doesn’t get PSAs and doesn’t get sympathy. She was the kind of mentally ill that makes service providers label you “resistant to treatment” or even avoid giving you a diagnosis because there’s too much stigma.

She was the kind of mentally ill that people bring up after shootings. In fact she was the kind of mentally ill that people are starting to talk about right now, after this very shooting, to explain how someone could be so violent.

And one year ago Niki died.

Niki died because she was the kind of ill that doesn’t get noticed, that doesn’t get services, that doesn’t get support. She died because she could not access disability services. She died because no one wanted to recognize that the people most likely to be hurt by someone who is mentally ill is the person themself.

All of you want to talk about mental illness. Let’s talk about the real violence that is associated with mental illness. Let’s talk about how this society is saturated with ableist cruelty that enacts violence, pain, and suffering on the mentally ill every day and ends in deaths like Niki’s every day.

I see you all talking about how we need better mental health care now that your comfortable neurotypical lives have been disrupted. I see your silence when people die of suicide. I see the way you blame us. I see your silence when funding for our services is on the table, and I see your silence when we want to talk openly about our lives and our struggles. I see you calling us dramatic, mocking us for asking for trigger warnings, ignoring our calls for help and support. I see you ignoring mental health parity in health care legislation.

And I SEE YOU only bringing up mental health care now. Now, when you can blame us. Now, when you need a way to understand violence that says “it’s over there. it doesn’t belong to me. It’s people like them. I am not responsible”

You want to say that it’s people like Niki. People like me. People with personality disorders, or “severe mental illness.” We are the violent ones.

Well guess the fuck what? You have done so much violence to us. How dare you, how fucking dare you point your finger at one of the most vulnerable communities when there is no evidence to suggest that mass shootings are more likely to be perpetrated by the mentally ill? How fucking dare you continue the stigma that literally kills people like Niki, and go on to say that we are the violent ones?

I know that there will be some of you out there saying “wait, but I support mental healthcare!” Fucking great. What are you doing about it? What are you doing about it all of the days that our media is not exploding with news of a mass shooting? Are you calling and writing your legislator? Are you openly talking about mental illness, therapy, and services to break down the stigma? Are you talking about the fact that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, and looking for solutions?

Are you protecting people like Niki? Are you actively fighting the violence that happens to mentally ill people each and every day?

Or do you only care when it’s people like you, “normal” people, neurotypical people, the ones that you deem worth it?

I see you, and I have no more patience.

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.

The Holidays: Now With Bonus Political Stress!

I hate the holidays. I know, I’m a Grinch, but eating disorders don’t get along well with Thanksgiving, and social anxiety is not a fan of large gatherings with people you only see once or twice a year. Any kind of chronic physical or mental illness makes holidays seriously challenging, which is truly a giant pile of butts because I love my family and I wish I didn’t have to spend so much time prepping for seeing them and recuperating afterwards. This post is in fact late because of stress induced sickness from a very long Thanksgiving. But better late than never, and I’m glad I spent the time taking care of myself.

I know I’m not the only one out there who despite loving their family and friends finds the excessive social nature of the holidays overwhelming and exhausting, and who is more tense than usual thanks to the heightened political climate this year. So with that in mind, here is a guide to not talking about things you don’t want to talk about. Because socializing is hard and it’s even harder if your family is made up of Trump supporters and you have social anxiety.

My first and biggest recommendation is to decide ahead of time what your boundaries are. Once you know how much you’re willing to discuss or tolerate, you can create plans to deal with the situations you foresee. Are you willing to talk about politics at all? Are there specific people you will talk about politics with, but not others? Do you have a limit to how much you’re willing to talk politics? Is it too stressful to even hear others talk about politics? Answer these questions and try to plan for any problem situations you can foresee.

One of the most important skills you can work on is escaping conversations you really don’t want to be in. This is useful no matter what your boundaries are. You can use it to get away from a problem person before the conversation turns sour, to get out of a conversation with someone you normally like who has turned to obnoxious topics, or when you’re just feeling overwhelmed. One option is to enlist someone you trust for help. Let them know you might need to get away for a little bit, and text when you need a hand. They can come in and say they need your help with something. Other alternatives include telling your conversational partner you need to use the restroom, or getting a refill on your drink. Practice a couple of get away lines before you go. It might seem ridiculous, but it helps to have something at your fingertips.

Escaping a conversation is a good way to deal with a situation if you don’t want to talk to someone anymore or if there is somewhere else you can go hang out. But what if everyone is engaged in the obnoxious conversation, or this is the cousin you never see and would really like to catch up with? Well you’re also allowed to set boundaries with your family members. This can be one of the more challenging things to try because it is more direct than simply quietly escaping. Start by naming what the people are doing, then identify how it makes you feel. For example “You’re talking a lot about politics and I feel really uncomfortable with that topic.” Then you state your boundary: “Please stop talking about politics with me.” If the person accepts the boundary and moves on, great! If they do not, you have to introduce some kind of consequence. “I asked you to stop talking about politics and you didn’t. If you keep talking about this, I’m going to go in the other room.” You may have to scale the consequence. If everyone in the house will not stop doing something that you have asked them repeatedly not to do, it is OK to leave. You don’t have to do it in a big huff, but simply inform people “I’ve asked people not to do x, and people continue to do x. I’m going to leave now because my boundaries are not being respected.”

 

You can practice these skills ahead of time. Role playing might seem silly, but I have done role playing for setting boundaries and it turns out it helps to have said the words out loud before you try to use them in context. It can also help remind you of your limits so that you stick to them. You may also want to set a reminder somewhere so that you don’t forget to take care of yourself: that could be a close family member who checks in, an alarm that goes off partway through the party so that you check in with yourself, or a note in your pocket. Just make sure that once you get into the social situation, you don’t forget all the planning and work you did ahead of time.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, you cannot get through the holidays if you only focus on the obvious things like gatherings and family time that might be stressful. This month set goals to sleep enough, eat well, and move your body on a regular basis. When you are physically taken care of, your emotional baseline is simply more stable. If you have anxiety or some other illness that makes holiday times hard, you probably know your coping skills. You know the things you can do that will make you feel better about yourself. Focus on those this month. The more you can keep your overall stress level low, the better you will be able to handle each individual instance of stress.

Good luck and I hope all of my fellow socially anxious folks actually have some fun this holiday season! You deserve it.

What’s Wrong With Clinton? A Study in Overwork and Sexist, Classist Expectations

I recognize that I’m hitting this topic a little late, but I had a busy week last week and I still think it’s an important thing to discuss.

This isn’t really an article about Hillary Clinton. I mean sure I’m going to talk about Hillary Clinton, but she’s really just one example of thousands of women who work in the same sexist milieu. She is simply the highest profile example of something that we all experience when we are expected to overwork ourselves and still show up to work with a smile.

Last week, people became utterly concerned with Hillary Clinton’s health because it is one more way to show that she is unfit to be president. It’s a transparently sexist criticism, since we’ve had chronically ill presidents before and no one today seems particularly upset over that. Women are clearly inherently more frail, so any sign of weakness is evidence that she could drop at any moment.

In response, I’ve seen some memes along the lines of “Clinton had pneumonia and kept working. If that’s not strength, I don’t know what is!”

Neither of these seems like an appropriate response to a 68 year old woman fainting while working.

Instead, I think we should be asking some questions about how she ended up in this position. Why has she felt the need to continue working through pneumonia? Why has she made an additional effort to keep her illness hidden? What changes can we make so that people aren’t just passing out while they’re trying to do their jobs? What the fuck is wrong with our society that we feel we should criticize someone who has overworked themselves instead of offering them support?

Even more importantly, if someone who is as privileged as Hillary Clinton still feels these pressures, what about the average peons who don’t have thousands upon thousands of dollars and wealthy connections and basically every privilege box checked except for gender? I recognize that campaigning is something of a special circumstance, as it’s a directly competitive job, and if one candidate decides to keep working through illness, the other one almost has to in order to keep up. But I also see in the ways that we’re talking about Hillary Clinton’s pneumonia many of the same problematic attitudes that keep the average Joe at their job through sickness and injury.

The first element of the problem that I see is the evidence that no one is immune (pun intended) from having their health held up for public discussion. I’ve heard numerous times from friends with chronic illnesses that their bodies and abilities are suddenly considered public property the moment health comes up. This is doubly true for women, whose bodies already get discussed without their consent on a regular basis. Even though Hillary Clinton was trying very clearly to keep her health a private matter, hundreds of people seem to believe that it’s relevant to her job performance and her abilities.

That’s the second element that’s a problem to me. For people who are chronically ill, there are nowhere near enough employment protections to help them find and retain jobs, and this particular debacle highlights the way that “health” is considered a prerequisite for work. I think there are some layers of complexity here, because it’s true that there are some illnesses that can make it impossible to fulfill certain job duties, however our current system tends heavily towards providing few to no accommodations, judging people on a moral level for illness or sickness, and providing minimal time off to care for one’s health. That makes it really difficult to keep up work when you’re dealing with illness. If even our wealthiest and most privileged are struggling with finding a way to continue at their jobs without being criticized and nitpicked for any illness, then how are the rest of us supposed to get by?

Perhaps even more troubling is the response that says Clinton is exhibiting strength by working through pneumonia. Refusing to practice self care is not strength, it’s unhealthy and potentially dangerous. I understand the pressures that put Clinton in a position she felt she had to do it, but I don’t think we should be praising the behavior. We should be talking about how we create a culture where that’s kind of odd and worrisome.

Health SHOULD be a matter of national importance, but not for the reasons it’s being discussed now. It should be a matter of national importance because people don’t have adequate sick days or feel capable of taking their sick days without falling behind or being judged poorly by the higher ups. It should be a matter of national importance because we currently see it as completely normal to go to work while truly, dangerously ill, and because it’s considered evidence of a good attitude to prioritize work over health. It should be a matter of national importance because anyone who actually is chronically ill understands just how few opportunities there are for anyone who isn’t completely able bodied.

But it really shouldn’t be news because maybe someone who appears to be mostly in good health got sick and now we want to use it as additional evidence that she’s not good enough. There’s no world in which I would describe Hillary Clinton as “frail” but I also don’t want to praise her for continuing to exhibit behaviors that are unhealthy and are demanded of most of us in the real world where we’d get fired if we took a week off for health reasons.

So let’s talk about health and work. But let’s not talk about Hillary Clinton.

 

 

Overt and Covert Power

This morning I was at an event put on by BePollen that focused on women in the workplace, particularly how they can influence others. One of the themes throughout the morning was the idea that influence is most powerful when it’s subtle. Speakers called out administrative assistants and secretaries as the silent power in many organizations, told stories of how they took bad situations and found ways to create influence and power, and pointed towards gatekeepers as a source of power.

It’s absolutely true that subtle influence can be immensely powerful. If you can get someone to do what you’d like them to do without them even realizing that you’re influencing them, you do have a lot of power. And taking a position that isn’t inherently influential and finding subtle ways to use it to influence others is a great skill, especially as a woman who may have a harder time reaching the top echelons of most organizations. Of course subtle power has its place, and flying under the radar can give you a lot more freedom than being in the public eye.

And yet this focus on “subtle influence” started to drive me a bit crazy after a while. One other theme that cropped up repeatedly was impostor syndrome. The question was asked over and over how we can fight against it, how we can keep other high achieving women from feeling like impostors, how we can continue to achieve while feeling as if we don’t belong. Something that wasn’t mentioned as part of this discussion is the fact that the face of power and achievement is still white and it’s still male. Of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies only 24 are women. No female presidents yet. Women only hold 18% of the seats in Congress.

Women don’t see other women in positions of power, so it’s no wonder that when they begin to achieve things themselves they start to question whether they truly belong or are simply faking it. They don’t recognize themselves as among the set of people who could have influence.

So when a group of women gets together to talk about influence, it makes me sad that we talk about subtle influence, about being behind the scenes, about being the power behind the throne. Why are we so afraid of openly saying and acting as if we have power and deserve power? A huge part of being influential is being visible. Sometimes simply existing in a space that is designated as “powerful” is a huge influence and shows young women that they can be in those spaces and have that power as well. A great way to fight impostor syndrome is to keep young girls from feeling as if there are certain spaces and ways that they should live in and act. It’s showing them a wide variety of choices so that no matter where they end up it seems appropriate for a woman.

Another element of this is that subtle power doesn’t garner respect in quite the same way that open power does. A big part of influence and power is having a platform. Unfortunately, the way the world is set up is such that more people listen to someone with a title. Having that clear and open title that says “I have power and I have influence” actually heightens one’s ability to do work. It comes with resources, it comes with respect, and it comes with an equal footing to others that you may want to influence.

I’m afraid that when we say how powerful secretaries and admin assistants are, we’re doing more than recognizing the seriously important work they do. We’re also reinforcing what kind of power is appropriate for women. We’re giving ourselves a consolation prize because we still don’t feel that we can be on equal footing with men as CEOs or presidents. We’re telling ourselves that we have the same amount of influence that men do, but if that were the case then why would we be having a meeting to discuss how to encourage women to embrace their ability to influence?

I don’t want to have to sneak in sideways to influence people. I would like to be able to equally and calmly express my opinion, own my power, and have others respect that. If I want influence, I want it to be the influence of running an organization, or influencing policy through my work, or writing a book that changes the way people think.

Perhaps it’s naive. Perhaps that’s not the way that power works. But when men talk about influence, they don’t have to couch it in terms of being subtle, of taking notes in meetings, of being a secretary who can gatekeep for the person who has the real power. They talk about running for office or starting a company. Why are women afraid to have that same kind of power?

There is a time and a place for subtle influence. But there is also a time for overt influence, for standing up and saying that we deserve respect, we deserve the attention of others, and we deserve our power. When did this go missing?