Follow Up: Mandatory Mental Health

A couple of notes here: I’ve noticed that I’ve been posting a lot and then having more thoughts come to me immediately afterward I put something up. I think that what this means is that I need to spend more time with each post before I hit the publish button. I probably flood this blog anyway, so I’m going to cut down how much I’m posting so that I can devote more time and energy to editing and putting up quality rather than quantity. I will be posting a fair amount on Teen Skepchick this week, and I should have posts going up at The Fementalists and CFI On Campus as well, so never fear you will have your overdose of my writing. With that explanation, here is my single post for the day.

I recently posted that I thought it could be beneficial to institute mandatory mental health education in schools. In my initial post, I didn’t flesh out some of the serious benefits that we could see from instituting this kind of policy, and I didn’t really explore how we could implement it either, but rather focused on the first flash of an idea. In order for this idea to have any kind of impact, it needs to have some feet under it. I need to identify who it will benefit, how it will show benefits, and what might stand in its way. That’s what I intend to do here.

There are many practical benefits to adding a new . The first chunk of these benefits falls under the heading of “preventative treatments”. As it stands today, it is extremely difficult to get any kind of mental health treatment unless you are already overwhelmed or in a non-functioning state. We don’t hand out diagnoses to people who are showing signs of something and want help to keep those signs under control: we hand them out to people whose symptoms have gotten out of control. Unfortunately, a DSM diagnosis is the only way for many people to get help. By the time they get to this point, they’re often already in a state of crisis.

To take a stark contrast, we spend a great deal of time thinking about preventative measures in our physical health: we tell our children to wash their hands, to stay home if they’re contagious, to eat healthy and exercise, and to get vaccines. For some reason this logic isn’t extended to mental health even though there is a great deal of evidence for the biosocial theory of mental illness: we start with some predisposition that makes us vulnerable to mental illness, but our environment can either tip us into it or help us away from it. The messages that we are sent about our emotions and our worth make a huge difference in determining the severity of our emotional difficulties. Adding education to schools can help send positive messages to kids about accepting their emotions and about how to handle emotions. It reduces the stress level of the environment, or at the very least provides kids with some tools to diminish the stress levels in their personal environments.

There are many people who could benefit from this kind of preventative care. First, those people who are vulnerable to mental illness need all the help they can get to build a healthy and safe environment for themselves. This NEEDS to start as a child. Much of the evidence about mental illness suggests that childhood is one of our most vulnerable times and it’s when we begin to develop our patterns and understandings of emotions. Providing some extra help to children could mean significantly fewer individuals who fall into diagnosable states as they grow older. While we can only do so much to provide kids with safe and happy family environments, schools do provide an ideal location to teach the skills to help handle less than ideal environments. Giving a vulnerable child the skills to not fall into the place of crisis that a diagnosis requires would be a huge improvement in quality of life.

In addition to those children who may at some point gain a diagnosis, or who need help to not fall into a diagnosis, there are also individuals who have serious struggles with their emotions and mental health but who will never have a DSM diagnosis. They’re hovering in the uncertain place where they’re not destroying themselves, but they’re certainly not healthy or happy. People with subclinical symptoms, or who might have a bad environment but higher tolerance. Oftentimes these individuals can’t afford therapy or simply don’t have very many resources to help them learn about emotional regulation. With some regular education and practice at emotional regulation, these kids could grow into much happier adults. They deserve help to flourish just as much as anyone else.

Finally, the general population of kids (and the adults that they become) could benefit from learning emotional skills. Obviously we all feel better when we can regulate our emotions and tolerate distress. But the most important section in my mind is learning about interpersonal relationships. If the bullying epidemic in this country tells us anything, it’s that we haven’t been stellar at teaching our kids about interpersonal relationships. We’re constantly talking about how to decrease bullying, and asking all children to learn how to get what they want and need in a more appropriate fashion can only help. In addition, as a recent college grad, I can promise you that 99% of the jobs that I’ve been looking at list “work well in a group” as one of their requirements. Our world is very much about connection right now: technology seems to be thriving on the concept of connecting. So giving our kids the skills to navigate the world of constant connection would be extremely helpful, both for their future work lives, and for their current personal lives.

So beyond helping our kids and future citizens be happier and healthier, what else do we get out of adding mental health education to our schools? I know that politics right now is about money, money, money, pragmatics, the economy…we can’t just go throwing money at things without some guarantee of a return on our dollar. But I have news: this will likely save us money. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but mental healthcare is EXPENSIVE. My experience is primarily with eating disorder treatment, and I know that it’s come near to bankrupting a fair number of families. Most of the money for treatments is coming from insurers, and thus drives up the cost of insurance for everyone. Therapists are damn expensive, and once a mental illness becomes thoroughly entrenched it can take many, many years of therapy and work to get it under control. That’s a huge amount of expense both for individuals and for the community. If we can prevent some mental illnesses from ever occurring, we can save a great deal of money.

In addition to the cost of treatment, mental illness itself can be expensive, both individually and societally: individuals who are struggling can have a harder time getting and keeping work, or may spend money on things they don’t want (BPD can lead to excess shopping, addiction leads to money spend on substance of choice, BED means money on huge quantities of food). If someone is desperately fighting for their own mind, they’re likely not contributing as much to society as they could be (this is in no way meant to shame individuals with mental illness. Your job is to bring yourself back to health, not to contribute to society on a monetary level. If someone had a debilitating physical illness you wouldn’t shame them because they can’t work as many days. This is simply to say that when we’re very ill we’re not at our best). But if society wants its members to be as productive as possible, holding down jobs and putting money back into the economy, preventing mental illness is a really good way to do this.

But maybe money isn’t your thing. Maybe you’re more interested in the people than in the money. Well first of all go back and read the first few paragraphs about how we could make a lot of people happier and healthier. Still not enough? Ok, I’ve got another. The most immediate and concrete would likely be an improve in grades. Now I don’t know of any studies on the relationship between mental health treatment and grades, but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that when you’re fighting a mental illness or fighting to stay out of a mental illness, you’re more likely to struggle in school or at work. Now there are absolutely people who can keep up good grades while struggling. Some mental illnesses tend to push people towards perfectionism, and those individuals appear highly competent while in the throes of a mental illness. I myself managed to keep up above average grades through all of college while dealing with an eating disorder, depression, and generalized anxiety. But the worst grades of my life came at the time when my mental health was at its worst. This is not a coincidence. If we want our children to be well-educated and to be as successful as possible, we have to help them to be able to focus on school when they need to, and to have ways to deal with whatever else might be going on in their lives.

In addition, spending time with one’s own emotions can really help to create more empathy for others. Again, I am speaking from my own experience here, but I find that the more I learn about understanding where my own emotions come from, the more I find myself curious about why others are upset or struggling. If even half of the kids in these classes gained something, we would have a significantly more empathetic and supportive community for others who might still have difficulties. And if every child went through something very like therapy at a young age, we might be able to decrease some of the stigma against mental illness and against therapy.

Now obviously there would be a cost here. It’s not free to get a therapist into the schools, or to further educate our already over-burdened teachers to handle one more thing. But adding a single additional school therapist who did one hour of work per week with each classroom would not break the budget (possibly two for larger schools. Keeping therapy groups small is REALLY important), and it could lead to some serious improvements. Therapists are expensive, but if we get all of the benefits outlined above it seems that it would be well worthwhile.

The ideal way to do this seems to me to have one therapist who is entirely devoted to education and preventative work, who conducts classes with small groups of students to teach them different skills, check in about their week, and assign them a short piece of homework to practice an emotional skill during the week. This would be a highly demanding position for one therapist to build close relationships with a large number of kids, but if schools were capable they could add more therapists for more students. Even if it didn’t exactly mimic a traditional therapist/patient relationship, it could still be a useful way for kids to simply have a time to check in, learn how to talk about emotions, and get some emotional education. It absolutely seems to be a cost effective measure to improve grades across the board (because this seems to be a measure that would benefit all kinds of students, and engage those with some interest in psychology at an early age) and to prepare kids for jobs and life.

Now I am obviously not a school administrator or policy maker. I have never been in the position to create a budget for a school. So I would love to hear input from those people who might have more experience with these sorts of things: do you think it would be a cost effective measure? Could it help to lighten the load of some of the other school counselors to do some preventative measures? How could we try to push for this change to be made?

Mandatory Mental Health Education

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to people about concrete ways to deal with stress or improve their mental health. It’s been really interesting and kind of exhilarating as I notice how much I’ve learned in the last year or so and how wonderful it is to be able to share with others. However as I do this, I’ve begun to notice that even those people who are supposedly “normal” often don’t have a whole lot of skills around managing their mental health. Many of them have struggled to regulate emotions, to understand interpersonal effectiveness, or to tolerate distress. While they likely don’t feel emotions as strongly or have as few skills as those with diagnoses or who have been medicated, there is almost no one in this world who is an expert in navigating their emotions and mental health. To use the featured pic as an example, while not everyone is hanging out in the burning basement, few people are on the roof and everyone could enjoy being a few steps higher on the ladder.

 

The odd thing about understanding emotions is that it’s something we’re never taught. We are taught how to interact with other people, we are taught how to learn, we are taught how to budget or do our laundry or care for an animal. We’re particularly taught how to take care of our physical health. But for some reason everyone is expected to just pick up how to manage emotions and mental health. Now many of us have things modeled for us by our parents, but they were often just as clueless as we were and have cobbled something together out of their life experiences to get the best version they can. And rarely do they spend a lot of time consciously helping us sort out our emotions. All of that seems a little bit ridiculous to me. If there are two things that are really really useful to be successful anywhere else in life it’s stable mental health and stable physical health. If you don’t have those two things, everything becomes infinitely more difficult. So why don’t we give our children the tools to succeed?

 

Especially as I’ve been participating in DBT, I’ve been noticing that it really would not be all that hard to include education like that in schools. I only go once a week for two and a half hours. And I’m supposed to figure these skills out in a year. If we began implementing some of the knowledge that we have from psychology in schools from the time children start and teach them skills that will actually help them regulate emotions and deal with interpersonal relationships, we wouldn’t have to devote much time each week to it. Think of how helpful it would be to kids to understand what being judgmental is and how to cut down on judgments without feeling ashamed or bad about it. Or how helpful it would be to give them clear strategies for calming themselves. Or to help them recognize and name their emotions. Or to learn that emotions are acceptable and that they can feel emotions and simply sit with them. Holy cow I would have done so much better in life if I had had some of this basic training.

 

I don’t know if there’s any way to make this happen, but if we could adjust education in any way, I would suggest that we should add in a basic curriculum of emotional regulation. Most schools have a school therapist: it could be something they do once a week or once a month, or it could be something that teachers start getting trained on in school. It would include skills like how to make requests, set boundaries, validate, or be generous to and with others as part of interpersonal effectiveness. It would include techniques like breathing, distraction, or self-soothing for tolerating bad situations. And it would include some measure of work on identifying emotions, accepting emotions, fighting judgments, and using mindfulness to accept situations. Does anyone have a suggestion of how to make this into a petition or move it into the broader dialogue? I never hear a question of emotional education being brought up when we talk about improving mental health, but this could be a huge step towards decreasing stigma and increasing access.

The Nature of Success

This weekend I was at my cousin’s graduation, and as per usual I found myself comparing myself to the graduates. In most graduation ceremonies, the accomplishments of the graduating class are highlighted, to show how much they’ve done and accomplished in their time at college. It usually involves things like talking about GPAs, publishing, traveling and studying abroad, research, etc. Many of them are very quantifiable: accomplishment unlocked, my paper has been published. Accomplishment unlocked, I graduated summa cum laude. And on and on.

 

And so if you’ve achieved all of these things you’re supposed to be “successful”. So what do we mean by successful? Generally we mean someone who has graduated with good grades, who has accomplished something outstanding like publication or research, who has a well-paying job, perhaps someone with a house and a car, someone who has lots of friends and a significant other. Mostly we mean material success and the academic success that leads to material success. These things are all linked far too closely to separate: most people only get good grades in school because they want to graduate and get a good job. People don’t view learning in and of itself as success- they view grades and the diploma as success. There are quantifiable measures that allow us to compete against each other and see who has the most.

 

I must admit that I am hugely guilty of doing this myself. As I mentioned before, I found myself comparing to the graduates: did I have higher grades than they did, did I have more distinctions than they did, had I published, had I gone abroad. The points where I found myself lacking, I berated myself. It’s unfortunate, because we generally don’t see success as a holistic question: we don’t ask whether someone is at a point in their life in which they are generally happy or generally well taken care of. We make a list of points to compare. Whoever gets the most points wins the success game.

 

Why on earth do we do this? I have to say that I don’t entirely get it. Yes, people do often have natural competitive drives, and these things fuel those drives, and yes, it’s easier to use quantifiable numbers rather than qualitative descriptions (and when we do studies we HAVE to use quantifiable numbers). Yes this is the only practical way to do grades and create salaries and so on. But in our personal lives we could afford to be a bit more nuanced in our thinking.

 

To take an example: my cousin graduated from college this weekend. She graduated with decent grades, good friend, and a good boyfriend. She doesn’t have a job yet, but she has a supportive family and a good degree. She knows fairly well what she wants to do. In contrast, I graduated from college in three years with two majors and high honors. I had a job coming out of college and moved out of my parents’ home two months later. However I graduated with a shit boyfriend who treated me nearly abusively, almost no friends, still in the process of battling a serious eating disorder, and generally depressed and anxious. Which one of us is more successful?

 

It’s impossible to tell. You can’t compare these things, all you can do is look at the individual life and see its strengths and weaknesses. If and when I feel I’m recovered, I will feel a tremendous amount of success, but that’s not something I can ever write on a resume or that I will ever get credit for in my work or professional life. None of us understand the intricacies of another person’s situation in life, and none of us understand the barriers that might have existed for them. If someone goes into college trying to provide for and raise a child, it might be success for them to graduate at all, much less get some kind of honors or publish a paper. Success is contextual, just as failure is.

 

I would like to define success as overcoming obstacles. If that were the case, then my college degree would be a minor success in comparison to starting to open up to my family, finding a boyfriend who cares for me, standing up for myself, or openly blogging about my thoughts and feelings every day. This definition gives us the flexibility to see the obstacles that an individual must overcome and to congratulate them on whatever they accomplish against those obstacles.

 

It will be a success for me when I can accept that definition of success.

13 Reasons Why: Having Sympathy

ALERT: this post will have spoilers.

 

Last week I read the book 13 Reasons Why, which is a book that is made up of 13 tapes recorded by a girl who commits suicide and leaves these tapes to explain why she did. Each tape is a person, and she sends the tapes to the people on them so that they can understand what happened. After finishing this book I found myself frustrated at the portrayal of Hannah, the suicidal girl the story centers around. She was portrayed as selfish, dramatic and bratty. She blamed her suicide on others. She never asked for help or accepted help when it was offered. And some of her reasons for committing suicide seemed a little ridiculous, like being teased about having a nice ass. I found this frustrating because it seemed to infantilize how serious many people’s problems are, and how hard they fight to get help and are often denied it.

 

At the same time, I did find the book powerful in that Hannah clearly pointed out how other people’s actions affected her and particularly pointed to the sexual harassment that was heaped on her. I thought that it was powerful that the effects of this were taken seriously in the book, and that it was made clear that it was not ok for someone to smack her ass or try to cop a feel. So I was conflicted. I didn’t want a book to circulate that treated people who are suicidal like they’re attention seekers or stupid or selfish. But I also felt that there were some good messages.

 

And then I read this review. This shitty, shitty review.  It basically straight out said some of the things that I was thinking. And when I saw them baldly there before me I realize how much of a shitface I was for my reaction. Because here’s the thing: even if Hannah’s reasons WERE trite or overdramatic or whatever, there are people out there who feel suicidal for those same reasons. There are people out there who do feel that their suicidal impulses were at least in part created by others. And those people have EVERY RIGHT to EVERY SINGLE ONE of their feelings. There is no right or wrong way to be depressed. There is no justified depression and unjustified depression. If someone feels so desperate that they will take their own life, you don’t get to judge whether or not the reasons were good enough. You sit your ass down and you feel sorry and you listen if they left you some way to make sense of it. They had no obligation to explain their feelings to you, and they had no obligation to have feelings that you felt were acceptable. People get to feel depressed in whatever fucking way it happens to them.

 

This is one of the reasons that I get frustrated with the concept of “tumblr depression” or “tumblr eating disorder”. You know the person. The blog that posts all black and white pictures and melancholy quotes. The girl that seems to take everything personally and dramatizes everything and sort of passive aggressively refuses help while asking everyone to pay attention to her. And a lot of people get pissed at these sorts of blogs and individuals, because they say that’s not real depression. That’s just someone looking for attention. That gives people with real mental illness a bad name. She just cuts for attention. She just starves herself because she thinks anorexia is cool. Now on some level this is understandable: it can be really frickin’ hard to talk to someone when they’re acting like this. But I hate to break it to you, it can be hard to talk to someone with mental illness. And if someone is cutting themselves in order to get attention, THEN YOU SHOULD GIVE THEM SOME FUCKING ATTENTION BECAUSE HUMAN BEINGS DESERVE AND NEED ATTENTION.

 

I went through this kind of phase, and while it may look trite and stupid from the outside, it hurts just as much as “real” depression when you’re on the inside. You don’t get to judge someone else’s feelings and tell them that they’re not actually depressed or unhappy, or that the reasons they’re hurting themselves aren’t valid. If someone says they’re hurting then you damn well better believe them. Even if they are using passive aggressive techniques to try to get attention, that means that they’re hurting. They’re lonely. They feel pointless or useless or unwanted. Asking for attention is not a crime and being sad about stupid things is not a crime. If someone is unhappy it’s not our place to judge why. It’s our place to offer sympathy and try to help. Because no matter how silly something might seem to us, it’s real to the individual, and blowing off someone’s unhappiness as trivial is simply being inhumane and unfeeling.

Coverflip: Some Meandering Thoughts About Gender and Marketing

Maureen Johnson (one of my absolute FAV authors especially for following on Twitter because she’s just as weird as I am) recently conducted a small experiment that she called Coverflip. The idea of the experiment was to take books and imagine if they were written by someone of the opposite gender as their true author, and then create a cover, thinking of how it would be different based on the gender of author. So for example you might take The Great Gatsby, imagine it was written by a woman, and design the cover for it. There were some really interesting covers, and some interesting reactions (many of which included things like “wow, now that this doesn’t have a girly cover I really want to read it!”), and I found myself thinking about how I view books that are marketed as chick lit.

 

I don’t read a lot of “chick lit”. Lately I’ve been into the classics because it took me so F’ing long to start reading them that I have to catch up, but when I read easy or fun books, I tend towards sci fi and fantasy. Now some of these are marketed with female oriented covers, but for the most part they highlight adventure or intrigue or mystery. I realized after this coverflip exercise that when I DO read chick lit books I often feel like I have to apologize: I try not to read them in public, I’m ashamed to be seen reading something that is marketed as trite and empty headed. I’m getting to the point where I’m a little self-conscious of reading ANY YA fiction in public (which is stupid because YA fiction is fantastic and I like it a lot better than most adult fiction which tries to be all edgy by having sex in it, but that’s a topic for another day), and I’m starting to realize thanks to this exercise that having shame about what you read is silly. When you are reading, you are doing something for yourself. You are occupying your free time, doing something that you enjoy. Why should you capitulate to what others suggest you SHOULD be reading rather than what you actually enjoy?

 

But Coverflip brought up more questions than just how societal pressures can force us to feel guilty about the things we actually enjoy. One of the biggest ones for me is about romance in fiction, how romance is marketed, and why we often view romance as an unimportant, badly written, or trashy topic. Romance is generally associated with female writers. In YA fiction, it’s often marketed towards girls, and viewed in the same way as chick flicks. Interestingly, one of the reasons I didn’t take John Green seriously for a while was because his covers gave off the same light, romancey vibe that a lot of female YA authors did. In my mind, that meant he didn’t write about important topics. Once I really read his books, I found that he engaged with some very basic questions of what it means to be human and to look for human connection. So why is it that when I think romance I think trite?

 

One obvious reason is because romance is considered feminine. Men aren’t expected to want romance. They’re expected to want sex or grit or violence. Romance is for women. Which means that it’s empty headed right? But the problem with that is that romance is actually a fairly universal drive. Romance is about connecting with another human being, about what it means to feel close, about what love is. Men have those drives too, just like women do. And even if women were the only ones who had those drives…what on earth is trite about trying to find someone to spend your life with? What is trite about human connection? What is trite about trying to understand what drives us to be around other people? These questions are not trite at all. Romance is about what makes us human and how our human nature resonates with others. This is far from trite, and so making covers of people making hearts with their hands diminishes the importance and power of what it is to be in love or to seek out love. Whether these read as feminine or masculine, it shouldn’t be diminished in this way.

 

An important element of this is the idea that women are relational and that men are independent. In the hierarchy of male and female, this means that individualism gets prioritized over relationships. Many of our great writers (or people who are considered great) write about people fending for themselves or overcoming odds: Jack London is a perfectly typical example of this, and he’s considered a Good and Serious writer for young adults (despite the fact that he focuses almost all of his descriptions on violence and doesn’t do a whole lot of focus on character growth). So for some reason books about relationships are considered unimportant. Obviously most books have relationships in them, but they are not the focus. Action is the focus. Books that are almost exclusively about relationships are designated as chick lit (even when they deal with important themes, a la Jane Austen). Again, it seems odd to me that books about family, friends, lovers are considered unimportant or boring.

 

In relation to this, many of the images on “feminine” coded books were of people, often people holding hands or kissing, young people, or women (or all of the above). In contrast, many of the “serious’ coded books were images of things, textual covers, or had fantasy styled covers. These types of dichotomies play on all sorts of sexist stereotypes about what is appealing to men and what is appealing to women, but one piece that seems very bizarre to me is the idea that covers with people on them are not as serious as covers with objects on them. What is it about a person on a cover that reads to us as “this book doesn’t tackle real issues”? Why do we seem to feel that humans or connecting to humans is unimportant? Why are we afraid of books that are open about the fact that they include people interacting with each other, or are even FOCUSED on people’s interactions with each other?

 

Overall, this experiment confirmed to me that in all sorts of marketing we view women as relational and men as doers or actors, individuals who venture forth. We view those individualistic stories as important, and we view stories of people relating to each other as trite. None of this makes any sense to me.  Every human being on the planet has relationships, and those relationships are what keep us alive, and often the things that make our lives worth living. Most often we read books because we want to connect with another person, to get inside the ideas and feelings of another life. The whole point of literature is connection on an emotional level, and yet when we advertise that openly the book is viewed as shallow. And beyond that, why should we feel guilty for books that might appeal to things that are silly or shallow within us? Why should we feel guilty for letting ourselves be goofy and bubble-headed? Is there something wrong with just entertaining ourselves with books, or are books supposed to be a bastion of academia, only for Serious Men and the few women who can be just as serious? But perhaps the biggest question left in my mind is why people on YA covers NEVER HAVE HEADS?

How To Be A Queen

This is a short story (kids book in the making?) that I wrote after a therapy appointment a few weeks ago. Enjoy 🙂

 

Once upon a time there was a little princess who knew in her deepest heart that it was her destiny to be a queen. Each morning she arose and undertook a perfect set of rituals to make her a perfect queen. She would dress in a pure white gown, stand up very straight, take her lessons quietly and follow every rule so that when she grew old enough, the people in her kingdom would see how perfectly fit she was to be queen and they would raise her to her rightful place on the throne.

She studied politics, languages, and diplomacy to be a good leader. She studied ethics and philosophy and social justice to be fair. She learned music and decorum and decorating to be lady-like and beautiful.  She was the paragon of class, charm, intelligence, and hard work. Someone had to see how suited she was to be queen.

As she grew older, the fair princess saw that despite her perfection, she was overlooked. The boys were stronger and faster than she was. They showed they were ready leaders through their competitions and it was clear to everyone that the victor deserved praise and power. She knew she deserved to be queen, that she was smart and could solve the problems she saw around her. She knew that she had done all that was asked of her.

And so she decided she had to prove she was the equal of the boys, prove she could keep up, and silently show everyone by her sheer skill that she deserved to rule. If she defeated the boys, they would have to notice her.

She marched straight up to the biggest, strongest boy of them all and challenged him to an arm-wrestling competition. He grinned mercilessly, and they each took their seats; she daintily so as not to dirty her white dress. She was a lady after all, and even if she was going to show up these boys she still had to live up to womanly standards. She couldn’t be perfect if she was dirty. And so they began.

Just after she had handily beaten the burly boy, the princess looked around, wondering where her praises were. There were a few onlookers who cheered, but most of the crowd quickly dispersed, unfamiliar with her and her story, unknowing of her potential or even her desire to be queen.

Sadly she turned to walk home. She turned a corner and came upon a nasty scene. A pair of bullies were teasing a little girl, shoving her in the mud and calling her names. The princess were outraged. If she were queen, she would order them to stop. But she knew she had to follow the rules to be queen and that they wouldn’t listen to her anyway because she was just a princess, so she looked around for someone to tell, someone with power who could stop them.

She saw a policeman and ran to tug at his sleeve, yelling and pointing at the children.

“Hm, that looks nasty. I’ll have to go file a report about it. Then someone will come back to monitor the situation,” he responded before walking away. Growing more desperate, the princess ran to the parents of the children, but they laughed and said “Kids will be kids.”

The princess was angry. Something needed to be done and no one would do it. She had followed all the rules and no one was listening to her, nothing was changing. But she was just a little princess and she couldn’t do anything by herself. She had to stay clean, and do things right until people began to notice. She had to be perfect in order to be queen!

She looked back at the little girl crying in the mud and something inside of her grew larger and larger with righteous anger.

“STOP” she yelled, throwing herself between the bullies and the girl just in time to get shoved in the mud. She sat for a moment in stunned silence. Her beautiful white dress was ruined. She had yelled. She had broken the rules. Everyone froze and stared silently at her, but through her fear words came.

“You need to stop you bullies. I may not be queen, but I will defend this girl even if it means breaking every rule in the world. This is wrong and I don’t care if people see me and hear me doing this, I will protect her! I’d rather stand up for the innocent than be queen if being queen means staying quiet about things that are wrong!” The bullies looked down, abashed, and slowly walked back to their parents. No one had ever bothered to stand up to them before. Everyone had followed the rules quietly before.

The princess’s mother came hurrying out of the crowd towards her.

“What happened?” she demanded, her eyes taking in the ruined white dress in dismay.

“I’m sorry Mother. I know now I’ll never be queen because I didn’t do things by the rules and I got dirty, but I had to stop those bullies.”

“Oh my dear,” her mother smiled. “You are more of a queen today than you have ever been before. You can only be heard if you open your mouth and speak. Today you will be Queen of the Mud, and today everyone will see you for who you are. A true leader.”

The Queen of the Mud stood up, looking around her in astonishment as all around her people knelt in the mud and dirt to applaud her actions. They didn’t care that her sheen of perfection had vanished, that her dress was torn, that she was not pristine and perfect. She had gotten her hands dirty, and they had seen her.

“So this is how to be a queen,” she whispered.

 

Dichotomies: How to Brag and How to Sad Brag

I was reading a post earlier about labels, and how we often feel ok with labeling ourselves descriptively (atheist, female, etc) but not in a complimentary manner (hero, humanitarian, etc). While I feel like this is true, I wonder why. What is so wrong with noticing when we’ve done good things and labeling it ourselves? I feel that one of the problems that many people have is that they feel they can’t own the good things they do: they feel they have to wait for outside recognition because it’s considered bragging to talk about it and label it themselves. Well I’m going to be honest: I think we could all use a little more self-validation. While sometimes bragging can lead to comparisons and competition, I think if we stopped waiting so long to see when OTHER people notice that we’ve done good things and just said “I did a good thing” to ourselves, we might actually see a reduction in how competitive we are. We don’t need to one-up people in order to be noticed: we can notice ourselves.

So I’m going to take this moment to pat myself on the back for things that have been going really well for me lately, not because I want you all to feel jealous or compare yourselves to me, but because I’m genuinely excited and happy, would like to share, and want to be able to say that I feel GOOD about myself in a few areas. I have two job interviews in the next two days and one of them is for a job that I’m actually really interested in. I’m actually making enough money right now that I can put things away for retirement. It has been over a week since I self-harmed and I am going to continue that streak for AT LEAST three more weeks because I want to be cut free when I go to California. I have been in a bad job situation for 3 months now, and I have not crashed and burned. I have managed to deal with it, to brainstorm solutions, to find ways to tolerate the distress. There have been slipups certainly, but I am doing better than I have in YEARS. HOLY SHIT I AM AWESOME. When things go like this for me, I often look like the featured pic.

However despite being able to say all of this, and despite the fact that I can recognize that I have done some things quite well in recent history, I think the ability to speak our successes always needs to be a dialectic. I am always a proponent of being OPEN, and I think that this is no exception: if we’re going to be able to recognize our own successes, we also have to be able to recognize our own struggles. And we can recognize that these things may be one and the same. We have to be able to hold “I did some amazing things” at the same time as we hold “I am struggling so hard right now” and recognize that both can be true. Now first of all this is incredibly difficult. At the same time as I recognize that I have some wonderful opportunities right now and that I’ve done some things very right, I can also recognize that I’ve done some things very wrong. I’ve been struggling in my relationships lately, especially with the amount of effort I’ve been putting in to just feel sane with myself. I HAVE slipped up while trying to deal with this job, and I’ve let my mindset fall backwards in many ways. It has been a very hard couple of months for me trying to navigate the waters of semi-adulthood, paying for my own apartment, figuring out how to feed myself, working a full time job.

sad

This is more what I look like when I think about those things. But I have STILL done awesome things. I have started a personal blog, started blogging for CFI On Campus, started planning a (very tentative) conference with some friends…

So I would like to propose that we as human beings become more comfortable saying out loud our strengths and weaknesses. Not the namby pampy job interview version of this, but actually going to twitter and saying “I did something awesome. I’m proud of me”, and not feeling guilty about it. And then going to twitter five minutes later and saying “I’m still struggling. And I’m not guilty about that either”. Human beings are remarkably capable of being contradictory things at the same time. We are filled with dichotomies. It’s something I’ve been spending a lot of time with in my DBT therapy, and I think it’s something that all of us need to learn to be more comfortable with.

 

Written by Olivia