The Things I Carry

WARNING: Emo poetry ahead. 

 

Every morning when I wake up, I know there are things I must take with me

No matter what I am doing, I fill my pockets and my pores with the things I carry

When my feet touch the ground as I stand up from sleep

I know the weight of them.

 

Before I rise, my mind is full with the List.

It steamrolls over me and leaves its imprint:

What You Must Do To Be Acceptable.

I pick it up and pull my body skywards.

 

I walked from my bed to the bathroom and add the pills I take each day

settling in my stomach

Next to the heaviness of the breakfast I will not eat

I dress, placing the anxiety of eyes over my body

I have my bare essentials.

 

Today I carried a backpack.

A simple case for:

A laptop to channel words that build and build upon me

Reminding me that I never have enough words

A book of memories

joyful things I forget to read

A wallet, heavy with emptiness

A notebook, filled with fragments of days that I forgot to live.

They repeat themselves and I don’t remember to move

The loss of time on my shoulders

 

I remember to pick up my lover from his slump on the floor.

His sadness is large, black

But his legs don’t work today and so he uses mine

 

With my keys, I take the criticisms I heard yesterday and the day before and the day before

stretching back before memory.

Things begin to get heavy now, but it’s early

Before I leave, I turn back and pick up the hours of therapy I own

Each week

A prize for the size of my waist.

These are the things I take from the table before I begin.

 

As I walk through the day I collect things to put in my pockets

The letter from my landlord, rejecting a request

A note from the insurance, ending my benefits

The phone call from my mother, revealing secrets I didn’t want to know

They swell to bursting.

 

It is noon

I pull on my running shoes, and I feel the minutes I sweat falling on me

The time I am alone in my mind

The ripping breath I cannot end

Each mile is a requirement that I must complete, or I will drop everything

These are the rules, and I know that I cannot put down the things I carry.

 

Back to work, and my anxiety is large

growing and growing on the angry words that fly

A friend calls. I struggle to pick him up.

My legs are becoming weak.

 

As I walk from work, I take the knowledge that my hours were not enough

I have not, I have not, I have not-

done enough.

 

An hour with my therapist, and I know I have not been Good Enough to myself

I pick up the diary card

The numbers are wrong

Bad numbers go in my pocket.

 

When I get home, I tumble, headlong into bed

Dropping everything.

I carry too much these days.

Life is Hard: Take Care of Yourself

This post is dedicated to my faboo Marnie, who needs a little TLC right now.

 

In the circles that I run in, self-care is big. On the other hand, in American society at large self-care is fairly frowned upon. Long work weeks are expected, frivolities are considered unnecessary, and it’s selfish to spend time or money on yourself. Self-care is HARD, particularly in a climate where it’s not supported. Most of us tend to believe that we shouldn’t need to pamper ourselves, or that we’re only allowed to when things are falling apart. The way that many people view “me time” is to work yourself to the bone and then take one gigantic vacation that completely recharges your battery. Generally this is a really inefficient and bad plan that simply doesn’t work, so I’d like to first advocate for the necessity of self-care in all lives, second try to promote a more integrated and continuous model of self-care, and finally offer some tips and tricks that I have found effective.

 

So first and foremost, self-care is not about being selfish. It’s not about being self-absorbed. It’s not about putting yourself before everybody else. Self-care is about making sure that you’re taking care of your body and your mind and your senses so that you can function well. At the end of the day, the best way to give to other people or to be effective at your job or to be a good parent is to practice some self-care because it makes you more in tune with what you need, it gives you resources, and it helps you to have enough energy to do what you need to do. It’s like emotional fuel: you wouldn’t ask yourself to do a workout without eating, so you shouldn’t expect yourself to make it through a long day without some emotional energy.

 

Now what I’m not advocating is that we always put ourselves first and never help others, or that we spend all of our money pampering and spoiling ourselves. What I am advocating is that we take some time each day to do things that make us feel calm, soothed, and energized. I am advocating that we always take a balanced approach when we’re trying to help others: only give out of what you have. If someone asks you to listen and you are on your last legs, you’re allowed to say no. However if someone is looking like they’re down and you’re feeling really strong and positive, it might be good to go over and ask how you can help. Self-care can help you get in touch with when you feel you can help and when you can’t, which overall will make you more effective. Practicing regular self-care will not take up too much time in your life, but it will likely leave you feeling better and more capable at work and in your relationships.

 

In many circumstances, I think we all assume that if each one of us just takes care of someone else, then somehow we’ll all end up taken care of. Unfortunately that doesn’t work; someone always gets missed, or things are uneven, or energy gets lost in the transfer. The best person to take care of you on a daily basis is yourself, because you are the only person who knows what you are experiencing and feeling, and you’re the only one who can figure out what you want or need. You are the only one who’s there all the time, and you’re the best judge of what needs to happen.

 

In addition, it’s important for us to be relatively self-sufficient in terms of our emotional health. Obviously there are times when we can’t do this, but most of us wouldn’t like it if we had to ask someone else to plan and cook all our meals, make up our workouts for us, and feed us our pills. There are some people who have to do this and it creates a lot of strain in their relationships and often makes them frustrated and unhappy (there absolutely isn’t anything wrong with you if you’re in this situation, but I don’t think it’s what anyone strives for and we generally aim for independence in our caretaking). However with our emotional health we often expect other people to take full responsibility for it. I think it’s time we learn to take care of ourselves. Self care is exactly this: it’s learning to identify what you need and how to get it.

 

Overall, the benefits of self care are that we all will feel better and function better with some self-care, we can take care of ourselves better than anyone else, and we can be more self-sufficient if we practice self-care.

 

So hopefully now that I’ve convinced you that self-care is useful, I want to talk a little more about the style of self-care that I’m advocating. Sometimes it can be useful to do something big for yourself. One of my future self-care plans is to get a tattoo of the eating disorder recovery symbol, and for me that’s a huge piece of self-care. Taking a vacation can be self-care. But for the most part we already know about these larger things and we know how to do them. We generally view that as what we’re supposed to do: feel miserable all week long and then party hard on the weekend. I’ve never particularly understood this model and I think it sucks. Instead of only focusing on these larger things, I think we need to shift our focus to the day to day, because one big action only leaves you feeling better for so long.

 

Many of us worry about our relationship or our job or the large things that affect our lives and generally strive to improve these things, but we don’t stop to think about the actual texture of each day. That day to day texture, more than the ability to rattle off our successes, is what makes us happier individuals who are capable of contributing and caring. Improving the day to day can be incredibly difficult. We may not get to choose what projects we’re working on, or if our partner is having a rough day. What we can change is our self-care routine. We can allow ourselves that mocha every morning if it significantly impacts our happiness. We can take five minutes during our lunch break to focus on our breath and come back to the present. We can find a few things that really make a difference to us and make sure we schedule some time each and every day to do them. No excuses. And it’s also handy to have a longer list of slightly larger things in your back pocket for the bad days, so that you can manage.

 

So all of you are onboard, right? You’re all clamoring to start your self-care right this exact minute, but you’re sitting out there just like I was with no clue of what it means to soothe yourself or what will actually be effective in making yourself calmer. Partially you have to discover for yourself. Everybody’s a little different in what floats their boat, so I can’t tell you what exactly will work for you. Try some experimentation. For a few weeks try to incorporate something a little different each day.  To get you started, here are some suggestions of things that work for me or that have worked for others. There are also lists galore on The Google, so if none of these things strike your fancy, you can venture out into the wide world of the internet. One thing to keep in mind is that many of these things might sound silly or trite at first. Keep an open mind. Some of the things that I dismissed most quickly the first few times around have been proving to be the most helpful.

 

Without further ado: Self-Care Tips

 

  1. The first thing I always suggest to people who are looking for ways to self-care is to start with the senses. I never realized before how closely emotions and physicality are tied together, but it’s amazing how quickly your emotions calm if you can calm down your body. So try to be good to your senses: they’re how you perceive the world. This can come in any number of forms, and will be very personal. You could buy something incredibly tasty once a week, and really take the time to savor it. I personally am a texture person, which means that I have a couple of very fuzzy blankets and a pair of footie pajamas so that if I’m having a rough day I can immediately sooth myself by touching something soft. Lighting a scented candle might be your thing. Taking a hot bath. Wearing comfortable clothes. Taking some time to look at cute kittens online in the middle of your day. Listening to music. Anything that engages your senses and brings you into the present moment, while also being calming.
  2. Moving your body can be GREAT, especially if you work a desk job. If you can get out and go for a short walk, your body can feel a lot better.
  3. Reading a book for pleasure.
  4. If you’re a fidgeter, get some silly putty or something similar. You can likely have it with you at work, and just use it if things start to get stressful.
  5. Giving yourself permission to say no, or to skip something if it won’t make you happy and if you don’t have the energy. Particularly if you’re someone who has an overloaded schedule and some of the things on it are supposed to be fun, don’t go if it won’t make you happy.
  6. Do yourself the favor of trying to take care of your body. Get enough sleep (THIS IS SO IMPORTANT I CAN’T EVEN SAY IT ENOUGH), eat regularly and try to be fairly healthy (that doesn’t mean cutting out delicious things), try to exercise some, take whatever meds you’re on but don’t take non-prescription things. It is amazing what doing these basic things can mean for your emotional well-being.
  7. Spend time with people you like. Talk to them.
  8. Art can be really helpful, in whatever form this means to you. Exercising your creative drive feels GREAT. Painting, playing music, writing, going to a play…let yourself experience art. I can no longer go a day without writing, and if I tried I would go CRAZY.
  9. For a little extra, added pampering, something like a massage is wonderful. For the menfolks out there, I know that this might damage your manpride, but pedicures are also fantastic. You get a little foot massage and you feel lovely afterwards. Related to this, getting a new haircut or something to make yourself feel extra spiff are great.
  10. Dress up. Or dress down. This one really is about personal preference. If it makes you feel a little more springy to put on a cute dress, then GO FOR IT. If, on the other hand, you’re sick of having to wear clothes that are uncomfortable, then wear sweatpants for a day (as you are capable). Particularly when it comes to dressing up, don’t let anyone shame you for how you dress. If you’re overdressed, then OWN IT. It doesn’t matter. Just smile and tell anyone who asks that you wanted to dress up for yourself.
  11. Let yourself watch shitty TV with no guilt. Every Friday is bride night on TLC, which means Say Yes to the Dress. Guess where you can find me every Friday night? Guess how much shame I feel over that? Exactly 0. Now sometimes parking in front of the TV can leave you feeling pretty shitty, but consciously choosing to watch something you enjoy is different from just falling into the routine of sitting in front of the TV and channel surfing.
  12. For those who may be on the higher anxiety side, or have diagnoses, or even just those who have a tendency to get lost in their own heads, it can be good to pull yourself back to reality. This isn’t exactly self-care, but it is a practice of regularly taking care of your emotions. There are a number of suggestions as alternatives for cutting, and I think they can be fairly effective for anyone who feels anxiety or who wants to use negative coping techniques. They include things like holding on to an ice cube, drawing on yourself, flicking your wrist with a rubber band, or take a cold shower.
  13. Mindfulness! Meditation! This was one of those things that I was skeptical of at first. It seems very woo woo, I know. But there are evidence-based mindfulness techniques, and you could join a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction group, or simply look up some of those techniques online. These are great ways to recharge a little, or simply calm your mind.

Media: A Love/Hate Relationship

So all y’all really need to step up your game. I got one whole response to my question post. ONE. But my dear and wonderful Barrett asked me about my opinion on something and who am I to deny my single, wonderful, amazing, lone commenter her request?

Barrett asked me about media and how I interact with problematic media/do I have any suggestions of non-problematic media. Oof. Big question. Well first of all I think it’s almost impossible for there to be non-problematic media because all the producers of media are human and there is probably no single human on this planet who has completely unproblematic beliefs. HOWEVER there are a few things that I can suggest that treat difficult topics with integrity.

First of all I can think of very few fictional creations that are kind or understanding to atheists. If any of my readers have suggestions, please suggest away, but I’m drawing a bit of a blank. Tim Minchin is fab of course if you’re looking for standup, but I can’t think of many books or movies or TV shows that are atheist friendly. I mean there are a huge number of movies and books that simply don’t touch on the religion of their characters at all, but I know of very few that explicitly address atheism and do it in a positive way.

One area that’s done far better is media that’s better to women. Joss Whedon is generally pretty damn good (a classic of course), and lately I”ve been on a major Once Upon a Time kick (I might expand upon why I think this is such a great show for women in the near future). Generally I like shows that allow women to flourish in a variety of roles. My Little Pony is actually fantastic about this. I also find that in general documentaries are a bit better at being non-exploitative than traditional movies and so on. As for books, I think that Tamora Pierce is GREAT for kids and teens, Mercedes lackey (although I haven’t read her in ages) has a wide range of women if I remember correctly, and JK Rowling. I think there’s a lot of resources for feminist friendly media, so I’m not going to go too far into it.

Mental illness is a much harder one to find good media. In general mental illness is treated HORRIBLY in media. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one of the best I’ve read, and most of John Green’s work as well (particularly The Fault in Our Stars). Oddly enough, I’ve found young adult fiction is actually often the most sensitive to mental health concerns because that’s a time when lots of individuals struggle with some depression, anxiety, or other issues. In terms of TV I can’t think of a single show that I’ve seen that deals appropriately with mental health. I’m not a big TV nut though, so if anyone else has ideas let me know. In terms of movies, Rachel Getting Married is AMAZING. It portrays addiction and mental illness in a disturbingly real fashion, but does so without a lot of judgment.

I’m not really qualified to speak on race or homosexuality or any other minority, so to find media that is positive about those demographics you’ll have to go elsewhere (sorry). But that’s just the first half of the question. The second half is how I deal with problematic media. Well that’s an easy one. To be clear straight off the bat: I am still figuring this out. I’m relatively young, and still trying to understand a lot of things about social justice, media, and society. So these are mostly preliminary thoughts that I’m still trying to work out. ALSO they do not apply to everyone in every type of marginalized group, nor are they necessarily suggestions for all of you. SO, without further ado: what do I do with problematic media?

So first of all I’m not going to deny that I consume problematic media. I like media, and as someone with a mental illness, oftentimes a little escapism is the only way I can make it through the day. I’ve always loved books and I’ve started to get very TV show addicted as of late, so I consume a fair amount of media. This means that a fair amount of it is problematic. I do try to avoid the worst things, the things that I think are actively promoting negative conceptions of women, of mental illness, of people of color…so I avoid most magazines, I avoid Spike TV, I watch very few primetime and super popular TV shows (partially just because I don’t like most of them), and I avoid 50 Shades of Gray and Twilight. Now that being said, I do watch things like Say Yes to the Dress, I watch some reality TV shows, I watch Project Runway, I enjoy teen lit which is often problematic in its portrayal of relationships, I watched Make it or Break It for a long time, I watch Dance Academy (oh so addicting), and I do see mainstream movies fairly often. I love Ender’s Game, I love Lord of the Rings, I love Dr Who…I love all sorts of things that I know are problematic.

So what do I do with that? Well first of all I try not to get pissed at myself. I think that any time we try to make ourselves ashamed or guilty, we’re not helping at all. I accept that I want to engage with media, and I accept that media is almost always problematic. The first and most radical thing that we as minorities can do is take care of ourselves. I firmly believe that. The personal is always political, and if I can be someone who is female, struggles with mental illness, and is an atheist, but still manages to be healthy and happy and break some of the stereotypes of those roles, I will have done a lot. So I accept that this is part of what I need to feel happy. But I also try to engage with them critically. When I’m watching things like Dr Who, I let myself enjoy it, but afterwards I discuss with people and reflect to myself about what messages it was sending, to try to dissect them and keep myself safe from any bad ones that might sneak in.

So I generally try to separate my enjoyment of the media from my critical mind, which I engage after or at a different level from the media. Because I think I deserve to be able to enjoy things without always being critical. I think that’s ok. But I also then go on to talk to people about what I like about those things and what I dislike about those things. I think it’s really important to be vocal and to be involved when you’re consuming problematic media: to both tell yourself and to tell others what you’re worried about with that media. I try to engage with it critically. I try to write about it, to discuss it, to hold it to high standards because I enjoy it.

I also try to learn from it when I’ve done poorly at being a critical consumer of media. Looking back, I can see that my teenage obsession with America’s Next Top Model did not serve me well. By no means did it cause my eating disorder, because no amount of media can do that, but it certainly helped push my neuroses in a particular direction, and it certainly gave me images of thinness to aspire to. It taught me that what someone looked like was incredibly important, and that competition was important, and that if you could be the prettiest, nothing else mattered. Looking back now, I don’t like to watch that show. I don’t like to promote the show. I would ask others why they like the show. I’m going to be a lot more discerning about similar shows in the future. I’ve learned. And I’ve also learned to be as careful as possible about similar shows, for example The Biggest Loser (which I refuse to watch, and which I’ve told many people is hugely problematic for many reasons).

Now I know that I should go a bit further and try to engage the producers of the media in the discussion, let them know what I dislike about the way they’re producing. If I was going to be truly responsible I would send letters and tweets, I would boycott all the bad products. But here’s the thing: if I’m going to advocate for women and atheists and people with mental illness, I also have to advocate for myself because I am all of those things. And the first way I can advocate for myself is by doing things I enjoy. And engaging with media without freaking out is highly enjoyable to me. I do enough freaking out. I get into facebook discussions often enough. I write angry blogs often enough. I tweet in a pissed off manner often enough. I’m ready to say that I am co-opting the shit out of that problematic media when I let it be a balm to the wounds of my life.

So that’s my relationship with problematic media. I use it as best as I can to treat myself well, and where I can’t, I criticize and I avoid. It may not be the best method, but it’s the best I can muster right now. My relationship with problematic media is far more about myself than about the media. And maybe that’s selfish, but I am strongly of the opinion that all minorities can afford to be a bit more selfish right now. And if that means allowing ourselves the personal time to enjoy shitty media, then more power to us. As long as we also take the time to point out that it’s shitty, then why not?

All of that said, I try to hold reporting to higher standards because it’s not there for our enjoyment it’s there to be accurate. I will write about it and call you out if you report something in an offensive manner, I WILL turn off Fox news because it sucks at portraying any minority well, and I WILL get pissed off if you say something about “anorexics”.