What It’s Like: Major Depressive Disorder

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Hello and welcome to the final installment of the What It’s Like series! Previous posts 1, 2, 3, and 4. Today I’ll be trying to talk about the most amorphous of my diagnoses, Major Depressive Disorder. Once again, the disclaimer that these are my experiences. I am not a mental health professional, I don’t speak for all people with depression, and depression can look vastly different for different people. If you know someone who has depression and want to know what it’s like for them or how to help, I strongly suggest talking to them.

Onwards, to depression!

I cry a lot. I mean a lot a lot. I cry more than any other human being I’ve ever met. Sometimes out of absolutely nowhere a wall of just straight out pain hits me and my eyes get all watery and even if I hate it I can’t stop myself from crying. Depression is like having enough sad/bad/scared/aaah feelings that they start leaking out of your face at random times.

I can always tell when my brain is falling into depression or anxiety based on my sleep patterns. Anxiety means insomnia, which in turn comes with day after exhaustion. Depression means just being tired all the time, sleeping for 12 or 13 hours at a time, never feeling rested, never having energy. It’s the times when it’s sheer struggle just to stay awake through the day and my eyes start going out of focus every few minutes. Depression is down, anxiety is up.

Depression for me also tends to be whole world focused. Anxiety usually revolves around me and how horrible I am and what I’ve done wrong. It’s all the nasty little voices at the back of your head that tear you down. Depression is more along the lines of despairing hopelessness. I’m pretty far into nihilist territory in terms of my philosophical beliefs, and it’s also easy for me to fall into solipsism. These are the kinds of things that will trigger a deep depression for me. There’s a lot of evidence that the world is fairly purposeless, that most of our lives will be spent doing basically the same things, and that if you’re not satisfied with that you’re going to be miserable. Those are the sorts of thoughts that are quick to send me into a depressive spiral.

So what does it actually look like when I’m depressed? I get quiet. The whole world starts to feel overwhelming, too loud, too big, too bright. Basic tasks feel insurmountable, possibly because I just don’t care. Things feel heavy or thick, and it takes too much effort to remember or focus or smile. I feel tender and broken, and I curl into myself, physically and emotionally, to try to keep myself safe. My appetite goes wonky: sometimes I feel empty inside and just want to eat all the time, sometimes food sounds terrifying. More often than not depression is a feeling of having no idea what your emotions and your body are going to do next (but a strong conviction that it won’t be good).

The thing that I dislike the most about depression is anhedonia. I get anhedonia like nobody’s business. For those who don’t know, anhedonia is a loss of interest or enjoyment of things that used to be fun or engaging. I’m typically someone who enjoys a lot of things. I’m a joiner, and most of the time I’m trying new hobbies or filling every second of every day with things that make my brain feel engaged. So when those things stop holding any interest, it impacts me in a big way. I’ll try to go do something fun to pull up my mood, but it will feel pointless and joyless, which pushes my mood down even further. There is nothing that will make me smile, never ever ever again, everything will always feel like a struggle, and I’ve become utterly broken because the things that used to be awesome aren’t anymore.

It’s really easy for my brain to turn everything into the worst thing in the world when I’m in a down period. Something goes wrong and I’m inconsolable for days. It’s not a plea for attention or an attempt at drama. My feelings just won’t turn off, they won’t stop hurting. It feels like someone’s ripping my throat out through my stomach. I’ll cry so hard my whole body starts spasming. I feel it in my body. I get aches and pains, I can’t make it through a work out. I get sick.

And I get mean. When I’m depressed the whole world revolves around me. I want to make some allowances to myself and others for the fact that you get to be a little self absorbed when everything hurts, but it’s true that I ask for a lot and can’t give much back when I’m down. Being alone feels impossible because my brain won’t stop telling me bad things, but I don’t know how to do anything but complain since my brain also won’t let me see anything interesting or happy. So I end up compulsively texting and chatting, going on and on about how much I hate myself and my life and the world. I can see myself doing it and I can’t stop myself. It hurts to feel so dependent.

Depression for me also tends to come in long, ridiculous bouts. The worst was probably during my sophomore year of college, fall semester. I spent the entire semester so hopeless, lonely, and bored that I had to talk myself through each hour, promise myself that I could get to the next one. I spent a lot of time trying to numb myself to everything through starvation, mindless games, or any form of escapism I could use. Most seconds were spent wondering why I was still alive, what it was doing for me or for anyone, why it had to hurt so much. Sometimes it felt like nothing and sometimes it felt like everything packed into me all at once.

It’s hard to make any sense of depression or put it into a neat narrative. That’s probably why this description seems so disjointed: depression doesn’t make sense. It’s a lot of really unpleasant feelings and horrible thoughts mashed together in no discernible order. It’s assuming the worst, losing the good, and feeling like no one cares. And unfortunately, since my depression is chronic, it’s always lurking, waiting for a bad day that it can take advantage of.

What It’s Like: Generalized Anxiety Disorder

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This is the fourth post in a series. See posts 1, 2, and 3.

To reiterate: none of these posts are meant to be a conclusive picture of everyone who has the diagnosis. All of these are simply my experiences of a given diagnosis. GAD is a wide ranging diagnosis that takes lots of forms. If your experience of it is different from mine, I’d love to hear from you!

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is like having a broken alarm system. This is probably an overused metaphor, but whatever. Imagine you have a home alarm system that’s supposed to let you know whenever you’re in danger. It’s a magical alarm system that doesn’t just alert you to intruders, but also tells you if there’s a natural disaster or some sort of accident in your house waiting to happen. It’s suuuuper helpful. This is what normal anxiety is like. Normal people get afraid or worried or anxious when they have reason to believe that something is going to harm them. Sometimes this is in a very obvious way like if your car goes out of control, sometimes it’s in a more long term sense, like when you’re anxious about a test or a job interview (which has the potential to affect your future in positive or negative ways).

For most people, the strength of the alarm corresponds to the severity of the potential harm. If a bomb is about to fall on your house, your alarm system will be FREAKING OUT. If there’s about to be a thunderstorm, your house might beep at you a little and get you to look out the window. Same with emotions: we get very anxious about big things (like the bar exam or being very close to a large and dangerous animal) and kinda anxious about smaller things (a small quiz or slack rope walking a few feet about the ground). This isn’t across the board true, and certainly some people have one or two irrational fears, but for the most part anxiety follows a pretty predictable set of patterns.

Now imagine you have a house that has an alarm system that goes off whenever something is going to hurt you, but also will randomly go off at things like the neighbor’s cat or a kid on a bike, and when you try to turn it off it just keeps starting right back up again. Sometimes when it should give you a little nudge, like for a thunderstorm, it gives you the blaring DANGER DANGER of a bomb above your house.

Some of you might say “well just start ignoring the alarm.” But the alarm does still go off at all the right times too. You’re left with a near constant confusion about whether you’re in danger or not, trying to figure out how you can differentiate what’s a real threat and what’s not. It starts to wear on you, the noise and the uncertainty. You think you’re going crazy because you can’t tell what’s real and what’s not, when it’s reasonable to jump out of bed and pull out a baseball bat or when it’s reasonable to just wait it out.

This is a lot like what GAD is for me. It isn’t that I’m afraid of everything, or that I’m timid, or that I can’t talk to people. It’s that anxiety and uncertainty will hit me at the most unexpected times, sometimes for no discernible reason. A very big part of it is my anxiety just happens BIGGER than almost anyone else I’ve ever met. Catastrophizing is basically my middle name. Once in fifth grade I got a B on a test. I started freaking out and crying, leaving my teacher and my parents somewhat uncertain about how to reassure me that it was totally fine. In my mind I could see exactly how my future would go: the B would mean I wasn’t put in the honors classes in junior high, which meant that when I went to apply for high schools (because I went to a private school, high school required entrance exams and applications) I would be laughed out, and I would end up in the worst school ever which meant I wouldn’t get into a college, which meant that I would never have a good job and be miserable forever.

My brain is very, very good at consequences. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m a rule follower, and part of this is being acutely aware of the long term consequences of my actions. The problem comes when I start drawing out long, ridiculous chains of events that COULD happen and would probably ruin my life. It’s often paralyzing. If I think something’s gone wrong I generally have one of two reactions: I either have a huge adrenaline rush and start accomplishing absolutely everything I possibly can as a kind of ritual to prevent badness, or I freeze up and can’t do anything.

But I also get anxious over the stupidest things. I’m fine with heights and needles and blood, spiders, snakes, death, disease, germs…most of the things a normal person might be a little worried by. But having a day at work with nothing to do? Cue a panic attack because I will get fired and it will be the end of my life as I know it. It’s a very physical kind of a disorder for me. I have some seriously impressive knots in my shoulders and neck (I got a massage last week and the masseuse told me everything felt fine, except my shoulders and neck which felt like “you’ve been hit by a bus”), I get the pounding heart fluttery breath feeling, the tight throat, my whole posture curls into itself. It actually just happened about 20 seconds ago because someone wanted to put off hanging out until after dinner instead of ASAP after work and my brain just started chasing itself in circles chanting “they don’t like you, they never want to see you again” and then laughing like some sort of evil torture expert. It will likely take a few hours before I can work my way back into a basic state of normal heart rate, normal breathing, and relatively calm muscles.

Possibly the worst part is that if I’m bored and my brain has nothing else to do, it tends to just manufacture anxieties. This has led to the additional anxiety I have about getting bored, because getting bored leads to being anxious. I have a lot of recursive anxieties about being anxious.

Any other experiences of anxiety out there?

What It’s Like: EDNOS

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This is the third in a series. Find the first two posts here and here.

This is the point in the series where things are going to get a little hazy. The remaining diagnoses that I have (EDNOS, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder) are all big buckets. They cover a lot of people, they look a lot of different ways, and it’s entirely possible that other people with these diagnoses will have nothing in common with my experience of them. So while I did offer a disclaimer on the first post, I want to reiterate in a BIG WAY that this is just my experience and I don’t speak for everyone. There’s also the possibility that these three get mixed together in a big way, so I’ll be doing my best to separate the strands of what’s what’s but I make no promises that there will be clear distinctions between things.

With all the disclaimers out of the way, let’s get on with it.

EDNOS or eating disorder not otherwise specified is kind of a catch all diagnosis for people who have disordered and unhealthy relationships with food but who don’t fit clearly into one of the other diagnoses (anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder).

I have a very restrictive type of eating disorder. I’ve never had binge eating as one of my symptoms, and I exclusively restricted my food intake for about four years before I developed purging as a symptom while I was in treatment (this is fairly common). I likely would have been diagnosed with anorexia if my weight was low enough, but it never quite dropped that far. When it started, it was mostly focused on feeling lost and confused around food (I had been a competitive swimmer for six years and when I quit I wasn’t entirely certain how to eat anymore) before devolving into a desire to lose weight.

Since then it’s become a very different beast. Control has always been an important part of not eating for me. It makes me feel powerful and more than human to go days without food. It gives me the conviction that I am actually capable of anything if I try hard enough, as I have done things the human body probably shouldn’t be able to do.

My eating disorder is how I manage a lot of my anxiety, perfectionism, and OCPD tendencies. One of the main things that I associate with it is a distraction from whatever is actually bothering me, and a way to make it seem like I have some control over my life when things are stressful. I’ve always been more focused on myself as intellectual, rational person than as an embodied person, and so things that remind me of my body can be stressful.

I’ve often felt as if I would be better, more in control, and more powerful if I just didn’t have a body. Not eating is a useful way to ignore the facts of my mortality and embodiedness. But I also can’t stop thinking about them. For years, I could tell people exactly what I had eaten for the last week, at what times, and approximately the calorie counts of each thing. I tend to get a god complex when I haven’t eaten in a long while because my body feels floaty and empty in a way that makes me feel invincible.

I also associate fasting with morality. There’s something saintly about being ascetic in my mind, and I can’t quite shake the connection. I’ve always been fascinated with religion and being “good”, and self-denial is a big part of how society (and particularly Catholics) define morality and godliness. Every time I don’t eat, I feel like I’m being good. I feel guilty when I do eat, regardless of what it is or how much. This has toned down over time, but there have absolutely been times during which I would spend hours trying to determine when it was acceptable for me to eat, how much, what kind of food, etc.

I feel like a failure when I eat too much. Not a failure at a diet or at losing weight, but a failure at being a human being. Sometimes it reduces me to crying in the fetal position because I’m convinced that I’m the actual worst person alive. This can extend to other activities around food. I get anxious about grocery shopping because I can only imagine having ALL THAT FOOD in my house that needs to be eaten RIGHT NOW (don’t even get me started on perishables).

And somewhere under all of it is the conviction that being skinny will make up for all my other deficits. I may not be able to play piano as well as that person, but I sure as hell am skinnier than them and that makes me better. It’s a very competitive mindset that doesn’t look at me alone but looks to other bodies to define acceptable. This might go back to my inability to find a grounded identity without feedback from others. Of course my view of myself is distorted in comparison to others, and I don’t actually care how big other people are as long as I am THE SKINNIEST.

There’s also a fear of letting myself go. If I let myself eat this thing, what’s to stop me from eating everything else in the whole world and bloating up into some sort of horrific parody of a human body? Again, I don’t find other people who are large disgusting, but I have a hard time grounding my worth in anything but my body.

I do find my own body disgusting though. I spend a lot of time trying not to look in mirrors because when I do I will sit and pick at every tiny flaw. I do this in other parts of my life too, but my body is so obvious and immediate that it’s easier to focus on it instead of the flaws I think I have as a person. Worse, when I am aware of those flaws I try to punish myself for it by not eating. I don’t believe that I deserve food or space or confidence. If I give myself even a little bit of those things, I’ll probably go overboard and become a narcissistic asshole. No food means that I’m keeping myself humble.

I also tend to fall apart when I don’t have structure in my life. Food rules became a way to organize my life. For a long time the rule was never eat two days in a row, and while I’ve managed to adjust that rule quite a bit, I still have a very hard time eating before noon. It’s just not what I do (or so I tell myself). I also find some safety in dictating how I eat: I don’t have safe foods, but I hate meals that are composed of more than one thing. This is why I tend to just put all the stuff I want in one pot and mix it up so that it’s like only eating one thing.

Probably the final important element of EDNOS for me is that I have an overactive brain and not eating/focusing on food are both ways to keep myself from getting bored and stressed. My mind processes things quickly. It doesn’t always do this well (I make a lot of sloppy mistakes), but it’s constantly going and going fast. Sometimes this means that I get stuck on a thought if there’s nothing else there to replace it. This would probably play into the OCPD tendencies I have as well as my anxiety disorder and my EDNOS. Where I would often in the past be turning over and over something that had embarrassed me, something I was worried about getting done, my eating disorder allowed me to change that to constant thoughts about food.

There’s a lot more to the experience of having an eating disorder, but the strongest feelings are self-hatred, guilt, and desperation to be good. These get expressed in a lot of ways, but they dominated my experience of EDNOS.

What It’s Like: OCPD

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This is the second post in a series. Find the first here.

HUGE DISCLAIMER: I am not formally diagnosed with OCPD. There are absolutely some problems and pitfalls with self diagnosis, but in this case I identify strongly enough with the diagnosis that I feel comfortable talking about it. At the very least, the label serves to collect a variety of my symptoms in an understandable fashion. Many of these symptoms don’t quite get picked up by any of my other diagnoses, which is why I’m taking this space to talk about them.

OCPD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. This is not the same as OCD, which involves recurrent, intrusive thoughts that can only be dismissed with a compulsive behavior. OCPD is a personality disorder with a high focus on perfection, achievement, and control.

Sometimes my brain gets stuck. It’s almost always on something that I am stressed about, something that needs to get done. Most mornings I wake up with a blank slate that I need to fill with accomplishments in order to feel that I’ve earned my right to be alive for the day. Most days I can manage it reasonably, but sometimes I get caught. I’ll spend hours rewriting the same to do list in greater and greater detail, specifying exact time frames for each task and rearranging the order to make sure it’s just perfect because otherwise there’s no way I’ll get it all done, and thus no way for me to be ok.

Schedules, lists, and plans are the only things that feel truly safe to me, the only things that put the world into some semblance of order so that I can be in control. This means that when plans change suddenly (when someone cancels at the last minute, when someone suggests plans at the last minute, when I simply have to adjust what I was thinking I would do) I get incredibly anxious. Even if the new plan suits me better than the old one, I’ll still resist it because it’s just not the way things were supposed to be.

I often can’t enjoy fun or relaxing activities because my brain will continue to run the script of what I should be doing or what I could be doing that would be more productive. When I was younger, this often manifested in being kept awake for hours at a time stressing out over what I needed to do the next day and trying to figure out how I’d have the time to do it, only to be left exhausted and unable to do most of the things that needed to get done.

I’m also a huge rule follower. I like things to have an order to them. Even when rules are pointless or annoying, I still love to follow them because it feels safe and it makes sense. This often comes with a moral tinge to it: in high school, I would get irrationally angry at my boyfriend for walking on the grass instead of the sidewalk or at other students who slept during class because they weren’t doing what they were supposed to. Mostly this gets aimed at myself in unreasonably high expectations and a need to prove that I am good by doing everything just perfectly. I am terrified of making mistakes and catastrophize whenever I do.

On the more mundane side of the spectrum, I’m extremely stubborn and can be highly inflexible (this is what I decided to do, so I’m flipping going to do it and if you don’t like it I don’t like you), and I have a lot of anxiety about money, to the point that it took me until last year to realize that I could spend money on things simply because I wanted them. Despite having a hefty savings, I was still convinced that there would be some unknown disaster in the future and that I couldn’t spend my money on good things now without dooming myself to an unknown destruction in the future.

I just like to know that I get to control what I’m doing and when I’m going to do it, because I have an irrational worry that I’m never going to be doing enough. I always feel as if I should be working harder, longer, and better. I’m afraid of authority, because authority has the power to take away that control. My thoughts about all of this are constantly intrusive, leading to bizarre paranoid fantasies that I will get fired for no reason or that getting a single B on a test will lead to living on the streets. While at a normal extent these tendencies make sense and are often encouraged, at the level that I have them they interfere with my sleep, with relaxation, with relationships. They make me cranky and difficult to be around. They make me controlling and hypersensitive to change.

There are ways to mitigate it, by questioning things that feel clearly like facts, and by organizing my life in such a way that there are clear distinctions between work and play. I also get to exercise my compulsiveness by organizing things. Alphabetizing books is like heaven to me (in grade school I would stay in from recess to shelve books in the library because it was more fun).

Does anyone else have experience with OCPD? It’s not a very common disorder and I’d love to hear other experiences.

What It’s Like: Borderline Personality Disorder

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I just recently read a post by Ozy Frantz about what it is like for them to have BPD. I also have a BPD diagnosis (although I have BPD traits rather than a full diagnosis of the personality disorder. For more info on the difference see here), but it got me thinking that I don’t very often talk about the overall experience of what my different diagnoses mean for me. I have a big ol’ mix (EDNOS, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and BPD), but there are definitely different strands that I can pull out that seem to correspond to each.I was also surprised to find how good it felt to simply read another person’s general description of their symptoms.

So in the next few days I’m going to be spending some time in my own head (big surprise I know), talking about what it’s like to experience these different mental illnesses. Disclaimer: I can’t speak for everyone. My experience of each will be determined by all sorts of things, not least the fact that I have quite a few comorbid disorders. But I do want to make a space to talk about the overall experiences rather than particular issues that have set me off on a day to day basis.

I’m going to start today with borderline personality disorder. One of the most common descriptions of being borderline is that it’s like living without emotional skin. People with borderline tend to be highly reactive. Let’s say everyone starts at a baseline of relatively neutral emotions. For me, any stimulus will result in my emotions spiking higher than most other people’s, and I also have a really hard time returning to base. This means strong emotions that last for an unnecessary amount of time. For many people this includes extreme anger, but I’ve developed the great coping strategy of just only ever getting angry at myself because the strength of my anger and a family history of anger problems means I’m terrified of being angry.

One of the things that’s most frustrating about BPD is that I can be entirely aware that I tend to overreact and still have extreme emotions, which leaves me struggling to figure out where reasonable is.

Another classic symptom of BPD is self harm, which I’ve been free from for almost four months (woohoo!). Typically I use it to regulate either extreme emotions or extreme dissociation. Speaking of dissociation, welcome to another fun part of having BPD. Dissociating is essentially letting your brain leave your body or feeling like you’re not inhabiting your body. Most people do it on a really low scale in the form of daydreaming, but in extreme forms people can forget what they’ve done for hours at a time. I tend to simply shut down when things get overwhelming. I fall asleep, I can’t move my body, I just turn it all off. It’s scary, since I’m never entirely in control of it, and it often feels like being trapped just outside of my head without any way to get back or influence the world around me.

People with borderline also tend to have two problems that are really tied together: difficulty holding together a self identity and an intense fear of abandonment (also found in the form of either deifying or demonizing people they’re in relationships with). I have always had trouble with knowing who I am, and I have this suspicion that I forget that I really exist when there’s not someone looking at me or talking to me or reminding me what I am. This might be why I write so much because it’s solid evidence of who I am and what I think. But I really define myself through my relationships and through the perceptions that others have of me. Again, this goes back to the idea that I can’t figure out what “average” or “normal” or “reasonable” is, so I don’t know if I’m particularly smart or particularly clumsy until someone else tells me what normal is and how I fit in. Similarly to cutting anger out (unless it’s directed at me), I also tend to take all of the negative feelings I have towards people and turn them towards myself instead, so I very rarely switch from deifying to demonizing and instead just make lots of excuses for bad behavior.

Like a lot of other borderline people, this means I can be somewhat manipulative. I’m highly, highly aware of it at this point and can see myself coming up with useless little tests (did that person text me first? If I don’t tell them I’m upset are they paying enough attention to tell? Do they care enough about me to demand that I take care of myself when I’m resisting?), so I’ve started to combat it by being as ridiculously open as possible with people I’m in close relationships with and calling myself out. Hopefully this is some evidence that a diagnosis of BPD does not condemn one to a life of being a manipulative asshole, as there are some evidence based skills to help out.

Last but not least, I also feel really empty a lot of the time. Possibly because I have a hard time knowing what appropriate goals are, or because I think everyone actually hates me and is going to leave me, or because I really just don’t know who I am (and for a lot of silly philosophical existential reasons about whether there’s a point to being alive), I feel very hopeless and I’m often overwhelmed with a kind of despair. This might also just be depression, but there is a certain flavor that I think is borderline and that tends to come with being bored. It’s a feeling of terror that nothing will ever change, that my mind won’t stop treating me like crap, that there’s just too many feelings and thoughts in me to just exist. I’m really, really bad at being bored, and I start to get very self-harmy and very twitchy and very desperate to do something worthwhile the moment I get bored.

I’d love to hear in comments from anyone else about their experiences with BPD. Do these things ring true for you? What’s different?

Get Off Your Phone!

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It’s a common sight at events, concerts, or attractions to see someone (or many someones) with their camera or phone firmly planted in front of their face, recording or snapping pictures for the entire experience. It is also a common sight to find blog posts, rants, and other forms of judgment telling everyone that this is the wrong way to enjoy your life. “Get off your phone! No one wants to see those pictures! You’re not experiencing the event, you’re just taking pictures!” There is a common sentiment that an unmediated version of reality is the best version of reality, and that if you’re taking pictures or video your mind is on how to capture the experience rather than on the experience itself. If you’re not 100% mentally and emotionally present, then you’re ruining your own experience!

The odd thing about this is that more often than not, those taking these pictures aren’t distracting anyone else. Their behavior is entirely irrelevant to the people who are upset with it. It simply has to do with how that individual is experiencing someone, a personal choice that is entirely their own. This need to police other people’s happiness is an impulse which is both incredibly self centered (other people need to do things the same way I do or they won’t be happy) and incredibly unhelpful.

Here’s the thing: everyone has different ways of experiencing the world, and everyone appreciates different things. We get happy in different ways. We engage with things in different ways. We are present in different ways. These individualities are why not all of us like to go to bars and not all of us like to play Dungeons and Dragons, but for some reason when technology is involved it’s no longer ok to have preferences but instead there must be a Right and a Wrong way to exist because otherwise technology will infiltrate our lives and destroy our human connections (or something).

For some people, taking pictures allows them to experience things in a more active way. They prefer not to simply be passive recipients of their experience, but want to think about how best to capture it, about the angles of light and the image of what’s going on. For some people, thinking about how they will capture the experience makes them think about what they want to remember in the future, and helps them focus on the things they like most about their experience. Some people just like taking pictures or videos and that is an additional enjoyable experience beyond whatever primary experience they may be happening.

And guess what? Even if you personally don’t want technology to be a part of your day to day experience because you find it makes you less present, that doesn’t mean that technology inherently pulls people out of their lives and pushes them into the “unreality” of the internet. Some people find that having their phone on and around is a distraction from the people they want to be with, where others (especially the introverted and socially anxious among us) find it a useful way to take a quick break from socializing when they need a mini recharge. The point is that people experience technology (as well as social situations) differently. In the past, if someone had a hard time being fully present in a situation with lots of people for a long time, all they could do was leave or just try to stick it out or maybe dissociate. Now there are more strategies they can employ through technology. They may be more visible, since someone taking out their phone is more obvious than someone simply zoning out and ignoring what’s happening around them, but people have always had ways to take a break from a current experience. All of us do it, and that is 100% ok. We don’t owe any place or person or experience all of ourself for the entire time we are there.

So please friends, take out your phones if you want, take those pictures, hide behind your camera or take that video because you want to watch it tomorrow. Let yourself disappear for a bit into technology or find new ways to love the concert you’re at by finding the perfect image to capture it. I want you to know what makes you smile, and that’s no one’s business but your own.

 

Real Woman: The Bane of My Existence

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How much do I hate the phrase “real women”? Ugh. UGH. Real women have curves? Ohrly? So I am not a real woman? Am I a man then? No? SO WHAT AM I? FUCK YOUR GENDER ESSENTIALISM, IT MAKES NO LOGICAL SENSE, BECAUSE YOU DENY ANYTHING EXISTS OTHER THAN MALE AND FEMALE. Ok. Sorry. Had to get that particular piece of anger out of the way before I started for real, because there is some self-defeating logic in the gender essentialism of “real woman”.

Warning: if the first paragraph didn’t give it away, this post was written in a haze of post-Nyquil delirium. Is it coherent? No one knows.

So. The concept of a real woman. First of all, I don’t like it when we create false dichotomies. We have enough dichotomies that just naturally crop up in the world and it’s hard enough to keep our lives integrated and whole, so the idea that we need to introduce categories like real and fake just rubs me the wrong way. Very rarely is anything actually fake. More often than not, it’s not trying to be whatever you want it to be. This is particularly true when you’re talking about a construct that you’ve made up out of thin air (I might be willing to concede for example that there’s such a thing as fake meat because we all know what meat is and we all know that veggie alternatives are trying and failing to be meat).

 

So first and foremost the concept of a real woman is horrifically offensive because it tries to assert that someone else can tell you who and what you are, and that if your experiences don’t match their rules, you are not who or what you think you are and you can’t be part of the woman party. That’s bullshit. No one can tell you what your experience should be. If you identify as a woman then you are a real woman. You don’t need to pass any tests. You don’t need to follow any rules. You just need to exist. If someone else could come up to me and tell me that I’m not a real woman, they erase me and they erase my experiences. No one else knows me better than myself. No one can tell me who or what I am better than I can (unless we’re talking like a very specialized field and an expert…like an awesome baseball player could probably tell you better than I could how good I am at baseball. Answer: very bad). But woman is a very loosely defined concept.

 

No one agrees on what a woman is. Some people say it’s a vagina having person. Well that’s stupid because trans people and I don’t want to be reduced to my anatomy. Some people say it’s everyone who conforms to a certain set of standards, but those standards are usually arbitrary and different people have conflicting sets of standards. Uh oh. So there really is no objective measure of womanhood. None. Nada. Zippo. So how can anyone else tell me if I’m living up to the grand standard of womanhood? They cannot. If nobody can agree on what a woman is, then why is anyone more of an authority on womanhood than anyone else? Answer: they’re not. Because woman is an identity. We get to build it by being woman rather than trying to live up to some mythic archetype of woman.

 

If there is no objective, naturally occurring standard of womanhood, then the only reason certain people get to define it in certain ways is because they have power, either social or financial or political. That’s not a very good reason for some people to get the ability to deny your existence and your experiences. And defining certain things as “real” womanhood is extremely damaging to feminism and the idea that we should listen to women and their experiences. It denies us the ability to have choices, to be able to express ourselves in different ways, to have people accept us on our own terms or to hear what we have done and seen. It is gender essentialism at its worst, because not only does it tell you what you should be, it tells you that you are false or fake if you don’t do that: it tries to strip you of reality and existence if you don’t follow what it says. All in all, real women are people who say they are women.