Friday, 11 November 2016

I Didn’t Vote and I Stand by My Decision

If you’re one of the people who are unfriending people who didn’t stand with Hillary, find the ‘How do I stop someone from bothering me?’ button and press it hard now.

First of all, my choice not to vote had no effect on the election’s outcome. I am registered to vote in California. I wanted to vote. I wanted to vote to legalize pot. I wanted to vote to stop the death penalty. I wanted to vote for a lot of issues on the ballot. I wanted to vote.

Not Voting Was My Protest Against the Democratic Party

I chose not to vote as a protest against the Democratic Party (of which I am and have been a fairly active member for 30 years, including giving them money when I couldn’t afford to, protesting and canvasing when I lived in the States, etc) a party that resorted to Nixon style sabotage of a primary opponent, a party that purged its own voter rolls in the primaries to weed out ‘undesirable’ votes, a party that became intolerant to its own internal opposition.

I live in Ireland now so I had to make the decision to vote well before last Tuesday just to get my mail-in ballot to the polls on time. I spoke with a friend who convinced me to vote. I printed out the ballot. I carried it around with me. I agonized over this decision. The way I agonized over voting for Obama’s second term.

The Final Blow

The clincher for me was reading the Clinton campaign’s response to the protests at Standing Rock:

We received a letter today from representatives of the tribes protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. From the beginning of this campaign, Secretary Clinton has been clear that she thinks all voices should be heard and all views considered in federal infrastructure projects. Now, all of the parties involved—including the federal government, the pipeline company and contractors, the state of North Dakota, and the tribes—need to find a path forward that serves the broadest public interest. As that happens, it’s important that on the ground in North Dakota, everyone respects demonstrators’ rights to protest peacefully, and workers’ rights to do their jobs safely.

This was such a horribly thought out response it left me speechless and it was crystal clear that this is what an HRC administration would do for the next 8 years (and the 8 years matters because there would not be a possibility of another Dem opposing her in 2020 if she had won). This statement is an insult to the human rights violations that are going on there, it is a slap in the face to the freedom of the press violations, and it is a complete rejection of an opportunity to even engage in an environmental issue.

While Sanders took a long time to get involved (this has been going on for more than a year) and the Obama administration finally stepped up, albeit tepidly, the Clinton campaign did this – probably because she is a partner to the banking industry that is funding DAPL.

As the Democratic Party is jumping up and down about climate change, this was the silver platter event when the standard bearer of the party could have seized the moment, driven home the message about climate change, stood up to the banks and probably picked up a rather large portion of the Sanders contingent that had been lost along the way.

It would have been politically savvy to address the issue like a forward thinking, Democrat rather than a feckless politician. That she had to be asked by the tribes to respond was frustrating enough (but I had convinced myself that maybe she wasn’t responding in case it might look too much like exploitation and opportunism of some tragic events), but being asked – even pressured - into a response absolved her of those burdens and she not only completely fumbled the play, she revealed a kind of thinking and a kind of policy that is unacceptable for the Democratic Party.

This is a Republican response. This is a George W. response. This is the response from a group of people completely and utterly out of touch with what matters to a lot of the contingencies they were campaigning to represent – including and especially standing up to corporations and banks, an over militarized police force, and the gas and oil industry . (It made me realise that she was never going to successfully repeal Citizens United and would have probably sabotaged the process.) 

This was an event that came to her wrapped in a big red ribbon and she threw it in the garbage. If she wasn't willing or able to make this a campaign changer when her very success with the electorate was at stake, what was she going to do when she was in office and there was more pressure to serve the special interests than the people?

I Lost Faith with the Democratic Party After Obama Was Re-Elected

When Obama ran for the second time, he had just killed 3 children in a drone attack in Yemen. His tally of murdered children was about 90 and there was no end in sight for his drone war. I was livid, sickened, disgusted. This is a president who has a Nobel Peace Prize.

I debated with my political pals in California about not voting for Obama's second term and they went nuts about it. They told me that Romney was terrifying, the end of the world and that women's rights would suffer and on, and on, and on. And they promised me that they would help fight against the use of drones and Obama's foreign policy that was causing death and destruction on this side of the planet once he was re-elected.

I voted for Obama's second term out of fear. I caved and gave into all the ultimatums that were hurled at me. I fell for all the manipulative ‘you’re either with us or against us’ rhetoric - and then no one helped to do anything about the drones or the wars or his administration’s failed foreign policy. Since 2015, there are over 6,000 refugees who have died trying to flee conflicts the US has fuelled, 10,000 missing children who are feared to have been trafficked – not to mention the millions killed within the conflict zones. An estimated 95,000 unaccompanied children are refugees in Europe. The US is now involved in at least 10 global conflicts.  

The question that keeps running through my mind as I read all sorts of posts from other Dems condemning Dems like me, who didn’t vote or who voted third party, is: is your way of life more important or more valuable than a Syrian’s or Yemeni’s or a Grecian’s, German’s, Frenchman’s? When trade agreements mean that American companies can outsource to Chinese and Indian companies that treat people like slaves, does that matter less to you? By voting for her, you are supporting her policies (you can’t say you don’t and also say the things you’re saying about all of Trump’s supporters being fascists because they voted for him). Considering how much America reaps from the rest of the planet,are Americans not world citizens?

Voting out of fear haunts me. It’s hard to cope with voting for an administration that has destroyed the lives of millions of people outside of the US, as well as leaving behind millions of US citizens within its own borders. And I’m a part of that. I towed the party line, and once I cast my ballot, the party not only fucked off, it became entrenched in its own self perpetuating hero stories, which was dysfunctional at best and insulting at worst. And I had given up the only power I had to effect change - my vote.

I don't owe my vote to anyone who hasn't earned it. As an individual I have very little power. I refuse to throw that power behind something I can't support. 

In many ways it’s like sex. Once you put out, you lose all your power. In fact, that time around the party demanded my vote, turned its back and then re-invented itself as the new Republicans (just like the old Republicans but without the religion and the costumes). The party began to embody things that I had been fighting against for years. It resorted to bullying tactics to get me to stay, it attacked the reason I would have stayed, it resorted to campaign tactics that contradict free and fair elections and then tried to manipulate people like me to its own ends. And the party itself put hubris and its own special interests above service to the country.

It Is All or Nothing – It Is a Mandate

Dems vehemently tried to convince me that I didn't have to support all of HRC's policies to vote for her. They tried to convince me that what I disagreed with mattered less than a Trump win, but I'm watching too many Democrats vilify everyone who voted for Trump by using the logic that if you voted for him, you are a racist, homophobic, bigot by extension. Why would that logic not have applied to me if I had voted for Hillary, considering that 70% of what she stands for I don’t agree with or even condone?

Democrats were committed to the idea that a vote for HRC didn’t mean 100% support for her ideology as long as that logic got them votes. Many Democrats resorted to strong arming, threats and vilification as a way of manipulating people into that dice and splice mentality about policy, but they certainly aren’t willing to apply that logic now that they’ve lost.

I believe that a vote is a mandate and I couldn’t give HRC a mandate to govern.

I Know What’s at Stake

The Reagan era killed about 30 of my friends, most of whom died of AIDS. They died as a direct result of Reagan's reaction to the disease and his policies about homosexuals. I know that politics has real consequences. I've been to the funerals.

When I was 17, a 19-year-old friend of mine was murdered in gay bashing. It was a horrible hate crime, the police didn't bother to look for the murders because they had killed a fag. I'm not naive about how horrible people can be to each other. But just as I am not responsible for all of the mass shootings and hate crimes that happened during Obama’s presidency, I am also not responsible for the same because I didn’t vote for Hillary. My vote would never override the personal responsibility of anyone who resorts to violence for whatever reason. The violence that has started might just as well have started, and or have been worse, if HRC had won. The people who perpetrate violence are the only ones responsible for that violence period.

I still mourn the losses of those friends who might have been spared if the Reagan administration had supported and funded the CDC (which was amazing in the face of being stonewalled by an entire administration) and I fought against Reagan's administration and everything it stood for and things changed. I will do the same with Trump.

White Privilege

I’ve been accused of flaunting my white privilege and I probably have as the a bi-sexual, polyamorous, white woman I am– but my voting for HRC wouldn’t have gotten her and more elected than she is now. My real privilege is that I have Irish citizenship and I exercised that privilege 9 years ago and moved to Ireland.

I honestly don’t know what to do about that. I don’t know what to do about the fact that I have the choices and the opportunities I have. They are significant. I fight for voter rights, minority rights, gay rights and women’s rights as much as I can. I give away as much money as I can to charities I believe in. I’ve always been on the far, far, far, far left. And I will continue to look for ways to be progressive and serve progress – but the one thing I could not do is vote for this Democratic Party and I stand by that even as I read horrific stories of violence breaking out all over the US.

Voting for something out of fear is the most counter-intuitive issue I've ever had to deal with. I did it once, and I won't ever do it again. Principals have to matter, especially in the face of fascism, criticism and coercion. I won't live in fear and I won't vote out of fear. I realise this is very upsetting to a lot of people. You have a right to be upset. You can unfriend me. You can leave nasty comments. If my thinking is flawed, then it's flawed.

The thing I know I can deal with is that my decision not to vote this election was mine and did not come from coercion. My vote for Obama's second term came out of coercion and fear, and I can't help but think right now that if Obama had lost that election and Romney had become president, we certainly would not be dealing with Trump, and the DNC might have done its soul searching and restructuring 4 years ago.

What gives me hope is reading stories about Planned Parenthood being protected, seeing lists of charities that I can donate to that are really going to fight for their causes now rather than silently standing behind the Democratic Party and most importantly seeing people galvanised out of their complacency that the system works. The system doesn’t work and it’s been broken for a very, very, very long time and the Democratic Party became part of the problem not the solution.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Killing Myself Wasn’t the Answer (though for the longest time I thought it would be)

The hard part with writing a post like this is where to begin. In June of 2014, after trying to poison myself in April and coming very close to hanging myself, I started getting counselling here in Ireland. This was a huge step for me as I’ve hated even the idea of therapy. The help I’ve had in the past was anything but.

So getting help this time was not something I wanted to do for myself, it was something I did for my younger brother (who never even knew how bad things had gotten). The point is, if you’re like me and you resist bullshit with the armour of crusaders, you probably won’t get help for yourself. I never in a million years believed I would ever say this, but get help. Get help for your friends, your family, even strangers – get help for yourself if you know you need it – get help if you think it will never help at all. At the very least, making the effort to get help might help on its own.

I need to say that for all the griping about Irish health care here in Ireland, I’ve never had better treatment. I went to a GP near my flat and spent €75 to get a referral. It took 6 weeks to get an appointment, which was a difficult time, but once I got an appointment, I was seen every 2 weeks by a psychologist and had a check-up every 6 weeks at the psychiatric office and I never paid another dime. I was seen for over 10 months and only stopped at my request not theirs. There is nowhere in America that I know of that could or would provide that kind of service and support. I can’t evaluate the Irish system for the Irish but as a Yank, this was like manna from heaven.

I don’t know how things changed. There was a lot going on in my life while I was in therapy. My heart was broken in a relationship that mirrored a lot of the issues I have/had with my father. A lot of that anger oozed out of me like lava. Lots of little professional failures were haunting me and I was exhausted and at the end of my rope. Therapy needed to work or I was done. I just couldn’t go on the way things were going. There might be something to the fact that this had to work or I had to die. In my mind there was no middle ground – not any more – and that may have given me the drive to make it work.

I started with the assumption that I should quit working in the theatre. I constantly felt overwhelmed, over-looked, under utilised, frustrated, jealous, overly ambitious and the pressure to succeed was excruciating. It was one of the first things I brought to therapy. I wanted the stress and strain to end and I felt like giving up the work I loved, but that was costing me so much, had to go.

I need to backtrack to when I was first diagnosed with hypomania. I was immediately prescribed Lithium, and the focus of the treatment was on the depression that resulted from my manic crashes. When I started treatment here, I was adamant that they not put me on medication. I don’t think they would have even if I had begged. The psychiatrist also surprised me when he told he didn’t believe in manic/depression as a clinical, observable state. I have to admit, this made me sceptical, but it’s not like I had another choice. He referred to it as an American diagnosis.

In a refreshing and unexpected approach my psychologist dealt with my mania – which I always felt was an asset. I could work up to 20/21 hours a day, sometimes longer. I could get huge amounts of work done, teach classes, direct and produce shows, do all sorts of things because I was in a constant state of panic. I existed on adrenaline. I woke up every morning afraid that the world would swallow me whole every day, that everyone was against me and with a certainty that at some point I would fail at whatever I was doing. I lived like this every day for as long as I could remember. As far back as being a young gymnast at the age of 8 or 9.

When I was in ballet, I was supposed to be a prima ballerina. When I was a gymnast, I was supposed to go to the Olympics. When I was an actor, I was supposed to be on Broadway and win Tony awards. I was good at most things (except gymnastics) and people seemed to have or put a lot of faith in me. When none of those things happened, somehow I took this on in a way that created a sense of personal failure. It was all just pressure and failure, pressure and failure.

When I looked to the horizon in the Spring of 2014, all I saw was black. Who would I be if I wasn’t striving for greatness at everything? What right did I have to breathe if I wasn’t working my ass off every single day. If I wasn’t working as hard as I possibly could, I wasn’t working hard enough. Enjoying my life never even occurred to me and so it really didn’t occur at all. (It’s strange writing this because it’s almost hard to believe how I lived like that.)

I think the first thing that began to shift last November was that I didn’t have to do or be anything to have a right to be here. I was born. That’s the ball game. I don’t have to prove I should be here in order to get to stay. That might sound absurd, but that’s how I used to think. With all the horrors in the world, all the people who starve and struggle and have a reason to live, I didn’t – and I felt a kind of guilt for taking up space that I can’t put into words. Bleak doesn’t really begin to describe it.

I had a very bad Christmas. On December 23rd I had an anxiety attack that was so bad I walked the River Liffey for 4 hours from 10pm to 2am. I can’t access that panic again so I can’t describe it, but it was awful. The surge of adrenaline was off the charts. I was nauseous and out of my mind with panic. I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day alone. At some point, I had this epiphany about failure. I was working so hard to keep everyone from seeing that I was a failure, so maybe I should just give up trying to mask it and let it be. Why not be a fool and a failure out loud. What was the point of working so hard to hide it?

As I started to let go of the Herculean efforts I had been making to keep that inevitable failure at bay, I started to find a calm and peace that I hadn’t ever felt before. It was wonderful. It took time and is still evolving but I stopped waking up every day in a panic. I stopped feeling like every day was a marathon that I had to gear up for. Most importantly, I started to let myself off the hook. If mistakes happened, they happened. People stopped being threats. Life stopped being threatening. The ground felt secure under my feet for the first time that I can ever remember – even from childhood.

The biggest hurdle was the simplest (and possibly the silliest). It was my front door. I’ve always hid behind doors. In my own space, I can just be me. Walking out of my front door always took the most effort and if I could avoid it, I would at all costs. On weekends, I would finish work on Friday afternoons, come home and not leave my apartment until Monday mornings.

I knew things had really changed when walking out of my front door wasn’t the scariest part of my life. Now it’s not scary at all. Now I look forward to getting out. Now I don’t judge myself into the ground for things I’ve said or things I’ve done and socializing has stopped being a horror and has even started to be fun.

I think it was about late February or early March that I really began to feel that my life had changed. I told my doctor I had never been in the world this way before. I was 46 and I had no idea that life could be really enjoyable for no reason whatsoever. I wanted 40 of those years to do over without the anxiety. I don’t regret my life, but it could have been a lot easier.

A lot of my life now seems new and sometimes strange. But the crux is that everything feels effortless. I feel like I’ve spent my life with 100lb weights on every limb and now I’m free. I don’t have to prove anything. I don’t have to earn the right to walk the earth.

Along the way I faced my darker, hairier demons. I won’t go into them here but the one thing that has really helped is talking to a friend about all of the things that I’ve done that I thought were terrible and that up until that point, I had never spoken about with anyone. Having someone on the planet that knows all of me and who still accepts me without hesitation has been one of the most important parts of recovering. Find that/those friend(s) and talk to them. The thing you might find is that they are just like you with very similar monsters in their closets (or at least monsters that would get along if they ever ended up in the same wardrobe.)

I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that my work since February has been good. My theatre work as well as my civilian work has been some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done – and it has also been easier than it’s ever been – although, I sleep a lot more and though I’m not really tired, I can’t do 20 hour days any more.

I started teaching with laughter instead of anger and resentment. The revelation that I could teach with joy and still be disciplined and get to the meat of it was a game changer for me. I’m still working on this, as well as many, many other things but life is different now. I’m having new experiences in situations I’ve been in hundreds of times and sometimes I’m taken aback by the difference in what is happening now compared to how I was before. Sometimes I find myself not knowing what’s happening because I don’t feel the same way about what’s going on now. It’s all new. All of it.

At the beginning of September, after finishing teaching at PCPA this year, a former student posted a comment on Facebook about her experiences in my class 10 years ago. I was completely overwhelmed reading how the class had affected her. On my drive back to the Bay Area, I realized how thankful I was that I had never been able to kill myself when I had tried on numerous occasions. I realized that everything good I had ever done for others would have been wiped out if I had succeeded. I had not ever been glad about surviving before. I had only felt resigned to having to try again at a later time. At those times, death seemed like the only answer for me. Until I got help and until things changed, life was far too difficult to sustain and to manage. Not only is it wonderful not to be scared of the world, it’s really great not to be furious at it. I never in a million years would have thought I would ever be glad to be breathing. I was always just proud of the fact that I continued to struggle to breathe. Now there is no struggle and now there is ease and often joy and hopefully in the future grace in everything I do.

If you’ve read all the way through this and you have struggled or are struggling, with all the generosity in my heart, I offer you this: that with help, life can get better. When I was struggling, I couldn’t see that there is a different way to exist, an easier, simpler way, an enjoyable way, a way that lets me define what matters and what doesn’t, a way that does not leave me at the mercy of others, a way that isn’t full of pressure and strain and exhaustion. If you don’t believe that is possible, I guarantee you, neither did I. I’ve not been more deeply relieved and thankful to be so completely wrong in all my life.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Who Am I To Vote?

I registered to vote yesterday. It’s been a long time coming but I have had many doubts. I am an Irish citizen because my mother was born here but I never think I have the right to call myself Irish because I was born in the States and lived there for 37 years. What right do I have to give voice to my values in a place in which I was not born? I live in awe and admiration of the Irish and the culture here. I love it more than anything I have ever loved but I have not felt it appropriate to add my voice to its shape or its colour. I feel like an inferior American, red-headed step child.

I registered to vote because I know my voice is needed to say yes to the marriage referendum – even though my personal convictions don’t entirely agree. I don’t believe in marriage of any kind. I think marriage is a relic and a tool of governments to keep and consolidate wealth among certain bloodlines and for society to impose the absurdity of monogamy. The lunacy of basing societal structures on something as irrational, expirational and absurd as love is beyond me – but the alternative I have in mind isn’t ready for public debate.

One thing I am certain of is that marriage isn’t about the children, children can be a product of marriage, but no one in their right mind would ever tell anyone in this day and age to get married 'for the children,' or to stay in a bad marriage for the sake of the children so the 'it's about children' crap is just that, crap. I'd have given my eye teeth to have been raised within the walls of a loving marriage - I don't care if that marriage was between a baboon and a kitten.

I came from a heterosexual home. It did not improve my circumstances. Thinking that a heterosexual couple is an advantage in child rearing is like thinking that because you’re in a boat on the Atlantic you won’t die of thirst.

If we are really going to bring up child rearing then lets address the real issues about child rearing and put laws and social structures in place that will appropriately address the sexual abuse – by both males and females – in one man one woman families; let’s address physically and mentally abusive parents in one man one woman homes; and let’s take a hard look the dysfunctions of one man one woman households including alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, physical illness and so many other issues plaguing families who were granted marriage licenses solely because they were people of the opposite sex. I am not demonising any parents or any issue in any family. I am merely saying if we’re going to talk about child welfare, let’s really address the issues and look for serious and effective solutions. I’m actually surprised more people aren’t offended that the no side has taken a really important issue, like child welfare, and tivialised it to gain political points without any real or honest intention of following through and doing something about these very real issues.

The passing of the marriage referendum isn’t going to undermine the sanctity of marriage. The sanctity of your marriage is in your hands not someone else’s. If you think another’s marriage imperils your own, it’s already too late. - and I’m one of the people who did it. I am a bi-sexual woman, who has been married twice. There was never a question of whether I could get married because both marriages were to men. There was no question of how those marriages would manifest because as far as the State was concerned, it didn’t matter as long as my partner was of the opposite sex. My second marriage was open and completely out of the closet. So if your marriage withstood my marriage, then it can withstand all marriages. And at the end of the day, allowing all kinds of marriage actually gives your marriage more merit if that is what you value because you chose to conduct your marriage in ways that were morally valuable to you. Having moral value thrust upon your marriage because there is no other choice, makes your marriage nothing more than a union that followed pre-imposed, unbreakable rules.

So let’s address one of the real issues. Marriage gives couples permission to have sex and to have sex in a way that society accepts. If we allow gay marriage than we are agreeing that gay sex is socially acceptable – and since we’re calling a spade a spade – what we’re really talking about is accepting oral and anal sex. Now why conservatives believe that hetero couples aren’t having oral and anal sex is beyond me but they do seem to believe that given the choice heteros only choose vanilla. (They obviously haven’t met any the straight boys I’ve dated who at least want to try chocolate and who expect strawberry on the first date.)

The paradox of anything socially acceptable is that it makes whatever it is nobody’s business – and this is a point I want to get to. We should get to grow up as a culture and a society and be adult about this. What anyone does sexually is none of your business – and prying into what others do to make yourself feel righteous and superior is adolescent at best and dangerous at worst. Shame may have been something imposed on you/us by the Church but it's been far too over and misused. If we could celebrate sex, instead of being ashamed of it, there would be far less abuse and rape in the world (but that's another issue). 

When no one can be systematically, politically or socially discriminated against because of their sexuality with regards to marriage, those who continue to see themselves as more ‘worthy than” will be on their own, unprotected by the law and no longer able to cast aspersions without being personally responsible for what is said and done. (It is very hard to be righteous when superiority is taken away.)

The funny thing is that a yes vote really won’t impact straight people and yet they will be the deciders. It almost seems counter intuitive that the people who will be affected least, if at all, get to have a voice in what will have a huge and lasting impact on most of my friends and the people I consider to be my family. It probably won’t affect me. I’ve never asked for society’s permission to do anything and I won’t start now – and if I’m being honest, that’s what has made me apathetic about voting in the past – and there is a part of me that wants to revolt about having to give my permission on a ballot so one of my best friends can have permission to marry the woman she loves – especially when my friend will honour and value her marriage more than I ever did with either of my husbands (not that my husbands didn’t want me to). 

Who am I to have this power? Who am I to have been granted the right to marry because I chose to marry men? Why is my 2 month marriage to my first husband more acceptable than a commitment between two women or two men? Who am I to get to decide whether someone else can marry at all, when my second open marriage never had to be scrutinized by anyone? 

So I registered to vote and I will vote yes - yes I said yes I will Yes! But I wish I didn’t have to. I wish I weren’t among the privileged that have to give an allowance to those less fortunate – but in this case, far, far more deserving.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

A Few Thoughts About Robin Williams

I've thought better of writing a post about Robin Williams. Everyone has an opinion about Williams, mental illness, suicide - but I feel like there is part of the equation that I haven't seen articulated yet. Many are commenting on the fact that he was a success, famous, not uber-wealthy but not a starving artist by a long shot, etc. That's how we see him, but I'd like to speculate (and this is pure speculation - I did not know the man) about how he may have seen the world.

For those of us living in the cheap seats, the view of the rich and famous is glamorous, exciting and somewhat carefree. We also assume those at the top have value and that our reverence for them is earned and deserved. So imagine getting to the top and instead of being surrounded by demi-gods and a glorious world, what you find is a kind of grotesque self-indulgence, a weird surreal wealth and absurd moralities that are almost unfathomable? Williams may not have disappointed us (though I know a few San Francisco comedians who vehemently accused him of stealing their material), but what if the world disappointed him?

Having only glimpsed and been privy to part of the business Williams was in, I can tell you that there are parts of it that are disgusting, distasteful and in some cases, outside the laws of community and humanity. Entourage makes fun of some of the lighter bits but the decadence and depravity of some of the people who work and run Hollywood would curl your toes. (I don't wonder too much why he lived in the Bay Area, the air quality and the culture notwithstanding.)

I read an interview in which Williams shared what it was like performing for the troops in the Middle East, and some of what he alluded to was a real unease he had with the people he met who were in power, places he stayed that made him entirely uncomfortable and things he saw that stopped him in his tracks. In some interviews, you can hear in his voice a real sense of despair - that may not be entirely based on mental illness - a sense of limitless disappointment and futility of trying to make a difference in a business and a culture based on indifference. It's a tone you hear a lot in Good Will Hunting.

Imagine creating something like Comic Relief while living amongst assholes (yes, complete utter, self-indulgent, self aggrandizing assholes) who throw shit fits because they can't get 100 bottles of Crystal at the night club because the owner only ordered 99 bottles. I've seen worse. I've met people in this business who I would love to watch being eaten by Hannibal Lecture.

Then there are the real horrors who make their way to the business like pilgrims to Mecca and who would be, in any rational, human world, utterly grotesque pariahs. Men who use their influence to get whatever they want (including a producer I met once who had young boys of 11 and 12 brought up from Mexico to 'play' with). Women who would sell the souls of their children to get what they want (Lady MacBeth would blush). These people take their toll on humanity in all sorts of ways, I'm speculating that maybe, just maybe, we all just witnessed one more of those tolls.

Imagine believing in the world and thinking that it gets better as you get more successful - that you get to meet 'better' people (there's hugely flawed logical there to begin with but a lot of people think that successful people are better people for some reason) - that you will have better experiences - that you will be happier - that you will influence the world for the better. And now imagine that none of that can or will ever be true - and the more you try to use your influence (this fame and money and success that everyone is saying he had) the more you see how truly hopeless it all is?

Williams probably saw more of the world than most of us and he saw it from a vantage point that while privileged was also probably uniquely shocking. The rich and famous can build penthouses in the tree tops, but the scorpions that live among them are venomous, ruthless, and impossible to ignore.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Rider on the Storm

Last Friday I had one of those classes – one of those classes when something truly extraordinary happens. This epic piece grew from the simplest exercise. While it was clearly extraordinary for the students, it was equally amazing for me. The work worked exactly the way it’s supposed to work. It flirted with disaster and then went beyond anything I could have expected or imagined – I let the moment of panic – the moment when I thought I needed to save it from completely collapsing go – and the moment after the panic, it became something absolutely astonishing. It was inevitable and surprising and exactly what it needed to be. (And just so you know I’m not exaggerating, when the exercise was over, one of the students who was watching said he was exhausted just from being in the audience.)

So should I be surprised that when I woke up on Saturday morning, I felt well – for the first time in 5 months – I felt well. I felt capable, simply capable. I didn’t feel hollow or hungry (which has been very interesting because I’ve been feeling famished for months and have gained a ton of weight). And while I’m physically heavier than usual, I felt unencumbered - not euphoric, not elated, not invincible, not heavy, not black, not dragging under – just balanced and in accord. I had made a break though. I had accomplished something.

I’ve been very leery about feeling euphoric. About 6 weeks ago I found that I was spinning through an entire manic/depression cycle in a single day, day after day. I would feel euphoric and then panicked and anxious before plummeting again into black. It was too much for me. It frightened me. Spinning through entire cycles every day had not happened before, as far as I can remember.

I should say at this point that one of the most important people in my life is my ex-husband, Joe. I call him the Stephanie whisperer. He was with me through my last serious breakdown in graduate school and he walked me through my diagnosis and recovery. He has been just as helpful this time even though he is remarried and 7,000 miles away. (I should also say his wife has also been very supportive.) I check in with Joe about what happened last time because I don’t remember many of the events. The endless spinning is a new experience but it’s probably a new experience because I’m not medicated this time.

I went to a GP to get a referral to see a psychiatrist about 5 weeks ago. Even though the referral was urgent, I still haven’t been contacted to make an appointment. This is not a condemnation of the entire system, just the system for those who don’t have money or private insurance. I’m in a particularly bad financial situation at the moment so I can’t afford just to go pay for counseling (but that’s a different kettle of fish). The point is, I’ve been left to my own devices to get through this – not something I recommend but it has forced me to be vigilant about my own well being.

There are many thoughts and questions swirling around my head about this. This feels like when I got over the Chicken Pox or when I got over a really bad bout of food poisoning when I was a kid. I just woke up and felt healthy again. But that points to this being an illness, not a state of mind or a mood swing but an illness. I don’t know if the distinction even matters, but I sometimes get the feeling that mental illness is looked at as something I should be able to control. But we don’t look at our physical health that way. You could get pneumonia tomorrow, should you be blamed for that? Even if you have asthma - which pre-disposes you to respiratory illness - would you be blamed for getting sick?

I have felt blamed for this breakdown. As if having a condition predisposing me to mental breakdowns should actually be used against me for having a breakdown I’m biologically predisposed to.

I also feel like mental illness is looked on as being self-indulgent. Maybe I just feel that way because I stop being an over achiever when I’m depressed and I just do what is sufficient to get through the day. I hate that getting through is all I can do, but you can’t stop a hurricane. You just have to deal with it and get through the best way you know how.

I’ve begun to think of these last 5 months as a very long psyche hurricane. There was a build up of high and low pressure that gathered and pulled me way off balance and then the hurricane struck and raged until the balance was righted again. Thankfully, this storm didn’t cause as much devastation as it could have – and that is solely do to with the friends I never really realised I had. Friends who gave me financial support and emotional support and who just came to me and said, 'let's meet, let's talk, what do you need.' It floored me because I didn't expect it. I try not to let people get close to me because I'm too difficult to deal with personally but they found their way through and I'm very glad they did.

I have one friend to whom I can say anything – anything. He is the only person in the world who knows my worst secret – and he never judges me, and he would do anything for me. He chatted to me for hours during one of the darkest nights of this whole thing and he didn’t try to fix me. He just told me that my resolution was deeply flawed. We are terribly honest with each other, which means there are times when things get really uncomfortable. I have sat on his balcony while he wept with me and he has walked through my unique little hell right by my side. Everyone needs at least one friend like this. Go find that person. They must be your True North and you have to trust them, even when you hate what they are saying.

I’ve been as public as I can be about recent events and it’s been humbling to get the response and support I’ve gotten. There have been some who have completely turned their backs on me, but I expected that from everyone and it didn’t happen. Putting this out in the world the way I have is deeply uncomfortable, and I worry about the ramifications of it in the long run, but being public about this has humbled me. It’s one thing to strive for excellence from a place of open, flawed, vulnerability; it is another thing entirely to expect excellence in the world while hiding and hording an inner brokenness and weaknesses.

The thing that I wonder at most is the use of medication in treating depression and manic/depression. If I had seen a doctor 5 weeks ago and they had offered me medication or even a stay in the hospital, I would have taken it. I was doing so poorly. But if I were on medication, I would not know this shift that has taken place. I would not feel capable. I would feel dependent on a pill. The one thing I kept repeating to myself with wonder on Saturday is, ‘I feel capable.’ I feel able to go forward now. I feel steady. I feel grounded. I feel responsible and I feel capable.

I wonder how many others like me could find a shift like mine if they were given the time and the space that I had to find it, rather than a prescription? And I’m not saying that what has happened would or can happen for anyone else, but how will we know when we are so rushed to make things better? It has made Friday's class a bit of a parable. When I didn't try to fix the impending disaster waiting to happen in class, the most amazing experience came out of it. I just needed to be patient and let it be what it was, without judging whether it was right or what it was supposed to be - every rule was broken (except 1) and that allowed something amazing to evolve.

We are constantly driven to fix what’s wrong as quickly as possible without actually exploring it. We want it to pass, we want to move on, we want to get over it – but what if it needs exploring and experiencing? I didn’t have a choice this time, professional help has not been forthcoming, but professional help probably would have medicated me and masked the experience and I would have missed this - as I obviously did last time.

Doctors and scientist are discovering that the quick fix isn’t always best and can be detrimental. The over prescribing of antibiotics to quicken the recovery of minor illnesses the body is perfectly capable of enduring and fighting are now responsible for resistant strains of super bugs – which begs the question – are we making mental illness worse by treating it with drugs? Does the darkness, the black depth of the psyche get worse because of the way we treat it? Will every Columbine give way to a Newtown because it has to escalate?

All I needed was time and space to sort myself out. The pressure that came to bear and pushed everything over the edge was money. Think about that. In societies where mental health services are scarce and where there are tangible symptoms of mental instability that make earning money difficult or impossible, a horrible pressure builds that exacerbates an already dysfunctional situation.

I’m not sure how to solve this but I have to start thinking of a different solution for myself because riding out the storm was necessary. You can’t stop a hurricane. You can’t fix a hurricane. You can’t undo it. You can’t change its course. You can’t make it better. You have to let it run its course and you have to know that at some point it will disperse. And right now that seems like a very healthy course of action with the support I got along the way.

It made me think of Riders on the Storm. Into this house we’re born/Into this world we’re thrown/Like a dog without a bone/An actor out alone/Riders on the storm.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Fairyland Paradigm

When I was 10 or 11, my mom told me to do my chores before she left for work in the morning. It was summer so we were out of school. I had this habit of watching TV all-day and waiting until the last possible moment to get my chores done. I knew the sound of my mom’s Pinto and would spring into action as soon as I heard the putter of that pathetic motor coming down the road before it turned into the cul de sac where we lived. Over the years I had figured out how to get most of the dishes done or most of the family room picked up from the time I heard that car until she walked through the front door. If she came home and I was doing my chores, I'd get away with it.

On this particular summer’s day, she came home around lunchtime, which was unheard of even though she worked less than 10 minutes down the road from where we lived. I had sprung into action as usual and was in the middle of vacuuming when she came in, but most of my chores weren’t done. For whatever reason, she didn’t tell me that morning that she was coming home early to take my younger brother and me to Fairyland at Lake Merritt that day. Since I didn’t have my chores done, I was left behind to finish them.

Even thinking about this now, over 35 years later, my body shivers with remnants of rage and abandonment, with a healthy amount of betrayal thrown in but only in hindsight. I don’t actually feel these emotions now, I have let them go, but my body remembers the experience and the fragment of an image of the sunlight on the huge weeds in the backyard and the sound of the door slamming behind my mom still pierces my mind.

I spent the rest of that afternoon giving back everything my mother had ever given me by taking everything out of my bedroom and stacking it in her room. It took me hours. I have a vague memory of my older brother coming home, seeing what I had done, and telling me to put everything back, but I’m not sure if that’s what really happened. The point is that I spent a hell of a lot effort and sweat trying to get back at her and expelling my anger, which turned out to be absolutely futile and made a huge mess of my room.

What stays with me or what I’m trying to explore is the overwhelming sense I get that I’m always being tested and that I’m always getting caught before I can finish vacuuming the family room floor. If I had just known today was Fairyland day, if I just had more time to finish, if I just had more money, more resources, more….

I know enough rationally to understand that there are events and circumstances in my life well beyond my control, but the Fairyland paradigm has found deep roots in my emotional psyche – and it is a very muddy tangle:
·      Most of the time I feel like the world is going to pull the rug out from under me any way, so why put in any effort in the first place
·      On the flip side, I have huge amounts of guilt for my procrastination and laziness
·      When I do apply myself, especially with great rigor, I get unbelievably anxious
·      And with the rationale of an 11-year-old, I wonder where and to whom do I return my life when the rewards of good work never materialize?

I can’t be bitter or ungrateful. I just refuse those options. I’ve been around people who are bitter and ungrateful about everything and I can’t go down that road.  It’s the one shred of light in my life. I honestly see the world as being good. It’s me who isn’t worthy of it, not the other way around.

Letting go of anger isn’t easy, but letting go of the helplessness that spurs the anger is a very welcome change and one I’m trying to employ. My mother never had any clue what that day did to me. I don’t think she even knows that I stacked every outfit, every book, every shoe, every everything that I had at the ripe old age of 11 in her room and then moved it all back while she and my little brother were gone. Over time, I've come to realize she had no intention of causing the tidal wave of rage and powerlessness that still makes me shake, but I’ve blamed her for that quaking ever since it started. And I have felt helpless to change it for just as long.

So today I’m left wondering – what if I had just done the work? What if I had just turned off the TV? I don’t agree with my mom’s parenting style – and a little follow through back then would have been invaluable - but I can either blame the world for my missing out because I don’t know what’s at stake or I can just choose to do the work.

I find it interesting how much my psyche resists this train of thought. I find it amusing how my ego throws up snippets of memories of people who tell me how productive and what a hard worker I am. They see the marvel of someone who can do last night’s dishes in the 4 and 1/2 minutes it took my mom to drive down the block, into our court, up the drive way and walk through the door. They don’t see the 3 hours of TV I watched before she came home. I find it a little bewildering how much of me wants to be lazy so I’m at liberty to blame rather than taking the risk of applying myself (and still possibly getting nowhere).

I read a blog on Tuesday about becoming a writer. It said if you want to become a writer, read every day. Write, every day. 1,000 words a day. I have had an idea for a novel in my head for 7 months and most of the free time I’ve had since then, I’ve spent scrambling to get work and on Netflix. Yesterday, I woke up and read and wrote. By 2pm, I had written 1203 words (100 of those words are the beginning of the novel and the novel drew up the memory that started this post).

Today I woke up with a headache, scared and depressed. It’s just part of the cycle I’m in.  I hadn’t published this yet so I thought, fuck it, I can just give in to this feeling of despair. But I really can’t let this swallow me whole. If I want this cycle to change, I have to change it. So today I wrote about how some Google changes to secure search will affect online marketing data. It doesn’t matter, I wrote. I changed today when it wasn’t easy, when I didn’t want to, when my heart wasn’t in it. It makes me realize the luxury of motivation.

I don’t know if I’ll get to go to Fairyland if I get anything done – I may not even like Fairyland (I’ve never been) – but I at least want to be the master of the effort. I don't want to be at the mercy of not knowing if I could have done better because I didn't bother to try.

I also know that starting is easier than persevering, which is part of the reason I’m saying this out loud. If I announce my intentions, then giving up isn’t just lack of commitment in my head, it’s real.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Possible Insight into L’Wren Scott’s Suicide

I’ve spent the last month or so thinking about suicide. I had already been thinking about it for weeks before L’Wren Scott killed herself, and beyond the sensationalism of the press, I recognized something in her choice. It made sense to me. 

Before any alarms go off, I want to say this is nothing new for me. It’s a rare day that goes by when I don’t think of suicide. It’s been an ‘out’ for me since I was about 12. It’s the trap door in the stage floor that only I know is there, and if the drama gets too much or the melee gets out of hand, I can just drop through that escape hatch into oblivion.  Until a few hours ago, I thought the trap door gave me strength and courage, but I’m beginning to see that it might just be a pressure point that raises the stakes beyond what is safe or would be considered rational.

I was diagnosed 12 years ago with Hypomania on the bi-polar II spectrum. My manic episodes are mild and manageable and the worst that comes from them is a fair amount of envy from friends and colleagues who think I’m super human because I can be amazingly productive. I don’t know anything about L’Wren Scott’s mental state, but you don’t get to run a fashion empire without being a little extraordinary in terms of energy and drive – not to mention talent.

The depression part however is bleak and desolate beyond imagining. I’ve only had 3 breakdowns in my lifetime that were severe enough to be life threatening (from suicide): one about 30 years ago, another 12 years ago and one that started just before the holidays and seems to be lifting now.

This last one might be too fresh to write about, but I’m trying to articulate the experience because it’s not talked about much and it coincides with this very public and sensationalized tragedy, that might be better understood.

I should probably state straight out that I don’t have a psychiatrist or counselor. I’ve had very bad experiences with the profession and I don’t trust it or the people I can afford to avail of in it. (I’ll blog about this at a later date.) When I was diagnosed in 2002, I was put on Lithium, one of the few drugs that can be used for bi-polar disorders. The problem with Lithium is that it can be fatal if taken incorrectly, something the slimy, school appointed shrink who diagnosed me relished in explaining in some detail as he wrote out my prescription. He then made me promise, like an impressionable school girl, not to kill myself by overdosing. It was like handing a loaded gun to Sylvia Plath wrapped in love letter that Ted Hughes wrote to someone else.

This doesn’t mean I ignore the disorder. When I was first diagnosed, it was a relief to know that something was causing the world to flip and spin, and I realized that patience is my biggest ally. I also found early on that exercise works far better than Lithium and the side effects are far more beneficial. When I’m anxious or keyed up, exercise evens me out, and when I’m down, it lifts me up. (Again, more on this in another post.) So part of my personal therapy is getting up every weekday to lead the daily warm ups at the school where I teach. I walk 15 minutes in and back and do a 15 minute physical warm up - even on days when I don’t teach a regular class - because it keeps me even and it also benefits the school and the students. A real win/win.

What I’ve only begun to grasp this week, and particularly in the last few hours, is that there is a very insidious side to this disorder to which I haven’t been paying enough attention. A significant part of many mental illnesses is an inability to appropriately consider the consequences of behaviour and actions. In other words, I take risks most people wouldn’t because I can’t or don’t figure in the consequences. From a rational point of view, I must look stupid at the very least and self obsessed and nihilistic at the very worst.

Usually the risks I take are moral or artistic. I won’t get into the morality issues this go – stay tuned – and the artistic ones have to be taken, it’s part and parcel of working in the arts. I know it’s also part and parcel of working in fashion. (Hell, it’s part and parcel of working in the sciences, too, it’s just that the funding problems in the sciences are different.)

So I’ve begun to wonder if the suicidal trap door allows me to ignore any thoughts of danger or consequences in the plans I make? My fearlessness is another of those traits that some friends and colleagues envy, but they really don’t know the half of it. I usually think, “Well, if things get that bad, I can kill myself.” I never think of how to deal with fallout like a human being. I consider myself above that, stronger than that, and willing to sacrifice my life if that’s the cost.

The issue I am just realizing is that if I am not stable when the consequences occur, I cannot see them or address them rationally and the whole train comes off the rails. So it’s not just a matter of not being able to assess the probability of consequences, it is also a matter of not being able to appropriately address the magnitude of the consequences once they are inevitable and not knowing how to take responsibility for them and rectify them like a productive adult.

So this week, I came very close to killing myself because I can’t afford to pay my rent. If that sounds irrational, the rest is going to sound absurd. As my impending inability to pay rent got closer, I asked for a loan. It even turned out that someone owed me about that amount from decades ago, but in the end I refused the money because I just felt like more of a failure having to ask to be paid back.

Again, if this makes no sense, it’s because everything in my mind gets distorted when I’m in the throws of a depression. The amount of money didn’t matter to me; it was a failure and I was a failure and I didn’t feel anything was worth the effort – especially the effort of being paid back. I was willing to sacrifice my life because it wasn’t worth the cost of getting help.

In reading the worldwide speculation about whether L’Wren had killed herself over money and whether or not she had asked Mick Jaggar for financial help, I felt like my situation was being played out in the rock/fashion world with much more talented and better looking people. I also felt like the press and everyone was focusing on the money rather than on the substance of the issue.

The lack of money or debt represents a failure but it’s not really about the money, whether it’s 5 million or 500 (L’Wren’s apartment was worth 8 million, if it were just about money, she could have absorbed the loss). Failure isn’t quantifiable the way money is. Failure is about quality, and once you lose your sense of quality – value – worth, nothing else matters. And if you take that a step further and feel like you must punish yourself for your failure, then you have a seriously dangerous situation.

Unless her friends are lying, everyone who knew L’Wren, saw her as beautiful, talented and successful, but that probably made no difference to her. Those who don’t agree that you’ve failed just don’t understand the failure, and those who unwittingly compound your feelings of inadequacy, lead you to further depths of despair and hopelessness. None of which is anyone’s fault. Blaming anyone for their mental illness or blaming those around someone with mental illness is like blaming empty pie tins for obesity.

The media does really suck when it comes to covering these kinds of stories. I’m not sure whether they print sensationalized crap because it sells papers or whether the public will only buy sensationalized crap so they have to print it, and while the coverage of Mick Jaggar’s response was jackal-like, it made me realize that suicide causes damage from which loved ones and friends don’t recover.

It’s that thought that stopped me in the end, and while it still feels like I deserve to be punished for failing, I’m not willing to sacrifice the lives of those who care about me or who happen to be in a class I teach for my gnarled sense of absolution. The twisted irony being, that in the end it was the realization of the consequences of my actions on others that stopped me from self annihilation, but had the consequences only been mine, I might have disregarded them all together. The questions I have to address now are: is the trap door gone forever now that I know the consequences go far beyond my own? And what affect, if any, will this have on my ability to assess and take risks?

I would venture a guess that L’Wren Scott couldn’t ask Jaggar for help, or once she did, it made her feel even more inadequate. I would venture to guess that her leaving everything to him was a way of letting him know she had a kind of value or worth that the world recognizes but that she could not feel (pessimistically, this might also be sprinkled with a fair amount of 'fuck you,' but where a person kills themselves and who they intend to find them says a lot more about that). I would even venture to guess that L’Wren might have had an undiagnosed disorder, which can unfortunately reek havoc on our sense of reason and our ability to adequately judge the ramifications of our actions which most often ends up hurting those around us more than it hurts us.