Category Archives: Uncategorized

Gender and Mental Health

I went to see “Girl, Interrupted” when I was 16, fresh out of my own stint at a psych ward and looking for hollywood to help me glamorize what was really a pretty boring experience.  The film was set in the past, although historical thinking wasn’t it’s strong suit, it created a kind of genderqueer mythography about the hospital.  Housing a collection of girls who were interrupted in their quests to be different – there was winona with her teenage rebellion from school, a lesbian who wasn’t able to be out and proud, an anorexic woman who wanted to stay a child, and the sexy sociopath played by angelina jolie.

My first hospital featured few sexy sociopaths, no clea duvall, and overall little gender nonconformity.  But then again, I don’t remember a lot of it because of the tiny black holes made by shock therapies.

As an adult in a psych facility, you are allowed very little gender. Or, at least, very little gender performance.  No makeup, no clothing with buttons or ties, def. no high heels, not even shower gel or conditioner that smells like girl. Everyone does art time together and we all visit the gym together to shoot basketballs to pass the time.

Overall, this synchs with the “sex is between your legs and gender is between your ears” philosophy of gender (which has lots of issues of course). When you’re on a psych ward, what’s between your ears gets relabelled in terms of compliance and functioning.  did you take your meds? how did you sleep? are you crying all the time? these are the important questions… and yes, these questions are the same for men and women, for both and neither.

Reclaiming the hospital as a queer space is somewhat problematic also because of the extreme monitoring of all bodily functions. (i mean ALL). There are tons of hierarchies and lots of badness and overall just a lot of time. But no gender.



Where do feelings come from?

When I was a lowly undergrad, I volunteered at a peer counseling hotline. We had extensive training that makes all other job training I’ve had look like playtime at okay corral. One of the things we were never supposed to say on a call was “how did that make you feel?” because one of our prime directives was “nothing makes you feel. Your feelings come from you.”  At the time, I got around this rule by saying something like “how did you feel after that happened?” or “what did that feel like?” and by openly mocking this rule to friends outside of our office – “hey hey! nothing makes you feel anything. these feelings are your response!” (yeah i wasn’t the most belly showing coworker, even then). It didn’t make sense to me that someone could dump you, or you could get rejected in some other way, or some attack could happen, and you were still wholly responsible for your feelings. I was young.

There’s some kind of magical (or at least intricate) process by which we take the events of our life and turn them into feelings.

After my not very bad week, I came to work today and immediately started crying. What happened? Honestly, nothing. Nothing happened… well, nothing caused the feelings.

Last week in therapy my therapist suggested that, like my last not very bad week, perhaps life didn’t have to be painful. That just maybe we could go about our days and not have horrible pain in our bodies and minds becuase of the world around us and how we interpret that world.  That seemed completely foreign to me. The world is horrible. How can we not feel horrible? But… organizing, doing nothing, reading, writing… none of those have seemed to impact either the horribleness of the world or how I feel about it. So what is the cause? Is it all in my head? Yes, no, and yes and no.


Don’t hurt the dragon!

My cats are the reason that I’m still here. I know that sounds “crazy.” I usually don’t tell psychiatric type people this because of how it sounds. But, the thing is, my cats are old, they aren’t well suited to change, and they don’t bond well with new people. Basically in a shelter to adoption situation, they’d be doomed. I tend to forgive them their accidents – eating too fast and then throwing up on the carpet, etc – because they are animals that don’t know better. They can’t learn. They don’t have the ability to think “remember last time I ate this fast and it made me throw up? let’s not do that again.” to the extent that they have thought processes at all, it’s more like “food, yum, eat eat eat, oh no!”

i imagine that Daenerys’s dragons have similarly limited thought processes. they hear the command and they breath fire. In the GOT series, we very rarely get “good” characters who don’t kill and don’t reap the benefits of murder. Like my cats, the dragons have no conscience, they aren’t *supposed* to obey any kind of social contract. They are simply doing what they’re instincts tell them to do. Eat until full. Breathe fire. Sleep. Fly around looking menacing.

I would forgive my cats anything. I would also forgive the dragons anything. I know that this is misplaced solidarity. I know that there are human people in my life who love me and would care a lot if I killed myself. I know that their pain would be much more than my cats (who would end up okay, because I have good friends who might step in and at the very least a great humane society in my town that rarely kills animals for space, only for severe and unremediable behavior or health issues). But my heart goes out to the wounded dragon, it seems unfair that he would be hurt, and my heart would go out to my cats if they’re designated human servant left them.

Perhaps this is because I don’t expect dragons, or cats, to help their humans think of better solutions to life’s problems (be them horrible depression or usurpers to the throne). I expect the humans in my life to think of better ways. I guess I should admit that I’m pretty angry at the people in my life for not being there for me in the ways they can. Even though I haven’t given them instructions, even though there’s mostly nothing they can do, and even though there are a few who have come through for me.

In conclusion, don’t hurt the dragons. It’s not their fault. But it’s probably not people’s fault either.

Getting Better

When you go to visit a lot of psychiatrists and other “helping professions,” people often ask you how your depression/anxiety/whatnot is on a scale of 1-10. This is a horribly inaccurate measure for most people, but it gives you some data points at least, despite:

  • one person’s “5” is another person’s “8” and the charts don’t stay with a particular patient through various agencies, so there isn’t a way to measure your progress or not on your own individual scale
  • you are asked to rank your depression overall for the past week/day/whatnot, and you automatically privilege how you are feeling at that moment. i regularly have “dips” to being at an 8 or 9 but they only last for an hour or so, and then fade.
  • you never ever want to say “10” or “1” because these seem like the end of the game.

The goal is for your score to go down as you get better. Not that anyone thinks you will ever get to a 1, but to hover around a 2 or 3 at least means that you are not a danger to yourself and that life seems bearable.

I’ve been at about a 7 or 8 this week. Well, for quite a few weeks. My goal is to hover at around a 6, which would translate to at least “I have some hope that I won’t feel this way forever.”

Death isn’t a cure for depression. But it is a cure for a life lived in this much pain.

I’m just searching for another cure. Trying out the various things that the doctors give me. Trying to hold on.

Relationship Remixer

When I was just at the tail end of and getting out of college, up through the beginning of graduate school, I had a very serious girlfriend. We shacked up. We codepended. We were both pretty depressed – her more than me at that stage in my life. She self medicated mostly with pot and I self “medicated” with an eating disorder and cutting. It was overall not a good scene, even though there was a lot of love and care and mutual understanding. What there wasn’t a lot of, at least towards the end, was sex. Maybe this is true of all relationships, maybe just of lesbian relationships, maybe just of finally getting your shit together and getting on the right medication that kills your sex drive, maybe some combination of all of the above. For my time in grad school, she would still call me up every so often and tell me that I was the only one who ever really knew how to take care of her, who accepted her the way that she was (and ask me sometime to tell you about her new husband who is a staunch republican, totally anti-gay, and has borderline personality disorder).  I did love and accept her, and she did me, and we never needed to say “I don’t know why there is no reason I’ve been crying all day this is just my life.”

For a long time after that relationship ended, I thought that what killed our sex life was the fact that I took such good care of her — that I became a pseudo-parent figure to her.  I vowed that in my next few relationships, I wouldn’t let my partner take care of me. I would rely on friends, on chosen family, on anybody but the person who I wanted to also fuck my brains out to pick me up form the psych ward. Never the twain shall meet.

Unfortunately, and fortunately, my current primary partner doesn’t have a serious history with mental illness and will always ask what happened when he sees me crying.In some ways, it is a nice change. In others, I want to shield him from what happens in my head because I don’t want him to take care of me and because I don’t want to let him in.

Of Goal Setting and Mental Illness

My psychiatrist asked me today if I was still looking for teaching jobs. I answered “yes” reflexively and then followed up with “well, i’m trying to get through this conversation without crying, and then i’m going to try to get through the rest of the day without crying too much. My goal for the week is to keep doing the things I enjoy even when I am crying and not enjoying them. My stretch goal is to get a nights sleep. I would really like that but it may not be possible.”

The basis of “spoon theory” is that some things most people do without too much fuss or energy (i.e. not crying in public, taking a shower, eating dinner) take some of us a relative lot of energy so that, at the end of the day we have no “spoons” left for our romantic life, our professional advancement, not screaming at our partner’s child because they are whining about something stupid, or just plain keeping our tears in until we get into our apartment. Spoon theory explained a lot to me, and still does. It became a short hand that is readily understood by people – “I don’t have the spoons to cook tonight and I don’t know when I will have them,” is much more honest than “I wanted you to come over for dinner but I forgot to turn on my phone for the past 12 hours to finalize our plans” or “My cat is sick” or any of the other millions of excuses I have used when I planned to have a birthday party and then the day of realized I just *couldn’t* face people.

There are two (related) problems with spoon theory in general and in particular in terms of goal setting.

  1. using spoons can make you have more spoons – this is when you don’t think you have the social energy or spoons to go visit your friend because you can’t stop crying and think you are a burden to be around, but then you do go see her and she is totally cool and not at all bothered by your tears and the shit-show that is your emotional deregulation and then suddenly you feel like you might have those spoons to take a shower after all.
  2. not having spoons results in you feeling like you deserve to not have any spoons. you start thinking “i couldn’t make myself shower today, i am so disgusting and stink and can’t ever have the spoons to shower.”

Applying for teaching jobs makes me feel like I might have a future that is valuable and meaningful. Therefore I do it, even when I am also harvesting my spoons trying to make it through the day. I would like to make it through the day a little easier, so I could focus on making my life better in higher order ways, but having hope for the future helps with all of these fronts. I have to shower and swim and talk to a friend *in order to* gain spoons to write this cover letter.

And blog. So thank you. Coming soon= hospitalization, friends, and permanence. Mental illness and loving commitment. Sex gender and depression.