Archive for the ‘Mental health’ Category

Manuscript Monday: Building my brand, losing my mind

Monday, November 18th, 2013

 An excerpt from chapter 12, “Burnout”:

 

I clicked to open a browser and loaded up the dashboard of my fancy new site, theradicalhousewife.com.  After MySpace tanked, I wrote for a while on a Blogger platform before determining that it was time to bite the bullet and, in the parlance of mommybloggers across the country, “build my brand.”

 

Mom-The-Blogger

 

The dashboard stared at me.  I knew I ought to write a new post, but instead I loaded up the fancy statistics widget that revealed my total number of page views, incoming search terms, referring sites, and the like.  Reading that stats widget was like swallowing a Krispy Kreme in one gulp every morning—addictively sweet, but never truly fulfilling or even satisfying.  If I had a hundred page views, I wanted a thousand.  If I had a thousand, it was usually because a blogger with a much larger following, like Gina Crosley-Corcoran of The Feminist Breeder, had linked to me, and I felt pangs of jealousy that I wasn’t yet in her league.

I couldn’t feel grateful or humbled that my blogging peers seemed to enjoy my work; instead, I wondered why I wasn’t being asked to appear on Ricki Lake.

 

Internets

 

In another attempt at brand-building, I appeared at a local Netroots conference, suffering a lonely panic attack in the women’s bathroom before shakily convening a panel called “Feminist Activism in a Gone-Rogue Age.”  When I submitted the (surprisingly successful!) panel to the national conference, I was told that I didn’t have enough name recognition yet—The Radical Housewife was not yet a brand.

 

newpost

 

I stared at the keyboard, the mouse, the monitor, blank screen with NEW POST at the top.  What exactly did a brand write about, anyway?  Shannon Drury once wrote about any old crap that came into her head, hiding behind a goofy moniker as a joke that she thought would make Erin and Christine laugh.  Then Erin moved to DC, Christine moved to San Diego, and The Radical Housewife moved to her own URL address.

I stared at the blinking cursor.  There wasn’t a shortage of topics to write about; thanks to global patriarchy, half a million ideas buzzed through my mind through any given day.  I could take a controversial position.  I could repost on Daily Kos, Minnesota Progressive Project, orFeministing.  A writing friend gave me the contact information for an editor at the Huffington Post, the site around which gone-viral careers were being made, but I couldn’t type her a sentence, much less pitch her an article that might build my brand.

I couldn’t write.  I didn’t want to write.  This scared me back into talk therapy.

 

lucy1

 

….with [the therapist's] help I began the process of untangling the knot of my many identities: feminist, activist, writer, mom, even “radical housewife.”  I’d worked myself into a this/that, us/them, either/or box just like the one I thought I was fighting against years before.

Instead of me naming a MySpace page back in 2006, my MySpace page named me!

 

 

I will survive (maybe)

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Before I dig into this post, can I hear from Audre Lorde again, please?  I know it’s a meme we’ve all seen a few different times, including this post from October, but it’s just too good not to repeat.

 

Thank you, Audre, wherever you are.

So it’s the holidaze again, and in anticipation, my clever editors at the Minnesota Women’s Press organized the November issue around the theme of SURVIVAL.  For those who feel sorry for themselves that they have to grit their teeth through a meal with relatives who, like Karl Rove, still don’t quite believe that Mitt Romney lost the election, there is a great article about a woman born in a federal women’s prison who is now an advocate for prison reform.  That is some serious surviving.

The cover of the issue is also brilliant, featuring a photograph by Nicole Houff of a glamorous but dead-eyed vintage Barbie in her candy-colored kitchen, holding aloft a beautifully trussed turkey:

 

 

Despite great gains for women outside the home, what happens inside the home is another story.  I bet that the record twenty women in the United States Senate are still expected to get a damned turkey on the family table next Thursday.  Whether they cook it themselves or grab it from the deli at Whole Foods, it’s still considered a lady’s business to get that shit taken care of.

In case you’re curious: NO, I am not hosting T-day this year. Let’s leave it at that and move on.

My contribution to the November ish is a column called “My Feminist Survival Kit.”  I bare my soul in this one, folks–that is, if there’s one reader out there who would be surprised by the fact that I prefer Sharon Needles and Snooki to Don Draper and Walter White.

While I declare in the column that “burnout is painful but entirely preventable if we have the courage to make our frustrations known,” I regret that I am still more likely to cook you a fabulous turkey feast than tell you what’s really whirling around in my addled mind.  I remain my own harshest critic, unable to extend to myself the compassionate understanding I so willingly offer others.

But it was ever thus, especially when we approach mid-November.  Here in Minnesota, where the sun dips beyond the horizon at 4:30 in the afternoon, everyone is feeling dark.  One e-mail I opened last week revealed that a woman was leaving her husband, perhaps permanently.  Blogs I follow overflow with spilled secrets, deeply felt pain, suicidal ideation.

Allow myself to quote….myself: “as my Internet speed improves, the cacophony amplifies and multiplies, until it threatens to drown everything else in my head. I’m learning that I can write an angry blog post about Todd Akin tomorrow. Today, however, I can turn the computer off.”

Why, I think I’ll do that.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I stopped

Friday, October 12th, 2012

 

I didn’t watch last night’s Veep debate.  I didn’t watch the Presidential debate last week, either, and I don’t plan on watching the next two.

 

 

Though I am nowhere near as adorable as this kitteh, I don’t feel guilty.

I like to think of myself as a model of civic engagement, but the truth is I’m burned out.  I know who’s getting my vote, and so do you (Him. Her. Him. Her. Him. No. No).

Skipping the debates doesn’t make me ignorant about the issues at stake in the election. Quite the contrary!  As every idiot with a wi-fi enabled laptop and smartphone knows, we are never wanting for information.  The amount of information, and the volume and tenor of that information, can be totally crazy-making.

When our kids near tantrum stage for not achieving the high scores of their dreams on any of our four Just Dance games, we say this: “If it’s not fun anymore, stop.”  Sometimes this dose of reality works.  Sometimes, of course, there is an explosion of tears and curses and AA batteries as the Wii-mote hits the wall.

The Romney-Ryan philosophy of governing makes me ill.  They are not fun, and I can no longer watch them.

Happily, they inspire jokes and memes that are hysterical.  I love the @FiredBigBird Twitter feed and the P90X caption contests.  Thanks to social media, the debates can be GIFed into a form that does not make me want to scream and destroy my household possessions.  That’s FUN we can believe in!

Speaking of social media, this Audre Lorde quote has been making the rounds among my connected friends and social justice allies lately, which proves that I’m not the only one experiencing severe political burnout:

 

 

Dear readers, don’t forget to take care of yourself, too. Remember:

If it’s not fun anymore, stop.

If it IS fun, repost it on my Facebook and Twitter so I know about it!

 

 

The problem of feminist mental health

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

In 1963, Betty Friedan dropped a bomb on American culture called The Feminine Mystique, a book that diagnosed untold millions of women with “the problem that has no name.”  The book kicked off the Second Wave of feminism, but if you’re a regular reader here you already know that.

What I want to talk about is another problem that, though it is named and we all know it exists, is rarely discussed openly in feminist circles: the stubborn problem of feminist mental health.   Everyone we know is on an antidepressant or twelve, yet we talk more about abortion, sexual assault, gender identity and other formerly taboo topics than we do our own addled minds.

Believe me, this is no royal “we” I’m utilizing here.  My own mental health, on unstable ground since my teens, has been in a slow decline for the better part of a year, due to factors both internal (genetic predisposition, hormone disregulation) and external (professional disappointment, thorny family issues, a friend’s terminal illness).  Like many other smart, capable, honest women I know, this is how I faced it:

Some time ago, I expressed my disgust over one body part or another (belly? batwings? blotches? pick ‘em) and a feminist friend stopped short.  “You?” she asked.  “You feel body shame?”

“Of course I do!” I replied.

“But,” she spluttered,  “you are such a GOOD FEMINIST!”

I laughed and told her I was a feminist because I have body shame, I know how much it sucks, and I want to stop it!  Duh!  I use this anecdote to illustrate something I’ve been thinking about for a long time: are feminists depressed/anxious because they’re feminists, or are they feminists because they’re depressed/anxious?  Are we the chickens, or are we the eggs?

From childhood on I felt uneasy with cultural norms–I was always the only kid in my social circle who loathed the ending of “Grease.”  We sensitive types recognize injustice more quickly and are attuned to suffering more deeply, so it makes sense that we would seek to participate in movements that are dedicated to ending injustice and relieving suffering.

We are chickens.  Depressives and anxiety fiends make great feminists.

The work of feminism, whether in action or in our own minds, is exhausting.  Being aware of oppression is a painful state.  In the phraseology of most popular philosophical text of the late 20th century, we swallowed the red pills, not the blue ones.  Additionally, feminism confronts the horrors of rape, sexual assault and abuse, domestic and dating violence and other REALLY REALLY AWFUL THINGS that over time become re-traumatizing.  A lot of the things I hear and know are very upsetting, and there are times when I just can’t fucking take anymore.

We are eggs.  Feminism can make you greatly depressed and anxious.

Oh lordy.  Pass me a doll, won’t you, love?

And what do you know: it’s red.  How appropriate!

Like all GOOD (if not great!) feminists, however, I try not to paint everything into a binary box, so I am in no way suggesting that this is an either/or proposition: feminism and happiness are not mutually exclusive.  Why, one arm of the vast right wing conspiracy is dedicated solely to convincing women that we’d be better off in our pre-Friedan kitchens and baby nurseries, because all this agitating for equal rights is what’s making us so cranky!   Perhaps that is one reason that feminists like me have been cagey about admitting to emotional frailty.  Despite the fact that 11% of Americans take antidepressant medication these days, talking frankly about mental health care feels about as safe as walking down a dark alley, drunk, in nothing but filmy lingerie.

Didja get the analogy there?  In America today, the prevailing wisdom is that people with mental health challenges bear some of the blame for their condition.  As in, “yeah, no one deserves to be raped, but y’know, you really shouldn’t have been in that alley, drunk, in your underwear.”  Anorexics are told to EAT A SANDWICH.  The anxious are told to PRACTICE YOGA.  Addicts are told to QUIT ALREADY.  Depressives are told to SUCK IT UP FOR GOD’S SAKE, YOU’RE BRINGING ME DOWN.

Ahem.

This is the part of the blog post in which you, dear reader, usually discover the Great Lesson in all this, but today I don’t have one.  In fact, I’ve been putting off writing this blog post for weeks, hoping for a bolt of clarity, either intellectual or emotional, that has yet to strike.  I am eager to hear your thoughts on the matter, though, both as they relate to your own story and to the big-picture issue of keeping sane in a world that isn’t.

In any case, I’m resolved in 2012 to speak more frankly about my own struggles.  Will it be more or less difficult than my perennial resolutions to exercise daily and eat more green food (apple Laffy Taffy excepted)?

Watch this space to find out.