The Good Bad Girl

I’ve been watching the DC comics reboot commentary without much personal stake. It bothers me that the universe is losing Oracle in a redesign touted as promoting diversity, but at a slight remove. I’m not part of the audience for these comics. Watching a bunch of white guys of a certain age decide that they knew how to increase their appeal to everyone else was painful but predictable.

Then, while following a link from Bug Girl, I saw this.

The wonderful thing about Harley’s original design is that it’s inviting, welcoming even. If you saw her on the street, you wouldn’t expect her to suddenly draw out a gun and steal all your money. The general public would be won over with her megawatt grin until her mallet knocked them unconscious. If you put the new Harley in a city, people would start asking if Marilyn Manson was shooting a new music video, pedestrians would avoid her all together and the police would be called. She’s more intimidating and easily more suspicious than the original.

Uh-uh. You don’t mess with my Harley Quinn.

Yes, my Harley Quinn, for two reasons: No comic book character stays static, and Harley’s been part of several reimaginings. At least one has had a very different Harley origin story, which includes a female Joker. A few show us an older, grown up Harley. I’m not talking about those.

More importantly, Harley is mine because she’s a beloved part of my id. You see, Harley is such a pretty little anti-feminist’s nightmare.

No, really. What is Harley before she meets the Joker? We know what kind of practice and injury and self-denial goes into being a gymnast. More work and self-denial puts her in a profession that is all about helping others, thanklessly. And all of it done coming out of a family where the men are allowed to fail but Harley is supposed to remain a “good girl.”

Then comes the Joker. Our little Harley falls in love, exactly as she’s been told good girls do. And there is hell to pay.

Harley adopts Mr. J’s ends as her own–and gets in his way helping him, when she isn’t showing him up. After all, she doesn’t have to be crazy to do what she does. It all makes sense in her world. She idolizes Mr. J, creating a fictionalized, idealized Joker in her own mind that he can never live up to. She maddeningly maintains her cheer when things are going wrong for him. She is so perfectly devoted to him that he has to kill her to get rid of her–or try, at any rate, since she insists on staying alive.

For all her mayhem, Harley remains the quintessential good girl, and I love that this only makes her all the more terrifying and formidable. Harley is the bit of me that looks out from under her eyelashes and says, “Yes, I can be exactly what you want me to be. I can follow those rules and present the front that you require. You’re going to hate it.”

That isn’t this Harley. I don’t know what this Harley is. Maybe she’ll give us something else we need in the place of that chaotic, amoral creature we’re told we should aspire to be. But if we lose our good girl in the process of remaking the bad, then we’ve lost too much.

The Good Bad Girl

Living in the Dark

It’s no secret that my childhood was no sunny idyll. If you’ve managed to miss it, you can catch up some here and here and here. It’s not much fun, though.

I’ve spent much of the last week swapping stories that aren’t going to make it onto the blog with a friend. It isn’t something I usually want to do, but this is someone whose experience was close enough to mine that it really is a way of telling each other we aren’t alone–now. We made it. We may be broken, but at least somebody out there understands why and how and how far we’ve come.

That makes the timing of this WSJ article bemoaning the darkness of modern young adult literature all the more infuriating.

Now, whether you care if adolescents spend their time immersed in ugliness probably depends on your philosophical outlook. Reading about homicide doesn’t turn a man into a murderer; reading about cheating on exams won’t make a kid break the honor code. But the calculus that many parents make is less crude than that: It has to do with a child’s happiness, moral development and tenderness of heart. Entertainment does not merely gratify taste, after all, but creates it.

If you think it matters what is inside a young person’s mind, surely it is of consequence what he reads. This is an old dialectic—purity vs. despoliation, virtue vs. smut—but for families with teenagers, it is also everlastingly new. Adolescence is brief; it comes to each of us only once, so whether the debate has raged for eons doesn’t, on a personal level, really signify.

Victorian romantic nonsense. Childhood wasn’t a happy, sheltered period then for more than a handful of privileged kiddies, and it still isn’t. Despite what a view from the WSJ might want you to believe, kids deal with an amazing amount of crap: unhappy parents, parental substance abuse, poverty, neglect, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, unreasonable and/or unreachable expectations, anxiety, depression, bullying. And that’s just counting the kids who aren’t somehow “weird.” Few of us makes it out unscathed, and none of us make it out completely ignorant.

Jackie Morse Kessler (one of the scary dark authors mentioned in the article) does a good job of translating adolescence into numbers in her response:

According to the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurious Behavior in Adolescents and Young Adults, “12% to 24% of young people have self-injured” and “about 6%-8% of adolescents and young adults report current, chronic self-injury.” According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, “about 1 in 10 young people will self-harm at one point.”

One in 10. So in a classroom of 30 teens, 3 of them either are or will self-injure.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 10 million females and 1 million males suffer from anorexia or bulimia, and another 15 million suffer from binge eating disorder.

I was one of those 10 million females.

CyberMentors indicates that “as many as 70% of all young people have experienced some form of bullying” and “1 million kids are bullied every week.”

Let me repeat that: One million kids, every week, are bullied. This is not okay.

Nor is it okay to deny that these kids and these stories exist in order to maintain your sunshiny, simplistic, privileged view of what their childhood should have been like (particularly when all you really need to do is ask someone to help you find the cheery books of your own adolescence). That just makes you one more abuser, even if you wrap your denial in concern:

Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue. That is not to discount the real suffering that some young people endure; it is an argument for taking care.

Well, now, you see, this is the sort of thing that actually gets studied. In fact, Dr. Madelyn Gould has made a career of studying the almost purely young adult phenomenon of suicide clusters. And what she has to say is somewhat different:

But the most significant and critical red flag that predicts adolescent suicide risk, according to Gould and other researchers, is the presence of an underlying mental health problem. In teens, that’s most commonly depression, anxiety and alcohol or drug abuse.

“Even in the context of someone else’s suicide, without that underlying vulnerability, they’re not going to go on to attempt suicide or die by suicide,” Gould says.

Are there reasons to take care when creating a book like this? Of course there are, but that isn’t the argument being made in the WSJ. That argument is that things like this should remain hidden, that they shouldn’t intrude on a parent who wants a happy book for their little angel (who is, of course, absolutely not hiding anything scary from said parent).

They were hidden when I was younger. What I had then was “oh-em-gee, growing up is so weird and embarrassing” books by people like Judy Blume (which would have been wonderful had my main problem been embarrassment, and which I’m happy to know exist for those kids) and a handful of read-this-and-be-defined-by-the-issue books. I read adult books to find what I needed–books where broken people did things despite being broken. Luckily for me, my parents had a large and good library of this kind of book. Most kids I knew in situations like mine had to go without.

Now, though, many of those books are classified as young adult. More books like this are being written for young adults and put places where they can find them easily. And, having had the good fortune to talk to a number of young adult authors and editors, I can assure that these people are taking extreme care with their material and their audiences. While it may not be the case in book reviewing, people who make books for young adults don’t get very far by not knowing their audience or by treating them with disrespect.

So instead of concern trolling and wishing for a return to a nonexistent better past, maybe the WSJ reviewer (whose name, I admit, I haven’t bothered to look up for this post) should read a few more of those books. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll help her develop a better understanding of the needs of those kids. And who knows, maybe even a touch of empathy.

Living in the Dark

Juniper Rants

Juniper Shoemaker is a very busy woman. She’s working on her biomedical PhD while filling in the gaps that an B.A. in English will leave in one’s science education. Plus she’s got her own set of personal challenges she’s meeting at the same time. I admire that woman beyond words.

And oh, the words. She doesn’t have a lot of time to blog, but when she does, or even when she leaves a comment somewhere, she is always worth reading. Her latest blog post is no exception.

Juniper is tired. Yes, I know. She’s a grad student, but even here, she’s remarkable. You see, it isn’t so much the lab hours or the academic load that’s leaving her exhausted. Juniper’s tired because she’s continually dealing with people who can’t or won’t think outside their own circumstances, even when their own experience gives them the tools to do just that.

I’m tired of white feminists who don’t give a damn about bigotry against black people even as they’re castigating “the black community”, which doesn’t fucking exist, for not giving a damn about bigotry against gays and lesbians. No, wait. It’s more specific than that. I’m tired of white feminists who refuse to condemn bigotry against black people with the same compassion and attentiveness with which they condemn bigotry, namely sexism, against white women. In order to get taken seriously, I must confine myself to discussions of explicit statements of bigotry against black people, but you don’t have to do the same when it comes to bigotry against white women? You get to talk about “context”, “tone” and “implication”, but I don’t? You’re capable of developing a nuanced understanding of manifestations of sexism against white women, but you still think that my anger and hurt and frustration are only legitimate if they’re in response to cartoonishly overt manifestations of racism against blacks?

And this:

I’m tired of the idea that you have to be indifferent to an issue in order to skeptically evaluate it. By the way, why does this rule never seem to apply to skeptics who crow fervently about their opposition to “political correctness”– whatever the hell that is– and who eagerly accept every sensationalist claim ever made by someone styling himself as an evolutionary psychologist? Why does this rule only seem to apply to “liberal” skeptics, skeptics who are angry about sexism against women and skeptics who are angry about racism against brown people? Anyway, this idea is poppycock. It is entirely possible to fairly and skeptically evaluate an argument while simultaneously harboring intense feelings about the issue in question. There is even a neurological, not a sociological, hypothesis that the brain’s ability to generate emotions is inextricable from its ability to logically evaluate the world. Moreover, you are fucking insulting me by asking me to be indifferent towards questions such as “Are blacks really dumber than whites?” By ignoring my efforts to treat all questions as worthy of investigation and support intellectual and academic freedom in favor of condemning me for so much as one quiver of my mouth, you are being hypocritical, you are being irrational, you are being breathtakingly cruel, and you are insulting me to the very bone.

This. Because the idea that those in the majority don’t have any stake in these questions is ridiculous. Because thinking so is a marker of an idea that hasn’t been even superficially examined, much less had real critical analysis turned on it. Because the people who talk like this ignore the analysis presented to them in favor of whining that their territory is being invaded and their freedoms threatened. Because the position that the burden of proof lies with the social minority to show that cultural context is behind the poor treatment they receive is just an appeal to tradition, and one generally made from an extremely limited viewpoint.

Because no one should feel “surrounded by an abject lack of introspection,” invisible, worthless, alone, particularly not Juniper.

Juniper Rants

Shut Up Already

I’m a fairly quiet person. I don’t talk a lot.

It isn’t because my brain is empty. It certainly isn’t because sitting back and listening gets you an audience in return. Like any woman, I get ignored and talked over all the time. In fact, I have a three-strikes rule. Interrupt or talk over me three times, and you don’t get to hear what I have to say.

And when I say, “Your loss,” I mean it. That’s because I don’t bother to talk, or write, unless I have something to add. It may not be original. It may not even be right. But it had better supply something that’s missing in the current conversation, or I won’t bother.

You don’t see anything on this blog about the revolution in Egypt. Why? The only thing I had to add was the observation that “Second Amendment remedies” yahoos could learn a thing or two about what was actually required for a revolution. That fit in a Tweet, and it was all I really had to say.

Until now. Because today it was announced that a U.S. reporter was sexually assaulted covering the revolution. And everybody appears to have felt a need to say something about it, even though the vast majority of people have…not just nothing intelligent to say about rape, but a lot of actively stupid, hurtful shit to spew. It’s bad enough that it took a very tiny number of hours for Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon to have enough material to write “What not to say about Lara Logan“. Some examples:

Perhaps Wilson was going for some postmodern commentary on the media’s obsession with attractive reporters. She did cite in her post how Mofo Politics commented, when Logan was detained in Egypt earlier this month, that “I would totally rape her,” and she noted the New York Post’s chronicling of Logan’s robust sex life. That’s the kindest explanation for a hideously twisted bit of commentary on an assault victim, one that repulsively mingles the woman’s attractiveness and sexual history with a violent crime, and ends with the brutally off-key observation that “nobody’s invincible.”

Wilson wasn’t the only person out there to be wildly tone-deaf in response, either. When the news broke, Nir Rosen, a fellow at the New York University Center for Law and Security, promptly whined to Twitter, “It’s always wrong, that’s obvious, but I’m rolling my eyes at all the attention she’ll get,” adding, “She’s so bad that I ran out of sympathy for her.” He soon backpedaled, deleting the posts and tweeting, “I apologize and take it back. joking with friends got out of line when i didnt want to back down. forgot twitter is not exactly private.” Apparently he still hasn’t remembered that sexual assault isn’t great joking around material.

What in any of that needed to be said? What in all the crap at Reddit on the topic (At least it wasn’t penetrative rape. She could have dressed differently. The men there are just like that. Hey, look, fap material.) would ever need to be said?

Yeah, whee, I get it. This is the internet. Barriers to communication have never been lower. Everybody can produce content.

So what?

You don’t need to have an opinion about everything. You don’t need to show off your ignorance. You don’t need to flaunt your antisocial tendencies. You don’t need to put your id and your words on display where other people have to see them. You don’t need to make this kind of stupid mess.

Yay for the option to get out there and get heard, but there’s a reason it doesn’t come with any requirements for frequency or word count. The option to sit down and shut up is every bit as important.

Do us both a favor and exercise that sometimes, will you? I do.

Shut Up Already

The Physics Male: A High School Ethnography

This is my first piece of writing that garnered a real response. The first draft of this, written when I was a junior in high school, was passed around, ripped apart, crumpled up, thrown in the trash, retrieved, flattened out, and taped to the chalkboard. I’m posting it here because a number of high school friends have asked whether it still exists.

In order to understand this, you need to know three things: (1) the west wing of my high school housed the arts and sports, (2) my physics club ran the concessions for the high school as a fund raiser, and (3) you don’t mess with angry, articulate high school girls. A number of us contributed to this, although the final writing should be mostly my own.

And yes, the guys all read it. Thoroughly.

The Physics Male

The physics male is a strange and hitherto unexplored species. As so little in known about his habits, habitat, and distinguishing characteristics, this has been written to enlighten on the subject of this occasionally interesting creature.

Physics males are most easily distinguished by their condescending attitude toward members of the opposite sex. This is displayed by patronizing behavior exhibited to the same. They are chauvinistic and seem to feel that females are neither smart enough nor strong enough to be of any use. For this lack of understanding, these physics males must be pitied.

They are also characterized by their low mentalities. This is not to say that they are unintelligent–not most of them. But, while few physics males are actually tenth graders, the predominant attitude is one of sophomoric glee.

It is easy to recognize a physics male on the basis of vocabulary alone. It consists mostly of long technical words, which when looked up, do not mean anything similar to what their context suggested, and sexual innuendo with little or no redeeming social value.

Although physics males vary greatly in plumage, fashion tends toward “conservative nerd” (with one or two exceptions). This nerd look covers much territory: anything from suit and tie to the more traditional “plain bad taste”.

Physics males are generally to be found in the east wing of the building. As a matter of fact, aside from one semi-notable exception, most refuse even to be “caught dead” in the west wing. These specimens tend to congregate in an area called “the shop” between periods. Many remain far into their next class. (How this is explained to their other pedagogues has yet to be discovered.)

There are two trains of thought concerning this all-important “shop”. The first theory is that this area is a ritualistic “testing ground” for the young physics male. In this area, they exercise their ever-maturing attitude problems in seclusion until they have become full-fledged.

Still, others hold to the belief that this “shop” is actually nest. Here the still immature physics males find a sort of haven from the “tough world out there”. Most experts agree that it is a nesting response that draws them to this area. This nesting response is believed to be triggered by the realization that if such behavior as mentioned in the section on characteristics persists, these males will have a tough time finding someone with whom to build nests of their own.

Care and Feeding
There are only tow main points to be remembered when caring for a physics male. The first is to be sure not to upset his delicate ego. These are quite fragile and bruise easily. Such a bruising can cause the over-excitable physics male to go into strange convulsions (more widely known as temper tantrums). The second is to not overtax the physics male mind. This requires great care, as is most simple to do and can result in a bruising of the aforesaid ego.

Feeding is one of the rare things at which a physics male is quite adept. Given a few quarters and a rather simple pop/candy machine, the average physics male can procure a “highly nutritious” meal. This will consist mainly of the fifth food group–junk, represented most often by Choco Mints, and either Mountain Dew or Dr. Pepper.

Play Habits
According to experts on the subject, much of the play in which physics males take part is actually behavior necessary to their well-being. This theory is validated by the regularity with which the physics males repeat so many seemingly purposeless activities. Included in these are three main “sports”.

The first of these appears to be the favorite. It involves making lewd remarks to or about any female within sight. The goal of this seems to be to surpass one’s fellows in reaching new heights of rudeness.

The second ply is not far behind the first in popularity. It is the ritualistic “money counting” which is discussed in more depth further on.

The third activity most closely resembles the play of normal human children. This is the constant tinkering with so-called “toys”. These are, in reality, sometimes complicated and occasionally expensive physics equipment. The theory concerning this particular aspect of physics male play is that this tinkering is an attempt to replace some vital but missing part of the physics male’s childhood.

Work Habits
I have searched diligently for any information on this topic. Aside from much talk on the part of the physics males, none has been found. As far as can be determined, physics males do not work in the presence of others. Although it may be that their religion imposes such strict secrecy, it is highly unlikely. Therefore, it seems safe to assume that physics males do not work.

Mating Habits
Here, too, there is little available data. Although the subject is one the physics males themselves discuss at great length (see below), there appears to be little or no practical application. As this situation is so comparable to that of physics male work habits, it is surely not necessary to point out the rather obvious conclusion.

(Physics males live in fervent hope of sharing a physics female–or, for that matter, a chemistry female, choir female, phy. ed. female, etc. However, they take either no, ineffective, or inappropriate action. To ease their frustration at this pursuit, they often resort to creating fantastic stories regarding their amorous adventures. These stories, of course, fool no one but other physics males.)

Common Fallacies
Physics males put a lot of stock in many untruths. Most of these concern females and/or sex. One of the most widespread is the belief that money equals power equals sex appeal. For example, they believe that the one most closely related to the money has the most power. This is shown by the attempts of those with no legitimate connection to the money-counting ritual to “suck up” to the head physics male. One notable example has been quite “successful” (by his own standards) with this method. He feels himself the second in command. One would merely have to look at this person to know that in this case, power is not equal to sex appeal.

Another common fallacy among physics males concerns the way they view themselves. Some feel that they are God, while others, more humble, feel instead that they are merely His gift to the Earth or more specifically, all the females on it.

Perhaps the most common fallacies held by these specimens are reflected in their attitudes toward women. Most feel that women were put on this early only to serve them, that they are inherently less smart, and that they truly wish to be pampered and insulted by turns. T
his is one of the few groups (as a group) that still clings to these beliefs. Whether this is because they feel to threatened to acknowledge the presence of an equal–potentially greater–life form, or because they are too busy tinkering to notice the same, or both is a subject which requires further study.

(Any conclusions to be drawn from this study are left to the individual reader.)

The Physics Male: A High School Ethnography

Apologetics and Apoplexy

You see the arguments: Atheists can’t have morals because they don’t have a god to provide them. Atheists think this world is all there is, so what do they care about being good if it all goes away when they die? God is love, so atheists can’t love anyone.

It’s a clueless, backward argument. Atheists have morals. They love. Demonstrably. I’ve always found it a bit sad that these particular theists argue from principles and end up denying the facts rather than the other way around, but…well, you just can’t make people think if they don’t want to. I might step in now and again to point out that this is what they’re doing. I include evidence to the contrary when I lecture a class on religious skepticism, but in arguments, usually I just walk away.

Today, however, it’s personal.

Last week, my friend Jodi, who rarely blogs, wrote a post about penises. Well, it was about taking a realistic look at body image anxieties imposed on men, in particular about penises. She ended it with “I guess what I’m trying to say is that we should all just have sex the way we want with the types of people we want and *enjoy* it, because enjoying it makes it awesome.”

Then, some idiot theist who likes to keep tabs of what “the atheists [a]re up to these days” decided that this one sentence was a great jumping-off point for another one of those ass-backward arguments about morality. His point? That atheists had no reason to not include pedophilia in that “types of people we want” because we didn’t have religion.

I’m not linking to his post. Jodi preserved it for history in her own post. Go over there if you want to read it and laugh over some spectacular bits of cluelessness about who wrote the post and what it was about or engage in some discussion over where exactly the injunction against pedophilia comes in the bible and how well those who preach these morals live up to them. That’s not what this post is about.

This post is about demonization. It’s about basic empathy and humanity. And it is, sadly, about kids and rape and a suicide note. This may get too intense for some people. If you’re one of them, you’ll find the rest of what I have to say at the very end of this post, below the fold.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter who he was. I mean, it matters intensely, but I didn’t know him. After reading his letter this morning, which I found following a random Twitter link that I can’t even find anymore, I couldn’t remember his name (it’s Bill Zeller). What matters is that he was building a life, growing academically and professionally, despite having been repeatedly raped as a child. I say, “was,” because what follows is the letter he posted before successfully hanging himself, posted in its entirety as he requested.

I have the urge to declare my sanity and justify my actions, but I assume I’ll never be able to convince anyone that this was the right decision. Maybe it’s true that anyone who does this is insane by definition, but I can at least explain my reasoning. I considered not writing any of this because of how personal it is, but I like tying up loose ends and don’t want people to wonder why I did this. Since I’ve never spoken to anyone about what happened to me, people would likely draw the wrong conclusions.

My first memories as a child are of being raped, repeatedly. This has affected every aspect of my life. This darkness, which is the only way I can describe it, has followed me like a fog, but at times intensified and overwhelmed me, usually triggered by a distinct situation. In kindergarten I couldn’t use the bathroom and would stand petrified whenever I needed to, which started a trend of awkward and unexplained social behavior. The damage that was done to my body still prevents me from using the bathroom normally, but now it’s less of a physical impediment than a daily reminder of what was done to me.

This darkness followed me as I grew up. I remember spending hours playing with legos, having my world consist of me and a box of cold, plastic blocks. Just waiting for everything to end. It’s the same thing I do now, but instead of legos it’s surfing the web or reading or listening to a baseball game. Most of my life has been spent feeling dead inside, waiting for my body to catch up.

At times growing up I would feel inconsolable rage, but I never connected this to what happened until puberty. I was able to keep the darkness at bay for a few hours at a time by doing things that required intense concentration, but it would always come back. Programming appealed to me for this reason. I was never particularly fond of computers or mathematically inclined, but the temporary peace it would provide was like a drug. But the darkness always returned and built up something like a tolerance, because programming has become less and less of a refuge.

The darkness is with me nearly every time I wake up. I feel like a grime is covering me. I feel like I’m trapped in a contimated body that no amount of washing will clean. Whenever I think about what happened I feel manic and itchy and can’t concentrate on anything else. It manifests itself in hours of eating or staying up for days at a time or sleeping for sixteen hours straight or week long programming binges or constantly going to the gym. I’m exhausted from feeling like this every hour of every day.

Three to four nights a week I have nightmares about what happened. It makes me avoid sleep and constantly tired, because sleeping with what feels like hours of nightmares is not restful. I wake up sweaty and furious. I’m reminded every morning of what was done to me and the control it has over my life.

I’ve never been able to stop thinking about what happened to me and this hampered my social interactions. I would be angry and lost in thought and then be interrupted by someone saying “Hi” or making small talk, unable to understand why I seemed cold and distant. I walked around, viewing the outside world from a distant portal behind my eyes, unable to perform normal human niceties. I wondered what it would be like to take to other people without what happened constantly on my mind, and I wondered if other people had similar experiences that they were better able to mask.

Alcohol was also something that let me escape the darkness. It would always find me later, though, and it was always angry that I managed to escape and it made me pay. Many of the irresponsible things I did were the result of the darkness. Obviously I’m responsible for every decision and action, including this one, but there are reasons why things happen the way they do.

Alcohol and other drugs provided a way to ignore the realities of my situation. It was easy to spend the night drinking and forget that I had no future to look forward to. I never liked what alcohol did to me, but it was better than facing my existence honestly. I haven’t touched alcohol or any other drug in over seven months (and no drugs or alcohol will be involved when I do this) and this has forced me to evaluate my life in an honest and clear way. There’s no future here. The darkness will always be with me.

I used to think if I solved some problem or achieved some goal, maybe he would leave. It was comforting to identify tangible issues as the source of my problems instead of something that I’ll never be able to change. I thought that if I got into to a good college, or a good grad school, or lost weight, or went to the gym nearly every day for a year, or created programs that millions of people used, or spent a summer or California or New York or published papers that I was proud of, then maybe I would feel some peace and not be constantly haunted and unhappy. But nothing I did made a dent in how depressed I was on a daily basis and no
thing was in any way fulfilling. I’m not sure why I ever thought that would change anything.

I didn’t realize how deep a hold he had on me and my life until my first relationship. I stupidly assumed that no matter how the darkness affected me personally, my romantic relationships would somehow be separated and protected. Growing up I viewed my future relationships as a possible escape from this thing that haunts me every day, but I began to realize how entangled it was with every aspect of my life and how it is never going to release me. Instead of being an escape, relationships and romantic contact with other people only intensified everything about him that I couldn’t stand. I will never be able to have a relationship in which he is not the focus, affecting every aspect of my romantic interactions.

Relationships always started out fine and I’d be able to ignore him for a few weeks. But as we got closer emotionally the darkness would return and every night it’d be me, her and the darkness in a black and gruesome threesome. He would surround me and penetrate me and the more we did the more intense it became. It made me hate being touched, because as long as we were separated I could view her like an outsider viewing something good and kind and untainted. Once we touched, the darkness would envelope her too and take her over and the evil inside me would surround her. I always felt like I was infecting anyone I was with.

Relationships didn’t work. No one I dated was the right match, and I thought that maybe if I found the right person it would overwhelm him. Part of me knew that finding the right person wouldn’t help, so I became interested in girls who obviously had no interest in me. For a while I thought I was gay. I convinced myself that it wasn’t the darkness at all, but rather my orientation, because this would give me control over why things didn’t feel “right”. The fact that the darkness affected sexual matters most intensely made this idea make some sense and I convinced myself of this for a number of years, starting in college after my first relationship ended. I told people I was gay (at Trinity, not at Princeton), even though I wasn’t attracted to men and kept finding myself interested in girls. Because if being gay wasn’t the answer, then what was? People thought I was avoiding my orientation, but I was actually avoiding the truth, which is that while I’m straight, I will never be content with anyone. I know now that the darkness will never leave.

Last spring I met someone who was unlike anyone else I’d ever met. Someone who showed me just how well two people could get along and how much I could care about another human being. Someone I know I could be with and love for the rest of my life, if I weren’t so fucked up. Amazingly, she liked me. She liked the shell of the man the darkness had left behind. But it didn’t matter because I couldn’t be alone with her. It was never just the two of us, it was always the three of us: her, me and the darkness. The closer we got, the more intensely I’d feel the darkness, like some evil mirror of my emotions. All the closeness we had and I loved was complemented by agony that I couldn’t stand, from him. I realized that I would never be able to give her, or anyone, all of me or only me. She could never have me without the darkness and evil inside me. I could never have just her, without the darkness being a part of all of our interactions. I will never be able to be at peace or content or in a healthy relationship. I realized the futility of the romantic part of my life. If I had never met her, I would have realized this as soon as I met someone else who I meshed similarly well with. It’s likely that things wouldn’t have worked out with her and we would have broken up (with our relationship ending, like the majority of relationships do) even if I didn’t have this problem, since we only dated for a short time. But I will face exactly the same problems with the darkness with anyone else. Despite my hopes, love and compatability is not enough. Nothing is enough. There’s no way I can fix this or even push the darkness down far enough to make a relationship or any type of intimacy feasible.

So I watched as things fell apart between us. I had put an explicit time limit on our relationship, since I knew it couldn’t last because of the darkness and didn’t want to hold her back, and this caused a variety of problems. She was put in an unnatural situation that she never should have been a part of. It must have been very hard for her, not knowing what was actually going on with me, but this is not something I’ve ever been able to talk about with anyone. Losing her was very hard for me as well. Not because of her (I got over our relationship relatively quickly), but because of the realization that I would never have another relationship and because it signified the last true, exclusive personal connection I could ever have. This wasn’t apparent to other people, because I could never talk about the real reasons for my sadness. I was very sad in the summer and fall, but it was not because of her, it was because I will never escape the darkness with anyone. She was so loving and kind to me and gave me everything I could have asked for under the circumstances. I’ll never forget how much happiness she brought me in those briefs moments when I could ignore the darkness. I had originally planned to kill myself last winter but never got around to it. (Parts of this letter were written over a year ago, other parts days before doing this.) It was wrong of me to involve myself in her life if this were a possibility and I should have just left her alone, even though we only dated for a few months and things ended a long time ago. She’s just one more person in a long list of people I’ve hurt.

I could spend pages talking about the other relationships I’ve had that were ruined because of my problems and my confusion related to the darkness. I’ve hurt so many great people because of who I am and my inability to experience what needs to be experienced. All I can say is that I tried to be honest with people about what I thought was true.

I’ve spent my life hurting people. Today will be the last time.

I’ve told different people a lot of things, but I’ve never told anyone about what happened to me, ever, for obvious reasons. It took me a while to realize that no matter how close you are to someone or how much they claim to love you, people simply cannot keep secrets. I learned this a few years ago when I thought I was gay and told people. The more harmful the secret, the juicier the gossip and the more likely you are to be betrayed. People don’t care about their word or what they’ve promised, they just do whatever the fuck they want and justify it later. It feels incredibly lonely to realize you can never share something with someone and have it be between just the two of you. I don’t blame anyone in particular, I guess it’s just how people are. Even if I felt like this is something I could have shared, I have no interest in being part of a friendship or relationship where the other person views me as the damaged and contaminated person that I am. So even if I were able to trust someone, I probably would not have told them about what happened to me. At this point I simply don’t care who knows.

I feel an evil inside me. An evil that makes me want to end life. I need to stop this. I need to make sure I don’t kill someone, which is not something that can be easily undone. I don’t know if this is related to what happened to me or something different. I recognize the irony of killing myself to prevent myself from killing someone else, but this decision should indicate what I’m capable of.

So I’ve realized I will never escape the darkness or misery associated with it and I have a responsibility to stop myself from physically harming others.

I’m just a broken, miserable shell of a human being. Being molested has defined me as a person and shaped me as a human being and it has made me the monster I am and there
‘s nothing I can do to escape it. I don’t know any other existence. I don’t know what life feels like where I’m apart from any of this. I actively despise the person I am. I just feel fundamentally broken, almost non-human. I feel like an animal that woke up one day in a human body, trying to make sense of a foreign world, living among creatures it doesn’t understand and can’t connect with.

I have accepted that the darkness will never allow me to be in a relationship. I will never go to sleep with someone in my arms, feeling the comfort of their hands around me. I will never know what uncontimated intimacy is like. I will never have an exclusive bond with someone, someone who can be the recipient of all the love I have to give. I will never have children, and I wanted to be a father so badly. I think I would have made a good dad. And even if I had fought through the darkness and married and had children all while being unable to feel intimacy, I could have never done that if suicide were a possibility. I did try to minimize pain, although I know that this decision will hurt many of you. If this hurts you, I hope that you can at least forget about me quickly.

There’s no point in identifying who molested me, so I’m just going to leave it at that. I doubt the word of a dead guy with no evidence about something that happened over twenty years ago would have much sway.

You may wonder why I didn’t just talk to a professional about this. I’ve seen a number of doctors since I was a teenager to talk about other issues and I’m positive that another doctor would not have helped. I was never given one piece of actionable advice, ever. More than a few spent a large part of the session reading their notes to remember who I was. And I have no interest in talking about being raped as a child, both because I know it wouldn’t help and because I have no confidence it would remain secret. I know the legal and practical limits of doctor/patient confidentiality, growing up in a house where we’d hear stories about the various mental illnesses of famous people, stories that were passed down through generations. All it takes is one doctor who thinks my story is interesting enough to share or a doctor who thinks it’s her right or responsibility to contact the authorities and have me identify the molestor (justifying her decision by telling herself that someone else might be in danger). All it takes is a single doctor who violates my trust, just like the “friends” who I told I was gay did, and everything would be made public and I’d be forced to live in a world where people would know how fucked up I am. And yes, I realize this indicates that I have severe trust issues, but they’re based on a large number of experiences with people who have shown a profound disrepect for their word and the privacy of others.

People say suicide is selfish. I think it’s selfish to ask people to continue living painful and miserable lives, just so you possibly won’t feel sad for a week or two. Suicide may be a permanent solution to a temporary problem, but it’s also a permanent solution to a ~23 year-old problem that grows more intense and overwhelming every day.

Some people are just dealt bad hands in this life. I know many people have it worse than I do, and maybe I’m just not a strong person, but I really did try to deal with this. I’ve tried to deal with this every day for the last 23 years and I just can’t fucking take it anymore.

I often wonder what life must be like for other people. People who can feel the love from others and give it back unadulterated, people who can experience sex as an intimate and joyous experience, people who can experience the colors and happenings of this world without constant misery. I wonder who I’d be if things had been different or if I were a stronger person. It sounds pretty great.

I’m prepared for death. I’m prepared for the pain and I am ready to no longer exist. Thanks to the strictness of New Jersey gun laws this will probably be much more painful than it needs to be, but what can you do. My only fear at this point is messing something up and surviving.

I’d also like to address my family, if you can call them that. I despise everything they stand for and I truly hate them, in a non-emotional, dispassionate and what I believe is a healthy way. The world will be a better place when they’re dead–one with less hatred and intolerance.

If you’re unfamiliar with the situation, my parents are fundamentalist Christians who kicked me out of their house and cut me off financially when I was 19 because I refused to attend seven hours of church a week.

They live in a black and white reality they’ve constructed for themselves. They partition the world into good and evil and survive by hating everything they fear or misunderstand and calling it love. They don’t understand that good and decent people exist all around us, “saved” or not, and that evil and cruel people occupy a large percentage of their church. They take advantage of people looking for hope by teaching them to practice the same hatred they practice.

A random example:

“I am personally convinced that if a Muslim truly believes and obeys the Koran, he will be a terrorist.” – George Zeller, August 24, 2010.

If you choose to follow a religion where, for example, devout Catholics who are trying to be good people are all going to Hell but child molestors go to Heaven (as long as they were “saved” at some point), that’s your choice, but it’s fucked up. Maybe a God who operates by those rules does exist. If so, fuck Him.

Their church was always more important than the members of their family and they happily sacrificed whatever necessary in order to satisfy their contrived beliefs about who they should be.

I grew up in a house where love was proxied through a God I could never believe in. A house where the love of music with any sort of a beat was literally beaten out of me. A house full of hatred and intolerance, run by two people who were experts at appearing kind and warm when others were around. Parents who tell an eight year old that his grandmother is going to Hell because she’s Catholic. Parents who claim not to be racist but then talk about the horrors of miscegenation. I could list hundreds of other examples, but it’s tiring.

Since being kicked out, I’ve interacted with them in relatively normal ways. I talk to them on the phone like nothing happened. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I like pretending I have a family. Maybe I like having people I can talk to about what’s been going on in my life. Whatever the reason, it’s not real and it feels like a sham. I should have never allowed this reconnection to happen.

I wrote the above a while ago, and I do feel like that much of the time. At other times, though, I feel less hateful. I know my parents honestly believe the crap they believe in. I know that my mom, at least, loved me very much and tried her best. One reason I put this off for so long is because I know how much pain it will cause her. She has been sad since she found out I wasn’t “saved”, since she believes I’m going to Hell, which is not a sadness for which I am responsible. That was never going to change, and presumably she believes the state of my physical body is much less important than the state of my soul. Still, I cannot intellectually justify this decision, knowing how much it will hurt her. Maybe my ability to take my own life, knowing how much pain it will cause, shows that I am a monster who doesn’t deserve to live. All I know is that I can’t deal with this pain any longer and I’m am truly sorry I couldn’t wait until my family and everyone I knew died so this could be done without hurting anyone. For years I’ve wished that I’d be hit by a bus or die while saving a baby from drowning so my death might be more acceptable, but I was never so lucky.

To those of you who have shown me love, thank you for putting up with all my shittiness and moodiness
and arbitrariness. I was never the person I wanted to be. Maybe without the darkness I would have been a better person, maybe not. I did try to be a good person, but I realize I never got very far.

I’m sorry for the pain this causes. I really do wish I had another option. I hope this letter explains why I needed to do this. If you can’t understand this decision, I hope you can at least forgive me.

Bill Zeller

Please save this letter and repost it if gets deleted. I don’t want people to wonder why I did this. I disseminated it more widely than I might have otherwise because I’m worried that my family might try to restrict access to it. I don’t mind if this letter is made public. In fact, I’d prefer it be made public to people being unable to read it and drawing their own conclusions.

Feel free to republish this letter, but only if it is reproduced in its entirety.

If you couldn’t read the whole thing, don’t feel bad. I’ve had to skip around in it a bit as well. There’s just…too much. Too much damage, too much pain, too much tragedy. It’s overwhelming. It should be. It haunted me all day. (And if it resonated with your own experience too much, please read what Joel Johnson at Gizmodo has to say about the letter. It is every bit as true as it is probably hard for you to believe.)

Now, to strip gears just a touch, that’s what state I was in when I read the post by that idiot theist who wants you to believe that I, as an atheist, have no reason for not accepting what happened to that young man as just and moral. He wants you to think I find that just as fine and dandy as sex between consenting adults because I was raised without religion and have never claimed a god or religion as my own. He wants you to think it’s all the same to me.

In short, he wants you think I’m not human. Because I’m an atheist and he wants that to be wrong.

I don’t know whether he believes this or is just trying to score cheap points for his “side.” I don’t care. Either one makes him despicable. In order for him to believe it, he can’t feel overwhelmed by the wrongness of what happened to that young man, so that he thinks religion is required to keep everyone from doing it. Or he has to be so prejudiced against atheists as to believe that my lack of religion would keep that letter from reaching me emotionally.

If he’s trying to score in some argument ongoing in order to promote his religion, he’s both dishonest and adding to the social stigma borne by atheists. But maybe that’s okay if it provides additional pressure for atheists to convert, even if it requires that the rape of children be turned into a rhetorical football.

It’s not okay with me, though. It’s an insult at every level. It denies the tears I’ve been fighting ever since reading that letter. It denies me my humanity. It denies the work I’ve done to point out the dangers of arbitrary authority. It denies the fact that every child I interact with comes away from the encounter with a little bit more permission to be defiant, to subvert the rules, to say, “no,” to any authority, even Mom and Dad. (Yeah, I’m a hit with the parents.)

But it doesn’t work that way. I can’t be made to go away by a simple denial. I am a fact. My tears are facts, although you wouldn’t have heard anything about them if the idiot hadn’t tried to call them imaginary. My record on consensual sex is a fact, and so is my atheism.

So as long as this idiot goes around claiming that god and religion are required for morality, he is hurting himself and calling his other arguments into question. It won’t matter to some people, of course, since as I noted at the start of this post, you can’t make people think. But to anyone else, it will be obvious what kind of tired, transparent, and insulting apologetics he’s dabbling in.

I just wish that meant more to me right now.

Apologetics and Apoplexy

How Must She Behave to Have Been Raped?

I don’t know whether the rape charges against Julian Assange are valid. I do know, however, that they are rape charges. It doesn’t matter whether a woman consented to have sex with you. If she tells you to stop, and you don’t stop, that is still sexual assault. I don’t care how frustrating it is or whether you hate her for the rest of your life for it. Sex you have with someone without their permission is rape.

Let’s say that again: Sex you have with someone without their permission is rape.

One more time just for clarity: Sex you have with someone without their permission is rape.

Does that tell me whether Assange did what he’s accused of doing? Nope. I just don’t know. And neither do you.

There is one more thing I do know, though. This guy shouldn’t be allowed near a single traumatized rape victim, much less in a professional capacity, if he believes that the alleged victim’s behavior tells us she wasn’t raped. Here’s his evidence:

I’ve spent much of my professional life as a psychiatrist helping women (and men) who are survivors of sexual violence. Rape is a hideous crime. Yet in Assange’s case his alleged victim – the gender equity officer at Uppsula University – chose to throw a party for her alleged assailant – after they’d had the sex that even Swedish prosecutors concede was consensual.

Even ignoring the fact that the way to characterize the sex as consensual is to claim that consent, once given, cannot be revoked for any reason (which I think we’ve dealt with above; let me know if I need to repeat myself again), this is bullshit and he should know it’s bullshit. There isn’t one damned thing that all rape victims do or don’t do in common. They don’t all get scared. They don’t all get angry. They don’t even all show that they’re upset.

What did I do when I was sexually assaulted? I went on with my plans for the evening, which were to lose my virginity. Yep, that’s right. Within hours of being sexually assaulted, I had consensual sex.

Why? Hell if I know that either. I do know it doesn’t make any sense, but that’s because I wasn’t rational. I’ll remind you that I’d just been assaulted (and suffered another type of betrayal right alongside it). I had no idea what to do. I did the easiest thing, which was to go along as though it hadn’t happened. Pretending didn’t make it go away, but it was so much simpler than figuring out how to behave in a changed world.

If Assange did rape the alleged victim, why did she behave as she did? Maybe she was in denial. Maybe she wanted to show herself she could be that strong. Maybe she was reasserting her claim to the world they both shared. Maybe she was even pissed that Assange took control from her but not particularly traumatized. I don’t know and neither do you.

Neither does Kirk James Murphy, M.D., but that didn’t stop him from weighing in on the matter in a professional capacity (something he really ought to stop to give some serious thought). It didn’t stop him from perpetuating rape myths. Hell, it didn’t even stop him from writing a post that is one long exercise in “bad girls can’t be raped.”

Who is Julian Assange’s chief accuser in Sweden? She’s a gender equity officer at Uppsula University – who chose to associate with a US funded group openly supported by a convicted terrorist and mass murderer. She just happens to have her work published by a very well funded group connected with Union Liberal Cubana – whose leader, Carlos Alberto Montaner, in turn just happened to pop up on right wing Colombian TV a few hours after the right-wing coup in Honduras. Where he joined the leader of the failed coup in Ecuador to savage Correa, the target of the coup. Montnaner also just happened to vociferously support the violent coup in Honduras, and chose to show up to sing the praises of the Honduran junta.

Well, after all that, I guess the matter’s closed. Except I still have one little question. What the fuck has that got to do with anything? Oh, wait. He explains.

Small world, isn’t it? Julian Assange is the human face of Wikileaks – the organization that’s enabled whistle-blowers to reveal hideous war crimes and expose much of America’s foreign policy to the world.

He just happens to meet a Swedish woman who just happens to have been publishing her work in a well-funded anti-Castro group that just happens to have links with a group led by a man at least one journalist describes as an agent of the CIA: the violent secret arm of America’s foreign policy.

And she just happens to have been expelled from Cuba, which just happens to be the global symbol of successful defiance of American foreign policy.

And – despite her work in Sweden upholding the human right of gender equity – in Cuba she just happens to end up associating with a group openly supported by an admitted CIA agent who himself committed mass murder when he actively participated in the terrorist bombing of a jetliner carrying a Cuban sports team…an act that was of a piece with America’s secret foreign policy of violent attacks against Cuban state interests.

Yeah…nope. Not even an accusation that a CIA agent put her up to anything–or that they ever met. Or maybe it was supposed to be the terrorists who wanted Assange arrested. Keeping state secrets hidden is right up their alley, right? Or was it supposed to be the feminists? I can’t figure out why else her job merits multiple mentions in a smear piece, and that’s all this amounts to.

Call me back when you’ve got something other than your dislike of this woman’s politics or her party planning. In the meantime, I’ll be figuring out whether this particular post reaches the level of unprofessionalism that merits lodging complaints with the appropriate oversight board.

How Must She Behave to Have Been Raped?

Nonapologies, Whatever Edition

I’m guessing you’re aware of the concept of the nonapology, the thing that is phrased as an apology, often even contain the words “I’m sorry,” and expresses an utter lack of responsibility for any actions. “I’m sorry if you were offended.” “I’m sorry you feel that way about it.” I heard a new one today.

“I’m sorry for whatever happened between us.”

Really? You’re sorry for…whatever? You don’t know what happened because, frankly, I haven’t bothered to tell you, but you’re sorry?

No, I don’t think so. If you were sorry about what happened between us, you’d at least want to know what part you played in it. What you’re sorry about is my reaction only. You’re sorry I don’t want to hang out. Sorry I don’t want to talk. Not sorry enough to find out why. Not sorry enough to find out whether it’s fixable. Just kind of…well…sorry.

Tells the whole story, really.

Nonapologies, Whatever Edition

Caring About Abuse

To those implying* that your friendly local atheist is taking some new-found interest in fighting child sexual abuse because it involves the Catholic church or because Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are supporting the effort to explore legal options:

Oh, there are plenty of things I could say here. Short, pithy, pointed. Angry. Satisfying…but unhelpful. So I’ll settle for this: Are you listening to yourselves?

I’m serious. Did you think for one brief minute before sharing your first half-formed thoughts on this?

Even among child abusers, people who think they’re doing something okay are not the rule. People fight pedophilia, even when they find it within themselves. Many who do act on it come up with elaborate stories to explain away what they’re doing. The monster who says, “Mine to do with as I please,” is not common. Why would you think we’re apathetic about it?

No, I don’t sit around saying, “Child sexual abuse is bad. It should stop.” I also don’t generally say, “Gravity pulls that way. It should stick around.” The reaction to child sexual abuse is so universal that I’ve been cautioned as a writer against using it as a cheap emotional device in stories. Some things are simply so self-evident that it is an insult to say them to anyone who’s been introduced to the concept. Some statements require an explanation justifying their utterance. This is one of them.

What is it that you think of us? Do we condone child abuse normally–until it’s done in the shadow of the cross or the crescent? Are we merely callous and insensitive? Frivolous? Self-absorbed? Blind to the problem?

While you’re thinking about the audience for your condescension, think about that last option a little harder. If you are so much more personally concerned with the problem of child sexual abuse than we are, you probably know that somewhere between 10% and 25% of children are estimated to be affected. Even given lower survival rates among those children, they still grow up to be a large percentage of the population.

How many of those people you’re accusing of jumping onto a trendy and politically expedient problem are survivors of child sexual abuse themselves?

No, I can’t tell you either. I can tell you that you’ve hit at least one. Me. I don’t spend a lot of time talking about it, but who does?

I participate in certain activities instead, activities directed at helping kids survive when they’re abused, activities directed at calming people down enough that pedophiles feel free to seek treatment and that fruitful research on the problem can take place. I could tell you what they are, but I won’t, because I decide when and where I talk about this, not you.

I didn’t go through what I did, mild as it is by some standards, to be put on trial by you to prove that I care about this issue enough to have an opinion on whether it’s a good thing to put pressure on the world’s largest central religious organization to change policies that perpetuate child sexual abuse. I didn’t survive to watch that piece of me be dismissed because you don’t like how I–or someone else–talks about religion, when we’re talking about systemic, organizational enabling of abuse.

Do you want to talk about other actions you think will be more effective than prosecution, to engage people who have always wanted to help but not known how to tackle problem this pervasive and diffuse? Great. If nothing else, I’m always up for a chat on changing clerical exemptions to mandatory reporting laws. Now seems like a great time to fix those. We’ll talk.

But if you come at this questioning my motivation, I have nothing to say to you, except to ask what kind of monster you think I am. There is no grounds for discussion. We’re done.

* Not a strawman and not limited to those who dislike atheists or, sadly, even to those who appear to be angry at one or two atheists in particular. I could point, but there are some discussions that should be staked through the heart and buried at a crossroads.

Caring About Abuse

How Unhappy Is Irrational?

I got an interesting response to my post, “Going Emo,” by email. It was specifically in response to the last bit of a single bullet point:

Breaking the social conventions isn’t worth it. It just makes more work. It requires reassuring all the friends whose lives have just been shaken up. It requires holding your tongue on things like, “No. I don’t need to see a professional to have my attitude adjusted. I need to stop being reasonably anxious and in pain for a while. Barring that, I need a fucking hamburger and someone who can moderate their conversation to the right degree of challenging. Not that you asked how you could help.”

The bullet point, in turn, was a response to a note from the same person asking why I was being so negative, since “It’s not like you at all,” accompanied by the question of whether it was time for me to get some professional help with that. Based on my Facebook status updates. Specifically, these status updates:

  • …is just too damned much trouble, really.
  • …falls, on the scale of human companionship, somewhere between utterly unrewarding and actively taxing.

For anyone else who was terribly concerned…I had PMS, made significantly worse by an enforced lack of exercise. I mentioned it over here. It happens. It’s ugly. It’s over in a day or two, but anyone who gets in my way in the meantime might be in for a bit of a surprise and for no good reason. Those two statements are a pretty fair picture of a temporary situation. They might be strongly worded, but one of the cornerstones of training in writing is cutting out wimpy prose.

The next update, by the way, was, “If you need hyperdrive, I can fix that too, but I could never be your wookie.” (Explanation, of sorts, here.)

The idea in this new post-emo-post note was to urge me, once again, to seek professional help. “If I’m the only one of your kajillion and a half friends who has made the suggestion of seeing a professional, then I am shocked.” You might want to sit down. “I don’t know why you might be resistant to seeing a therapist.” Then do allow me to explain.

I’ve been dealing with pain for two months. I’ve been dealing with enforced inactivity for a fair chunk of that. I’ve been dealing with uncertainties about my health for a good bit more. But that’s just it, I’m dealing with them. I’m making my doctors appointments. I’m being appropriately cautious with my activity, which does include some testing of my limits. I’m taking pain medication when appropriate–mostly.

A note about narcotic pain medications: The reason these things have a high street value is that they fuck with your head. Even looking at the list of milder side effects for Vicodin, we see: drowsiness, nausea, and mood changes. Huh. Sounds a lot like the superficial symptoms of depression, doesn’t it? It would be nifty if a chat with a therapist would provide some coping strategies for Vicodin that would make those side effects go away, but that’s not about to happen. That leaves me with a choice between side effects (including a loopiness that makes me hesitate a very long time before spilling my guts on the old blog) and pain.

The emotional side effects of pain are something that a therapist can help you deal with. However, the advice is to keep the pain from interfering with your life as much as possible. For reasons having to do mostly with my not wanting to continue bleeding and partly to do with the inability to immobilize the cervix so jiggling around doesn’t make the pain worse, this hasn’t been entirely possible. I’m very much hoping that tomorrow’s doctor appointment will settle that question. I miss exercise.

I miss exercise in part because I miss being able to eat what I want without gaining weight. I can’t do that if I don’t move around a bunch, so I’m eating very little right now. It’s not a shortcut to weight loss, unfortunately, but at least it means I’m not gaining anything. It does, however, look like one of those signs of depression–until you listen to me bitch about wanting a hamburger. Or see me angling for oatmeal raisin cookies. Vicodin makes me hungry when it’s not making me motion sick.

Then there’s exercise and sleep. Sleep and I have never been very good friends, particularly when sleep means something that’s compatible with a corporate work schedule. Exercise helps keep us mostly reconciled. With enough exercise, sleep takes over some time near the time it should if I’m going to get up at a decent time. I still see the wee sma’s about once every two weeks, but I mostly maintain something like a pattern.

One thing being immobile has done is make me pay out my sleep debt and put me on a more comfortable schedule. I should, apparently, sleep from midnight to eight or so. Unless I’m sick, in which case, I should sleep always. Sleeping always without actually being sick, along with migraines, is what drove me to the doctor in the first place, which is not exactly evidence of being unwilling to see someone about my problems.

So, yes, if you’re looking at me, you’re going to see changes in (apparent) appetite and sleep. You’ll also see that I’m not consistently doing many of the things I would normally enjoy doing, largely because they require concentration or extended attention, which is also a problem with both pain and narcotics. You’ll see that I’m not enjoying many of the things I normally would, because I’m so out of shape (and blood) that getting ready and getting to them leaves me tired out.

Then we come to mood. When was the last time you were sick, injured or in pain for an extended period of time? How did you feel about that? How sad did it make people when you talked about it? How worried did they get? How tired of explaining everything did you get? How long did it take talking about your problems and asking for accommodations that weren’t offered to make you feel selfish?

One of the reasons I’ve been writing about my little health scare is that nobody else was. There was information about the technical aspects of all the procedures I’ve been through, but nobody was talking about what it felt like. I didn’t want other people to have to discover the fear and the pain and the inappropriately funny bits on their own. I didn’t want other people to feel alone.

There are a lot of things about the way our society is set up that make being ill isolating if you’re at all sensitive to social expectations. Not that make it feel isolating, but that actually isolate you from other people. Social interactions that should express genuine interest in another person are used as greetings in passing, so it’s nearly impossible to tell who really wants to know how you’re doing. We live long distances from one another so that visits are occasions, not to be met without a shower and some decent clothes. We set up our interactions around participatory events that don’t have a lot of room for the passive (ask me to expound on wedding and baby shower games sometime) or require cash even when someone may not be getting paid.

We medicalize unhappiness. Let some isolated soul vent irritation about being isolated, let them be honest about being grumpy, and suddenly they’ve got one more fucking problem that requires that they go do something to have it fixed. We say, “Go see a therapist.” We don’t say, “You’re right, that sucks.” We don’t say, “I’d be pretty miserable in your position.” We don’t say, “Can I bring you a cookie?”

Except we do. Some of us. Many of us. We reach out and hug somebody so they feel less isolated. We make sure they know we really
want to know how they’re doing, and then we listen. We sympathize, even when sympathy hurts us too. We recognize that being unhappy is, to a certain extent, exactly the most rational response to pain and disability and disappointment. And we ask, instead of tell, our friends what kind of help they need, because being sick doesn’t make people children incapable of making those decisions.

That, my friend, is why you’re the only person who has suggested I see a therapist, much less done so three times. It’s also why I’m resistant, not to seeing a therapist, but to the pronouncement that a therapist is the appropriate response to the things I’m dealing with when you haven’t taken the time to find out how I’m dealing with them.

How Unhappy Is Irrational?