Single-Malt Workohol

Despair is a heavy burden, and I bear its weight by working out.

I am not diagnosed with depression or anxiety, but there are days when I wonder whether I should be. Hints of how I deal with anxiety are scattered throughout my writing, but depression is a rarer visitor. I’ve avoided any real accounting of my depressive symptoms of episodes because of one peculiar fact: they’ve been incredibly useful to me.

Continue reading “Single-Malt Workohol”

Single-Malt Workohol
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The Violence of the Mental Health Excuse

It’s become a trope. A white man is involved in a shooting, and within moments people are rushing over themselves to call him mentally ill. Sometimes this happens even before there is a suspect on which to pin the label. There are several cartoons and memes out there depicting the trend, and comparing it to the coverage received by people of colour in similar circumstances.

Whenever people are called on it however, there is always someone rushing in to defend the idea claiming that no “sane” person would commit such a heinous act of violence. That that level of obsession, that level of hatred, could only be the result of there being something mentally wrong with a person.

I understand why we need to believe that. Growing up listening to tales of good and evil, the villain is always readily identifiable. Whether an underground network of evil super villains, the wicked witch, or even just the bully at school, there is always some way of telling who the bad people are. To borrow from Christian mythology: some mark of Cain identifying the evil inside. Continue reading “The Violence of the Mental Health Excuse”

The Violence of the Mental Health Excuse

Let Me Take A Selfie

A few years ago, I participated in one of the Facebook status games. The point of the game was to reveal something about yourself, something that some people might not know or that you think they should know. Among the list, I included that I struggled with fairly severe body image issues. A friend of mine responded that she was surprised to learn that because she always believed me to be very confident. Since I have a tendency to hide my body, even as a nudist, and a tendency to show discomfort around my appearance, I was quite surprised to learn that she believed me to be confident. I asked her why she thought so and she replied: Yours always posting pictures of yourself.

It wasn’t meant as a criticism of me, it wasn’t meant to shame me, and it was simply an observation. I post pictures of myself, I take several pictures of myself, so therefore I must be confident.

As a culture, we’ve created this idea that selfies are a sign of vanity, and we are terrified of vanity. So much so, that we have built an entire culture predicated on teaching everyone to hate their appearance. We create impossible standards and then tell everyone that regardless of circumstance we must achieve it and maintain it. We’ve so thoroughly pervaded our social bias towards people who fall outside the “acceptable standards of beauty” that we as a society no longer treat them as fully human. Perversely, in an attempt to avoid the appearance of vanity we have instead created a cultural obsession towards an obsessive hatred of one’s self.

Ultimately, that is all that vanity is. It is an appreciation for one’s own appearance. It is a love for what you see when you look at yourself. It is a comfort in your own skin. Yes, excessive vanity can be dangerous, just like excess in anything is dangerous. But vanity, by itself? It is an act of self-love.

But selfies? They’re not an expression of vanity, they are a lifeline that reminds myself that I am not worthless. That I am not hideous. It is what allows me to replace my internal image of myself from one of loathing to one of acceptance. Because I don’t love how I look. I hate it. I can’t look in the mirror without desperately wanting to cut off some pieces of myself. Without wondering how anyone can possibly be attracted to me, and wondering if every sexual interaction I’ve ever had was a lie. My body, my appearance, was the weapon used to cut at my psyche over and over and over again. I was told it was the reason I was alone.

Those words, those cuts to my self-esteem are part of the reason why I let myself be taken in by users and abusers when I went out into the dating world. It was the excuse for every negative interaction with people I was interested in. They’re the reason that I sat like this, to avoid my rolls showing up through my shirt, because then people would think of me as fat.

Ania at 14 sitting with her back arched so as to not show any bulges

It is what made me think for years that the girl in this picture was fat.

Ania at 13 standing in front of the Notre Dame

Then I figured out that if I was careful I could take pictures that highlighted the few things that I do like about myself. The contrast of my features against my sk

Ania in a black tank top
in, the darkness of my hair, the colour of my eyes, all things I could appreciate about myself. They were things that let me believe that I had value, that I was worthy of love. Especially in this world that goes out of its way to tell me the opposite. These pictures, these pictures that are used to mock my vanity, to mock the very hutzpah of daring to love even the smallest part of myself when I am so far from perfect. Because how dare I. How dare I?

Older picture of Ania
How dare I look to myself for validation when the world teaches me that I should rely on the approval of men, regardless of whether I have any interest in their approval. How dare I not be grateful for the compliment that men deign to bestow on me, regardless of whether I want them, or whether they make me feel unsafe and like a target. The one that tells me that I am never allowed to refuse an advance because I’m ugly and so they are doing me a favour my being with me and tells me I am not allowed to have standards.

So no, I don’t need you to tell me that I am pretty. Because I have my selfie, so that I can tell myself what I need to hear.

Because that’s what they are. They’re selfies, and they have nothing to do with you.

 

Let Me Take A Selfie

YSI Excerpt: Disability and Mental Health

When struggling with pain, constant fatigue, nausea, malnutrition, loneliness, and a variety of other symptoms, it is not hard to believe that it is common for people dealing with chronic illness and disability to be vulnerable to depression. Whether this is because at times everything becomes overwhelming, due to circumstances influenced or worsened by your condition, or because of deficiency in necessary vitamins and chemicals, it doesn’t ultimately matter. The result is the same: depression.

With all the concern about managing your apparently more serious chronic symptoms, it can be tempting to simply ignore the mental health concerns. It makes sense that you are depressed. Who wouldn’t be if they lived like you? You already have all these other drugs, do you really mean anti-depressants. It’s not like you are going to hurt yourself, you don’t have the energy. And even if you did, would anyone care? You would stop being a burden. No one would have to worry about you anymore. It would stop the pain…

Just like that the depression becomes severe and cause for concern. At the worst moments during a flare, you might be stuck indoors for long periods of time alone. You might be in a hospital bed, your only human interaction the occasional visitor and the nurses, not to mention the person who comes to take your blood every morning. Regardless of whether you see a lot of people or not, you are stuck in one place for a long time. Imagine having to spend your entire day in a small, somewhat uncomfortable bed.  The only time you get up is to go to the bathroom, and to do that you have to push an IV pole that is attached to your arm.

Even if you aren’t hospitalized, the exhaustion can create the same results at home. After a while it starts to drain you even further. Your life starts to stretch out before you, and endless miasma of pain and boredom. You don’t even have the energy to watch TV. You just want to lie in bed, and wish you could get up the energy to have a shower.

What can further complicate the situation is that symptoms of many chronic conditions and depression overlap: fatigue, difficulty falling asleep, lack of energy, pain, and so forth. It can be difficult to tell when you are dealing with one thing or another. Are you unable to get motivated because your Crohn’s kept you up all night, or because your depression is making it hard to care about anything? Is the exhaustion mental or physical? Is my joint pain a physical response to inflammation or to psychological pain? Moreover, sometimes physical pain can cause the psychological pain. It all intertwines until it is almost impossible to tell.

Despite the frequent connection between disabilities, illnesses, and anxiety/depressive disorders, the medical community still has a hard time understanding the correlation. Frequently depression, anxiety, or any psychological diagnosis is treated very negatively. Even if you have a documented disorder that you are getting treated for, a diagnosis of any psychological condition could mean a decrease in the quality of care. Suddenly, every trip to the doctor or ER becomes suspect. Some doctors will wonder if you are faking your symptoms in order to score drugs, while others will assume you are over reacting or confusing mental symptoms with physical ones. It creates a situation where there is an incentive for people with chronic conditions not to seek help for their related psychological conditions.

I have seen this manifest personally. The usual procedure when I come into the hospital is to be given an anti-nausea agent and pain meds. Regardless of whether they think I need to be admitted or not, the usual assumption is that if the pain is bad enough for me to feel the need to come in, then controlling the pain is a concern. On one such occasion, I noticed a slight change in how I was treated. Usually there is an effort to reduce my pain symptoms as quickly as possible. This time around, it seemed that there was a hesitancy to do anything about it. I was offered some anti-nausea medication, but not once was there even a mention of anything to do about the pain.

When the doctor came in to see me, the first questions were not about why I was there, but clarifications about my last visit to the hospital being labeled “psychiatric”. I was confused, having never come to the hospital for anything mental health related.  I wracked my brain for every time I had been to the hospital in the last few months: visit with my gastroenterologist, visit with my rheumatologist, weight management clinic…. Bingo. It seems that the clinic that my GI had sent me to to see about getting help in losing weight with the difficulty of Crohn’s and arthritis, registered as a psychiatric visit on my hospital file.  In combination with my medication for anxiety and ADHD, they has assumed that I had come in to be treated for something else. The pallor of having sought help for a mental health problem changed how they viewed my physical health. I never was offered anything for pain, and I was sent home without any satisfactory aid for what was wrong with me. For the first time I was given the answer that it was “just Crohn’s”. A condition that had such a profound impact on my life was suddenly seen as no big deal because of one tick on my chart that might suggest that I also had depression. That the Crohn’s might be the cause of the depression was never considered. That a person can have two things wrong with them and have them be equally valid and serious was never considered. No clearly, despite the fact that I had a documented condition, depression, anxiety, or any other form of mental health disorder had to mean that the pain was all in my head.

YSI Excerpt: Disability and Mental Health