An old friend died this week: where the personal and political collide.

I’m furious right now.

An old friend died this week. I’m mad as hell with him for doing it, even though I know he’d have some choice words for me around the topic of minding my own damn business. I guess that’s something everyone feels when something like this happens. It’s easier to be angry.

While I don’t know why he did what he did, I know this: LGBTI people in Ireland are three times more likely to attempt suicide than our cishet counterparts. The further you go along that acronym, the higher our risk of elevated stress, anxiety and depression. Trans, bi and intersex people are most severely hit. I know that we’re only human. A lifetime of microaggressions and macro oppressions leaves you raw. Wears you down. When life’s ordinary difficulties come your way, you’re that little bit less resilient. More exposed. More vulnerable. I’m furious that, knowing this, we seem to accept bigotry as just how some people are. I’m tired of tolerance. That measly little word puts our selves and loves on a par with someone else’s ‘right’ to proclaim us disordered.

I know this: we punish men when they are vulnerable. Insinuate that a real man could just power through, or wouldn’t feel that way in the first place. We teach each other that support, closeness and intimacy are weak. Feminine. Lesser. I know that when we do this, we put men in a double bind: to be respected, you shove those parts of you down. If you choose not to, there’s an ocean of internal and external shame to deal with. I don’t know if I could handle that. I’m not surprised that so many men can’t.

Do we even care?

I’m furious that in the face of hundreds of people ending their lives every year, our government wants to drain millions of euro from our mental health budget. Do those hundreds of lives simply not matter? What about the tens or hundreds of thousands of people who won’t kill themselves but who still need those services?

I’m angry that my friend’s death can’t simply be a private tragedy. I wish I could think about his loss to our community without being overwhelmed by how many others are going through something similar. I wish that him being a man, queer and trans didn’t slot his death right into one of the biggest suicide clichés of them all.

And I’m scared. Back in 2013 I knew how lucky I was that my friends and loved ones had survived another year. I’ve always known that, and a part of me always waits for the shoe to drop. For the phone to ring. I’ve had one of those phone calls this year. I can’t stop thinking: who will be next?

A year ago, the derby world was shattered by news that one of our youngest members- a 15 year old boy called Sam- had died through suicide. I wrote this:

Sam didn’t die because he was trans. Transness is a perfectly ordinary variation of what it is to be human, and there is nothing intrinsic about being trans that could make life not worth living.

Sam died because we failed him. He died because we accepted a world where trans kids- kids, people at the start of their lives who haven’t had a chance to develop the context to see how things can change and who don’t have the option to get the hell out of where they are- are forced to live in worlds and with people who tell them every day of their lives that they are worthless. He died because we didn’t shout loud enough, didn’t insinuate our voices into every single crack, didn’t object every single time, didn’t counter enough of that kind of hate and torture of kids with nowhere else to go and by not doing that we let it continue. We let people hound another trans kid to death.

Are you tired of this yet? Because I am. I’m sick and tired of seeing yet another headline for yet another person killed or tortured into killing themselves because of who they are. Yet another teenager.

And here’s something I said way back in November 2013 on the Trans Day of Remembrance:

Today, though, I do feel luckier than most. I wish that it didn’t have to be that way. Today is the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, you see, when we take time to mourn and recognise all of the trans* people who should be here with us today, but who have been killed by transphobia in the past year. Everyone who was murdered because of how their gender was perceived. Everyone who was driven to suicide by this transphobic, ciscentric society that we live in. Every year we do this, and every year I want to hold the trans people who I love just that little bit closer. Because we’ve all survived another year. Those I love have been spared.

Isn’t that selfish? I guess that we’re all a little bit selfish. We all love who we love, and though we care for those outside that little group, it’s the loss of our family, friends and lovers that tears at our guts and rips our lives apart. So every year on November 20th I feel a little bit lucky. The people I love are still here.

It’s a cruel kind of luck, and one that nobody should have to feel.

Like most of us, I’ve said goodbye to people I love over the years. They’ve died in different circumstances. Some after long years of illness. Some after short months or weeks. Some expected, some unexpected. Some peacefully, some in pain. The loss of every single one of them tore- and tears- my heart apart. But there’s one thing that is common to every one of them that I will always take comfort from. Every one of them died knowing that they were dearly loved. Everything that we could do to ease their suffering was done. They didn’t want for a hand to hold. They were cherished as they died.

Nobody can tell how each of us will end our lives. But that one simple thing- that in our last moments we know that we are loved and cherished, and that if there is any way to ease our suffering it will be done- is something that we can hope for everyone we care for. It’s the one thing that we can do.

Too many of our trans community are denied that.

Too. Damn. Many.

An old friend died this week: where the personal and political collide.

Fuck Imposter Syndrome.

I remember when I started teaching. I was teaching English to groups of kids from all over Europe. An entirely new class almost every week- and me.

Here’s a feeling most of you know: it was months before I slept on a Sunday night. The rest of the week was more or less okay. Fridays I’d sleep like a(n exhausted) baby. But Sundays? Nope. Barely a wink. Staying up all night worrying about the next morning. Who would my students be? What would they think of me? Was I sure I had my class planned out okay? What if I was wrong? What if my students were terrible? What if I was terrible? What if they hated me? What if I got everything wrong?

You could point out that none of this fretting helped one bit. That a well-rested teacher is far better able to handle the unexpected than an exhausted one. That it wasn’t a reflection on my character if the kids were Awful. Or even that the vast majority of the kids I worked with were Lovely and I almost always loved the time I spent in that classroom.

You could point all of that out, and it wouldn’t change a thing. I heard it dozens of times. And despite the fact that I somehow managed to put fun, engaging classes together for my teens every day, I was convinced that I hadn’t a clue what I was doing.

Here’s the thing about imposter syndrome: it’s not about you.

Imposter syndrome is all about making everything about other people. Your boss. Your students, clients, or coworkers. You constantly worry about all of these people judging you.

And when you do that, you forget about yourself. You forget about what you want. You forget why you’re there. Continue reading “Fuck Imposter Syndrome.”

Fuck Imposter Syndrome.

How we feel is where we live: life, landscapes, and maybe a treehouse.

State dependent memory. One of those things you learn about in your first encounters with psychology, along with Phineas Gage and Skinner’s rats. We remember things better when we are in the same state as when we learned them.

Of course we do. Walking past a road where we lived years ago. The smell of an old love’s perfume on a crowded street. They catapult us back.

And so with learning: you learn the thing in a state close to how you’ll need to remember it. Make associations: this pen, that song. When you walk out of a room and forget what you were looking for, all you need to do is walk back in to remember.

It’s less useful when it comes to emotions.

When I’m happy, I forget what sadness feels like. I know it exists. Can even bring it up, with a little effort. But it is not what comes unbidden.

And when unhappy- when we most need to be reminded that this is not all there is- it’s all we can remember. Our disappointments shine brightly, three dimensional. Joy hides. We’ve walked out of the room and left our meaning behind. Continue reading “How we feel is where we live: life, landscapes, and maybe a treehouse.”

How we feel is where we live: life, landscapes, and maybe a treehouse.

Guest Posts for Equality: Look after yourselves.

In the run-up to Ireland’s Marriage Equality referendum on May 22nd, I’ve invited a series of guest posters– people from Ireland or who live here, of many different backgrounds and orientations- to share their thoughts on the referendum, the campaign, and what it means to them. Contributions to Guest Posts for Equality are welcome- drop me a message

Orla-Jo– aside from being one of my Dublin Roller Derby teammates- is an Irish feminist YouTuber, blogger and haver of rants on Twitter. She’s pretty great 🙂

How it can feel to be queer in Ireland
We understand for many this referendum debate doesn't feel like a discussion of marriage law
So look after yourselves and be kind to each other. P.s. Vote YES.

Guest Posts for Equality: Look after yourselves.

On living with a part-time broken brain: possibly a love letter to all of us.

It’s always unexpected.

How funny is that? I don’t mean ha-ha funny. How ridiculous, then, is it that a thing as predictable as this can take a person by surprise over and over and over again?

Yes, I know I get Seasonal Affective Disorder- a clean, clinical name if ever I heard one for an experience as ugly and as messy as this. I have known this for years. This marks my fourth winter since I first sat down in a doctor’s office and told him all the ways that I couldn’t cope. I left clutching a prescription, a phone number, and a sense of exhausted relief.

You don’t deal with it though. You think you will, but you don’t. Especially because it’s not always the same. That’s the thing about mental illness, you see. For many of us it is intricately wired into our lives. If everything is fine or better than fine, it’s genuinely not so bad. As long as we don’t have undue stress to deal with? Things are just a little more low and a little more frayed than normal.

Pull on a string at the end of that fray, though, and it all falls apart. Continue reading “On living with a part-time broken brain: possibly a love letter to all of us.”

On living with a part-time broken brain: possibly a love letter to all of us.

Suicide and Self-harm: What’s so terrible about looking for attention?

Wanna hear a story?

This time two years ago- give or take a week or two- I couldn’t take it anymore. I gave up. I phoned in sick, went to the doctor, and left with a diagnosis of depression and anxiety, a prescription, and a note saying I’d be unable to work for a while.

I’ve had better days.

It was, hands-down, one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. I had no idea how I’d pay the rent. I felt like a fraud, a whiny-ass white girl with a couple of college degrees who couldn’t cope with a perfectly acceptable life. When I walked into that doctor’s office, I knew that he’d tell me to suck it up and deal. When that didn’t happen.. well, I had some feelings about that.

I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without friends who had my back. Continue reading “Suicide and Self-harm: What’s so terrible about looking for attention?”

Suicide and Self-harm: What’s so terrible about looking for attention?

About Bravery

“I didn’t feel brave”

I’m not sure you ever do.

How often do you hear something like that? You’ll tell someone that they’ve done something brave- conquered something that scared them- and the first thing they do is deny that it felt the slightest bit brave to them. They were terrified the entire time.

I wasn’t brave. It took me two tries to even go into that room- the first time I panicked.

I wasn’t brave. I had to hold my hands together, they were shaking so hard. And- oh god- when it was done I went home and locked the door behind me and curled up and cried.

I was awkward. I was scared. I was weak.

I wasn’t brave.

Feck that. I don’t think that brave feels brave. We imagine that bravery feels powerful- feels like facing your demons, overcoming them and triumphing.

I don’t think it’s supposed to feel strong. Not all the time, anyway. I think the bravest things we do are when we feel weak. Those times when you feel tiny and scared, when you don’t know how you’ll get through that thing you have to do, when you can’t look more than one step or moment ahead and in that tininess and shaking and nausea or whatever it is you somehow take that step and do a thing? When you’re a goddamn mess and the smallest thing is everything you can do?

That’s a hell of a lot braver than squared jaws, narrowed eyes and confident stares.

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About Bravery

Interesting or Interested?

English: A bored person
This was WordPress’s suggestion for this post. Am I boring or is he just sleepy? Who can tell? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’ll be a continuation of my recent theme of being (fashionably) late responding to things. I, by the way, decided recently to say a hearty “feck that” to the imperative of responding to stuff immediately or not at all. Today: things I’ve been thinking about a Captain Awkward post from March. March!

Way back in the end of March, Captain Awkward answered a letter from someone asking advice on being less boring. The letter writer felt that their life was in a rut, that they didn’t do anything interesting and were worried about being a boring person to talk to. The letter broke my heart a little bit- the LW talked about having read tons of articles with titles like “best hobbies for 20 somethings” and “how to meet new people”, as well as on topics like being a good listener and building social skills, but that none of it really stuck for more than a few days and they just didn’t feel.. interesting.

We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be interesting, don’t you think? We’re a relentlessly social species living in a society where we focus incessantly on competition and act as if love and belonging are scarce commodities to be fought over. It’s not surprising that interesting feels like a thing we need to aspire to.

You’re going to say there’s a catch now, aren’t you

It’s a pity, then, that interesting doesn’t exist. Not in any objective sense, at least. We can’t learn the interesting things, tick the interesting boxes and become a person that everyone wants at their dinner party. Interesting is a subjective mix of who I am, who you are, what we have in common and how we are different, and that unpredictable spark of chemistry that may or may not be there between us. Interests in common help, sure, but we’ve all met people who like the same things as us who we find dull as dishwater. And we’ve probably met people who were drastically different who we found fascinating.

You can’t predict interesting. It’s one of those things that is too dependent on the whims and vagaries of far too many people to be reliable. There’ll always be people who don’t like you. I mean, there’s people who don’t like me, and I’m bloody brilliant, y’know?

You can’t measure interesting. Without seeing into the minds of every single person who encounters you, you can never tell for sure how interesting you really are. You’re stuck with your interpretation of the actions, filtered through your brain with all its insecurities and biases. Is that person bored of me, or has she just not had enough sleep in days? Is that other person trying desperately to find an excuse to get away from me, or are they simply preoccupied with the things they need to get done? And is this person listening to what I am saying because he’s interested in what I have to say, or is he just being polite?

I’m not saying that interesting doesn’t exist, or that some people aren’t more interesting than others. It does and they are. But chasing after interesting can’t be anything more than stumbling through the dark towards invisible, moving goalposts made from cobwebs so fine you’d never ben sure if you’d felt them or a trick of your mind.

That, and doing things because you think they’ll make people find you more interesting is.. a terrible way to become more interesting.

Got a better idea?

I prefer to aspire to interested. Where interesting is about other people, interested is about me, my brain, and what makes it light up.

In some respects I’m almost certainly a lot less interesting than I used to be. This past year I’ve bored more than one person silly talking about roller derby (I’m lookin’ at you, Ladybro. Thanks for putting up with me <3). The worst that happened? I got told to STFU after crowbarring skates into yet another conversation, decided to keep the worst of my rhapsodising to people who want to listen (I’m lookin’ at you, derbs. And also you, Tumblr), changed the subject, and moved on. It wasn’t the end of the world. And yet, despite becoming a person who really wants to bore the life out of a substantial portion of my friends, having that interest in my life made me a hell of a lot happier, and got me meeting dozens and dozens of new people who’ll talk with me for literal hours about wheelyboots and the finer points of the 2014 WFTDA ruleset. What’s yawnworthy to Ladybro is delicious to the derbs.

Interesting is subjective. Interested is subjective too, but it’s all about choosing what to do based on what’s subjectively awesome to you. Where we can’t really measure our overall interestingness, there’s nothing difficult about working out whether or not something’s interesting to you. Is there some spark to that thing that draws you to it? Do you want to learn more? Do you think about it even if you don’t have to? Does it make you smile, or fascinate you? Yep, you’re probably interested.

And fortunately, with a good seven billion of us on this rock, if you go with interested you’re bound to find yourself some of what’s interesting to you.

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Interesting or Interested?

Medicating the Jerkbrain and the Single Story of Mental Illness

Over at Greta Christina’s blog, there’ve been some.. interesting.. conversations recently around dealing with having mental illnesses that will probably need indefinite medication, and the responses other people have to that. Last week I talked here about my own experiences with having been on meds for my own jerkbrain and the things that allowed me to more-or-less recover.

I’m lucky. I don’t have to take meds anymore. But I can tell you that I’m a happy, drug-free person because I took my drugs when I needed them. I spent, all in all, the better part of a year on Lexapro, and while I’m glad I don’t have to deal with side-effects anymore (did you know Lexapro can make you need to pee all the damn time? Now you do.), those little pills gave me the leg-up I needed to get out of the worst of the maelstrom I was in and sort my shit out. I would not be in the place I am now if it weren’t for many things. One of them is those little pills.

It’s a crutch!

People talk about jerkbrain meds saying things like “it’s just a crutch”. They’re right. They’re a crutch. They prop up bits of your brain that aren’t working right now, just like a physical crutch stands in (seewhatIdidthere) for your leg when it’s too broken to take your weight itself.

Sometimes crutches are temporary. You’ve broken something badly and after a few weeks or months, a cast, and some moderately unpleasant physiotherapy you’re able to put it away and walk unaided. This is great!

Sometimes crutches aren’t temporary. You actually, really, genuinely, have a leg that is (now) intrinsically not able to hold you up while you walk, or that would lead to excruciating pain or balance difficulties or injuries if you did so. So you use the damn crutch, and you get from where you are to where you need to be, and that’s also great.

Sometimes jerkbrain meds are less like crutches than they are prostheses, correcting for things that your brain simply doesn’t do, bits that just aren’t there or don’t work the way you’d like them to in ways we can’t fix. And yeah, having a prosthesis is probably a lot more of a pain in the ass(/leg/arm) than having a limb that does the stuff without having to think about it. But that prosthesis? Is great.

The Single Story

There’s a lot that we, as a culture, don’t get about mental illnesses. We act like depression is the same as feeling down in the dumps, describe ourselves as ADD if we’re distracted one day, and bipolar if we’re hangry and need a snack to get back on the level.  One of the biggest things that we do, though, is act as if each of those labels actually describe just one thing- as if depression is like the measles, a specific thing that we can isolate and treat.

They’re not, though. I didn’t get diagnosed with depression after a bunch of blood tests and scans with fancy machinery. My doctor talked to me for a while, asked me a lot of questions about my life and how I was feeling, and ascertained that I was definitely suffering from the symptoms that we clump together with words like “depression” and “anxiety”. Having those words meant that I had a name for what was going on, and that we (me, my doctor, and the therapist he made an appointment for me with right there in that office, knowing that people you’ve just diagnosed with anxiety might not be people who are good at making scary phonecalls in a timely fashion) had a variety of tried and tested options to choose from for helping me to feel better. That was all.

There isn’t a perfect depressed person sitting in a vacuum in the Smithsonian. We’re not all shadows of the ideal depressed person flickering on the wall of Plato’s cave. Depression’s just a word we use to describe a phenomenon where some things happen together, and it varies as much as the people living with it.

It’s when we decide that mental illnesses (and for that matter, many physical illnesses) are one thing, that we start making harmful assumptions about what to do about  them. We all either are or know someone who had an unpleasant bout with a mental illness that they managed, after a hell of a lot of work, to get past. That doesn’t mean that all mental illnesses can be overcome with bootstraps and gumption, any more than it means that amputated limbs can be grown back because broken bones can heal.

Sometimes bones or minds are broken and heal up fine. Sometimes they can’t.

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Medicating the Jerkbrain and the Single Story of Mental Illness

Cherry trees.

I walked home lateish last night after a couple of drinks in the local with my derbywife. It was a warm enough night that walking home felt comfortable. We split up at the river, I set off down my road.

I don’t feel scared walking at night anymore. I don’t feel scared in the daytime, either. Walking home last night I realised two things. I am happy. I was not happy before.

Two years ago my life felt impossible. I was still reeling from the losses of the months before, spending my days in a job that felt pointless and that I didn’t have the money to leave. I would wake up in the night in terror- not from any nightmare, but from the idea that I could be stuck. That my life wouldn’t get better. That five or ten or twenty years from then, I wouldn’t have escaped, and that I would have wasted these only years I’ll ever get. I woke up in the night in tears because I knew there was so much more joy to be had in life and I felt myself hanging of a precipice of never experiencing it.

It feels overdramatic, really, but there you go. That was real, for a while.

A year and a half ago my attempts at making things better- studying for another qualification, finding another job, dragging myself out of the pit I was in, grasping for something– left me one morning sitting on the floor of my apartment, finally giving in after the tension and the terror had built up enough that I couldn’t eat, sleep or even keep water down for long. My desperation to get out had me feeling that this one chance was the only chance. I had to grasp it and take it or else I’d be trapped again, falling back into that utter pointlessness and drudgery and I couldn’t take it and in the midst of this another death, this time of someone far too young, and that morning it became too much. I quit.

I quit, and my friends were there to catch me. Even though I had failed. Even though I was someone who patently couldn’t cope with my life right then. That morning, a friend of mine was there to hold me and to tell me that it was okay to fall apart. That evening, two. I’ve never known so suddenly that I had made the right decision. My friends plonked themselves down next to me on the sofa. My family talked to me on the phone. That was the week I found an incredible therapist who coached me through the next year of my life. I had no idea what I was going to do next, but for the first time in so long, I felt something close to safe.

I think that was the moment when I realised that being an adult doesn’t mean never needing help.

A year ago, things were getting a little better. A lot better, in fact. After I quit my job (a few weeks before the lease on my apartment was up), another friend offered me her spare room to live in for six months. Those months and that space meant the world to me- every day I knew that I was loved and cared for and that the people in my life felt that I was worthwhile. We would curl up on the sofa with TV box sets and a bottle of wine and share our days and in those moments my loneliness and tension started, oh so slowly, to dissolve. I started to write again, blogging almost daily, words and ideas and enthusiasms that actually seemed to connect with others in a way that I have never stopped feeling astounded by.

Six months ago.. six months ago, another decision just for me. I moved out of the city into this town for no good reason other than that I wanted to and that the friends moving with me were people I thought I’d be happy living with. Turns out that making decisions purely because you think they’ll make you happy can work out pretty damn well. I knew the internship I was working on was going to end soon. I knew that I wanted out of that- that I wanted to be paid for the work that I do, to be able to volunteer my time as I saw fit, and that I wanted to live somewhere with room, sky, the sea, and green.

And yesterday night I walked home and knew that right now, I am happy. I live with people who are not only wonderful, but who are compatible with how I live my home life. I wake up in a bright and spacious room with the sun streaming in my window, in a home that feels comfortable and safe. I have a job where every so often the hours I’m at work provide the highlights of my day. I spend my evenings with incredible people working my ass off in a sport that builds me up and fills me with inspiration, love and power. And.. and now, I have time to write again.

Two years ago, I was terrified, plagued with nightmares of dying at the end of a pointless life and the plodding, dreary decades in between. Now? I look to today, to next week and see every day filled with meaning and joy. I got here. It’s okay. I’m okay.

Cherry trees.