Check White Privilege About Black Breastfeeding Week

I saw something on Facebook that SCREAMED White Privilege to me, so I have to write this post. I will leave her name out of, because let’s be real–this problem is not about the person who said this. The problem is obviously that she’s not alone.

I’m sorry I can’t agree with the whole black breast feeding week. If we want to be strong about it then maybe we should all stick together instead of trying to segregate ourselves because of skin color. Yes it is hard for women that aren’t white. Guess what it is hard for white women too. The way this woman said this really bothers me because it makes it seem like being white is SOOO terrible. Stop dragging race into everything because if you hadn’t noticed we are all just one race….. The human race! Stick together as women not as black women, white women, blue women, or any other type of women. If you can’t tell at the end of every single one of those there is the word women…. It seems to me they are making it harder by dividing us into groups!

If we want to be strong, as a human race, we need to acknowledge difference. But that can often mean acknowledging privilege, so it can get uncomfy. We clearly DO need to “drag race into everything” if the fact that talking about race is upsetting. This was not a random page. This is a comment on the Project Breastfeeding page. This is a person who wants to advocate for breastfeeding getting all caught up in what she feels is an accusation (“it makes it seem like being white is SOOO terrible”) when, in fact, it is not about white women. Unless white people use Black Breastfeeding Week to become better allies who show support for the unique struggle a Black woman might face when she decides to breastfeed, then the week is not about White Breastfeeding, being white, or white people at all.

Yes, it’s true, there are things in the world that are not about me. I’m ok with that. Clearly, the people who say that Black Breastfeeding Week is unnecessary or divisive are not ok with examining how race plays a role in the feeding of babies.

How could race NOT play some role in the feeding of babies? Race and culture determine so much of the advice, criticism, attitude toward medicine, styles of parenting… I’m at a total loss to find something that has nothing to do with race. Just read this story over at Jessica Martin Weber’s The Leaky B@@b.

Go visit Every Child is a Blessing for statistics from the CDC about the increased health risks faced by Black babies as a result of much lower breastfeeding rates in Black families.

That information has been repeated by people who know a lot more than I do. So what do I know? I know how to check my privilege. Here’s a helpful flow chart for the next time you or someone you know or someone you see on the internet suggests that something is racist because it does not include everyone:

Is this racist?

Why this is generally true: White privilege means that I’m included, unless I’m told otherwise. Think about magazines: there are women’s magazines (Elle, Vogue, Marie Claire) and Black women’s magazines (Essence… feel free to educate me on others). A picture of Olivia Wilde breastfeeding her baby while wearing designer clothing was in one of those. I didn’t see much debate about race. I do remember a lot of talk about Black breastfeeding rates and a racial divide in this issue when pictures appeared of Beyoncé breastfeeding her child while out and about.

If you’ve been here for awhile, you might know that my son has been fed with All The Things – my milk, my friend’s milk, formula. I just want the babies fed. But it is NOT RACIST to have a Black Breastfeeding Week, for the same reasons that it is not sexist to have a women’s college. Yeah, that was quite a leap, but follow me. I went to a women’s college. Why? Because there is less support for women in this world. We make less money in the workplace, and we do more of the work at home. Don’t even argue with me on this one; the statistics are everywhere. “Mommy Guilt” and “Mommy Wars” have become part of click-bait headlines, but I do not see the same for dads. I found and continue to find extra support for the unique challenges I face, as a woman, from my women’s college. For that reason, I do think that there is plenty of good to be done by identifying under-supported groups and making an effort to show some support.

If you find that you are white and not included in something, instead of asking yourself, “Is this racist?” then I suggest asking, “How can I use my privilege for good?”

So, hey–Black mamas. Breastfeeding, bottle feeding, formula feeding, baby feeding mamas. I support you. And I am happy to state, repeatedly, that Black ____ Week is not racist, because I think that you are probably sick of saying it. And maybe my White privilege can add some weight; maybe someone will listen, because a White woman is telling her to think of a way to be more helpful. I can’t do much to fix the fact that Black maternal and infant health is poor, compared to White health, in America. But I can remind people that until we are all included, all the time, it’s never wrong to call some attention to exclusion, and the harm it does.

How One City Is Publicly Acknowledging Racist History

[Trigger warning: violence, racism, specifically lynching]

~Edit: I wrote this post in the middle of a migraine headache that ended up lasting two days. I’m pretty sure I failed to articulate why I think this memorial is important. The goal, as articulated on the website I link to below, is not simply to help us remember the distant past. As I studied photographs of the space, it struck me that the goal is not to memorialize a past event, but to remind us that we forget these events too often. When I say that I want more of this, I mean that I want more public art that reminds us of the consequences our states of mind have. Awareness is not about understanding that racism exists. If we don’t change our behavior as a result of heightened awareness, then it has done nothing. I want more public art that reminds me of my privilege and shakes me out of complacency. That’s what looking at this space did for me.~

 

Social media has gotten complicated, as people have posted links and opinions about the death of Michael Brown, and the reaction to his death. Someone I knew in childhood disappointed me today, by posting racist opinions I will not repeat. Then, someone else I knew in childhood and adolescence told me about a project that uplifted me. It turns out that a city I loved to visit at as a child, Duluth, Minnesota, is acknowledging racist history in an attempt to change hearts and minds. A large memorial went up in Duluth in 2003, dedicated to raising awareness about the horrific lynching of three young Black men in that city in 1920. The goal of the memorial and the foundation that shares its name? To acknowledge a horrific injustice and to  demand change, so that nothing like it ever happens again.

On the evening of June 15, 1920, three black men, wrongly accused of raping a white woman, were abducted from the Duluth, MN, City Jail. A mob numbering between five and ten thousand people savagely beat and tortured these three young men, then hanged them from a lamppost in the middle of Duluth’s downtown. The grim spectacle of the mob posing with the lynched men was then captured by a photographer, and then circulated as a postcard. At a time in America when the lynching of black men was all too common, it was widely agreed to be the most heinous lynching of 1920. Until recently, this event has been largely forgotten. The names of the three men, Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Issac McGhie were almost forgotten as well. http://www.claytonjacksonmcghie.org/Story

I don’t know if it’s more or less difficult to acknowledge this part of our history in places where White people make up the vast majority of the population, but it seems worth noting that Duluth, Minnesota is 90% White, according to the 2010 census. And yet, there is a park-sized memorial dedicated to changing an acknowledged problem with racism. The mayor of Ferguson, Missouri claims there is “no racial divide” in his city. It seems to me that it would be pretty easy for Duluth to make the same claim. Granted, this happened almost a century ago, and the people who see the memorial are not the people who were in those postcards, spectators to that lynching. Having grown up in this part of the country, however, I know that it’s quite common for people my age to live in the same neighborhoods their grandparents and great-grandparents occupied. The people who built this memorial probably had to face the knowledge that a direct ancestor was involved in that awful crime.

These are life-sized reminders that we cannot afford to forget.

These are life-sized reminders that we cannot afford to forget.

Can we make more of these? The lynching I wrote about last week took place in 1930, in Indiana. If you covered the name of the place, you might not know the difference between that crime and this one, in Minnesota, a decade earlier. Racism is not a problem that exists elsewhere, nor is its gruesome history confined to the South. Lynchings in Minnesota in 1920 and Indiana in 1930 preceded attack dogs, beatings, shootings, and more lynchings, in the 1960s, which preceded “race riots” or “race rebellions” in Detroit and Newark, in the 1970s, which preceded the awful riots in Los Angeles, following the police brutality directed at Rodney King, in the early 1990s. This is not our distant past, nor is it distant from you, geographically, no matter which part of the United States you call home. Perhaps we can being to move forward by making things like this memorial, things with dignity and permanence that confront passersby with the humanity of the people we have lost to racist violence. Real change happens when we view each other as human beings and value each life, simply because it is human, and when we cannot be convinced that any human is worth less because of difference. duluth memorial 2 duluth memorial 3

The White Privilege To Forget History

Trigger warning: I’m about to discuss violence, including violent death, and racism.

The events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of Michael Brown, exist within a deep and painful historical context. This fact seems lost on many White people who do not understand why there is enough pain, grief, rage, just plain emotional momentum to keep protests going for nine days. It is a distinctly White privilege to forget history. I’d like to talk about the historical context, here, as my response to seeing the following message, repeated across social media:

luvvie tweet

I haven’t been silent, and I’m going to use this space in the best way I know how. I have nothing against “the police” in general, but I want to talk about a specific failure on the part of the police, in the past, as uniquely relevant to what’s happening, now: the 1930 lynching of Abe Smith and Tom Shipp.

First, facts from Michael Brown’s recent death: On August 9th, 2014, a Black teen was shot dead by a police officer in the middle of a residential street, in the middle of the day, and his body was left in the street for hours. People turning to social media to process what was happening reported this narrative in real time. They saw it and heard it from inside their homes. This should spark vehement protest, simply because it’s dangerous to fire a gun several times on a residential street, especially compared to a chase, on foot or by car. (See this article in the New Yorker on how Michael Brown died for reporting on those details.)

The White privilege to forget history allows us to see this news, apparently, without seeing the unique pain and significance of a Black body, left dead, in public. Whiteness gives us (yes, I will own my privilege as a White woman) the privilege to ignore the centuries of mutilated Black bodies left dead, in public, evidence that they were worth less/worthless, or worse, in order to silence and terrorize anyone who dared not believe that Blackness made a person subhuman.

Historical context: On August 6th, 1930, two Black teens,  who had been arrested and charged with armed robbery, murder, and rape, were dragged from a jail in Marion, Indiana, by a White mob. The police were unable to stop the huge crowd, armed with sledge hammers and crow bars. But the police had also hung the bloody shirt of the man these teens were suspected of shooting in the window of the jail, after he died. The two men were dragged out and beaten, one by one, arms broken so that they would not be able to grab the robe, and then lynched, hanged from a tree, in the town center. Their bodies were left there while men, women and even children stood watching, many from other towns around the county, to satisfy curiosity. A sixteen-year-old boy had also been arrested for the crime, and he was dragged to the same tree almost half an hour later. Someone stopped the mob from hanging him, despite the rope that was actually around his neck, and he lived to tell the story of the Marion lynchings to NPR in 2010. No one knows, to this day, whether these three young Black men, were actually guilty of any crime. Lynching was not a new practice, but it was unusual for such a large mob to participate. It was also unusual for photographs to be printed into postcards and sold as souvenirs the next day. The link above will take you to a story that includes the most iconic photograph taken that evening. Copyright law forbids me from posting it here, but if you look at the faces in the White mob, you will see why a Black community might assume that apathy motivated the disregard for Michael Brown’s body, even over eighty years after Abe Smith and Tom Shipp were lynched, and James Cameron narrowly escaped death.

A White, Jewish man wrote a poem inspired by that photograph, and news of other lynchings. It became famous when Billie Holiday recorded “Strange Fruit” as a song. Here are they lyrics, and a video of Holiday singing the iconic melody.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

– Abel Meeropol

There was no protest in Marion, Indiana, over these barbaric killings in 1930, but the national media picked up the story. It made its way into the hearts and minds of artists like Abel Meeropol, who himself faced discrimination for his membership in the Communist Party, and for his faith. His words resonated with singer Billie Holiday and the people who bought this record, who made this song famous. At the time, Black bodies, left dead, in public, were so commonplace that Meeropol could metaphorically make them part of the Southern landscape, and the world nodded in understanding, as Billie Holiday’s voice expressed the unbearable pain of that landscape.

It took me a few minutes to understand the significance of the time that passed between the death of Michael Brown and the removal of his body. That space represents my White privilege. I do not see my own son’s body, because his skin is pale, and his hair is blond. When I look at that awful photo of that lynching, in 1930, I do not see him, when I look at the broken bodies hanging from that tree. These images do not haunt my dreams, because my brain knows that white teenagers have not been targeted by American police or racist mobs.

I want to include an image from a past protest, because it’s important to note that my brain does not insert my own relatives into these stories. It is my White privilege to forget history, even for a moment.

arms up hoses

I do not see my uncles with their arms raised, fire hoses pointed at them in the name of “crowd dispersal,” in this image from a protest during the Civil Rights Movement, in Danville, Virginia, 1963. Several of my uncles were old enough to be that age, at that time, but their skin color allows me to see this photograph and to not think of them. That is White privilege.

I wrote, after the death of Trayvon Martin, that White privilege means feeling safe in the presence of police, for me. A memorial to the “Foot Soldiers” of the Civil Rights Movement” in Birmingham, Alabama, illustrates why that is not true for so many Black communities.

Racism, racial profiling, and police brutality may not include the sanctioned use of attack dogs, but the open armed, flat palmed, limp stance of the Black protestor in this sculpture looks all too familiar.

Racism, racial profiling, and police brutality may not include the sanctioned use of attack dogs, but the open armed, flat palmed, limp stance of the Black protestor in this sculpture looks all too familiar.

Dealing With Brilliant Lives Ended By Suicide

I have been very quiet, as I watch and listen, while tragic events unfold with shocking frequency. I have been careful about what I read, and I want to be careful about the words that I add to the cacophony. My contribution to all of this has to do with when mental illness haunts brilliant minds, and how we react to that, when those minds make their brilliance public.

::trigger warning – suicide, depression, violence::

I have always loved this photograph of Virginia Woolf, because the look in her eyes so clearly communicates depth but gives no hint as to what lies behind them, in the mind that produced the work I love.

I spent several years in a marvelous English PhD program; I went there to specifically to study the work of Virginia Woolf, who happens to have died by suicide at the age of 59. I have heard thoughts about Robin Williams’s death that echo conversations I have heard about the death of Virginia Woolf. You can tell me what sounds familiar to you.

Mourning the work that will never be. I get this. This feels healthy. Loving the work that a brilliant mind has produced naturally leads us to wonder, what will the world miss, because of this loss?

Grief over the loss of a person with whom you feel deeply connected. I get this, too. I understand that a familiarity with her work or even her diary could not make me close to Virginia Woolf, the person, even if she were alive and living next door. Every fan in her right mind understands that she was not related to or friends with Robin Williams. Virginia Woolf feels like an aunt, to me, but that’s just the language I use to express the way I feel about relating to her words and my perception of her personality. If Robin Williams felt like an uncle, and you want to express your grief that way, that seems healthy to me, as long as you don’t claim the same rights reserved for actual relatives who actually spent time with this person. I read The Hours, and I cried as the fictionalized Woolf died. I will watch Robin Williams on screen and experience feelings of loss, particularly during films that I spent a lot of time watching as a child. This is very different from feeling entitled to judge the decisions of Woolf and Williams, which is what I would like to address, next.

Anger at the celebrity for “choosing” death. I don’t think that this is healthy. Let me be very clear that grief often includes anger. But directing anger towards the person who has died feeds a cycle of anger that discourages the mentally ill from talking about suicide, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and it feeds stigma. I can say this with confidence, because I encountered people who are angry AT Virginia Woolf, right now, for having drowned herself, in 1941. This kind of anger feeds on itself and does not end. Even worse, when someone expresses anger about the way a famous person deals with depression, people who are not famous read these generalizations about depression, and we react. Someone I know through Facebook expressed her feelings about this beautifully, this morning: “It’s everyone having their feelings *at* you, instead of with you.” It’s a good question we can ask ourselves. “Am I asking others to simply absorb feelings I throw at them via social media or this conversation? Or, am I feeling grief alongside others who mourn a true loss?”

Feeling entitled to the “lost work” that brilliant minds will not produce. This is not ok with me; entitlement is never ok with me. I love the work these minds have shared with us, and I wish there was more work to love, but I do not DESERVE more. I don’t care how life-changing, helpful, or beautiful the work may be. It is a gift, not something we have the right to demand from anyone. I happen to love the work of a photographer and artist, Dora Maar, who became a recluse smack in the middle of her life, and hid from the world not only her own work, but also work by her partner in love, sex, and art, Pablo Picasso. That was her right. Her life, her work, her things. I do not particularly like the work of J.D. Salinger, nor did I ever find him, as a personality, particularly attractive, and yet, I was offended on his behalf every time someone drove up to his house and demanded that he share the work he was creating with the world. The man did a lot of weird things, and that was his right. His life, his work, his things. Go ahead and long for the work that will never be, but stop yourself before you go so far as to demand work from someone who cannot or will not produce it.

Language that perpetuates the false notion that suicide is always a choice by asking “Would YOU have done it?” This downplays the vast difference between a healthy mind and a mind wracked by the storm of mental illness. Even if you have depression and it is severe and you have struggled with the desire to die, you do not know what you would do, were you standing in the shoes of the people who are gone. I’m not totally comfortable with the analogy I’ve seen between cancer and depression (it seems to be an attempt to lend greater weight to depression as a disease that can lead to death), but I do understand feeling frustration that when someone dies of cancer, *everyone* blames cancer, while someone who has died by suicide receives heaps and piles of blame. I am DONE with the idea that life is the choice that good people make, while death is a lazy choice made by people who are tired of fighting–this is false. Depression is an illness that changes the mind. I’m not talking about psychosis or paranoia, although Woolf certainly wrote that she was terrified of these things. I am simply insisting that we stop equating the way the world looks to a healthy person with the way that the world looks to a person who has depression. I am not saying that suicide is a “good” decision, or a “good” escape from a painful illness. My point is that it doesn’t matter whether YOU, or the writer of a column, or the host of a talk show, or a student in a literature class, would choose to die, if you were faced with terrifying mental illness, a disease like Parkinson’s or even, in the case of Virginia Woolf, the threat of a Nazi invasion and the stress of a world war. I am angry about claims that like “I would never choose death over life,” because this feeds stigma. For me, becoming suicidal happened slowly and insidiously, during a time in my life when I seemed productive and successful. I seemed “have it all” and was about to graduate from an Ivy League College to move on to a prestigious graduate program. And yet, I could only see pain and darkness. I felt numb. It was a terrifying, close, airless space, and suicide seemed like an appealing alternative to living like that. I am alive because I put blind trust in the people who told me that I would not feel that way, forever. Was that my choice? Or was it the time I spent locked in the psychiatric emergency room under suicide watch that let the feeling pass? I certainly didn’t enter that ER willingly. I did willingly go to see the doctor who put me there, and I told him that I had spent the previous night contemplating and even planning suicide. The person that I recognize as ME was so small, so swallowed up by that illness, that I look back on those memories like I’m watching someone else. It doesn’t FEEL like it was actually ME. Here’s my point: no one knows that suicide IS a choice, because none of us have actually been through it, so let’s just stop with the speculation. It does lasting harm. It shames. It stigmatizes.

The importance of our lives does not lie in what we produce or how we might benefit others. Whether or not you possess a brilliant mind and/or produce great work has nothing to do with your worth. No matter what a culture values or celebrates (think about the word: celebrity) I will keep arguing that the truly helpful way forward is to display empathy. We fight the darkness when we show that we care about our own lives and the lives of others. We bring light when we practice self-care simply because we are human, and when we care for others, because they are human, too.

Empathy and valuing humanity for its own sake. We can do that. In the last two weeks, we have seen unspeakable terror and tragedy across the world, and right here in the US. We shook with the revelation that Twitter users in Gaza were giving badly needed advice on dealing with tear gas to American citizens in Ferguson, MO. We have lost beloved American icons Robin Williams, to suicide, and Lauren Bacall, to a stroke. I see only thing that I can actually do for everyone suffering for any of these reasons: empathy, good listening, showing that I value the humanity of the person feeling pain. I hope that this blog post helps you do that, too. Value yourself. Value other humans. Simple, and so difficult.

::Edit:: This op-ed piece for the New York Times contains the best information and response to the death of Robin Williams that I’ve seen. I’m not surprised that author and doctor Kay Jamison is responsible for it. “Depression Can Be Treated, But It Takes Competence.”

A New Low

I hit a new low today. I bought a pouch of the tobacco my dad smoked (smokes? I don’t know!) and rolled my own cigarettes. I couldn’t stop thinking about smoking again, and how it was my coping mechanism in college, in the psych ward, and afterward. My first try made me really sick. I thought yay! I’m feeling really sick! I will now associate this with feeling awful, not feeling better!

A few hours later, all I could think about was the possibility of another cigarette. I used less tobacco. It was a good as I remembered. Now my throat hurts and my lungs feel like their on fire. Because… fire. Smoke. Obviously.

My therapy begins again on Monday, after a three-week hiatus due to overlapping vacations (mine and hers) and not a moment too soon. Self-destructive behavior is a sign that I’m turning my anger inward, on myself. I don’t know why I’m so mad at myself, and I don’t want to think about it. My brain goes right from “let’s explore that” to “SMOKE! You’ll feel better!”

All my life, my dad was calm and quiet when he was smoking. Often, I would sit with him, “out back,” while he rolled and smoked this brand of tobacco. Peace pipe, so to speak. It’s the only consistently positive memory I have. When I visited him, after I started smoking, he’d roll one for me. And tonight, the weather was the same as that night, the last time I saw him, when things were going well, or so I thought. Tonight, there’s a beautiful moon, the temperature is perfect for standing outside, alone, with the smoke, the familiar scent, and air on my skin.

Right now, my brain is screaming at me to stop confessing this. So I’m going to share a poem that I wrote during my senior year in college, just before my niece was born. Because I’m proud of this poem, and of the commitment I made to unfailing honesty, during the time I was writing it. I wrote it while taking a poetry class, and my teacher, Saskia Hamilton, hadn’t heard of the American Spirits brand. She asked me about all the ghosts in the poem, and I was confused. The class was confused. Someone, I don’t remember who, even though I remember my classmates very clearly, finally articulated that American Spirits was a brand of cigarettes. We all laughed, and then we had a moment for the fact that there really are ghosts in this poem. Then, we worked on that idea. This is what I ended up with, for my final portfolio. I won’t edit it. I’ll just leave it here.

ritual poem

Too Poor for Wellness (With Some Good News)

I’m feeling stuck, and it’s because of money. I saw a path other than traditional psychiatry through integrative medicine, and I wanted it to work. I’ve been working with practitioners over the phone for months. The science is fairly simple, and it involves real healing at the heart of a chemical imbalance like the one at work in depression–I’ve been using amino acid supplements to help my brain make more of its own serotonin and dopamine, and to help it transmit and absorb those chemicals properly. I’ve written about this, before. It’s been hugely successful. But I have to stop moving forward, and stay where I’m at now, because apparently, I’m too poor for wellness.

Here’s what I mean by wellness: feeling good, rather than feeling not sick. I want to feel less anxiety, not simply that I have medications that manage my anxiety. I can still feel it, trying to create havoc, in the background of my mind, even while the medication (Klonopin, primarily) keeps the symptoms like agoraphobia (fear of leaving my house) under control.

But let’s back up: I sought out an integrative medicine practitioner for help with migraines. As long as I keep taking a low dose of the amino acid supplements I started in the course of this treatment, I don’t get migraines! I don’t get any hormonal symptoms at all! I don’t wake up with headaches, and I don’t wake up feeling exhausted (unless I’ve gotten no sleep). I call that a huge WIN.

Along the way, I did a lot of reading about what these amino acid supplements were supposed to do, however, and between the books and the articles and talking with my practitioner, I really began to hope. I hoped that the chemical imbalance that causes my anxiety and, sometimes, depression, would slowly heal itself, with the help of this relatively new system of treatments. And I might never find out if that’s possible, because I can’t afford the hourly rate, the lab tests, or the extra supplements. I’m mad about that!

I’m also mad about this: people who offer things that help with anxiety/mental health really need to prepare themselves better for ANXIOUS PATIENTS. I’m not a high-maintenance patient, mostly because my anxiety is something I’m highly aware of, but when I am feeling extremely anxious after providers of alternative treatments have done something like charged me an unexpectedly high amount in an invoice, I would really appreciate it if the anxiety that caused me to seek their services in the first place played some role in their responses. “The doctor doesn’t make exceptions of any kind” was the entirety of one response I received, from an office that sees thousands of patients. Surely, there are several of us who feel anxious about money. When I email anyone asking “Why was I charged twice what I thought I would be charged? Can this invoice be altered in any way? This will have a huge impact on my family’s ability to by groceries!” then is it wrong to expect a little empathy in the response I receive?

As you may have noticed, this has become a rant. I’m feeling stabby, and I need to rant this week. I’m going to continue to rant, now. Warning: I’m about to rant about medication, psychiatry, and anxiety about long-term health effects of taking medication for more than ten years. I’m at seven years, so it seems like the time to think about this for me, but you may want to skip the next paragraph if it’s not something you want to think about. Important! The side effects of NO meds, for me, would be daily panic attacks, agoraphobia/not leaving my house ever, being afraid to eat and answer the phone, among other things. I just want to try life without SSRIs, because I’m not sure I need them. I want to taper with the help of a psychiatrist, because that’s the ONLY healthy way to taper any prescription medication.

Thanks to Gratisography.com for being awesome about free images.

Thanks to Gratisography.com for being awesome about free images. And thank YOU for reading my rant!

Now then, here’s my rant about how, in my experience, the Wellness Community has failed to take my wellbeing into account:

The same practitioner who is too expensive to continue working with frequently enough for me to have any hope of trying to get off my meds (something I had hoped to TRY, eventually) suggested that I read a book called The Anatomy of an Epidemic, which is apparently about the long-term health impacts of taking medications for depression and anxiety. A book written by the practitioner himself addresses the physical damage done by trauma, anxiety, and medication, in the long term. When I wrote an extremely anxious email about not being able to afford his services, he replied that I could find the supplements on other websites, for less money, and did not address in any way the fact that I now had all this knowledge about potential harm being done by my current medication regimen and NO MORE HELP. In fact, I’m pretty sure that he could have shaved off a significant amount of time (and MONEY on my BILL) in the one session we did have together, had he simply not started the conversation we had about how psychiatrists, in general, don’t really seem to be motivated to help patients like me, who are concerned with the long-term use of the medications they prescribe. Looking back, I can see $100 and a lot of time and energy and anxiety that I would not have used up, had he just stopped talking, after he agreed with me when I said that it seemed healthy to TRY life without Effexor. But no, we had a conversation, one I was then charged for, about how psychiatry would fail me, Integrative Medicine would help me, and then, HE SENT EMAIL SAYING THAT INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE WOULD NO LONGER BE HELPING ME (outside of allowing me to buy supplements). It doesn’t take a genius to guess that maybe, that would do more harm than good. And this dude is supposed to be providing HOLISTIC care.

The good news is that I’ve dealt with my fears, tallied up how much I’ve gained from this whole process, and moved on, all by myself. BECAUSE MY THERAPIST IS ON VACATION. Because the universe is apparently testing me, somehow. I’ve come out on top, universe! Do you hear me? I win! Here’s the result: I’m ok with taking the same dose of supplements I’ve been taking, and I will see one of two providers, infrequently, to keep an eye on how that’s going, as long as they are up front about how much it will cost and agree that, barring any real increase in cost (ahem, NOT accidentally talking for too long), I will pay only the amount agreed on in advance for their time.

I did that all by myself, by talking to my support system (Nathan! thank you! friends! thank you!) and looking carefully at my family’s finances. Oh, and by the way–our food benefits from the department of social services are completely up in the air, because they don’t know how to deal with graduate student pay and “can’t verify” Nathan’s income without a whole week of work. And I’m not freaking out about that.

I feel better after ranting. I win.

Ritual and Friendship Calm Anxiety

Last week, we didn’t just travel to San Jose for the BlogHer. We also spent time before and after the conference with a friend I have known since childhood, in a beautiful city called Santa Cruz. She lives a beautiful life filled with gorgeous rituals, often surrounding incredible food. The week taught me that this kind of ritual and friendship calm anxiety, for me. Watching her include my son in her favorite activities reminded me that I can actually calm my anxiety without taking a time out from motherhood, as long as my kiddo is willing to participate. He’s an easy-going guy, so I can really see this working!

Example: having met the Goat Milk Latte in Santa Cruz, I am now obsessed with the rich, creamy, earthy goodness. My extended family has a coffee roasting business, so I have some pretty amazing coffee at my house. Walt says a word that sounds like “cough” for “coffee” and most mugs he points at get named “Mama.” This is already a ritual I enjoy, so I just explained everything I was doing to Walt and told him to listen to the sounds and smell the smells. What do you know? It worked!

Hario ceramic cone pour-over coffee "maker" with a Chemex filter (I accidentally bought the bleached ones and prefer the unbleached), sitting atop a mug that was a gag gift from a BFF, with my little quart of goat milk and my Hario hand-grinder that I use to grind my Tonyan Coffee. We love that thing - the crank, the sound - it's fabulous.

Hario ceramic cone pour-over coffee “maker” with a Chemex filter (I accidentally bought the bleached ones and prefer the unbleached), sitting atop a mug that was a gag gift from a BFF, with my little quart of goat milk and my Hario hand-grinder that I use to grind my Tonyan Coffee. We love that thing – the crank, the sound – it’s fabulous.

But that’s not the only way friendship calms my anxiety; that would just be a ritual inspired by a friendship. Here’s the real lesson I learned about Friends Around Whom I Feel Less Anxiety: brutal honesty.

You would not believe (or maybe you get it, because you do it to) how much time I spend thinking about what other people are thinking about me. I understand, with my rational brain, that other people really don’t spend that much time thinking about me. My experience visiting my California friend smashed into my experience I had when another friend visited us here in Connecticut, and there was a big BANG! as I realized what these visits had in common: I felt like I was on vacation from anxiety, because I trust these women to tell me what I need to know. Am I talking about something that upsets her? She’ll tell me. Am I being a bad listener? She’ll let me know. Does she really want to eat that kind of food and not the kind of food I have suggested? She’ll say so.

When both people in a relationship, friendship or otherwise, trust that boundaries will be respected and honesty maintained, no one has to worry that doing or saying the wrong thing will cause a major break! I don’t worry, anymore, that I’ll say or do the “wrong” thing. Of course I will; everyone does. The real anxiety comes from worrying that my mistake, inevitable as it is, will result in some sort of silent distancing and… let’s not indulge that fantasy. Essentially, I don’t want to relive high school, where I never knew that people were talking about me unless I could actually HEAR the gossip or someone filled me in that their was gossip. “So and so doesn’t like you.” ::shudder::

How did I end up carrying that around with me, all these years later? Because I was raised by a man who did the same thing. The most common mind game my emotionally abusive father played was, “I know that So and So Doesn’t Like Me/You/Us because…” The stories were frequent, long, complicated, and convincing. At least 50% of the dinner conversation in my home centered around this nonsense. Of course, the same “logic” was applied to me, later on. “Because you said this, I know that you feel that and think this other thing.” Nauseatingly complicated. Anything you say can and will be used against you. And so, for me, I fully relax only when I know that my words and actions will not be used against me, later. It turns out that I’m good at convincing myself that this is true only around a few people in my life.

I think it’s universal that Truth is the best way to fight anxiety. Anxiety lies – the one thing that everyone I’ve talked to about generalized anxiety seems to have in common is that we lose our ability to prioritize. Going to the grocery store and answering email, even when there is no important email and there are hungry family members to feed but no food in the house, these two tasks seem equally important, to the anxious mind. And so, I really value the people who can speak up and say hey, I think you’re incorrect, and please note this truth over here. It takes a LOT of energy for me to sort out what’s input from the world outside and what’s an invention of the anxious mind inside my head. The people who save me time and energy by sorting that out for me are just so nice to be around.

Especially when they don’t look at me sideways for feeling so passionately about goat dairy.

Proud Welfare Mom Finds Support at #BlogHer14

I didn’t expect Proud Welfare Mom to show up at the BlogHer conference. I knew that the minute I got back, I’d need to be on the phone, dealing with the IMPOSSIBLE-to-get-on-the-phone Department of Social Services, because the process of renewing our food stamps benefits wasn’t finished. I wanted to put it out of my mind, until I got home. On the last day of the conference, though, it struck me that the words I was hearing from women of color about the abuse they encounter, when they write about their experiences as minority women, sounded all too familiar. So, when they took questions, I went straight for the microphone.

“Can we just throw income into this discussion?” I asked. “The only time I’ve been treated with the kind of abusive tone I’m hearing described by these women of color is when I write about using food stamps.”

I didn’t feel pride, and I didn’t feel brave, until some members of the audience cheered that they had been there, too – white women on food stamps. The moderator pointed out that those hostile to government assistance programs fail to realize that the person most likely to be on food stamps is an elderly white woman. The women of color shared that many people assume that they are low-income earners, and accuse them of being “takers,” even if they earn well above the average income.

intersectionality panel

I used money we didn’t have (yay, credit?) to go be with these women, because they are my tribe. They keep me going, and their words and hugs fill up my writer soul. When I stood up in front of everyone who was in the “Grand Ballroom” and told a panel of really impressive bloggers that my family uses food stamps, it wasn’t a confessional. I simply felt that it was relevant. They responded that it was, in fact, relevant, and we also exchanged empathy. Privilege was acknowledged, and so was the sadness at readers who leave hateful comments in response to the words we publish.

Proud Welfare Mom is a sort of persona I’ve developed to talk about using government assistance to help meet my family’s needs, without shame. I’m proud of my family, not proud (or ashamed – it’s simply a fact) that we use “welfare.” I will always be proud of my family, and nothing can shake that. I did feel propped up, however, in that room full of women who responded thoughtfully to my request that we include income while discussing “The Intersection of Race, Gender, Feminism and the Internet.” I spoke up because I couldn’t shake the feeling that income, real or perceived, was tied up in all of this, and Proud Welfare Mom was suddenly right there.

I’m sitting here, finishing this post, while I wait for a very kind social worker to get back to me about finishing our SNAP (food stamps) renewal. Yesterday was a really hard day, with three full hours on the phone, most of the time spent on hold, trying to get everything straightened out, and discovering that I had misunderstood a few things. I’m not supposed to be able to fax anything, but the social worker who picked up my call has allowed me to do so. I’m not in our home town, so I can’t drop off the paperwork at the main office (also not something that’s normally allowed). If she had been strict about following the rules, I would have had to mail everything and let our benefits lapse while we waited for the mail to arrive. I’m waiting for a call, right now, to confirm that I’ve finally gotten it right, this time. I was feeling pretty low, still in my pajamas and fighting a migraine caused by the stress, when I remembered what my tribe had done for me at BlogHer: applauded my contribution.

My view from the San Jose Marriott, of the convention center, a few other hotels, and the valley.

My view from the San Jose Marriott, of the convention center, a few other hotels, and the California horizon at sunset.

Contribute what you have, and your tribe will find you. “Trolls” will find you too, yes, because there’s one lurking under the bridge of every controversial topic, waiting to jump out and say something awful. They disappear, though, in the face of the people who stand with you and affirm that every voice deserves a platform. (Trolls, find your own – this one belongs to me.)

This blog began as a place for me to share my experience with anti-anxiety medication and pregnancy; as my family has grown, this space has grown, to encompass my experience with motherhood, trying to pay the bills, needing help, staying healthy. I write what’s known as a “Personal Blog,” and I’m so glad I do. I don’t know enough about “Lifestyle” or fashion or DIY projects to write that kind of blog. I do know that when I share my story, others come to stand with me. I call you my tribe, dear readers, and I thank you for coming here to think and feel with me. I thank you for your comments, emails, silent readership. I have come home from BlogHer feeling more certain than ever that we thrive, when we share our stories. Our communities may not overlap entirely, but they do intersect, and sharing those parts of ourselves can only make us stronger.

Sorry for getting a little bit saccharine. It just felt so amazing to thank these amazing writers for their contributions, and to hear “thank you” right back. I wanted to keep that going.