Category Archives: social custom

I Have Heard

that people are having problems getting off of antidepressants. Well, yes, I wonder what they expected?

The notion that “I’m sick, my brain chemistry is wrong,” is okay. But just fiddling with your chemistry and doing nothing to change your circumstances otherwise means that the drugs are what’s changing your life and that’s it. So, at the very least I’d expect people to have emotional withdrawal problems from the drugs.

Why did we stop asking people to learn how to cope? Yes, they may be sick or have issues, I’m not disputing that. But since when does that mean that you don’t give Stephen Hawking a wheelchair? Teach him how to talk into his mic? Come on people! Everyone has issues of some sort to cope with — everyone. Having issues doesn’t give you a pass for the rest of your life.

Somehow we got the idea that “better living through chemistry” meant that those pills were all you needed.

NOT!

I get that everyone isn’t a fighter, although it’s hard for me since I am one, to understand. But I get it. That doesn’t give you a pass as far as I’m concerned either.

Why? Because there are so many other people in the world. They outnumber us, by a huge margin. Absolutely, irrevocably, overwhelm us. It’s their world  and THAT is the piece you can’t run away from. To be successful, you have to live in their world.

I wrote this some time ago. I’m pretty sure I haven’t published it here, yet. I wrote it originally in response to an article at The Atlantic, but I was too wimpy to submit it. (Yes, I’m a wimp too. Not proud of it, but I admit it.)


I grew up in the 60s and 70s. Kids supposedly weren’t mentally ill then. We were expected to cope. No trigger warnings, no antidepressants (or not many), no safety net. A lot of therapy was Rogerian mirroring. Being told, “Well, I understand that you’re not that happy.” when I’d spent an hour crying about something wasn’t helpful. I needed something I could do, I needed coping strategies and eventually, I found them on my own.

It seems to me we’ve gone too far the other way perhaps? Maybe we’ve coddled the now-diagnosed a bit too much? What happened to being expected to cope? Don’t tell me it’s too hard. Who guaranteed anyone an easy life and when?

The United States holds approximately 318 million people, about 61 million have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness. The world is full of people who either haven’t been diagnosed or aren’t mentally ill. Diagnosis isn’t an excuse to give up and say “I’m wounded. I can’t help it!” It is a challenge to be met and overcome as much as possible.

Coping doesn’t mean you don’t hurt or don’t have problems. It means you realize there’s only one of you and several million other people in the country and you have to live in their world, just because they overwhelmingly outnumber you.

I expect to be called all sorts of nasty things because of this, and I expect to be told several times, “You don’t understand!” Except, I do. I’m not a doctor or a clinician. I’m someone who has lived through this. I’ve got PTSD, have since I was 3. The first time I was called crazy was in 3rd grade. I’m also a traumatic brain injury and rape survivor. I tried to kill myself twice before I was 20. My PTSD was diagnosed at 45. I’m 60 now — I’m still mentally ill. I always will be.

Below are my coping strategies. Hopefully, they’ll help someone else as they’ve helped me.

Herding Continents

Getting your ducks in a row, enabling the growth/change, herding cats. My visualization of this is walking in fog and pushing it with my hands in front of me.

Many times, the actual first step in almost anything is research and/or analysis, the background work which makes the goal possible, right?

If the goal is a PhD in psychology say, this could be research and deciding what type of psych. you think you’d want to do? Where are the best schools for that? Which schools can you afford? Are you eligible for scholarships? How much is it likely to cost to live in that area? How long will it take? Is the notion realistic, based on your personality, finances, skills and circumstances?

Next Step

The very next piece required to go in the general direction you want to go. Because I tended to beat myself up if I hadn’t achieved X goal nearly instantaneously, I’d dump negativity on myself, which usually just caused me to come to a screeching halt.

Next Step is my counter for that. My visualization of this is to look at my feet, then the direction I want to go and sidle one small step in that general direction. If you do this often enough, they add up! [Many people call this “baby steps” a term I loathe. It diminishes how hard it is, the cumulative effect of the steps (which can be huge) and insults my adulthood.]

To continue the example above, this could be applying to the school of your choice. Talking to the psych. department chair or sending a note, or . . ?

Achievements, Not Goals

Again, because I tend to beat myself up if I don’t do things nearly instantaneously, I had to find a way to celebrate my progress without just beating myself up because I still had not finished something.

Think about when you first started contemplating this goal, when you Herded Continents, if you did that. Then list the Next Steps you’ve taken. Give yourself a pat on the back for every step you’ve taken. You’ve done x and y and z. Again, to use the example above:

  1. Figured out you want to go into Psychology
  2. Researched different types of psychology and decided clinical research sounded the most interesting.
  3. Also researched schools and prominent people in the field. Am especially drawn to the work of Dr. X, teaching at University UX.
  4. Sent Dr. X a note asking about the program at University UX
  5. Received an answer which . . .
  6. Applied to University UX. [Or, decided that maybe clinical research isn’t for me and did more thinking and digging to find something that might be a better fit .]

What the outside world sees, as “concrete” steps are 4 and 6. But to get there took 4 other steps.

If you only judge what you’ve done by what others can see, you’re shorting yourself! Background work is often more extensive than the actual finished piece. If you think about a movie, you can easily see this is true. Behind the 3-4 hours on the screen are the weeks of work.

A movie may only have 10 characters, the actors. But there are all those people listed in the credits and frequently more that aren’t. Not to mention the years of learning and work everyone had to do to be able to do the work. If you only talk about the 3-4 hours you see, the finished product, you ignore much of the actual work.

Life is like this too. Herding Continents is frequently all the background work which others rarely see, Next Steps are often the more visible. Both count. That is what Achievements, Not Goals is about. Give yourself credit for everything you’ve done. This has a secondary benefit. If you have a tendency to berate yourself because you haven’t gotten to the end — yet — this is a celebration of what has been done, rather than only looking at what hasn’t.

Reframing is what I do when my approach doesn’t seem to work. When I was a girl and just starting to use make up, someone in one of my classes said, “She looks like a little girl playing with her mother’s makeup!” which was true. I hadn’t had make up to play with because I was raised by my Dad. I practiced a lot and got better. but I was still insecure about it because I’d never been taught what was right or wrong — or why.

My Reframing the issue was this: I was a theater makeup major for two years in college. This removed the insecurity. I made sure I got the training I felt I lacked. Reframing, coming at the problem another way, (taking workshops and majoring in the field for a while) eliminated the problem — my insecurity.

SF Tweak: The short science fiction I grew up reading was mostly written to John W. Campbell’s general pattern: hero has a problem, tries to fix it, that doesn’t work, tries again. That doesn’t work either. Depending on the author and/or the length of the piece the third try might work or only appear to, but if there was a fourth try, it almost always did.

Seems like an odd model for fixing problems, doesn’t it? But what I learned from this was that answers are not always obvious, if the first solution doesn’t work, modify it slightly farther away from the piece that didn’t work — and try again.

Turn it Around/Counter: When I have a persistent problem, that is I’m getting in my own way a lot, I find a way to turn it around or counter what I can’t change. Sounds wonderful and easy, right? Not!

At 19, I decided I had to do something different or I’d likely end up institutionalized for much of the rest of my life. I couldn’t fight the pain everyone expected me to just let go. I couldn’t let it go, and it never went away. So what to do? I decided that the Counter to the pain was joy (its opposite) and I would celebrate that and nurture it. (See Nurture Joy below.)

The trick to this is to find either something which stops the issue (like my Reframing example above) or if you can’t, find its positive flip side.

Nurture Joy At 19 I was hospitalized. And, when I faced that I was likely looking at years of being institutionalized if I didn’t learn better coping skills, this was one of the first techniques I developed. My problem was swamping pain which never changed. It seemed to be the pain from losing my mother at 3. Since I couldn’t apparently fix the problem, what could I do instead? The opposite of pain is joy. I decided I had to nurture my joy. I was stuck with a three year-old’s pain. I’d nurture the three year-old’s joy as well.

I had to find things which made me happy or happier anyway to balance or help manage that pain. I looked at it long and hard. I couldn’t rely on anyone else to do or say exactly the right thing all the time, so that was the first rule:

1. I had to do whatever it is by myself.

I had known alcoholics and addicts and it seemed to me the problem was that at some point, inevitably, you’re sober. Again, I wanted something which seemed like it would work all the time, or nearly so. Second rule:

2. No drugs or alcohol.

If I wanted to avoid being institutionalized, then I couldn’t do self-harm, harm others or creatures, or destroy property. Third rule:

3. No harm to anyone or anything.

For me, what fit the rules were certain places, books, music, and crafts.

When I was in college, I worked with a group of people, many of whom didn’t like me much (it was mutual). The job involved being there early in the morning. I discovered a certain route to work over a hill with grass, but no houses. There were birds and trees, other animals, still.. The days I used that route, it was easier to deal with the snarky comments at work. So I Nurtured My Joy I started leaving earlier so I could always travel that way, coming & going. It didn’t alter my difficult work situation, but it made it easier to deal with.

In the years since, I’ve discovered certain books, short stories, other locations which have this effect. I make sure I notice when I find them, so I can use them again and again. Also, because it’s a three year-old’s joy, I’ve been known to play jacks, color and do hopscotch and I won’t apologize for it or be embarrassed. I’m stuck with the three year-old, I damned well will take BOTH sides of her, not just the pain!

Life List is a technique I was given by a friend after I got out of that hospital at 19. I had believed that everyone knew better than I who/what I was. (This is a problem I’m told that many abused people have.) I distrusted my self-perception. My friend suggested that I make a list of things that were just mine, not from anyone else. At first this was just taste: side seam pockets, long skirts, and so on. But after a while I started finding that place inside me that hadn’t been touched by the abuse or by the years of accepting others’ opinions as truth.

Rage Engine: One thing about myself which always terrified me was the rage. I had a great vast pool of it. I knew I had homicidal rage, but I didn’t have any way to deal with it. I couldn’t really come up with its opposite and my other techniques didn’t work. I discovered that when I was being hurt and the rage came up that what I could do was use it as a goad to get myself to work towards health. There were many hours of “They’ll be sorry!” (The rage is a small child’s too.) But it worked. I’m not enraged at my family any more or even my abuser. I understand we’re all victims, but in different ways.

No Shoulds. This is consciously looking to see if the imposed standard is a goal or a requirement or mandate.

It’s easy to beat yourself up because you can’t do everything for everyone, or at least it’s easy for me. I fall into this over and over, if I’m not careful.

Give yourself a break and pay attention to whether it’s a goal someone has given you or a requirement! Requirements tend to be more concrete, like “100 pages covering the life and times of Jesse James, written for high schoolers.” Goals are usually more nebulous: “Write me something stupendous about Jesse James!” Well, yes, you can bust your ass and write the best piece you ever have, for the wrong audience. If you don’t know who the audience is, right? Learn to see the difference between a vague direction and the more concrete requirement. If you need more exacting information, ask for it.

As a technical writer, I wrote a piece for a client I worked on for months. I was proud of it. A technical person and I worked on it. We got down on paper and in one place the details of a lab which had never been documented before, except a little here and there. I was later told that the person paying for it didn’t want that documented, but another aspect of the lab. It would have been nice to be told before I delivered the finished product (and it had been accepted) that what I’d written wasn’t what he wanted! (He saw various pieces midstream and could have seen all of it at any time.)

Good Radio I have used this technique for years, but didn’t have a name for it. I stole the name and example from a friend. (Thanks Linda!) My friend was in college and living in a suite. Most of the women would wake up in the morning grumbling about coffee, classes, the day’s work, etc. One woman day after day greeted the others (including Linda) with “Good morning!” and Linda noticed her day was better after that.

I have done this for years, but not with words: I smile. When I am feeling really down, unless I’m crying, I make myself smile in passing at other people. Frequently, they smile back. It’s a technique with a payback. Their smiles make me feel better. There are potential problems with this, yes. I’ve had men think I was trying to pick them up. The most notable example was a guy in a car

I was on the way to the airport to pick up my husband. I’d been having a crappy day and I looked over and smiled at the car next to me. BIG mistake. He and I were going roughly the same direction. He pulled up next to me, did a BIG round wave and grin! I sort of faintly waved back. He reared his head back like an enraged Italianate opera singer and floored it out of the intersection. I’m more careful about where I smile these days!

Advertisements

The Thing About Stigma

I need to say this, but it really should be obvious?

I do not look down on myself because I have PTSD or security issues or sometimes react inappropriately — right? I do NOT have the stigma.

You do.

The stigma doesn’t come from me. I know why I’m here (now). I know why I react the way I do (mostly). I have spent a large part of my life learning wtf was wrong with me???

And the answer to that question? It’s simple: It’s nothing. There’s nothing wrong with me. I reacted in a normal way to an abnormal or substandard set of circumstances. All of the people with PTSD aren’t “sick,” we’re different, yes, but NOT sick.

PTSD IS NORMAL — in certain circumstances. Mental health issues ARE normal, in certain circumstances. Get over your superiority people! The only reason you aren’t where I and others are is that you haven’t been tested this much, yet.

How well do you think you would you do???

 

 

Years Ago & Far Away

I fell in love with a movie which seemed to me to be about the archetypical man and woman. It was visually interesting, but it was a western, and worse, a “spaghetti western.” I also fell in love with the score.

For a long, long time, I apologized when I told people my favorite movie was “Once Upon a Time in the West.” I apologized because I was raised in a household of “intellectuals” almost all of whom, along with my friends didn’t “get” what I saw in the movie.

Then one day about 15 years ago or so, the DVD was for sale at a video store and of course, I had to buy it. The extras were all these other, famous, well-known directors talking about how brilliant “Once Upon a Time in the West” was. And I decided that I didn’t need to apologize any more! My view of the movie was shared by all these people, and it ends up that Sergio Leone  had deliberately used bits from other classic westerns, to make it as much an archetypical western as possible.

OUATITW opening

Why am I telling this story? Because of “The Greatest Showman.” Okay, yes, there are places it falls apart — yes there are plot holes. It is visually stunning, the acting is good, the costumes, sets, etc. are splendid and the music is superb.

So Barnum exploited people? Yes, he did. So did the people who built the railroads, started the automotive industries, the steel industries, etc. We almost all live on land which was stolen from Indians. Going to pack up and move your family back to wherever?

Our values have changed, a great deal. Judging anyone from the past by your current values could be problematic.

Isn’t it also true that all of us at one point couldn’t eat with a fork, use a bathroom or talk? Why should anyone expect us to only take them as they are right now, but judge a movie or other artform both within its historical context AND by current standards?

If you only want to judge something out context, would you allow yourself to be judged the same way? Before you were literate? Still needed diapers, etc.?

Demeaning the movie because Barnum exploited rather than celebrated the people he hired is silly. I’m not saying Barnum was right. I’m not saying he was moral. I’m simply saying he was a person within his culture, like you and me.

I don’t expect to be able to judge his reality from my perspective and find him laudable. He may have elevated the oddities by happenstance, but he did. He gave them jobs, and a family of sorts.

jackman still

And I won’t apologize for liking “The Greatest Showman.” I don’t know that I care if it’s “great art” or not. Like “Once Upon a Time in the West,” I find it interesting to watch, visually stunning in places, and I love the music.

Why apologize?

My Dad

would be over 100, if he was still alive. His birthday was early this month.

I think, like everyone, when you have an anniversary of this type, you remember the person in question. I have and have been. I wonder what he’d think of who I am now? I’m very different from the daughter he knew. I’m also not “successful” in the same way that he used to deal with his kid crap. Would he think I’m a failure because I’m not all that interested in intellectual pursuits, scholarship, or seeking money/status/power?

I don’t know.

Hopefully it would be enough that I’m happy. Maybe not. There’s one thing I’ve finally accepted about almost everyone who “knew me when.” I approached my early relationships with about 3 premises: I was broken/damned, I was less than they were, or I was there to entertain. NONE of that do I do now.

Many problems I have with my birth family and old friends is just this: I won’t accept any of those as the premises in a relationship anymore. This confuses and upsets people who have known me for a long time.

They think I’m going to provide hours of entertaining stories about being outrageous, emotionally fall apart, or just agree that they’re inherently “better” than I am, and we may or may not “fix” me.

street signs

I don’t and won’t play anymore.

Makes things awkward ‘eh?

The performance art was exhausting. Thinking I was a homicidal maniac and being terrified of myself was exhausting. Feeling like I was damned and deserved whatever derision or nastiness put on me was crushing.

I’m not there. I’m not going back.

I’m boring, don’t entertain, have no need to be told how to live my life, and almost never do anything outrageous anymore.

Dad liked/encouraged my outrageousness. He didn’t understand the emotional over the top behavior. He was proud of my ability to entertain people and be a good hostess.

My Style

I read decorating blogs and other such a fair amount these days. I’ve never really understood how the very rich can relax in their homes when everything is worth so much. I grew up in a well-to-do neighborhood and saw this type of decorating a good deal. Always made me feel as if I should be wearing a velvet dress, maryjanes, and white fold-over socks. Still does. Classic? Yeah, okay, but it’s almost all the same, it’s display for the sake of showing off the art, rich fabrics, and enormous or richly detailed rooms.

So, my style is a bit different. Shabby because I don’t want to worry about whether or not something gets scuffed. I’m not interested in quantities of roses or other frou-frou, not interested in spending a lot of money for matchy-matchy stuff. I have things I love, yes indeed I do, and some of them  cannot be replaced, they’re artist pieces or have special history for me.

I’m equally not interested in having,the newest “whatever.” I look at websites and think the stuff is nice, but I have no temptation to spend $100 on a lamp in most cases or $200  on something else. If I really like the looks of something, I keep my eye out for an alternative, a cheaper one, another at a future date, or I’ll give it up.

There are things which are just so expensive I wonder who can afford to buy this stuff? Lamps, sheet sets, and rugs are the first things which come to mind, almost all > $100 these days. My reaction to most of this is that I buy used lamps, mostly white sheets (used when I can find them) and make my own rugs. Alternately, I’d buy ONE 100% linen sheet, if I ever found one on sale when I could afford it (hasn’t happened yet!) Linen, when cared for correctly, can last for years. Cotton just dissolves in modern washers.

So I’m a rebel and a luddite. Or maybe I’m just cheap? No. I refuse to spend money to impress others. I like what I like and price is always a consideration. I’m not willing to spend major money on stuff to keep up or participate in a trend, although I might in specific areas, like buying expensive paint from England because it doesn’t make me sick. I suppose this is a direct response to all the years I tried so hard to be in style. It never worked and I’ve long since given up the idea. Now I’m an old lady and I can do as I please — and I am!

My World These Days…

I’ve been wading through the junk. That has resulted in a bunch of books being donated at markets, in the book bins, the dump’s swap shop, or wherever I can find a spot which seems appropriate. I actually sold two books this month! One of them for > $5 and not credit.

Considering that in a bad month in the bookstore I’d sell $300+ worth (about 100 vols.) and a good one $2k, selling 1 book isn’t significant. On the other hand, I’ve sold 3 lots of placemats, 3 metal baskets, and 3 vintage picture frames. Although I expect I will owe the antique store about $30 of my October rent, percentage-wise and otherwise, I’m doing better over all, nearly every month. It seems I’m making my rent + about 1/2 the time, the rest I’m a bit short. It’s getting better. According to every antique dealer I’ve talked to this month has been “dead.” My guess is that this is two things — political/financial uncertainty and changing weather. (Sales always go down a bit when it first gets cold or warm for the year. People go inside and stay there in the fall and go outside in the spring.)

 

financial-chart

Depending on how the overall economy does, stock market and such in the rest of the country, people will be more or less conservative. I hate election years because the financial impact of how people think the election went happens at the beginning of the holiday season.  If you do retail, it can make what looked like it was going to be a healthy year into a really bad one, overnight. There’s no real predicting it, you just have to realize that it’s possible that people will stop buying almost anything, until the new President is inaugurated and the political shift does or doesn’t affect the day-to-day.

People will then settle into a new spending pattern or return to their old one.

As a retailer, especially a retailer selling non-essentials, you see, feel, and then share it if people aren’t feeling “safe,” after the election.

  1. Your sales go down just when you expect them to go up for the holiday season.
  2. You buy, have bought, or committed to buy things you expect sales to help you pay for (sales you didn’t get).
  3. The end result is that now YOU feel insecure financially like your customers did following the election.

So, as a retailer, I hate presidential election years!

Rather than worry about it, as I can’t do anything about it anyway, I’m working on the stored stuff. Better items we aren’t keeping have been put up for sale. I need to purge the books in the booth, again, and move the entire thing around again too.

Rumination on Aunt Sophronia

Who is Aunt Sophronia?

She’s a mythical character, the narrator, of a 19th century housekeeping book, the Complete Home by Mrs. Julia McNair Wright (McCurdy, 1879).

The book is one of the older “housewifery” books I own. In many ways, it’s amusing, but in others, it addresses things which might be so, but its perspective I don’t share. There are various and sundry points which it makes me ponder.

First of all, she is addressing a white, WASP audience, which is talked about as the only right way to live. I guess if you’re a person of color or other belief system, well, you were beyond reproach. In any case, the book was not written for a multicultural, multiethnic audience.

Secondly, this is from the era when they believed that airing was important. It is, but not the way it’s talked about. However, it was the science available to them at the time.

Third, it is also an era where WASP folk of any substance had servants.

With all that in mind, here is a quote:


“Practice economy as a Fine Art: make a duty and pleasure of it: it is the mortar where in you lay up  the walls of home; if it is lacking, or is poor in quality, the home building will crumble. Don’t be ashamed of economy: study it; consult about it; don’t confound it with meanness: economy is the nurse of liberality. Meanness is going into debt for luxury: is keeping behind-hand the wages our work-people have earned: is making a show on the street and withholding charity: is presenting cake & confections to our callers, and stinting the kind or quality of our servants’ food.”(p. 65)


Almost everything we own/do would be considered a luxury by the standard of the late 19th century I think. The statement “meanness is going into debt for luxury” seems appropriate. It’s normal now to live beyond our means, but how could we live differently in this culture? Have we been sold a bill of goods? Is keeping up with the Joneses, imaginary or not, the marketing tool of mass merchandising?

complete-home-cover-and-spine

Have I been a sucker my entire life? Maybe.

Without the ‘net, a car, etc. you’re pretty much going to be in poverty, wouldn’t you? Yes, there are ways around some of this: libraries and public transportation.

Frugality these days means paying off your house early or having no credit card debt. If, as the book suggests elsewhere, our job is to pass a home (without debt) and some money to the next generation, how would we live differently?

I have no children, so my next generation is my husband’s nieces. My brother’s child has two working parents and is an adult, married woman, not needing (or wanting) anything from us. So — what would I change and should I?

I’m not sure, but it is an interesting thought experiment.