Depression is hell

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Photo by Alex Ivashenko on Unsplash

It’s been a while. I don’t really have an excuse except for this: Depression is a hell of a thing. Or what I mean is, depression is hell.

I went almost all summer without writing hardly anything. I didn’t do any painting either. No drawing. I didn’t bake. My garden was a mess, planted and then forgotten about until the tomatoes hung rotting on the plant. I slept late, pulling myself out of bed at the last minute. I kept my house clean-ish. I took showers and I kept my children alive. That was the high-functioning part of it but even that was drudgery, a slog. It was trying to get somewhere while always feeling like I was wading through chest-high water.

Eventually, the depression subsided.

I don’t mean that I waited around until I miraculously felt better. It required work. I went to therapy every week and saw a psychiatrist who changed my medication and this time I didn’t fight the concept of being medicated. I worked on being kind to myself, on not beating myself up for the loss of productivity. I read a lot of books, but only those that were funny or had happy endings. Everything else felt like a trigger. I worked through each day, one at a time

I’m grateful for the people that were there for me and supported me through this miserable time. Even more than that, I’m so glad that they didn’t give up on me. This might not be my last episode of depression but my hope is that each time I have them they become shorter and less severe.

Also, I want to remind anyone else who is reading this and is suffering through depression, you deserve happiness. You are worth whatever effort it takes to get through it.

I’m painting again and back to writing every day. I have exciting things to look forward to. What I mean is: I’m back.

 

 

You just haven’t earned it yet, baby

earneditI went through a Smiths phase when I was a teenager. Maybe a lot of people do? Most likely, I have my older sisters to thank for it. If I had been left to my own devices, I probably would have listened to garbage music. I can go a pretty long time without listening to the Smiths, but out of nowhere one of their songs will pop in my head.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of the song, “You Just Haven’t Earned it Yet Baby.

It has become my “pick yourself up and dust yourself off” song. When I feel overwhelmed by editing. When I lose at something I wanted to win. When I want success now, not a year from now. I hear it.

Whatever it is that I may want, I haven’t earned it yet. I haven’t been writing that long, not seriously anyway. I haven’t even begun to suffer through rejection. I’ve managed criticism fairly well, but everyone who has given it has been supportive and constructive. There are trenches where writers spend years, working on their craft and toughening up. I’ve barely put my boots on.

I don’t know how long it will take me to get where I want to be. I don’t know what path will get me there. I’m trying to take every path and road I can without getting lost. The only way I know I won’t get there is if I never try or I just give up. Sometimes, the things we really want are costly. We pay with time and commitment and even disappointment, but I think we can earn it.

Great. That song is stuck in my head again.

Surviving criticism

criticismMy first experience with critiques was when I was going to school for graphic design. They happened regularly and varied in terms of how painful they were. But, they were helpful. There wasn’t a single project that I created that wasn’t made better with the eyes of my classmates. Now that I’ve started working with critique partners on my writing, I’m feeling that familiar pain that comes from criticism. Here are a few things that I try to remember when getting feedback.

  1. Criticism is a gift
    Remember that the person who is looking at your art, or listening to your music or reading your words and giving you feedback is spending their time and energy to do so. I’m sure there might be some people who like to criticize as a way of tearing people down, but I have found that for the most part people want to help you get better. Maybe they believe in what you are doing and they want to be part of making it the best that it can be. Even if they are doing it to be mean, if you are getting something useful out of what they’re saying it’s still helpful.
  2. Look past your own blind spots
    It’s easy to get defensive. When someone doesn’t see something the way we see it, it’s easy to look at them as the problem. What do you mean you don’t understand the symbolism? What do you mean that this paragraph is redundant? What do you mean that the whole thing is too wordy? It’s a book, it’s supposed to be wordy. If your first response to feedback is to explain and argue, you might be letting your own blindness get in the way of improving your craft. That doesn’t mean that you have to take every little piece of advice that you are given, but don’t discount it either. Get another set of eyes. Get another opinion.
  3. It’s okay to feel bad/hurt after receiving criticism
    It can be difficult to hear that something we have worked hard on and have poured our soul into is flawed. The more we love something, the more difficult it is to accept the imperfections. The most painful criticism I have received was when I thought what I was presenting was really good. Nearly perfect even. Every word that said otherwise was like a physical blow. I remember locking myself in a bathroom stall and trying to choke back tears. I hated feeling so emotional, but it was a natural response to a big disappointment. Give yourself permission to feel sad, or hurt, or even angry. But don’t lash out at the person who gave you the criticism. Giving out criticism can be difficult as well. Don’t take it personally.
  4. Find a way to deal with the criticism
    giphyCriticism can sting. What is the balm that you can put on it? I always joke about drinking whiskey after particularly painful feedback is given. Time and space work for me as well. Not too much of either. I may put it away for a few hours. Do something else. Give myself time to process it. I also like to research. I like to find other writers and artists who have been where I’m at and I like to read how they got past it. Find your own way but get to the place where you can most constructively use the feedback.
  5. Don’t give up
    Don’t get discouraged. It wasn’t going to be easy. No one is going to be able to create perfection at the beginning. There are growing pains. But if you stop now, you will never get better than you are right now. What they said about you will always be true. You will never rise above it. You owe it to yourself and your craft to keep moving forward.

A working title

mac-writer“So, what do you do?”

When someone asks you that question, what do you say? Do you talk about the job that you have that pays your bills? Or do you talk about the things that you do that you love? If you’re lucky, the answer is one and same. But, what if it isn’t? And what if you are passionate about more than one thing?

When I’m asked what it is that I do, I often have a difficult time answering. Back when I served food at various area establishments, I felt like I had to give some sort of explanation for what I do, as if I had to justify my job.

“I serve food. It’s just to pay the bills while I go to school. It’s pretty good money and I like meeting new people.” I’m pretty sure there are strippers who are less defensive of their work. There’s nothing wrong with serving food. There are even days when I miss it. I just always felt that I had to explain why I wasn’t doing more with my life.

It got a little easier when I was a graphic designer. I didn’t feel like I was wasting my time and talent, although I did often have to give more thorough information when I told them that I was a designer for a hair replacement company. Mostly people wanted to know if I designed toupees. I did not. There is a science to hair systems and trust me when I say I was no wig scientist.

When I left my job as a designer, burned out, with no desire to open up photoshop ever again, it was to have babies and take care of them. A stay-at-home-mom. Say those words to anyone and you are going to get mostly the same replies. A lot of people told me how lucky I was and how important and difficult that job was. And I get it, I’m pretty #blessed. But I couldn’t help feeling that another name for stay-at-home-mom was unemployed. I also couldn’t help but feel that the positive and kind things that people said about stay-at-home-moms were the sort of thing that they were expected to say. Those words didn’t help me get through some of the long days of diaper changes and meal making and mess cleaning. I also couldn’t help saying when asked what I do that I was “just” a stay-at-home-mom. As if it wasn’t enough.

To be honest, it wasn’t enough for me. This isn’t a comment on anyone else who is a stay-at-home-mom and has found happiness and fulfillment. If anything, I’m a little jealous of them. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to shake a certain restlessness.

offejtrThat restlessness has been what has pushed me back into painting and now whole-heartedly into writing. However when people ask me what it is that I do, I find that I’m back to not knowing what to say. If we’re talking about jobs or careers, I guess the truest answer would be still that I’m unemployed. Of course, that doesn’t say much about who I am, so usually I use the mom explanation. It’s been very difficult for me to say that I’m a writer, in the same way that I’ve never been able to say that I’m an artist. I may create art. I paint. But to be an artist feels like something far more than what I do.

With writing, it still doesn’t feel like I’ve earned the right to say that I’m a writer. I work really hard at it, all of my free time is devoted to either writing or reading. It started as a hobby, but it has become so much more than that. I have two completed novels. I have another one that’s getting there. I blog regularly. So, when am I going to be an actual writer? Is it when I’ve landed an agent? Or maybe, it will be when I have a book deal? Or, will I wait until I have a published book? Maybe, even with a published book, it will still feel like a fluke. Maybe I need more than one book published. Maybe, I’ll work at this my whole life and never feel like I have the right to call myself a writer.

The first time I told someone that I was a writer was last year. I just wanted to see what it felt like. He was an eye doctor, the eye doctor that took my new health insurance so it was the first time that I was meeting him. He asked me what I do.

I’m a stay-at-home-mom,” I said and after a long pause I added, “I’m also a writer.”

I felt like such a liar. But, he started telling me about how he used to write fiction in college and how he wouldn’t mind getting into it again. I was open about the fact that I was fairly new to it, but that I was hoping to in the near future to have a career doing it. We had a nice conversation and in the end I shared something about myself that was true, even if just to me it felt like it was a lie.

I’m trying to be more open about what I do and what my dreams are and where I want to be. That means when asked what I do, I will say that I’m a writer. That’s who I am. That’s what I want to talk about. Of course, I will still say that I’m a stay-at-home-mom. I’m still that too. And, I like talking about my kids best of all. They really are cool, little beasts.

I’m not going to keep looking for the always changing finish line, waiting for someone to approve me as a writer. What we do doesn’t always have to be tied to a paycheck. Who we are isn’t tied only to an end result, but is part of our failures as well as our successes. What we do is defined every day that we get up and do it.

I’m doing it. I’m a writer.

A lack of focus

bokeh-336605_1280“It’s red.”

“It’s red.”

“The light is red.”

“Oh,” I said, slamming on the brakes.

“Did you not hear me tell you that the light was red?” my husband asked.

“I heard you. I just think my brain decided to process what you were saying later.”

We sort of laughed about it. The light had turned green before I had even come to a stop. There was a good chance that had I blown through the intersection, it would have been close enough to green so as to not be dangerous. Still, I was on a flat stretch where I could see the traffic light for a long time before I came up on it and it was a road that I was very familiar with. I both saw the traffic light and heard my husband mention it three times before I actually moved to stop the car.

The other day I went upstairs four separate times to brush my teeth. I kept finding myself downstairs having never brushed them. It seriously took all day for me to complete this small task and it only happened because the mossy buildup on my teeth exacerbated by the excessive amounts of sugar I’ve been eating was getting out of control.

I don’t know what is going on in my brain. I’m not doing a lot of thinking. That’s for sure. I find the days just slip by. What did I accomplish today? How did I accomplish so little?

It’s like when I used to have dreams/nightmares about waiting tables. I always dreamed that I had too many tables and too many customers who needed something and I just couldn’t seem to fill up the water glasses. The whole dream felt like I was walking through chest-high water with weights around my ankles.

Fortunately, I still have it together enough to make sure my kids are fed, hydrated, clothed and bathed, but I have to give a lot of credit to my husband who has had off of work the last week or so. And if my daughter went an entire day in her pajamas, what’s the harm? She was comfortable and we put clean ones on her before she went to bed.

I’m basically functioning at the survival level. That sounds dramatic, but I just want to be clear I’m not at the clean house level (shout out once more to my husband who is picking up the slack) nor am I at the all the laundry is clean and put away level (although, to be fair, is anyone at this level?). I’m not even close to being at the I write novels level or even the I paint pictures level. Going for groceries or planning meals for the week feels impossible. How was I able to accomplish this before? Did I have some sort of algorithm? I get to the end of the week and I’m close to making a meal out of cheerios, frozen peas and tofurkey slices.

I don’t like talking about this. I want you to think that my life is just one beautiful, sparkling Pinterest board. I want you to picture me at home with my precocious children, making crafts and baking cookies. Not wandering the house like someone who has just survived a tornado. Not looking at my kids and husband as if I can’t even comprehend the words coming out of their mouths.

I also don’t want you to think that this is what my blog is going to be about. Post after post after post of Amanda wallowing in her own self-pity and doing nothing to fix it. I didn’t want to share the first post about being depressed and I don’t want to share this. I know that this loss in concentration is part of the depression I’m feeling. I’m sharing it because I want anyone else out there who is reading this and feels the same way to know that at least you aren’t alone. Maybe I’ll figure out how to get through this and I can share it with you. Maybe you have some ideas to toss my way. Maybe we pull each other up out of this mental haze.

This is what I’m going to try: I’m going to give myself until the new year. Then, I’m going to start making goals again. I think I might create a bare minimum that I want to accomplish in the next few months and just try my best to do that. I also think I might try to be a little more disciplined about when I go to sleep and when I wake up and what I eat. I think I may also start creating lists and keeping track of what I accomplish and what I don’t. Eww. This is beginning to sound like New Year’s Resolutions and I try my best not to ever do those. Just trust me when I say that I’m going to keep trying to find a way to get my focus back and if I find the answer, I promise, I will share it.

Finally, to the people who urged me to seek help for my depression, thank you for caring. Thank you for encouraging and even pushing. I am doing something about it.

Until then, if you see me wandering around the streets with a vacant look on my face, could you please point me back home?

On first drafts and the drafts that follow

girl-lostI’ve come to love writing the first draft of a book. It’s the sprint through the letters and the words, a pulling together of paragraphs and pages to get to the end. You’re not required to make every word perfect. You aren’t required to patch up any plot holes. It’s no big deal if your characters need a little work or your dialogue is stilted. All of those things are merely a blur as you rush past.

I’ve written about it before, about how I can’t look for perfection here. If I do, I won’t finish. I’ll be on the first page, agonizing over the first few words.

There’s also the discovery in the first draft. There are two types of writers, the pantser and the plotter. I’ve tried to be a plotter. I’ve tried to outline everything, make notecards, make a detailed map of where my story is going to go from start to finish, but it never works. I feel sort of suffocated by my plans. No, I like to have a couple of characters, a problem that they have and a vague idea of where I want them to end up. It’s a crazy sort of thing, writing something, not always sure how I’m going to get from one space to the next. It can be stressful, but man, it’s fun.

Now, it’s time to pay the piper. I imagine plotters usually have a better handle on what it happening in their books. They’ve done a lot of the hard work up front. I would imagine that at the end of their first draft, they have a pretty tight story. Pantsers have to make up for their fanciful dance through their story, with big changes in the next draft. I’m like the grasshopper that played all summer long and is now facing an uncomfortable winter.

So, onto the next drafts and the edits that come with it.

This doesn’t feel like playing anymore. This feels like work. I’m reading through paragraphs and it all feels clunky and disjointed and a mess. Maybe, the structure of it is good, but I’m going to have to really make the writing better. So, I make notes. I highlight the rough sentences. I think this is just like painting. I’ve roughed in the large swathes of color and now it’s time to really get in with the detail.

I’m ready.

Pen is up.

And go.

Go.

GO.

I know how to work past the paralysis of the first draft. I know how to just zip right along and not take myself too seriously. That time is over. Now, I really do have to do my best to make it perfect. Perfect is paralysis. How do I find the right words? Do I take this out? Should I add this in? Am I taking a piece of writing that had life and spark and movement and am I with every pen stroke murdering it? Am I turning my writing into wood?

It’s just as easy to doubt myself now as it was before. Maybe it’s worse. Now, it’s not just a case of not being able to do something well. It’s about ruining something that might have been good. This may be a little dramatic but it’s like dismantling a bomb and not knowing which wire to cut. Okay, no, that really is too dramatic. Actually, it is just like trying to find your way without a map. You hope that you’re going the right way and you’re using the little you know to orient yourself, but until you get there, you can’t really be sure that you’re heading in the right direction. I don’t have an answer for this. If you’re reading this and you do have the answer, I hope you’ll tell me. I think it must just all be about experience. As I become a more experienced writer, I hope that it will become easier. Of course, something tells me that there will always be space for doubt here, no matter how long I’ve been writing.

I’m just going to keep moving forward. It is the only advice I can give myself and anyone reading this who might find themselves in this place with me. Keep working. Keep moving forward. Let’s hope we’re not lost.

The fraud in the mirror

notes-514998_1280Over the weekend I applied for a mentoring program. It’s for unpublished YA authors with a complete manuscript and it gives them an opportunity to pair with authors who are in the process of publishing a book in the next year or have already published. The published writers will help the unpublished writers polish their manuscripts and help them with their query letters. If I get in, it could be an awesome opportunity for me. If I don’t get in, my plan is to continue moving forward. Work on my book until I have it where I think I need it and start querying for agents on my own.

No big deal.

So, I put together a query letter, and emailed it along with the first ten pages of my book. As soon as I hit send, the anxiety began to build inside of me.

What was I thinking? Why did I think that my book was going to be good enough to submit to this? Why did I let anyone convince me that it was good enough to send? They were probably just being nice. It’s like when your kids draws a picture and you have no idea what it is but you tell them it looks good anyway and you hang it on the fridge. That’s probably what everyone was doing. And I fell for it. I bought into this idea that I was going to be some published writer. What do I know about writing? I have an associate’s degree in graphic design. I don’t even have a bachelor’s degree. Before a few year ago, I hadn’t written any fiction since high school. And what? Now, I’m a novelist?

Oh my god. Now, they’re going to know. They’re all going to know, what deep down, I’ve always known. I’m a fraud. A fake. There is a part of me that has always known it and has tried desperately to convince me.

It’s that voice in the back of my head. Sometimes, it is friendly. At times when I’ve struggled with writing, it gives me a sort of verbal pat on the shoulder and says, “It’s okay. You tried. Writing probably isn’t your thing.”

Sometimes, it is mean. It mocks. It urges me to give up because I’m just embarrassing myself. “Everyone feels sorry for you. You’re delusional.”

My fear is always based around the fact that I’m never going to be good enough and that everyone is going to find out. I don’t have to listen to that voice in my head when I’m sitting alone at my kitchen table writing. No, I hear it when I hand my manuscript over for someone to read. I hear it every week when I write my blog. When someone tells me that they enjoy my blog or they liked my book, I want to hug them and thank them but I also want to narrow my eyes and let them know that I’m onto whatever scam they’re running.

I find myself wondering when it will go away. Is there any level of success that would make me believe in myself? I was a graphic designer for three years and it never went away. I always felt like a hack. I still contend that I was. Will I always feel that way about my writing and my painting as well?

impostor-syndrome-cartoon-823x1024I know what it is. It’s called imposter syndrome and knowing it by name helps. It also helps to know that a lot of people have had it at some point in their careers. I wonder how many people will read this and nod their head. Everyone? It’s prevalent enough that there are tips on how to overcome it. Talking about it is supposed to help. Imposter syndrome expert Dr. Valerie Young says, “It’s also a matter of changing your thoughts, slowly over time, and taking risks in spite of the inner voice telling you you’ll fail. Do the thing that scares the heck out of you, realize you survived – or maybe you fell flat on your face. But you gave it your best shot.”

So, I think we have to just keep working. Keep moving forward.  My writing isn’t actually some destination that I’m working to get to. It’s the never-ending road, the eternal journey. This feeling that I’m never going to be good enough can be the wind at my back, always pushing me forward, motivating me to do and be better. If I’m going to think of myself as a fraud, then I’m going to put my heart and soul into fooling everyone, especially myself.

For days when I’ve taken the risk and failed, when I’ve fallen flat on my face, there’s whiskey. And after that, a new day to dust myself off and got started again.

Maybe, I’ll get into this mentoring program. Maybe I won’t. Maybe, I’ll have to go a different way. This isn’t that song, “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. There isn’t just one shot. We have a lot of chances and a lot of ways to get to the same place. There are also a lot of ways to mess up and a lot of ways to feel rejected. There are countless ways to fail. The only way to avoid that is to never do anything at all. The problem with that is, then you never do anything at all. No dreams. No plans. No goals. I just sit at my kitchen table and write stories that no one reads.

Just like “‘Tis better to have loved and lost: Than never to have loved at all.” Tis better to have tried and failed : Than never to have tried at all.

The little engine that sometimes can’t

sadI hate the word depression. I would rather use any other word than depression. I usually say that I am blue. Sometimes, I say that I’m sad.

I’m blue right now. God, I hate admitting that. It feels like a terrible weakness, a part of me that I don’t have any control over and that I can’t just fight through. I can’t make myself feel happy. In fact, I’m having a difficult time making myself feel anything at all.

It’s something that happens this time of year. Usually, it occurs in January and February. This year it has arrived a little earlier. It always coincides with the short days and the long, dark nights of winter. I’ve never been diagnosed with depression but if I was going to self-diagnose I would guess that I have seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

SAD is characterized by a change in mood that occurs with the changing of the season. It’s characterized by irritability, and low energy. It’s tied to melatonin and serotonin levels and if I had the energy I would look up what that is, what it does and what it means. But I don’t. You have the internet. You look it up.

At any rate, it’s a miserable feeling.

It happens to some degree every year and yet every time it happens, I am surprised. You think I would remember. You think I would recognize the signs. I fight it as long as I can. I think to myself that I just need to soldier through it. I just have to keep working. I’m a big believer in the most important part of getting good at something is showing up and doing it. But, when I sit at the kitchen table, it’s so much harder to find the words. I can sit for hours and not get anywhere. It would have been better if I had just sat on the couch and binged on some Netflix.

Maybe I’m just paying for my frenetic, nearly manic productivity of the summer. It’s the summer when I am busy every moment of the day. I work in the garden. I take my kids places. I pick baskets of fruit in sweltering orchards and take them home to preserve them. I write thousands of words every week. I paint. I feel invincible. I feel powerful, even limitless. I marvel to myself at my work ethic, at my drive, at my ability to accomplish everything I set out to do.

Basically, I’m the little engine that could. All summer I coast down the hills, happily zipping along. Then fall hits, and I have to start chugging up the next hill and by winter I’m basically ready to give out. What was once a feeling of being able to do anything becomes a feeble, “I think I can.” And sometimes it just becomes a sad, little, “I can’t.”

It happened last year, towards the end of December. The book I was working on completely fell apart and by January I had trashed it. The book I’m working on now is a mess. I don’t think I’ll trash it, but I have a strong desire to put it away unfinished for a while.

I don’t know what’s worse about this inevitable slowdown. Is it the sharp decline of productivity or is it the terrible feeling that it’s never going to rise again? All of the habits that I formed will just erode away until I am once more weeks away from the last time I wrote anything or painted anything. This past year, I eventually found my way again but what if next time I don’t?

So, this year, I’m going to do my best not to give out, to keep that creative engine going. It doesn’t matter if I’m not producing the same quantity or even quality as I was before. The important thing is to continue moving forward. I’m adjusting my goals, giving myself a little more downtime. I’m allowing for an afternoon nap now and then, an early bedtime, a ridiculous novel read only for the escapism it provides. I may write less and paint more. I may go for walks or just listen to music. Maybe, I’ll bake bread. On days when I feel more like myself, I’ll work harder. I’ll keep moving.

When the sun is brighter and warmer and the manic productivity of summer returns, I hope I’ll be ready.

Needing space

relax-1276639_1280I see a lot of jabs at the idea that someone should need a safe space. I guess it’s pretty easy to make fun of people who need to be protected from words. Didn’t they ever hear that old saying, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me?”  Aw, the little snowflakes need to be protected. Their poor little feelings are hurt.

These sort of jeers and jabs almost always come from white people. I have yet to see it come from a person of color, someone who worships a different religion and I have never heard it from a member of the LGBTQIA community. No, it’s always people who fit into the mold of what society has deemed both normal and optimal who mock the concept of a safe space.

I mean, it’s awfully easy to make fun of someone who needs a safe space when we’ve never had a racial epithet thrown at us. Perhaps, we’ve never been the victim of sexual assault. Maybe, we’ve never felt like there was a target on our back due to what we wear, who we worship, or who we love.  We don’t really know what that feels like. However, we can try to empathize with people who may have a different experience than us. We can try to understand that there may be times when they need a place where they can feel safe, where they can feel normal and where they can feel okay.

Take a minute and listen to the theme song from Cheers. What on earth do you think they’re talking about here?

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

RaeAnn Pickett wrote in TIME, “After the birth of my first son, I had postpartum depression. I was a mess emotionally, and I was in desperate need of feeling safe. I had no idea what “trigger warnings” or “safe spaces” were, but I had been using them internally for days—avoiding the mommy movies and choosing not to go to the breastfeeding support group where I felt like a failure. Being able to know beforehand what experiences I should avoid and create an environment where I felt safe made it easier for me to share my struggles and move past them.”

There have been times in my life where I have done the same thing, maneuvered myself so that I could avoid something that I found upsetting or troubling until I could find a way to move past it. I have also at times surrounded myself with people who understood me and what I was going through so that I could work through what I was feeling. 

Pickett was able to find the help that she needed for her own postpartum depression in one of these often mocked safe spaces. “When my first postpartum depression support group facilitator said in a hushed, happy voice that this was a safe space, I felt the weight slowly start to lift from my chest. All the pent-up anxiety I had felt was dissipating—just by knowing that the physical place I chose to be in was filled with people who understood me and could help me find the tools to get well.

This isn’t to say that safe spaces can’t go too far in another direction. It shouldn’t be used to stop conversation and discussion. They shouldn’t be used to censor ideas and concepts that we don’t like. Instead, it should create a space where a person can get away from the comments and arguments that are not helpful and can be damaging based on their experiences. Emma Kromm writes in the Harvard Political Review, “A college student who has experienced sexual assault and does not want to hear someone repeat an argument that in any way belittles her experience is not the right target for an indictment of censorship.”

Perhaps, there are times when we should be less concerned about our need to say whatever we want and instead think of other people’s feelings. To be empathetic. To understand that someone else’s experience might be very different from ours and that we all have our own ways of dealing with things that we find difficult. If you think that’s something to mock, then you, my friend, are the reason why we need safe spaces to begin with.

Safe spaces, when used properly can actually create an opportunity for understanding. Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern University noted that “students don’t fully embrace uncomfortable learning unless they are themselves comfortable. Safe spaces provide that comfort. The irony, it seems, is that the best hope we have of creating an inclusive community is to first create spaces where members of each group feel safe.” 

Some of us build up our whole lives to be one giant safe space. We don’t go to places where we might feel uncomfortable. We don’t try to learn anything new or try anything different. We don’t make new friends. Some of us wouldn’t leave our house if it wasn’t for the responsibilities we have. If you think about it that way, then maybe we’re all just a bunch of hypocrites for making fun of everyone else for something we do every day.

Maybe you’re a tough cookie and you never needed a safe space. Maybe you never avoided people because you didn’t want to deal with something. Maybe you never wished you could go somewhere and not have to worry about being bullied or picked on. Maybe you are always out trying new things and meeting new people and you don’t feel any sort of anxiety about it. If that’s the case, I think you should just count yourself lucky and leave the people alone who haven’t been as fortunate as you.

Silence is complicity


silence-390331_1280It was always there. It kept to the shadows. It stayed, a whispered monster revered among its small groups of worshipers. We didn’t think it would ever be brave enough to come out into the light. We didn’t think it could ever be that strong. Its days of glory were gone, relegated to the pages of History books that we read and wondered how anyone could ever let it come out into the light like that.

Hatred.

Prejudice.

Racism.

Bigotry.

It has been growing stronger over the last year and over the last week, it has become brave. The Southern Poverty Law Center has counted more than 200 complaints of hate crimes since Election Day, according to USA Today.

It wrote “Heil Trump” and “Fag Church” and drew a swastika on the walls of an Episcopal churchIt shouted threats and whispered intimidation. It picked fights. It used fear like it’s best weapon.

It echoed through high schools and colleges. In its wake, it left behind fear.

How lovely it was to be white, to not be Muslim, to be what is considered “normal.” Now, it’s creeping out into the light, and we’re trying so hard not to pay attention. We’re doing everything we can to pretend not to see it. I should know. I have a lot of practice doing this.

I’m not sure why this happens but it seems to be a normal occurrence that people see my white skin and think that in me they have found someone who will understand their feeling about people of color. A woman told me in the parking lot of the grocery story how the latinos in the store were all so rude and they should speak English. Sometimes it’s not what they say but it’s how they say it. Their voices drop down to just above a whisper when they tell me how some girl we know is dating a black man. They tell me that of course not all latinos are bad but just the ones that live near them are. They assure me that I don’t understand because I don’t live where they live.

They tell me how they really feel about Muslims, about refugees, how we can’t trust any of them, that they could all be terrorists. If I’m lucky I get to hear their usually limited view of the Koran. They don’t like where they want to build their mosques. They don’t like how they pray. They don’t like how they wear their hijabs.

I also get to hear comments on gay people. How what they do is disgusting. How they choose to be how they are. I even get to see a children’s video on God’s view of gay people. Somehow, gay people are ruining marriage for all of us. I’ve had someone close to me say that two gay men shouldn’t be able to adopt children because they will molest them. Of course, who can forget the huge debate that raged on about where transexuals use public bathrooms? A hair stylist brought that up to me just a few weeks ago. She didn’t say anything but she gave me a look, eyebrows raised, the look that said, I’m just waiting for you to give me the go ahead to tell you exactly what I think.

These are all things that I hear in real life. This isn’t from people hiding behind computer screens. This is from people I know and love. This is from strangers in parking lots or in stores or in hair salons indulging in small talk that suddenly takes a dark turn. They see my white skin, my normal American life as a stay-at-home-mom with a husband and two kids and they think that they can say what they want to me and I will be their ally, that I will understand then and I will agree.

I don’t agree but until now I haven’t said too much. I wanted to pretend I couldn’t see it. I kept my mouth shut even when I didn’t agree and worked hard to justify not speaking out. I would say that obviously the person didn’t mean what they said. She doesn’t actually feel that all Latinos are rude.  I would think that there was no point in saying anything. I wasn’t going to change her mind. I would tell myself that I didn’t want to make everyone uncomfortable. If he really feels that way, it’s not really going to effect anyone. He’s just one person. I had a list of excuses that I would make, but none of them ever really felt good enough. I would walk away feeling uncomfortable, feeling like a coward and knowing that whoever I was talking to was right when they thought I was an ally. When the conversation was done, they still probably felt like I agreed with them.

And for all of my excuses, they were all to make me feel better about myself for not saying anything. I told myself that I was empathizing, that I was trying to understand how other people, that I was accepting all people even if I didn’t agree with them. Oh, the hoops I jumped through to justify my silence.

The prejudices and bigotry leaked out from the shadows and I looked away.

I’m not going to look away anymore. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t hear what was said. I’m not going to be silent. When I speak out, I might not be polite about it.

About other things, I’m still trying to be open-minded. If you want to talk about politics or our government, I’m ready. If you want to talk about this past election and have a constructive conversation about the president-elect Trump and the future of our country, I can do that too. If you want to talk about the protests over the last week and whether they are riots or protests protected by the second amendment, let’s go. You don’t have to agree with me. I won’t feel like I have to change your mind. We can just talk. We can share ideas. We’re all Americans after all.

We’re all human beings.

But, if you want to talk to me about generalizations that you are making on a whole group of people based on your limited experience or based on some fake news story on Facebook, I’m going to tell you I don’t want to hear it. I’m not going to listen to your view points on why all Muslims are dangerous. I have a strong aversion to religion but I’ll still defend everyone’s freedom to practice it. I don’t want to hear any hate speak at all about gay people or transexuals or really anyone.

My mom always liked to repeat that old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

So, if I can’t urge you to change how you feel about the people in our society that are marginalized, if I can’t get you to change your biases toward them, then I’m going to ask you to watch your mouth when you’re talking to me.  I’m taking this seriously.

I can’t kill this beast that is hatred and prejudice and bigotry, not when it seems to always survive, but I will fight to push it back to the shadows.