02 August 2018

On Being Good

Of all of the repetitive questions I ask myself – and there are many; I am essentially a very tall toddler – “Am I Good?” comes up the most frequently. Notice the capital G in Good; one “o” away from God, a very Catholic Capitalization if ever there was one.

I have an undergraduate degree in Philosophy with a particular focus in ethics, and am about to embark on a masters’ degree in the same. In between I studied law, which, contrary to popular belief, does in fact require at least some grasp of ethical theory. It’s the early Catholic upbringing, though, coupled with an emotionally abusive father who cultivated a near pathological terror of being in trouble, that triggered this lifelong questioning. The degrees were an afterthought, a terribly failed attempt to find an actual answer (although clearly the failures were insufficiently demoralising to stop me from trying again in the semester of Fall 2018.)

One of my autistic charms is that I tend to take people at their word. I also love structure, and am delighted to be given a set of rules to follow. The former has mostly made me an easy target for predators, while the latter made me an extremely easy mark for shame as a child. Fortunately, in addition to these qualities, I have a stubbornness and a knack for spotting when a system of rules is broken, and needs fixing.

By grace of those traits, I was able to extricate my queer feminist ass from specifically religious shame fairly easily. The rule system was clearly flawed. The guilt part was trickier. I remember confessing various and sundry sins to Father John (*yes, his real name – I am confident in your inability to track down a Catholic Father John in the same way that I am confident you’ll be looking for that needle in that haystack for awhile*) and thinking two things: 1) That these were not really sins, and 2): Oh fuck, I disappointed the priest.

The Church left me with a fairly impressive capacity to simultaneously have no faith at all and to feel constantly guilty. I gradually moved farther and farther away from any kind of formal spiritual practice, although I missed (and still miss) the ritual. What I couldn’t do, however, was get away from that need to be Good. And, without any particular text to follow, Goodness became more or less a crapshoot.

When I studied philosophy I combed through every new text hoping that this would be the one. This would be the class where I encountered a flawless system that made perfect sense and made everyone happy. I believed in God and then I didn’t and then I decided that it didn’t particularly matter. I tried to please everyone and invariably failed. I have been told more than once to stop carrying the world on my shoulders, but have never quite found the right place to set it down.

My upbringing, particularly under a narcissistic father, taught me to look everywhere outside myself for confirmation of my goodness. To authority figures, to men in particular. I have always been good at defending other people, but never myself. If someone disagreed with me, then it was proof of my Badness. Of my unworthiness.

I have been working lately to quietly but urgently extricate myself from the more damaging parts of my family. A little overdue, but critical nevertheless. And the farther I get from that toxic structure, the more I start to recognize the flaws in the framework. I know I said I’m good at working out the kinks in systems, and it’s true, but when one is with you from birth it’s a lot harder to notice it’s even there long enough to realize it’s broken.

I am a kind person, and I am trying to learn to include myself as a worthy target for that kindness. I don’t have much of a structure beyond that yet. I am not sure how much of one I need. I try to make people’s lives better by my presence. I try to be gentle with myself. I try to protect my loved ones. I try not to beat myself up for not being able to save the world, and to just focus on the part right in front of me.

I try to be Good.

I think that might be Good enough.

10 July 2018

On Gender and Bodies and Penguins

My name is Katie, and I’m likely not a girl. Certainly not a woman. Probably a boi, but not a boy, and not a man. Definitely a penguin.

Yeah. That one I know for sure.

I have been planning this big gender post, where I would talk about my identity (penguin + ?), and my pronouns (they/them except when they’re not), and my journey of learning and discovery, and all that delightful jazz. I have been revisiting my adolescent music tastes recently, and I am full of Big Feelz about growing more and more into myself (shout out to Jewel, the somehow both over and under rated poet of my teen years). My brain is basically going through an existential second version of puberty at the moment, so I am a big ball of melodrama. Perfect timing to spread my arms and spread my legs and spread my gospel of gender queerness or gender fluidity or gender… oh shit… I don’t have the words yet. Right. That’s why I was putting this off. I knew there was a reason.

This being summer, though, and me being me, the need to talk about my body and my relationship to my body in general has cropped up much sooner than my desire or ability to talk about my wonderful but complicated new gender feelings. For the then moment let’s set those aside, except insofar as they relate to said body. So, actually, let’s not set them aside at all. Let’s tackle this shit, shall we?

If you’ve been following along for awhile now, you know I have a history of disordered eating. It has followed me for over half my life at this point, and at this point it is reflexively written onto my brain. Case in point: I am a happy and healthy and sexy and smart feminist person who “just happens” to peruse eating disorder websites from time to time. I tell myself it’s just as a reminder of how bad things can get if I’m not careful. That is a blatant lie. In the darkest little corner of my brain where the disorder still lives, I hope that I’ll trip and fall back into it. Out loud I tell myself wow, look what these girls are doing to themselves, I can’t believe I was ever that sick. And in the quiet, she whispers you could be again, you know.

So, yes, deeply sad, deeply tragic, deeply unpleasant. A constant battle between the various parts of my brain that tell me that, on the one hand, in order to be “good” (a good feminist, a good queer, a good body-positive ally) I have to be accepting of my own body no matter what, and the part of my brain that says in order to be “good” (to be pure, to be holy, to have the right body) I need to lose 10, 20, 50, 100 pounds by tomorrow, today, yesterday, stat.

So I am weak for wanting to be thin, and I am also weak for not being thin. Recently, I have been working on flipping the script. Could I maybe, just possibly, just-consider-this-for-a-minute, be… strong? For hanging on in the face of painful contradiction? For surviving a super shitty illness this long?

My brain lets me hold onto that thought for about .062 seconds before it fights back. But it’s a start.

I’ve talked before about my childbearing hips (so named by my sewing teacher in grade five, in front of my classmates, as she demonstrated why a pattern needed letting out to accommodate me). I do not want children, have never wanted children. I suffered horrific periods with endometriosis and PMDD from age nine onwards that went undiagnosed until my 20s. I started asking doctors to remove my uterus while still in my teens. My anorexic self sprang from any number of sources, but the desire to be rid of those hips was chief among them. We took health classes and learned that we were each on our path to becoming A Woman, and the word tasted metallic in my mouth.

“Woman” never stopped feeling wrong, no matter how old I got. I attributed it to not wanting to be a mother, not wanting to be a wife, not wanting to be a person with these awful organs and this awful body built for awful things I didn’t want to do. In undergrad I bound my chest when alone in my apartment, and I packed my jeans with rolled up socks and felt the bulge. I called it a sex game, or roleplay. I wore flowy or baggy clothing and no makeup. I gained weight because I was in recovery, and then I gained weight from my anti-depressants, and then I just kept gaining. I didn’t know what to do with my new body. I ran into corners with hips that didn’t used to protrude that far. My body become a thing that could not be denied.

Fast forward to Montreal. I chopped off all my long hair and suddenly found my curves more bearable. I met a charming and handsome man who let me call him Daddy, who would call me his little girl and keep me out of womanhood forever. This felt reasonably safe, and I poked my head back out of my shell a bit. I started buying big, frilly dresses and wearing cat-eye makeup. Hyperfeminine beauty ideals from the 1950s, clothing that accentuated my hips, that let me actively perform a gender role. In acting, I could control it. I could finally control how people perceived me. An anorexic’s dream, albeit realized in an untraditional (or very traditional) way.

Fast forward again, through my first spaces featuring queer grownups, through learning that Femme could be a designation for me, lo and behold, a name that didn’t hurt so much, a name that at least embraced the performance. Skip past my continued discomfort in those spaces, my simultaneous crushes on and coveting of butch individuals and their identities where I read only the crushes. Run quickly by the repeated disintegrations and careful rebuilding of my relationship with S that left me with a wonderful forever-friend and concert-buddy and cuddle-companion, but a realization that I couldn’t be his little girl out in the world anymore but still couldn’t bear the thought of being a woman.

Now slow down. Watch me start to date someone new. See them read this blog, and notice a throwaway comment from years ago about the binding and packing, and ask me to tell them more. Hear me whisper it at first, like I was telling an awful secret, then louder and louder. I have always had feelings like waterfalls, but now, for the first time, that wasn’t too much. I wasn’t too much.

Of course, I still have that same body that has plagued me since birth. I am dressing it up in different clothes, now. Strangely, I hate my hips less. It’s not their fault they’re attached to a boi. My small chest, a source of much teasing in school, fits nicely under button-downs without much assistance beyond a sports bra. Encouraged to wear flats, I suddenly care about shoes. I am still wearing makeup, but the cat eye has mostly been replaced with sparkles and experimental colour palettes. I have my dresses, and I wear them, and I enjoy the performance more knowing that I can take the whole thing off at the end of the day, not just the dress, not just the shoes, but the whole identity. Toss it over a hanger and crawl into bed naked, with a body that is frustrating and belligerent and undeniably mine.

I am not over my body struggles: because no one ever is; because I accidentally spent a decade and a half training my brain to hold onto them for dear life; because the patriarchy. Because because because. What poking about at my gender has let me/is letting me do, though, is to finally start to internalize, at least a little bit, the understanding that this is my body, that we’re stuck together, and that we might as well try to be friends. That all the time I have been starving it and hurting it, thinking I could run somewhere from it, I was fooling myself. That I might as well give being kind to myself a shot, having tried everything else.

Besides. That’s no way to treat a penguin. 

27 June 2018

On Being Queer Enough

Sometimes I really struggle with not feeling queer enough.

I’ve gotten better at saying these words out loud lately instead of just letting them simmer along until my brain boils over. I recently spoke them whilst lying in a naked tangle of limbs with my girlfriend (Hi Jae! Thanks for letting me feature you on my blog in all your unclothed glory.) The look I got upon making this pronouncement was a well-deserved one.

Of course I feel queer in my attractions. From a relatively young age – considering that Will & Grace was my first real pop culture encounter with the concept of being gay, and didn’t air until I was 11 – I experienced more or less indiscriminate crushes, and recognized them as such. Moreover, due to the rarely discussed autistic side benefit of not understanding certain meaningless and harmful social norms, it didn’t really fully sink in until much later that there was anything strange about this. There was no real process of coming into an identity for me in that sense. By the time I grasped the fact that people were going to be uncomfortable with my sexuality, it was pretty well cemented. The challenge was more in recognizing that being myself out loud was not always the safest path, and coming to terms with my anger around that. I was often inadvertently defiant, not necessarily because I was trying to upset that status quo so much as because I had trouble seeing where the status quo lay.

And yet I walk into queer spaces and feel utterly alien. I am very good with large groups of people when I am talking at them. People often wonder how I can be so painfully shy when socializing but so very comfortable in front of a crowd. The short and vastly oversimplified answer is that I know how to read a crowd as a unit, and subsequently how to maneuver that crowd comfortably. I am getting better with age at reading individuals the way I have always read crowds, although any sort of anxiety (such as the kind I get in new situations) diminishes that skill significantly. But when I am forced to look at a group as a bunch of intersecting individuals, as a community, I get incredibly overwhelmed. I shut down.

Group dynamics require that you read individuals exponentially, with each addition complicating the equation significantly, whereas reading a room requires merely that I observe the group as a single entity. And every group has its own traditions, its own rules, its own signifiers.

For many people, I think that queer spaces bring a relief from the external rules that don’t make sense. I get that. If I were able to pick up on those rules easily, moving from a society with seemingly arbitrary gender norms and dating norms to one that is more fitted to my own identity would be delightful. But much as I did not read and then reject straight social rules in coming into my queerness so much as I passed over them in blissful ignorance, so do I feel a tad lost when I stumble into the new – albeit much kinder and gentler, usually – set of rules in queer spaces.

I have found this in leatherdyke spaces in particular. One of my terribly autistic qualities is that I yearn, badly, to actually *know* the rules. I will decide afterwards whether or not to follow them, but I can’t do that until I know what they are. In kink, in protocol, in traditions, I can see the edges of something that I desperately want to belong to. I want someone to point to me and say here, here is your place, here is what we need you to do to become a part of this. Here is a path for you to belong. I have desperately romanticized the idea of community in general, and this community in particular. I want nothing more than to be one of those individuals adding to the overwhelming complexity. I don’t want to just observe the mass; I want to see the string that goes from me to my partner to their partner to her partners, branching out through time and space until I am a part of something. Someone compliments my shoes or straightens my tie and my heart jumps, because I wonder if it’s a secret sign of queer acceptance, then tell myself it’s just a casual kindness. I see signals everywhere because I’m constantly looking for that one wink that says you’re in, you’re alright, we’ll keep you now.

I have been hunting for that acceptance for so many years that it’s almost reflexive now; I don’t know if I would even recognize it if it happens. I wonder if might already have happened, and I was so busy analyzing it that I didn’t notice. I wonder if there is really any one gesture or experience that would convince me, or if it’s just a matter of needing to be accidentally defiant like I was in my teens, to step in and say I’m here and I belong and to just own whatever fuckups come along with that.

There is something to be said for that.

25 June 2018

On Writing in a New Language

Let’s talk about not writing.

I know I have the unfortunate capacity to love a good meta-analysis right into the ground, but having been gone for five months, it seems like the inevitable place to start.

I tend to focus these posts on a singular moment or feeling, but that’s tricky when I haven’t written in so long, and there is no context for that moment. So. I have been on anti-depressants since last fall. In a turn of incredible luck, my phenomenal GP actually worked with me and heard out my fears and priorities around medication, and I was able to find something that worked on the first try. (This was very unlike my first go at medication years ago, which threatened to put me off them forever.) The meds have helped me create safe spaces within myself to examine some of the anxieties and traumas that I have talked about here, and to find coping mechanisms and support networks that work for me. Since then, I have started a brilliant and wonderful new relationship, finally found the confidence to start exploring my gender identity in ways that I had pushed to the bottom of my hierarchy of needs for a decade or so, moved to a new apartment that actually feels like home, and decided to go back to school and do graduate work in philosophy.

I am deeply fucking happy right now.

And I don’t know how to write about being happy.

During a queer writing workshop a few weeks ago, I mentioned this problem to a friend. I’ve dropped off writing my blog, I told her. I don’t know how to write about these feelings. I am growing into myself more with every passing day, and the vulnerability of that is breathtaking.

She looked at me with a raised eyebrow. Well, write about that.

So here we are.

To begin with: What the fuck do I know about talking about happiness? I haven’t felt comfortable writing about these feelings of contentment and belonging and joy in the same way I wouldn’t have felt comfortable writing a blog post in German after a semester of undergraduate language classes. Until recently, I possessed a certain expertise in misery that I was able, for the most part, to put into words. Often with humour – I am a big proponent of whistling in the dark – but still. That’s where my language was situated.

And of course, I still have that expertise. Depression is like riding a bike; no matter how long it’s been, the second you hop back on, it all comes flooding back. In the past, I have sometimes managed to get off the bike for periods of time, or at least to apply the brakes. I’ve written a lot of posts where I felt like I was just on the verge of getting better, only to come back a day or a week or a month later and say whoops, no, my mistake, still broken, still riding around in circles.  Around the time that I started these meds, I had stopped trusting that I could ever get off it completely. And don’t get me wrong – for the first few months in particular I paused before turning any corner to peek around and see if the bike was there waiting for me. I woke up in the night expecting to see it sitting in the corner of my room like that awful clown scene in the Poltergeist that scarred me for life.

The longer I go, though, the more I let my guard down. If there’s one thing I’m starting to learn, it’s that I’m fucking strong. If it comes back, I’ll handle it. But living life constantly on the lookout is exhausting.

The thing is, though, that I have always been an expert at dissociation, able to leap tall traumas in a single bound. I have been able to write about my pain because, in my head, it happened to somebody else. I’m good at writing about my hurt because I can put two, five, ten layers of distance between myself and my demons without a second thought.

Being happy, by contrast, makes me feel so deliciously vulnerable. I have always felt like a raw person, like God got sidetracked halfway through and forgot to give me skin. When I was depressed, all the hurt flowed in without a filter. Now that joy is flowing in, I don’t know what to do with it. I’m not expending all my energy trying to keep out the world. That rawness is becoming a gift, but it’s a gift that I haven’t even begun to unpack. I can’t distance myself from these feelings and I don’t want to, but that means that writing about them is an act of pure exposure. There’s being naked with your body, which I have more or less mastered at this point in my life. Being naked with my feelings is a whole other thing.

It seems an awful waste, though, to only ever talk about my hurt and to silence the joy. So bear with me, please. I'm learning to be eloquent again. 

18 January 2018

The Aftermath

I've been hesitant to write much in the last little while. The #metoo movement, while powerful and gratifying and very, very important, has also basically turned the world into one giant trigger.

I am not a thick-skinned person, and frankly, I don't really want to be. I have never figured out how to purposely block the bad stuff from getting in without blocking some good stuff in the process, and I would rather be a person who feels everything easily and over-abundantly than a person who struggles to feel anything at all. That's a personal choice, not an indictment of anyone else's way of experiencing the world. There have certainly been times in my life (usually when crying in front of someone who doesn't deserve and has not earned my vulnerability) where I've wished for a shell. But I don't have one, and the conversations currently swirling around sex and consent are unrelenting; it's less of a knockout blow than it is death by a thousand papercuts.

Full disclosure: I haven't been touched in a long time, not sexually. By choice, insofar as avoiding trauma is a choice. Sometimes I miss it. Other times, even masturbation leaves me in a sobbing heap.

My current profile labels me a stone femme. I think about those words a lot. It fits me, as I understand the term, and yet I don't quite understand how I can be stone and so easily hurt.

I think a lot too about Susie Orbach's "Fat is a Feminist Issue", and whether my body – my weight, my buzzed hair, my always-full-coverage clothing – are my defiant slashes to the patriarchy or another piece of armour I don't remember building.

I think about the people I've loved, and how we've hurt each other, and why some wounds heal so cleanly and others never do.

I think about how the older I get, the more I learn and grow, the harder it is to forgive myself for being harmed.

Twice, in the last two years, men violated my consent. In both cases they were men I knew well; in one case, a man I loved. They both skated expertly and neatly down the line between assault and "that sounds terrible, but…". I say this mainly as a lawyer; even as I lay there, panicked, hoping it would be over soon, I had run through all of the arguments that what they were doing was unlikely to be realistically prosecutable. In both cases I said no, but did I say it repeatedly and forcibly enough? I didn't fight. I didn't scream. I froze. We had pre-existing sexual relationships. Both were married to other women. None of these things should matter once the word "stop" left my lips, but they would be a non-starter in court, if I ever wanted to pursue that option.

In any case, I didn't. I wasn't upset because I was the victim of a definable crime, I was upset because people I cared for had treated me as though I didn't matter. I cried quietly during, and loudly later on, alone in my bed. But the physical experiences aren't the source of my trauma.

It's in my nature to give too many chances. Whether that's out of kindness or stupidity is really up for interpretation. Both of these men proclaimed themselves loudly and frequently to be feminists, and to care deeply about consent. The second, in fact, knew about the encounter with the first, and made a great display of having to restrain his full and manly fury toward my violator.

And yet and yet and yet.

Enough time has passed that I could describe what happened those two nights without too much pain, if I wanted. The way I curled into myself. The "stop", and then the "no", then the "please no". The chill in my body and the feeling of being somewhere else. Thinking about those things makes me quietly sad.

Thinking about the aftermath makes me angry.

I was a Good Communicator. I followed up. I explained how I had felt that night, how scared I had been, how it had surprised and then terrified me to find myself so unsafe in the company of people I trusted.

One told me that he "should have known" that I, with my (disabled, abuse-survivor) past, "couldn't take a joke." (When I replay this conversation, every time, in my head, I wittily respond, "are you calling your dick a joke?" Alas, in real life, I just cried more.) The other told me that this was not something we could discuss, because it "hurt him too badly to think that he had hurt me." When I told him I needed space to process, he followed up with aggressive and repeated proclamations of love. When I finally told him I still cared for him but did not feel safe being physically intimate with him anymore, he abruptly blocked me from contacting him, after a two year relationship.

I have been violently raped, in the universally accepted definition of that term, and I have dealt with that experience over a long period of time and with a lot of help. What made that easier was having a villain. I was hurt by a Bad Man. When the self-proclaimed Good Men hurt me, it didn't heal. They left something poisonous behind.

I don't have some brilliant insight into the current zeitgeist. I don't have a pithy moral. I have some pain, and I have some sadness, and I have some people who love and support me through that. I have had to let go of some of the ways in which sex used to feel central to my identity, at least for now, and for awhile I mourned that. I have to put a bit more energy these days into trust and into seeing the best in people, but it feels ultimately worth the effort. Not for anyone else's sake, but for my own.

With great love, always,


22 July 2017

On Loving the Broken Bits

When I was 16 I loved a man who did not love me back.

I say a man, not a boy, because that’s what he was. In his early 20s, I met him hanging around at my high school’s battle of the bands. He smoked but was trying to quit, and he had a bad tattoo his aspiring-artist friend had given him as “practice”, and he told me a slightly sad tale about his no-more-than-normally sad childhood. If you want to just replace his face with a neon sign reading “Cliché” for the rest of this story, I won’t hold it against you – that’s about how much of him I remember too.

If you ask me now how I lost my virginity, I will pause, and I will scrunch up my eyes, and then I will finally remember. Not because I was drunk, or high РI was a Very Good Girl, the subsequent Fucking by the Clich̩ notwithstanding - but because it was such a non-event.

On our second date, I asked him if he’d ever had sex before and he said yes, of course, what did I think of him, he and his old high school girlfriend, they totally did it. More than once, even. He showed me her picture and I was instinctively ashamed; she had perfect red lipstick and didn’t smile in photos; I had just gotten my braces off and my hands shook whenever I tried to line my eyes with dark eyeliner like the skinny goth girls who hung out under the stairs at school. I asked if we had to have sex to keep dating and he said yes, and that was that conversation.

When it came time to do the deed, on our third date, I asked if we could pause the TV, or at least turn off Jackass (I wish that were a joke). He put on American Beauty instead and took my clothes off clumsily while in the background Kevin Spacey fumbled his way through the ennui of middle class suburbia by trying to seduce his teenage daughter’s cheerleader best friend. He probably kissed me – I’m assuming he kissed me because my god, wouldn’t he have kissed me? – and then I laid down on my back and closed my eyes. I knew that the girl needed to lay still so the boy could thrust, and it would all be over soon and he’d be able to keep being my boyfriend. I’d touched and been touched before, at the back of the bus with the boys who’d heard I wouldn’t move my hand if they put it in their lap, and in the basement with the older brother of one of my best friends where I acted my way through my first faked orgasm to stop him from jamming his guitar-calloused fingers full force inside me.

I wasn’t the kind of girl who had friends who would tell her what to expect, or parents who would have talked about my right to my own body. I’d had some animated videos in third grade when my mom took me to a class with a public health nurse where I embarrassed myself by asking if boys had to wear pads to bed in case of wet dreams, since the takeaway I got from the available literature was that puberty brought pain and blood for girls and spontaneous nightly pleasure for boys.

I don’t carry that first time with me, not really. Not the act itself. It hurt a little, and then it didn’t, and then it was over. I cried, and he told me to get dressed because his mother would be home soon. We did it twice more before he told me that I was a cold fish, that there was something wrong with me, and that he was going back to his more age-appropriate girlfriend with the red lips and the angry glare.

I didn’t understand. I had tried so hard; the third time I’d even climbed on top of him like the girls in porn, although we were interrupted mid-way through when the library called me about an overdue book and I had to start over. I tried to seduce him back to me the only way I knew how; with logic and numbers. I told him if I loved him with all my heart and he loved me with half of his then didn’t we already have three quarters of what we needed? He laughed, and he left, and that was that.

I don’t carry the act with me, but I carry its implications. He’s a non-entity; I could barely conjure up his name as I wrote this. He’s never come up in therapy. But that dissociation I felt, apart from my body, and the knowledge that he knew, he knew I was no good at this, just as I had already suspected. I was no good, and he could feel it all the way down to his dick. That’s what embedded itself through my body like shrapnel.

I talk pretty openly about trauma. I don’t see why I shouldn’t. I carry with me no noticeable shame from events that occurred without my permission. I was raped, and then raped again, and then raped a third time for good measure. They pile on each other in my head, sometimes blurring until I don’t remember who did what. They pop up when I least expect them; when a friend touches me spontaneously, when I’m alone in a room with a man. But they’re not always there.

I’m thirty years old, and I’ve had sex with men where I wasn’t thinking about my trauma at all. I’ve had sex where I genuinely, 100% trusted my partner, and where he genuinely lived up to, at the very least, my expectations for a consensual experience.

But I have never, not once, across dozens of partners and almost fifteen years, had sex where I didn’t somehow, at the back of my mind, remember that I was no good at this, that I was a “cold fish”. Nobody with whom I could hold back from second-guessing myself at every touch, no one with whom I could refrain from asking over and over again, “am I doing this right?”, until they tired of my questions and moved on from me.

I’m not sure why I decided to write this all down. A friend asked me the other day to stop berating the parts of me that I think are broken, and to try loving them instead. It’s a hard ask. But if there’s one thing about me that my whole adult life I’ve been absolutely positive is a failure, it’s that inability to connect, that inability to let go and trust myself in the moment. And it’s made me so bitter, because I look around and see everyone else doing nothing but connecting, so easily it seems. I’m not ashamed of things that have been done to me, but I’m ashamed of things I haven’t been able to let my body do or feel.

I don’t know if I can love those bits of me yet. But I can be a little kinder to them, I suppose. A little gentler. There’s a whole part of me I’ve never bothered to nurture because I just didn’t see the point; I thought I already knew that nothing would grow there no matter how hard I tried. But it’s an empty space, not a dead or even necessarily damaged one. Maybe I’ll just be a little kinder.

Just as a start.

With great love,

18 May 2017

Riding Out My Depression Rodeo

This isn’t my first depression rodeo.

I had that thought this morning while trying to convince myself that yes, I could and should get out of bed, and yes, I could and should go to work, but mostly that yes, this too shall pass in time. It was a fortunate thought, because it made me giggle, and a good giggle can work momentary wonders when I’m still in the opening act of a depressive episode. Further down the line giggling gets harder, but while it’s still possible, I highly recommend it.

The thought of a depression rodeo elicited this response because I immediately pictured a rodeo made up entirely of terribly sad clowns, some slowly trying and failing to pull themselves up onto bored horses, some simply leaning against a fencepost while singing “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” in a slow, moribund baritone. I hate clowns; the giggle may or may not have been mostly schadenfreude at the delightful thought of a clown having a miserable day. I can’t be a nice person all the time, you know.

Seasonal Affective Disorder largely hits people through the winter, but having been a dedicated non-conformist from a very early age, I fall into the 10% of SAD sufferers whose depression develops or peaks in the summer months. My best mental health generally starts when the leaves begin to fall and everything withers and dies - did I ever mention I was a goth in high school? - and drops back when the heat begins to climb in the spring.  And while the very deepest darkest days of December do indeed take their toll on me, it’s really the relentless summer heat that does me in; my dreary Montreal winters can mostly be mitigated by basic Vitamin D supplements. (*I actually take Vitamin D year-round, as my skin is the of the variety kindly described as “porcelain” and not-so-kindly described as “possessing a sort of deathly pallor”, so the most natural source of vitamin D mostly just causes me to turn a bright cooked lobster red. We can’t all tan, you know. Ask your doctor if sunshine is right for you.)

There are some bright sides to my annual depression rodeo. I write more, for one thing, taking the therapeutic approach of documenting my crushing sadness for posterity, and in my humble opinion, my writing actually becomes funnier. It’s sardonic humour, gallows humour, but it’s there. Given that my usual approach to humour is a mix of bad puns and an inability to understand other people’s jokes, this can only be seen as an improvement.

My social life is also enriched by depression, if only because I go from having very few conversations in my introverted daily life to having multiple chats with the mean girl who lives in my head. “You’re disgusting and worthless and will never amount to anything” I hear immediately upon awakening, and after checking to make sure it’s not just a voicemail from my oft-disappointed-in-me-Father, I realize I’m in for another full day fielding such constructive criticisms from somewhere in the depths of my crooked brain. Depression is the friend I can take everywhere, from sobbing in the shower to barely containing my sobs on the metro. Who needs to seek out healthy companionship and love when you’re never actually alone?!

My ability to find new flaws in my body, a body that fluctuates throughout the year but usually reaches peak squishiness in my happy dark winter days, is heightened during this period as well. My capacity for uncovering new modes of self-hatred becomes almost a sixth sense; I spent yesterday dreading every time I needed to leave my desk for fear that the swish of my legs rubbing together as I walked was making me “sound fat.” Did you know fat had a sound? You would if you had my Depression Superpowers.

Keep in mind, this depression is not yet full-blown. Oh no, not by a long shot. I am merely melancholy on the cusp of despondent. Historically speaking we are still weeks, or even months away from the point where there is nowhere to go but up. And yet –
Up is nevertheless still an option.

I forget that, usually, around this time. “Here we go again” I comment morosely to my inner voice. “Here we do indeed, you unlovable cunt” she gleefully agrees, before enumerating my many flaws with staggering thoroughness and accuracy.

Giggling at my sad clowns this morning, though, I found myself thinking of my mom, who is one of those remarkable people who can find the light in almost anything. And not in that obnoxious, “everything happens for a reason, always look on the bright side” way. She just somehow sees the quiet thread of humour running through even the darkest night. “Well, you have to laugh” she often tells me, sympathetically, after I’ve recounted my latest anxiety or defeat. And she’s usually right. Depression is horrible and monstrous and debilitating, but it is also often, at its core, a bit ridiculous.

Maybe the idea that my own personal depression rodeo is an annual, inevitable summer-long event that will happen rain or shine and despite my every precaution is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not because you can will away depression – oh Lord, if only – but because here, before the tipping point, there is still time and space for me to laugh in its face. To communicate my fears and needs with loved ones, to seek support where I can, and to face the various absurdities of my thought patterns head-on.

There is still time hang a sign that says “Depression Rodeo Cut Short Due to Unforeseen Circumstances; Come Back Next Year. Or Don’t.”

It might put some clowns out of work, but hey, isn’t that just an added bonus?

With great love,