Category Archives: Health

On Madness and Art: An Art Dump

There’s a strange social narrative surrounding bipolar depression, formerly known as “manic depression.” The sickness is often associated with artistic types, as many famous artists had (or are thought to have had) bipolar depression: Sylvia Plath, van Gogh, Kurt Cobain, etc. Sometimes artists themselves perpetuate the idea that the illness helps fuel their art. There’s even a very interesting book, Touched with Fireon this subject that I really want to finish reading someday.

As a person who sometimes makes art and is also bipolar depressive, this narrative annoys the shit out of me. When I was in the hospital I journaled a lot about how frustrating and dangerous this romanticizing is. Obviously I can’t speak for everyone, and sure, it’s totally possible that the boundless energy that comes with a manic phase could result in a lot of work getting done. For me though, mania also gave me panic, paranoia, and a complete inability to focus that energy on any one thing. And the thing about mania is that you can’t have it without the depression. So, I get to go from being unable to get anything done because I’m hopped up on mania to not being able to do anything because I’m so depressed I can’t even function.

Despite the fact that sometimes mania feels good because at least it’s not depression, bipolar depression is still not a good or functional disease, and it doesn’t lend itself well to getting shit done. Any and all art I am able to create is in spite of my illness, not because of it.

During my hospital stay, I was worried that the amount of art I was churning out would somehow reinforce the idea that bipolar depression and creativity are linked. I made more art in the week and a half I was there than I have in the rest of the year combined. But being in a mental hospital is not quirky or cute or fun. The only real reason it was more conducive to creativity for me is because there was literally nothing else to do. I didn’t have my phone, there were no computers, and we had limited access to phones or televisions or even radios. From the time we woke up to an hour or two before lights out we were either in group/individual therapy or eating as a group. We spent our entire days in the group room which, as I’ve mentioned before, is the only room where we were allowed pens, pencils, and crayons. I had the time, safe space, and tools to spend entire days making art. It was a crucial aspect of my recovery and in no way motivated by my illness itself.

I’m very proud of the art I made there and am happy to share it now, knowing that it’s a sign of my recovery rather than my illness.

zipperprofile

“Zipper Girl,” the last piece I made in the hospital

Lyrics from Tom Waits' "9th and Hennepin"

Lyrics from Tom Waits’ “9th and Hennepin”

I learned that colored pencils are fun

I learned that colored pencils are fun

This isn't as done as I want; maybe I'll come back to it someday. Skirts are made from wallpaper.

This isn’t as done as I want; maybe I’ll come back to it someday. Skirts are made from wallpaper.

Another Zipper Girl; she was really popular among other patients and they all wanted their own. I got really good at drawing her.

Another Zipper Girl; she was really popular among other patients and they all wanted their own. I got really good at drawing her.

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Men I Met in the Hospital

I guess it was silly of me to think I’d be safe from sexism in the nut house. Beyond the fact that there’s an long history of institutional sexism in mental health facilities themselves, there’s a simple reason why I should’ve known better: men would be there.  Men don’t stop participating in sexism or perpetuating microaggressions just because you’re all sick.

The most overt example was the man who told me how beautiful and sexy I was every chance he got. Who waited until we were alone in the group room to tell me how much he “liked me” and that he was single and I was far away from my partner so, you know, if I need a hug or even a kiss that could happen. Gross as his aggressive come-ons were, he was the easiest to deal with. His explicitness made it easy to report him to the techs. I felt his wide eyes moving over me even though he stopped speaking to me. I watched him move on to a patient who was more receptive to his grossness. I listened to him in group sessions rage against the mother of his child for refusing to take him back. I was relieved  that he’d stopped talking to me.

There were other men who were more difficult to deal with. Their bullshit existed on a more subterranean level that can often be difficult to make others see or believe.

One man, a white guy who rapped about “the man” (“the man” being a conspiracy theorist’s idea of the government), took my joking that bigfoot wasn’t real as a cue to talk at me about it for an hour. An hour. About bigfoot. As I stared straight ahead, giving no acknowledgements or signs of interest, he talked at length about (extremely shoddy, easily debunked) science that proved bigfoot was real. All the reasons why the government covered it up. All about his bigfoot website, which he encouraged me to visit so I could learn “the truth.” In general, I’m exhausted with men who think they have something to teach me (and assume that I want or need to be taught in the first place). And here I sat next to a man who wore a shit-eating grin while implying that I’m some kind of rube for not believing in bigfoot. I only took my eyes away from the craft I was working on long enough to say, “I bet you watch Ancient Aliens.”

And I swear to you, this man said yes, excitedly, and proceeded to tell me more now that the subject of aliens had come up.

Other men had infuriating tendencies to insert themselves in conversations they shouldn’t be in. I never got emotional in any of the group therapy sessions until the day before I left. Another girl had come to The Meadows a few days before, and we clicked: we were both students at Penn State, had similar histories and symptoms. In our last group together we had an intense conversation specifically about the pressures young women feel and how difficult it is to deal with. While this incredibly cathartic, intimate moment was happening, several of the men in the group felt it appropriate to throw out their defensive opinions.

“I don’t even like skinny girls!” “Yeah, same, I like women who eat, haha.”

I was furious. How dare they choose this moment, a clearly painful bonding moment between women, to shove their “not all men” bullshit at us. I turned towards them, eyeliner running down my face.

“It doesn’t matter what you like. The pressures still exist for us and telling us that you like something else is just a different kind of pressure.”

The worst one, the one I hated more than all the rest, is only named Mr. Toxic in my journal. (If I try, I can remember his name but I choose not to.) Imagine Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: an interloper, an instigator, someone who thinks he has all the answers. Now imagine him as a real person in a real hospital where real people are trying to get better.

Mr. Toxic was a con man. He was at the hospital to avoid jailtime, which is not uncommon and also not something that is inherently bad. But he made it quite clear at every chance that he didn’t want to be there and thought it was all a waste of time. Not just for himself but for the rest of us as well. In-session, he talked endlessly about how he didn’t need medication or therapy because all you need is a “higher power.” He tossed out bullshit truisms and always sat with a smug smile on his face, uninterested in anyone else’s discussions. Out of sessions, he glorified his past drug use and made general commotion around the hospital. He shit-talked all the therapists (who were, admittedly, a mixed-bag; we had 10-12 groups sessions a day so our group leaders varied from very skilled therapists to newbie techs) and sneered at the idea of medication for treating mental illness.

Essentially he was every anti-med, anti-therapy, “it’s all in your head” shit stain who’s ever told you to just get out of bed and change your perspective as if you’ve never fucking tried that before.

Unfortunately, he was also a strong enough personality that many of the other patients were drawn to him. When you’re mentally ill, sometimes you want to believe that the doctors are all quacks, that you don’t need your meds, and that you really can just power through it without help. Even if you know from your own experiences that it’s not true. Which is why I hated him so much–he indulged every maladaptive habit the patients had and validated our harmful thoughts.

I tried, for the sake of relaxation, to abstain from calling him out. But in or out of the hospital I can’t change my nature. And my nature is calling pompous, arrogant men on their bullshit. He spent a lot of time rolling his eyes when I pushed back against the idea of a higher power being necessary or something that can fix you. Same with my insistence that some people actually fucking do need their medication. But it all really came to a head the day he was set to finally leave.

He’d been saying loudly for days that if they didn’t release him soon he’d do something drastic so I was pleased they were discharging him. In one of our midday groups, one of the younger guys who rarely talked was actually opening up about his addiction problems and how he wanted to get better.

I spent most of my time at the long table in the group room drawing, crafting or journaling. (Only in the group room were we allowed pens and pencils; there are large sections of my journal written in marker because that’s all I could have in my room.) For certain therapists I would join the group circle but most of them were content to leave us at the table, and that’s where I wanted to be anyway. So that’s where I sat, drawing, when I heard Mr. Toxic say to this kid, “You’re not done yet. You’re too young; you gotta leave here and live more before you’re done.”

I fucking lost it. For nearly a week I’d listened to this asshole put on fake godly bullshit in groups while constantly belittling our attempts to get better and simultaneously encouraging our worst behaviors.

“I cannot believe you’re telling him that he’s not done. He’s trying to get clean and you’re encouraging him to leave here and go right back to doing the same things. You don’t get to do that. That’s disgusting.”

And he lost it too. I guess he was tired of it after a week of me calling him out.

“You don’t know shit about anything! You don’t know anything about him or me or about life!”

And because I’m spiteful, I laughed and asked, “If you know so much, if you have all the answers then what the hell are you doing in here with the rest of us?”

At that point, the therapist broke us up. Mr. Toxic left a few hours later and I never saw him again.

I resent all these men. I resent them for invading the already limited physical and mental space I had there. I resent being sexually harassed in a place where I was supposed to be safe. I resent being expected to feign interest in their bullshit or tolerate their entitlement or allow them to damage other patients. I resent them for trivializing my illness and my recovery. I resent being reminded, even in a place of rest and comfort, that I can never be safe from this kind of bullshit.

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Wandering Uterus #4: Pregnancy Neurosis

By Ashley

So, here we have the final story in Wandering Uterus, which is a condensed chronicle of the summer after Andreas left and my incredibly neurotic pregnancy scare. I would like to expand this story; my fears of pregnancy and issues with reproduction rights could make up their own graphic novel if I let them. I hope that you’ve all enjoyed my first major foray into comics-making. I hope to work more on this over the summer!

Hit the jump to read all about my neurosis….

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Sometimes my heart pounds like thunder and I don’t know why I don’t explode

Trigger Warning: for mentions of rape and extreme misogyny

This. Just this. I can’t even. There are no fucking words. Last night I cried, I fucking sobbed because my body is not my own. My body is not my right. My body is a fucking political war ground. It terrifies me that I could wake up someday and need a fucking abortion and I would have to jump through countless painful hoops just to obtain one. And then, after all that, people would sit and fucking judge me for taking responsibility for MY life and MY body and MY fucking well-being.

It gets hard, realizing every fucking day that they don’t care about you. They don’t care if you die. They don’t care if you can’t feed your kids. They don’t care if the mental ramifications of pregnancy and child-rearing are so emotionally traumatizing that you’re never the same again. They don’t give a shit about you. You shouldn’t have opened your legs, you fucking slut. Oh, what’s that? You were raped? Oh, you were using contraception carefully but it failed you? Well, maybe the rape victim is okay but the person who willingly had sex, she doesn’t deserve an abortion. She doesn’t fucking deserve it because she’s a slut who needs to be punished with a baby. Responsibility is what we need to teach these silly ladies and the best fucking way to do that is by FORCING pregnancy that they don’t want onto them. We have a hierarchy of worth: you, woman with two children who’s birth control failed her, or you, woman who accidentally forgot a pill or had a condom rip, are not at the top of that hierarchy. Sorry for your fucking luck.

This is what a misogynistic culture looks like. This is what sexism looks like. Do you really fucking think this is about ‘saving babies’ or ‘cherishing life’? If the anti-choicers gave two fucking shits about saving fetuses then they would fucking acknowledge the 70,000 fucking women (and their fetuses) that die every. Fucking. Year. From illegal, unsafe abortions. And do you think this is the only thing? Really? Oh, no. There’s ANOTHER proposed bill that would allow doctors to refuse treatment to women if it would endanger their fetus. It’s called “The Protect Life” act. The irony would be funny if it weren’t so fucking terrifying. And the plans to cut funding for Planned Parenthood (which is terrifying on so many levels; thousands of women depend on Planned Parenthood for routine checkups and access to birth control). Don’t you fucking see it?

They want us to fucking die. They don’t fucking care.

Fetuses are more important than women. You should be punished for having sex. You should be punished for wanting to have bodily autonomy. You should be punished for accidentally losing a pregnancy. Like the woman who was imprisoned for having a miscarriage. The laws that enabled this woman to be imprisoned for a miscarriage are the same kind of fucking “Personhood Laws” that the GOP is pushing for in America. You think it can’t happen here? You’re fucking wrong. And yes, surprise sur-fucking-prise, that bill was passed in fucking Utah, the same fucking state that requires women to look at an ultrasound before an abortion. Because, you know, women are fucking stupid and there’s no way a woman could have sat and thought long and fucking hard about whether or not this was the right decision for her. No, after all that, she has to be forced to look at a fucking ultrasound in the ridiculous hopes that she’ll have some epiphany that it’s A BABY SHE’S KILLING! YOU’RE MURDERING A BABY, SLUT!

And you know what my absolute favorite part of all this is? The overwhelming majority of the people who are making these decisions about women’s bodies, health and lives are cis men. You know, the people who won’t ever fucking have to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. They won’t ever have to deal with being forced or shamed into carrying their rapist’s fetus to term (all the while undergoing potentially triggering invasive check ups and procedures). They won’t have to fucking make the choice between being able to feed your already living breathing children or terminating a fetus that isn’t even a fucking person and being called a fucking murderer for it. They don’t have to worry about dying during childbirth (which BTW, death during childbirth happens way more than death during safe, legal abortions) or being denied lifesaving medical treatment because your doctor thinks that the moral decision is to let you fucking die. They don’t have to worry about hemorrhaging and bleeding the fuck out after a botched back-alley procedure that you underwent because you couldn’t afford or didn’t have access to clean, sterile, safe, legal procedures.  These are definitely the people who should be making these decisions about women’s lives, right?

I’m angry (obviously). I’m scared and I feel vulnerable and helpless. I’m so angry that it’s 2011 and we STILL have to carry on this fight. Roe v. Wade was in 19-fucking-73. We’ve been fighting ever fucking since. Our rights to our bodies and health aren’t important enough to be set in stone in our laws. So yeah, I am angry. Really fucking angry. And I refuse to fucking apologize for my anger. I refuse to be nice. Too fucking often we’re told, oh, well you can’t BE angry; you have to nice and calm and willing to explain everything over and over and over and over because if you don’t-if you’re not compliant and willing and sweet about EVERYTHING ALWAYS-well, people just won’t listen to you! Well, you know what? Fuck you. I am fucking unapologetically angry right now. This pro-choice screed isn’t an invitation for open debate; I don’t fucking want to hear your anti-choice rationalization. Women are dying. Women’s health is being threatened and disregarded. So I don’t really give two squirts of piss about your fucking reasons why you think abortion is so morally wrong and should be illegal. If that alienates some of the readers who come by this blog: too fucking bad. To quote Kathleen Hanna:

I’m so sorry that I’m alienating some of you/your whole fucking culture alienates me.

War has been waged on our bodies, our autonomy, our health and our very fucking lives. I’m not here to fucking play nicey-nice about that.

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Back Up Your Birth Control Day!

I am intensely committed to women having the option/ability to remain non-pregnant for as long as they want. I <3 birth control of all kinds. I <3 birth control so much that using protection makes me super, super horny (I’m not even exaggerating). So I’m always excited to find out about opportunities to educate people about birth control. Back Up Your Birth Control Day is all about raising awareness about emergency contraception; they offer FREE material that you can distribute in your community, campus, etc. This is a really awesome opportunity to spread really vital knowledge.

I’m arranging a Back Up Your Birth Control Day event on my campus; if you go to college or are a community leader of some kind or just want to help people out, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. The day is on March 30th, so there’s still plenty of time to get ready for it; check it out and if you can, set up your own BUYBC event!

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This post is for Britni

Tonight, I read a piece of vile, victim-blaming apologist bullshit in regards to something that happened to Britni. Britni is someone that I admire. I enjoy her blog a LOT. I look up to her brash, unapologetic sass and her cute sense of style and how she’s not afraid to call out a rape culture for what it is. Britni is not afraid to talk about when she is sexually assaulted or raped; she is giving a strong voice and face to sexual assault survivors everywhere and for that she is one of my heroes.  Britni gets a lot of shit heaped on her. And it makes me sad.

If I tell you no, stop. It doesn’t matter if I’ve said yes to 1, 2, and 3, if I say no to 4, you fucking stop. That’s called consent.

If I am wearing a piece of clothing that bears a fair amount of skin and I get sexually assaulted don’t you fucking dare blame it on what I was wearing. That is called victim blaming.

If I get raped in the dead of night while walking home from the bar by a group of men, don’t you fucking dare blame me for being out in the middle of the night after drinking. That is called rape apology.

How about we as a fucking society start blaming THE RAPISTS AND MOLESTERS for their own fucking actions? We always want the victim to take responsibility for their actions; why not the fucking criminal in the matter? I’ve quoted this before and I’ll quote it again, from Shakesville:

Quite literally, the only thing a person can do to avoid being raped is never be in the same room as a rapist. Since they don’t announce themselves or wear signs or glow purple, that’s not a very reasonable expectation, is it?

Enough victim blaming. Enough.

I’m sick of seeing rapes and sexual assaults being used as ammo as to why female sexuality is the thing that is so damned dangerous rather than all the rapists out there who are doing the goddamn raping. I’m sick of it. Britni doesn’t deserve to be blamed for her sexual assaults. When Britni felt uncomfortable with the situation she tried to leave as quickly as possible and then she was further violated; but it’s still her fault for not making enough of a scene. Because you know, making a scene always stops them in their tracks. Fuck that noise. Fuck that rape apologist bullshit. STFU, rape apologists.

Britni, this post is written entirely for you. For you and in defense of you. Because you don’t deserve that bullshit and even though you’re strong, sometimes everyone needs people standing behind them, giving them support. <3

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Huge

I’m not afraid…I just think everything you stand for is crap. –Will from Huge

Inspired by this post on Happy Bodies, I just watched the first episode of the ABC Family’s new show, Huge. And I can’t even express all the emotions I experienced. Before the opening was even over I was bursting with happiness; this show starts with a fat strip-tease. Yes. Nikki Blonsky, in defiance of the camp doctor, strips off her clothes to reveal her bathing suit beneath. This show is, in fact, huge. It’s hard to even explain what it’s like seeing a cast that is 99% fat people. All throughout the episode, I kept thinking to myself Look at all these people who look like me. And I just wanted to cry. I wanted to bawl until there were no tears left. I did cry a few times. Because I relate so much to the main character, Will. I know how it feels to be the only one who is  “down with my fat” in a group full of people who aren’t as big as me but are full of so much more insecurity and self-loathing. Will is a sarcastic wise-ass who would rather sell candy and dish out insults than share her feelings. I really hope that this doesn’t eventually lead to some I-really-wanted-to-change-all-along-and-was-being-all-hard-just-to-keep-that-from-showing scenario because that will totes kill some of the character for me. But for now, her character rocks and I have never felt so close to a TV character before in my life. She looks like me. She talks like me. She acts like me. She thinks like me.

She isn’t buying any of the shit they’re trying to feed her. The show does a very good job of pointing out how that kind of ‘fat camp’ lifestyle doesn’t really work: in the very beginning, Becca says that she lost weight the previous year but gained most of it back. When things get ‘too serious’ in the form of bulimia, the camp opts to send one of the girls home instead of trying to help her get healthy, which is what the camp is supposed to be about (perhaps that would be a little much to expect from a camp but I feel that a camp about weight management should have counselors prepared to deal with things like eating disorders; I don’t know if this is a reflection of real-life weight-loss camps since I’ve never been to one). Amber, the resident not-fat-but-doesn’t-see-how-GORGE-her-body-is girl, is obsessed with losing weight as opposed to being healthy (as Will bluntly points out during a circle of sharing therapy session).

And Amber. Let’s talk about Amber for a second. Portrayed by the very gorgeous Hayley Hasselhoff, Amber is the thinnest girl at Camp Victory; she is tall, blond, pretty, and pretty much average sized, with ample curves. Everyone knows a girl like this. A girl who has one of the most beautiful bodies you’ve ever seen in your life; a girl who is nowhere close to fat; a girl who cannot see her body for the beautiful thing it is. The kind of girl who is so frustrating to be around because she obsesses over a tiny roll of flesh while your stomach hangs round and full. Amber plasters the wall above her bed with ‘thinspiration’, photos of tight, toned bodies from magazines. Amber embodies every beautiful average sized girl you’ve ever known who tortures herself with aspirations of bodies that are unatainable. The show captured this perfectly for me and I felt such pain for Amber because I see so many of my friends in her; I know this girl well and I know what she is going through.

Another amazing thing that is portrayed in this show: fat people expressing desire. And people expressing desire for a fat person! OMG!? You do not see this on TV. I am a fat person in love with a thin person. Relationships like mine are not rare. But I cannot remember the last time a television show entertaining the idea that someone within the ideal image might desire someone outside of it. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen something showing the idea of fat people possibly desiring other fat people. The show touches on both of these thing, these very real scenarios that HAPPEN ALL THE TIME IN LIFE. And it’s absolutely beautiful.

This show is a big deal. I see myself in this show. The world is looking at me when they watch this show. There have been many, many times in my life where I’ve wanted to scream out “This is what my body looks like and I am not ashamed!” And I feel the character Will is helping me yell it. The kids on this show feel real. They feel like real young people who feel lost and confused and ashamed inside their bodies. They don’t know how to reconcile the way their bodies look with a world that doesn’t want them to look the way they are. Will stands against that. She is not ashamed.

“They want us to be ashamed of our bodies. Well, I refuse to.”

Preach on, sister. Preach the fuck on. I have a lot of hope for this show. I’m going to continue watching it and I hope it lives up to the very real potential it has. And now, as a show of solidarity, here I am in my new, adorable swimsuit side-by-side with Will:

P.S. I just found out that Happy Bodies is having an Open Forum about Huge! Go join the conversation!

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