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For Some: All Women are Fat

When my article “Dating After Divorce in a City of Sluts” exploded all over the internet I was strangely picked up by the humor website fark.com.  I have no idea who really reads fark.com but most of the comments seemed written with a 14-year-old male perspective.  I did have some supporters, but the majority of comments were along the lines of “Women aren’t funny” and “This chick is fat“. Someone had re-posted photos from my website.  The glaring evidence of my reckless obesity was this photo.

Schtupp12

My article had nothing to do with my physical appearance   So I am not sure why it was the main topic of discussion.  And when I look at this photo I think I look great, as do the women behind me.  I guess for some because my body is not up to the extreme standards of a photoshopped maxium model or the cartoonish proportions of a porn star I am basically huge.  Physical attractiveness and weight are subjective, but at 5’7″ and a BMI of 21 I am not by any reasonable standards fat or overweight.  A modeling agent would call me large, but they would also tell me the industry standard is a minimum of 5’10” and the highest paid models are extremely young – many in their teens.

When I shared my fark.com story with the women backstage at a burlesque show it unleashed an avalanche of similar tales.  It seemed every woman in the room, regardless of shape or size, had been hit with some completely non-related beauty related insult or remark.   The very thin women complained of getting snide remarks such as,

  • Eat a sandwich
  • You’re anorexic
  • You look sick

Women with plastic surgery have heard,

  • Your body is fake
  • You have a botox frozen face – even if they haven’t had botox
  • Your boobs are plastic

And for some any woman over the age of 35 is simply too old to even appear in public. Tabloids and the media just feed into this.  I am always floored when I see a photograph in a magazine of an actress in her mid-forties with an arrow pointed to a slight bulge in her lower abdomen with the question

  • Baby bump?

She is far less likely pregnant, then simply going through the physical changes of a typical 45-year-old woman.  And can we just accept that slightly dimpled skin is simply part of being female, especially when it doesn’t seem to correlate to a person’s weight, fitness level or even age.  Why does any sign of cellulite warrant panic, fear and terror when about 90% of women have some amount of it.

But regardless of any of this, when was the last time a man speaking to another man decided to unleash the nuclear option in an argument and blurt out a

  • You’re fat
  • You’re ugly
  • You’re old

I can’t think of a single time in my life I have seen that happen.  I have never seen a woman say anything like it to a man, unless the argument was somehow about his weight or age.  Some feel the lowest nastiest thing they could say to a woman is basically – you are not sexually attractive.  As if any of us will just crumble to a pile of low self-esteem dust when someone makes such a judgment call.

I have reached a point in my life where I just flat-out don’t care anymore.  I don’t give a flying f*ck if someone thinks I am fat, unattractive, if my ass is too big, and my breasts are too small.  I don’t care if they think I am too old, my skin is starting to sag on my face, or that I have wrinkles around my eyes when I smile.

I know I am not 25.  No one needs to point out to me the year of my birth.  Being older is not a weakness.  What my age has given me is the wisdom and knowledge to understand there will always be another younger more beautiful and attractive woman just around the corner.  Physical appearance is fleeting, and real perfection is impossible to obtain.  Our real value comes from our hearts and minds, which will live on long after we are at our physical sexual peak.  We either get old or we die, there is no way around it.  So I accept my age, and I don’t try to run or hide from it.

My favorite comeback was once uttered to a wardrobe coordinator on the set of a now cancelled television show.  When she kept making remarks about my weight I hit back with.

“Listen, I can see my ribs through my skin.  I don’t think I’m fat.”

Insults like these are just another way to try to disarm us and to dilute the real point.  We are women with opinions, sexual pride and we are more than the sum of our physical parts.  How dare a woman who is not a size 0 get onstage and take her clothes off in a burlesque show!  How dare a woman without perfect facial symmetry or glowing skin pick up a microphone and speak her mind!  How dare a woman in her late fifties write an article criticizing the status quo!  Shouldn’t we all be trapped in our homes existing on salads and lean proteins while working out three hours a day in the hopes that we will be the youngest, prettiest, thinnest woman in any room?  F*CK THAT!  The next time a man calls me fat, unattractive, or old I will simply turn to him and say.

Thank you sir may I have another!  What does that have to do with anything!

Depression is such a bitch…

Depression

Depression (Photo credit: Gingertail)

I don’t need a book or lecture to remind me that depression is a physical illness, and not something that is just made up in my head or a weakness on my part.   I don’t choose to battle this demon over and over again.  I know exactly what has caused this latest bout, but I won’t get into it on this blog because I really don’t want to pull anyone else from my personal life into something so public.  But even though I have come miles from where I was three years ago, just a mild cruelty from another person can cause me to spiral.

I am fighting back as best I can, but again I know this is biological in nature because I can actually feel it deep in the core of my being.  Depression feels like a physical ache, a dullness, almost like a heavy suit made of lead that the universe forces me to wear and walk around in.  Depression isn’t just feeling sad, it is the inability to feel joy.  It affects everything I do, everything I see and everyone I interact with on a daily basis..  I have difficulty concentrating, I lose my appetite and have trouble falling asleep, mixed in with the dark moods are bouts of anxiety that arise seemingly out of nowhere.  The constant battle of highs and lows is like riding the world’s most unpleasant roller coaster.  Sometimes looking at pictures of friend’s babies on facebook, or seeing a loving couple walking down the street will reduce me to tears.  The subway tends to bring on bouts of sadness.  I don’t know if it is something about the stillness, the anticipation of getting home, or that I have to sit and deal with my brain but I tend to fall down the rabbit hole on long late-night trips.  Or maybe it is that while sitting there I have a tendency to notice everyone around me, and little things remind me of what I lost.  I honestly don’t know, but those long late night commutes will cause all sorts of negative thoughts to swirl in my head.

But I fight back with every tool in my arsenal.  I write, I do all the cognitive behavior therapy techniques I know to dissipate the dark clouds that want to engulf me.  I silence the what if, what if, what if narratives that play out like a bad repeated record.

What if I was still married?

What if I was working more?

What if that last date had worked out?

What if I wasn’t so damn broke?

I know these things aren’t rational and I there is no point in dwelling on anything that is hypothetical but the thoughts linger nonetheless.  I know I am not alone and that there are millions of others out there who fight with this monster.  For some of us we have been at war with it our whole lives, maybe its is partly genetic, or from whatever traumas we have endured but we still have to fight a mental illness on top of our every day obstacles.

I write this piece with no answers, no quips or nifty conclusions at the end.  I write this for release as it tends to inexplicably help me when I do it.  Maybe one day the medical community will develop medication that actually works without so many side-effects.  One day doctors will find the biological mechanism that causes depression, and the stigma towards patients who suffer from it will disappear.

I have to remind myself how far I have come, and how much better I will be in the future.  To my fellow suffers of this disease I say…hang in there.  Whatever is troubling you shall pass, and you will survive it.    Avoid the temptation to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol and try to not fall into the trap of  self-destructive behavior.  We are all loved and cherished by many, never forget that.  We will get better…we are just battling a disease that doesn’t have an easy way out.

On Birth Control: A Plea to Republican Women

Français : Différents types de pilule contrace...

Français : Différents types de pilule contraceptive English: Different kinds of birth control pills. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

According to a recently widely publicized study, the vast majority of women use some type of artificial birth control.  For most women that birth control is hormonally based birth control.  Yet despite its wide-spread use Republican governors and representatives have been pushing legislation across this country that would make the most commonly used forms of birth control illegal or more difficult to obtain.

This is my plea to Republican women.  We may not agree on fiscal policy or the size of government.  We may not agree on states rights versus the role of the federal government.  We may not agree on unions or labor rights in this country.  We may not agree on the role of religious organizations in government. We may not have the same thoughts on foreign policy. We may not agree on gun control or funding for education.  We may not have the same views on the environment or sustainable energy.  We may not agree on how health care should be paid for and who should get it.  We may not agree on entitlement programs or how we should pay down the national deficit and debt.  We may have different feelings about corporate person-hood or regulation of the banking industry.  We may not agree on the our current tax system.  We may not share the same opinions on access to or the legality of abortion.

But nearly all of use birth control.  And we like using birth control because we think it is important to decide how many children we want to have, if any at all.  We like planning our families and spacing out our pregnancies.  We like being able to have a healthy sexual relationship with our spouses or partners and not risk getting pregnant every time we have sex.  We like being able to use birth control for therapeutic reasons such as heavy periods, Endometriosis or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.   We like to concentrate our families resources on the children we do have rather than spreading them out over so many.   We aren’t all religious extremists and most of us see nothing morally wrong with using birth control.  We don’t all look to someone like Michelle Duggar with her nineteen kids and a reality show and think she is living the dream.

So I implore you if you are a Republican woman and you want to keep birth control available for all women of child-bearing age including yourself, that you let your Republican representatives, senators and governors know you aren’t going to stand for this.  Women in the democratic party are also fighting back, but those politicians know we wouldn’t vote for them anyway.  As a republican you have more pull on this issue as those republican representatives really do need your vote.  We don’t have to agree on every issue, but we are all women and we are indeed all in this fight together.  No one can tell half of the adult population in a free society that they are going to limit our choices and get away with it.   The political system in a democracy does not exist without citizens standing up and screaming for what they believe in.  And we will not always agree, on a lot of topics, but we are all women.  And our right to access and use birth control is something so near and dear to our daily lives that no political party or political agenda should threaten.

Life After Divorce: Just Keep it Simple?

I Want a Divorce

I Want a Divorce (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am adding the following disclaimer to all of my dating related blog posts.  I change details, and create composite characters when I write about dating archetypes such as “Mr. Houdini, Mr. Angry, etc.  I would hate it if someone wrote about a high energy blonde comedian negatively in a blog, so because of that I never include a person’s occupation or anything about their physical description.  I also change enough details that I doubt anyone I am referring to would even recognize themselves if they read one of my articles.   I have split one person into three, or taken several people and put them all into one example.  So simply put, I am very ethical on this blog.

Online dating profiles are a window into a person‘s soul.  Most profiles don’t really tell you that much about a person, but the usually tell you enough to know when to send an email and when to keep moving.  One such profile popped up as a match on my OKCupid.com profile.  The man was generally attractive, age appropriate and seemed obsessed with cycling.  But he also had one overwhelming theme that was repeated throughout and that was

“When it comes to life, I believe in keeping it simple”

He said this around four times, including in the

“You should message me if….you believe in keeping it simple when living life”.

I hate to say it, but that was the final straw for me and I decided not to message him.  Sure we can all keep things simple in that we try to hang out with people who love and support us and avoid self-destructive behavior but if my divorce has taught me anything it is life is hardly simple.  His obsession with this premise just made me think he might be shallow or dim witted, and since I have sat through some fairly painful dates with both shallow and dim witted men I decided against contacting him.

Human relationships are nuanced and full of many shades of gray.  Life is in fact quite complicated, not simple at all.  My relationship with my ex-husband is complex to say the least.  Up until June 21, 2009 I considered him my best friend, my closest confidant, and then in an instant found myself staring at a man I hardly knew.  A bond and trust like that can’t be immediately severed, instead it took months and years for it to morph and change from overwhelming feelings of anger and resentment to a now familiar attachment that is difficult to describe.  What has been actually more troubling are the other relationships I lost when my marriage fell apart.  People I thought were as close as family just drifted away without so much as any real condolences or understanding.  In fact from some of them criticized me for being too hard on my ex.  If they only knew the layers of sacrifice and burden I had to endure for much of my marriage, the deception and betrayal they would never dare say something so profoundly uninformed to me.

As I witnessed many of my friends also go through difficult and painful divorces I experienced the extremely complicated nature of human relationships.  Some of my friends sabotaged their marriages with blatant infidelity or with downright abandonment towards their spouses.  Do I cut those friends off because of the way they treated their marriages?  Or do I understand the relationship was between those two people, and only they understand the torment and struggle they were going through.  Other relationships simply fell apart due to the every day wear and tear we put each other through, and any couple who has been together more than a decade or more knows, sometimes two people simply do grow apart.  And of course I had friends who were subject to cruelty and betrayal on extreme levels from their spouses.  Some of the stories still cause me to tear up when I think about them.  Married for twenty years only to be thrown away for a newer model and to find out the betrayal stretched on for the entire duration of the marriage?  Again anyone in a long-term committed relationship knows how much two people can go through in that time span especially when they have children together.  And then what of the children?  Damaged by the failure of a marriage and scarred up from the feeling of abandonment by one or both of their parents.  Not to say that the children won’t heal and might be better off in a divorced situation rather than a toxic household, but divorce is traumatic for all parties involved.  Or how about instances when one spouse is horribly treated by another then has to manage a healthy co-parenting relationship after the fact for years.  Life is not always so simple, and human relationships are hardly simple.  In fact they are quite complicated, and anyone who has survived a difficult divorce knows this truth all too well.

Life After Divorce: Fighting off the Dread.

One Is a Lonely Number

One Is a Lonely Number (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other day someone I had met once, and really didn’t know at all said the following to me.

“I think there are more divorces in your future, you are going to die alone”

Or something to that effect, I am not really sure exactly what he wrote.  Glad he thinks I am getting married again, personally I can’t see that happening but you never know.  Now again, the person who said this didn’t know me at all.  I had barely interacted with him in any capacity online or in person.  He got upset because he thought it was perfectly acceptable to randomly pick a fight with me on my Facebook wall. It started with a positive comment on my part and ended with him calling me a “c*nt” making that remark and claiming I insulted him, which I never once did.  I simply stated that I didn’t really know him well, had never posted on his wall, and then asked if he even lived in NYC anymore.  I assumed he lived in LA, apparently he lived in NJ and took this as some sort of huge dig.  I thought if he lived in LA that it was weird that he was even bothering as that is just half way across the universe.  That is all I meant by my comment.  But I am just assuming it was the NJ reference as I never called him a name, and I never once insulted him.  I don’t know how I would insult someone I barely knew other than calling him angry and I didn’t even do that, I simply said I found it annoying when people I barely know post inflammatory things on my wall…and it is annoying.  But if he thought that comment would hurt me, he was way off.  As I don’t need random angry white males who know nothing about me making comments like about me when I have my own brain to do it for me.

You will always be alone, you will always be alone, you will always be alone

Sometimes I feel like everyone I have gone out on bad awkward uncomfortable dates with since my divorce is now having absolutely amazing romances.  Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t.  But the feeling of overwhelming dread is a constant fight I battle nearly every night.  In my darker moods, I will walk around the city and play back all snippets of every horrible date I have had in my mind.  Some weren’t so bad but there were still non-productive in that there was no connection and we both felt it.   So the dread creeps in there, usually at night, when I am trying to shut down my engines and finally give my brain a rest, I find it just goes into hyper-drive.

You will always be alone, you will always be alone, you will always be alone.

I know it isn’t rational, and I know it isn’t true but it bounces around regardless in my skull every night as I am trying to calm down.  I just don’t see much of an end.  Since I have started working on my memoir it has only gotten worse.  At least I have the work to distract me but now I am even more isolated than ever.  And I know so many others like myself, both men and women past their peak dating years and single.  I am not going to radically change the person that I am to the core of my being and suddenly start running around pursuing a polyamorous or promiscuous lifestyle.  I am a one-man woman who just feels stuck.  I could go out with someone 10-15  years younger than me, as I get a lot of offers but I find I rarely relate to men that much younger than me.

You will always be alone, you will always be alone, you will always be alone

I know it’s not rational thinking and I know I can control it.   And I try to use my Cognitive Behavior Techniques to try to shut it down.  All or nothing thinking, irrational thinking, of course that is not true, no one will end up always alone.  But then I think about a comment the total jerk made to me and it rings true, not just for me, but for every human on this planet.  As most people don’t actually die with their spouse or significant other.  Unless they are both killed in some type of accident, or die of the same disease at roughly the same time…most of us…do in fact…die alone.  We might spend years even decades by ourselves after a spouse has passed.  Or even if our spouses are alive when we go, most of us don’t always have those hallmark moments with loved ones surrounding us when we leave this earth.  Death comes in all sorts of ways, and many of them are hardly warm and fuzzy.  We might even have to face the horrors of watching our children or nieces and nephews die before us.  That is life, sometimes it is just that brutal.

You will always be alone, you will always be alone, you will always be alone.

So I guess I really shouldn’t dread that voice in my head or the occasional stab from some random stranger.  I put my vulnerability out there in the form of this blog.  I am the proverbial dog who has decided to bare its belly for the world.  So take your stabs, my skin is Teflon at this point.  At least I tried a long-term relationship and it failed.  But at least I am not drinking myself into oblivion every night or thinking I can fulfill myself from an audience because that is dragon chasing its tail if there ever was one.  Or thinking that a better job, more money, more exposure will somehow cure the insecurity inside of me, when it won’t.  Even if that dreadful thought becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and I hope it doesn’t, it really isn’t so horrible as most of us deal with loss, loneliness and grief.  It is just a part of life, and at least I will admit that I am flawed and damaged without shame.  I have lost, will probably lose again and it doesn’t make me a horrible person, it only makes me human.

Unconditional Love – Why it is such a bad idea

unconditional.

Image via Wikipedia

I have a feeling this post might upset some people.  But I have thought that before and it hasn’t stopped me yet.  As Valentine’s Day approaches I think of the cliché line that is often uttered in Victorian novels, romantic comedies and tales of epic romances.

I will always love you, unconditionally

I find this statement not just unrealistic but downright dangerous.  The only vessels on this earth that should receive unconditional love are children and pets.  For one adult to pledge to unconditionally love another adult is a little fantastical.  As we all have conditions on lovers and their behavior.  Many a lifetime has been destroyed trying to live up to this myth that true love will conquer all, or that somehow no matter what the obstacles love will live forever.  I would agree that if the obstacles and stresses are external that this type of love should be striven for in every intimate relationship.  For instance, if one is stricken with a horrible disease it is noble and inspirational if their partner stays by their side through thick and thin.  That kind of unconditional love is a beautiful thing that we should all hope and strive for in this life.

But what if one partner begins to abuse, damage or hurt the other partner?    What if they have sexual relationships outside the relationship without the other partners consent?  What if one repeatedly puts their own needs before their partners?  What if one weaves a tapestry of lies and deception living a secret life without their partner’s knowledge?  Is it right to love them unconditionally despite this extremely destructive and hurtful behavior?  Abusive behavior should not be brushed aside due to some vow of “unconditional” love.  We should never become a doormat to an idea or notion that is unattainable.  I stayed in my marriage years longer than I should have because I thought that if I loved my husband enough, that it would save the marriage.  But my marriag,e constructed of lies more than anything else, was not salvageable.  I had no hope in keeping it together no matter what I did.

I know of some relationships that take great pride in the length that they have survived as a couple, yet some of these relationships are no more than two co-dependent toxic people who cannot live without each other.  I think of the example of the play Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolf  in which Martha and George, have been together for over two decades in a relationship of constant bickering, fighting and mutual destruction.   The main forces keeping them together being fear, co-dependence and alcoholism.  Is that “unconditional” love?  We all know couples in our real lives that exist this way and they are nothing to envy.

I also used to find it romantic when a spouse would lose another due to death and then never remarry.  After my divorce I find that notion horribly depressing and sad.  Sad that the surviving spouse was never able to make that same kind of connection with another human being.   They should still love and honor their deceased partner, but with enough time to grieve should try to find someone new to let into their life.  As most partner’s would not want their surviving spouse to remain lonely forever.

Unconditional love  is ultimately self-destructive unless it is unconditional love for ourselves.  I am not saying that we should love ourselves in such a way that we don’t see our short-comings, poor choices or mistakes.  We should never see ourselves as anything but the flawed human beings that we are, but if anything we should have so much love for ourselves that we don’t allow another to treat us in such destructive ways.   And to hell to the silly novels, lame romantic comedies and articles in Cosmopolitan that tell us otherwise.  A healthy adult relationship should have boundaries and conditions.  To love someone who is abusive to you is not love, and it is nothing noble it is a form of self-loathing if nothing else.

When you finally stop enabling and tell your friend to sober up.

A Kranz (wreath) of Kölsch beer.

Image via Wikipedia

I wrote this months ago about a former friend.  I decided to not publish it because I worried that this former friend might see this and freak out.  At this point I doubt she reads my blog or cares what I have to say.  I don’t drink alcohol often, usually only a few times a year on special occasions.  I don’t drink because my extended family has not had the best history with addiction or alcohol use.  I have seen far too many dark examples of what happens when people let substances take over their lives, so I chose to not make substances a part of my life.  It is not easy, as most adult social situations center around alcohol and it is assumed by some that anyone who doesn’t partake is unusual, uptight  or anti-social.   With the recent passing of Whitney Houston (probably drug related) it made me want to publish this.  The rich and famous have handlers who will enable them all they way to the grave.  When an addict has so much money and people hired to please their every whim, it takes an extremely long time before they reach their rock bottom and get help.   It is why so many celebrities die from the disease, no one is there to stop them before they fall.

I don’t know who will read this but my depression entry gets tons of traffic so maybe an alcoholic seeking recovery or someone dealing with an alcoholic will stumble on this and it will help.  To protect this person’s identity I won’t reveal her name but for privacy purposes of this blog I refer to this friend as simply D.

I met D at a horrible time in my life, dealing with a rough divorce and an extremely painful depression  that followed it.  Throughout my recovery our friendship grew and I thought of D as one of my closest friends.  We started to work together and that is when the problems started.   On more than one occasion something I did seemed to upset D and she would completely react towards me in an irrational way.  Everything became blown out of proportion and several angry phone calls or emails would follow, but then D would eventually apologize or at least partly apologize.  It was exhausting.   D also admitted to me that she had a drinking problem, or that she thought she had a drinking problem.  She confided to me that she would drink alone by herself until the point of being intoxicated nearly every night.  She also thought her spouse also was an alcoholic.   She strung me and another sober friend along for weeks with promises of getting help and going to Alcoholics Anonymous. She never went to a meeting, she never sought help of any kind other than to call both of us repeatedly.

Then she finally decided to quit drinking for thirty days.  She did this without therapy, going to an AA meeting or rehab.   About a week shy of her goal she called me to tell me she was about to relapse.  I was actually on the phone with her as she walked into a bar and started drinking again.  I didn’t know what to tell her, as I am not an addict and I had no idea what to say to her that might stop her from drinking.  But it was heartbreaking on my end.  It was late at night and she was several miles from me, I don’t know if she expected me to jump in a cab and try to physically stop her, but I couldn’t afford to blow money on a cab, especially since I didn’t think it would do any good.

After her relapse she never again brought up her drinking problem.  Our relationship definitely changed after that as I felt I didn’t know how to bring up that topic, because I definitely thought she still had a problem.  Months later she lashed out at me while she was visibly intoxicated.   After much back and forth between the two of us I finally brought up that her drinking might have something to do with these erratic mood swings and her self-destructive behavior.   She had told me on multiple occasions that she had problems with feelings of paranoia especially when drunk.  So I didn’t think much of bringing up both to her because I had hit my breaking point.  Her reaction of course was to deny everything and then to attack me for every flaw she could find.  Somehow after telling me for months that she_thought_she had a drinking problem, then showing up drunk and becoming emotional I wasn’t supposed to even dare bring up the obvious.   I was supposed to suddenly develop amnesia about all the times previous she had gone on in detail about her problems with booze.

I am far from perfect, I have horrible demons in my past and bad habits and I make mistakes all the time when dealing with interpersonal communication.  I know this, but I don’t feel bad telling an alcoholic that they are an alcoholic and they need help.  I don’t regret losing a friend over this.  Because otherwise I would have slowly drifted away from her.  Eventually eroding my ties to her and she would never know why.   I would be yet another friend who cut her off without confronting her about her very real and serious problem.  She attacked me for being self-involved, yet I was the one who picked up the phone time after time with her breaking down on the other end about her addiction.

To any addict the whole world seems self-involved, because anyone who knows an addict knows that they view themselves as the center of the universe.  No one understands their pain except for them, no one is as tortured, as despondent, as complicated and as misunderstood.  When in reality the addict is like every other addict, sick, scared and in need of help.  And if she sought professional help she would find out that simple truth, that addicts are more alike than they are different and that they are all battling a difficult disease.   If left untreated they will take down everyone within their path until they get that help.   I chose to take a step back and get out of her way.  I am not going to get pulled down into her personal hell because she feels like taking spectators with her.  She can only cry out for help so many times and then slap me in the face for trying before I just give up.

If you have an addict in your life who is repeatedly begging for help but not changing their behavior.  Make the difficult choice and stop enabling them otherwise you will only get blamed for their mistakes and tragedies the alcohol has caused.  No one is perfect and everyone deals with their own hang-ups and flawed ways of dealing and coping.  But addiction is a real disease and sometimes the best thing you can do for a friend in crisis is to confront them with their problem.  I probably permanently destroyed my friendship with D, but I would have felt worse placating her and pretending to not see what was right in front of my face.   If had just smoothed things over and ignored her real crisis I wouldn’t have been much of a friend to her anyway.  I am fairly certain that she is still drinking to the point of intoxication nightly and that she will eventually destroy herself if she doesn’t get help.   My heart is still a little broken from the experience but I don’t regret my attempt at an intervention.

 

Life After Divorce: The Emotional Prism

English: Human Experiences, depression/loss of...

One of my most popular blog posts is about the illness of depression. A well-meaning friend just posted something on Facebook basically with the following sentiment, I will paraphrase for length

Don’t be negative or sad, we have all had tough times.  And I have had a lot of tragedy in my life but I refuse to go down that negative path. I will keep it positive.

A nice straight forward message really but it just struck me as overly simplistic and naive.  I know someone else who commonly expounds a familiar message yet is usually sedated with alcohol or marijuana for most of his waking hours.  So I don’t know how well the philosophy is working out for him if he is always drunk or stoned in order to “keep it positive” especially since both of his drugs of choice have a sedative effect.  What really stuck in my craw though in the statement was the assumption that somehow since he had also had tragedy, his pain and life experience was somehow the equivalent of another person’s experience and that his “power of positive thinking” was keeping him from going down a spiral.  For the most part I would agree with him completely, except in the example of the mental illness of depression.

As a person who struggled with a massive reactive depression (due to my divorce) a sentiment like that just rings hallow. I wish it were that easy, and all it would take was to “keep it positive” and that every person out there could be helped with nothing more than a pep talk.  But human beings are like snowflakes in that no two of us are alike. We might be similar in that we all desire food, comfort, companionship and safety and we would all react similarly to basic stimulus or dangers. But even in my immediate family each of my siblings, with similar DNA, raised in the same home by the same parents do not respond to crisis or stress in the same way. We see the world through the prism that our life experience has created for us.

For instance if you had two identical twins, one who grows up as an abused child in a poverty-stricken family and another brought up as a privileged child with a healthy and supportive family.  Neither experience guarantees that one person will necessarily be more positive or negative than the other, but since their formative years were so vastly different they will evolve into two very different adults.  We are all made up of a patchwork of pain, scars, joys and accomplishments with different traumas and experiences so of course issuing a blanket statement such as

I have had it rough too, so I can relate to your pain…

Well maybe, but you aren’t me and I am not you so you don’t really know what I am going through.  We can try to understand each other but no one really can see inside another person’s head.   And that is without even mentioning the mental illness of depression.  The words depression and depressed are thrown around so often in our culture, that the real disease of depression is mitigated to every day blues.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Getting some bad news and mulling over it for a few days is not depression.  Clinical depression is a biological disorder that impedes every bodily function from eating and sleeping to getting basic every day tasks accomplished.  It is why people are sometimes hospitalized for it, and why some even receive successful Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for depression. ECT is actually quite effective for patients with extreme cases of depression.  So if positive thinking could over come it, why does it take electrical currents inducing a seizure to help cure the patient?   Depression is a type of brain sickness that is not cured by simply snapping out of it or thinking positively.   It is also why so many people commit suicide while struggling with the disease, as it completely takes over them and they can’t see logically, they can’t see hope.

As the brilliant Dr. Sapolsky says in his lecture on Depression

Depression is the inability to feel pleasure

And that is pleasure in anything, food, comfort, a pet, music, any activity that used to be enjoyable ceases to bring joy.  Now that I am two years out of my personal hell I know exactly what he is talking about.  I still struggle with anxiety and mood swings but I am able to feel real joy now in any number of things.  I didn’t know how bad off I was until I was completely healed from it.

We can have empathy for each others struggles and we can relate to another’s pain but the only person who really understand their suffering is the person going through it.   I am not one to argue that no one has any control over their moods and emotions, or that clinical depression is a hopeless malady.  And I would agree that run of the mill pessimism and negative thinking is counter productive to leading a happy life.  However it is foolish to assume someone struggling from a major depression simply has a case of the blues or is just feeling sorry for themselves.  The fine line between the two does exist, and there are many that wallow in their own misery committing acts of self-destructive behavior rather than get help.  But after I went through a major depressive episode I will never be so blithe as to accept that a person is choosing their illness or emotionally weak as a result.

And here again is the lecture that I believed put me on the path to recovery.  For the first time I realized what was happening to my brain was medical and not something I could just snap out of.  Just as it would be insensitive to go to a person with schizophrenia and tell them to “Stop hearing those voices” it is just as cruel to tell a depressed person to simply “Get Happy“.