Monthly Archives: November 2013

Excuses

A friend of mine was recently informed that he was using his mental illness as an excuse. As well as making my blood boil, it made me think.

First, mental illness is not an excuse. If anything, it is a reason. When a cancer patient say ‘no, I can’t go out today, I’m not feeling well’, the response is some variation of ‘I’m sorry, I hope you feel better soon, maybe some other time’. It is not ever ‘stop using your cancer as an excuse!’, except in exceptionally stupid cases. When a diabetic says ‘no, I can’t come for coffee, my blood sugars are causing problems and I need to sort them out before I do anything else’, that’s not an excuse, it’s a reason.

Of course, mental health, not understanding, stigma, harden up. I’m sure there needs to be a word to cover the way people see mental illness, all the shitty things they say and do in one little index word.

It gets tiring railing against this stuff. No-one listens. No-one wants to understand. Just take a concrete pill and harden up. Get over yourself, stop being so selfish, get your shit together. Stop making excuses.

If mental illness was an excuse and no more, I would have got up and stopped making excuses ten years ago. If it was just an excuse then I would throw it away and live the life of a normal human being. It’s not an excuse. At all. It’s not an excuse for the way we act, but it is a reason for it.

It makes me so angry when people come up with these cruel little phrases and throw them at their friends. Not caring about your friends enough to find out even the basics of their illness is not friendly. It’s saying that you don’t value your friendship enough to make an effort.

Debating ‘Safety’

This past weekend, Victoria University in Wellington held some fancy debating competition, with kids from around NZ and Australia. One of their moot topics was somewhat insensitive, to put it mildly. They debated the topic that “This House, as a parent, would tell their daughter to drink responsibly to avoid sexual assault”. It’s raised a bit of a fuss, and with good reason.

There are reports of very upset young women and insensitive mockery by young men. There have also been reports by officials and staff of the competition that no tears or complaints occurred. So the water is muddy, but that doesn’t have much bearing on the topic, which is problematic in itself, no matter what the reactions to it were.

One in five women have been sexually assaulted, and many of them have been told it’s their fault because they had been drinking. The debaters were Uni students, at the age where alcohol consumption and not-rape are at a peak. So in this group, there is a good chance that there will be sexual assault victims, or friends of sexual assault victims. This topic always had the potential to trigger some of the young people involved. It has the potential to trigger women of any age or social group, because sexual assault is so damn prevalent.

Someone pointed out that this is a private debate, and that this would never be sent out as a public debating topic. It was just an intellectual exercise. Challenging topics are important to debaters, because it teaches them to argue things that are difficult to them, and they learn how to make an argument without becoming offensive.

This may be true, and it is supposed to be no more than an exercise, but this crosses a line. It’s going to hurt some of the people involved far more than, say, debating female ordination with Catholic participants. That sort of thing isn’t tied to such a painful, personal, deep-seated reaction. This is more like going to Syria and asking their University debating team to debate ‘that chemical weapons should be used on a civilian population’. It’s raw, it’s painful, and it is cruel.

Maybe it is important to debate some of these things. Making something like this taboo just allows misogynists to stay set in their ways, passing on the culture of victim-blaming. There needs to be debate in the public forum about what is and is not victim-blaming, and what is and is not acceptable to expect of young women. The way this was proposed, however, was as a part of a competition that each team were in to win. Stepping out of it would mean losing the debate, and in a competitive arena, backing out is near-unthinkable. In public, for the most part people can decide whether to be part of the debate or not.

The officials overstepped the line of acceptable debate in the forum they created, and potentially re-victimised young women. The official response of ‘we thought about this really hard and decided that it would be ok’, followed by ‘well, we didn’t see anyone upset about it’ is completely inadequate. Just as you wouldn’t ask Holocaust survivors to debate whether the gas oven was the best instrument of mass murder, you shouldn’t ask a population who have been widely traumatised to argue the ifs and whats of what they’ve gone through.

Another Today

A day in which I took my daughter to the hospital (and discovered that she’ rather more deaf than I realised), studied for more than six hours, sewed for an hour or two, and feel utterly underwhelmed by my lack of achievement. There’s just so much more to do, and I’m not getting anywhere at all.

Of course that’s not true, I know I did a lot today, but my mind just refuses to accept it. It doesn’t matter what I do, what I achieve, it always feels like not a lot of useful activity. It’s wearying.

I know that it must be part of being unwell (I’m pretty sure it’s not normal to be continually criticised by your internal monologue) and I have been told that maybe a short course of CBT might help. I don’t know much about CBT, but my last experience of it left me unenthused. I had to colour in smiley-face diagrams to show my mood every day. It never happened because I wasn’t impressed with being infantilised. I hope the next round will be better.

It gets very wearing dealing with this all the time. I lose myself in work, or cooking, or reading, or TV, for hours to get away from my hateful inner self. I have to lose myself, because if I hung out inside my own head I would be a mess. Taking criticism from others isn’t easy. Taking it from yourself, constantly, is rather a bit worse.

I wish I understood why my mind was so cruel, and why it never let up. It feels like there are no answers, only treatments that may or may not work. I like to know the why of things, but I don’t think anyone really knows why people’s minds turn on themselves. It’s frustrating, both living it and not understanding it.

Today

. . . is a day on which I should blog. Instead I am going to marvel at the bbq I built (with assistance from my nine-year-old), nurse the damages said bbq-making created, and watch the Dr Who 50th Anniversary Special. Blogging will resume tomorrow.

Building the Barbeque

It’s getting on towards summer here, and it seemed appropriate to purchase ourselves a barbeque so we can take advantage of the weather. So, we went out and diligently researched our purchase, and selected a nice little 4-burner model.

I hadn’t even considered the idea that it was so cheap because we had to build the damn thing ourselves. But, never mind, how hard can it be? (harder than I expected) My daughter and I turned it into a project. We had a pretty good time. We’re half-way through, with a side-burner and the internal workings to put together tomorrow.

We worked well together as a team. And it turned out that we needed to work as a team, because my tremor is bad enough that I can’t start a screw. She would place them and hand-tighten them, and I would come along with the screwdriver and tighten them up properly. I was also in charge of reading the directions and heavy lifting.

It was a good partnership, and we did pretty well. I’m not sure that she’ll be keen to help tomorrow, but it looks like I can handle what’s left on my own.

It was a good time, a positive experience. What I take away from it is not happy though. All it reminds me of is my disability, my inability to use my hands properly due to the tremor. My signature has suffered – I had to do it for my new driver’s license and it took me a couple of goes to get it right, and then signing the temporary license was a bit of a disaster.

I hate that what I take out of a good night with my daughter is a reminder of my own problems. It’s like I can’t just enjoy good things any more.

Settling Down

Less than a couple of weeks ago, the Roastbusters revelations rocked the news and the blogosphere. It was huge, it was horrific, and it got the idea of rape culture into the mainstream media.  It was the start of some really important conversations about consent, about what rape is, about how we treat rape survivors. It was A Big Deal.

But less than a couple of weeks later, it’s settled down. The important open conversations about rape, victims, and law enforcement processes have died down in the public eye, and we just don’t know what has happened behind the closed doors of police policy-makers and national law-makers. It’s a dead topic out here though.

The great dissemination of information about consent and rape culture that was happening all around and the push of feminism into the mainstream has also died away. Average Joe has forgotten about it – it’s yesterday’s news.

This is what happens when something dramatic like this explodes all over the news. It has a distinct shelf life, and that shelf life is not long at all. When time is up, it fades away, and fades from memory. It’s why disaster relief is advertised in the media long after the first shock is over – they still need help, but the news window is firmly closed.

It was great to get the ideas of consent and rape culture out to the public. Some of it will stick with some of them, and it will change a few lives. But next time something like this comes out, we will still get people like John Tamihere and Willie Jackson making misogynist, hurtful remarks about people who have already suffered so much. There are still going to be people who will say things like ‘she was asking for it’. The media rush about a single event like this is just never going to touch that kind of people.

It there and answer to this, a way to keep the message alive and let it sink in? I think it starts with kids. Teaching in school sex ed needs to cover ideas about consent, the need to detail exactly what rape is and who ‘deserves’ it (psst, it’s no-one). They need to be upfront and frank about those things the way they are about the biological processes.

I don’t think that will happen any time soon. There are too many conservative parents and lobby groups who already hate sex ed in it’s current form, and change will take a while. I hope that I see it, maybe even as soon as when my girls hit high school.

It All Feels Like Excuses

Being mentally unwell is so different to being physically unwell, at least for me. A broken arm follows a well-understood trajectory of injury and healing, and most people will recognise your disability. It’s not like that with mental illness.

No-one can see it, and therefore it’s not really real to people. You can’t see an anxiety disorder, you can’t point to depression. It’s easy enough to say ‘come on, get over it’.

When I’m really unwell, I’m practically non-functional. Leaving the house is only going to happen for medical appointments. And I accept that at the time. Later, it’s different. Later, I’m probably harder on myself than the rest of the world is. I feel like maybe I was just faking it, some sort of hysteria. I’m getting up and going out now, why couldn’t I before. I just wasn’t trying enough.

The smaller disabilities of recovery bother me. Getting tired after going out? That’s just because I’ve been so lazy over the past few months. I need to get over it. Breaking down in tears when plans change with little notice is just being useless. No reason for the tears except maybe self-indulgence. Not going places that cause anxiety? That’s just laziness.

This is how my day is framed – with the notion that I was never that sick, and that I’m not sick now, just not trying hard enough. I can accept it when I’m paralysed by illness. Not when I’m only a bit depressed, with a healthy side of anxiety.