x140 ([v][e][g]et[a]ria[n] part two: the confusioning)

By Jennifer from Sweet On Veg, used with Creative Commons License

By Jennifer from Sweet On Veg, used with Creative Commons License

I’m going to be trying out a new format on the blog. At the beginning and end of the month I’ll be going over personal goals and whether or not they have been met, as well as setting aside a slice of room for blog posts about personal issues. Granted, mental health concerns generally tend to be pretty personal issues, but by that I mean focusing on things I’ve blogged about in the past that don’t generally fit into a mental health category, such as religion or veganism. Also I’m going to try to include a post about homemaking about once a month (which will most likely include intersections between homemaking and doing so while coping with mental health concerns) which leaves about one post a month for mental health and trauma topics. Depending on how I’m able to keep up with the new content, I may bump posts up from once a week to twice a week to make sure I’m featuring mental health and trauma topics with the frequency to which readers have become accustomed.

Since we’re at the end of the month, I’ll kick off the new blogging schedule with a post of a personal nature. Enjoy!

It’s been almost a year since I last posted about my transition from vegan to vegetarian. I suppose, technically, I am a vegetarian – I do eat a limited amount of dairy and eggs – but the label sounds foreign; strange. It feels like I’m cheating. In a lot of ways, it mirrors my struggle with defining my sexuality. To a lot of folx, it’s a very important label and there is often a lot of conflict within the respective communities. It’s a bit like vegans are gold-star lesbians (lesbians who have only had relationships with other women and never with men) and vegetarians are bisexual women or late-in-life lesbians. To be a vegan or a gold-star lesbian is a lofty goal that is to be aspired to – it’s the ultimate, the right way to go about doing things. It defines you in a way that you aren’t prepared for. With the label comes trappings, comes a culture. It reminds me of how surprised I was when I found out the one vegan I knew in college was also a smoker – many vegans are concerned with health and wouldn’t go near a cigarette. The two seemed incompatible to me. And while you can certainly be a vegan who smokes, it goes against that culture I was talking about – the one that comes with assumptions people can make about you based on that one word you use to describe yourself.

Dealing with other people’s reactions to my transition has been difficult. Generally not because of anything they have said or done, but mostly because of my concerns with or perceptions of their reactions. My mother phrased it as “she eats vegan, but she’s not a vegan,” which I really like. Since my fiancee is lactose intolerant, there is a limited amount of dairy in the house, and when I can eat vegan, I make an effort to. However, I don’t really feel like a vegetarian – I simply feel like a vegan who cheats with disturbing frequency. Recently I was at a family gathering eating some macaroni and cheese when someone commented they were “proud of me”. I had no idea what they meant by that and I wished more than anything that I could eat what I wanted without my food choices being policed. I’ll admit that part of my desire to remain a vegan was to avoid that kind of judgment. I’ve stated in previous blog posts that it’s less about the difficulty of being a vegan (which I honestly didn’t find to be all that difficult) as it is trying to find the best way to support animal advocacy. Certainly there are environmental and health benefits to a vegan diet, which is a valid reason to eat mostly vegan, but I’m just not convinced the benefits to animals are there. But if people don’t know that – if I’m not in active conversation explaining my food politics (which, at a family reunion, I’m probably not) – it may look like I’ve simply given up. And despite my most recent guest post for Offbeat Home and Life (written mostly to assuage my own guilt), I don’t like the idea of others being able to say “I told you so”.

I remember talking to someone who had been vegan for over thirty years and being in awe of her commitment to the lifestyle. I’ve known vegans and vegetarians who have gone back to omnivorous diets, and it occurred to me that the difference between her and my relatives who no longer stick to an exclusively plant-based diet is that she had a passion for animal welfare and they did not. My relatives went vegan for health reasons or as an adolescent experiment, and this woman went vegan because she cared about living creatures. And while I maintain that being vegan is not as difficult as some may make it out to be (particularly if you are an adventurous cook or live in a city or near a Whole Foods), I will say that there are certain convenience items that are easier to indulge in when you are not motivated by a higher cause.

Being vegan was an important part of my life for a good four or five years. It’s a difficult thing to move on from. I still don’t know if I want to go back to being vegan or, as previously mentioned, experiment with a VB6 style diet – or even if I want to embrace eggs and dairy and go back to being an unabashed vegetarian. I know that my biggest hurdle is going to be to not worry about what other people think of my decision. It’s less about their judgments of me (although I’ll be honest, that is a bit of an issue) and more about being an ambassador for animal rights. I don’t want people who are considering transitioning to a vegan diet to think they shouldn’t because they saw me “give up” on it. There are certainly a lot of options for me to consider, and it’s an ongoing process that may take even up to another year (or more) for me to comfortably figure out. But what I do know? I love animals, and I love vegan food. And I’ll find a way to combine the two in a manner that I feel works best for me.

x139 (vulnerability)

By David Dávila Vilanova, used with Creative Commons License

By David Dávila Vilanova, used with Creative Commons License

Vulnerability. It’s a powerful state to be in. Opening yourself up to judgment because you have put yourself out there – your whole self – can be terrifying. Sometimes you wonder if it’s worthwhile to do so or if you even have the strength. Sometimes you end up getting hurt, but sometimes it ends up being the best decision you could have made. Vulnerability can open doors to understanding and camaraderie. But getting there? Getting there can be hard. It takes courage. But it can be done.

On Easter Sunday my pastor talked about vulnerability within the walls of the church. She told the story of an older widow who stopped attending services after her husband’s funeral because being in church brought her to tears at the memory. Although I haven’t been in that exact situation, I can empathize to a point. While the pastor mentioned that, if you can’t cry in a church, where can you cry?, I know that opening yourself up in such a personal way is difficult. I often try to hide my tears when I’m around others because it’s too difficult and embarrassing to explain what’s going on. I recall working at a Wal-Mart while in college and having someone approach me to ask if I was okay. I clearly wasn’t – my face was swollen and tear-stained – but I maintained that I was fine. “I know you’re not okay,” said the co-worker, “so if you need anything, let me know.” In some ways, it would be easier to attribute tears to something more people find relatable or something that has less of a stigma attached to it. At the same time, dispelling that stigma generally requires one to admit to something people usually don’t like to discuss. The more open one is, the more options there are for paving the way for those who come after.

I’ve talked before about making attempts to be more honest with my fellow churchgoers about my mental health concerns. It’s a long and difficult process, but I feel I am making progress. I find when I am done opening up that it’s not as scary as I assumed it would be. People can often be more understanding than you would give them credit for. At the same time, I worry that I am saying too much too soon. I can’t tell if mental health concerns are a personal problem because of the stigma that surrounds them or because they are simply that – a personal problem. I have found in the past that if I spring my mental health concerns on a newly budding relationship it can damage it irreparably. Not everyone is willing to deal with mental health concerns or support someone who is coping with them. Oftentimes it is difficult for someone coping with metal health concerns to differentiate between when to go to a friend and when to go to a mental health professional, and putting too much on a person who lacks training is unfair. I still don’t know, having been on both sides of the issue, if it is inappropriate to ask a friend to talk you down or spend the night with you if you are feeling suicidal, for instance. And while some people may appreciate the gesture of calling the police after reaching out or a cry for help, others may resent you for it even if it ended up being the right thing to do. It can be a difficult call to determine how close to danger someone is when they reach the point of suicidal ideation, and because psychiatric hospitals are often not helpful unless someone is truly in crisis, forcing someone to get “help” they might not actually need can often be just as damaging as waiting until it’s too late. Because of serious issues like these, it can be frightening for a neurotypical person with a lack of experience in this arena to take on a sometimes taxing friendship with someone who not only deals with mental health concerns but also might not quite know how to really deal with their concerns themselves. And while vulnerability and opening up don’t always lead to such serious discussions, there are times when a simple and honest answer to “How are you feeling today?” can lead to a snowball effect. Sometimes the honest answer of “I am unsure whether or not I want to live right now” can lead to empathy from someone who has overcome something similar, but other times it can be crossing a line when the person you need to be talking to is a professional.

Vulnerability is an art. It takes practice to know when it is appropriate to open up. It is a learned skill to know when one is battling stigma, when one should reach out for support within an interpersonal relationship, and when it is more appropriate to discuss the issue with a therapist or a doctor. But when one masters the art of vulnerability, it can open doors and shatter walls. It can lend itself to the human experience and lead to connections. Vulnerability is often knowing when and how to make those connections and knowing when it is best to stick to small talk. When you know how to open up, it can make those moments when you need to keep something to yourself more bearable. And when you do open up? You can cause change – change for the better. Change for others. Change for yourself.

x138 (done)

By Roland O'Daniel, used with Creative Commons License

By Roland O’Daniel, used with Creative Commons License

I’m done asking questions.

For just over three years now, I’ve been praying daily for closure and for the courage and strength to ask questions. Someone I spoke to that December told me to “be selfish, ask questions, and don’t worry about people’s responses.” And yet, when I tried to talk to people (including the person who gave me that advice) about the possible history of the suspected offender, I got nothing. I got shut down.

For just over three years now, I’ve lived in fear, wanting answers but afraid to seek them.

No more.

I have stopped praying for the strength to ask questions. I no longer wish to bring up a topic that no one seems to want to discuss. The more distance there is, the more I doubt myself and the more I feel others doubt me. Surely if something had happened, I would have remembered it by now. Surely if the trauma I do remember was legitimate, more people would have helped me go through my healing process and listened to me when I said it was an issue. Now, I realize that it is my body, and I get to decide what is sexual abuse or trauma and what isn’t. I also realize that I could go my whole life without recovering a memory and it would not make my perceived trauma any less true or difficult for me to experience. But that is not always what other people seem to be thinking. I have put so much stake in outside validation that it has caused me to doubt myself when I need to be focused on my healing.

I do not have the strength to be selfish, ask questions, and not worry about people’s responses. I do not have the strength to doubt myself or my experiences so consistently. When I first started talking about the initial issue, the trauma that I do remember, I received validation from a precious few people. I will hang on to that and remember that I am the one who gets to decide what is traumatic for my body. I don’t need to ask questions. I need to move forward and heal.

x137 (a low)

By Ben Grantham, used with Creative Commons License

By Ben Grantham, used with Creative Commons License

Last week was a rough one for me. I found myself frequently in tears and overwhelmed by simple tasks. While I’m on medication to help with my depressive lows, it’s important to remember that medications don’t make you emotionless. You’ll still experience highs and lows, but they should be considerably more manageable than they would be without the meds. I’m not sure what triggered this low, or why it lasted almost two weeks. I had to be very gentle with myself and give myself a lot of grace, while at the same time jumping that hurdle from “I feel like emotional shit” to “I sort of feel like emotional shit so let’s see how long I can milk the sympathy.” It’s not even so much that I’m demanding sympathy from others… it’s just that there is a large grey area between being depressed, and being typical and high functioning, and that grey area is sometimes more difficult to overcome than the depressive low itself. When I’m barely functioning at all, spending a lot of time in bed or taking too much time to get household chores done, that’s one thing. But when I’m feeling sad and I know that I have work to do, but I’m not quite sad enough to justify laying in bed or being “lazy”, it takes a lot of effort to get to an area of higher functioning. It’s no fun to be feeling off and having to be productive at the same time. A thought that often clouds my mind when this is going on is that I would be better off not being around because if I can’t do the hard work it takes to get to a place of higher functioning then I’m not a worthwhile person or a productive member of society. It’s a difficult place to be in.

I’ve been trying to develop a routine that balances kindness toward myself and self-care with productivity and timeliness. I start my day with a cup of coffee and some time to lounge in bed while checking my e-mail and keeping up with my RSS feed. After taking the dogs out and making sure all the pets are fed, I watch a little bit of TV while getting breakfast, writing in my prayer journal, and reading the Bible. Then I wash my face and get dressed, do the chores that need to be done on a daily basis, and take the dogs on a walk. The rest of the day has a much more flexible schedule, but I find that starting my day out slowly and in a manageable way helps me get things done while keeping me motivated.

I’m hoping that I won’t have a depressive low as bad as this past one for a while to come. Knowing that I can get through it, however, is powerful fodder that can remind me of my strength and capability.

x136 (in my dreams)

By Moise Nicu, used with Creative Commons license

By Moise Nicu, used with Creative Commons license

I’ve been having a recurring dream lately. It’s only been going on for a few days, but it’s really affected me. It’s pretty simple – just a Facebook status post. Talking about it here gives me some distance between an actual post that might appear on a Newsfeed because not everybody clicks on links. It makes me wish I had the courage to actually be this blunt. The status is as follows:

Hey: everybody who has a problem with people on welfare? I’m on welfare, and I’m sick of seeing your status posts demonizing folx like me. If you have a problem with me being on welfare, kindly de-friend yourself. I’m done with feeling guilt and self-loathing because of your status posts.

Now, not being able to work because of a disability is a different sort of welfare than someone who is struggling to find a job (or, in the minds of the people who post the types of statuses I referred to above, someone who refuses to work and prefers to take govn’t handouts). But that doesn’t make it any easier for me to read the hateful posts that clutter my Newsfeed and try to not feel like it’s a personal attack. It’s bad enough that I have to put life plans on hold because I can’t afford to not be on disability. And I worry constantly, am I taking advantage of the system? – it plagues me. Do I need to be more careful about how I spend the small amount of money I receive on the third of the month? Am I too high-functioning to be on disability to begin with – should I just suck it up and get a job? I don’t want to be the drain on the system that these people on Facebook are constantly complaining about.

Maybe, though, the thing I actually need to be thinking about is how valuable these online relationships really are if they consistently make me feel like shit. Regardless of whether or not I want to keep in touch with extended family and former co-workers, maybe I do need to gather the courage to either post a status like this or cull my friends list myself. Just because I’m on welfare doesn’t make me lesser-than, or a loser, or deserving of attack.

I’m not a burden on the system that you’re pissy about because I’m a waste of your tax dollars – I’m a human being, thank you very much.

x135 (so… what do you do all day?)

I had my annual physical with a new primary care on Monday. I’m much less picky with my primary care than I am with my therapy team, primarily because most of my care is outsourced to specialists and I tend to take pretty good care of myself. When I met with my new primary care about a month ago to set up a preliminary, introductory appointment, I should have noticed that she seemed to ignore that I have a diagnosis of PTSD in addition to bipolar disorder. I don’t know why that bothered me, but it did. Probably because my new PTSD diagnosis is one of the few solid, concrete things that says, “Yes, she has experienced valid trauma and no, she was not lying, or making it up, or delusional.” I cling to it because it validates me and my experiences. And she ignored it.

Further than that, I was bothered by the way she addressed some of the “lifestyle” questions that doctors are required to ask (and as much as it irked me that she said “So you’re a homosexual?” instead of asking “So you’re gay?”, I won’t harp on that). First, she asked me what I did for work. I said that I don’t work. Then she asked me if I was going to school. I said that I went for a little bit and dropped out. So then she said:

“So… what do you do all day?”

Granted, I probably should have seen that coming. When she asked what I did for work, I should have said I was a homemaker or a housewife. Even admitting that I’m on disability probably would not have warranted that as a response. But seriously? What do you do all day?

Go fucking ask that to the conservative Christian bloggers who promote being a homemaker as a Biblical calling.

Go fucking as that to my grandmother, who has been a housewife since 1950, when this sort of thing was more common.

And for the record, go fucking ask that to the “secretary” who sits at a desk all day and has access to Facebook at work. Because how the fuck is keeping house not as difficult as that? (And for the record, I have been that receptionist, so I know that it can be a trade-off.)

I’m sick of people trivializing what I do all day. Since when did work, a career, become the be-all end-all to existence? Since when do I need to validate my position as a homemaker with the caveat that I’m disabled, so I can’t work, so of course I would work if I were psychologically able? Why does that italicized statement have to be the assumption? Maybe I don’t want to work. Maybe I don’t want to have a career, or a college degree. Maybe my partner is OK with these goals and likes having someone at home to take care of the cleaning, the dinner, the pets, and G-d willing, the kids. Maybe she likes coming home to a dinner that took two hours (granted, that was partially due to a new recipe and time management skills) and that included handmade, from-scratch tortillas. Maybe she likes coming home to a house that requires very little maintenance on her end, because the trade-off is she is the one who makes the money. Maybe she likes knowing that the dogs and cat have attention all day and are exercised without a pet-sitter.

So what do I do all day?

A lot, actually. Just because I can’t/don’t work doesn’t mean I’m lazy, or a moocher, or a Welfare Queen. And for the record, the psychological work I do in therapy is also pretty heavy stuff. So don’t fucking laugh at me and ask me, “So… what do you do all day?”

But at least she didn’t harp on my weight, and since my BMI is technically overweight (despite my blood work/cholesterol/blood pressure all coming back normal), I guess I’ll take what I can get. I don’t have the mental energy to go through what I just went through in trying to find a therapist all over again, but this time with a primary care physician. I’m fucking done.

“So… what do you do all day?”, my ass.

x134 (offbeat home & life guest post)

Hey y’all! I had another piece picked up by Offbeat Home & Life, titled “Ch-ch-changes: It’s okay to change your mind.

There are certain times in your life when you think you have your shit all figured out. You make a decision and, not knowing how the future will mold and shape and affect you, you think that you’ll keep to that decision for the rest of your life.

Vegan or vegetarian but have experienced cravings for red meat due to being pregnant? Want nine kids but don’t realize that as you get older, your deteriorating relationship with your family will influence your desire for a large brood? Think you want to keep your last name forever but then you realize you’re excited to have a change in identity due to marriage? Things change. Life happens. And just because you told your best friend when you were both thirteen that you wouldn’t want to adopt a teenager from foster care doesn’t mean that once you’re an adult you can’t do a 180 and decide that you’d prefer to adopt a teenager rather than a younger child.

Newsflash: People and choices change. It happens.

Check out the rest on Offbeat Home & Life!