Thursday, October 23, 2014

Letting Go of Self-Hatred

Whoa, Graces got back!
Female bodies come in all sizes and shapes, and chances are good that if you have one, you probably think it is flawed and wish it was better.

In private, it likely goes farther than that, Maybe you think your thighs are hopelessly fat, your breasts too small or too large, your eyes too far apart or too close together, or your stomach is [fill-in-blank with any harsh criticism].

You may, at times, absolutely hate yourself for any number of reasons, some of them physical, others emotional or social.

Some days you dread the mirror.

The point is, you don't measure up and you'd better try harder.

This is a basic fact of life. It is almost what being female is.

The Perks of Female Self-Hatred

If you do hate yourself variously and a lot, take heart: Not only do you have plenty of company, but you are also supporting a huge sector of the American economy, and China's economy, and Pakistan's and Turkey's economy, and all sorts of other places that make shoes, clothes, underwear, etc.

You also support the food industry (gluten-free fat-free sugar-free everything!) and help otherwise unremarkable people make money by writing diet books and diet cookbooks.

So you are definitely serving an important economic function with your unending inadequacy and self-hatred, but did you know that you are also helping to keep the social fabric knitted together? Every day, your self-hatred insures every thing and every body stays in the right place and does what society would like people to do so we can all get along and not cause problems for each other.

Probably you don't see it that way, but it's true.

Imagine how hard it would be for men to approach, much less intimidate, women who did not feel inadequate in some fundamental way. It would be a heck of a lot harder for many of them, and maybe the two sexes would never hook up and the population would die off and human beings would become extinct instead of overrunning every square inch of the planet.

That would be bad, I guess. I don't know.

You aren't getting any younger, Princess!
I'm of two minds about it these days, seriously.

Also, if women were strangers to self-hatred, they'd expect more money in the workplace, and they'd start more businesses of their own, portraying themselves as competent and intelligent instead of cooperative and deferential. They'd run for Congress and stuff.

Pretty soon everybody would be doing what they wanted and everybody would expect respect and decent treatment for it, and whooo haaa wouldn't that be a pisser?

We can't afford that kind of crap!

So you see, self-hatred, specifically female self-hatred, is an integral part of our social and economic fabric.

On a familial and person level female self-hatred also serves a protective purpose.

If you start out openly admitting your many flaws and shortcomings and your persistent shame at not being able to fully fix all of same, other women (and men) are less likely to slap you down, because you are already slapping yourself down.

Maybe the elder women in your family have even taught you this kind of self-hatred by routinely and from a very young age critiquing your manner of dress, your hair, and the way you paint your face (or don't), and also by reminding you that the pool of available men is finite and, "You aren't getting any younger."

Letting Go

The problem is, this required self-hatred is horse shit and on some level you have always known it,  deep down, but you probably comply to keep the peace, and over time that compliance becomes reflexive. Self-hatred becomes a habit. You barely think about it most of the time--it just hangs in the air about you like a lingering fart.

To let go of that warm, if stinky, blanket of self-loathing means letting go of the false humility that makes the world go round and makes insecure people like you. (Or pretend to like you.)

That's hard. But it can be done.

You don't have to go overboard and become a Libertarian, but you do have to let yourself fall out of the mainstream, fall out of hate with yourself, and realize you are just fine as you are.

Everything around you will keep screaming that you are not OK.

So it isn't easy.

Me, Me, Me

I've spent the last six weeks taking a beginning yoga class, and what it has done for me more than anything else is to make me realize my body is fine. It's a good body, it has served me well and keeps doing so, and I kind of like it.

Basically there is nothing wrong with my body, and there is nothing wrong with yours either.

I'm not getting any younger. That much is probably true. Right now I'm 61, and last year I was 60. The year before that I was 59, and no kidding, I am sensing a pattern here.

But men? God they are all over the place and always have been. They comprise half the population, at least, and even on my worst day I will catch one or more of them checking out my boobs.

It's not because, at 61, I am so smoking hot. It's because that's what men do. 

If I am lucky enough to make it to 95, it will still happen occasionally, because by the time men hit 95 checking out boobs has become such a habit that they still do it even though they can't remember why.

Yes, that's right, all that "sex yourself up and do it pronto or else you'll be left in the dust" was a big fucking waste of time (unless you enjoyed it) because men will check our your boobs even if you run into 7/11 in your pajama bottoms and a hoodie and zero makeup.

I am also OK psychologically. Yes I take medication for depression, just like many people my age take medication for diabetes or high blood pressure. I'm grateful for it.

I have not forgiven every single person who ever was violent or degrading toward me. I have not made any teary speeches on Oprah or Dr. Phil. I still think my brother is a fucking psychopathic douche bag and here's why: My brother is a fucking psychopathic douche bag.

I don't live in that thought. I live in my nice warm life now, surrounded by people who love me, a dog and a cat, and beautiful nature preserves and public parks up North here.

If anyone else has a problem with any of that, guess what? It's their problem. I hope they find a way to deal with it and move on. If not, oh well.

So that's where I am today, a little less self-hateful, a little happier.

The journey continues.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Happy Thoughts: Ebola, MRSA, KPC and other Deadly Germs

Can't unopen the box.
OK, I'm not panicking about ebola. That would be stupid.

I do have some concerns about ebola though, so I'm going to dump them here instead of on FB.

If you live in the US, you are about as likely to get hit with a meteor right now as you are to contract ebola virus. If you do get it though, best not show up at your local ER and wait in line, because eventually it is going to be like a Keystone cops versus the media feeding frenzy and you have enough problems.

After all, you have ebola virus (hypothetically), remember? And in the US (or anywhere) that's a problem.

So what can you do that would address your concerns, especially the one about not dying by bleeding out of every orifice and losing one third of your body weight in a few days?

I don't have a fucking clue.

So I'm really hoping I never find myself in that situation.

Lots of people in West Africa have though, and half of them are dead now. If we are to believe anything we read in the press or see on TV (and that's a big if), that 50/50 survival rate might be getting worse: something more like 30/70.

As if we needed any more bad news.

Here are my thoughts:
  • Must the US really spend a squillion gazillion dollars blowing up terrorists halfway around the world for the rest of all eternity? Couldn't we put at least some of that big money into global public health? It's like we are shitting in our own nest and blithely slipping clothespins over our noses and carrying on as if it's someone else's problem.
  • If things get scary enough, even if the real threat from the disease is not huge, institutions get fucked up and start to shut down. Hospital workers walk off the job. People refuse to fly or go to restaurants or send their kids to school. Everyone starts suing everyone else. And it just goes downhill from there. So hopefully someone somewhere knows how to get a grip on things before any of that happens. That would be good if that could happen, quick.
  • Every year a certain percentage of Americans refuse to get flu shots that are basically free or very cheap. The flu kills over 20,000 people in the US each year, on average, but it can and has been much worse. The infamous 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak killed between 40 and 50 million people worldwide, including 675,000 in our own country.
  • The US is creating antibiotic resistant superbugs by feeding antibiotics to meat animals on factory farms. Two new killers: MRSA and KPC. MRSA has become so common kids get it now just from being around other kids. If it gets into their bloodstreams they die. KPC is usually fatal and if it breaks out in a hospital it is hell stopping it. In spite of this, factory farms continue to push meds into animals to get them to market faster and the FDA continues to meekly ask them to voluntarily stop it. They won't.
  • We can't treat ebola in US hospitals, give me a break. Not safely anyway. It's asinine to pretend we can. The pretense is an attempt to calm everyone down. Stop treating people like idiots, CDC, NIH, hospital administrators, and President Obama. Stop it. You're making it worse, eroding trust, confusing people.
  • Now that the Congress has decided to hold show boat hearings, the circus is in town. Be aware that the fear that can be drummed up from this point on is as bad, or worse, than the disease.
I am coming to the conclusion that Americans are, by and large, spoiled pussies. No one gave two shits about ebola until it came here. Africa? What is Africa? Can't see it from my house!

But now that we have a handful of cases here everyone is running around squealing like little children, mommy mommy mommy. 

Can we have some grown ups on board now?

Seriously, what will it take? 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Depression Epidemic and Me

This public domain art has nothing to do with depression.
Right now, most news cycles are feverishly reporting on the latest tidbits about ebola virus and enterovirus 68, but did you know that in 2012 16 million Americans had at least one major depressive episode?

A 'depressive episode' is not a sad day or a passing bad mood, but a kick-you-in-the-ass can't get out of bed want to die total shut down that lasts and lasts for weeks and weeks.

Did you know that suicide is the second leading cause of death among people fifteen to twenty-four years of age. In fact, suicide rates in that category have tripled since the 1950s?

Running with this (since I have the stats in front of me), clinical depression is involved in two thirds of all suicides, and rates of both major depression and suicide have been rising in the US for years.

In spite of these facts, the US is rife with misinformation about both major depression and suicide. Both depression and suicide come with significant social stigma attached, and many people are uncomfortable discussing either one.

Worse, the politics surrounding mental health issues and big pharma, as well as popular bloviation and quackery on the internet lead many otherwise well-meaning people to support wrong and damaging ideas. 

One of the worst of these wrong ideas, IMO, is the belief that depression shows a lack of character or spiritual development or dietary knowledge (or, really you can fill in this blank with any damned thing you want and it will fly), and because of whatever, medication is bad. 

If you take meds you will hear that you are taking the easy way out. You are not fully feeling your feelings so you can not release them and heal, some will say. You are a pawn of big pharma, others will opine. You are weak and misinformed. You are being poisoned. 

And so on.

And the worst one of all: "I don't believe in medication."

To which I say, well, we know it exists. Seriously, I can show you some if you don't believe me.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Three days my ass.
Clinical depression comes in many forms and can occur with or without other disorders and/or physical illnesses. PTSD and depression often happen together, as do chronic illnesses and depression, substance abuse and depression, and and all kinds of other vexing problems and depression.

Medication is about as helpful as daily exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy for mild to moderate depression, and most cases of mild to moderate depression resolve eventually, one way or another, no matter what is done or not done.

I don't say this to diminish the suffering of people working through mild to moderate depression, I'm just pointing out what seems to happen according to the research.

But for about 15% of people who struggle with recurring depression, the condition does not improve on its own and the episodes get steadily more severe. Once you've had two major depressive episodes, the likelihood that you can 'heal yourself' by reframing your perceptions or running or whatever are small.

For people unlucky enough to be in that 15%, medication will likely be needed for life, just like insulin for diabetes, or diuretics for high blood pressure.

I happen to be part of that fifteen percent. The last time I went off my medication I ended up in the hospital for ten days.

It wasn't exactly like being at a spa, but it wasn't all shrieking, manacles, and lobotomies either.

I watched a lot of sit coms until I quit saying the wrong the things.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, remember these three tips:

1) You are not getting out in three days.

2) Stop asking when you are getting out because they will always say "three days" and you are not getting out in three days. In fact, you are not getting out until you stop asking when you are getting out, so stop that.

3) Eat the food, all of it, because they are writing all this shit down. (See #s 1 & 2).

The Sociology of Depression

Psychology, sociology, and medicine are always in a state of tension.

For instance, depression is at epidemic levels. However, maybe if society wasn't so harsh and fucked up, fewer people would develop depression that needs treatment.

Still, society can't be fixed through criticism and broccoli. Once your physiology has been messed up by constant trauma, it's been messed up and needs attention.

It's kind of like when a truck runs over your leg. You can go on a crusade against crappy truck driving, but you've still got that broken leg. If all the trucks in America apologize and change their ways, the leg still needs attention.

Medicine is like this too. MSF, the organization that is in Africa treating ebola, was once criticized for creating more new diseases by treating old ones. But that's what medicine does. It is always stamping down one bump in the rug just to get on to another.

When you are affected by recurring depression, or any medical/emotional condition, pragmatism works better than philosophy. If something works, keep it. If something doesn't work, move on.

This may sound comically simple-minded, but it does get down to that.

For me, medication, exercise, and a good support system work.

Philosophy, opinions, intellectual insights, and strongly held beliefs are not really helpful.

So I guess what I'm saying here is, if you are one of the many people in the world who "doesn't believe in medication," how nice for you.

But remember, should you ever find yourself in the nuthouse...

You are NOT getting out in three days.

Doesn't matter what you fucking do or don't believe in.

You're welcome.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Hair and Horror: The Dark Underbelly of Postmenopausal Beauty

How I think I look with gray hair.
I'm 61.

If I live five more months I'll be 62.

And I still won't know what to do about my hair.

If you think that women just automatically get into this kind of thing with a passion, simply because we are women, think again.

I'm one of those girls who never learned to be a girl, and believe me, there are lots of us out here. My Mom was sick most of the time, and when she wasn't, she was pretty harsh.

We were not close.

In fact, the elder women in my family all seemed to think that the best way to raise girls was to remind them constantly of how unattractive and fat they were, and then try to marry them off as quickly and as early as possible, as if the supply of marriageable men was extremely limited and rapidly disappearing, and we, as unattractive female sub-creatures, were already at a disadvantage.

I remember as a teenager standing in the bathroom, my mother in back of me flipping my hair around and sighing that I would likely never marry. (I've been married four times. I can't run to the supermarket without marrying somebody.) My grandmother used to constantly sigh, "Oh Pammy, you'd be so pretty if only you would do something with your hair."

The only thing that really tempered this never-ending criticism was having sisters and seeing them get the same treatment. We called it the Grundy girls 'ritual humiliation'. We knew we would get it at every holiday, before shopping with a female relative, and whenever we visited grandparents, and we learned to endure it.

I don't want to over dramatize it. It's not like they dragged us to a tent and sliced off our genitals. But it had a similar, if milder, effect.

So I grew up with 'issues' around this stuff, hated to shop for clothes, and especially hated going to beauty parlors (as we called them back in the horse and buggy days).

So here I am, 61, and I still have not much improved in this area.
How I really look with gray hair (I'm on the left).

Four years ago, I decided I didn't want to be a postmenopausal bottled redhead anymore. Little did I know how controversial this decision would turn out to be.

Immediately after announcing this decision. I was assailed by every over-40 female employee at the big box retail store where I worked part-time. I must not do it, they said. I must not 'give up' they said. If I were to 'give up', how would it make them look, huh?

They informed me that the younger women were already running all over them and the one thing they couldn't abide was an older woman who just 'gave up' and looked her age.


My husband didn't like the idea either, but he knows better than to say so more than once.

I was pretty sick of splashing red hair dye all over our bathroom no matter how careful I was, and I didn't think this ritual made me look one whit younger or better, so the minute I was no longer employed in a retail capacity I started to let my hair grow out.

Right around this same time, the big chain hair place where I usually went for a cut hit the skids. I did not know this from watching the DOW, but rather from the aggressive behavior of the hair dresser who, always pushing 'product' on me as part of her job, was now practically beating me over the head with 'product'.

"Listen," I said finally, "I'll pay you extra in addition to the tip if you just stop bugging me about that stuff. I never use it and now I already have every hair product ever invented, just from coming here."

She informed me that ALL salons were owned by this same conglomerate, and anywhere I went I would be sold 'product', so I'd better just suck it up, because there was nowhere else to go.

Then, she cut a big bald spot into the back of my head where I couldn't see it.

My former hairdresser.
Now you may think (especially if you've read my other posts), that I must be some kind of bitch-on-wheels haircut customer, but nothing could be farther from the truth. I'm soft spoken, I never complain (except for this one time), and I always over-tip.

So I thought, screw this. There has to be at least one self-employed hairdresser in Michigan who will give me a basic cut without browbeating me into shit I do not want.

I found one. I went there. I explained why.

It worked out well at first.

She didn't understand why I would quit coloring my hair either, but she respected my decision and she did a nice job cutting my hair.

So now I have light gray hair in front and dark gray in back and I'm reasonably OK with it.

But I've noticed my hairdresser--I'll call her Dawn because that's her name--although never bugging me about 'product', never stops talking.

Often, I would even go so far as to say usually, Dawn talks nonstop about some perceived slight someone or the other has dealt her just lately. There she is, waving very sharp scissors around my head, talking about the asshole of the week and why that person is a total fool.

This last time, the asshole of the week was a client who was complaining about the cost of a hair process she'd bought for her daughters. Dawn had even thrown in something for free, yet here was this woman complaining. Then, as if that wasn't outrageous enough, she quit coming back.

At this point, a shiver ran through me. Have I chosen the hairdresser from the Hotel California? Can I check in anytime I like but never leave? OMG, how could I have missed that?

How is it that any woman enjoys getting her hair done? Why don't I like "Steel Magnolias" or "Fried Green Tomatoes." Am I fat?  Is my hair fat? What's wrong with me?

Now I'm thinking about coloring my hair again.

I'm thinking, pink.

Grey and pink.

But I don't know...

Where do you get your hair cut?