New Pompeii

“Now, now, let’s be reasonable.”

That’s the most common response I’ve seen from men to my piece on women’s anger. Which wasn’t meant to be a “piece”, by the way – it was my last thought before falling asleep on Thursday night. I thought of women’s anger and other unstoppable things which led me to lava – its terrible destructiveness and its intractability – and I thought, “Hm, that’s something we have in common.” Evidently, some other women agreed.

So right on cue, here come the men. #Notallmen, of course, which we must be careful to say, lest a single, solitary bench-sitter who might have understood but instead got his one feeling – pride – hurt and decided to close ranks with ALL THE OTHER MEN.

“We have to be reasonable about this.”

No, we don’t. There is no reasonable response to the kind of abuse marginalized people suffer. Women, people of color, the disabled, LGBTQ – there is no reasonable response to having your rights and dignity stripped in public and private. There is no reasonable response to having your safety and security daily threatened. There is no reasonable response to rape. To violence. To the denial of your existence.

“You’re being completely irrational.”

Kindly fuck off with your offers of reasonable discourse. Unless, of course, you’d like to set the example by arguing your position from a physically threatening and mentally traumatic position. I’ll leave exactly what up to your imagination, but make sure it’s designed around the thing that most informs your identity. So, ignorance, maybe, or your precious testicles. Y’know, whatever works FOR YOU. Also, do this thing for centuries. Life span not up to the task? Recruit your ancestors and descendants! Make sure you’re being reasonable through every example of abuse anyone can bring up – which they will, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. We wouldn’t want to overlook any tiny example which would invalidate your entire response.

“Too much anger.”

Not enough anger, actually. Are you a sports fan? How about if, just before the start of the game, the rival team walked onto the field, punched out the refs, stomped over to 12 inches from the goal line and said, “Okay everybody! Starting now, play by the rules!” Which is a shitty analogy, because in reality it’s more like NOBODY WAS PLAYING A GAME AND SOME ASSHOLES JUST ASSAULTED PEOPLE THEN DEMANDED NOBODY BE MAD ABOUT IT.

The reality is you’re afraid. Men are afraid that women’s sense of justice will require retribution. It’s what men would want, after all. And I suppose that having your very existence erased through scorching the earth with a layer of lava seems pretty retributive. But the powerless know better. Anyone who has had their life burned to ash through oppression, trauma, or violence knows what it takes to rise from those ashes. We’ve been doing it for our entire lives, while those in power never have. We have the tools, the knowledge, and more importantly the courage to both rise from and withstand immolation.

“Calm down.”

We are not required to modulate our response to trauma for your comfort.  You can’t handle it and you expect our pity? Our sympathy for your discomfort?? Our anger is justified because it is the only justice we’ll see. You can run from the lava – I’m riding it straight to freedom.

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Lava

Kavanaugh is going to get confirmed, we all know that. A lot of women will be very angry. Some might even take to the streets. But this won’t be the tipping point. There won’t be a tipping point, there never is. There will just be the subterranean lava flow of women’s anger – slow, blistering, savage and inexorable. We’ll go to bed angry, we’ll get up angry, we’ll drink our coffee and fix the kids’ breakfasts angrily, we’ll drive thru car line and to work angry, our male colleagues will ask each other if we’re on the rag, we’ll eat silent lunches with rage and we’ll pick up groceries on the way home with vengeance on our hearts. We’ll kiss our partners and our kids goodnight wrathfully. We’ll cry hot, silently screaming tears in the middle of brushing our teeth. We’ll go to bed angry. We’ll get up angry…

Nothing will seem to change for you. But the mother of a 32 year old man will suddenly snap at him to “Grow up!” when he complains that he’s pretty sick of frozen dinners lately. That quiet chick 3 cubicles down will show up out of nowhere and tell a gathering of dudebros that she’ll report them to HR if they don’t shut up. They’ll call her a bitch under their breath as she turns around, but she won’t care. The teenage daughter will ask her dad if he’d still find it funny if she was the punchline in his favorite joke. He’ll scold her for talking back and look at his wife, who will look back and say nothing. Another daughter will say nothing to her father – ever again.

The anger will shift, seismic but unseen. Before the lava used to burn us to ash on the inside. It’s bubbling over now. Enough of us have ripped open our bodies to let the boiling soil of our lives out that the heat itself causes fires. Sure, you can put one or two out at a time. A single flame is easy to catch. But the lava is elemental and everywhere. Kavanaugh will be confirmed. And in less than a generation he’ll be a petrified ash fossil, frozen in a rictus of agony in the new Pompeii. Nothing will seem to have changed, until it’s too late. The lava of our anger is going to cover the earth and bury you.

 

 

Things That I’m Over

An abbreviated list:

The idea that selfies are narcissistic, especially for women. Firstly, so what if they are? Like the mental masturbation that you do to feel superior isn’t? Secondly, no they aren’t. Women putting themselves front and center with their own agenda is simply weird because they’ve never been allowed to do it before. Welcome to the future. It has filters.

Purity progressives. Fuck those guys. Guess what? We’re nowhere near a revolution, guys. And policy making equals compromise since the founding fathers. Who were no saints, by the way, but it WAS their lives on line at the time. It’s so great that you can pontificate from metropolitan cities where your wi-fi is fast, your food is slow, and your activism is a giant circle jerk with other pasty white people who try on “bi-curious” for size. How’s the air up there? Some people do real work. You might want to try it some time.

Getting older. I pulled a muscle in my sleep the other night. How the fuck does that happen??

“Devil’s Advocates”. Shut up. Just shut up. The devil is his own best advocate, okay? He gets around making his argument JUST FINE all on his own. It’s called life. You’re not an advocate, you’re a stinky troll. Go back under your rock.

People who don’t understand privilege. Really? C’mon, it’s part of the vernacular now and if you still don’t get it, it’s because you don’t want to get it. Privilege does NOT equal wealth or fame. Privilege DOES equal certain unearned “free passes” from daily struggles not shared by everyone. Privilege does NOT mean you’ve never had it rough. Privilege DOES mean that you could’ve had it rougher. Privilege does not mean you can’t vent, privilege does mean you might not want to vent about Starbucks being out of your favorite flavor to a single working mom drinking yesterday’s Folgers. Use some sense. Then use your privilege to speak up for those who don’t share it.

Women’s clothing industry sizing. SERIOUSLY GET IT TOGETHER GUYS!! MY WAIST HAS A MEASUREMENT AND SO DOES MY INSEAM. YOUR “12” IS BULLSHIT AND SO IS YOUR METHOD FOR SEWING ON BUTTONS.

Commercials. I’ve lived so long without network television that I forget how offensive they can be. And then Pepsi invades my internet news feed.

Divorce. FML, I really, really want to be over this. Hurry up already.

Selling things on Facebook. Nope. People are entitled, pushy assholes. Over it.

Living in “rural America”. Where the church folk are terrorists and anti-intellectualism reigns supreme. Look, hillbillies and rednecks, I’m sorry you are constantly picked on and made fun of by “liberal elites”. MAYBE STOP GIVING THEM SO MUCH MATERIAL TO WORK WITH, MMMMKAY?

Listicles. These things suck, don’t they??

On letting go

When something awful happens, particularly emotional trauma, it feels like the world suddenly wants to give you advice on how to handle it. If it’s not typewriter text overlaid on a seascape with a vintage filter, it’s platitudes from well-meaning friends, or the ever-not-helpful Facebook parables. The common thread is that you’ll feel better once you do it, and everyone wants to see you do it (if for no other reason than you’ve been a giant downer for the last 18 months and for god’s sake, can’t you just please wash your hair??), but the actual process is more of a mystery. Bookstores have devoted entire shelving units to “self-help” titles, and a quick search on Amazon for same brings back over 650 thousand returns (which should in itself tell you that nobody has this shit figured out, but hope springs eternal). Letting go: it’s all “good”.

I’m here to tell you it’s not. It sucks dirty canal water off of hairy donkey balls.

Listen, first of all, letting go does not happen on a schedule. You can’t time it according to the 7 stages of grief, you can’t force it by following someone else’s plan. It’s an ongoing process with hills and valleys. No, scratch that. It’s an ongoing process with spikes and pits. And the pits have spikes. There are days when you’re balanced precariously on a spike looking down and days when you’re impaled on a spike staring at the sky above. And it’s raining. Grief, pain – these happen in their own time and they will just take what you don’t give them, so you might as well put your life on hold while they shake you like a terrier with a rat. That is an accurate description of how much dignity you’ll have in the process, by the way: limp and covered with dog spit.

Secondly, the prevailing opinion is that letting go leads to some serene, blissed out state where the lotus position comes naturally and the grocery store being out of your favorite ice cream during PMS no longer makes you want to go on a rampage. Also false. There is no reason, ever, for the store to be out of Ben&Jerry’s Coffee Toffee Bar Crunch at any time. But more importantly, letting go doesn’t leave you happy, it leaves you empty. Hollow. Drained. Here’s the thing about grief: it was once happiness. Of course it was, or you wouldn’t feel so awful. You don’t start at base zero and go down. Grief pulls you down off your happy little platform into a giant, steaming pile of shit. You can’t just watch your pain blow away in whatever F5 tornado tore through your life and expect the happiness to be there waiting when the dust settles. It’s all gone. Everything. Now you’re at base zero.

Oh, and here’s a little addendum to that second point: anger. Hoo boy. Anger is the carpetbagger who rides into town right after the tornado and is all, “We will rebuild!” but just goes around kicking your stuff while you’re trying to pick it up. Not that it can’t be helpful. In my case, anger led to some productive changes, like shutting down toxic relationships and to stop apologizing for being myself. So, to continue the metaphor, carpetbagging anger kicked over some dry rot and let the bugs out. But being forced to watch that, to participate in taking down the rotted, crumbling foundation of my former happiness? Gross. So gross.

Okay, so far, letting go happens on its own (often inconvenient) schedule, and it leaves you empty (after pissing you off). What’s the appeal again??

Could be simply the relief from the agony of grief. Emptiness is way better than constant anxiety, stomach problems, endless fatigue and a full set of luggage under each eye. Could be the promise of new beginnings – the idea that something better is waiting to be discovered. Both of these are valid, but they don’t really describe my experience.

For me, the end result of letting go is that I never have to do it again. Not for that particular pain. I’ve let it run its course and chase through every chamber of my metaphorical heart, and it will never come back as anything but a memory. Sometimes the memory smarts a bit, maybe it nips at my feels with sharp little teeth, but it will never, ever strangle and suffocate me again. I’ll never be sucked into that tornado, never be subjected to that storm, never have to rebuild that house. The emptiness is a relief, and the hope of a new happiness is a possibility, but the lesson of never going back is my greatest reward. I will never make those same mistakes, I will never be vulnerable in that same way again.

Letting go makes me stronger, but I couldn’t have told you that, let alone imagined it a year and a half ago. The process is a mystery, a non-linear jumble of fucked up parts that kicks over your foundations and impales you and shakes the life out of you. And if you survive it, you’ve lost an integral part to your former happiness. Letting go is not “all good”. No wonder so many people never get around to it.  I should probably close this out by saying something optimistic like, “But it’s worth it!” The truth is messier than that. I don’t know yet if it’s worth it. It’s been a helluva process. Maybe being stronger will have its own consequences that I can’t see yet. Emotions are weirdly entangled like that.

I’d be happy with a popular message that gives a truer picture of what letting go is actually like. On letting go

 

 

An Open Letter to My New Primary Care Manager

It was busy the day I met you. You were the only nurse practitioner in the office that day, and I was trying to fit in an appointment in my own busy schedule. Since this was a disadvantage to both of us, it sort of cancels out. I only mention it because it may have had an influence on your approach.

I didn’t choose you, but you undoubtedly knew that. I was assigned to you because my own doctor left the practice. Such is the nature of our health care system. Due to a confluence of scheduling issues and timing on my prescriptions, I was forced to take a next-day appointment, squeezed in among patients who were able to make their own appointments well in advance, as well as acute care patients with urgent medical needs. Not an ideal situation, but the best I could do to take responsibility for my own health care.

The intake nurse was pushy and condescending. She told me to get an eye appointment because I was -“Don’t throw your purse at me” – 40, as though she was delivering unexpectedly bad news to a toddler. I tried not to take it personally, though her attitude did set my teeth on edge. I know nurses and medical assistants at that level are over-worked and underpaid, and I’m sure she thought her advice was medically sound, so I made a concerted effort to forgive her thoughtless and trite delivery. After taking my vitals and checking off the list of meds I was asking to be refilled, she left and I waited for you.

It wasn’t a long wait, but sadly, that’s the best I can say about our time together.

After introducing yourself, you sat down across from me and began telling me that the prescriptions I was taking were ineffective for the symptoms I was taking them for. That threw me back. Is this guy for real?? was my thought, but even had I wanted to voice it, you didn’t give me a chance before moving on to your next item of business, which was to tell me that at least two of my medications were narcotics and carried very high risk factors for addiction. You spent the next four minutes lecturing me about my medications, telling me how you wouldn’t have prescribed them yourself, how ineffective and risky they were, how I wasn’t taking them properly, and how the way YOU practice medicine is to establish a “partnership” with your patients. I confess that the rest of the four minutes is now lost to my memory, but you did repeat yourself a lot so I doubt I missed much.

Tell me, sir – what kind of “partnership” is it when one person does all the talking, lecturing, and condescending while the other person is held hostage to the first’s profession? But let’s set that aside for a moment while we deal with the facts that were missing in your extremely one-sided “discussion”.

Had you bothered to ask me how I was coping with my symptoms, I would have told you that in the six weeks I’d been taking these particular medications, my quality of life had improved immensely. That I was relieved and calm for the first time in almost a year, and that in addition to the lifestyle changes I had implemented, I felt that my symptoms were finally manageable. Then, I could have told you that I spent no less than 12 years as a pharmacy technician, so I am well aware of what the medications I am taking are for, their dangers and inefficiencies as well as their success rates. Perhaps I would have lectured YOU for telling me that an anxiolytic, particularly a seratonin receptor agonist, isn’t effective for anxiety, or that the particular norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor I take isn’t effective for depression. I could have told you that when I was in my previous doctor’s office, suffering from sleep-deprivation-induced psychosis, near constant panic attacks, and had to use nicotine as a self-medicating aid, she rightfully concluded that the best medications for me would address all my symptoms and have the fewest number of adverse affects.

Maybe that would have slowed you down for half a second, and I could have reiterated that one of the narcotics you referenced was NOT part of my refill request, as that had been a short term medication only, and the other one was a rescue prescription that I only used for emergencies. Instead of freaking out that I was trying to hoard benzodiazepenes and telling me that I was abusing it, you could have asked how often I was taking it. Then I could have told you I still had over half my original pills in the bottle, but as it is highly effective as a rescue rx, I didn’t want to run the risk of not having any while I was without a provider for 30 days (or longer, since it’s not unusual to wait even longer for a non-emergent appointment).

I doubt we would have had time to go into why I needed these drugs in the first place, what my medical and psychological history was, but at the very least you could have asked me what lifestyle changes I was implementing before jumping to the conclusion that I was ignorant about my own health care. Literally asking a simple question was the very least you could do, and you failed to do it. If I am very generous, I could allow that your intention is to practice medicine in a reciprocal way with your patients, but I can assure you that was not the end result of our visit.

After listening to my lungs and heart, and grudgingly allowing my prescriptions to be refilled (after referring me to the wrong pharmacy, by the way), you finally asked if I was seeing a behavioral health provider, which I affirmed. Then you had the unmitigated gall to tell me “You rock!” and shake my hand while patting my back, not unlike one would do to a Little League player who just hit a single.

As a woman and as an American, I have a long history of receiving inefficient and belittling “health care”. Of being told that I don’t understand my own body, that I am generally ignorant about matters of health, and/or that I am deliberately misrepresenting my symptoms. You managed to hit all three, and even at “don’t throw your purse at me” 40, I’m honestly surprised enough to almost congratulate you. But having had an insider’s look at our health care system, and having a spine made of stiffer stuff than a wet noodle, I won’t. Instead, I am holding you accountable for your actions, and seeking a provider who will put into actual practice the idea of a health partnership. Someone with at least a basic understanding that such a partnership entails two-sided conversations, and a modicum of sensitivity to a petitioner of health care. You appear to be capable of neither. I was told that you are retiring from the first phase of your career while you transition to the second. Perhaps that is something you could work on.

Most Sincerely,

Your Former Patient.

The 8th Dwarf

It’s not as though you’re the eighth dwarf, Angry, with just the one trait to define you.

Those words were written to me by a (slightly exasperated) friend who’d been watching me struggle with a decision that I thought would fundamentally change my identity. It probably doesn’t occur to him that over 10 years later that sentence still shocks me into stillness, into silent revelation.

I’ve fallen out of touch with that friend, a fact that makes me sad, nostalgic, mournful – even a little angry. But knowing that it makes me all of those things is his continuing gift to me. The knowledge that I am not a single, volatile emotion. I am not a caricature of myself. I am a complete human, and from that – I am enough.

Where did I get the idea that I was just Angry? Part of it is language. In English, we don’t say we “have” something, we say we “are” something. I am hungry, I am bored, I am scared. I am angry. (German and French, for examples that I have some knowledge of, don’t have this problem.) The other part comes from growing up with a parent who was scared to death of anger. It terrified her in a primitive, vulnerable, damaged place in her brain and she never developed beyond that fear. Seeing the parents she grew up with explains a lot about that, but doesn’t change the outcome.

The outcome is that anger as part of a spectrum was not an idea in my developmental toolbox. The perception of my anger was that it was dangerous, an invader bent on pillaging good sense and reason. I was unmanageable, unlovable when I was angry. I learned to fundamentally misunderstand every interaction where it was present – seeing threats where there were none, attacking without provocation, righteousness and shame inverted.  I learned to fear it, too.

But it was still there, existing on the spectrum even as I shied away from it. Eventually, it refused to be buried. Lacking any tools for dealing with the expression of anger, I let it simmer until a random addition of heat set me to boiling over. Sometime around puberty, I became known for my “temper”. Rather than help me dig beneath it, the people in my life entrusted with my emotional development  retreated behind great walls of disciplinary action. I’m experienced enough now to guess that was a defense on their part, but it had consequences.

At some point, I embraced the label. “Temperamental.” “Bitchy.” “Angry.” I let it off leash at the drop of a hat, my reliable anger there to keep threats at bay. Don’t get the idea that my life was all misunderstood, caring people just trying to get close to me. Sometimes my anger was justified and an effective tool. Sometimes people used it to their own advantage. In a display of internalized shame that still twists my gut, I was proud that I could be used in such a way. My anger didn’t just have value, it was my value. I am Angry, the eighth dwarf – never part of the official narrative, just there to lend uncomfortable realism.

I would like to claim that my friend’s words were the bolt of lightning that changed everything. The reality is more gradual. I was working my way out of that impossibly narrow definition for a while through being a parent myself, through friendships, through unutterable loneliness. I just didn’t have the words (a case of irony so thick it has to be processed with industrial grade machinery). I needed those words to give shape to the struggle – to define new boundaries and light my inner rebellion.

I’m still rebelling. I still find myself trying to listen to all my emotions as they play their symphony on my spectrum. Still trying to reconcile that I have a spectrum. Still trying. I am not the eighth dwarf. I’m not a fairy tale. I’m real, and I get to have all that it confers.