Sadness

Depression happens the same way you fall asleep. Slowly, then all at once. Sooner than later you can’t remember when it began. All you know is you’re lost, confused, and completely bat shit crazy with sadness. My mind is strong, but my brain is a fragile, helpless little thing – hellbent on its own destruction.

I thought it was homesickness. And I did miss my home. I felt isolated from my loved ones and from community and my weeping could all be contributed to loneliness. But when I went home, I missed New York. I missed the Puerto Ricans, the punks, and the heroin addicts that made noise in my street. Ohio wasn’t my home anymore and I had begun to create a life for myself without even knowing it. Then it was the boys, the one I love out of habit and the other that I am totally infatuated with. Neither one of them want me, really. They sleep with me and ignore me, and ignore me then sleep with me. And the pattern just continues like this, reminding me that I am still 17 and stuck under the thumb (or, penis if you prefer) of some careless self-obsessed man-child. Between the two of them, I am invisible. I make noise to get attention. I cry, and scream, and throw things, proving that I am still the craziest one in the room, unable to move forward because I am always slipping back into bad habits.

My job only worked to confuse my brain into thinking depression and anxiety were two radically different things. For 40-45 hours a week I move back and forth between being belittled by my boss and being screamed at by clients. It is continuous game of pingpong and I am the ball. I am never prepared to take the hit, so I just fly across the room into the face of the next paddle. I shake from nervousness on the train to work, shake violently during my 30 minute lunch as I try pathetically to gum my banana, and then weep on the F train all the way to Brooklyn. Anxiety, a foreign feeling of high alertness which gave way to the familiar feeling of absolute hopelessness. The two coincide with each other, but are at the same time very different – like twins. They may look and sound the same, but they move through the world in their own horribly unique way.

I have probably struggled with depression my whole life, I just didn’t always know the word for it. When I was a little girl, I remember crying and crying. Crying so hard over things so little that it left my parents confused and astonished. I would write things in my diary like, “Today I didn’t get picked to play T-Ball, I am heart broken.” and I probably really was. I also remember the days, weeks, maybe even months, when my mother wouldn’t get out of bed. I’d come home after school and drop by book bag by the stairs. I still remember climbing the stairs two at a time, holding onto the railing and using it to pull myself up before I jumped onto the landing, my pig tails bouncing wildly behind me. I would push her bedroom open gently and peer in, Mama I’m home from school, and she would open one eye and groan sadly in confirmation. Somedays I would draw her pictures, leaving them in piles beside her bed. I have never been a stranger to depression, only to the notion that it is abnormal or a part of life that can actually be controlled.

As a teenager, sadness showed itself in the form of self-loathing, inadequacy, and rage. I hated myself with such intensity that at times it felt like my brain was actually crumbling inside my skull and that I was inevitably unraveling into nothingness. I couldn’t control my emotions. Everyone thought I was crazy. I was funny, so no one really cared that I was a such a bitch. It’s a fact that people will always forgive you of your sins if you can make them laugh. I read moody teen literature where the main character was always in some psych ward for cutting or making herself sick. The books just gave me ideas, and I liked both of them. Cutting distracted me from the mental pain and bulimia made me feel good in a way that I still can’t quite describe. It took all of the noise away and left a gentle buzzing in my ears that made me feel separate and apart from my body. I have always liked that feeling. Vomiting is gross and pressing a razor to my legs left suspicious little scars so eventually I had to stop. I learned young that drugs, alcohol, and even sex can be used to keep the sadness at bay, but it will always find you.

Irritation is another sign that sadness is on the forefront. A sideways look, an unanswered call, anything can make me snap. I am a reactive ball of fury and I mad with the urge to fight and yell. I am exhausted by my own anger. I cannot trust my own perception and my brain keeps deceiving me. I am not to be trusted, I am paranoid and confused and bound to blow at any moment.

Today, I lay in my bed and count the days until my prescription can be filled. I tried everything – mediation, vitamin D supplements, eating healthy, exercise, and prayer but none of it was a match for my sadness. Depression is the elimination of light. There is nothing at the end of the tunnel when it hits. There are no good days, no sun, no love, there is nothing but the weight of hopelessness – and it is crushing. Sure, there are ways to treat depression without medication but where does anyone get the energy for that? It took everything I had in me to get out of bed this morning and I spent my last bit of willpower pulling this computer onto my lap and writing these words. There are a lot of people out there who do not believe in medication and I think they are fucking crazy. Here’s the truth, mood disorders are not personality flaws they are chemical imbalances that need help to be corrected, and that’s okay. So take it from me ladies, sometimes it’s more than PMS or the weepies, sometimes it’s serious and to that I say fuck diamonds, because Lexapro is woman’s best friend.

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Spreading Your Legs for Better Health

It’s that time of year again, time to face that little appointment that’s been haunting your calendar for months. If you’re anything like me the most dreaded day of the year is one that involves waiting for at least 20 minutes in a sterol waiting room, followed by having to wear an awkward backless “gown”, ending in the utter humiliation that is a pap smear. Yes, that’s right ladies, I’m talking about the yearly visit to the gynecologist.

My gyno is a fast talker. She rattles off all kinds of uncomfortable questions including how many people in total I’ve slept with. I lie of course, because she is the same woman who delivered me and well frankly, she’s judgmental and would assume that I’m a whore. In the midst of my lies she continues on with her usual routine. By the time she has to use that steely torture device, which by the way is always ice cold, her questions have turned to who I’m currently sleeping with. No matter what I say she will always reply with her opinion that men at “your age” are untrustworthy and unable to be monogamous. Uncomfortable and ready to leave I dress quickly and when it’s time for her to say, “Looks great, any questions?” I say “No.” and run for the door. I’m going to tell you why this entire scenario is wrong as well as 5 ways to ensure you are having a productive experience.

A common problem that all people, not just women, share is something called White Coat Syndrome. This phenomenon usually refers to the change in patients blood pressure. In Women’s Studies we discuss it as a patient’s blind trust in what their physician is telling them, or the inability to ask important questions concerning your body due to either intimidation or your doctor’s busy schedule. If I don’t feel comfortable with my doctor, or feel that she is talking to down to me, how am I supposed to ask her anything important? I feel inferior and pushed along which doesn’t help me or anyone else. Every question you have concerning your body is an important one. We need to educate ourselves on the functions of your bodies and the conditions which we are susceptible to.

Another problem with my experience is that asking a patient’s number of sexual partners has absolutely no relevance unless she has and STD/STI. It makes for an uncomfortable situation and only adds to an intimidated feeling. Also, when my doctor talks over her procedure she’s not letting me know exactly what she’s doing. By not explaining the exam fully I remain uneducated and in the dark about my own body. Instead of taking the time to ask questions I get nervous and run. This is possibly the WORST thing anyone can do at the doctor’s office.

So let’s fix this, shall we? First thing’s first,

  • Prepare Questions: Your body may undergo many changes in the span of a year so make sure if you come across something that worries you but is not an emergency you write it down. Preparing questions for your physician before your appointment can not only give you piece of mind but can help your doctor catch something that he/she may have overlooked previously.

Example: For the past couple of months I would become extremely uncomfortable and almost sick during and the week after my period ended. When I finally told my doctor what was happening she informed me that I am allergic to scented tampons and that if I didn’t stop using them I could get a serious infection. I switched brands and could not be happier – all because I asked.

  • Set Boundaries: If at anytime your physician makes you feel uncomfortable speak up about it. Let him or her know that certain questions are unfair to ask, allow him or her to explain themselves but still stand your ground. If at anytime you realize that you and your doctor are not on the same page do not hesitate to find a new one!
  • Get the Real Scoop on Birth Control: Birth control commercials and ads are all over the media. These ads will inform you of all the wonders of these seemingly magic little pills, but what are they not telling you that your doctor actually can?  Before you decide to use birth control make sure you get all of the facts including the major side effects. Also, don’t let yourself be pressured into using any of these methods. Many times, doctors will insist that sexually active young women take the pill, the shot, or use the IUD because “nothing is worse than a young pregnancy”. There is nothing  wrong with using condoms, as long as you actually use them every time.
  • Discuss What’s Important: As I’ve stated above, there is no shame in asking questions. For your own education make sure you discuss big issues with your doctor. Start with breast lumps and how you can check for them at home. As we all know breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death for women and conducting regular self checks is a great way to ensure the health of your breasts. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is another big topic. Although there are little to no side effects for men infected, in women certain strands of this virus can lead to cervical cancer. The Gardasil vaccine only protects from a few strands but not all. Be sure that you understand exactly how this virus can spread so that you can protect yourself from it.
  • GET TESTED: No matter if you’ve slept with one person or seventy one be sure to get tested regularly to prevent the spread of STD/STI’s as well as obtain any treatment you may need.

You have the right to know everything about your body and how to protect it. As awkward and terrible as those appointments may be for you they are of incredible importance to your health.

Playing the Game, Or Getting Played?

I’m sitting at the table with my hand on the shoulder of a close friend, trying desperately to understand her inaudible words. Exploding with tears, her voice wavers in and out. Cracking every time she says his name, “I..Ju-uhst don’t…know what..I di-id wrong, you know?” With one large gasp for air she manages, “Everything was going fine, and now he won’t answer my calls!” I rub her back, quietly shushing her hysteria. “I can’t believe I slept with him, and now this?” As if one big hallelujah, everyone in the room chimes in collectively with, “God, boys suck!”

So here we are again. The break up that happens before you actually start dating someone. This is a tricky topic because there’s a serious difference between deciding you’re not interested in dating and toying with someone’s emotions. It’s fragile space between getting to know someone and being Facebook official. The beginning of a new budding romance, a chance to test the waters with someone new, and above all else, the part of a relationship where miscommunication is king. This is usually where my hopeful crushes and romantic fantasies go to die.

As you begin talking to a potential partner you will battle with what I like to call ‘the waiting game’. This refers to the back and forth question of, “when is the right time to sleep with him?” Because, of course you don’t want him to think you’re a whore and you surely don’t want him to think of you as a prude either. So when is the perfect time to get intimate with someone in order to keep them from getting bored from chasing or  waiting? As we all know men have to have something to chase, they’re like cats. Once they catch the string they’ll bat it around for a while having a good time, but eventually they’ll figure out that it’s not moving and walk away.

In agreeance, your sturdiest male friend will stand before you in all of his chivalrous glory and tell you in his most fatherly voice, “Any guy that’s trying too hard to bang you isn’t interested, he’s just trying to get pussy.” However, that same friend will then turn around to a girl he’s trying to “bang” and whisper sweet nothings into her ear until she’s trusting (or drunk) enough to spread her legs.

So why lead us on? Why lie about what’s really going on just so that they can sleep with us? In that slow space you occupy while getting to know someone better, you really don’t have any rights. not technically anyway. I’ve found that when going out with someone I’m interested in, I’m completely going off of what he might be feeling. So let’s talk about it, let’s open it up to discussion. Men are too discouraged by the idea that they aren’t “allowed” to talk about their feelings. If it ends up that they’re not really interested in you, oh well you’ve seen better days. However, lying and acting interested in order to get what they want is really childish and cruel. It’s closer to stealing than dating. The most common answer i’ve heard to this problem, aside from picking daisies, is to understand that boys lie and to protect yourself from it. But can’t they just stop lying? It really can’t be that hard to be honest about how you feel in order to spare another person their feelings. Instead of becoming less trusting, I think that they should just become more honest.

Earlier in the year I met a handsome baby faced boy who I had developed quite a crush on. I took his corny lines for sweet romances. I really believed that he was interested in me. Until I walked up the steps to his house to find him with his arm around the waist of another girl. Okay Liz, stay calm. Obviously he invited you over as just a friend. No problem with that. What’s wrong with being friends?  Then something strange happened. When I sat down next to him he removed his arm from where it had rested around her and placed his opposite arm around me. Hmm, curiouser and curiouser. Towards the end of the evening I announced that I was ready to return home. After which he asked me to follow him inside so that we could talk. “You should stay and sleep over, you’re too drunk to drive home.” In all fairness I know now that agreeing to sleep over wasn’t one of my better decisions but in truth and honesty, we all have needs. We disappeared into his bedroom and kissed madly. Well, drunkenly…sloppily. That’s when I heard someone bounding up the staircase followed by wild banging on the door. Shortly after an angry drunken voice called out, “Bye, you’re fucking disgusting!!” He brushed it off with laughter, like he had no idea what was going on and it was all some big joke. This is the point in the evening when you pretend not to know what’s happening. I’m completely oblivious to this. Oh, I wonder what album cover that is on the wall. God, he’s got a boring room…and he’s getting spit all over my face. Oh well, la la la la la la… Minutes later his phone began flashing and beeping and buzzing uncontrollably. “Jesus, who’s blowing me up right now?!” Really? You have got to be fucking kidding me. “Maybe it’s that other girl.” He completely ignored it as if I hadn’t said anything at all.  The next morning I crept gently over his sleeping body, trying desperately to avoid his massive pile of drool. I placed my feet carefully on the ground as not to wake him up. When I looked at the floor I noticed that something was off. There were two empty condom wrappers on the ground, one of which being unaccounted for. Prince fucking charming, you sure can pick ’em! 

Now, is it just me or does this feel like a whole lot of bullshit? No, because it is indeed a whole lot of bullshit. Why do we seek relationships while men seek sex? It’s because both men and women are receiving mixed messages. Women are conditioned from childhood to be monogamous creatures. We are expected to desire relationships rather than frivolous sex, and told that sex will is shameful unless you have one person to share it with. While at the same time men are told to go out into the world and spread their seed. They’re told that lying to a girl isn’t such a bad thing. We don’t even know that we’re doing it to each other because we’ve been designed this way. However, by doing this we are placing both genders in an unbreakable box. Women must be this way, men must be the other. This places immense pressure on both parties. This is also the reason why women find virginity so unattractive in men. Men stereotypically seek women who are closer to “purity” while women desire that their partner be sexually experienced.  I’m not saying that it can’t be turned around, it obviously can be. I’ve dealt with this issue more often in my own life as well as the lives of my girl friends. So let’s start changing things, shall we? Let’s place ourselves under a microscope and ask ourselves what we really want. It’s not men who are at fault, it’s the system. So let’s communicate with them instead of assuming that we know what each other wants.

The Girl in the Mirror: Learning to Love Your Body

The very first time I can recall feeling inadequate about my body was in preschool. I must have been about four years old when I caught my shadow on the sun lit concrete of North Broadway playground. I stopped running with the other girls and turned to look at what I saw. I had a baby tummy protruding underneath my jumper. I didn’t like my shadow. My chick tummy didn’t resemble the flat sexy stomach of Jasmine or Ariel, so I sucked it in and ran after my friends. I remember the day I stopped loving my body so vividly. All it took was one glance at my shadow to completely change the view I had of myself. I remember the day I lost my chubby cheeks too. I looked in the mirror and gazed at the face looking back at me. I loved that thin looking girl. I danced around my mother’s bedroom in my Lion King dress happy to be thin because thin was a beautiful thing to be. My uncomfortableness with food and my body stayed with me through most of my adolescence. Before my 10th birthday I went to Limited Too to find the perfect ensemble to wear for my big party. I found what I thought at the time was the most beautiful shirt I had ever seen, but it didn’t look right on me. So I starved myself down to 45 lbs in order to look “good” in it. Granted I was probably 3 feet tall when I was 10 but it still wasn’t pretty. Believe me, I was all head. I looked like a walking tooth pick with a peach on top.

My struggles with body image didn’t change until the end of my teenage years. This is mostly because the messages I was receiving had only worsened. I didn’t look like the girls on T.V. and in magazines. The only places you usually see dark haired, hairy women under 5ft tall is in Lord Of the Rings, so I really didn’t stand a chance. I was unbelievably ashamed of my body. The first time a boy made me feel sexy I fell for him hard, too hard.

It has been said that the average American woman is 5’4 and weighs around 140 lbs whereas the average model is 5’11 and weighs about 117 lbs. There is a huge gap between what we actually look like and what we’re told is beautiful. Young girls aren’t stupid. We are able to make the clear connection that men find these supermodel images desirable. So naturally we crash diet, overexercise, and develop overwhelming resentment towards our bodies all in the hope of becoming society’s idea of the “perfect” girl.

Your body is a living organism that requires love, respect, and connection. It knows when it’s being abused and absorbs that pain like a sponge. Duality between mind and body distances you from authenticity and self care. If you’re not loving your body then you’re not loving yourself. Lacking self love and confidence can set you going on a damaging cycle. Once I began to understand that I was the only one who noticed my flaws I was able to grasp the stupidity of it. Practicing yoga and meditation helped me establish clarity and connection within myself. By coming into my body I realized that every bump, bruise, scar, and mole were pieces of my puzzle; and that made it beautiful.

Here are 5 things to help you love yourself more fully.

  • Begin every morning with meditation: Practice by either laying on your back or sitting on your bed. Close your eyes and breathe slow full breaths and let your belly fall soft. Establish silence and spend 3-11mins in sync with your breath. Notice your body. Imagine it completely covered in white light and healing energy. Allow it to heal you.
  • Thank your body: Along with meditation make sure to spend silent moments studying your body from head to toe and thank it for everything it’s given you.
  • Give yourself 3 compliments everyday: Stand in front of your mirror completely naked and say three things that you love about your body
  • Practice I AM THAT I AM: When you start to think negatively about your body place your hands over your heart and recite: Everyday in Every way I am getting better and better, God and me and me and God are one I am – and repeat anything you need or desire to feel, for example: I am beautiful, healthy, and strong. Then close with: I know this is the truth and I am thankful for that truth. So it is.
  • Surround yourself with positive people: Close relationships should never drag you down, they should only uplift you. If you are surrounded by people who speak negatively about the looks of themselves and others it shows that they are insecure and will be unable to offer you the support you need.

I still struggle with my own reflection and it’s a constant process. I had allowed my fears and insecurities time to grow and fed them regularly with negativity. This is why it will take time to make a full positive change. The importance of beginning this transformation is undeniable. We need to teach our sisters, our friends, and our daughters how to love their bodies. 7 million girls and women struggle with eating disorders and body dysmorphia in this country and we have to make a change. We brought our bodies into this world. They are roadmaps of our lives and we will leave them behind when we go. Let’s make a fresh start and give ourselves the love and respect we deserve.

Safe Sex – What Your Teachers Didn’t Mention.

As a Sociology undergraduate student at OSU I was required to obtain an internship for the summer. I stumbled upon an amazing opportunity to work with Suzanne Roberts. She is a Somatic therapist who offers women’s leadership classes and workshops. In Suzanne’s classes we discuss a number of different topics and with each 2 hour session we learn how to support each other as women while establishing power within ourselves. One of the most eye opening experiences of my young life came while I attended her “Consent” workshop.

Before we began we went around the circle and discussed what consent means to us. Suzanne looked around at all of us. Somewhat stunned at our responses she replied with “Well no one mentioned safe sex?” Another young intern raised her hand, “Um you mean like condoms? Yeah we discuss that in health class.” Suzanne was flustered and threw her hands in the air, “No! safe sex – emotional safety with your partner.” Wow, the thought that sex should be emotionally safe as well as physically had never even crossed my mind and by the look of it I was not alone.

So why is it that feeling safe with your partner was not discussed in sex education or even a part of the birds and the bees talk? The standard parent-child talk usually begins with, “Sex is between two people who love each other very much…” Unfortunately love and safety don’t always go hand in hand. You can love someone who you don’t feel safe with and you can have sex with someone you don’t love. I’ve had sex with people I didn’t love and may again in the future, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is having sex with someone who repeatedly accuses you of being a W.O.P. only to find out later that the tattoo on his back was not a Celtic cross but a white supremacy symbol. Not safe. Pairing emotional safety with sex is not instinctual. If the topic isn’t brought up how are we supposed to learn what’s right?

I once had sex on an Ikea table that collapsed with me still on it. I landed on my feet with my head facing the ground which made a perfect slide for the circa ’95 computer monitor that was sitting behind me. It rolled right off my back and hit the ground with a loud thud. He who shall remain nameless was more concerned with the well being of his damn near obsolete computer than my spine. I stood there bent over hands to the ground and let out a deep pained moan. I was terrified to move, thinking I had broken my back and would never walk again. He just stood in front of me saying, “Shh…shh…Liz you’re going to wake up my roommates! You’re fine, just walk it off.” I’m aware that my sheer choice in men may be to blame for my own bitterness but at 18 there was very little to pick from. What I learned from that and many other of my sexperiences is that if you can’t trust your partner to see if you’re okay rather than just shushing you, you probably shouldn’t have sex with him.

all hilarity aside safe sex needs to be addressed on a much deeper level. With out trust and emotional safety one runs the risk of being seriously mistreated in sexual situations. This can then establish negative patterns or cycles of distrust, exploitation, coercion and even rape. Every woman and man, gay or straight has the undeniable right to trust and sexual safety. Regardless of being in a monogamous relationship or not.