6/21/16// my septum was a site of violence.

CW: bodies, trauma, rape, rape culture, body modification, consent, coercion, violence, assault, police mention, racism, transmisogyny, sexism, ableism, healing
I’ve always loved body modification- tattoos, piercings, weird hair. I have my ear lobes stretched, and have for a long time. I have 17 tattoos, and have had pink, purple, blue, white, and red hair. At various points in my life, I’ve pierced my eyebrow, labret, lip, nostril, ears x like a million, bellybutton, and nipples. I also have my septum pierced. I think part of it is that I like to shock people (it weeds out those who are judgmental based on appearance really easily), I like to set myself apart from the preps (as any Good Punk does), and I simply appreciate the aesthetic. As a sexual assault survivor and a person in recovery from an eating disorder, I have also found found an immense amount of healing through the choice to modify my body in a way that suits my aesthetic in a way that is permanent (tattoos), or semi-permanent (piercings and hair). I get the choice. I get to consent. As an artist, I get to treat my body as a canvas. My body tells my stories in a way that I can always hold with me. I can see them, and I know they are real, even when I’m not sure what else is. I like the way I look because I love my body modifications. Modifying my body has been a hugely liberating, empowering, and healing process for me.
I grew up in a Suburb of Toronto that has since become a Big City. Then, I lived in a mid-size University Town full of hippies, anarchists, and students. For a period of time I also spent a lot of time in the Toronto Punk Scene. In all of those places, I found my people. I had a community of people who, like me, considered their bodies art forms that told their stories. To them, the ways I choose to modify my body weren’t overly shocking. In fact, my modifications really weren’t particularly radical at all. After I finished my undergrad, I moved to the Small Town where my partner had grown up. in this Small Town, there is a vibrant music, theatre, and art community, and on top of that, it seemed like the ideal place where we could slowly build our careers and raise our one-day, hypothetical family. 
In spite of the vibrant arts community and the small, but mighty radical community (which looks a lot different than the radical communities of the University Town and Toronto Punk Scene), I began to run into the problem my preppy parents had always warned me about: the vast majority of people in this Small Town took one look at me and identified me as not only a New Girl, but a Freak. In the 3 years I’ve lived here, I have grown to be a part of this community, and I have a lot of love for it. But I have also experienced violence based on the way I’ve chosen to modify my body. 
Now, I should note here that I chose to modify my body, and I chose to settle in a Small Town. There are many demographics of people who experience violence based on things that are not choice, but are visible and significant parts of who they are. As a white woman, I do not experience the violence that people of colour face in my community, and systemically. When my Small Town’s police association chose to launch a “Blue Lives Matter” campaign to make money to benefit the police, I had the privilege to make noise about how inappropriate that was without the fear of being harassed or attacked. As someone who is identified as cis by others, I do not experience the violence that visibly and openly transgender people face in my community. I can use a public restroom without people following me in and inquiring about my genitals. As a person who, more often than not, passes as able-bodied (even though I’m not), I do not experience the same types of violence as people in the community who are visibly disabled and/or who use visible mobility aids. I am able to shop in the stores downtown. The level that these acts of violence exist on are systemic, and they thrive in my Small Town. The violence that I am talking about regarding my body modifications does not diminish the fact that there are people in my community who experience violence on levels that I am privileged enough to never have to experience. 

That being said, I am a disabled, mad, modified femme who has experienced violence that is rooted in these subject positions and the power structures they exist in in the context of my life and the social world around me. I could write a million essays on gender-based violence and ableism and madness (okay, I already have and will continue to), but this essay isn’t about those things directly as much as it is about the violence I’ve experienced because I have chosen to modify my body. Even more specifically, this essay is about my septum piercing being a site of violence. My horseshoe-shaped, silver, 16 gauge septum ring.

Sometimes these acts of violence are subtle. Sometimes they’re off-handed comments about how it looks weird, or about how other people don’t like it. I know it may seem like a stretch to consider those things violent, but when one thing about you is a constant source of harassment, that begins to feel a lot like emotional abuse. And that shit feels violent.

It felt violent when a manager told me I could have the job if I took out my septum ring because it made me look like a freak.
It felt violent when another manager brought up that, although she liked my look, some clients may not feel comfortable receiving counselling from me because of my septum ring, and that this has been an issue in the past.
It felt violent when people came into bars I used to work in and told me I’d be so pretty without my septum ring and that I should take it out.
It felt violent when family members told me the same thing.
It felt violent when a youth I was working with told me I was stupid for having a septum piercing. 
I could go on for a while, but I won’t bore you. I will share the most explicitly violent thing that happened regarding my septum piercing though:
 I was working with a youth who loved candy. We went into the dollar store to buy some, and I lead him to the candy aisle. We were intercepted by a middle-aged woman who reached out, grabbed my septum ring, and held on to it tightly while telling my client that this was the best way to “keep my under control”. Shocked, I reached up, held onto the woman’s wrist, and gentle peeled her fingers off of my face. She continued ranting about how I needed to be controlled with a piercing like that, and then reached up and grabbed it again. I blocked her with my own arm, turned my back to her, and made space for my client to pass by me. He was scared and shocked and had a lot of questions I didn’t know how to answer, like, “why did she do that to you?”. 
The escalation of violence regarding my septum ring lead me to take it out (that, and because I felt as though my manager had a point that that particular form of body modification may isolate me from clients, which is the last thing I want, wrong or not). I no longer felt safe wearing my septum ring in public. I felt exposed, vulnerable. I like the way I look with it in, so I continued to wear it at home, but took it out when I was in public. After a few months without it, I put it back in today. I’ll still take it out for work, but on my days off, I want to try it out again.

The fact that anyone feels as though it’s appropriate to police what anyone does with their body or their expression of self feels really fucked up to me. It feels like a violation. The fixation on the way other people look fosters such a toxic culture of alienation and unattainable perfection. It took me a long time to learn that perfect isn’t a thing, and that my stories and how I choose to tell them (including my obsession with embodying them) are a hell of a lot more authentic that meeting a beauty standard set out by anyone but myself. But my believing that didn’t stop that act of violence from happening to me.

I mean, let’s call it what it is. Rape culture. Rape culture is all about coercing people into believing that they’re living authentically and that their identities were formed through consensual experiences. Rape culture it about deciding what is best for other people, touching people without their consent, maintaining control, and stripping control away from people who may question the authority of hegemonic society. Rape culture is why a middle-aged woman felt it was reasonable to grab something that was attached to my face and tell my male client that violating my personal space, body, and choices was the Right Thing to Do.

And I’ve gotta tell you, it sure did feel similar to being raped. I mean, obviously not in such an intense way, but my brain did the trauma thing. I remember freezing and thinking, “she is holding something that is attached to my face and she’s won’t let go” and then snapping into flight mode the same way I remember freezing and thinking, “he is inside of me, and he won’t listen to me saying no” and then snapping into flight mode.

I wish I could say that this essay is a call to action. A call to respect other peoples’ choices regarding how they express themselves, physically or otherwise. A call to get consent before touching people. A call to respect the boundaries of survivors regarding their own healing (and to give people the benefit of the doubt if they choose not disclose their survivor status to you). But it’s not. It’s just one of my stories.

6/23/16// a letter to the woman who hit me with her car.

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I was nineteen, living in downtown Toronto with my partner for the summer. We did a lot of going to punk shows, and a lot of drinking beer. One evening, our friends stayed over. We didn’t stay up late, didn’t drink much, but had a nice time. The next morning, I walked one of our friends to her streetcar stop, which was across the street from our apartment. We were walking across the intersection at College and Dufferin, with me just behind my friend. The crosswalk symbol glowed a half-burnt out white man walking. 
And then I saw your car, about to turn left, right into the crosswalk. I thought you were going to stop, it was our right of way, but you kept going. You never stopped at any point, and were clearly in  hurry. I would guess you were going at least 40km/hr. I thought you were going to stop, but you kept going. You hit me, as I turned towards your car at the last minute. I ended up flat on my back in the middle of the street. That was when you stopped.
I jumped up, shot full of adrenaline, I didn’t feel anything at all. Frozen, my typical initial response to a threat. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine. You got out of your car, ran towards me, and hugged me. I thought you were going to stop, but you kept going. You said, “I’m so sorry! Please don’t call the police, I have so much going on right now”. You were crying.

My friend’s streetcar came. I turned to her, “go, catch your streetcar. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine”. She caught her streetcar. A man who had been parked just down the street yelled, “call the police!’ to me. I hated the police. You were obviously not okay right now. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine. I said, “listen, go pull over somewhere until you calm down”.

You got back into your car, and I crossed the street again and went home. As I entered my apartment, I felt the pain hit. My arms and legs were numb. My neck hurt so fucking badly. My entire body ached like the worst flu I had ever had. Like I’d been hit by a car. I told my partner what happened, and he told me I should have called the police to report it. To hold you accountable. I told him I was in too much pain to hear him out in that moment.
I want you to know that I have lived with pain every single day. 
I want you to know that typing this letter to you may be the only thing I’m able to do today, because my arms feel like there are pins stuck in them that have been roasting in a fire for three days. 
I want you to know that I have spasms in my neck, shoulders, back, legs, and arm every day.
I want you to know that finishing my undergraduate nearly killed me because I was trying to figure out how to manage my chronic pain. 
I want you to know that I’ve been on countless medications, each with side effects worse than the last. 
I want you know know that I spent years fighting for my right to medicate naturally with cannabis, and that the legal structuring of the laws around that have made it incredibly difficult to access and that the stigma I deal with because of it threatens my present and future every day.
I want you to know that starting my career has been made more complicated by my chronic pain. The career I’ve chosen involves shift work (including overnight shifts), physically assisting people at times, and a lot of emotional labour. The shift work fucks up the rhythm I’ve worked so hard to establish, the one that managed my pain, the physical assistance of people is simply not possible at times, and it’s hard to allot emotional labour for work AND for managing my own pain (not to mention layers to trauma). I have had to advocate for my physical needs, sometimes successfully, sometimes at the detriment of my career.
I want you to know that I regret not getting your contact information so that I could send you this letter, if not hold you accountable.
I was nineteen. I was young, idealistic, scared, and shocked. You were a middle-aged woman with a big fancy SUV who had the nerve to ask me not to call the police. You had the nerve to drive away. I thought you were going to stop, but you kept going. I don’t know what you were going through at the time, but you didn’t know what I was going through either. I wonder if you live with the effects of this event every day, like I do, or if you’ve forgotten. I wonder if you told your partner or your children or your parents or your friends or you coworkers what happened, and what they said to you. I wonder if you kept it a secret.
I thought the pain was going to stop, but it’s still going. 

 

– A.

7/1/16// a brief inside look at the mind of someone with bpd trying to cope with a friend breakup.

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I’ve been learning a lot about friendships and how I conduct myself in friendships. I had a conversation with my therapist recently that shed some light on this: I told my therapist I have a hard time maintaining most friendships. She asked why, and I said, “I’m just too intense, so people bail”. She asked what was so scary about me that people would have to bail, and I explained that I am a very supportive, actively caring friend in a very big way. I will always sacrifice myself and my well-being for other people. For my most part, the friend typically encourages me to allow them to support and actively care for me as well, at which point I spill my guts and make myself vulnerable. My guts happen to be comprised of some pretty intense extremes, which is difficult for other people to deal with because I’m often REALLY violently depressed, but my baseline (if I even have one…) is very…high. High energy/racing thoughts/impulses/obsession/compulsion/passionate/disorganized. This gives me the appearance of being extremely high functioning while simultaneously feeling as though I’m being tortured . Not surprisingly, any glimpse at this authentic reality is terrifying for anyone, whether they, themselves, lives with mental illness or not. These friends then interpret my intensity as dependency and set boundaries in their own way (generally by bailing). I genuinely care way too much about literally everything. I have absolutely no chill. 
That’s the way I am. The way I want to be would look more like me caring for myself and designating appropriate amounts of time to care for other people. Not only would this probably be more comfortable for my friends, but this would obviously also benefit me and give me more energy to control the times I choose to make myself vulnerable. Figuring this stuff out has been painful and has required taking a good, hard look at myself and who I want to be. It’s forced me to straddle the line between my rational and emotional minds and also between radically accepting who I am and the things I struggle with and fighting for who I want to be. 
I’ve always considered myself someone who is not an addict. Sure, I’m addicted to cigarettes and caffeine, but who isn’t? I smoke a lot of pot, but I live with a lot of physical pain and don’t like taking pain pills. I very rarely drink at all, and when I do, I have one or two gluten-free beers and cry for the next week straight. None of the usual culprits are a huge issue, but in a way, I do consider myself an addict. I am addicted my my extreme moods. Because I experience extremes, I’ve experienced the BEST things. The BEST sex. The BEST love. The BEST highs. The BEST, most intimate friendships. I’ve also experienced some really violent, intense low feelings and have done some things that no one should ever do because I wanted the lows to stop. Believe it or not, these extremes are equally addictive. I am THE MOST either way. And that feels….intense. Intense is my default. 
I had developed one of those BEST, most intimate friendships in the not-very-distant-at-all past. She made herself so vulnerable to me, and she was intense too. I loved her, and she loved me. And then I got too intense. And then she got too intense. And she bailed, in the name of self-preservation. I still don’t fully understand the situation, but I’m trying to let go of the feeling that I need to understand. 
I was stuck in more ways than one. For one thing, do you respect the wishes of the person when they were stable, even if it means ignoring their wishes now? How do you respect someone’s autonomy in that situation? Do I get to be hurt that she bailed on me when I needed support? Is she sicker than me, and does it matter? Do I get to be angry that she bailed on me when I needed support? Does she have any means of control over her behaviour? Any more control over her behaviour than I have over mine? Does it matter? Can I admit that I am not a good friend sometimes because I’m too obsessed with being SO MUCH without feeling worthless? How accountable do I hold her for her actions when she was unstable? How accountable should I hold myself while I was unstable? Is it different for each of us? Does it matter?

It’s been hard, and it’s required me to take a good, hard look at myself. I want to feel more balanced, to be okay with “good” instead of AMAZING. I want to be able to allot time to give to other people, and time to explore myself.I want to be able to give someone space without it being a huge battle because I’m worried about them. I want to be able to not feel absolutely devastated when I find out people don’t like me (for any reason).

Now, I feel like I try so hard and put in so much effort to everything that I am owed a small percentage of that effort back into the friendship. I feel like it’s taken me time to get to a place where I don’t feel as though I don’t deserve any effort. But I want to feel as though I don’t need validation to feel okay with myself. That’s the other thing I’m addicted to: validation. But I don’t want to feel reliant on that, because it’s unrealistic. It is unrealistic to have expectations, because it’s unreasonable to project those expectations on to someone else. I want to be okay with accepting people for who they are, even if that means that the context of our relationship is either one where I do not get much (or anything) back, or simply a relationship that didn’t turn out to be permanent. 
I am grateful to my best bitch for bailing on me. It was so intense that it forced me to face my addictions and to address them. It also forced me to turn (back) to writing to help me process my thoughts, since I didn’t have someone to bounce my thoughts off of in the same way anymore. I’m finding that this is a lot more productive since it allows me to more fully form my thoughts, rather than having outside input before I’ve had a chance to finish processing myself (because, obviously, i’m so hyperactive?/hypomanic?/high? that there’s a lot to process).

It’s amazing that I can separate these kinds of thought patterns in my personal and professional lives. Call me the queen of low-key, functional dissociation. Maybe it’s okay if I still think a lot, as long as I learn to be more radically okay with it. 

7/21/16// things that feel good today.

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I’ve been making lists of things that feel good. There is literally no qualifier for making the list except that the thing felt good. There are no rules, I don’t post these statuses with any real consistency, they just happen when I feel like I need them. I started posting “things that feel good” statuses when I was about six months into a violent (but, as always, functional) depression because I noticed that my thought patterns focused in on negative things that didn’t feel good at all, and that I was focusing all of my energy on those feelings that didn’t feel good. I was looking for a way to train my brain to notice things that felt good instead, and one day I decided to post a list of things that had felt good that day as a Facebook status. 
The response I got kind of blew my mind. A ton of people liked it or otherwise “reacted” to it. People commented that they thought it was a cool concept. People approached me in the street to tell me they had loved that status. 
It was just a status on Facebook, and I hadn’t posted it in hope of receiving any type of response as much as to hold myself publicly accountable for this paradigm shift I was attempting to create for myself. It is an easy way to keep a record. That being said, I’m never one to turn down validation, and the reminders every time I would receive a notification to look at that status were helpful in re-training my brain, because I kept re-reading these things that I was intentionally acknowledging as feeling good. It became a mantra, these Things That Felt Good. 
I started posting them more often. As my depression lessened, the posts began to feel more celebratory and less like another thing I put myself through the motions of in hope of feeling better. People continued engaging with the concept of them both on and offline, and even began posting their own. Being mindful of things that feel good was a concept that made sense to a lot of people. And I felt as though it really was contributing to a meaningful change for me. 
As a person who is fascinated by performance, I have always felt drawn to public displays of self-discovery and change. I think that expressions of authentic processes of self-discovery are the highest form of art, and that it follows naturally for that art form to bleed into the public sphere. With presentation of this wild display of vulnerability comes the opportunity for those witnessing it to reflect, relate, connect with the artist, and with one another. It creates space for discussion. It also creates space for accountability and the continuation of the process of reflection for the artist. 
 
There’s also something to be said for the intentional self-objectification that comes with using the self as a medium for artistic expression. The process of exposing ones self has been, for me, a way of looking at myself from outside of myself. A way of taking space from my body, and then being very much in my body. Objectifying my Self, and my experiences on my terms. Making my Self a display in a way that I consent to, intentionally. 
 
I didn’t intend for Things That Felt Good Today posts to be an art project when I started to do it, but upon reflection, that is a large component of what it is and what has been healing about it. 
Things That Felt Good Today posts are an art form because they are vulnerable displays of mindfulness that is related to the authentic self and are performed publicly. They are full of transformative potential for the artist, and for those who witness them. For those who choose to engage with them, those who create their own, those who think about them.

They are a performance piece that feels good.

7/29/16// the threat of being feminist.

CW:  rape threats, child abuse threats

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Yesterday I came across this series of tweets from a feminist writer who I’ve followed for years (and who was very significant to my development as a teen).  Valenti is the author of Full Frontal Feminism (2007), Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape (2008, with Jaclyn Friedman), He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut (2008), The Purity Myth  (2009), Why Have Kids (2012), and most recently, Sex Object: A Memoir (2016). Her work has also appeared in publications including Ms, The Nation, The Guardian,  and The Washington Post.
When you speak out about things that challenge the way people know themselves to exist within the world, there is always pushback. I get it, concepts such as the simultaneous reality of gender as a social construct and gender fluidity or even an open concept of queerness is challenging. It’s challenging for me, a person who has dedicated years to studying gender, I can only imagine how intense it feels to be told that what you’ve been taught about gender, sexuality, race, ability level etc. isn’t inherently true. Fear and discomfort lead to reaction, and I believe that it’s important for people to have the ability to react in a way that feels authentic for them. I also believe that this reaction ought not to be stagnant, and ought to be used as a starting point to move forward and expand consciousness. However, this takes it too far. No one deserves to be threatened with rape (or threatened at all), and especially not the rape of a child, I don’t care how challenging a concept may be for you. It’s one thing to have a reaction yourself, but to violently impose that reaction on another person is unacceptable. To take it one step further, it is one thing to impose your violent reaction on a person who publicly works with difficult topics (not okay at all) and another to impose a violent reaction on an innocent child, who hasn’t consented to engaging with the subject at all (next level fucked up).
My politics are not often accepted in the small town where I live. On a regular basis, I am called a feminazi, militant (lmao, if you know me, you know why this is funny), I’ve even been called a terrorist. I’ve had men tell me they were going to “teach me what my mouth should really be used for”, and yes, even straight up rape threats. For speaking and writing about thing I am passionate about (oh, and studied lol).
That is all a really fucked up response to folks putting their ideas forward (yet, how often do people argue against feminism with “free speech”?), but it doesn’t even hold a candle to the threat that Ms. Valenti received regarding her daughter. As she said, “I should not have to fear for my kids safety because I write about feminism”. She shouldn’t have to fear for her own safety either. None of us should. People have responded to Valenti saying that since she chooses to engage with such loaded subject matters, these kind of threats are part of the job. I’ve heard the same thing. To this, I say, step the fuck back. No one should ever be subject to violence because of the work they do, whether it is challenging the framework of society or not.
When you are putting your energy into actively fighting against something like feminism, you need to understand that you are actively fighting against something that holds the intention to actively care for people. That is what you’re fighting against. Feminism isn’t perfect. It’s not simple, or clean, or linear. There are people who practice it in an intersectional, anti-oppressive way, and there are people who make it all about middle-class, white, able-bodied, cis women. We’re (arguably) in the 4th wave, and there will, no doubt, be many more waves to come. Feminism doesn’t look like any one thing. However, what underlies this diverse range of feminisms is the intention to actively care for people. How to get there is up for debate, and if you ask any group of self-identified feminists, you will get a huge range of responses. There are so many things worth fighting against, but caring for one another should not be even close to the top of that list. I’m not saying it’s easy or you need to agree- it is challenging shit. But take a look at your priorities and have a little humanity.
Fight rape. Fight threats. Leave feminists (and their kids) the fuck alone.

Also, if people think that these kind of responses are going to shut us (feminists) up, think again. You are literally proving our point and fuelling the fire. Have your reaction. Use your reaction as a means of opening up discussion and maybe even shifting paradigms. Do not threaten people with violence for writing about something that is challenging for you.

8/8/16// the authentic self, capacity, emotional labour, and the revolution.

Okay, I don’t really know what the revolution will look like. To me, it’s already happening. It looks like: community gardens/ community meetings/ learning to take care of ourselves (whatever that means)/ community dinners/ debriefs/ sober spaces/ systemic institutions that are honestly willing to accept feedback/ spaces that aren’t sober/ art groups/engaging in discussion about what caring for one another looks like. The reason those things feel revolutionary to me is the focus on simultaneously taking care of myself and also actively caring for the people (and other non-human beings) in my life. 
Standpoint theory is a postmodern feminist assertion that day to day experience is what shapes a person’s knowledge of the world, which informs the way they experience the world and shapes their identity. Scholars such as Sandra Harding, Nancy Heartsick, Patricia Hill Collins, and Dorothy Smith have written about it, and a lot of modern-day feminism is approached according to it. You and I went to a theatre to see a play and I sat front and centre and you sat on the back, stage right. After the play, we sit down for coffee and discuss. You saw things that I didn’t see and I noticed things you didn’t notice because we had different perspectives of the performance. Similarly, if you are a straight, masculine person of colour, you are going to experience things differently than I, a queer, femme, white person. Intersectionality is the concept that identity is comprised of multiple standpoints, all of which work together to inform the experiences and identity of a person. Identity informs experience because the world we live in is one comprised of thousands of years worth of historically informed power dynamics which are embedded in defining concepts that construct social and legal systems. Comprehending identity according to standpoint theory and intersectionality can be difficult, because once you think about yourself in relation to these concepts, you’re faced with the realty that you’re privileged in some ways, and likely being systemically oppressed (oppression = systemic power + prejudice) in some ways as well. This is a complex reality to be faced with. But when you start to explore it, beautiful things happen.
Finding your “authentic self” is, simply, a never ending process. It’s a process full of checking in with yourself about what qualities and subject positions make up your identity, and how you perform your identity in relation to the social world. To me, finding for my authentic self means analyzing my subject positions, and it also means being honest about my capacity to actively care for both myself and others. As with many things, it comes down to balance. Being honest with myself about my capacity. This requires me to make myself vulnerable enough to be authentic with myself. It’s been a far from linear journey towards recognizing my capacity in this sense. I am a person who gives until I am depleted. This may sound like a positive quality, and in some ways, it is. But in other ways, it’s rooted in selfishness. I get off on caring or other people. Call it mommy issues, call it a saviour complex, either way, caring for others makes me feel good. But this can be problematic in that not only does it deplete myself, but it leads me to inserting myself into peoples’ lives because I identify them as needing to be cared for. 
This is where the concept of capacity comes in. When I get that urge to care, I ask myself: What is my capacity to engage in the situation? Sometimes, the answer is that I am feeling relatively emotionally well, relatively physically well, and I have the time to allow to providing care for someone. Sometimes, I am struggling with pain or mental health shit that lessens my capacity. Sometimes, I don’t have time. Sometimes, I weigh the amount of emotional labour the other person has contributed outward when they had the capacity and the balance is off for me. 
The next question I ask myself is: why do I feel that someone may benefit from my emotional labour? Sometimes, the answer is that I have skills or knowledge that may be useful. Sometimes, it’s that the person has explicitly asked for support, advice, counselling, or another form of active caring. Sometimes, the answer is that I feel compelled to do something that I think may make someone else’s life easier or happier, whether they agree or not. 
As always, consent is key when caring, and it’s a much more complicated concept than someone asking for emotional labour or not. Ideally, we would live in a society where consent is always given verbally and explicitly. “I need support/advice/help/validation, is it within your capacity too engage in this kind of emotional labour”. I actually have groups of friends where we do this and people will actually reflect and acknowledge whether or not they have the capacity to engage, and in what way. I feel that moving towards this kind of mutual, consensual exchange of emotional labour is absolutely revolutionary. Of course, there are situations where people (ie. me) assume predetermined consent, or where people are physically and emotionally unable to take care of themselves in a way that puts themselves or others in danger. This is where this concept gets really complicated, and I can’t even begin to think of answers. But this is where discussions come into play. The almighty exchange of knowledge based in lived experience.
So, now you’re thinking about authenticity, capacity, and emotional labour, but what next? I think that with this process, there eventually comes a sense of assertiveness. I understand my Self, my capacity, my needs, and I am comfortable asking for them and receiving them. There also comes a time and place where you find a sense of “okayness”. I am okay with my Self and what is happening in this moment because I am in it, and it will pass one way or another in a way that will contribute to my process and my experience of the world. Sometimes this is simple, other times, it may challenge the very essence of your sense of Self, and it feels like you’re back where you began. This concept of “okayness” is often referring to as “radical acceptance”.
How are these concepts revolutionary? By actively caring for both your Self and the people around you, it alters the workings of our social world. First on a personal level, and then an interpersonal one. It shifts focus from productivity, to an ethic of care, which is arguably far more complicated, but also more sustainable. This shift toward an ethic of care then expands:
Self -> interpersonal ->  social systems -> physical environment.
When we learn to prioritize an ethic of care in accordance to the capacity of each of our authentic selves, that is absolutely revolutionary. 

8/11/16// i want to talk about being a high-functioning mad person.

Content warning: all the usual stuff, but also specific mentions of self-harm, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts.

 

The stereotype of mad people goes something like this: unable to get out of bed, unable to take care of basic needs (ie. food, hygiene), engaging in impulses, suicide attempts, active self-harming, medicated, attention-seeking, manipulative, engaging with any and all delusions or hallucinations- and the list goes on. Some of these things hold truth for some people (heck, all of these things may hold true for some people!), and that is valid. But those are not things that hold true for me.

I identify as being a mad person for a few reasons:

1. I was diagnosed with Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, and as experiencing occasional quasipsychosis when I was fourteen. I was then treated by a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and my family doctor through various therapeutic practices and also with medication.

It should probably be noted at this point that I feel strongly that if I were to undergo a full psychiatric assessment at this point in my life, eleven years after my initial evaluation, I would be given a pretty different set of diagnoses. It should also probably be noted that, while I believe first and foremost that everyone ought to have the right to treat their madness/illness/body in whatever way they feel may work best for them at the time, I am extremely noncompliant with medication and do not believe that it is helpful for me or conducive to my healing process at this point in my life. I also want to acknowledge that there was a point in my life where I did feel as though medication was helpful.

2. Sometimes, I feel mad. I feel crazy. I feel out of control. Sometimes, I am so depressed I want to die for no reason at all. Sometimes, I am so anxious, leaving my apartment takes hours because I have to check and re-check that i’ve unplugged everything in my apartment. Sometimes, I hear, and see, and feel things that other people don’t hear, or see, or feel. More often than not, I wake up throughout the night, either already breathless from sobbing in my sleep or completely paralyzed, as though there’s an alien laying on top of me. 
3. Other people (sometimes) identify me as mad. When I’m having a panic attack, or when I disclose to a close friend that I am feeling “low-key suicidal” as I call it (meaning I am experiencing suicidal ideation but don’t plan to carry anything out/am safe overall), they identify me as mad.When I disclose things to doctors, they also identify me as mad. When my family has to put up with me unplugging everything constantly and panicking about it as I drive away from home, or my partner wakes up to me crying again, they identify me as mad too.
Whether I want it to be or not, madness is a big part of my life, and, given the day, I’ve been known to argue both sides. However, the stereotype of mad folks doesn’t fit for me. No matter how unstable I am feeling, I will always get up, force myself to eat, force myself to drink water, force myself to get dressed, force myself to go to work, force myself to prepare meals beforehand, force myself to maintain relationships, force myself to take time to rest and recharge, force myself to have boundaries, force myself to care for the people in my life. I haven’t attempted suicide in eight and a half years, I haven’t self-harmed in five years, and in that time, I have graduated with an undergraduate degree (with honours), maintained a long-term romantic relationship, improved my family relationships, maintained several long-term friendships, started my career, and found stable housing (finally). I am what people call high-functioning.
I work, I volunteer, I take care of myself, I maintain relationships and extra-curricular interests. People who aren’t close to me generally don’t even realize I’m mad, and in a way, that is a privilege. However, like with any invisible, chronic condition, there is something to be said for experiences being erased by what fits more easily: physical and visible manifestation of symptoms.

The fact that I am high-functioning does not negate my experiences or the validity of my healing process.

Sometimes, I feel guilty for taking up space in therapeutic settings or online support groups for mad people. Sometimes, I feel guilty because I feel as though I’m appropriating language around mental health to describe my experiences. But the reality of the situation is: just because I don’t kill myself, doesn’t make my nearly constant suicidal ideation any less significant to my lived experience. Obviously, that’s the most extreme example I could give, but you get the idea (and I do love the dramatic…).

A lot of the issue comes down to the nature of psychiatry. Lists of symptoms fit the criteria of a mental illness, as defined by the  DSM V, so people are diagnosed and received the treatment that is supposed to alleviate those symptoms. Although this process has been life-saving in many different ways for many different people, there are tons of problems with this way of identifying and treating madness.That is an essay within itself….
The one problem with this that I want to draw attention to within this particular essay is that there exists this binary of “well”/“not well” or “sane”/“mad” or “functioning according to capitalist standards”/“not functioning according to capitalist standards”. While I’m all for resisting capitalism and not defining wellness or worth according to levels of productivity, I also happen to be a person who copes (and literally survives) by functioning. That is my way of resisting feeling like shit. This doesn’t mean that I think I’m better than (or more well than or healed than) people who are not high-functioning, simply that my way of working towards wellness and healing happens to look pretty high-functioning.

This also does not negate my experiences or the validity of my healing process.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been able to access many years worth different kinds of therapies. Maybe it’s because I was medicated for a few years. Maybe it’s because I have some wonderfully supportive, stable people in my life. Maybe it’s because my number one priority is my healing process (even when it may not seem like it). Maybe it’s because I’m a capricorn. Maybe it’s because it’s just the way I am. Maybe it’s because I was brought up in a WASPy, upper middle class, white family, and not being high functioning simply was not an option. It’s probably because of all of these things that I am a high functioning mad person.

Regardless, my experiences and my healing process are valid, even as a high-functioning mad person.