Being A Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence

The Belle Jar

1.

I am six. My babysitter’s son, who is five but a whole head taller than me, likes to show me his penis. He does it when his mother isn’t looking. One time when I tell him not to, he holds me down and puts penis on my arm. I bite his shoulder, hard. He starts crying, pulls up his pants and runs upstairs to tell his mother that I bit him. I’m too embarrassed to tell anyone about the penis part, so they all just think I bit him for no reason.

I get in trouble first at the babysitter’s house, then later at home.

The next time the babysitter’s son tries to show me his penis, I don’t fight back because I don’t want to get in trouble.

One day I tell the babysitter what her son does, she tells me that he’s just a little boy, he doesn’t know…

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Trigger Happy

People have been complaining for a long time about “trigger warnings” and claiming that they are a form of censorship. Then I came across this article, and it made me absolutely sick.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m three semesters away from my doctorate in clinical psychology, I specialize in women’s health, and my favorite area is trauma. I only see trauma patients. My clientele ranges from folks who have had a family member who was murdered, child rape victims, incest victims, folks who have been robbed, and really any victim of a crime who is suffering psychological aftermath. I deal with all of the people who were wounded by what you might consider to be the boogyman if you’ve never dealt with trauma, and I witness their paths to healing.

Being victimized has the potential to entirely change who you are. Most people who are wandering around in this country (the US) have not experienced an event that shifts their world view. They are aware that bad things happen, they may even know someone who has been victimized. They still see the world as a safe place in which you can control what happens to you, and as such they don’t feel that tinge of fear when they meet a new person, or find themselves trapped in a situation.

After a traumatic event, it’s like the entire world turns grey. All of a sudden, you realize the world isn’t really full of sunshine and that the boogyman doesn’t have a mustache, wear a trenchcoat, and lurke in the shadows. He’s right out in the open, walking in what used to look like sunshine. It’s usually someone they knew. Someone they trusted. It’s easy for a victim to blame himself or herself, why would you trust that person? Why would you have gone there? Why would you have done that damning thing? It’s easier to blame yourself than to admit you have absolutely no control over your world or the people in it, that the same horrible things could happen to you again at any time.

Keep that in mind as you read this article: https://medium.com/@naughty_nerdess/trigger-warnings-4b470a8c06c8

Now, with all of the information I provided above, I will also add this:

Problems with this article:

1. There’s a big difference between offending someone and causing real psychological damage. This author conflates the two.

2. Trigger warnings are there to protect people who have not received treatment yet or who are still in treatment. Once you are healed you don’t need trigger warnings any more. That being said, stabbing someone to help them recover from a gunshot wound is really not helpful. It won’t force people to seek treatment, it’s much more likely that it will push someone into doing something on their own, like self harm.

3. People who are struggling to recover from a mental illness deserve to feel safe on the internet. Can you cover everyone’s traumatic triggers? No. That being said, there are some things that you should always warn people about: rape, suicide, self harm, eating disorders, violence, murder, and domestic violence/abuse. Why? Because to seek treatment is to be willing to reopen a wound over and over again in a safe space. People have to be ready to do that work. Opening these wounds, without a safety net, without support, and without any skills to cope only makes the wound even deeper and more difficult to heal.

These things aren’t difficult, and it’s not a form of censoring. It’s just like putting a “flammable” warning label on a product. It lets people know the contents are volatile, and it allows people to prepare themselves for the content or to avoid it altogether if necessary.

Bear in mind, my starshines, that a little bit of kindness can save a life. If you find yourself angry about anything I’ve said, that’s great! It means there’s some discord inside you, and taking a good hard look at it can teach you more than anything else in the world.

Know that I care about you, even though we’ve never met, and that I am dedicated to your safety and wellness.

Love,

Ivy

It ain’t easy

Periodically I do my best to go green. It’s always haphazard ideas that start out huge and fizzle out quickly.

Well, I’m taking a page from Twilight Sparkle and making a plan.

Ivy’s steps to greenitude:

  1. Get rid of paper towels. There are some really great options out there, even ones that snap together on a roll. My problem here is that I have been trying to use a small pile of washcloths, and I’m too lazy to walk all the way to my hamper after using one. I am going to start by purchasing/making an attractive reusable towel set. I think that having something visually pleasing and easy to use will make it more likely for me to keep up with it. I also need to create an easy method to stash used ones for washing.
  2. I’ve already gotten rid of plastic straws in our house with these alternatives. We ruined one set with a quinoa milkshake and then taking too long to wash them out. It was like gross, mildewy glue. So, with this set, I solemnly swear to wash immediately and thoroughly! I think that way we’ll stick to it better.
  3. Shopping bags. The bane of my existence. I have reusable bags from every place we shop, and they have been fated to hold all of the plastic bags we bring home from the store. My biggest problem with this is that the reusable bags make it in with the groceries, and then they never make it back out to my car. I think I may hang them by the front door to cue my memory for the next time I go shopping.
  4. Feminine products. Yes, I’m talking menstrual sanitary items. I’ve always said I wanted to give cloth diapers a shot (no kids yet, so I reserve the right to rescind my over achievery words later) so I figure, why wait? Menstrual cups would save me a ton of money each month, as well as reduce a lot waste. Unfortunately, I haven’t found the right one for me just yet. They’re a great idea, and they last a long time, I just haven’t found one that’s comfortable for me. When I do, I’ll be sure to let you know about it!
  5. Amazon is my #1 way to purchase things. We have prime, so I get everything cheaply and within a few days. It’s a perfect fit to a grad school lifestyle! Unfortunately, it also leaves me with a ton of boxes and nowhere to recycle them. So, I either give up my amazon addiction or I find a recycling center. Wish me luck with this one!
  6. Around the house products. We have a lot of them. Dish detergent, laundry detergent, food packaging, shampoo and conditioning bottles, the list is endless. I’m not sure I’m in a place in my life where I have the time to maneuver around these obstacles, which is why they are hanging out at the end of my list.

When I look at my list, it looks like these things would be so simple and easy to accomplish. When I think about the items on the list, I am exhausted. I think the main problem I’ve had with making changes like this in the past is that I try to do too much at once, and I get too discouraged when I fail. This time, baby steps and lots of leeway!

Let’s do this!

Love,

Ivy

The Struggle Is Real

I find myself talking with people who struggle with depression more and more often. The question is: “I want to get out of bed, get in the shower, get things done, and get my life back together. I just can’t make myself do it. How do I make it happen?”

The only answer people hear: You just have to do it.

It’s so much easier said than done. Even now, I’m sitting on the sofa watching anime instead of cleaning the office, sorting the mail, putting up laundry, or any of the other 15 things I have on my to do list for this morning. Before I started writing this post, I was simultaneously watching TV, playing video games, and perusing facebook. I spend significant amounts of time with my electronic devices. This is how I self-soothe.

Lemme ‘splain:

Everyone experiences uncomfortable emotions at some point in their lives. Some rare folks learn how to handle them healthily. The rest of us try to run from them. In today’s time, there’s a plethora of ways to escape: books, movies, television, work, alcohol, drugs, sex, sports, exercise, anything that takes your mind off of the uncomfortable feelings counts as avoidance coping. Every once in a while, we need to escape a little. Unfortunately, for many people, myself included, escaping becomes the only way to handle the feelings. When you run from them though, they grow. The more you run, the more overwhelming the feelings become. Soon you’re facing a mountain of whatever it is you don’t want to feel, and you have to keep sprinting to avoid it. No matter how fast you run, how deep you dig, the emotion will start to leak into everything you do, and you won’t know why.

Once upon a time, if you weren’t wealthy, the majority of your life was spent working hard to survive. Farming, factory work, whatever it was you did it from dusk till dawn. There were no movie theaters, no phones, no television. Travel was difficult and often dangerous. People still ran from their feelings, it’s never impossible, but I wonder if some of that space was simply taken up by the need to survive.

Is it not more difficult to be an adult today? We’re less likely to die or end up in the street, but the work ethic seems to be gone. Instant gratification is only a click away. We fall asleep with our phones in our faces, and they’re the first thing we reach for in the morning. We look at them at each traffic light, while we wait for appointments, or while we’re stuck in line. We’re never not connected, never not entertained. So how do we do the things we need to do? How do we teach our kids to manage their emotions when they’re surrounded by ways to run from them? How do we break from these things and get moving when we’re under mountains of emotional weight?

I think it takes tremendous amounts of strength to overcome the seduction of modern convenience. I admire those who aren’t drawn by their allure. It’s been a continuing struggle for me to learn to live without the television, and I hope to master it before I have kids myself. I don’t know if I can manage it, but I try. Someone once told me that willpower is like a muscle: it can be fatigued, but it can also be strengthened. It may take me a while, but I think I’m going to do some willpower strength training.

I’ve always motivated myself with schedules, so I think I’ll try that again. Wish me luck! And remember, when you come across someone who is depressed, be kind. You can never tell how big of a mountain they’re under.

Love,
Ivy

What’ll we do tonight, brain?

I tried to create a facebook page dedicated only to my cosplay, and for a while it worked. Unfortunately my lawful good alignment is stronger than my loathing for confrontation and I find myself having conversations with total strangers about human rights issues. To be fair, these conversations always involve something totally geeky/nerdy, but still have a flavor of “people deserve to be treated poorly because they do x” which I just can’t turn away from.

Lately people have been talking with me about the power of words. A few people continued to make the claim that words only have the meaning that you intend for them to have. Unfortunately for us, that’s not the way that language works. If every word was defined solely by the intent of the speaker, we’d have no way of understanding each other without being able to read minds. So, for posterity’s sake (and so I can have the link for future arguments of similar ilk) here is my post from facebook. Enjoy!

I make it a point to only post nerd/geek things on this page. Somehow, magically, a lot of really great human rights related geeky information has come my way. In that same spirit, I’d like to talk a little about psychology of language, BUT GEEKY!

Words are more than just words. When you hear a word, you can’t help but bring up associations with this words. Why? What a great question! Your brain is made up of tiny cells that are all interconnected. Each cell has some specialized purpose. These cells are connected in groups that relate to each other, and those groups are connected to other groups. So, if you hear something, you may recognize the sound, let’s say it’s a phaser. You hear a sound, it’s processed by your auditory cortex. From there, that information is taken to be processed by your memory storage. You think “Hey, that’s a PHASER!” Memory and emotion are close together, so when you hear the sound it wouldn’t be surprising to experience excitement, leading to the behavior of wanting to track the sound down and make a new friend.

Now, if you’re in the camp of “words are just words” you’re probably thinking “Ivy, that’s just a sound! Words have no meaning without intent!” Ignoring for a moment that words are made up of sounds, let’s do another experiment. Draw a black cat. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Chances are, you drew a picture of a little furry critter with four legs, a longish tail, maybe gold or green eyes, whiskers, pointy ears, and it’s probably going to be black. I say the words “black cat” and into your mind pops an image you’ve created based on your previous experiences with said little furry guys. There may also be emotion attached to these words: you may be frightened of black cats, and thinking of them may make you anxious. You may have had a black cat, so you may be feeling the love for a sweet little friend.

Now, if I say “draw Black Cat” and you have any experience with Spiderman, you may draw a picture of a well muscled, well endowed woman in a black shiny body suit with white fur accents and white hair. Black Cat and black cat are the same words with only slight variations, but they mean two different things. My intent in this doesn’t matter, as you can only conjure images of Black Cat if you are aware of her as a comic book character, whereas most people can conjure images of a black cat because experiences of them are fairly common.

If I say “Hand me that minion” when what I really want is a comic book, there is no way for you to know my intent from the words that I’m saying. We may be in a comic book shop, and I may be pointing directly at one that I want, but you are most likely going to be thinking “what potato? there are no potatoes here!”

Now, if I say “don’t be such a garbledeflargen” you may not know what a garbledeflargen is, but you can surmise that it’s something you don’t want to be.

Words that are paired with a particular connotation (aka: you don’t want to be x) take on the flavor of that connotation. For years, being a geek or a nerd was a terrible thing. People spat those words with derision. We somehow magically appropriated these words and have made them more positive. There are still pockets of people who hear geek and nerd and assume that they are bad things. We, however have taken pride in them and have made it so that more people than not can see it as a good thing. This can ONLY be done by people who qualify as that particular category of word. (Ie: if we associate Ferengi with greedy cowards, only Ferengi can take that word back.)

TL/DR: The intent of a word can not be heard over previous associations with that word. Words are more than just words, they carry history, experience, and emotion with them. Without these associations, language would have no meaning and would be useless. It’s impossible to hear a word without hearing everything you’ve experienced with it before. The word “retarded” has been used in a negative way as a pejorative term for so long that it’s impossible to hear it without hearing “something I should not be, something that is defective, something that is less.” It’s been so tainted with these feelings that the medical community has forsaken it as a diagnosis to prevent damaging their patients with the stigma. Unfortunately, the word still persists and it is still connected to a population of people that in no way deserves to be considered “less” or “stupid.” So please, if you choose to tell someone that they’re stupid or that they’re doing something you think is unworthy, don’t use a word that’s associated with a group of people (retarded, gay, girly). Be a superhero. Be creative. Don’t be a potato

Leaving the Sea of Anxiety

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A very natural progression of events led me to cosplay. I was the kid that didn’t feel like she could be herself. I tried ceaselessly to be as emotionless as possible, to be something to everyone with no regard to what I wanted or enjoyed. After a while, I turned inward. I turned to books, television, anime, anything that would be my escape from reality. Anything that would help me hide from my own awkwardness, let me be the hero for a while. I admired Poison Ivy and Catwoman for what I thought was their strength (it took me almost twenty years to realize that sex appeal isn’t necessarily strength), I wanted to be Liriel because she could protect herself and her loved ones, I adored Jessica Rabbit for the attention she commanded. It’s been a lifetime for me, teasing apart what it is to be a woman, a strong woman, and what it is to be objectified, but that’s another post for another day. My escapism aided me in my quest to deny my emotions as I could express them through the characters I hid in. As such, I developed an affinity for mediums that many people write off (like cartoons). I also learned that one day a year, I could actually BE that character! While I was that character, I could express how I felt safely, without judgement, without backlash. I could be strong, I could be sexy, I could be more myself than I ever felt.

In high school I started to get in touch with my emotions again. I started to write about how I felt, I started to try and trust people with my thoughts and feelings. As you can imagine, being in high school, trying to trust people backfired miserably. In my dreams where I find myself back in high school, I invariable try to commit suicide and wind up a sentient puddle of a person below the highest rooftop. That is my personal version of hell. I did get something out of the experience, though, and that was a realization that I loved art. Also, I didn’t suck at it.

In college, I experienced a freedom I had never had before. I could take classes I was interested in, I could make my own schedule, and I could hang out with people who were like me. Who didn’t think I was a freak and who had similar emotional histories to mine. I also ran out of wall space. As awesome as art is, you can only hang so much of it up, and there’s only so much storage space.

My first day at Dragon Con was definitely the best day of my life up until that point. There they were, tens of thousands of people. People just exactly like me. People who didn’t look at me strangely. People who got excited for the same things I did. People dressed in cosplay. Cosplay. This wonderful, magical, wearable art. A display of skill and affection that naturally lends itself to emotional expression. I had never felt more real. I don’t think there was an experience in my life more rich or more fulfilling than that moment when I realized that there is nothing wrong with me. Nothing. There is nothing wrong with loving what you love and being who you are. All of the messages I had received my whole life about how a person should be or should not be just fell away, leaving behind a sense of peace and love that I sincerely hope every single person has a chance to experience in his or her life.

I started cosplay as a form of self expression, and as a way to continue to create artistically without cluttering my walls (and evading the sense of self importance that comes with that). I no longer feel emotionally stifled, which is the amazing thing about finding someone who can see you for who you are and love you just the same. I do, however, experience surges of anxiety around expressing emotions. I suppose that’s what happens when you learn to anticipate negative consequences for expressing yourself in a way others don’t agree with. Consequently, I also have a great deal of anxiety around finishing projects. I fully believed I was a total screw up, and now I’m not sure if I screw things up because it’s in my nature or because the thought is so deep in my head it’s become a core belief. I start projects knowing full well I have the resources to finish them, and then at some point I hit a brick wall.

That brick wall looks something like this:

Hey, I’m doing pretty well! This is coming along quite nicely! I hope I don’t mess this up. Well, I’m going to mess it up. I have no idea what I’m doing. You know, this really just can’t turn out well. How could it? You have no idea what you’re doing. Everyone will see. They’ll all know you’re incompetent. You can’t even do x right. You never could. Look at all those times you failed, where you just weren’t good enough. All those times you were proud and then someone had to point out how bad you suck. All those times you worked so hard and thought you did so well, you failed. You will never be good enough.

You get the point. Those are the thoughts, but it doesn’t cover the feeling. It’s like there’s bees buzzing in my chest, like I’ve been hit with electricity and it’s pouring through my body but it’s got nowhere to go. I’ve got nowhere to go. It usually ends with me laying on my sofa, staring at the ceiling, wallowing in a whirlwind of emotions and not knowing how to get rid of them.

This time, I pushed through the wall. I rushed through the last few steps. I messed them up, sure, but not in a way that’s noticeable. I may have broken my sewing machine (again) but that can be fixed. I pushed through the painful and confusing emotions and I finished the thing. My first ever sewn cosplay. Sewing has a lot of emotional stuff tied up in it for me, so this really is a huge accomplishment.

Having not ever pushed through like this before (as is evidenced by the state of my office) I had no idea what to expect next.

I was unbelievably excited. I was elated. I DID IT! And it doesn’t look half bad!

Wait, what if other people can actually see the flaws? I mean, I’m just a novice, I bet others can see right through me.

Well, it doesn’t matter because it’s my first and I DID IT!

But what if no one recognizes me? What if people think I’m weird. People always think I’m weird.

They’ll be in cosplay too, so they can’t think I’m too weird! Also, it doesn’t really matter. You did this for you.

I had weird mood swings from super excited to terrified all day. I was awkward, I was weird, and most importantly, I was me.

Good Grief.

Over Christmas I lost my baby bunny, Roger. When I say lost, I mean he died. It wasn’t completely unexpected. We had been spending enough money for me to have needed to take a job just to pay for his vet bills. First, it was pneumonia. Then his teeth started growing in the wrong directions. Then he got an abscess in his jawbone that may or may not have been cancerous. As the infection spread, he got a second round of pneumonia in his already damaged lungs, and in the end he couldn’t breathe long enough to eat. Three years of at least monthly vet visits. Three years of intermittent tears as I worried about him. Would this be the last visit? Would the procedure turn out ok? We were trying to brace ourselves for one last and incredibly risky surgery on his jaw when we got the call on Christmas eve that things weren’t going well with him. That Friday, the vet said it was unlikely that he would last the weekend. We cut our trip as short as we could without offending my family and we sprinted back to PA. That Monday we said goodbye.

I had hoped that maybe since it was before the new year and since I had so much time to prepare, my grieving process would be short. My workaholic brain planned and calculated and estimated that if I journal daily and was very open with my feelings, if I exercised regularly, ate well, got enough sleep, and took time for self care I should be done grieving in a month, maybe two. If you want to know what intellectualized denial looks like, I think this is pretty much it.

I thought that two weeks of studying would have been enough to keep my mind relatively occupied. I picked up extra time at work to help pay off the final vet bills in the interim. In total, I studied about eight hours in the two days before the exam. I spent the second week of “studying” trying to drown myself in enough self-care to get myself to study, but any time I tried to really focus on work I would burst into tears and spiral back into this grief pit of despair.

The problem with self care is that you have to have the motivation, energy, and desire to do it. I’ve found that grief leaves me irritatingly incapacitated and unable to do anything that remotely resembles self care, with the exception of eating large quantities of chocolate. I find myself ecstatic to fill any gaps in my schedule with just about anything (fun or work), but then dreading it every moment until it’s over. I want to sleep, I’m exhausted, but I can’t.

There’s a Roger shaped hole in my heart. I keep trying to fill it with things, with work, with care, and it’s not helping. I’ve heard that grief tends to snowball. Every experience of loss digs up every previous experience with loss to create an avalanche of past hurts that can overwhelm you.

I’ve been told that the only real way to grieve it so sit with it. To focus on the memories, to relive the good and the bad. Set aside a specific time every day to focus on those you’ve lost, use symbolic imagery like lighting a candle. The problem is the recovery time. Experiencing grief feels like running a marathon to me, so how do I get back to work? How do I balance grief and continuing on in life?

I think the most surprising aspect of grief is how it’s linked me to others. As I mentioned before, I threw myself into my work to try and distract myself (and cover the bills). Unfortunately massage therapy left me with hours of time in silence with little protection from everything I was trying to escape. I’ve mastered the covert (and sanitary) tear wipe that is undetectable to a client. I managed to control the urge to sob and curl up in a corner, though I did spend a few breaks crying in my room in the dark. I firmly believe that if you don’t let it out, it will find it’s way out when you want it to the least.

I got distracted, the surprising part is that my grief connected me to my clients in ways I never anticipated. I find my grief resurfacing with a client unanticipated, only for my client to confess to me that they recently lost a loved one. I’ve experienced the anger of a client, the sadness of a client, but never grief. It’s opened up a whole new dimension for me and for my practice. I think that we as a society don’t have good supports for people who are grieving. We expect those left behind to put on a show and a brave face, to handle an endless flow of well meant derogatory comments and suggestions all while hosting a slough of hungry relatives and keeping things together at work. Why don’t we let our people grieve? Why do we expect anything other than wailing puddles of the human experience? Why not come around the family and let them fall apart for a while? Why don’t we take care of them?

I find myself becoming more agitated and resentful every day. I wish there was more of a road map for how to do this right. I hope that somehow my experience will translate into a better understanding of someone else’s experience, maybe I can provide an example of how to cope with my grief to my children. To show them how to take care of themselves and each other when things go wrong. Maybe my experience can help make the world a better place someday.

Until then, I still miss him. I ache for him, and I don’t know what to do. Talking to people seldom helps because few people understand how a rabbit can be meaningful to a person. I think about him often, and I don’t know where to put the pain. I don’t know how to ask to be taken care of, or even what that looks like. My goal until I figure it out is to try to keep myself from filling the void with random activities, food, or purchases. I will continue to try to keep the resentment I’m feeling out of my relationships. Finally, I’ll try to keep from hating myself for needing to grieve. I will allow myself time and space to grieve and not hold myself to the same ridiculous standards I hold when I’m well.

 

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