Today’s redone post is from 2011, but is still unfortunately quite applicable to the political situation we Americans are still living in. Read on for my assessment of the situation, and how it could potentially get better.
This webcomic is funny because we think of it as ridiculous–who would ever invalidate someone else’s suffering like this? Who would ever deny that a person throwing up in the toilet needs treatment? Who would ever question that a person in the hospital needs to lie down and rest?
And yet we do invalidate others’ suffering, when it comes to mental illnesses.
What People Have Actually Said To Me About Mental Illness
Here’s just a sampling of what I’ve heard over the years, as a sufferer of depression and anxiety:
- “Ugh, God, you’re talking about that mumbo-jumbo again” (meaning my recent Facebook status about depression)
- “Let me just play psychologist here for a minute–don’t you think that your depression comes from feeling entitled because you were never encouraged to work for anything?”
- “Well, I just think all that stuff [mental illness] is a scam to get drugs to sell on the street. They ain’t dying, so why else would they try to get medications?”
- “Anxiety, huh? Well, when I was a kid, we had things to worry about like when food was gonna get put on the table next. What do you even worry about?”
How Is This Kind of Talk Reasonable at All? It’s Not
Would we talk to cancer patients this way? Would we talk to people with physical, measurable illnesses this way? No, and why not? Because we believe them–we can easily see the symptoms for ourselves. Mental illnesses rarely have this same level of validation–there isn’t a visible rash, nor injuries (except in self-harm cases), and our suffering is described in feelings. Thus, many people pass off mental illness as laziness, whining, or attention-getting, as this Huffington Post article describes.
Here’s the bottom line: Mental illnesses exist, as these 10 artists and writers have proven, and they DO cause suffering and pain which requires treatment. Frankly, at this point in my life, I am quite done with people who act as if those of us with mental illnesses are faking or exaggerating. People who choose to believe that mental illnesses are exaggerated, brought on by lifestyle choices, or are otherwise “our fault,” have obviously never had a mental illness and therefore don’t have the knowledge to argue about whether it exists or causes real suffering. If getting rid of depression and anxiety was as simple as “thinking positive” and “sucking it up,” I would have been clear of it years ago. As it is, I’ve battled both since I was at least 8 years old (I’m 29 now).
How to Properly Support People with Mental Illnesses
There are plenty of opponents of proper mental illness treatment out there, but there are just as many people who would like to help but just don’t know how. Either they are fellow sufferers, or they feel powerless in the face of this looming darkness and struggle that their loved one is caught in.
Wanting to help someone with a mental illness is a noble cause, but we are not born knowing how to support someone like this. From my personal experience, here are helpful and non-helpful things to say and do for your loved one/fellow sufferer:
I don’t know if we’ll ever find “cures” for mental illness, nor do I know if we’ll find the causes of it in my lifetime. But I do know that continuing to devalue the suffering of people with mental illnesses will only further the stigma and keep people from seeking treatment. Mental illness happens; we are not “crazy” or permanently broken, we are fellow human beings, and it’s time we were treated as such. Proper support now may mean your or your loved one’s survival later.
What you see above are pictures of me–my belly (top left), and as full-body a picture as I could get (top right). These are unedited, not only because I have no skill with Photoshopping, but because this post is about real bodies–like yours, and like mine. My body, while not being society’s ideal, is still a real body, with its own story, its own weaknesses, and its own beauty. But many people, including me, are made to believe every day that they are abnormal, ugly, and abhorrent because of the reality of their bodies. I believe we in today’s society are still operating with a good bit of weight prejudice (the hatred, fear, and shaming of another’s body based on weight).
My Experience with Weight Gain and Weight Prejudice
As I have written about many times before (in October 2011 most notably), I have been a “big woman” since I turned 11 years old and puberty began in earnest. My body’s general shape has not changed much since then–my belly has been strangling itself against the waistline of all my pants for 16 years, and my hips and butt are still just as big as ever. It’s been hard to accept my body as being “good enough,” because I was made to feel horrible about myself, not only from advertisements but the kids I went to school with. For years, they hurled verbal and physical abuse, plus tried a few tactics that those in the military would probably call “hazing.”
Why “Fat-Shaming” and “Skinny-Shaming” Should Be Called “Weight Prejudice”
The horrible social treatment I endured, which still affects me to this day, is not the only form of weight-shaming that goes on, however. As I have grown older, I have seen how thinner women are shamed for their bodies, too–called out for their “chicken legs” and “mosquito-bite boobs” on occasion, but more often hated by bigger women because they are supposedly closer to society’s beauty ideal. Thinness carries with it its own set of health problems, too, especially if the thinness is brought on by anorexia or bulimia.
My question is: “WHY do we care so much what ANOTHER PERSON’S BODY looks like?”
Think about that for a minute. We don’t live in another person’s body. We don’t have to wash it, feed it, dress it, etc. We don’t even have to look at it if we don’t want to. So WHY is someone else’s appearance so darned important to us?
My answer: because almost all of society is infected with a prejudice about weight. We get mad when someone else’s body doesn’t look like ours, or doesn’t look like we think bodies should. Thus, we shame the person, to make sure they conform to society’s standard. It’s an old psychological trick, and it works every time, especially when the victim of such shaming is a child/adolescent or otherwise emotionally fragile.
This is the very definition of prejudice: judging someone else to be inferior because they look different. So why is weight prejudice so difficult to accept as fact? After all, it can even affect whether or not you can get a job, because employers sometimes view thin people as being “too flighty” and fat people as being “too lazy.” If that’s not discrimination, I don’t know what is.
Why This Has To STOP
Some people, by looking at my pictures, might just assume I’m another fat chick whining about being treated fairly, when what I really need to do is get off the couch and quit eating Twinkies. (This has actually been said to me, so I know people think idiotic stuff like this.) The truth is, we cannot tell much about another person’s lifestyle from their body shape. In some cases, weight packs on due to sedentary living; in other cases, weight packs on or stays on no matter how often you starve yourself or how often you exercise, because of genetics. (Skinny people can endure the same kind of frustration in reverse, not being able to gain weight no matter how much they eat.)
For those who claim they are “only concerned about someone else’s fitness” when they judge on weight: WEIGHT IS NOT THE ONLY MEASURE OF FITNESS! (Can I get an AMEN?!) Things like vital organ functions, muscle strength and flexibility, joint/tendon health, blood pressure, lymph node health, thyroid hormone levels, etc., all play into fitness. Being skinny does not mean you’re healthy, and being fat doesn’t mean you’re not healthy. (This is why shows like The Biggest Loser are so dangerous–they proclaim people “winners” for losing the most weight, when in truth “losing weight” is only one small part of the fitness process.)
We cannot keep hating on each other and judging each other when we don’t even know what other people are going through. If we do, we are simply arguing from ignorance, and we prove our social stupidity with every hateful thought and word. (I’m saying “we” here because I include myself; I have also been guilty of envying others–usually skinny women–based on their bodies.) Remember, all living bodies are in progress; you might think someone else is fat, but they might have just lost 60 pounds and be living better than they ever have. Would you want someone else to judge you like that, after having made such progress?
Bottom line: when you look at a stranger’s body, you are not seeing their medical history, and you are not their personal doctor. Thus, you have NO RIGHT to tell them that they should change their lifestyle just because you happen to be offended by their body. Fat, skinny, or in-between, there is NO REASON that we should shame each other because of weight. Quite simply, it’s not our business what someone else’s body looks like.
To explore the issue of weight prejudice further:
Confused by the title of this article? I was just as confused when I first began to realize I suffered silent migraines. I didn’t even know quite what they were until I began doing some migraine research on my own, and discovered this strange sub-type of migraine headaches, which has only recently been researched.
How Regular Migraines and “Silent” Migraines Compare
Migraines vary a lot from person to person, and each migraine sufferer can even experience various types of migraines. Most migraines follow a basic pattern like the following:
- Prodrome phase, or the “Watch out, a migraine is coming!” phase. During prodrome, you can become more irritable, confused, or experience weird physical symptoms of sickness out of nowhere. 1 out of 4 people with migraines have this, sometimes even a full day before the migraine officially hits.
- Aura phase, characterized by just plain weirdness going on in your senses. You may see flashes of color or lightning-bolt patterns zigzagging across your vision; you might hear random high pitches or strange noises that aren’t in the actual environment. You might even have some problems with speaking or writing, though not as pronounced as stroke victims. 1 in 5 people with migraines have this, and it usually lasts about an hour.
- Pain phase, also known as the “please kill me now” phase. Throbbing pain, usually on one side of your head, sometimes death-gripping a vein in your forehead and sometimes stabbing into your eye, is common. Plus, the intense head pain can trigger your stomach into nausea, and everything in your environment is either BRIGHT, LOUD, or both at once. Basically, it sidelines you from your life for however long it decides to last. (Oh, and if you didn’t take medicine during the Prodrome or Aura phase, you have to ride the Pain phase out on your own–any medicine just flat won’t work once the pain is in full swing. This is what a lot of non-migraine sufferers just don’t get. X_x)
- Resolution phase, or “thank God it’s over.” After an event like this, you’ll be very tired and cranky for a good while, sometimes even a full day after the migraine finally decides to vacate the premises of your head.
But silent migraines are a strange sub-breed–strange in that the sufferer can experience prodrome, aura, and resolution, but never experiences pain.
Symptoms of a Silent Migraine
At first, I was overjoyed to learn that some of my migraines could in fact be silent. “You mean I can have a normal life occasionally?!” I thought. “Heck, if I didn’t have to go through all that pain, I’d be happy to live with a ‘silent migraine!'”
Well, I thought that at least until I started looking at the symptom list:
wavy or jagged lines, dots, or spots in your vision
When I read this list, I was shocked: so many of the conditions I have had to become accustomed to experiencing, either with head pain or without, are all over this list. The most random food cravings or complete loss of appetite, with no stomach disturbance apparent; difficulty remembering words, so rampant that I thought something was wrong with me mentally; pins-and-needles feelings all over my body, for no reason. Most if not all of these symptoms precede my head pain, but even when they don’t, I end up absolutely exhausted afterwards, just like I’ve had a migraine.
It’s almost easier to have the head pain than not have it, in some ways, because these symptoms by themselves don’t make much sense. Saying “I have a migraine” is at least understandable to most folks, even if they have the blissful ignorance of never experiencing migraines for themselves. But saying “Hey, I have a migraine–well, sorta, kinda–well, actually, I’m not having a headache per se, but I have all the other symptoms…yeah…?” Not only is it a headache to try to explain, but it sounds suspiciously like a cop-out excuse. Let me assure you, it is NOT.
Why Are Silent Migraines “Silent?”
People have thought for years that migraines were just the result of blood flow being squeezed off to one part of the brain–that the sudden contraction of a vein, followed by the normal amount of blood trying to stuff itself through the resulting bottleneck, creates the pain. Blood gridlock, in other words.
However, now some new research involving fMRI (functional MRI) machines has uncovered a neurological component to migraines. Basically, the nerve cells in various bits of the brain get WAY overstimulated right before a migraine event, and then sink WAY down in activity. The neighboring blood vessels swell up, or dilate, to deliver more blood to the overstimulated nerve cells–and a migraine is born.
This heightened nerve activity is what causes all the weird visual, auditory, and sensory hallucinations present in a classic migraine’s Aura phase. But sometimes, apparently, the heightened nerve activity happens, but doesn’t trigger the blood vessels to dilate…which results in a silent migraine. The brain is still just as bothered and irritable as it would be during a regular migraine, but there’s no physical blood-vessel pain to go with it.
A Silent Migraine By Any Other Name is Just as Weird
Silent migraines can pop up in anyone’s brain, no matter if you’ve had regular painful migraines or not. Silent migraines are also called:
- Acephalgic migraine
- Isolated visual migraine
- Amigranous migraine
- Late-onset migraine accompaniment (for people over 40 who suddenly get their first migraine aura symptoms)
- Migraine dissocie (French for a “migraine disassociated” from pain)
- Migraine equivalent/migraine variant
- Typical aura without headache
(Note: Ocular migraine is often a painless migraine with weird visual symptoms, but nothing auditory or sensory. Silent migraines run the gamut of physical symptoms of migraine, just without the pain.)
Whatever you want to call it. it’s just plain weird. And it could be occurring in your own head a lot more often than you realize, especially if any or all of those symptoms in the above list seem familiar.
How to Treat a Silent Migraine
As I did research for this very article, I began to wonder if I wasn’t walking around with a constant silent migraine, which occasionally morphed into its bigger badder sibling when I wasn’t looking. I had about grown used to walking around feeling like gum scraped off somebody’s shoe–but what if there was a way to stop it?
First of all, I suggest that if you’re experiencing anything like these symptoms, with head pain or without, you need to get checked out by a doctor. Occasionally, these symptoms can warn of more serious things like trans-ischemic attacks (aka “mini-strokes”) or epileptic seizures.
However, if you’ve gotten checked and the doctor tells you it’s migraines, silent or otherwise, then here are some of the best treatments:
- Take your prescribed medication as quick as you can. Remember what I said about medicine not working if you take it too late in the Pain phase? Yeah.
- Be careful what medication you take. My migraines are made worse by caffeine, for instance, so I have to avoid medicine that includes caffeine in its pill, like Excedrin Migraine or Bayer Migraine. Finding a med that works for your personal migraines is about 50/50 trial/error and luck.
- Get to a quiet, restful place with dim or no lighting, and lie down if possible.
- If you can stand the noise and light, turn on some light entertainment to take your mind off the pain. Most people suggest absolutely dark and silent rooms, but I find that I go absolutely bonkers with boredom, lying there with only my pain to focus on till either the medication works or I drift off to fitful sleep. Thus, I usually choose a favorite comedy DVD, turn the volume a little lower than normal, and shut my eyes to listen to it. The laughter helps, as long as you don’t laugh so hard that you make your head hurt worse!
- Most people say their migraines are helped by sleep; if you feel like you could drift right off, go ahead. Just make sure that your neck is not in a weird position, otherwise, you could end up with a nasty tension headache moving in where your migraine left off. (Speaking from experience here…ugh.)
- When your migraine is over, do your best to get some good rest, eat well (especially if nausea left you without an appetite before), and de-stress. Lack of sleep and food plus excess stress pretty much equals a migraine. This can be very difficult to achieve in this day and time, but if you don’t want to be sidelined for days with a migraine, it might be worth it to try these tips.
I find, generally, that my silent migraine symptoms are a little less in intensity than my painful migraine symptoms. Nevertheless, these symptoms are nothing to play around with. If you can get those little nerve cells to quit misbehaving a little sooner, you’ll feel much better; the above treatments, which are usually for “classic” migraines, actually do work for silent ones too!
For Further Information
Today, I’ll be doing just a short post to make a point: sleeping is a LOT more important than most of us think. As I have found out from the following personal experience, it’s far more important to daily function…and you’d be surprised how changed you are by just a lack of good rest!
I Slept, but I Did Not Rest
For months, now, I’ve been having a problem sleeping; though my body was absolutely exhausted, my brain never seemed to shut up. I would be uselessly awake until 4 or 5 in the morning, fighting to sleep yet never quite falling under, and then finally would fall asleep just as the sun was beginning to rise, awakening later in the morning (or sometimes in the afternoon).
But even though it seemed like I was sleeping enough hours, I never felt like I’d had enough sleep. My brain whirred even as I slept, producing strange dreams and waking me up every hour or so until it was time to get up again. I shut my eyes and was kind of unconscious for a while, but it was an uneasy, dozing sort of sleep, not restful at all.
Weird Body/Mind Symptoms
During this time, in which this behavior became slowly “the norm” for me, I noticed I had less and less ability to concentrate, was far more irritable than normal, and had absolutely no interest in doing anything I used to love doing. Whatever I happened to be doing at any given time, my brain wanted to be doing something “different,” something more “interesting.” But nothing I tried seemed to quite fit the bill. It almost felt like an oncoming lapse of depression.
Getting my weekly work of blog posts, Sunday school lessons, and housework completed felt nigh on to impossible with this kind of foggy, hateful brain; I was constantly restless and frustrated, and worries about all the things I hadn’t gotten done, which only added to the inability to go to sleep when night came. I didn’t want to start taking sleeping pills for fear I’d get too dependent on them and lose the ability to go to sleep naturally. (I’ve got two pharmacists for parents; I know what such drugs can do!)
The ultimate fail here? I didn’t connect my lack of sleep to my slowly worsening everyday function. I thought, as mentioned before, that I was lapsing back into depression–that’s exactly what it felt like. Plus, one of the symptoms of my depression, historically speaking, has been insomnia…it created a weird loop of logic that I was frankly too tired to explore too far.
The Random Restful Night of Sleep
And then, a few days ago, the storm of unrestful sleep broke, suddenly. I found myself sleepy around 9:00 PM that evening (a true rarity!), and experimentally, I set aside my glasses on the nightstand and turned over onto my side.
Imagine my surprise when I woke up almost 8 hours later, thinking I had only been asleep about 20 minutes or so! It seemed that against all odds, I had finally gotten a full night of sleep which didn’t feel like I was lying there waiting for the alarm to ring. I had fallen into absolute, blissful unconsciousness, without the aid of a single pill.
And the strangest thing?
I had ENERGY. I had FOCUS. I got stuff DONE. And all this before 10:00 AM?! I was shocked. For the last four months, I had been literally unable to peel myself from the bed before 11:00 AM, and that was “early.” I would try to get up and would fall back asleep in the middle of sitting up, in the middle of dressing, etc. But after this random night of inexplicable, restful sleep, it seemed I could actually get up like a normal person.
Not only did I get up, I stayed awake the whole day, and felt much more functional and much more “at myself.” I didn’t lose concentration all the time, I didn’t have to have 3 bazillion tasks going to keep my brain from being painfully bored, and I wasn’t sitting around feeling jittery and frustrated. It was as if someone had pressed “Restart” on my brain.
What Produced This Anomalous Night of Sleep?
Thinking back on it, I did a few things very differently on that fateful evening:
- I had to charge my smartphone, and the outlet is far away from my bed, so I couldn’t use the phone while in bed
- I wasn’t using my computer because I (surprise) had finished all my computer tasks for the day
- Nothing interesting was on TV, so I didn’t have it on
- I had no food or drinks left in my bedroom
- I hadn’t drunk anything in about an hour or two, so I wasn’t having to get up to go to the bathroom
- My bed was actually made up properly (for once, LOL)
In short, I removed all of the normal distractions (food, Internet, TV, bathroom breaks, etc.) and had made the bed as comfortable as possible. Then, I just allowed myself to shut my eyes without worrying that I was going to go crazy with boredom. (Couple that with the fact that I was REALLY exhausted already, and it’s no wonder I fell asleep and stayed asleep!)
Moral of the Story: Remove All Distractions, Get Comfy, and Let Sleep Happen
I’m serious–it really helps. Those are the only factors of my situation I changed, and I got the best sleep I’d had in months. If you’re having any of the distressing symptoms I was having, try doing anything you can to get decent sleep–you might just wake up healed!
Today, I’ll confess something that’s been rolling around in my brain: At my local Choral Society practice a few weeks ago, I was called on to produce a pitch…and seemingly missed it, by a half-step. I was supposed to produce an A-flat, but I hummed a G.
Though it may seem as though I’ve lost my gift of perfect pitch, the reality is far, far more complex. In fact, the following story strikes to the heart of any artist’s worst nightmare–crippling self-criticism. It’s a cautionary tale for anybody with artistic talent of any sort.
In The Moments Afterward: Self-Accusation Galore
“Has my perfect pitch failed me at last?” was all I could think after it happened, and has been all I can think of for the past month. After all, I have lived in fear of such a moment ever since it was discovered that I even had perfect pitch when I was 13 years old. I knew it was the wrong note the second I began to hum, but I honestly couldn’t figure out quite what was wrong with it until the pianist played a real A-flat and I discovered I was humming a G instead.
God, it felt as though someone had punched me in the stomach! I missed a note?! “What do I call myself now, ‘the girl with imperfect pitch?'” I questioned myself, bitterly. Now, to some, it may sound ludicrous, but this has been a gift I’ve defined myself by, something I’ve labeled myself with. The potential loss of that designation threatened my very identity as a musician, or even as a person.
Finding the Elusive Mistake–Was It Really a Mistake?
The moment I got home, I began to quiz myself, using the keyboard down in the basement. I shut my eyes, turned around from the keyboard, and reached behind me to strike a random note; I named the note I believed it to be, then held the note down until I could turn back around and see what note I had actually struck on the keyboard.
Every time I did this, I was right on the money, no matter what octave. Then I tested myself using intervals, singing the interval between the first and sixth notes of the scale, which is considered the hardest interval to hear correctly in musical ear training. C natural to A natural? No problem. B natural to A-flat? Nailed it–I checked it with my keyboard to be sure. Every six-note interval I hummed and then tested with the keyboard was exactly correct.
Over and over again, I have tested myself, every night for the last month; it’s been one of the many reasons for my incessant insomnia. And every time, I get the notes right; it seems my perfect pitch is just fine.
…So, the maddening question remained: what happened that night at Choral Society practice?
What Could Have Caused This?
I have racked my brain for days and weeks, trying to discover the reason. I produce the correct tones and label them correctly when I test myself; why, then, would an error show up at practice? I tried to take everything into account, trying to discover the reason why I hummed a G instead of an A-flat when I KNEW it was wrong. Some of the reasons I came up with:
- That week, I had been recovering from mild laryngitis, and my voice had not been working properly most of the night
- Many people were talking and singing snatches of song around me, causing me to lose focus
- I was trying to show off and got smacked down by a prideful mistake
- I second-guessed myself too many times and ended up with the wrong note
The first two reasons were little more than excuses, to be honest; that kind of stuff has never really gotten to my ability to produce pitches before. But as I dug deep and came up with the third answer, I thought I may be onto something. And then, there was the last reason…which, as I thought of it, rang with truth, although I didn’t quite recognize it yet. I largely ignored it, and kept looking for a physical reason my pitch naming had been off.
The Answer is Staring Right at Me
Without realizing that I had already answered my question, I finally discussed this problem with my boyfriend over a late lunch one day this past week, confessing to him my perturbation and distress, my worries that I had potentially lost the ability God had so graciously gifted to me.
My boyfriend, “Logic Man” himself, attacked the problem with his calm reasoning (which is one reason I talked to him about it). He advised that the best course of action was to have someone else test me if I didn’t believe my own test results. He also said that probably no one else had worried about it like I did.
“But they all were there–they all heard the mistake!” I found myself arguing. “They all HEARD that it was wrong!”
“You heard that it was wrong,” he replied. “They may not have been able to tell, and even if they could, why would they remember such a petty thing?”
“Because I’m not supposed to miss notes,” I replied, and I was beginning to cry by this point. “It’s supposed to be PERFECT pitch, not ‘imperfect’ or ‘most-of-the-time’ pitch. If it’s gone–”
“You said yourself you’ve tested your ear over and over,” he said, in that calm but firm way of his. “It’s not gone.”
That stuck with me, as I drove home and began to work on other things. I HAD tested myself, over and over, and gotten the same results–my perfect pitch manifested itself repeatedly, correctly identifying musical notes. …But I had done so in the safe confines of my own home–i.e., not in the presence of other individuals who could hear, and who could potentially critique me.
I’ve never had stage fright, to my knowledge, and I have always been confident while performing onstage, whether I’m singing, acting, or playing the piano. But an unlikely parallel flashed into my mind as I thought about this; I remembered being called on to answer a question in math class.
In math classes, I was always terrified to answer questions aloud for fear my answer was incorrect–I knew the jeers and insults I would get from my classmates if my answer was wrong. Thus, I began to get paralyzed with anxiety about my math homework, knowing I would be called on to read out at least one of the answers in class. Some days I got the whole blasted assignment–all 30 questions–wrong because my anxiety held me hostage. Yet, when I was unhurried and doing work that would not be called out in class, I answered most problems correctly.
I began to put the pieces together. I had been doubting my perfect pitch for at least two years, afraid that I was losing it due to hearing damage or sickness or whatever else. And then I was called on suddenly to check a pitch, like checking my math homework. I remembered how I second-guessed and third-guessed and fourth-guessed myself in the seconds before I produced that fateful G…and I remembered how I KNEW WITHOUT A DOUBT it was WRONG the moment I began to sing it. Instinct was veritably screaming in my head that it was wrong wrong wrong, yet by then I lacked the confidence to trust it.
Second-Guessing, Self-Doubt, and Anxiety
Second-guessing ourselves is something many of us do, even without realizing it. But it’s a dangerous, anxiety-causing practice, which worms its way into your confidence and begins to eat it away. In my case, I had been doubting my perfect pitch ability because of my second-guessing, and it had quite honestly become a source of great anxiety–living in abject, paralyzing fear of the moment I miss a note. (That might sound stupid, but as I said, this is a large part of my identity and it means a great deal to me.)
Once I started doubting myself and losing confidence in my ability, even with no proof that it was faulty, I began second-guessing the pitch names that my brain came up with by instinct. Soon, even the easiest pitches to guess became anxiety machines–“am I SURE this is the right note? Am I ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY SURE?” I always thought.
There was the answer. Anxiety, the thing which had tormented me during all my math and some science classes, had finally attacked me on another vulnerable front: my musical ability. It had caused me to doubt things that should never have been in doubt, and in so doing had wrecked my self-confidence. “What if I’m losing my gift?” I had wondered over and over again. In that light, the fateful G seemed like a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it was really an example of anxiety holding me hostage, making me second-guess myself so much that I was kept from producing the correct answer.
The bottom line: My gift is not lost…but my self-confidence is, because of second-guessing and nothing else. Seems so little and simple, when you define it like that, but it can have a very big impact indeed, as I found out that night.
Why Do I Call This a Cautionary Tale?
I believe this kind of self-doubting anxiety can strike any artist, not just a musician, and not just people with perfect pitch like me. Self-doubt can ultimately lock away our ability to function creatively; it can make us dread making our art, or make us judge our art too harshly. We become irrationally afraid that we’ve somehow “lost our touch,” that “the Muse is gone,” that we are mere shells of the artists we once were.
My story, silly and meandering as it may sound, is a warning. If you are an artist of any sort, don’t you ever let anxious self-doubt get to you. It may seem like a small and paltry doubt at first, but if you let it grow, it will eat your confidence for breakfast and defecate depression before you know it. Soon, you’ll feel too anxious to do your creative work, to do the things you once loved…or you might find yourself making a very silly error, as I did, because you’ve second- and third-guessed yourself. If you get too anxious about your gift being gone, you might just fool yourself into believing it’s true.
Take television. We are apparently supposed to laugh at people getting hurt or embarrassed on TV all the time–certainly, there are reality TV shows which brutally depict how much we all lack empathy for each other.
I have a hard time even watching parts of “America’s Funniest Home Videos”–when there’s a clip of an innocent person being harmed by a prank or accident, I turn the channel. Forget about watching shows like “Wipeout” and “Most Extreme Elimination,” where the whole “name of the game” is watching people get hurt and knocked off stuff while attempting daring stunts, usually for money. I just can’t laugh at that.
Celebrities: Apparently Not Worth Our Empathy
But it’s not just the lack of empathy for physical pain. We expect celebrities of all types (political celebrities as well as singers, actors, etc.) to be perfect beings in all things. They are supposed to leave their houses looking absolutely fabulous, or they’re front-page news in the tabloids–“Is So-And-So Gaining Weight?” or “So-And-So–Too Thin?” Not to mention the “Best and Worst-Dressed Lists,” or the “Focus on Beach Bodies” types of articles in magazines.
And God help the celebrity who has an actual problem or who has made a mistake, either with addictions, family life, or some other area of their personal life. Somehow, they are supposed to be more than human because they’re famous, and every time a flaw of theirs is exposed, we’re scandalized. We gossip about them as if they are the scum of the earth, talking about them in ways we would never talk about our families and friends.
Family and Friends: Sometimes We Lack Empathy for Them, Too
More often than not, we also expect family and friends to never make a mistake, and have little empathy for them. Aunt So-and-so snubbed us at the last party? Forget going to her house this Christmas! And Cousin So-and-so forgot to send us a birthday card–obviously he doesn’t care enough about us. Sometimes we refuse to show empathy to the humans we claim to be closest to; we forget that they, just like us, are human, and as such, they are going to mess up and be imperfect sometimes. We have no sympathy for screw-ups, even the ones who are related to us by blood.
Politics: The Horrible Line Between “People I Empathize With” and “People I Demonize”
This is quite possibly the largest example of American empathy-less society: the us vs. them mentality in politics. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, most of us are either focused on building our own party up or tearing the other party down. Talking with our hands over our ears seems to be a common posture in political debates, and listening to the other side is just not an option. Empathy for the “other side of the fence” is almost a dirty phrase; seeing how the “enemy” lives and trying to understand them is folly.
What Is Empathy, Anyway?
We have to get over this and have empathy (not just fake sympathy) for our fellow men and women. Empathy means you imagine what it’s like to be in that person’s place, imagining the hurt they feel, the shame they endure, the life they lead.
I actually have empathy for Britney Spears; might be hard to believe it, but I do. She hit the fame jackpot at 15 and was thrust into a fantasy life, but that “fantasy” was actually made up of hard work, extremely long performance and rehearsal hours, and thousands of media appearances before the age of 18. Music was her life, and yet in order to do all she did, she had to cut away a large portion of what we consider “normal” life.
I look at her now, a woman only two years older than me, having now been through court battles, childbirths, and numerous family problems, and I try to imagine how life has been for her. I know I could never have put up with the demanding schedule she did at the same age she did. She hasn’t had the benefit of a normal life at all, really–her life dramas have been acted out in front of everyone instead of being endured, dealt with, and put into the past. She, like so many other celebrities who have so publicly had difficulties, is not allowed to grow from and forget her past mistakes.
Forgetting Empathy–Shoving Our Own Humanity Under the Rug
We forget, when we look at celebrities whose lives have crashed and burned, who are trying to put their lives back together after crisis, that they are simply humans who get more pictures taken of them than we do. They are humans, who will make mistakes, grow or shrink in crisis, and become stronger or weaker because of their issues.
We also tend to forget, while we make excuses for our own mistakes by saying “I’m only human,” that other people are also human and make mistakes. That includes our family members, our friends, our significant others, our role models, our politicians, and our favorite celebrities, among many others.
Becoming More Empathetic/Sympathetic
I would love to see a world in which we truly try to understand what others go through. We may never fully understand another person’s life, but at least we can try–we can imagine, and sympathize, and support where we can. I know, I know, this is America and we’re all supposed to be self-sufficient machines who never break down, but sometimes you can end up feeling mighty alone and broken amid all the perfect images passing you by.
If we could understand that every person has struggles and pain, just as we do, and if we could support each other to get through this, we might end up with a healthier world. We also might end up with a bunch of basketcases who never fight for themselves, go to war, or defend their rights–but maybe our motivations should be to defend each other’s rights anyway.
The fact that I even feel the need to write this post is evidence enough that people aren’t considerate of disabled people. I am a real handicapped person, with a parking placard and everything, and yet most of the time I can’t find a handicapped space in parking lots because non-handicapped people have taken them. Thus, I end up thinking the title of this post–“gee, thanks for taking my space!”
Why Is This an Issue?
Handicapped people have extreme difficulty with mobility, and often they have to have a good bit of room around their vehicle so that a wheelchair or other mobility device can be loaded and unloaded. Handicapped spaces are thus provided with extra room around the space, and the spaces are located very close to the doors of businesses. These spaces are meant for people who have a medically-issued, government-approved handicapped placard.
At least, that’s the intended purpose. But most of the time, non-handicapped people use handicapped spaces as convenience spaces for a “quick trip to the store” (which ends up being ALL DAY). Or, people park in the striped lines BESIDE the handicapped space and make it impossible for people with mobility devices to get out of their cars/vans at all.
Both of these actions are incredibly inconsiderate and infuriating to me, as a real-life disabled person, and I know other disabled people get frustrated about this too. In my case, any walking I do aggravates one of the major nerves in my ankles, causing sharp lightning pains up my legs with every step. When I can’t find a handicapped place, it literally hurts so much to walk into the building that sometimes I just have to turn around and go home rather than run my errand. (And if I took enough medicine to dull the pain, I’d be too doped up to even consider driving in the first place.) I can’t imagine what it’s like for people who need extra room for mobility devices!
Fixing This, One Driver at a Time
- Leave the handicapped spots for handicapped people. If you do not have a handicapped placard, you should not be parking there–it’s ILLEGAL, and it will cost you quite a bit in fines if you’re caught.
- Even if you’re not caught doing it, there are people who actually need those spaces, and you’re robbing them of the legal right they have to park there. Does your convenience trump their right to run errands as normally as possible?
- Do not park in the striped space beside a handicapped spot. Be respectful (and save yourself the parking fines).
- If you’re parking beside a handicapped spot, be sure to leave extra room on that side so that future visitors can get out easily, no matter what side the handicapped person is on.
- If you see a car without a placard in a handicapped spot, report it to a parking supervisor. I hate to advise being a “tattletale,” but maybe a few fines will make people realize this is actually an issue!
About texting and driving: Who do you need to talk to so badly that you’re willing to risk your life to do it?
I say this because I know people who text and drive all the time, and I’ve even tried it myself. But having tried it–and almost causing a couple of accidents because of it–I don’t understand why people continue to do it. I definitely understand that the conversation is important, and it’s REALLY tempting to try to carry on a text conversation as soon as you receive a message, but personally, I’d rather not have a half-finished text message as my last act on Earth.
The REAL Dangers of Texting and Driving: Distracted Driving
This infographic from TextingAndDrivingSafety shows how dangerous this is. When you text, you’ve spent at least 5 seconds not looking at the road, which means you’re covering a lot of ground while not even looking where you’re going. This causes over a million crashes every year, as this Google search will show you.
Anybody, even the most skilled driver, becomes an erratic driver when their attention is focused elsewhere. You can just tell when there’s a distracted driver ahead of you–they weave between their lane lines (and sometimes cross them), they are either driving way too slow or way too fast for the speed limit, and they either brake randomly or tailgate like crazy. Texting/distracted drivers scare the heck out of me, and for good reason. Thus, I don’t want to scare other drivers with my behavior.
How to Safely Read (NOT ANSWER) A Text While Driving
ONLY in emergency situations, if you are waiting for a text to tell you which hospital to go to, or where you need to be ASAP, here is a procedure I have followed:
- Make sure there are few to no other cars around (i.e., you’re not on a major highway)
- Make sure you are on a straightaway and there are no curves or lack of road shoulders ahead
- Hold the phone up on top of the steering wheel with one hand, so you can glance quickly down at the message and then glance back up. You should spend 4 of every 5 seconds looking at the road ahead.
Notice that I did not say “answer the text”, but “read the text.” If you need to ANSWER the text, pull over onto the side of the road or into a well-lit parking lot to do so, because this is not something you should attempt while the car is moving. (Trust me, I consider myself a master of multitasking, and yet when I tried to text I felt like I was completely out of control of the car. I couldn’t put the phone away fast enough.)
Don’t type a text while the car is moving–keep yourself AND others safe on the road!
Right now, the political climate in America is like trying to live on Venus–unbearable for most humans. In this highly-polarized, overheated atmosphere, we daily suffocate on sound bytes while trying to breathe in the facts and figure out what we believe to be true. The crushing gravity of “us vs. them” echoes through every broadcast and article produced by either side. “Our” side is always obviously right and true. “Their” side is always corrupt and hypocritical.
In light of this, George Washington’s counsel against political parties in his farewell address rings bitterly true. With all this pointless bickering between political parties, we have done a better job dividing ourselves up than any other conquering nation could ever do. The reason most countries aren’t picking an open fight against us these days is because we are like an animal mutilating itself, tearing at its own feathers and skin, trying to scratch out its own eyes. Seems like impossible imagery, I know, but that is what is happening. We lose all respect for our fellow Americans when they tell us they are part of the “other” political party–instead, we stop listening to them and stop seeing them as an actual human being, because they happen to disagree with us politically.
My Personal Experience with Political Divisions
Take my situation, for instance. I’m a registered Democrat, which is about like saying I’m a registered Satanist where I live in the Southeast United States. I am a speck of blue in a sea of red; I cannot share my political opinions as “Democratic” beliefs anywhere I go, because it will immediately start a firestorm. I, instead, have to be careful to keep the word “Democrat” completely out of it, because as soon as most people from my neck of the woods hear that, they just stop listening.
I have been personally called “baby-killer” because of the pro-choice movement associated with “my” party, even though I actually don’t like abortion at all; I have been accused of supporting illegal immigrants over my own fellow citizens, and contributing to the “nanny state.” Yet I am what most people would call a “bleeding-heart liberal,” because I support things like welfare, education, and healthcare. (At least, I think “bleeding-heart” is the proper term. I’m not even sure which derogatory label fits me anymore.)
But We ALL Have Trouble with Divisiveness–Even Me!
My negative experiences, however, do not make me the greatest listener when a conservative point of view is expressed. Some such opinions are expressed with such caustic verbal acid that I can only take so much before my ear canals begin to burn. Other opinions strike me as so horribly wrong that I can’t even begin to comprehend what logic produced them.
Around here, for instance, I’m usually hearing nasty racial epithets about President Obama, or endless whining about either the “socialist” healthcare system, or how much deficit the government has run up in passing stimulus bills. Meanwhile, I sit there and silently fume that George W. Bush ran up just as much deficit ordering the Middle East wars, and that my own father, who’s worked hard all his life, has also benefited greatly from that “socialist” healthcare. My mind is utterly closed to these people while all this is going on–I hear nothing of what they’re saying after a while, and it’s hard to even view them as people of sound mind. Thus, I’m no better than the people I’m trying to listen to, because while I’m trying to be an “objective listener,” the rage is bubbling up the back of my throat, just waiting for a weak moment to burst forth from my lips and say something I can never take back.
Divided = Defeat!
This is exactly the kind of atmosphere I’m talking about, and it can’t go on. “United we stand, divided we fall” isn’t just a pretty platitude–we’re doing a great job of defeating ourselves as long as we continue not listening to each other and not supporting each other. American conservatives and liberals actually need each other, in my opinion. The conservative party is generally a party of doers, our military might, our sword. The liberal party is generally a party of thinkers, our social conscience, our shield. Liberals need conservatives to shake us out of our reverie and remind them of what needs doing rather than what needs thinking about. Conservatives need liberals to restrain their might and remind them of what needs more thought rather than action. (It’s not that there aren’t some thoughtful conservatives and some strong-willed liberals–this dynamic I describe simply seems to be the current general attitude of each party.)
If we tilt too far to either side, or only listen to one side’s arguments, we will be weakened, as we are right now. If we, however, start listening to each other’s ideas and stop name-calling like first-graders, we might actually get something positive accomplished.