I need a vacation.

Like, really really bad.

I’m beyond burned out. It feels kind of like depression, but it’s not, because if I spend a whole day sleeping I actually feel better afterwards. I keep starting things and then stopping them because I don’t have the energy to see them through. I don’t even have the energy to be effectively angry about the AHCA and all the other garbage the GOP is inflicting, or trying to inflict, on us.

Half the time I can’t remember what I’m doing. I know I’ve done some hilariously silly things lately – of the putting your keys in the refrigerator variety – but I can’t remember the specifics of what I did. So that’s not very funny.

What I know I’ve been doing – taking Monkey to doctor’s appointments and therapy and school evaluations, making complaints to the school district, scheduling more appointments, rescheduling them, grocery shopping and cooking (why do our bodies require so food so frequently? WHY???), deep cleaning the apartment (I seriously need a maid – I can pay exactly $0 per hour, anyone interested?) and of course making sure Monkey is washed, fed, medicated, clothed, intellectually stimulated etc. He just got his first pair of eye glasses, which look incredibly cute on him. We had a last-minute trip to the pediatrician today to try to decipher this cough he’s had for a while – to figure out which of his conditions might be causing it and whether it’s a serious one or not so much. He’s got a sedated MRI coming up. I can do all that stuff, I just have nothing left over. I’ve been dealing with my own health issues as well.

Fortunately, Monkey and his dad and I are going on a trip, very soon, to visit family. This means that for a while someone else will prepare my food and play with my child. It’s going to be fantastic. Maybe when I get back, I’ll have the mental energy to write a blog post about something other than how tired I am.

In the meantime, if you’re reading this and you DO have energy, PLEASE tell everyone you know how horrible the AHCA is. I’m not sure why the GOP is so determined to deprive kids like my son of decent medical care by segregating them into under-funded “high risk” pools; I suspect it has something to do with those big corporate tax cuts they’re handing out. Whatever the motivation, it’s not OK. It’s evil, actually.

So tell your senators, especially if they’re moderate Republicans. Yell at them for me, because I’m too tired right now to yell.

Optimism and misanthropy

For years, I’ve had arguments with myself about whether people are basically bad or basically good. Which side of me wins the argument has much to do with my current mood, but I’m never certain whether logic is on the side of the depressed me or the optimistic (possibly hypomanic) me.

I know what my therapist thinks. She thinks the optimistic me is right and the depressed me is delusional. I wish I could simply agree with her. The trouble is, the evidence often doesn’t support that.

On a personal, international, and historical level, the evidence is overwhelming that people are actually pretty horrible. Our particular talent seems to be taking something good and misusing it. Our legacy is one of slavery, war, increasingly creative ways to torture and kill each other, every conceivable kind of abuse, daily pettiness and selfishness, oppression based on whatever we can come up with (skin color, culture, language, gender, religion, illness or impairment, financial resources, circumstances of birth) and, finally, environmental destruction of the planet. And all of these things are totally unnecessary. You can argue that war is sometimes necessary, but until we are invaded by aliens, literally the only reason that war is or ever could be necessary is because people suck.

I come from a family in which there was inter-generational abuse. For much of my life I’ve been bullied, mocked, or simply excluded by peers and psychologically abused by people in positions of authority. (And my life has been pretty good!) And every time I let myself be optimistic that society is moving towards acceptance of those who are different, and think we’re making progress in understanding each other and listening to each other, I’ll read something on social media about how all those stupid liberals with their stupid identity politics need to just shut up and being bullied is good for kids because it keeps them from being weaklings (or whatever) and I just want to not be human anymore so that I don’t have to share a species with that person.

Despite all of this, there is a possibly insane, but improbably resilient, part of me that thinks the best of people, that believes they are basically well-meaning though damaged, that wants to like people and keeps seeking out engagement with them in hopes of proving the other part of me wrong. This is the part of me that forgives and asks for forgiveness because I’m not perfect either, that believes some kind of cosmic redemption is possible. This is the part of me that bothers with thoughts of a just society – whether that means a society that is incrementally better than what we have now, or an ideal anarchist society in which no one wields power or violence over anyone else.

The misanthropic part of me thinks anarchism is a bunch of bullshit. A power structure will always find a way to reemerge, as in communist countries. People will just kill each other like they always do.

The optimist in me says, “You’re not the only one that feels this way. There are others. People as imperfect as you, as angry as you, people stronger and smarter and more empathic than you, who are fighting injustice on all fronts because they haven’t given up hope that we can do better. Because they can’t afford to give up hope.”

I look at my son, and he’s just wonderful. I look at him and think, “How can people be bad?” But then I remember that as he grows up (if we haven’t all killed each other yet), he will be bullied and hurt and excluded by others, as I have been. Maybe much worse. And I try to find a category for all those people who hurt and bully others that’s narrower than the human race – a category that doesn’t include me.

But that category also has to leave out all the people I care about and empathize with and want to protect. So that they (we) can be the good ones. Victims, not perpetrators. The trouble is that I see the ways we’ve hurt others, too, knowingly or unknowingly, the ways we’ve participated in structures of abuse and domination. So then I start thinking, “But that’s not the same, this is worse than that, what I did isn’t like what that person did,” etc etc.

Or is it?

At various times, I’ve gone through mental gymnastics to explain to myself why I’m not like other people. Maybe I’m not really human at all, but some kind of elf! (This was Preteen Me.) Or witch! (This was Teenage Me.) Or visionary! (This was College Me.) It’s apparent to Adult Me that if I am any kind of elf, witch, or visionary, I am failing at my vocation miserably and in some very human ways.

Maybe, after all, we are all in this together. Maybe I, with my hurts and faults, am no more or less redeemable than anyone else.

How to lose a friend (when you have a child with special needs)

1) Start out with a baby with unexplained delays. Befriend a mom whose baby also has unexplained delays. Talk a lot about your babies and their delays.

2) Live in affordable housing, in an apartment that’s not big enough to put all your stuff away even on those days when you have the energy to try. Make your living space look like a disorganized hospital by lining up oxygen tanks in the entryway and hanging nasal cannulas off chairs.

3) Find ways for your child to be in the hospital a lot; it interferes with scheduling play dates, and also makes your friend feel obligated to care even after the novelty has worn off (like, really? the hospital again?). Ideally, this should start happening right around the time that your friend’s child is outgrowing her delays and needing fewer services. It also helps if you can get a few new, unexpected diagnoses during this period to stress over and talk about in detail.

4) Share hilarious anecdotes, like how you once splashed yourself in the face with your child’s lymph fluid while emptying Jackson-Pratt drains. (Also a great way to avoid making new friends, should you find yourself in a group of moms.)

5) Keep venting about therapists, doctors, DMEs, and your concerns about your child’s development, while your friend has nothing to say in that area because her child is basically typical now and this stuff is no longer a significant part of her life.

6) Try to convince yourself she’s not passive aggressively telling you something when she cancels play dates at the last minute “because she has to do laundry”, or leaves food on your doorstep after you get back from the hospital instead of coming in. Keep texting her to ask how she’s doing and if she wants to get together, even though you’re always the one initiating it. Let your suspicion and resentment simmer quietly.

7) Stop texting her for a while because you are completely overwhelmed with illness, ER visits, pediatrician visits, another sleep study, trying to get your child to tolerate a nebulizer (no really, it’s an octopus!), trying to figure out the whole process of transitioning from early intervention to preschool, and scheduling two different autism evaluations because the people from the first place stopped calling you back and still haven’t given you a date. Notice in some part of your subconscious that she hasn’t commented on any of your medical updates on Facebook, even when your son was in the ER on Christmas Eve.

8) Ask how she’s doing. When she doesn’t respond within ten minutes, ask if she’s ignoring you.

9) Get a lecture about how you haven’t been contacting her either, and how she’s been really busy with buying a house in an upscale neighborhood so her daughter can go to the best preschool.

10) Drawing on months of carefully controlled, slow-simmering resentment, say something sarcastic implying that your life is harder than hers. Be told that you’re a crap friend because all you talk about is your child’s medical issues and she doesn’t want to hear it.

11) Completely explode. Use profanity. Be as insulting and mean as you possibly can. It’ll feel good for about 10 seconds. Maybe a full minute. Make sure there’s no possible way she’ll ever want to hear from you again.

12) Take a benzo so you can settle the adrenalin enough to get some sleep, because you’re touring the special needs preschool in the morning. Feel guilty and analyze the reasons why you’re a horrible person.

13) Realize that you should have let the friendship die quietly months ago, and the main reason you didn’t was because it was your only shot at play dates for your socially challenged son.

14) Decide to do better next time.

Trust me, this works really well. I think it might actually be impossible to keep a friend if you faithfully follow all these steps. Good luck!

Evidence that Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is really an anarchist commune disguised as a constitutional monarchy

Monkey’s favorite show is Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, the animated spin-off of Mister Rogers. He watches it a lot. Thus I also watch it a lot. As in, I have entire episodes memorized down to the inflection of each sentence and I sing the songs absentmindedly in public restrooms.

In watching this show on a daily basis, I have noticed things that lead me, unavoidably, to the conclusion that despite the presence of King Friday and his royal family, the whole neighborhood actually operates on anarchist principles.

daniel-tiger-anarchist

1) There’s no money. Mom Tiger goes to the bakery and gets bread and leaves. No money exchanged. (There’s something like a cash register on the counter in the bakery, but nobody uses it and that thing looks seriously antique; Baker Aker probably keeps it around as a curiosity from one of those weird capitalist societies.) The whole family goes to a restaurant and there’s no bill. Daniel goes to the doctor and nobody is asking his mom for a copay first. I don’t think they even have library cards.

2) Free public transportation. (Also sentient. Bonus points.)

3) The Enchanted Garden is a communal vegetable garden and orchard where anyone can go to get free food at any time. There’s also a community farm where they keep the livestock and horses that anyone can ride.

4) There’s no janitor in the neighborhood, so presumably everyone – including the royal family, who can be seen sweeping walkways after a storm – does the deep cleaning stuff on a rotational basis. Further evidence for this is the song, “Cleaning up is a gift we give / To each other each day.”

5) Another song: “Everyone’s job is important! We all help in different ways.”

6) Another song: “If there’s something you need, try to make it yourself.” (Not good capitalism!)

7) All the jobs that would be minimum wage in a capitalist society (grocery store clerk, waiter, babysitter) are performed by Prince Tuesday. The royal family can be seen engaging in various mundane tasks such as cleaning, and King Friday’s only real role seems to be announcing holidays and the occasional community vote (more on this later).

8) They have an official holiday called Neighbor Day which is celebrated by performing random acts of kindness.

9) There are no police officers in the neighorhood. When Daniel fantasizes about being a police officer, all he does is hold a stop sign to help animals cross the street, which is proof that he’s been brought up with no conception of law-breaking or prison.

10) Unless Daniel’s parents are independently wealthy from an inheritance, there’s just no way that Dad Tiger could be supporting the whole family with his very part-time clock business. Even if he does export some of them to other towns, how much of an income does that really bring in? With Mom Tiger as a stay-at-home, how are they covering all the medical bills for Baby Margaret’s birth?

As far as I can tell, everyone contributes to the community by means of their job and basic maintenance of the communal spaces. So Dad Tiger makes clocks and does handyman stuff, Mom Tiger is a caregiver, X the Owl is the librarian and also in charge of the community recycling program, Teacher Harriet teaches and runs a community garden, Music Man Stan gives free music lessons and instrument repairs, Lady Elaine runs the factory, Mr McFeely is the mailman and resident pedophile who would be in jail just on the basis of his name if they had a jail, Henrietta Pussycat sings and dances at the local nightclub, King Friday and Queen Saturday take care of the administrative stuff and announcement making, and they all help with cleaning and gardening and such. In return, they all get the above-mentioned free transportation, free food, free childcare and school, free healthcare etc.

11) This one’s sort of the exception that proves the rule. In one episode, King Friday announces that the neighborhood is getting a new piece of playground equipment, and since the children are the ones who will use it, they will vote on whether they want a swing-set or a slide. Out comes the polling booth and tyranny of the majority, leaving the “losing” children disappointed and despondent …. And this would appear to contradict my whole theory.

BUT notice that it’s the children who are voting. No actual democracy or constitutional monarchy lets children vote. And the adults don’t vote at all. From this, I conclude that this is a teaching method: the gateway into individual and group decision-making for the children. As they grow up, having personally experienced the limitations of majority voting, they’ll be introduced to more sophisticated ways of making decisions as a community.

So there you have it. I let my child watch anarcho-communist propaganda on a daily basis.

And I feel good about it.

Some thoughts on the New Reich, whoops I meant Year

Well, our holidays were interesting. Monkey ended up in the ER on Christmas Eve and was on oxygen for a while after coming home. He is doing better now. I don’t have the time or energy to write anything very organized, but I am going to spill some thoughts.

I don’t usually stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, but last night I did. Not because I was celebrating, but because I was fucking scared. (Excuse the language.) I was scared, I am scared. I am terrified for my family, especially for my son, as we face a new tax on our food, the loss of the Medicaid that has made Monkey’s medical challenges manageable, the loss of affordable housing rules that keep our rent at an amount we can (barely) afford. I am terrified for this country. I am terrified for families and children overseas. I lay awake last night, drowning in a deep, cold fear.

At the same time, I feel a deep gratitude for my beautiful family and all the blessings we have now – a roof over our heads, decent food, hot water (which we are not drinking right now because it tastes very odd, but that’s another story), love, humor, creativity, an appreciation of natural and aesthetic beauty. I am aware of the fragility of these blessings. I am painfully aware of how much we stand to lose. But right now we have them, and I am grateful.

I am also determined to fight to protect our freedoms, our dignity, our basic needs, and those of others.

Although he’s not President yet, Trump has repeatedly, in his cabinet appointments, his Twitter account, and plenty of other ways, shown us what his presidency will look like. It’s not good. I think as we move forward through a regime that seems hell bent on destroying the vestiges of democracy and the planet itself, it’s important not to blame this situation on people who criticized (or simply didn’t vote for) Hillary Clinton. (Yes, that includes me.) For one thing, Clinton won the popular vote; more people voting for her would likely not have changed things. If you’re upset that Clinton lost, don’t blame third party voters; instead, work to end the electoral college and winner-takes-all voting system.

I confess that Hillary seems like a saint in comparison to what we are facing now. This is, of course, part of the problem. The Democratic party is bad, but the Republican party is so bad that they make the Democrats look like compassionate little gods who are going to save us. Avoid the temptation, because this binary thinking is what got us into this situation in the first place. That Donald Trump was even a major candidate is an indictment of our country’s populace and media. That he only had one opponent with a real chance of winning, and that that opponent was pro-TPP, pro-fracking, with a hawkish record and close ties to Wall Street, is an indictment of our electoral system.

Moving on. This is the situation we have now. What can We The People do?

That question will be answered gradually over the coming year, I suppose. For the moment, here are a few concrete actions I’m taking:

  • I’ve made contact with national and local action groups and subscribed to their newsletters.
  • I continue to follow the news on a mostly daily basis, even though it’s painful (I have relatives who have simply stopped watching in despair, and I don’t blame them). I follow a variety of sources with different slants, but my single favorite news source is Democracy Now. If you are anywhere on the progressive/radical spectrum, check them out.
  • I intend (barring a health catastrophe) to join my local Women’s March on January 21. I have encouraged friends and relatives to do the same.
  • Since I knit, I’ve been knitting pink Pussyhats and donating them to the March.
  • I continue to sign petitions, write letters to individuals in state and federal governments, to editors of newspapers, etc.

These are very small things, but it’s a beginning. I am looking for ways to become much more involved with community organizing and direct action in the coming months. Obviously, having a medically complicated toddler limits what I can do, but there has to be something.

Be angry. Fight back.

Happy New Year.

Help prevent suicide by checking in

Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide. If you are feeling suicidal, please contact a suicide hotline: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ It really can help!

When I was in college, an acquaintance of mine shot himself. No one saw it coming. His family was floored. I didn’t know him all that well, but from what I did know of him, I never would have expected him to commit suicide. Before he went, he withdrew socially for months and made various plans and arrangements for after his death. He mailed notes to his relatives. Having been borderline suicidal myself as a teenager and sought help, I wondered how and why he had kept it so well hidden.

I’m not suicidal right now or anywhere close, so please don’t worry about me. But I finally understand how it happens that people get to that point without others knowing. Depression and social isolation tend to be a cycle – the more depressed you are, the harder it is to reach out to other people, and the more isolated you are, the more you get stuck in your depression. The single most helpful thing for breaking this cycle is for a non-depressed (or at least less-depressed) person to reach out by asking “How are you doing?” and then actually listen to the answer.

The problem is, almost nobody does that.

There are different ways to ask “How are you?” People who struggle with depression become sensitized to the difference. We can tell when someone’s “How are you?” really just means, “Hi” or “I’m being polite right now”. (Or my favorite, “Is everything OK?” Since it pretty much never happens that everything is OK, what this usually means is “If I don’t talk to you right now, will you immediately go and kill yourself, or can I go back to what I was doing?”) A person who’s feeling vulnerable isn’t going to spill their vulnerability all over the place where it’s not welcome. On the other hand, when someone asks “How are you?” and actually wants to hear the answer, that’s a gift.

When someone blames themselves for not knowing that a relative or friend was suicidal, the socially acceptable answer is to say, “Oh, don’t blame yourself, you couldn’t have known, there’s nothing you could have done.” I’m sure there are cases where that’s absolutely true; I’m just as sure that there are cases where it’s absolutely not. I am sure of this, because there have been times when I was severely depressed and thinking about death for a fairly extended period of time and no one checked in on me. No one asked how I was doing. No one called just because. And they could have! I’m talking about people who knew that I was socially isolated and that I had a history of severe depression with self-harm.

I try to periodically check in on friends and family who I know are going through a tough time or have a psychiatric history. Unfortunately – and I don’t say this to be snotty or make myself look good, it’s just the truth – people don’t reciprocate. I’m always the one reaching out, and when I can’t, when I need someone else to take the initiative and reach out to me, usually no one does. The main reason I still go to therapy twice a month is so that someone will be monitoring my mental state. I have to pay someone to check in on me.

Right now a new medication is keeping my mood fairly stable, but I’ve still been struggling with stress and grief related to Monkey’s ongoing medical issues, to a recent death of someone I knew, and to simple loneliness. And, except for my therapist and my psychiatrist, and my husband because he lives with me, nobody knows that I’m struggling right now. Because no one else has asked, or made it easy for me to talk about it, or even called or even texted to say “How are you? What’s going on in your life?” And when I tried to say something anyway, I was shut down.

“But that’s because you’re married,” you say. Nope. It was the same when I was single and lived alone.

This is going to sound harsh, but I’ll say it anyway. If a person commits suicide, and if relatives and close friends knew that person had a psychiatric history, all of those people who never called to ask how that person was doing are a little bit responsible for their death. Not wholly responsible, but a little bit.

Now, there’s no point in blaming yourself for something that’s over and done, but there’s something to be said for a kind of proactive blame: that is, taking responsibility for preventing something that hasn’t happened yet.

Is there someone in your life you know is at risk for suicide? Take responsibility now. Make it a habit to check in on that person, monthly or weekly depending on how close you are to them. Again, I’m talking about a good friend, a close relative. Don’t make it intrusive or weird; you’re not a doctor keeping tabs on them, you’re just calling because you care and you genuinely want to know how they’re doing, good or bad. Chances are you’ll find them in a good mood much of the time, but if you catch them when they’re struggling, they will appreciate that you thought of them, that you gave them the opportunity to talk, and that you listened. Just sending a text message (if they text) asking how they are can mean a lot.

I think often people are afraid to have conversations with people who are suffering – whether it’s from a mental illness or difficult life events or both – because they think that if they ask, then they need to solve the problem and they don’t know how to solve it. Good news: you are not supposed to solve it. The most helpful thing you can do is be there and listen. Just ask, and then just listen.

Yeah, the person might eventually commit suicide anyway. But at least when someone says to you “Don’t blame yourself, you did what you could,” it will be true.

To everyone out there who is depressed or grieving and who feels alone with their struggle, I want to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry that no one has called you. I’m sorry that no one is listening. You are not alone. There are lots of us right this minute who are struggling, too. There are lots of us who wish that someone would listen.

Let’s all try to be the person we wish others would be for us.

NOTE: If you are currently feeling suicidal or thinking about suicide, please contact a suicide hotline! I have used a hotline and it helped. If you’re phone phobic like me, you can use an online chat hotline. Go here: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Potties

“The whole experience had been so bewildering to him that he put it out of mind as soon as possible, but he had dreams about it for months afterwards, nightmares. Saemtenevia Prospect was two miles long, and it was a solid mass of people, traffic, and things: things to buy, things for sale. Coats, dresses, gowns, robes, trousers, breeches, shirts, blouses, hats, shoes, stockings, scarves, shawls, vests, capes, umbrellas, clothes to wear while sleeping, while swimming, while playing games, while at an afternoon party, while at an evening party, while at a party in the country, while traveling, while at the theater […]. […] figurines and souvenirs and mementos and gewgaws and bric-a-bac, everything either useless to begin with or ornamented so as to disguise its use.”

– Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed

I recently went to buy a potty for Monkey. Not because we’re seriously starting potty training, but to introduce it, teach him what it is, etc. I just wanted a basic potty. You know: it’s basically a plastic bucket you can sit on. Your child pees and poops in it. You dump the contents and wash it.

I did eventually find such an artifact, but first I had to sort through a bunch of potties that were shaped like animals, that lit up and made noises or really flushed (because it’s not like they make seats for kids that go on the actual flushing toilet – right?) and so on. And of course they were all expensive because of their extra features. I kept thinking, with a kind of low-level rage: “I just need a container for him to sit on and poop in. How freaking hard is that?”

After I went home with my basic, boring potty (which Monkey thinks is awesome), I kept wondering where the demand for these toilets was coming from. Were American parents actually sitting around thinking, “Man, if only somebody out there made a frog-shaped potty that would sing Old Macdonald every time my child peed, with an attached Pez dispenser that dispensed candy when his poop triggered the motion sensor”? (No, I haven’t actually seen that feature yet, but I’m sure they’re working on it. Or will be after they read this blog post.) Were parents writing in droves to corporate headquarters to request that such a potty be sold? I doubt it.

People say that market competition fosters innovation, and in some ways that certainly is true. But face it, a lot of the innovation it fosters is stupid.

Because companies are competing for you to buy their product, there’s an incentive to distinguish their product – somehow, anyhow – from everyone else’s. Even if the product is a potty. Now, one way of distinguishing a product is to make it genuinely brilliant – but brilliant people are hard to come by and notoriously difficult, demanding, etc. That might work in computers, but not in designing potties. Another way is to make the product very good quality – but most companies don’t want to do that, because it’s easier and more lucrative to use cheap overseas labor and flashy features to catch your eye. Plus, if it breaks after a month, you’ll have to go buy another one. Especially since the kid is now unable to pee except into a singing Pez-dispensing frog. Win!

Americans are literally flooded with useless, often poor quality items that we neither need nor even particularly want. And the irony is that, for many individuals and families, this surplus coexists with an actual need for basics. I tried once to write a letter to relatives tactfully explaining that what we really need for Monkey is not more toys, which we don’t even have space for, but clothing, food, and formula. (It turned out not to be possible to be tactful, and I never sent the letter.)

What if the resources and energies that go into designing and making these hollow innovations went, instead, towards meeting real human needs? This doesn’t have to make life boring – the need for beauty, for art, for entertainment, are real needs too. Given a bit of free time and space, there will always be brilliant (and even ordinary) people sitting around coming up with ideas just because they’re bored.

What if instead of working frenetic jobs to put food on the table, we had time to sit around playing board games, go hiking, talk, read, tell stories, cook big meals together, take a siesta? What if innovation was allowed to be the genuine expression of human imagination, creativity, and play, instead of a marketing tactic?

I’d trade a singing light-up frog potty for that world.