Tuesday, June 21, 2016

that pesky green frog

A mini-post to share two aphorisms with you that I just can't get out of my head lately. The first is a drop of folk wisdom I remember from grad school. The second is the coaching of a dear friend during some dark relationship moments of a decade ago.

A green frog doesn't have to tell you it's green.


When someone tells you who they are, be skeptical; when someone shows you who they are, believe them.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

the playlist

My darling and brilliant friend Erin used to write a weekly music review in the Guardian online. It generally focused on music from the Caribbean (reggae, dancehall and soca) with insights into society and culture. She intelligently assessed pop culture to both entertained and informed. This is not that. 

I've had two weeks of chrysalis bursting, resulting in the need for a really fantastic "I am woman hear me kick my own ass and bust some serious moves" playlist. I put out a call for song suggestions to one of my favourite groups of powerful women, and the variety of responses was interesting. A bit Lilith Fair singer-songwriter angsty and/or hipster way too cool for me, but also some great "oh ya I love that song" moments.

Since crowd-sourcing was a bit of a miss, I decided to do some digging on my own. A week later, I think I've got a starting point. HA! Two insights I've had falling down my youtube rabbit hole of female power pop: 
  1. It is a na├»ve surprise to me that almost all songs that purport to be female empowerment songs are really about getting a man, keeping a man, getting over a man, showing a man what he lost, etc. Perhaps it's time to come up with a Bechdel test for music - it can't be about the boxes his stuff is in, or what you're going to do to his truck, or, really, about him at all. The songs that pass the SCWink pop music test are just about how awesome it is to be a woman. How powerful we can be. How resourceful, and creative, and loving (as mothers, daughters, friends, and THEN lovers). A part of what I love about being a woman is the alchemy that happens with some men, but that is not the totality of who I am, and until now it has not been the part that designs and creates an awesome life full of adventure. In short, the SCWink pop music test looks for songs that speak to the 93% of a woman that isn't her vagina.
  2. In the end, I had to embrace the fact that I am not one of the music elite. I love pop music. If I could only listen to one genre of music the rest of my life it would be R&B. I have a secret corner of my heart that only certain country songs speak to. There's little room for bitter irony on my list. We're wearing hot pink sundresses for this one, not slouchy hats and worn out flannel. 
This is not a list about cheating lovers or lowered expectations. This is not a playlist about him, or them, or I'll show you. It might be my running list as I train for the first race I've competed in since high school. It might be what plays as I apply the defibrillator pads to my writing intentions. Heck, it might just be what pours out my car windows as I roll out on a random adventure. It is, as I am, a work in progress. It's 100% ALRIGHTY - HERE WE GO! It makes me tap my fingers, throw my hands in the air, sing and dance. 

Wanna know what 20 songs currently make the "SCWink Unlimited" cut?

Friday, May 13, 2016

turning the world on, with wrinkle cream

I loved Mary Tyler Moore show re-runs when I was a kid. I loved Mary's independence, and her flailing, and her friendship with Rhoda, and most of all the theme song and Mary's youthful zest at the end of it, spinning in a circle and flinging her tam in the air. When I think of that show, I think how odd it was that everyone, including ingenue Mary, was old. Submitted as evidence, this cast photo from the first season in 1970: 

in today's TV universe, all of these people are straight up old. 

Ed Asner, in particular, was an OLD MAN and his character Lou Grant was an OLD MAN. In the second season there's a whole episode about Lou being old, out of touch, and irrelevant. That episode is called "The 45 Year Old Man." Watching it today, and seeing the title, I got a little queasy. I am older than Lou Grant (no, don't bother pointing out that there is no Lou Grant).


I spend an embarrassing amount of time concerned about my age, concerned about (not) looking my age, and attached to being youthful. I'm extremely grateful for good genes, though it contributes to my confusion that my parents don't "look their age" and my grandmothers never "looked their age." We live in a world in which 30 year olds play high schoolers on TV and we're told "it's just a number" but billions of dollars are spent encouraging us to spend other billions of dollars defying and disguising that number. What does 35 or 48 or 56 look like anyway? Never mind 74 or 92 or 101. And then there's that looming round number steaming towards me. 

Part of me - the aware, compassionate, "our culture is broken and needs a total revolution" part hates that this is even a subject I'm indulging. There are real issues in the world. What matters to me is social justice, and safe spaces, and creative expression, and being part of a tide that raises all boats, and ... oh crap that other part won't shut up. 

The damn other part - that part wants to be seen and celebrated and successful within this warped culture. That part misses hearing "No way, you can't have adult sons," and being carded and being the youngest anything anywhere. I don't want to look good "for my age" - I want my compliments without qualifiers. I fuss over chin hairs and crows feet and sags. And, apparently I'm having reactions to 46 year old tv shows. 

Lou Grant was OLD. Mrs. Walton was OLD. My Grade 1 teacher was practically a fossil. They were all younger than I am now. That hurts, but what hurts more is that I even care. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

it's not you; it's me

I met with my doctor again yesterday. We meet every four weeks to see if our current approach is making a difference with my major depressive disorder (MDD). Yes, that's the official diagnosis; that's why I've been on medical leave for months. Yesterday's tests showed that no, we're not getting anywhere yet. 

If I had some other illness, I probably wouldn't have to tell you that. If I had some other illness, maybe you'd see my gaunt face, or you'd hear from someone how I haven't been able to leave the house so they're organizing meals. Or maybe you'd see me in a wheelchair or on crutches or dragging an oxygen tank. 

I told my doctor how frustrating it is to have an invisible disease. I reported some of the thoughtless things people have said. And some of the thoughts those have lead to in me. Thoughts like "Maybe I should go back to work even though I can't concentrate on anything, would be doing terrible work, and would end up shaking/crying again by the end of the first week." But mostly thoughts like "People think I'm shirking, that I'm not really sick, that I'm abusing the system; it matters to me what people think. If I went back they'd respect me again." 

My doctor was sympathetic. To the people in my life who've said those things, as well as to me. He pointed out that there's no way for people to know what it's like to have MDD if they haven't experienced it. They don't know the bone deep fatigue. The scrambled thoughts. The jangling nerves. The inexplicable head and body aches.

My doctor also said that I am not helping anything by masking my symptoms - that maybe if I walked around and showed people my test results they'd see something that doesn't show on my face or in my behaviour. Maybe if I fulfilled people's ideas of a mentally ill person they'd believe me (it reminded me of rape victims who aren't believed because they don't follow some expected response, but I digress). 

It made me laugh a little bit, sardonically. People often say that I'm an open book, and that my face betrays me - that's true. But a lifetime of pushing through has given me skills at showing the surface so I can hide what's behind it. I'm the Emperor of Oz, and like Dorothy my world is charcoal grey and the Technicolor is the illusion. The yellow brick road has fractured. I've hit some wall. I can't seem to keep pushing through. 

I could ask for help if I had any idea what to ask for. I could stop only seeing people when I'm on top and disappearing when I'm depleted. How could you know how bad the bad days are if you never see them? We all know that Facebook is a carefully edited highlight reel; it now occurs to me that my entire outward persona is a carefully edited highlight reel. I cycle between mysterious recluse and charming social convener - between Greta Garbo and Debbie Reynolds. The latter is the identity I prefer. I'm invested in you seeing me that way. I've been taught it's the identity most likely to be accepted. 
Really, which one would you rather hang out with?
I'm not on an extended holiday - I'm doing hard work trying to get better. Besides my doctor I currently have a team of 5 people supporting my overall health. My health trainers, a massage therapist, a counsellor, a digestive wellness coach (90% of serotonin is created in our guts, yet few depression therapies address gut health ...). I'm taking meds, but I'm also eating better, exercising, sleeping more. Pretty soon I start an 8 week cognitive training program - I'm excited about that. 

I shouldn't be writing this. I definitely shouldn't click publish. I want a better job, and in the meantime I want more responsibility at my current job when I return. I want to work. I want the routine and the social interaction and the income. Eventually I want clients who trust me to perform in my own business and help me create a life that's location independent. How is any of that going to happen when people know that I have unresponsive MDD that we (my team and I) haven't found an effective treatment for yet? How can they trust it won't recur when we do find the right treatment? 

But right now, today, I want you to know. I get that I'm responsible for not letting you know before. I get that you can't get it, and I'm sorry for judging you for that. Most importantly, I'm saying all this with the hope that maybe next time someone you know is on medical leave for a mental illness, you'll believe them. Maybe you'll take them seriously. And maybe, if you can't manage that, you'll at least keep it to yourself. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

i stand with Lucy; i believe survivors

NB: If you don't know what my title refers to, you are likely not Canadian, or at least not a Canadian woman, or maybe you're a Canadian who works hard to avoid the news. Regardless, the title should stand as a trigger warning that this post addresses rape and sexual assault with more frankness and anger and disgust than I usually permit myself. If you read no further, read this: 

A summary for those who need it: The verdict was delivered today in a high-profile Canadian sexual assault case in which a Canadian celebrity (yes, that's a thing) was acquitted on multiple charges brought forward by three women. In fact, almost two dozen women came forward against the accused, but the Crown decided evidence was only strong enough to proceed with charges in three cases. Following a trial that demonstrated everything about the legal system that keeps women from accusing their sexual aggressors (victim blaming, unyielding media coverage, unequal legal support, etc.), today's verdict was a surprise to few and an affront to many. 

I have tried largely to stay offline today. Having seen the verdict when I first logged on this morning and stated my support for the courageous survivors in this case and my sadness for all the women who will be silenced by this verdict, I decided that going about my life would be healthier for my peace of mind. Habits being what they are, I checked back in later this afternoon and saw a mix of responses on social media, including some really nasty further victim blaming, and the accused's statement that he "thanks the Crown and police" and hopes that this will keep other women in the future from coming forward. He knows. He's clear the impact on other survivors of this verdict. It's nauseating. 

A friend had commented on my stated support for all survivors by asking if I had read the testimony in the case. I was ready to be defensive because I have tried (in vain) to avoid much of the detailed coverage, and I hate to have my ignorance highlighted. But the truth is there's a reason I have fought my interest in this case and it's worth addressing. So, here's my too-long-for-FB answer. 

No, I haven't read the testimony. I have seen the unavoidable highlights and headlines; I have listened to the women I know who know some of the survivors and the accused, and I have consciously chosen to limit my exposure. There are several reasons for my avoidance and for my unquestioning and unwavering support of all survivors - for which I am unapologetic. Mostly, I didn't follow the case closely because of my personal experience with the injustice of Canada's legal system when it comes to sexual assault.

I didn't need the reminder of when someone dear to me spent three nights in 1986 sleeping on the floor of my university dorm room because she'd been raped in her own home and didn't feel safe there. I remember how the police questioned why she invited the man into her house, how much she'd had to drink, why they should believe her over him.

I didn't need to relive my 2001 rape and being told by the sexual assault centre counsellor not to bother pressing charges since the police would wonder why I'd willingly gone to the rapist's house.

I don't need to have recreated for me the freezing terror and crippling PTSD of another loved one when she was attacked in 2013 and could find no help in her small town, either from the police or from the women's crisis centre she called.

I have retained enough stories from my time at The Cridge Centre as colleagues stood beside woman after woman who faced losing her children to her abuser because the judge questioned her motives, her "version" of the truth, her actions in the face of being broken by love and hate and manipulation that makes her question her own reality. I could go on, but why bother?

In short, I know that the truth is of little to no consequence when a woman says a man didn't have her permission, let alone her invitation, to do whatever he has done to her body. I don't need to read the testimony, because I believe no woman would expose herself to the disbelief of the police, the ridicule of the public, and the cynicism of the court and media for anything other than a naive hope she will find justice.

My best friend said today she better teach her daughter not to bother telling anyone when she's assaulted - to consider both the likelihood of that beloved girl's assault and the lack of justice she would face stops me in my tracks. I adore her. She's brilliant and hilarious and loving and fierce. Statistically, it's a reasonable fear for her mom to have. I would give anything to protect her, and have no idea how to do that. As I said more than a year ago, this case only matters if we can use it to build a Canada that is safer for women. Today's verdict is a huge huge setback in that aim. 
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