Category Archives: social issues

Out of the Darkness


I have already registered for this year’s Out of the Darkness Walk.

From my page:

Join Me in Supporting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

I’m walking in the Out of the Darkness Chicagoland Walk to fight suicide and support AFSP’s bold goal to reduce the suicide rate 20% by 2025.

Please help me reach my goal by clicking the “Donate” button on this page. All donations are 100% tax deductible and benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), funding research, education, advocacy, and support for those affected by suicide.

Thank you for your support!

https://afsp.donordrive.com/participant/1904888

MLK and Mental Illness


mlk-dream-bannerI went to church yesterday. As is usual with most Unitarian Universalist churches, the day was spent in reflection of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Those of us who are caucasian pinned pink ribbons to our tops, a reminder for the day that people are treated differently because of their skin tone and that as caucasians, we have a duty to acknowledge our ancestors’ history and challenge injustice whenever we witness it. I had planned to pen an elaborate post regarding my thoughts on the service.

Then I had a mental health episode. It was a rough night, and I struggled with old coping mechanisms such as self-injury and alcohol. This is not the life that I want to lead, and I recommit myself to my overall health – including my spiritual and mental health.

Today I began to wonder, what would Dr. King say about how we treat the mentally ill in this country. I found this blog and wasn’t surprised to learn that Dr. King himself often battled with depression. People who are challenged with mental illness tend to be some of the most self-reflective and empathetic people you will ever meet. It’s not lost on me that someone like MLK who spent his life thinking deeply about injustice would struggle with the psychological impact of such a dreary reality.

There is still a stigma against the mentally ill. I could never compare this to the experience that African Americans have had in this society. Yet I’m compelled to call out injustice wherever I see it, for mental illness is something that does not discriminate based on the color of your skin. If we know that mental illness is stigmatize, and that racial minorities are discriminated against, one would shudder at the injustice of mental illness within those communities. Unfortunately, culturally speaking, some groups balk even more at the thought of mental health treatment. My husband is from India and there’s a long history of denying the need for therapy and that one should fix things on their own, which is a damaging and dangerous perspective. Damaging because it belittles those of us who seek help. Dangerous because it suggests a path that almost always fails.

We need to speak out in all of our communities that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, rather it’s something that many of us will experience at some point in our lives, just like MLK did. There is no weakness in asking for help as it is true strength and courage that allows you to recognize that you can’t do it alone. Growing up, we’re not taught to deal with these issues, so we need to learn from those who can help us. Regardless of our backgrounds, there is a counselor that can meet our needs.

If you need any support in exploring these issues, please reach out to me. I’m listening.

Homesick


huntington2As I mentioned in my previous post, I was born in Huntington, WV. I was raised right across the Ohio River, but spent most of my time in the Huntington area. Growing up, if you wanted something to do, you went to Huntington. I used to jokingly say that the only things I did in Ohio were go to school and sleep. Because of this experience growing up, I always had more of a connection to Huntington than I did to the smaller towns of Ohio. It’s because of this connection that I’m writing this post.

I miss Huntington. I have very fond memories of the land and the people. Some would say I’m homesick. As I have researched some issues for other posts, what I have realized is that in many ways, it’s my home that is sick – sick with the decaying rot of crime and poverty.

Let me clarify.

I currently live in the suburbs of Chicago. My current surroundings are definitely a far cry from Appalachia. People often ask me about the dangers of Chicago as the city is often in the news with stories of rampant crime and gang activity. What I have found to be quite disheartening is that Huntington actually has a higher crime rate than Chicago. According to Neighborhood Scout, Chicago’s crime rate is 43.71 per 1000 residents. Huntington, on the other hand, has a crime rate of 56.87 per 1000 residents. Not only is the crime rate in Huntington higher than Chicago’s, it’s higher than the national average – in every category of violent and property crimes.

These facts are truly disturbing to me. It makes me weep whenever I visit Huntington as I can feel an aura of darkness permeating throughout the city. More than anything, it’s not fear that I feel, but sadness. This is most definitely not the Huntington of my youth. My memories of growing up in the Huntington area are brighter when it comes to the land and the people. Because of this, I still believe in Huntington. I believe that things can improve, and I refuse to give up on this ideal.

There are many intersecting issues related to crime – from economic disadvantages, budgetary cuts to social programs, lacking of funding and awareness for mental health issues, education cuts, and the influx of the opioid crisis which has been driven by pharmaceutical companies flooding the market (see the CDC report on prescription rates and drug overdose rates). How can we fix it? I do know that it won’t be simple. We often hear of one-sided reactions to these problems as if they are the magical elixir of life. I have a hunch that such complex issues will not be resolved with simple solutions. My guess is that it will take a multifaceted approach that addresses all the correlations rather than “fixing” one symptom of the problem.

I don’t have all the answers. What I do have is a commitment to looking into these issues in other posts, along with addressing other social issues within the Huntington community. I feel like I owe it to myself and to the area to continue speaking out and keeping faith that one day, Huntington will be a place where people will feel safe in raising a family.

Caitlyn Jenner – New Struggle, Old Ignorance


Hoodie

I have been following the media frenzy regarding Caitlyn Jenner since news of the Vanity Fair cover exploded across all social media. All of the comments – both positive and negative – has me thinking of a column I wrote when I was in grad school.

When I was in college, I was the co-coordinator for Marshall University’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Outreach office. We did a lot of education and political action during those times, for the university and the Huntington community. I got the idea to write a very political, pro-LGBT, third-wave feminist column that I would call The Angry Beaver. Unfortunately, I never followed through with making this a regular column. Actually, I only wrote one column for a state magazine. The topic – transphobia and gender issues.

An incident at my office job inspired the column. At the time I was working in Human Resources. One of our employees was a transwoman. Management and the HR manager took issue with calling her a female name. At the time, she didn’t have her name legally change, but she most definitely presented as a woman. The HR Manager insisted that it would be too confusing and too much of a distraction to call her by her female name. My response to that was, “More confusing and distracting then having someone who looks like HER being called a very “masculine” name?” (protecting privacy, let’s just say her birth name was Gary) Again, imagine a tall, beautiful, blond beauty in heels and make-up…and managers referring to her as Gary in the office. No, not distracting at all, right? I made the same argument about forcing her to use the men’s room – not to mention possible safety concerns. Thankfully it was agreed to allow her to use a single-person bathroom in the same building as a compromise, but management would still call her Gary because “that’s what the driver’s license says.”

The column I wrote centered on a very heated discussion that I got into with the HR manager over the labels male and female. It went something like this (keep in mind, this was circa 2001 in West Virginia):

MANAGER: He’s not a woman because he has male genitalia.
ME: So, if she had surgery then you would consider her a woman?
MANAGER: No. Anyone can have surgery. It’s just cosmetic. He still doesn’t have a menstrual cycle and can’t have a baby. No amount of surgery can change that!
ME: So, women who go through menopause or are infertile are not women?
MANAGER: Of course they are! They still have a uterus and ovaries whether they work or not.
ME: So, a woman who has a hysterectomy is no longer a woman?
MANAGER: (getting very pissed off) This is absurd. If he has a y chromosome, he’s a man.
ME: We agree on one thing. This IS absurd. What about people with Klinefelter syndrome? They have a y chromosome, but they also have two x chromosomes. Regardless, how would you even know? Do you ask people this when you meet them?
MANAGER: Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t have to ask. You can look at them and tell.
ME: Evidently not because you’re still calling HER a HE!

And so it goes. We didn’t even get into it about differing levels of hormones or his archaic classification of intersex individuals. This may have been a good thing, because for hormones, I would have admitted to him that I have to remove the hair from my face so that I don’t have a beard and mustache. He’s likely to have stopped considering me a woman at that point.

My main point is this – there is much more variation and fluidity with sex and gender than just female/male and feminine/masculine. It’s not either/or – it’s a continuum, a vast, diverse array of gonadal, chromosomal, hormonal, biological, psychological, and spiritual possibilities. Like many things, it doesn’t matter if you “believe” in it or not…those possibilities exist, whether there’s any type of medical/surgical intervention or not. What DOES matter is respecting each individual. As is attributed to Jesus in the New Testament, “Do to others what you want them to do to you” (Matthew 7:12, NCV). Inversely, do NOT do to other what you DO NOT want them to do to you.

One simple rule to follow – don’t be an asshole.

**I have recently been thinking about how transpeople “present” their identities and what this means for so-called feminism. I will tackle this topic in an upcoming blog.

How Depression Made a Top Student a Failure


Depression Just Ahead Green Road Sign with Dramatic Storm Clouds and Sky.

As I stated in my v-log on depression, statistics posted by Huffington Post earlier this year show that 30% of college students report experiencing depression so severe that it disrupts their school work. I mentioned in the video that I was in that 30%.

What’s interesting to me is the timing of things – a couple of days before recording that video, I decided to request my transcripts from my university. Since I quit my day job, I have been asking myself, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” As I started down that line of thought, I requested my transcripts to take a look at where I had been and revisit those subjects I had been so passionate about in my younger years.

When I first started off at college, I was convinced that I wanted to be a print journalist. I even had dreams of being an investigative journalist who uncovered big government scandals in the vein of Watergate. Being a passionate writer, print journalism seemed like a natural choice for careers.

Unfortunately, I quickly became disheartened with what I was learning in my journalism classes. I quickly learned that sensationalism was the order of the day – “if it bleeds, it leads” – and preserving the First Amendment had fallen behind how much ad space you could sell (which in essence, morally ties you to the whims of the corporations who advertise with you).

I was lost. I didn’t know what to do. My vision of my future completely disintegrated under the weight of a capitalist media system which had no regard for someone like me – someone who just wanted to write and seek the truth. This realization coupled with the shock of a failed relationship and struggling with my own identity sent me drowning into an abyss.

I became very depressed. So much so, that I lost interest in writing and researching topics I had previously found interesting. I no longer wanted to be involved with the Society for Professional Journalists. I no longer want to go to my journalism classes. In fact, I no longer wanted to even get out of bed. Since I couldn’t will myself to get out of bed or take a shower, I stopped going to class. My anxiety reared its ugly head. Because I didn’t go to class, I knew I would have to talk to the professors, which caused me so much anxiety that my fight or flight response had me fleeing – in so much that I just avoided the whole situation by continue to be absent. I was close to flunking out of school.

In high school, in all four years, I received all As and one B. During this particularly dismal semester in college, I earned four Fs and one D. It was absolutely humiliating. SO humiliating that this is the first time in my life that I have allowed myself to be this candid about it.

I took time off to really think about which degree would really interest me. Along with writing, I was passionate about social issues and had a somewhat morbid fascination with criminals, serial killers in particular. I also took time to recover from the depression, stress and anxiety – on my own, which wouldn’t be as helpful as I thought.

With these insights, I finally went back to school and changed my major to Sociology, emphasizing criminology and deviant behavior.

The next four years were much different.

To be continued

This is the End


biohazard+mask

This month, I will leave the office job that I’ve had for the past twelve years. I fell in love with the company, believed in its mission…then things…changed.

It wasn’t a sudden change. It’s something that happened over the course of the past several years. The only way to describe the past six months is toxic environment. In the midst of an emotionally and mentally unhealthy space, I realized that the company I once loved is no more.

At one point a couple of years ago, I was contemplating the possibility of leaving. At that time, I still loved the company so much that I described the possibility as being like a divorce – when you end a relationship not because you don’t love the other person, but because you know that you can no longer be with that person and continue to grow and evolve.

Now, today as the end draws near, I describe the feeling as escaping from an abusive relationship where your partner expects you to do everything, even at the expense of your own well-being, giving you little in return. In fact, what you usually get is negative criticism, condescension, belittlement and a constant feeling of dread for when the next metaphorical punch will hit you in the gut.

And to the company, this is okay because the business comes first.

Not my home anymore.

Not meant for me.

Enough is enough.

This is the end and freedom is within sight.