Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Stares and Stigmas

For whatever reason, lately I've read a lot of blog posts/articles on self-abuse and visits to the ER for suicide and that kind of thing. Not totally out of the ordinary for me, but still. I've read a lot of horror stories about the treatment people got for being self-harmers or for being suicidal. They are treated with condescension and disdain, considered selfish and less important than other injured or ill patients. They are told, "Why should I help you when you're just going to do it again?"

These stories made me realize just how fortunate I have been.

As I've mentioned in the past, no one has ever called me out for the scars on my arms. People have asked questions, but never said more. Sometimes I think people look at them, but even then I can't tell if I'm imagining it or not. Because I see every scar. I don't know how many I have, but when I look down at myself I see so many even though well over half of them have faded. When I look at pictures of myself I can see them. But can anyone else? I have no idea.

I can't remember exactly why, but when I went to the hospital for suicide I went through the ER even though we had called in advance and I was being sent there by my then-counselor. The guy who took my information was professional and polite, but I don't remember much more than that. That hospital had a very good psychiatric department, so maybe that's why I had such a good experience.

Though the psych ward was full of people with various issues, I was the only self-harmer and one of the few who seemed to be there for suicide. I was in the lowest-risk ward, so to speak. The nonviolent people and the ones who weren't expected to be staying much longer. Even though I was the only cutter at the time, they seemed used to it. Obviously there was a lot of stuff I wasn't allowed to have, but I also had to show the doctor every cut on my body and was often asked if I'd hurt myself since the last meeting.

Now that I think about it, the psych ward was actually where my arms got the most looks. Maybe because there, people knew what they actually were.

The nurses were all very nice as well. My favorite always told me to find her if I needed someone to talk to (I was practically mute for most of my stay there), and the one who took my blood was always jolly and cheerful. I have no idea how they all remained so happy when dealing with severely depressed people. I remember the first time she took my blood she asked, "You been cutting on yourself?" but not in a mean way. More like a casual remark. I can't even remember what I said (probably nothing). "Why you do that? What reason a young girl like you have to do that? Too much peanut butter and not enough jelly?" I wasn't sure exactly what she was talking about anymore, but I remember saying, "More like too much jelly," because I never liked jelly very much and if we were using peanut butter and jelly to represent the universe then I definitely had too much sticky gross stuff all over the place. "Too much jelly?" she laughed and seemed confused. We were both confused. But moral of the story is she was nice.

No one has ever asked me to cover up my scars for a performance. Maybe they strategically costumed me in long sleeves, but I'd never thought about that until now.

I don't usually make an effort to hide them anymore, except when I relapse and can't bear the shame of looking at it. I live in the south and it's hot here. I'm also a dance major and we wear tights and leotards on a regular basis.

Sometimes I almost hope someone will ask. But if they did, I probably wouldn't be able to say anything. I daydream of a meaningful, deep conversation with someone about mental health, but in real life I can't make eye contact and when I try to explain things I go down too many rabbit holes and don't actually explain anything.

Anyway.

I guess my point is that a lot of mentally ill people are treated horribly at ERs and hospitals. But I, at least, had a good experience. There is hope out there. Please don't be afraid to get help if you need it, but know that if you have someone to help you find a good place to get help, the help you receive will be much more, well, helpful.

I know all too well that some people don't have anyone to help them and are left with no option other than the one ER, and that they don't have the time or privilege of finding the best emergency mental healthcare. And that sucks.

But don't be afraid to get help. No matter what people may tell you, you're worth it. No matter what people say about scars you bear, you're strong and you made it through. You are making it through.

--Dexter

PS. I tried to wrap this post up with an inspirational ending but I'm not sure I'm even convincing myself anymore. I'm such a hypocrite sometimes.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Overheard.

Boys will be boys. But they definitely choose to by gay.

He's a boy, he can't help being enticed by a low-cut shirt. But this boy definitely chose to be gay.

Boys can't help thinking about sex with girls, but they can help thinking about sex with other boys.

Boys don't choose to sexually assault girls. But boys choose to be gay.

Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction. Are they LGBTQIA?

Having no sexual attraction is the opposite of having an "abnormal" sexual attraction, so they're not queer.

Having no sexual attraction is abnormal.

Asexual? I can fix that.

Asexual? Maybe you should get your hormones checked.

Asexual? It's just because of your assault, you just need therapy.

But you have a boyfriend.

Don't worry, you'll change your mind.

Good for you for choosing abstinence!

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Ally.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual.

A boy will see a pretty girl and instantly think he wants to have sex with her.

He can't help it.

Girls don't want sex as much as boys. It's just in their nature.

You don't want sex? What's wrong with you?

Why do you have to be such a tease?


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

An Honest Disability Letter



Dear Professor,

I will not be in class today due to my disability.

Thanks,
Dexter



Dear Professor,

I will not be in class today due to my illegitimate disability.

Thanks,
Dexter



Dear Professor,

I will not be in class today because the idea of being around people makes me completely lock up.

Thanks,
Dexter



Dear Professor,

I will not be in class today because I had a nightmare about sexual assault and woke up crying, and for an irrational reason I expect my assaulter to be in your classroom.

Thanks,
Dexter


Dear Professor,

I will not be in class today because I'm worthless and there's no point anyway.

Thanks,
Dexter



Dear Professor,

I will not be in class today because if I let go of these crayons I'll go cut my arms up, in which case I still wouldn't be in class because I'd be cutting my arms up.

Thanks,
Dexter



Dear Professor,

I will not be in class today because I've been cutting my arms up and the shame is eating me away inside and I can't bear to be seen.

Thanks,
Dexter



Dear Professor,

I will not be in class today because I had a panic attack in my first class and didn't even make it halfway through, so I'll be hiding in Starbucks crying and unable to move.

Thanks,
Dexter



Dear Professor,

I will not be in class today because I am convinced everyone hates and/or pities me and I can't bear the shame of being around them.

Thanks,
Dexter



Dear Professor,

I will not be in class today because there are students in the class who are dramatic and verbally attack things that I both do and don't care about, but the antagonistic atmosphere makes me freak out and I'd just have to leave class anyway.

Thanks,
Dexter



Dear Professor,

I will not be in class today because I can't do anything right.

I'm sorry,
Dexter



Dear Professor,

I wanted to make sure you knew that my absences have nothing to do you with your or your class, and that I enjoy your class very much. You are a great teacher and I never want my actions to represent a disrespect or laziness towards you.

It's not you, it's me.

Thanks,
Dexter

Monday, October 3, 2016

Ups and Downs

Last week I had a startling boost in mood. I enjoyed my classes, and more importantly I went to almost all of them. More importantly, I finally discovered a grad school that looks like exactly what I want. There are prominent dance researchers on faculty there and it is very much research based rather than performance based -- and yet it's still dance. Only downsides are that it's in LA, is pretty expensive, and the application deadline is incredibly soon.

Despite all that, I was walking on air for an entire afternoon, telling anyone who would listen all about UCLA. That same day, however, I was in an environment full of tension and aggression, all directed towards one of my best friends who wasn't even there. What had been such an inspiring and hopeful day turned into one of the worst nights. I was overwhelmed with how mean people could be, how petty, how rude, etc. Yeah, yeah, I was biased, I know. Perhaps if they'd been talking about someone else, I wouldn't have been as upset. Either way, it all freaked me out and so I resettled into my hopeless despair.

That weekend, I got to experience one of the worst work days I've ever experienced. It was awful.

Somehow, despite that, my mood picked back up as I washed my Starbucks apron and went to work the next day. I created a little hashtag to try to cheer myself up. I do that sometimes: try to come up with little ways to encourage myself and make myself keep going. I kept telling myself, "You can do it. You can go to all of your classes. You can be something."

Today is Monday. Maybe the only reason I made myself get up and go to my first class was because I was supposed to present (though we didn't even get to me, but still), but I'm very glad I did get there. That class, which is discussion based, sometimes can really get on my nerves. For someone so interested in collaboration, I can get real sick of having to talk to other people and listen to their opinions and ideas. I like to think I'm pretty respectful and patient, but there are times when I just cannot listen to the same opinion be rephrased over and over again or the same question be asked over and over again. Being around people is hard enough, but somehow it's worse when all we do is repeat each other.

Right after that class I went to ballet. I love my ballet class this semester. But it was a very bad class for me. I did not dance my best at all, and had to leave a few times to have panic attacks in the bathroom.

So here I am, hiding in Starbucks, knowingly missing my modern technique class and probably my choreo class as well. One day after believing I could be a good student and a good dance and a good human being.

I am probably going to fail all of my dance classes. Heck, maybe my geology class too. I feel like an idiot trying to talk to my professors about grad school when they obviously know I'm not in class half the time. So why on earth would it be a good idea for me to go to LA of all places and just miss some more classes there?

Why am I trying to study a subject that is so community based? You can't be an isolated dancer. But people stress me out. Dancers stress me out. They're dramatic and gossipy and loud and scary. They're very human. They're great people. But I can't handle people. My social anxiety gets worse and worse.

Why am I trying to study such a physical subject? My ankles never quite healed right after that bad sprain in high school (probably because I danced on it for a month before getting it looked at) and I have tendonitis in my knees (which you can't just cure). Dancing is a constant battle between movement and my body, between trying to improve and trying not to injure myself.

The dance world has no place for people with broken bodies and broken minds. I don't have the willpower to push through the pain anymore and I don't have a well-functioning body to coast through the mental turbulence.

The worst is feeling determined and hopeful one day, and the next morning being back to nothing.

Monday, August 15, 2016

"I'm Worried About Your Participation Grade." Mental Illness and Education

I am becoming such a bitter, bitter person.

I've always been, well, pessimistic. But I've always worked hard. Always made good grades. Always went above and beyond even when I didn't have to. Read the whole textbook instead of just the assigned section. Did extra credit even though I already had an A. Became the teacher's pet because I always had something interesting or unique, because I always did my work on time, because I was a good student. Missing a ballet class was incomprehensible to me, not just because dancing was life to me, but because I couldn't imagine what I would miss on that one day. What would my peers think? What would my teacher think? What would I do during that time anyway?

That all changed when the mental illness attacked.

Freshman year in college I was still doing great. Went to every class (even the 8:00 AMs), always did homework, practiced hard, everything. Even showed up to my 8:00 AM the morning after I got sexually assaulted.

I wouldn't consider myself a perfectionist. Maybe just an overachiever. I enjoyed school and enjoyed learning and always wanted people, especially teachers, to think well of me. I'd been told my whole life that I was smart and talented, and I felt like I had to prove it.

Second semester I got sent to the psych ward, where the psychologist was astonished that I'd been attending every class and doing all of my homework despite such major depression and suicidal plans. Before she said that, it'd never even occurred to me that I could skip class because I was feeling "sad" or "down."

I spent a week in the hospital. Missed a week of classes. The head of the dance department made sure all of the absences were excused, and my mom somehow got a hold of someone important who made sure that my non-dance classes would also be understanding. So I went right back to all of my classes, still wasn't late, still didn't skip. I contacted all of my professors immediately asking what I could do to catch up. Most of them were understanding, and didn't even want to look at my doctor's note. Most of them didn't add those absences into my grade or treat me any differently.

Then there was my Wellness teacher. The lady who'd been telling us that if we ever felt we needed help, we had to get it. Health is more important than grades. As soon as I was out of the hospital, I emailed her asking what I could do. She replied saying that there was a quiz I had missed that I could not make up. And as soon as I got back, we had a test. That I hadn't been able to study for. Because I'd been in the hospital.

That was, perhaps, the first time I lost a little faith in the education system.

Fast forward to junior year. My life goes to complete crap. I miss classes, I bullshit homework, I can't sleep, can't do anything. Can't stand to go to class and be around people, can't stand the disappointment in my teachers's eyes that may or may not actually be there. Even with my disability letter, my grades suffered a lot. Even with more allowed absences, I wasn't able to focus in class or do good work. And all of this despite the fact that I was trying so hard.

One professor in particular was very concerned, bless her heart. I love her to death, she's always been one of my favorite professors. But she can be very nitpicky about rules. I must say that I missed her class far more than I wanted, because hers was my first morning class and I always felt worse in the morning. She was very concerned for me and my grades and felt it necessary to also notify the Honors College since it was an honors class. This led to a series of emails where I would try to explain that I was doing my best and they would continually say that they would do anything they could to help me.

Well, except for that one email I got by accident. Where the Honors College lady said, "I for one am beyond frustrated with her."

Me, The teacher's pet. The golden child. The smart and talented, the hard-worker. To put it bluntly, I immediately burst into tears when I read the email (which was embarrassing because I was in the dance building, luckily among friends).

Yes, yes, I very quickly got an apology email from the lady. But this was perhaps the second time that some of my faith was stolen.

Junior year second semester. Still haven't gotten my act together. One teacher is trying to quit smoking and tends to let her emotions get in the way of teaching. The environment she creates only adds to the stress and anxiety and sense of hopelessness that I carried with me. So I started skipping her class. She knew about my disability, so I thought it would be okay. I went as often as I could and kept up with material. I had just started to believe that "my health was more important than my grades." I wasn't making superb grades in her class, but not many people do. She's a hard, and very good, teacher.

One day she asks to meet with me. Tells me I should withdraw from the class. That she's worried about my participation grade. That if I don't make As on every single assignment for the rest of the semester (and she'd never given me an A on anything before), I would fail. She told me this on the very last day to withdraw the class, so I had to make a huge decision in less than 24 hours.

Another of my favorite professors assured me that one withdraw on my grade wouldn't affect it too badly. That a W isn't a big deal on a transcript, that it's not to be ashamed of. She was very understanding and encouraged me to make sure I don't end up in high-stress classrooms again, that it's okay to have a problem with certain classes because of my disability. So I withdrew from the class, and instantly a huge weight passed from my shoulders.

Not that I'm not bitter towards that teacher. Believe me, I still am. Not only because she forced me to withdraw, but because she turned a subject I loved into a dreaded hour and half three times a week. What used to be life for me, she somehow turned into death. And it's not all her fault.

After I had calmed down, I realized that I had not kept her as informed as I could have. When I missed, I should have told her that I was absent because of my disability. Maybe it would've made a difference, or maybe it wouldn't have. But either way, the experience taught me that I needed to stay in better communication with teachers that I have an especially hard time with.

The problem is that when I feel so bad and hopeless and dark and I wake up feeling like there's no point to anything, the last thing I want to do is email someone I respect and tell him or her that.

Oh, and that W in my grades? Got me put on scholarship probation. If I don't pull my grades up this coming semester, I lose my scholarship, which means I can't go to school anymore.

There are only nine days left until my senior year starts. I guess I am a little excited. But I'm not exactly hopeful. Because even when I feel good, I still know that I'm going to have a bad day sooner or later. And there's no telling if my professor will be understanding or not, or if I'll even be able to tell them that I'm struggling.

There's not a solution to this. There's no way for the school or the teachers to just "know" that I'm a hard worker and that my disability is as serious as it is. The office of disability accommodations can't make teachers change their attendance policy, which I agree would be a bad idea. They can only ask for special consideration to be given to my situation. I don't really blame my professors for not instantly believing that the super quiet, timid girl that isn't even there half the time is actually doing her best and is capable of doing good work. And of course they don't believe it if I don't try to tell them.

I don't know what's going to happen this coming year. I don't know if I'll graduate. I don't know what will happen after. I don't know if I'll ever be able to hold a steady job and support myself. And I'd make a shitty housewife, let me tell you.

So what does that leave for young women with chronic mental disabilities? I wish I knew. I wish I could believe in the future. I wish I could hope for better days. But it feels like I just get more and more bitter.

Friday, August 5, 2016

I'm Alone, But I'm Not, And That Makes It Worse

Have you ever Google searched "self-abuse"? "Self-harm"? "Cutting"? No, why would you? I hope you haven't had a reason to. But if you do, you'll find a lot of websites detailing self-abuse. Symptoms, treatments, causes, and common misunderstandings are usually included. But if you search "self-abuse forum," you may find some websites that are a little different.

Most of these forums do not promote self-harm in any way, but it does provide a safe, anonymous environment for cutters to talk and share their stories without the judgment that non-cutters often have. Whether it's sharing that you're three months clean or asking about good excuses for your cuts, the forums are there for you. You can find all kind of stuff there. You can find hope through people who have recovered, and you can find dread through the people who haven't. You can learn coping methods such as the Butterfly Project or ice and you can learn what to do in the summer, when you can't always get away with long sleeves and trousers (especially in Mississippi).

For obvious reasons, I have been on a few of these sites. I've never posted or commented, but I've read a lot. When I was in therapy, my therapist told me to research cutting, and for whatever reason I didn't bother to tell him that I already had and that knowing more about it didn't help me stop. But anyway.

Sometimes, when things are rough and I'm on the verge of relapse, I go through those forums. Websites, blogs, pictures. There's a tiny shred of hope inside me that thinks that some day I'll find the miracle cure. The coping method that is long-lasting and fail proof. Let's just say, I haven't found it yet.

For me, the best coping method is my friends. On the very bad days, I'll make myself ask someone to come over. I don't say why, and usually we just sit and do nothing. I have no idea if any of my friends realize just how much of a difference they have made.

But all of my friends are gone. They moved away. I've never made friends easily, and I especially don't understand how I'm supposed to make new trustworthy friends as a senior in college, when I already know everyone and they all know me too. "Hey, good to see you again. Btws I used to slash open my arms for fun."

Since all my physical confidants are gone, I've roved through plenty of forums and blogs in the hope I might find someone to talk to, but it just makes me feel worse. I've only known a few cutters in real life, and only a few more people who have serious mental illnesses, and I fear that talking to them will trigger them. Not to mention that I never know if they're actually doing okay or not. Maybe they're in a worse place than I am, and here I am barging in begging for help with my problems.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to communicate through this blog post. I feel like I should have some powerful message or mission for anyone who reads this. Like, "Raise Self-Abuse Awareness" or "Love Your Friends" or something. And yeah, those things are good too. It's the stigma of self-abuse that keeps so many of those anonymous forum posters from getting help. It's the fear of their parents' reaction that keeps them from confiding.

Yes, cutting is horrible. Yes, no one should ever do it. But that doesn't mean those who resort to it should be shunned and avoided. Self-abuse is usually a symptom of another mental illness that can usually be treated. Once that is treated, it becomes easier to manage the self-harm as well. Not EASY, but easiER.

Again, I'm not sure where I'm going with this. I guess I'm just trying to be brutally honest or something. Maybe this is my way of sending out a cry for help, I don't now.

--Dexter
a recovering cutter

PS. In the spirit of being brutally honest, I have a few funny/interesting/scary stories about cutting. Once a friend asked about the bandaids on my arm and I told her it was my cat. She replied with mock seriousness, "No, I think you're cutting yourself, so I'll have to report it." Maybe that was her way of trying to approach the subject, or maybe she really was just kidding. Either way, she obviously didn't report me.

I wrote a short story about a cutter and submitted it to the class workshop, and one person said, "A friend of mine is a cutter, and she cuts her thighs because it's easier. So maybe switch the cuts from the stomach to the legs for more realism." I had never considered that before she mentioned it because, as a dancer, my stomach was one of the few places that I could always guarantee would be covered. Tights and a leotard don't hide my legs too well -- but normal people wouldn't have to worry about it. I was more than a little shocked by this revelation.

Way back in high school, I remarked that a dance company audition required you to admit any mental illnesses such as depression. A friend replied very sarcastically, "Yeah, cause you totally have to worry about that." I laughed because it turned out she didn't know me at all.

And then there's the very, very few people who ask me directly about it. I laugh it off or have a panic attack, no in between. So even when people do notice and do try to talk about it, I can't say anything.

Life is funny that way.

PPS. I do encourage you to go read up on self-abuse, on the myths and the facts. ESPECIALLY if you know someone who self-harms. If you prove that you understand, or at least that you're trying, it will be way easier for the other party to talk about it.

PPPS. I'm not sure exactly, but it's been about two months since I last hurt myself. Yes, this is an accomplishment.

Friday, July 29, 2016

"You Just Need More Faith." Mental Illness and Religion

I am very religious. Christian, in fact. I love God. I love the Bible. I believe in the Holy Word of God and that Jesus died on the cross for my sins.

I have chronic major depression and general anxiety disorder. I have tendonitis in my hamstrings and low vitamin D levels.

No one has ever said that the devil is attacking me when I complain about my tendonitis. No one has ever told me to have more faith when my patellas slide out of place. No one tells me to go pray for higher vitamin D levels.

This is a tricky subject for me to explain, because I want to be as clear as possible. Because yes, I believe that people can be spiritually attacked and yes, I believe that prayer is important and that it can even cause miracles. But God has given us many many things that are here for when we fall ill.

Pain relievers. Ice packs. Vitamin D pills. Antidepressants.

A long long long long time ago, a friend of mine was going through a lot of the same problems I have. She had attempted suicide multiple times, and sometimes it was really scary for me. Multiple friends tried to comfort me by saying, "There is a fight for her, but we have to remember that Jesus has already won."

Around the same time, I felt true joy for perhaps the first time that I could remember, and I linked that joy to God. I thought that if I could just cling to God, I would never feel empty or hopeless again, that I could finally be happy. But that belief only led to worse depression as I began blaming my depression and anxiety on myself. I must not be praying enough, I wasn't reading my Bible enough, I wasn't trying hard enough. I wasn't enough. God didn't think me worthy of happiness.

Mental illness is the same as any other illness, it just affects our brain instead of another organ. Our brain is an organ. It's an amazingly complex organ that I can't ever hope to understand, but that I marvel at every time I really think about it. Even my own defective depressed brain is pretty impressive, if I do say so myself.

No, I'm not telling depressed people to stop praying. But we have to stop believing that depression is based on our own spiritual failing. People have to stop dismissing mental illness as a purely spiritual problem. Do-gooders have to stop telling the mentally ill that all they need is Jesus and that everything will be better once they accept him.

Jesus never said that he would make all the pain and hardship of life go away.

2 Chorinthians 7-9. Paul talks of the thorn in his side. He pleads three times for the Lord to remove it, but the Lord does not. "'My power is made perfect in weakness,'" says the Lord. "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses," says Paul.

God doesn't condemn people by not curing their chronic diseases. Our weaknesses remind us that God is not weak.

And mental illness is a weakness, just like pneumonia is a weakness, just like cancer is a weakness, just like a broken leg is a weakness. A physical weakness that can be helped by physical means.

If you have pneumonia, you get medicine and you rest until you are better. You take care of yourself. Your brain deserves that same amount of care.

--Dexter

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A List of Lies

I. Failures

a. Failure in school
i. Failure to even go to class
ii. Failure to study for class
iii. Failure to remember important class dates
iv. Failure to participate in class discussion
v. Failure to maintain decent grades

b.  Failure in relationships
i. Failure to talk to friends
ii. Failure to support friends
iii. Failure to reciprocate affection
iv. Failure to be patient with friends

c. Failure in responsibility
i. Failure in healing my cat's tail
ii. Failure in keeping a clean household
iii. Failure in keeping a steady budget
iv. Failure to avoid unnecessary purchases
v. Failure to maintain a well-functioning car

d. Failure in health
i. Failure to eat
ii. Failure to eat healthily
iii. Failure to drink enough water
iv. Failure to avoid unhealthy food and drink
v. Failure to exercise and stretch
vi. Failure to avoid nail biting
v. Failure to practice positive coping behaviors
vi. Failure to seek mental help
vii. Failure to seek physical health help
viii. Failure to practice positive affirmations

II. Beliefs

a. Beliefs in school
i. Belief that I can't do any better
ii. Belief that it's pointless to try anymore
iii. Belief that it doesn't even matter in the long run
iv. Belief that I will lose my scholarship
v. Belief that I will fail

b. Beliefs in relationships
i. Belief that no one really loves me
ii. Belief that no one notices my absence or presence
iii. Belief that no one wants to talk to me
iv. Belief that they are better without me anyway
v. Belief that all interaction is based on pity
vi. Belief that all interaction is because, "She might do something to herself if she's alone"
vii. Belief that I am forgotten
viii. Belief that I am replaceable
ix. Belief that everyone could find someone better than me

c. Beliefs in responsibility
i. Belief that my cat would be better with a different human
ii. Belief that my household is disgusting
iii. Belief that it can't become better
iv. Belief that my car will die because of my treatment
v. Belief that the absence of a car will result in more failures

d. Beliefs in health
i. Belief that if I stop eating, I won't feel sick anymore
ii. Belief that if I eat, I won't be sad anymore
iii. Belief that if I drink, I won't be sad anymore
iv. Belief that positive coping behaviors take time and give stress
v. Belief that it is all my imagination and nothing is wrong
vi. Belief that since nothing is actually wrong, no one will take me seriously
vii. Belief that no one can help
viii. Belief that because "I don't really want to get better," I only disappoint those people who try to help
ix. Belief that I will never feel better
x. Belief that I'm not hurting anyone else

III. Knowledge

a. What I know of school
i. I can do it

b. What I know of relationships
i. I am loved

c. What I know of responsibility
i. I am doing a good job

d. What I know of health
i. I have to ask for help

IV. Knowledge vs. Belief

a. Belief always wins

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The One About Underwear (My Addiction [to underpants] Story)

Every once in a while I feel productive and tidy up around my room. No, this doesn't mean I throw out the trash. No, I don't organize my scattered textbooks, no I don't do laundry, I don't collect the strings of multicolored yarn, I don't stack the confettied sheet music, I don't make my bed, I don't take the dishes downstairs.

I reorganize my clothing.

I go through my dresser and remove clothes I don't wear and put them in a bag in my closet, inevitably finding something in that bag that I just know I'll want to wear soon so I put that in my dresser. I rehang various cardigans and dressers, refold shirts that I had planned to wear but then discarded and stuffed in the incorrect drawer. I marvel at the amount of clothes I own, and marvel even more at the fact that when my choreographer asks for a certain color or type of clothing, I still manage to have none of it.

This process happened today, and I ended up focusing on my undergarments. I decided to do what they tell you and actually hang all my bras up, which turned out to be a very good idea. For one thing, it's supposed to be good for them. For another, bras are very awkward to fold or place in a drawer, and take up a lot of room. Room that could be better used for my growing underpants collection.

This is my inspiring story about underpants.

My mom was never that "girly," meaning she didn't wear makeup and didn't, as far as I know, buy fancy underpants and bras and dresses and crap like that. She wore jeans and t-shirts and had crazy frizzy hair and beat people up. My older sister was always a huge tomboy, especially around the time I hit puberty. So even though no one ever said anything of the sort, I got the idea that if I were remotely interested in anything feminine, I would be a disappointment to them both. It wasn't "cool" to like feminine things such as underwear and makeup and dresses.

I literally wore the same underwear from around age 11 to age 19. A pack of Hanes. I was wearing the wrong bra size for years because when my sister took me bra shopping for the first time I wanted to get in and out of there as fast as possible. Neither her nor my mom was good at the whole puberty thing, so I was left to figure out my bra size myself (I had deemed underwear to be a "taboo" topic of conversation, and yet also a sign of weakness if I didn't understand it). Unfortunately for me, my breasts developed quickly and not wearing the right bra was more than a little uncomfortable. Fortunately for me, I was always at ballet anyway and didn't have to wear real bras.

Anyway, I didn't buy myself underwear until I got my first boyfriend at age 19. He was way more interested in undergarments than I was, and it was under his encouragement that I started to buy new underwear.

Now, I don't regret any of those early purchases, but here's the thing: I was basing my purchases around his taste's, which were actually very different than my own. So the underwear I'd buy would almost be a compromise, with some being my own taste and some definitely being his. Nevertheless, I discovered that it is surprisingly uplifting to be wearing something cute and comfortable under my clothes.

It has taken me a very long time to be comfortable with my underwear. That is a very odd sentence, but let me explain it even further:

Perhaps because of all my misconceptions as a child, I've always felt out of place with any form of femininity. Dresses, lace, pink, makeup, you name it. Not only was it uncool to be interested in it, but it just didn't look good on me anyway.

Like if I try to look like a beautiful woman, it will just be even more obvious how not beautiful I am.

That is an untrue belief, but one that has haunted me all my life, and still haunts me today. I remember the first time I actually wore shorts in public (also age 19), the first time I started wearing dresses even when I didn't have to (18 or 19), the first time I wore a loud shade of pink (19), and the first time I wore heels (20).

Last week I almost bought some clip-on bows. A voice in my head scorned, "Really? Bows? You really wanna make it obvious how not cute you are by putting something cute in that choppy hair of yours?" I didn't buy the bows.

My first boyfriend definitely boosted my self esteem in my appearance and yes, my femininity. But every ounce of femininity was geared towards his taste. I hadn't developed my own taste yet, and so I adopted his without much thought. And when I felt uncomfortable, I blamed it on me just not being pretty enough to do justice to pretty things.

When my boyfriend and I broke up, I bought a bunch of new underwear and bras. I focused on comfort, indulging my own color and style preferences because there was no one else who mattered anymore. I got things I knew I'd actually wear on a regular basis. And it felt so good.

Underpants are adorable and comfortable and bras are stylish and also comfortable and sometimes they can color coordinate and somethings they match perfectly and even if they don't, who cares?

This is why underwear is so important to me, and I don't care how stupid it sounds at this point. If your underwear doesn't fit, the rest of you is going to be uncomfortable too. If you aren't comfortable with the most intimate parts of yourself, how are you supposed to be okay with anything else? You should be comfortable with every layer, and that comfort can only come from you, because ultimately you should be spending the most time in your underpants. No one else walks around in them all day. Hopefully.

Okay I've gotten a little off track, but bear with me.

It is not a weakness to like feminine products. It is not slutty to wear fancy underpants. It is not stupid to wear a nice dress on a completely average day. It is not shameful to wear a bow in your hair even if you have a bad haircut.

Sometimes the best part of my day is picking my panties. Sometimes the smallest, silliest thing can bring a bit of happiness. Because when life is falling to pieces around me, at least I can say that I'm wearing soft, pretty, and well-fitting underpants.

--Dexter

Monday, April 4, 2016

Video Games Made Me a Better Musician? AKA Dexter's Dexterity

I just finished reading a fascinating book about video games called Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth about Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do by Lawrence Kutner, PhD, and Cheryl K. Olson, ScD. Essentially it's all about the effect video games have on children, and whether or not they are a bad influence. Spoiler alert: they're not. But anyway, you should read the book if you're interested.

But a section towards the end sparked my interest in another way. It talked about how some athletic kids will play sports games, see a move on the screen, and then go practice it. The video game itself didn't teach the kids the move because doing it with your fingers and doing it with you're feet are two completely different things, but it still motivated the kid to go master it.

But you know what is extremely similar to playing video games? Playing the harp.

Hear me out.

Video games are all about finger dexterity. Whether you're using a controller or a keyboard, you have to move your fingers in very specific directions and for very specific amounts of time. I grew up playing flash platforms on the computer, moving around with WASD as well as using other buttons to sprint, attack, use items, etc. etc. It's taken me a long time to get used to using controllers, but essentially they're the same as well. You train yourself to use specific fingers for specific buttons, and eventually you don't have to think about it anymore.

The same goes with simple typing: after a while you don't have to think about the exact location of a key before you press it. I'm going to toot my own horn and say that I am a fantastic typer. I haven't speedtested myself in a while, but I average about 104 words per minute. I love typing. I love the sound of the keys and the feel of them under my fingertips, and how words just magically appear on the screen. It's awesome and satisfying (especially since I always had such bad handwriting).

Playing the harp, as well as the piano and perhaps other instruments, is also all about finger dexterity. You have to be able to move your fingers independently of each other. Your right hand is playing a melody and your left hand is playing accompanying notes that might be in a completely different pattern. I know, I know, it's not exactly the same as a video game. But it uses a lot of the same skills.

So does that mean that a pro-gamer could jump on the harp and be a master? Not necessarily. Other things are required. The same goes for gaming: just because you're good at the harp doesn't mean you'll be good at video games.

BUT.

I've got a crazy proposition for you. Video games might be a way for a child (or adult) to practice dexterity that could also be used for musical instrumentation. Maybe it wouldn't actually work, but it's a thought. An interesting concept to keep floating around the world.

All of this comes from the fact that I'm good at finger dexterity, whether it's applied to typing, video games, or harping. I have no idea if dexterity learned from one specific area could be applied to something different, but I don't think it should immediately be naysayed. Kids who think they suck at something, and yet excel in video games, shouldn't be encouraged to consider themselves failures. No, they may not be able to make a living off of video games. But a LOT of skill goes into gaming, and a LOT of that skill can be used outside of the game world.

This post is all over the place. I'm trying to be inspirational and scientific at the same time.

Do what you love and give yourself credit where you deserve it and play video games and play music and go crazy and try new things and find ways to turn what you love into something amazing and yeah that's all folks.

--Dexter

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

My Life's Ambition is to be a Poor Starving Artist

There are a lot of preconceived notions about dancers of any kind, let alone those who dare to study it in college. There are a lot of people who talk about those notions, making fun of them or doing their best to correct them.

And a lot of people do it incorrectly.

I'm not going to name names or point fingers, but there are a lot of artists who assume everyone else has the same goals as they do. This has been on my mind lately, and just gets louder and louder in my head the more I think about it and dance through life.

I remember when I was a senior in high school I went to the dentist and the nurse asked me what I was going to study in college. I said dance. She said, and I quote, "Oh so you're going to be on Dancing With The Stars? You should do that."

...No.

Not that there aren't good dancers on that show (although I wouldn't know -- I've never seen it), but I'm not going to scrimp and save and starve and slave for four years in college just to go on some reality dance competition money crazed TV show. Sorry.

There are a lot of actual dancers who dream of being on Broadway or the Rockettes or something similar. They sometimes assume that this is "the ideal end for every dancer." Which it's not. Broadway is not my Valhalla, sorry. The people who dream of Broadway are the dancers who are also into musical theater and deal with so much drama on a day to day basis that performing it onstage is no big deal.

Okay so if I don't want to be on TV or Broadway, then I must want to be a teacher, right? Walk around with tiny ballerinas in pink tutus teaching them how to make their heels kiss in first position.

Been there, done that. No way do I want to do that for the rest of my life. Little dancers are adorable, and they absolutely benefit from creative movement classes (cause trust me, they aren't dancing when they're four years old), but I don't benefit from their creative movement classes. That sparks no fire in my soul.

Well okay, there's like, dance companies, right? But those are mainly ballet, right? What kind of dance do you do again? Ballet and what? Contemporary?

First of all dance companies come in all shapes and forms. And yes, I'm a major bunhead, but modern is the hot thing these days. And yes, there are plenty of modern dance companies. And yes, I could do that if I really really wanted. I've been told I have the talent for it, but honestly I don't have the drive. I'm far too lazy, far too weak, and rapidly losing the enjoyment of performing for an audience.

So if you hate teaching and you hate performing and you think you aren't built to dance, why the heck are you scrimping and saving and starving and slaving for four years doing just that?

I ask myself that far too often. I consider changing my major basically every semester, but then admit that I'm too far gone to turn back. There's a reason I've been dancing since I was three years old (excuse me, "moving creatively"), even if I don't know exactly what that reason is anymore.

In high school I lived for performance season, but in high school I had something to perform for. Briarwood Ballet is part of a church, and every day in class we were taught to praise with our dancing. Our performances were especially for worship. We always told a story that was important to me on a personal basis, even if my only role was to play "springtime" or a "village maiden." I was still part of something.

Now I just spend more time sitting in a dressing room with a bunch of girls who gossip and laugh and talk about things I don't understand. So often I feel no connection to the performance, or the dance, or my role, or whatever. And if I dare to find some sort of meaning, dancers around me destroy it with their complaining or joking or teasing of the dance itself.

I mean, I'm guilty of this I'm sure. Dancers love complaining. Heck, humans love complaining. I'm real good at it.

But anyway. It's just very hard for me to connect with a dance when everyone else is so disconnected.

Anyway, that's what kept me going through high school. Things change, I guess. These days depression is so big and so dark that it has encompassed even art.

And yet, I'm still doing it. I'm still fighting as hard as I can. Why?

Because art is important. Because when I was kid, that was one of the few things I could cling to and claim as my own. When I had absolutely no words, I could still say things with dance. Even if that's not necessarily true anymore, I'm willing to bet that there are kids out there just like me who have no voice but have so much to say. No, I don't want to be a teacher. But I want to study dance, to make it more accessible, more understood.

Back when I was engaged to a well-off man, I'd decided to not start making small independent Dance for Film pieces with whatever dancers happened to be passing through my area. "Art for art's sake."

But then my life turned around and I decided I needed to support myself (which is not a bad thing at all). But I didn't want to perform, didn't want to teach, didn't want to prostitute my dancing to the highest bidder. I just wanted to make art. I wanted to say something to whoever would listen. But how do you make a living off that?

This is what we affectionately call, "A Starving Artist."

My plan is to go to grad school and study interdisciplinary arts. Art for art's sake. Just keep going to school until I can be a fancy professor teaching passionate young college students, which means I'll also get to do whatever artistic endeavors I so desire (within reason). I will scrimp and save and starve and slave so that I may create art for art's sake.

Because art is important. It was important to my broken little girl self who didn't know what to do with her poor broken little body. To my awkward and anxious teenage self who didn't know how to say what was going on inside. To my sad and downtrodden college self who just wants to fuck around with art to see what happens and how far you can go and what all you can do and how much you can say and just what exactly hasn't been done yet.

And it's important to those drama divas who want to go on Broadway and those talented dancers who want to perform in companies and those cheerful movers who want to teach tiny dancers. Art is important because it can do so much.