mental health

Saving

Fuck.

That’s what I want to say. I am going through my friend list today on FB for a class assignment and I run into an account for a person who passed by suicide. I perused his FB wall and I read a few notes he had written a few months before passing. It tore me up inside because here was an individual who was open about his pain, someone who willingly shared how he felt and how difficult he found his life to be. But he still didn’t feel heard. He still didn’t feel understood by his closest friends and family, even the professionals he spoke to.

It was so disheartening to read all of that. That he felt people didn’t believe him, that he was over-dramatic, or that “his life wasn’t as bad because other people have it worse out there.” These were all the things that I would have challenged had I been given the chance to do what I do now for him.

I would have said that no matter how big or small your problem can be compared to another person’s problems, that doesn’t make your problems any more or less important. How you feel in, deal with, and process your world is important to you and is valid. There’s no right or wrong way to feel or do things. Well, not necessarily if I am saying this creed.

You deserve to be heard. You deserve to be recognized. You deserve to be validated.

Most importantly, you deserve to have someone in your life who will love you unconditionally and always hold you in the highest regard. No matter how you may falter, no matter what you may do, you should be loved and cared for. Not blamed, shunned, or neglected.

That’s what I would say. But I can’t tell him now. And it wasn’t my place to “save” him. And I can’t “save” everyone.

But I can try.

Parents

In the line of work that I do, many frustrations when working with children who present with behavioral concerns almost always lead back to the parents. It’s common that parents will send their kids to therapists thinking their children are the ones who need to be “fixed” while they, the parents, don’t have to do anything to modify their behaviors. “My kid is behaving poorly and that’s my kid’s behavior, not mine.” Trying to help parents understand that their behaviors and actions greatly impact how their child behaves sometimes can feel like trying to teach my cats to give me hugs. Not impossible, but very challenging.

But once in a while, you get parents who totally get it. They understand access to mental health interventions is as important as modifications to their behaviors as a parent. Those parents are awesome. And parents who can respectfully and calmly advocate for their kids? Even better!

A few years ago, I had my first dose of working with young school-aged children. When I think back on how I behaved as an “adult,” I am quite embarrassed that I wasn’t able to treat them better. I know, those things are learned, but I still feel awful sometimes, especially to the kids who were the “trouble kids.” There were a few who had “behavioral issues.” I found those kids to be particularly challenging and “stressful.” Despite how I was choosing to respond to their “bad behavior,” I always tried my best to be good, kind, and caring nonetheless.

I was cleaning out some things and came across a letter a parent had written to me. I knew her well – her kids were the “trouble kids.” She was aware of their behaviors, but she loved them dearly and always tried to teach them better. (Trust me, those kids were scared of their momma.) Anyway, she wrote to me stating that at the end of the day, when I would say to the kids, “Go home” she found that particularly hurtful. While I may have intended it to be a joke, the impact was not the same. It was one of the first times where I needed to be mindful of my speech. It was also very helpful that she delivered her message in a way that was not only well written, but came from a place of honesty. She didn’t attack or make assumptions about me; she explained why she felt what she felt. That’s what I loved about her letter. I didn’t feel the need to be defensive; I felt sad that I had caused pain.

Rereading that letter today reminded me of how far I had come. I still work with kids every now and then and there is a almost always child who could easily be labeled as the “trouble kid.” I have since learned to give all kids the benefit of the doubt. A “trouble kid” isn’t “troubled” – it’s a kid who has yet to learn the “appropriate” social responses to their emotions and impulses. Providing a positive space for that learning to happen in a safe manner will greatly benefit everybody involved. I’m glad that I’ve been able to modify my own behaviors and be more inclusive with parents. If I could re-do that year I did, I would in a heartbeat. Nonetheless, I’m still grateful to have learned what I’ve learned and to continue learning.

Society

Someone the other day said it perfectly. This is bigger than gun control. This is bigger than mental health. While both of those things are important, but the much larger issue at hand is that someone felt devalued in his masculinity because we as a society had created this notion that in order to feel worthy, a man needed to have gotten laid multiple times by beautiful women. That for this individual, he believed that his worth came from the attention only beautiful women could give him and that in itself is a tragedy. That other “non-beautiful” women were not worthy of his time either and that his idea of “beautiful” pertained to the “hot blondes” he was surrounded by.

We, as a society, created a place in which many believe that a female refusing advances from a male is her fault and in order for her to defend herself, she needs to pull the “I have a boyfriend” card because only then will those males leave her alone out of the respect of that “other male.”

We, as a society, teach our children to be safe from predators, but not to teach them to not be predators themselves. Should they fail to be careful, that is their fault for any crimes committed upon them.

We, as a society, created a world in which the males who do not treat their female counterparts in misogynistic ways do not feel comfortable to teach their male peers the same and will often chuckle when the “jackass” of the group continues on his merry way.

I don’t want to say that all men are bad and evil, etc. I don’t think even rapists are inherently terrible themselves because they have been taught that they way they go about treating women is okay and that someone who is “promiscuous” deserves it or because she is asking for it with the skimpy clothing. The female race should not tempt the heterosexual males unless they want it themselves. That is the message. And even then, many feel a sense of power and entitlement to do what they please to the females.

One of my biggest irks is when men argue that being whistled at is a compliment and that women should be flattered by it. I, at the age of 14/15, was leered at – mind you, in jeans a t-shirt – by men as they were driving by. It is not flattering. It’s disturbing. It’s degrading. I am a person, not an object.

So many times, I have given into these societal teachings. Giving men at the club a fake number. Dancing with them for fear of retribution. Having to dance with a purse behind my or a friend’s ass to prevent random guys from grinding up on us. That I would feel so much freer dancing at a gay club than at any other club because the possibility that someone will grind up on me in a sexual way is way, way lower. That I have to always watch my surroundings when I’m walking at night. That I couldn’t say no to a partner for fear of what he would do.

Even now, I find myself falling to some of these traps. It’s hard to forget because I still don’t feel safe. That should not be the world we live in. That should not be the world anybody, male or female or trans, should live in. But to be honest, I don’t even know where we can begin to change the views of this society. I see what it does to the ethnic minorities and unless you live in a special enclave where this ideological thinking is pervasive in everything that you do, I cannot see it making it very far, which is really unfortunate.

So we will continue to blame the lack of gun control. We will continue to blame the lack of mental health services. Blame the parents who didn’t provide enough for their children, whatever else we want to blame.

But ourselves.

 

Further reading: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/27/your-princess-is-in-another-castle-misogyny-entitlement-and-nerds.html