The Personal is Political

This week, it just seemed like one of those weeks that, everywhere I turned, my issues were in my face.

It's not like I try to be impersonal at this blog. I've noticed, however, that my most recent blog entries have been pretty impersonal (credit this to the fact that I started that whole "Angst-Loss Challenge" thing last month . . . Wow! Was that just last month? -- I'm becoming Gonzo! . . . . and that whole angst-loss mission . . . .quest . . . thing . . . was, however unintentionally, pretty political overall, and rarely personal).

So, this post will be entirely personal.

The news and posts that set my issues clanging this week were about rape, and mental health/suicide. (Surely you must know that these aren't my only issues -- just the ones I'm currently ranting about.) Still, I figure I should just come clean about some of my personal biases and perspectives regarding these issues.

Yes, I was raped. Repeatedly. From the ages of 2 -5 and later, in my early teens. I aborted the fetus of my rapist into a toilet in middle school. It was terrifying for me at the time, and unexplained, and unacknowledged, and awful. Just like the rapes .

I was also diagnosed as "mentally ill" (age 37), institutionalized and medicated as such, and considered and planned suicide seriously enough that I was put into isolation and dis-allowed writing implements (one of the things that had kept me alive between age 13 - 37), cutlery, and q-tips (although how one is supposed to be able to commit suicide with a q-tip is still beyond me, even though I have googled it extensively).

Thankfully, my days of "clinical depression" are now behind me, and the thousands (literally) of hours and dollars that I spent on therapy helped me moved from "abject victim" to "thriving survivor" in terms of my sexual abuse.

Monday, I was reading various blog-entries about Owen Wilson's suicide attempt, and then, some posts about "gray rape". I felt mad. And sad. And bad. And then mad, and sad, again.

To give you insight into my emotional responses -- when I googled "Owen Wilson Suicide" the day the news broke, the top link read: "Owen Wilson's suicide bid" -- like he was "bidding" on his suicide? Like it's Ebay or some fucking shit?!?!

I'm the last person in the world to buy into the whole "every suicide is a tragedy!" thing. I have sat with friends who were dying (in enlightened Oregon) for whom assisted, intentional death was the greatest blessing in the world (prior to Oregon passing the Death with Dignity act, I had friends who were dealing with AIDS who passed by their own hand without public sanction, but shhhh, don't tell anyone -- that would be illegal and shit.)

However, I was shocked by some of the shock that I read in response to Wilson's attempt to depart.

Be warned that, given my biases, what follows are Portly Dyke interpretations of what I read in the MSM:

"But he's So Young! So Handsome! So Thin! So Rich! So Blond! So Famous! So Successful! So Cute! So Smart! So . . . . . so . . . . . . . so . . . . !"

So . . . . what?

So depressed? So desperate? So miserable? So hopeless?

I've been there. I was depressed, desperate, miserable, and hopeless, even when I was young, handsome/beautiful, thin, (never really rich or famous, although I was temporarily blond), and also while I was successful, and cute, and smart (which I think I still am).

I was one of those "super-copers", who hid my underlying depression very well -- even from myself, at times. I managed to dis-associate from my abuse history almost completely until my life fell apart at 37. In retrospect, this was a brilliant survival strategy -- it allowed me to complete college, get a job, and create a family in a fairly stable manner. I believe that my consciousness did what it was designed to do, very well -- it kept me together until I had the breathing space to disintegrate, and then re-integrate. The process wasn't "fun", but it was effective. /*pat, pat, pat*/ Good old brain.

So, now, when I read stuff about famous people like Owen who are obviously dealing with mental health issues (probably depression -- duh, ya think?), in a country where 10% of women and 4% of men take anti-depressants -- yet the CDC doesn't actually have a listing for the word "Depression" in its A-Z index of diseases -- I get a little . . . . . how do you say in zis cuntry? . . . . .PIZZED FUCKING OFF?!?!?! (Fire Ze Missiles!!)

Because if you google (without quotes) Owen Wilson Suicide right now, you get more than 7 Million hits, and if you add one word to this google search and make it Owen Wilson Suicide Depression, you get only 281,000.

This is what I was talking about in my last post -- about living in a culture that I believe is incredibly inauthentic. Fourteen to nineteen percent of our population can be under active treatment for depression (and who knows how many others are not being treated, or are self-medicating with booze and drugs?) -- but we don't want to talk about it.

I have some rather radical notions about mental health and depression, truth be told.

[Disclaimer: My opinions and ideas do not stem from laboratory research -- they are admittedly anecdotal and personal.]

I worked for more than ten years with low-income elderly and handicapped people (mostly mentally ill) as a social worker. Shortly after this time, I became a patient in the "mental health" system for about six years. One could say that I have a well-rounded (if that's the right word) view of the issue.

I believe that it is possible that some people's brains just "work that way", and produce a butt-load of chemicals that give them a tendency toward depression.

However, it has been my experience that a far greater number of people that I know, who suffer from depression, do so in response to a specific event or ongoing situation -- like being a Vietnam vet who never got treated for PTSD, but was just expected to come home and act "normally" after witnessing atrocities, or being a retired elderly person who gave their heart, soul, and body to a corporation and got cheated out of their retirement fund, or being a dis-enfranchised person of color who lived in deep poverty from birth but managed to put themselves through college, yet couldn't get anyone to hire them for a "real" job because of the deep scars that daddy carved into their face in a fit of drunken rage when they were 9 years old, or being a woman who was divorced by a husband of 40 years, after raising his kids and ironing his shirts and kissing his ass, because he found a younger, more attractive woman, or . . . being a survivor of severe childhood physical and sexual abuse.

One of the descriptions that fit my depression perfectly is "Depression is just anger without enthusiasm." - Steven Wright.

I had a lot to be pissed about, and I had never really gotten pissed about it. When I was a child, and my abuse was happening, it wasn't safe, at a very physical and tangible level.

When I was just starting out in my life, and needed to "look good" and qualify for a job, it still wasn't safe, although now, the un-safety was more about a financial security and social acceptance.

While I was raising kids who depended on me, and needed my loving care and financial support, letting this rage out didn't seem safe or effective, in terms of my life plan at that time.

Finally, when I was no longer a "mom", and my lover began to act verbally and physically abusive towards me, it was safe for me to let that anger emerge. But some part of me seemed to know that the abuse that I was experiencing at the time (though bad enough) wasn't the thing that I was really, truly pissed about -- and so, not knowing who to be pissed at -- I turned that rage toward myself. Depression. Suicidal ideation. Anger (huge, and totally understandable, anger) -- turned inward.

My personal journey to understand, process, and direct that anger where it belonged took me the better part of a decade.

During that time, I took medications to "manage" my depression. I don't think that this was a mistake. I think it saved my life. The medications that I took allowed me to get adequate sleep, and eat normally (I had the sleepless, anorexic version during the time I was suicidal, rather than the sleepy, listless type I had experienced at other times in my life). However, those medications did not "cure" my depression. They only helped me to function well enough to move toward the root of my anger.

I don't hold with the prevailing thought that depression is just a brain-chemistry thing, and if you find the right magic combo of medications, it will disappear. I think depression is also an internalized anger-in-response-to-trauma thing -- and if 14% (conservatively) of our population is being treated with medication to handle internalized anger, what does that say about our nation, and why can't we fucking talk about it??? Just how pissed off are we?

One of the things that is pretty well documented is that women are twice as likely to experience major depression as men -- worldwide. (I am not discounting the ravages of depression on males here, just working up to a point.). There are a whole lot of studies that show a whole lot of variability on things such as race, education, and income, but statistics on depression among women vs. men are very, very consistent.


So, you just had to know that I was going to bring in the rape theme here, huh?

And I am going to.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the incidence of depression is so much greater in women than in men, while, in the last ten years, as the number of murders, robberies, and aggravated assaults have dropped by 15-22%, the number of rapes has dropped only by 2.4%. (And that, BTW, is not anecdotal -- it's from the FBI crime statistics spreadsheet.) Hmmmmm. Think there might be a connection?

It fucking pisses me off -- more than I can possibly express -- that I am still actually having, and witnessing, conversations where we argue whether it's OK to fuck someone who is passed out drunk -- that we are debating whether this is "really" rape or not.

The fact that we are still having that debate, to me, speaks volumes to the validity of the concept that we live in a rape culture.

Speaking up and out about it is part of my therapy -- part of the way I keep myself out of depression.

Here's my hypothesis: The more you are being screwed (and I don't mean that in an enjoyable, consensual way), and the more you feel/think that you have no power to stop being screwed, and no way to speak up and out toward the person screwing you, the more likely you are to be depressed.

That was my experience.

Which is why, I think, we have so many women, and so many vets coming home from Iraq, and so many Native Americans, and so many people in poverty, and so many elderly people -- who exhibit depression -- because these people are getting screwed -- and considering that a majority of the nation wants the war over and the president and vice-president impeached, and that elected officials are doing precisely squat about that . . . . . it's no surprise to me that antidepressants are the most prescribed drugs in the US.

I'm not even going to go INTO the whole anti-depressants as a cash-cow for pharmaceutical companies thing at this point. I would probably implode.

Hokay. Just checking in with myself to see if I've ranted enough. Yes, I believe that I have.

Oh. And I hope Owen figures out what's pissing him off.

Portly Dyke's Prescription for Ongoing Mental Health: Speak your mind.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 4:30 PM  


Sara said... August 29, 2007 at 7:03 PM  


:raises hand:

I'll row for a while in that boat with you, sister.


PortlyDyke said... August 29, 2007 at 8:50 PM  

Thank you, sister. Honored to share the rowing bench with you.

Jennifer said... August 30, 2007 at 7:49 AM  

Thanks, Portly, for all of that.

And, again, big warm hugs from far, far away.

Bradley said... August 30, 2007 at 11:30 AM  

Very well said, Portly. I'm convinced.

I was kind of struck by this passage:

"It fucking pisses me off -- more than I can possibly express -- that I am still actually having, and witnessing, conversations where we argue whether it's OK to fuck someone who is passed out drunk -- that we are debating whether this is "really" rape or not.

"The fact that we are still having that debate, to me, speaks volumes to the validity of the concept that we live in a rape culture."

I was just wondering... are we still having these conversations, or are we having them again? I mean, maybe I'm just being nostalgic, but it seemed to me that twelve years ago-- when I was in college-- every guy I knew was quite clear on the fact that if a woman is passed out-- or really, really, drunk-- you just couldn't touch her. Sure, some did-- I'm not arguing that rape didn't happen in my idealized past. But you couldn't just say out loud something like, "If the woman's passed out, it's not really rape-rape-- it's just, you know, bad sex" the way it seems like these "gray rape" people are saying.

I guess I'm arguing that something in our culture has empowered the cretins to say out loud what they were probably secretly thinking back when I was in college. It might be that the culture has become decidedly more misogynist, or-- and here's what I hope, anyway-- that the cretins now realize that they're hopelessly outnumbered, and that they're doing everything they can to draw attention to themselves and advance their dying worldview. Paulo Friere tells us (essentially) that a good sign that oppressors are losing power is that they start to complain that they themselves are being oppressed by the forces of progress. So maybe these people actually vocalizing their hateful stupidity is a sign that things are getting better.


PortlyDyke said... August 30, 2007 at 11:44 AM  

Bradley, my perception is that you are correct -- it seems to me that we are having these arguments again, and about all sorts of stuff that I thought was settled ten years ago, or at least on a progressive footing.

I was trying to imagine what would have happened if Ann Coulter had called someone a "faggot" on TV in 1991. I think that there would have been a much bigger outcry, and that the liberal contingent, at the least, would have worked harder to get her ass booted off TV forever.

I hope that it's the flailing dying gasps that I'm seeing, but I sometimes worry that it's just that these creeps have been emboldened by the clap-trap of people like Rush, O'Reilly, et al.

At any rate, I do think it's always good to get the muck out into the light, no matter how painful that may be. Slime doesn't do well under direct UV.

liberalandproud said... August 30, 2007 at 1:14 PM  

PD, I am so glad that you are in the world, expressing yourself. I am also glad that I managed to find your blog. I found myself nodding along with so much of what I was reading. Today was one of those days when the depression won. Luckily, medication seems to keep the suicidal ideation at bay, but sometimes I still just can't get out of bed. I was five and a half hours late for work today. I claimed I had a stomach flu, but it wasn't my stomach. It was my head (and I don't mean a migraine, for once). I don't have as good a "reason" for my depression/anger. I'm pretty sure I was never sexually abused. Nope, just good ol' fashioned "discipline" for me. So, on top of all the usual suspects of anger/listlessness/low self worth, I don't feel like I've earned my disease. Anyway, guess I needed to vent. What I'm trying to say is: Thank you.

Phydeaux Speaks said... August 30, 2007 at 2:07 PM  

The fact that we are once again having discussions that should have been settled long ago is attributable, in my opinion, to the success that the GOP has had with the general public in demonizing liberal, inclusive values and propagating the belief in the "nanny state".

This allows the troglodytes cover for their actions, because the sheep are jaded against the voices of reason.

I don't know if that makes any sense to anyone else, but I know what I'm trying to say.

Amy said... August 30, 2007 at 5:52 PM  

I recently watched the documentary "The Bridge" which, if you have not seen, I definitely recommend, but warn that you must prepare yourself for emotionally. It's a study of suicide, and it is heartbreaking.

I don't have much experience with suicide or suicidal feelings myself, but what I feel like I learned from that film is the extent to which suicide is, for many of these families, this sort of inevitable thing that was a part of their lives sometimes for decades. It's not just "one day Gene went and killed himself" -- it's Gene's lifelong struggle, his desperate, unsuccessful search for happiness, his attempt to say goodbye to everyone he loved, to apologize for what he knew he was doing to them, and so on. And in all that, in that whole world that accompanies the act, I think the families manage to understand.

I think in the case of a famous person, like Wilson, what you have is almost an endlessly large group of people who believe they "know" him, and so feel betrayed and angry that he just "sprung this" on them -- meanwhile of course anyone who really did know him personally probably has a very good sense of what is going on in his soul.

As opposed to his hair color. Ya know?

pidomon said... August 30, 2007 at 7:43 PM  

Both of my sisters work in the mental healh field and I have always teased them that with me as a brother it must have helped them prepare for that.

PD this was beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing

Brian said... August 30, 2007 at 9:26 PM  

PD and Bradley, just to riff off of what you were saying above...

I lean toward the idea that we're having these conversations again as well, but I think it has more to do with the idea that the people who are into repressing others, who say in anonymous polls that they would rape a woman if they could get away with it, feel empowered these days, and they feel empowered because they sense that the people at the very top agree with them. They see the frat boy President and the corruption Matt Taibbi so eloquently discusses in the most recent Rolling Stone and the past year of anti-woman decisions by SCOTUS and they say "we're back in charge, and fuck all y'all."

And of course, we've seen that we can affect change, because it's happened before, and we're not willing to roll back the clock to the bad old days, much as the frat boys in the leadership would like us to, and so we're having this "conversation" again--only now it's a fistfight. But that's okay, because I learned when I was a little kid that, clich├ęd as it may sound, you only stop a bully by punching him in the mouth, and punching first, and if you go down, you go down swinging, and you often pick up some allies along the way who weren't willing to stand up on their own before.

PortlyDyke said... August 30, 2007 at 10:23 PM  

"you often pick up some allies along the way who weren't willing to stand up on their own before."

Yes, I think that's right, Brian. I have definitely been rejuvenated and strengthened by the fortitude of the Shakesville crowd. Not only have they been willing to stand up to bullies, but they've withstood multiple attacks and kept swinging.

That's been inspirational to me, as has my reading of many of the blogs kept by people who post here.

Here's to the end of the bully pulpit.

witchtrivets said... August 31, 2007 at 10:03 AM  

Wow, am amazing post. Have to delurk and say thank you for being willing to share so much and so well. I have nothing to add here, except this all makes sense. Anger and depression and how the oppressed become the depressed. I feel like I understand my own depression a little better now. Even though I can't even talk about it on my own blog. I feel safer here discussing it.

NameChanged said... September 1, 2007 at 9:51 AM  

Well said Portly Dyke! You make the connection that I have been thinking was there for quite sometime.

Liberal and Proud--you do not have to feel guilt for "not earning" your disease. We are all sending you big hugs.

Brian--I agree one hundred percent. There seems to be a sanctioning of douchebaggery lately, and those that have always paid the price are paying it again.

Lambness said... September 3, 2007 at 11:00 AM  

Could one of you explain to me why "douche bag" is a derogatory term?


Anne said... September 17, 2007 at 11:51 PM  

Sorry to come late to this...I just found out about your blog at Shakesville! Your post is brilliant, and the part about anger got me thinking about how different groups' anger is perceived, and how that might play into increased depression among those groups. Obviously, the way women and people of color are fucked over and treated like shit in society is probably the largest part of why we're more often depressed, but not being allowed to be angry or own our anger just exacerbates things, I think.

For example, look at how women are expected to always be "nice" and sweet and just accommodate everyone around us at all times; if we don't, we get called castrating bitch, or loud-mouthed harpy, or ungrateful or some other bullshit. And black men and many other men of color are perceived as threatening and criminal if they show any anger at all, while black women bear all the stereotypes above plus the Sapphire stereotype. But yet angry, hateful white men like Limbaugh and O'Reilly are all over the airwaves, and nobody pathologizes their anger or treats them like they're crazy or a threat to society or anything.

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