You’re anxious. Depressed. There’s something wrong with your brain, a chemical imbalance that prevents you from being happy. From enjoying life. From being a productive, contributing member of society. It’s not your fault. Your brain just doesn’t work right. It happens. Once you accept that, you can accept help. See a doctor, a therapist. Maybe try taking drugs to alter your brain chemistry. Get you back up and running. Functional, if not happy. Able to contribute, and not be a burden on those who don’t share your curse.
I understand. I am like that, too. Have been for as long as I can remember. It sucks.
But what if the problem’s not you? What if your depression and anxiety are perfectly rational responses to a toxic environment?
There’s a quote usually attributed to William Gibson (but apparently originated by a twitter user named @debihope). “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.” It’s pithy, and clever, and wise. I bring it up for those reasons, but also because of the very reasonable suggestion that factors beyond your brain chemistry may and almost certainly do play a part in your subjective experience of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Even if you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.
Context, in short, matters.
I mean, let’s face it. Very few human societies have ever been built with happiness and well-being in mind, save for those few at the top of the pyramid scheme. Even in our present abundance, it’s become increasingly rare for the average person to have the kind of stability and prosperity that are the baseline requirements for psychological equilibrium. How many people work jobs they hate? How many are one missed paycheck, one accident or unforeseen illness away from homelessness? How many people have the opportunity to find meaning and significance in their lives? How many people seek shelter and solace in addiction, in overwork, in bullshit hierarch mentalities that take comfort in knowing that however miserable they are, there is someone more misable than they?
What if the real asshole is how we’ve arranged our society?
Look, if you are depressed, or anxious, or have low self-esteem, there could very well be something wrong with your brain. There’s sure as fuck something wrong with mine. But it’s time for us to stop locating the problem solely in individuals, whether we conceive that problem as failing or pathology. It’s time to take a step back and see the forest and the tree. To see that systemic factors play as much of a part as individual ones do, and that fixes, if we want them to be effective, have to take into account more than just whether a sad person has enough serotonin in their brain.
To quote the Guardian article that inspired this:
If you are depressed and anxious, you are not a machine with malfunctioning parts. You are a human being with unmet needs. The only real way out of our epidemic of despair is for all of us, together, to begin to meet those human needs – for deep connection, to the things that really matter in life.
The other day a woman I know posted about narrowly escaping being snatched off the street by a man who intended her harm. The vast majority of comments were what a decent person would expect, things along the line of “OMG I hope you are okay” and “Did you report it?” and “WTF?!?” You know, the kinds of things you say when someone you know tells you they were almost kidnapped and raped and who the fuck knows what else.
“Would it have been a hot rape at least? Was the guy good looking, or short, fat, and ugly?”
You excused it as gallows humor. You were “trying to make light of [her] horrible situation.” You “meant absolutely no harm.” You told the original poster — the woman, I’ll remind you, writing about almost being kidnapped, raped, and who knows what else — “You obviously don’t like my crude gallows humor. And for that I apologize” which is about the weaselly-est non-apology I’ve ever read.
Then you blocked her, because despite making a show of how little the dogpile of her actual friends calling your sorry ass out affected you, it was clear that it did. So you took the coward’s way out. Because in addition to being a shit-heel of the lowest order, you aren’t man enough to face the consequences of your shitty action, just like you weren’t man enough to make a real apology.
Just like you weren’t man enough to take what happened to my friend seriously in the first place. Continue reading
[Serious trigger warning for survivors of sexual assault. You don’t need to read it. The important bits will be requoted in what follows.]
I didn’t want people to know. More than that, I didn’t want those things to have happened.
But they did happen. I did those things. And if it’s taken this long for me to human up and acknowledge them, well, that’s on me, too.
I could make excuses. I was young, dumb, and full of cum. I didn’t know any better. I came of age in the ’80s, when rape culture was just culture. Men were supposed to want sex, and anything shy of actual or threatened violence was on the table for getting it, be it deception, cajoling, or just getting her drunk enough to let you take her panties off and do what you wanted. I was a product of my environment.
Those excuses are bullshit. Basic human decency isn’t hard to grasp once you admit to yourself that other people are people.
[For the record, I still don’t want people to know, I still don’t want those things to have happened, those things did still happen, and I’m still sorry. Like then, I am still terrified of hitting ‘publish’ when I get to the end of this, because even though I don’t think of myself as a good person, I still prefer that other people do.]
Sadly, and sadly unsurprisingly, not all men took that watershed moment to reflect on rape culture and their place and participation in it, either personally or politically. Sadly, and sadly unsurprisingly, not all men are taking the opportunity now. But some are. Continue reading
I read a lot of great books, is the short answer.
So, a few days ago writer K Tempest Bradford published this article, in which she challenged readers to stop reading white, straight, cisgendered male authors for one year. Sadly (and predictably), certain corners of the internet exploded in rage at the notion (she has assembled a lovely collection of rage-tweets here, if you enjoy that sort of thing). I won’t reprise their objections, which savvy interneteers will likely be able to intuit themselves, nor pass judgement on any validity those objections may or may not have. But it so happens that I recently spent the better part of a year doing something very similar to Ms Bradford’s challenge. From roughly November 2013 until late last year, I read only books by women(*), many of them women of color, others not cisgendered (two of the new favorite writers whose work I discovered are married).
I did so for my own reasons, both personal and (for lack of a better term) professional. On a personal level it was simply the realization that the vast majority of the books on my overstuffed shelves were by men. I fought it for a long time, that realization. I mean, these were great books, each easily defensible on the merits. I have, if I may say, damned fine taste in literature, and reading material in general. Ask any of my friends. I’ve been an obsessive reader since kindergarten, the kind of person who never goes anywhere without a book and hasn’t since he could carry one. But looked at en masse, the unconscious bias in my collection was (and is) painfully clear (in my defense, I actually am a cisgendered white male).
When I was younger, the notion of placing any kind of limitation on my reading material for a whole year would have seemed preposterous. Now comfortably ensconced in middle age, it didn’t seem like that big a deal. It wasn’t like I was going to run out of good books to read, and while it might mean holding off on some things in my to-be-read stack, it’s hardly without precedent for a book to be in that stack for years before I get around to reading it. Really all I had to do was rearrange the order, though of course I used it as an excuse to go book-shopping, which is one of my favorite things to do.
The timing that November seemed propitious. I’d started writing Continue reading