The Closest I Ever Came to Being Sexually Assaulted

It was the summer of 1992. I was nineteen years old, and had finished my first year of college. I was living near Ann Arbor, Michigan, staying with a friend and his family for the summer between school years.

Ann Arbor is a college town, so even in summer there was stuff to do. But we were under twenty-one, and broke (I had the worst job I ever had, that summer, or close to it, working for a moving company that required I wake up and call in at 7am to see if they had work for me that day; most days, they didn’t). But my friend was really into dancing — I liked it, too — so we would, once every week or two, splurge and pay the cover at a dance club in town. I want to say it was called Tangerine, or something like that.

The place was alright, as small-town dance clubs go. Not that I was particularly an aficionado. But I liked dancing, and I liked the at least notional chance of meeting women, so I was happy enough to go those nights we could scrape together the five bucks each the place cost.

Then, one night, I had to take a shit.

I didn’t want to do it there. The bathrooms were not the most sanitary and, worse, the stall doors had no locks. But as time passed and the pressure mounted, what I did and didn’t want mattered less and less. I couldn’t even leave the club to go find a more suitable spot, because I’d have had to pay cover again, and I had no money for that.

So I did what I had to do. What was the worst thing that could happen? Continue reading “The Closest I Ever Came to Being Sexually Assaulted”

When Someone Is Wrong on the Internet

I mean, you’re never going to change that asshole’s mind. Why bother engaging? Why roll the rock all the way to the top of the hill when you know it’s just going to roll right back down once you reach the top? You’d do better to conserve your passion and energy for something useful, like calling your Congressional representatives or digging a shelter to cache supplies for the coming post-Apocalyptic nightmare that will surely follow the decline and fall of the American Experiment.

And look, there probably are a hundred better things you can do with your time. And probably you should do them. I mean, we’re all going to die someday, which means our time is finite. Probably best we spend it doing positive things.

But you know what? There are some damn fine reasons to engage the shitheads, trolls, and wingnuts of the internet-o-sphere if you have the time, emotional bandwidth, and outrage to spare. So, in the spirit of, like, five years ago, let’s make a list, shall we? Continue reading “When Someone Is Wrong on the Internet”

Toxic Masculinity vs Depression

I knew something was wrong the moment my mom walked into my room. It wasn’t just that she was crying, though she was. In a moment I was crying, too, because it was my mom waking me up to go to school that morning. Which was not her job. My dad was the one who woke me up for school in the morning. The moment I laid eyes on my mom I knew: my dad finally left her.

I was in fifth grade. Not quite ten years old. It was the early ’80s, and I was very shortly to have the disctinction of being the first kid I knew whose parents got a divorce.

It wasn’t a surprise. Like I said, I knew right away what had happened. And to be honest, I can’t — and could not at the time — remember a time when my parents weren’t fighting. I didn’t know what they were fighting about, didn’t really even want to. It was just a thing that happened, and when it did I would go to my room and play with my toys or read a book or I’d go outside and ride my bike around the neighborhood or go knock on a friend’s door or one of the thousand other things kids did back in the days when parents weren’t expected to schedule and supervise their childrens’ entire existence.

That morning was the last time I cried about it.

Because like I knew what had happened the night before, I knew what was expected of me. What was expected of any boy who wasn’t girly or gay or soft or weak. No one had to tell me that boys don’t cry.

So I didn’t. I tamped that shit down, put on my game face, and went on a field trip to Sea World with the rest of my class. As I recall, my dad was one of our chaperones. I didn’t ask him what happened. I mean, it wasn’t like it was a surprise. The real surprise was it hadn’t happened sooner.

I remember being very proud of myself for being so mature.

It wasn’t long after that I started acting out. Continue reading “Toxic Masculinity vs Depression”

Fuck Depression

Depression is a thing that will fuck you up, no matter how well things are or seem to be going. It saps the foundations like termites, wears away self-esteem like your own personal, internalized gaslighter. It’s kicked my ass up, down, left, right, sideways, and diagonally, and I am a person routinely mistaken for strong. Depression is a cancer, a colonizer of the soul, dimmer of the spark and whisperer of bitterest nothings in your psyche’s ear. It wears you away, eats you away from the inside.

It is also, in some times and some cases, a perfectly rational and reasonable response to the world we live in, which seems to conspire to create misery for most so a few can accrue — if not always enjoy — prosperity and power and wealth.

So yes, be kind, because you never know what kind of struggle someone’s going through, and kindness costs nothing but pays the highest possible dividends. But as we mourn another dead celebrity, another had-it-all suicide, another loved one or friend or friend of a friend, let’s not just be kind.

Let’s resolve to build a world that makes people happy. That takes care of their needs and provides space and opportunity for them to flourish. That asks what they can give and gives more than they would ask. That takes the prosperity and progress we as a species have achieved — and can achieve — and sees to it everyone gets their share, and that no one gets left behind. No one falls through the cracks.

Let’s build a world that takes care of everybody, that lets everyone live their best, most productive, and happiest possible life, so we don’t have to lose these bright shining stars before their time anymore, and because, goddamit, it’s the right fucking thing to do.

What If the Problem’s Not You?

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.