To all the Kind Strangers

Sometimes, I think that having a disability makes me privy to the true essence of human character. I know what you are thinking… And no… My disability does not give me super powers. Although, how sweet would that be! My blindness does not allow me to hear your every thought or enter your soul with a touch of a hand. Unfortunate… I know! However, my disability does give a front row seat to interesting situations with even more interesting people. Maybe I get to see true character because I get to witness people’s reactions when they are faced with someone “other,” or something out of the ordinary. Most people do not have time or courtesy to put on a mask when they do not know what’s coming. Sometimes, these day to day interactions toss a grenade on my faith in humanity. Conversely, they also act as a source of nourishment to that previously destroyed faith.

Because I want this post to be a positive one, I am going to focus on those times where my faith in humanity has been restored. The first time this dynamic was articulated in my thoughts was 2 summers ago. You ready for this mind-blowing story that will restore your faith in humankind? The story that will make your heart sing notes of inspiration?

One hot, summer day in June, 2 blind 20 somethings were headed to a country concert. It was the blind woman’s birthday and the blind man has a man crush on Luke Bryan, so they were ready to party it up. After ubering to the venue, they realize that they do not quite know where to go. It is a pretty big venue. You know, the kind of venue that Luke Bryan plays at. So they just pick a direction and start walking. Suddenly, the blind woman realizes she led the blind man to the very front of the line. Some kind strangers in line tell them that the back of the line is that way. Thanks guys! So they turn around and start walking the 15 minutes to the back of the line when all of a sudden, some super nice individuals enter into the story. This couple, by the names George and Nicole, said just get in line with us. So we did. As we waited and sweated for what seemed like hours to get into the venue, we chatted with George and Nicole. This awesomely accommodating and blind friendly couple then offered to help us find our seats. Not only that, but then offered to meet up with us after the concert to help us navigate the mess that is leaving a Luke Bryan concert.

You know why this was awesome? It was awesome because they did not make us feel like burdens. They did not patronize us or act like they were moving mountains. They were genuine and ridiculously helpful. They made our night that much easier. One “sweetie” or “wow, you are so inspirational for coming to a concert” and this blind woman would have been finding her own damn seat. So when faced with a disabled person, ask yourself, what would George and Nicole do?

In all seriousness, George and Nicole were not the only people that made our night easier. The employees that showed us where the beer line was were pretty great too. Also, this random lady came up to me during the break and asked me if I wanted to go to the bathroom with her… This seems strange but was honestly a God send. Turns out, this lady was deaf and was like, I know what it’s like to have a disability and just thought I’d offer to help. So thanks random lady! I’d like to think I too would have the courage to uninvitedly ask if someone wanted to go to the bathroom with me but I am not so sure.

To be clear, these are not rare experiences isolated to Luke Bryan concerts. I was at a Brad Paisley concert a couple weeks ago and was waiting in line to go to the bathroom. These 2 girls introduced themselves to me and asked if I wanted them to show me where an empty stall was. This other random girl wordlessly grabbed my hand and led me to the paper towels. That was a little awkward but super nice nonetheless. Moral of the story… People at country concerts are nice! Although true… not quite what I am trying to say here… I meet nice people all the time. Like the manager at the restaurant who jumped my partner and I on the dining room wait list so that my seeing eye dog did not have to sit at the bar. Or the nice girl in my class that always offers to get me a plate of food when someone brings food for everyone. Or the random uber driver who low key walked me to the place I had an interview so I did not waste time getting lost in a giant building.

I think I say all of these things to say this. As a person who is blind, I am often put into situations where assistance from kind strangers is welcomed and super appreciated. So to all you kind strangers out there… Thanks for helping a blind girl out and restoring her faith in humanity.

Characteristically Afraid

Have you ever been afraid? What a stupid question. Of course you have been afraid. Fear is an evolutionary response. Besides, there is a lot in our world to be afraid of. Not only did I just read an article discussing the just plain nasty food safety practices of amusement parks, I also live in a time where sick individuals gun down movie goers, mall shoppers, students, etc. The world is brutal. Hell… Life is just plain brutal. Maybe not to all people though. There are lucky ones. If I were to take a guess, I would assume there is a spectrum. Glad I am not the Great One of the Universe tasked with figuring that shit out.

Now that we have established that all people have felt fear at some point, tell me your fears… Too deep? Too personal? Maybe too silly?

When I was a kid, I was kind of a scaredy cat. You know… The kind of kid that sleeps with their mommy every night. As a kid living with a single mom, she was my fierce protector. I vividly remember being extremely paranoid about being kidnapped in the middle of the night. Go ahead… Psychoanalyze that shit. I mean this fear was real to me. So real that I would hold on to my mom’s fancy headboard while falling asleep… Yeah… Because my little hand grip was going to save me from a home invasion/kidnapping. That was my little kid brain… Always thinking…

All that thinking makes you paranoid or anxious at some point. All those what if’s lead you down rabbit holes of worry. I am learning to bury that garbage but I still let it out more than I should. Worry has the power to waste the good times in life. I mean, you only get a bed to yourself for so long in life. Cherish those years. On the other hand, you only get to share a bed with the ones you love for so long. Cherish that time as well.

As previously stated, I have always been a worrier. My biggest worry, to this day, involves losing a loved one somehow. If I am not with them, I worry that they could be hurt or get into an accident. What if someone I love falls terminally ill? What if I fall terminally ill? In other words, I worry about the strike of tragedy. These are real things that are not completely irrational thoughts. Things happen… Even as a kid, my head went to this place. Why?

I think this is because I am a ridiculously passionate person. When I feel, I feel hard. Some might call me a Drama Queen. My partner says this is the reason I was sorted into the Slytherin House. Yes! I am a Harry Potter NERD… What about it?

So… I am a passionate worrier and this shows up in my fears. As always, I am seeking balance; burying the unnecessary thoughts and drama in order to live the life I want to live. How does your character show up in your fears?

 

Let’s Be More Considerate Monsters

“I’m steel-toed boots in a ballet-slipper world.” – Richard Kadrey

Discrimination feels like getting in a hot tub and realizing how sun burned you really are. It feels like muddy boots on a freshly mopped floor. It feels like someone throwing up all over you. It feels like repeatedly stubbing your toe on that god damn coffee table corner.

Originally, I thought I would write about all of these times I have experienced discrimination or micro aggressions; about the time I was told I couldn’t study abroad because of my disability, about the time I was told I couldn’t serve a Mormon mission because I’m blind, about the few times I was turned away by uber drivers because of my seeing eye dog, about the time someone found out I was blind and proceeded to say, “but you’re so pretty,” about the time… I wrote out one of those stories in detail and proceeded to hold down the delete button until all was erased. Now the delete button is a symbol of my burden.

Pressing delete meant that I did not have to endure the why’s, but’s, justification or pity of those who read. Sometimes those are valid, warranted and invited. But not today. Today, I am tired.

I am tired of being polite when the bus driver so cleverly asks me if I can read in response to me asking what bus is this. I’m tired of those who think themselves unsung heroes, protecting their establishments from well behaved service dogs. I’m tired of being patient with those who masturbate to me, my family, and friends like we’re starring in inspiration porn.

Now before you discount me as a big, bitter, angry, and scary disabled person, please know that I welcome your respectful and genuine questions. I am the first one to crack a blind joke. I completely understand that sometimes people just don’t know any better. I readily admit that it is human nature to avoid, fear, and/or be curious about the unknown. I am well aware that I am not perfect and am guilty of discrimination and microaggression myself. It is also human nature to get tired and fed up and that is what I am today.

 

“… she makes me a better whatever the hell it is I am, a less stupid person, a more considerate monster.” – Richard Kadrey

 

A few years ago, I had a deaf uber driver. We were having a conversation about disability and he said something that still resonates within me today. He said, “we live in a hearing and seeing world, and if you can’t do either of those, sometimes you’re screwed.” While this statement holds some truth, there are laws in place to help unscrew people with disabilities, the main law being the Americans with Disabilities Act. This act makes it illegal to discriminate against those with disabilities in public life, specifically “prohibiting discrimination” in and offering “equal opportunity” to employment, education, movie theatres, hospitals, grocery stores, restaurants, recreational activities, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Today, I watched a 60 Minutes episode that shed a negative light on ADA. Its focus was on these “drive-by lawsuits” that are exploiting “innocently ignorant businesses” and taking advantage of people with disabilities in the name of ADA.

The episode highlighted businesses who are not ADA compliant or fully accessible to people with disabilities. These businesses are experiencing what is called a drive-by lawsuit which just means that they are getting sued for not being ADA compliant. 60 Minutes emphasized the lack of warning these businesses are experiencing and portrayed the situation as unfair.

ADA was passed 26 years ago, meaning businesses have had a 26-year warning. People have less patience with a slow loading internet page or a misbehaving child. And please do not be fooled. I encounter access issue after access issue, and frankly, I do not have the desire nor means to file lawsuit after lawsuit. The world is not out to get me, it has many more pressing matters.

The segment also mentioned that people are making millions from these lawsuits. One person that was interviewed mentioned that a lawyer conducting these lawsuits offered $100,000-$200,000 a year for signing off as a plaintiff. If anyone knows where I sign up for this, please let me know. I am only kidding… mostly… I have a lot of student loans… I am not a jerk… Ok, I am all the way kidding. Exploiting people is a dick move.

While I do not doubt the validity of this segment, it would be nice if 60 minutes had presented ADA as the multifaceted law that it is, as well as the multifaceted nature of the population it protects. I’m sure these lawsuits are more than an inconvenience to these businesses, just as their access issues are more than an inconvenience to me. Maybe 60 Minutes should focus on revealing the real issues instead of further marginalizing an already marginalized group.

Maybe discrimination feels like shelling out a bunch of money for a defense attorney…

 

Becoming Napoleon

“…while we read a novel, we are insane-bonkers. We believe in the existence of people who aren’t there, we hear their voices, we watch the battle of Borodino with them, we may even become Napoleon. Sanity returns (in most cases) when the book is closed.” (Ursula Le Guin)

Becoming Napoleon has never been of particular interest to me, however I have felt a certain level of transformation with regard to, say, Beatrice Prior, or Tris as she would prefer. One could argue that artists have magic powers so to speak. They know what it takes to cast a transformation or teleportation spell, throwing their various audiences into another world that they have created. Veronica Roth did just that for me with her book Divergent. I could see myself residing in a world divided into factions; the factions of candor, amity, dauntless, abnegation, and erudite. These factions created in order to save the world from ending; factions negating greed, cowardice, deceit, aggression and ignorance.

I was Tris. I wore all black, got a few tattoos, and ran alongside a moving train and jumped in order to board it. I learned how to fight, fell in love with a genuine and fascinating boy, and had a strong aversion to corrupt authority. I asked myself, why should I have to choose one character trait? Why can’t I be honest, brave, peaceful, selfless and intelligent? Then I closed the book and had to be present in my reality.

I had to complete a homework assignment, get ready for work the next day, and take care of my dog. I remembered that I can’t wear all black because my friends will instruct me to add more color to my wardrobe. I remembered that I don’t live in a world divided into factions, even though it sometimes seems that way. I realized that I don’t have to choose one good character trait. I can strive to be honest, peaceful, brave, intelligent, and selfless; but I won’t always achieve all of these because I’m human and not perfect as a result. Most importantly, I remembered that I’m blind and cannot run alongside a moving train and leap as a form of boarding, because that would most likely result in a leap to my death.

This is not the only book so captivating and transforming. I have read countless books that possess this power; from Harry Potter to Pride and Prejudice to the romance novels that are totally my guilty pleasure. I have heard speeches and lectures, read articles and posts, and watched television shows that have either made me feel like I was there or transformed me into that character or person. In fact, I binge watched all of How I Met Your Mother and entered into that incredibly relatable world. For a moment, they were my fictional friends. There is psychological science behind this, I promise. Please don’t question my sanity, or do.

Psychologists refer to 2 different phenomenons that demonstrate what I’ve deemed the teleportation and transformation spells. Psychologists consider transformation spells to be the phenomenon of experience taking and the teleportation spells to be the phenomenon of perspective taking. Experience taking involves subconsciously losing yourself in a character and can result in behavioral or cognitive change.

For instance, one study had straight male participants read a story about a character who identified as gay. They either read a story where the character was revealed to be gay early on in the story or later on in the story. Those who did not find out that the character was gay until later in the story engaged in higher levels of experience taking. As a result, they also had more favorable attitudes toward gay people. This study also works if you replace the gay person with an ethnic minority. It seems like the participants were able to identify with the human traits of the character prior to slapping a label on the person. It is possible that the combination of the late reveal and established empathy influenced previously held positive, negative or neutral biases.

This is the power of empathy. Perspective taking is similar to experience taking. They both involve empathy but perspective taking is less immersive. Perspective taking involves understanding another person’s situation without losing site of your own identity. Our capacity for empathy lies in our right supramarginal gyrus. In empaths this part of the brain is high functioning and it is low functioning in sociopaths; and then there are those of us that fall in between the opposite ends of the spectrum. What is it that triggers this part of the brain? Maybe it is our environment. Maybe it is our biology. Maybe it is both.

I say all of this to say this:

Artists are so powerful. Maybe they are teaching their audiences how to tap into their capacity for empathy; your capacity to understand a person as if you were that person. So, “is it any wonder that no truly respectable society has ever trusted its artists?” (Ursula Le Guin)

Coming Clean: I am a Lovatic

Yes, the rumors are true… I am a Lovatic. In case you do not have a clue as to what a Lovatic is, allow me to inform you. A lovatic is a Demi Lovato fan. Who is Demi Lovato you ask? Demi Lovato is a singer/songwriter/actress. She started her career as one of the kids on Barney, went on to act with Disney and is now releasing FANTASTIC songs such as this…

My path to becoming a Lovatic began one day while scrolling through apple news. I came across an interview published in Glamor where Demi Lovato discusses her battle with mental illness. I was touched and inspired by her honesty, courage and vulnerability. I find it admirable to be at the scrutiny of the public and share something so deeply personal. She has a unique opportunity because of her celebrity status and I think it is so powerful that she is speaking up about mental illness and advocating for mental health.

 

Demi started an initiative called Be Vocal and has called for mental health reform in Washington D.C. Being vocal is essential to getting help with mental illness. It is important to speak up about your own mental health and equally important to speak up about helping other people struggling with mental well being. She struggled with mental illness for years before getting the help she needed. It is frightening and heart breaking to think that only 4 out of 10 people with mental illness are receiving the help and treatment they need. Treatment takes money, time, and commitment. It is just not accessible for everyone. I think we need to ask ourselves a few questions when it comes to mental health. What are we doing right as a society? What are we doing wrong as a society? How can we improve as a society?

 

Demi Lovato is asking all of these questions and following her own advice by being vocal about her personal struggle with mental illness. She is no stranger to the toll taken by mental illness. Lovato has been diagnosed with bipolar Disorder, an eating disorder, and faced addiction. She is also a daughter of a schizophrenic father who has passed away. After his death, she wrote a song for him which served as a cathartic release. The song acknowledges the fact that her father was a troubled man. She expresses this genuine understanding that he did the best with what he was given. She thanks him for that but still acknowledges the pain that he caused her. This is a beautiful message of forgiveness and the reality of the human condition.

Being human is tragic, painful, beautiful, joyful and all things paradox. The reality is that some humans face mental illness. Fighting that battle takes a metaphorical army. Please speak up and be vocal. Advocate for yourself and for your fellow humans. Strive to make society a better place for all, including those who suffer from mental illness. Demi Lovato’s journey is evidence that even fame, fortune and success do not inoculate against mental illness.

 

I’d like to leave you with some candid words from Demi Lovato herself discussing her mental illness.

Facing the Rats

“…for on every side of the chamber the walls were alive with nauseous sound – the verminous slithering of ravenous, gigantic rats.” – H.P. Lovecraft

“Anxiety is feeling like a swarm of rats is eating your soul. Depression is feeling like it’s already been eaten. Raise your hand if you spend your time cycling between both” (David Wong). This quote from “Why Anxiety is the Plague of the Modern World” not only provides a vivid description of anxiety and depression, but it also highlights the comorbid nature of the 2 conditions. The imagery of a swarm of rats eating your soul is tragically real according to all that I know about anxiety; and I bet if you ask someone who suffers from depression if they feel like their soul has been eaten by a swarm of rats, they would agree.

So why is it that so many people suffer the effects of anxiety and depression? According to the article, the suicide rate is at a 30 year high and there have been surges in deaths related to substance abuse. These statistics are symptoms of anxiety and depression. Additionally, rates of depression went up 800% in 70 years amongst high school and college students and there was a 400% increase just over 23 years in adults who required antidepressant prescriptions. If you dislike numbers and statistics, I will go ahead and summarize for you. All these numbers and statistics indicate a significant increase in rates of depression and anxiety for individuals in our society. Furthermore, those medications that I mentioned are even becoming less effective over time. I return to my original question, why are so many people afflicted by anxiety and depression?

I believe it would be safe to say that people do not want to feel like their souls are being eaten by a swarm of rats or like their souls have already been eaten by said rats. I recognize the loathsome picture painted by the idea of the rats. If you would like a more palatable comparison, I have heard anxiety be likened to the constant feeling of being about to fall. However, the imagery of the rats highlights the disturbingly uncomfortable nature of anxiety. Anyways, if people do not enjoy feeling this way, then why don’t they just snap out of it or think positive thoughts? The hypothetical fix is more complex than that and the root of it all is deeper than one might originally think. David Wong suggests considering the evolutionary purpose of anxiety. You are a hunter and gatherer and your food supply is running low. This causes you to feel anxious so you go and hunt and gather more food. This anxiety is innate and a survival mechanism. The article poses a theory which suggests that modern day media has figured out a way to tap into that evolutionary instinct.

Think about the mixed messages that the media sends us. One day we see a commercial starring a beautiful and flawless body. They tell us that in order to look like that, we need to buy this. Therefore, we buy this in order to look like that. However, this is really expensive and it turns out that you need more than just this to look like that beautiful and flawless model from TV. Not only is it getting expensive, it is also time consuming. You don’t have excessive amounts of time or money for that miracle fix that isn’t really a miracle fix because you are a mom, a wife, a teacher and a student. You have to be all of those things and society tells you that you have to be perfect at being all of those things. Society also tells you that you need to be flawless and beautiful. But wait, you have to be flawless, beautiful, a perfect mom, wife, teacher and student? That sounds pretty demanding and stress inducing. Do you see why anxiety and depression might be a problem in our society? David Wong says it well when he states, “this chorus of voices will tell you that you should be devoting more time and energy to your career (while shaming you for being poor), but also that you should devote more time and energy to socializing (by shaming you for being a friendless virgin). They shame you for your weight, but then make it clear that all of the really cool people eat and drink with abandon. They mock your nerdy clothes and then scold you for being too obsessed with physical appearances.” The writer theorizes that the media profits off of our anxiety and depression.

Anyone who suffers from the ailments of anxiety and depression will tell you that it does not feel good. The feeling is crippling, crippling to the point of staying in bed all day, standing in the corner alone at a party and hating yourself for it, stealing food because you don’t have money since your mental illness is so paralyzing that you can’t get a job or go to the one you have, or feeling physically sick. Honestly, these mental illnesses are lethal in their own right. Although there is not a miracle cure or easy way to beat your anxiety or depression, there are effective treatments and coping mechanisms you can learn. Wong suggests deploying an effective technique, “a sort of martial art of the mind which involves strategically deploying or withholding your shit-giving as needed. I call it noshitsu.” He views your attention as a valuable resource that should be spent wisely. If you overspend that resource, you are harming yourself. Moreover, people who profit from your depression and anxiety are constantly sending messages to your brain that trigger that anxiety and depression. The article equates these messages with e-mail inbox spam, just filter it out. This technique is a cognitive adjustment and is not as easy as the act of writing it down. It takes practice. Being that David Wong suffers from depression and anxiety himself, his insights are valuable and a fantastic resource for a form of psychoeducation. He also speaks about a dark subject in a humorous manor. This is an extremely effective coping mechanism.

My advice? If you are struggling with depression and anxiety, please seek out help. Talk about it with a trusted friend or family member. Seek out therapy. Try to find articles like this written by people like David Wong because they help remind you that there are people who feel similar to how you feel. Try adjusting your cognitive processes by filtering out the spam of society. Always remember that your attention is a limited resource. Do not be ashamed and know that you are not alone. Anxiety and depression are plagues of the modern world but they are not impossible to overcome.

Calling All Skeletons And Why

All people have skeletons, whether they are in the form of depression, anxiety, PTSD, life stress, or that bone structure that makes up a body.

The song “Calling All Skeletons” by Alkaline Trio is the inspiration behind the title of my blog. I felt inspired by this song title because it seems to emphasize the reality of the human condition. All people have skeletons, whether they are in the form of depression, anxiety, PTSD, life stress, or that bone structure that makes up a body. My point is that everyone has different challenges in life that effect mental well-being. Often, society sends us the message that these challenges should be treated as skeletons. These skeletons are something to be ashamed of, hidden or stigmatized. As someone studying to be a therapist, I think it is important to acknowledge your skeletons so that you can work through them. To me, calling all skeletons is a phrase that symbolizes bringing everything to the table, from your pain to your joy and everything in between. This blog will be dedicated to musings about mental health and all things directly and indirectly related.