My Life with Bipolar Disorder and Depression

When the phone rang that night, I was asleep. It was probably 1 am or so, and my 10-year-old body wasn’t used to being pulled from slumber at such an unreasonable hour. I closed my eyes and willed myself to slip into unconsciousness again. The voice in the back of my head told me I shouldn’t sleep; that I should get up and find my sister and whichever parent had kept watch with us that night, and listen to what they had to tell me. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t do it because I didn’t want to hear what they were going to say. If I went back to sleep, it’d be a dream; a terrible, awful, nightmare. The phone call would be a figment of my imagination.

I woke up again, when it was light outside, to my mother’s sobbing tearing through the walls. Sharp sobs. Unearthly wails. I can’t describe the grief and the overwhelming anger and helplessness that I could hear in her voice. She was in the bathroom with the door shut, but nothing was hidden from me and my seven-year-old sister. We sat up in our hideaway couch bed and I saw my father sitting at the little table across the room from me, with tears in his eyes, but his demeanor calm.

I knew the words that were coming next. The phone call hadn’t been a dream, and my willful ignorance had been pointless. I started crying. My sister got scared and started crying, too, not really understanding what was going on.

“Sara went to be with your sister last night.”

Angry sobs. Uncontrollable tears. Cursing God. Hadn’t I prayed hard enough? Losing Kristin was hell on my parents… and now Sara’s gone, too?

It was three weeks before her fourth birthday.

head-is-bad

Image from STYLEGERMS

 

My dance teacher threw up her hands, exasperated.

“Why don’t you even try?” she asked. I was half her height and couldn’t look her in the eyes. We stood in front of a wall-sized mirror, where she scrutinized my form as I practiced a section of my dance routine in a trance-like state.

“I am,” I said. We stared at one another for a moment, our eyes locking in the glass, and then she turned and went to assist one of my classmates. I wanted to leap through the glass like Alice, and escape from the inanity of memorizing a simplistic, boring dance routine. What did it matter, anyway? The only people who cared were my parents. They were the only ones who showed up to watch their kids prance around on a stage like clumsy little mannequins, wearing far too much makeup for their own good and hair sprayed into place like a tiny Texas beauty queen. Who else cared? I couldn’t think of a single person.

But my mom paid for classes. And I had to keep everyone happy.

I forced myself to move again. If you squinted, it looked sort of like dancing.

“We need to talk,” my piano teacher said, looking at me while I let my fingers slump from the keys and into my lap, knowing what was coming. “You haven’t been practicing, and you seem very… sad.”

I refused to make eye contact and just stared at the keys, tears welling up in my eyes as I tried to choke out some kind of answer. Words weren’t coming.

“Is it because of your sister?”

Yes, it is because I have a gaping hole in my life where her little bald head should be. Her adorable, round eyes and her singing and dancing and hilarious jokes. She should have been free of her illness, and don’t you think I am angry that such a sweet little person had to suffer so greatly? I hear her voice when I try to sleep, and my chest hurts so bad that I feel my heart will tear itself apart.

I have her drawings of our family together. It will never be the same. I have a mother who won’t stop crying, a father who gets the brunt of her uncontrollable wrath. A younger sister who is clearly struggling to process death and is doing worse than I am. I pretend I can’t hear the arguing and get angry with myself for being such a failure at everything instead.

“Yes, I’m sorry.”

She understood. She said I had to keep trying. I was trying. I was. Why did everyone think I wasn’t trying? I was reaching for something in the distance, but I never seemed to get any closer. Reaching was all I could do.

 

Or pursuing a writing career. Onion, you are spot on.

Or pursuing a writing career. Onion, you are spot on.

Image from TheOnion.com

“Girls, come in here,” my dad called. My sister and I were in the family room, and he and my mom had been fighting in the bedroom for what seemed like hours. I knew what was coming. We stepped into the room and they looked at us with somber, controlled expressions. I crossed my arms.

“Your mom and I love you two very much…” my dad choked out, then trailed off.

“You’re getting divorced, aren’t you?” I asked. He shook his head.

“We’re just going to try being separated for a while. I’m going to get an apartment and you can come stay with me every other weekend.”

I was so mad I was just numb. When the “conversation” was over, I left, and felt like crying, but it was the anger that was growing more than anything else. I hated my life more and more with each passing day. I didn’t know what normal was anymore.

...

“I think this sounds like you,” my friend said, pointing to the phrase BIPOLAR DISORDER on our worksheet. “You’re like, happy some days, and so sad the next that no one knows what to do around you.” I stared at it, then looked at her. Learning about psychology had apparently made our class into a bunch of 12-year-old mental health professionals. Still, something about all the symptoms made sense. I lagged behind my friends now that we’d started middle school. Boys terrified me. Doing anything physical in front of anyone terrified me. Going to church on Sundays terrified me. I hated everyone and everything, and had thought repeatedly about dying that week to escape from the misery of hormones, schoolwork, depressing home life, and practicing activities that brought me no joy whatsoever.

“Yeah, maybe,” I said, and went back to doodling on my notebook. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that maybe there was a name for how I felt. I walked up to the teacher after class and I told her I thought I had it. She looked at me strangely and said, “You should talk to someone about this.”

So I told my mom.

She said I didn’t have it, and demanded I go apologize to the teacher and clarify before they started to think I’m crazy.

I looked at the bottle of painkillers and wondered. If I ate them all, would it stop? I thought of my sister and of my parents. Well, maybe I’d just take a few and see if it helped me be in a dreamworld or something. I took 10 and fell asleep.

I woke up the next morning as usual. I was disappointed.

It continued throughout high school. I could never focus. I hated most things and most places. And most people. I watched my close friends get picked on and plotted revenge against those who would hurt the few I did care for. I was just a girl, though, and the bullies were guys and totally unthreatened by my stature. Go figure. But some people thought I might be crazy, and many definitely found me strange, and that scared them. I began to channel severe rage episodes into art and writing, finding new ways of killing off characters who were quite thinly-veiled representations of the awful bullies in my life. But it was all written off as being a hormonal teenage girl.

On one occasion, I confronted a bully and threatened him, wanting so badly to tear him to shreds mentally and physically for picking on a harmless, shy friend of mine whose only crime was to draw too many anime girls on her notebooks. His mother was friends with my mother, but I didn’t care. I made him feel like the tiny, insecure little prick that he was, and I felt good about my meanness for once. But it was a short-lived victory. I still cried at night, not just because I was sad, but because I was angry. Because I didn’t want to deal with any of it any longer.

When I went home at night, my mom would keep her hawk eyes on me. I could never go anywhere unless she’d planned it about a week in advance. I understood her fears. I enabled them. I told her everything to keep her calm and as happy as she could be. She was petrified of losing another child; how could I be so selfish to be away? Especially when my younger sister, who was on the verge of a very serious transition in her life, was being picked on at school for being eccentric? It was my job to hold it all together. My burden I placed on my own damn shoulders.

 

 

Fucking love Emilie Autumn

 

I didn’t start cutting until I was about twenty. I was slow to arrive at the rodeo, I guess. My boyfriend had been watching so much porn on my computer that it was all buggy and gross, and I was livid about it. I told him how much it hurt me that he wouldn’t touch me, but he wanted the faceless girls on the internet; he apologized to me and he promised he’d stop. He never did. Not once in our nine-year relationship (in which we eventually got married) did he ever tell me the truth about his intentions. He just kept doing it and telling me he wasn’t. I got so good at catching him that I reveled in the fact that I was smarter than he was. But I felt so worthless and ugly after knowing what he did that I would cut myself out of anger. Punishing myself for being… me. For being not good enough. Because how fuckable he found me was apparently the only self-worth I could see inside of myself. I didn’t realize how unhealthy these thoughts were until our marriage fell apart.

He told me he’d been in love with one of my best friends for years when we’d been married for a year and a half–I was 27 at the time, living in a state far away from any of my friends or family. He wouldn’t stop drinking until he was an obnoxious asshole who sneered at people and blamed me for everything wrong in his life. He’d watch porn ON THE TOILET IN THE MORNING and completely ignore me while day drinking at his job that I GOT HIM. I’d started detaching myself from the relationship already, which was not the nicest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I was mentally and physically exhausted. When he told my poor friend of his true feelings (while smashed, of course), she was floored and didn’t know how to respond. This girl was one of the friends who was picked on in high school–we’d known one another for 13 years–one of the girls I’d wanted to protect.

For months after this, I switched back and forth from uncontrollable anger to severe depression. Body wracked with pain, mind completely blank, heart utterly shattered kind of depression. I went to therapy immediately, but did not see major improvements until I went to a psychiatrist and asked him to please help me by putting me on medication. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and chronic clinical depression. I also have body dysmorphic disorder and extreme anxiety when it comes to certain pornographic materials (just about on par with PTSD, but I don’t like saying that because I feel my case doesn’t merit the title. I was sexually assaulted and emotionally abused, but so many people go through so much more than I have and I feel PTSD isn’t the proper term for me–I’ve seen my soldier friends with it and I just can’t bring myself to use that terminology.)

depression_motivational_poster_by_quantuminnovator-d6dwgk8Image by QuantumInnovator on DeviantArt.

 

I’m turning 30 this week. Mental illness has nearly destroyed my life. I once contemplated killing myself when I turned 30 if my life was as miserable as it had been for so long. But before you get all panicky, I’m happy to say that while I’m sad about this milestone and being “behind” my goals, I’m here to stay, and I’m recovering more and more each year.

These stories don’t include the struggles my one surviving sister has; those which my mother has dealt with; my father’s huge emotional and spiritual journey; the impact of an attempted rape (I just can’t write about it in this context) and an (unrelated) unplanned pregnancy; nor does it cover the impact that a building autoimmune disease and undiagnosed genetic syndrome have had on my life. But what I want to say is this:

If you have ever wondered whether mental illness was one of the following:

  • A phase everyone goes through
  • Something someone just needs to “pull themselves out of”
  • Hysterics
  • Something you need to just “get over” or “snap out of”
  • Attention-seeking or selfishness
  • Stupid or unwarranted, given the person’s status
  • Not justified in your eyes (i.e., someone rich or someone very attractive suffers from depression and you think it’s just them being stupid)
  • Something you should be able to get over without the use of pharmaceuticals or therapy
  • Something only for damaged people who are likely to be a threat to themselves or others
  • Something you can discriminate against because those who have it are “crazy”

You’re a moron. Okay, scratch that–you might be naive, but you’ve also got no handle on the reality of mental illness. Someone in your life may be afflicted with an invisible, awful, alienating disease such as clinical depression. As in, right now. When you pretend these things aren’t serious, or when you push away someone who is suffering, you’re doing them a disservice. You may not be a therapist, but you can be the one to reach out your hand and tell them they’re not alone. That you won’t judge them or shun them for asking for help. Many sufferers just need to know that someone cares.

Oh, and never fucking tell a mentally ill person that if they ate a better diet or took some herbal bullshit supplements that they’d cure themselves. That’s not how it works.

 

robin williams headshot

Robin Williams passed away today from apparent suicide at age 63.

 

Visit this site if you’ve had thoughts of ending your life. Cliche, but here it is.

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

I wrote this today after reading the discussions surrounding the death and apparent suicide of Robin Williams. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate and it’s a fucking tragedy that it took the life of someone who has touched so many hearts with his successful career. My story is just one of many stories that could and should be told. I wanted to share just bits and pieces of my struggle so that people could see that it’s very real. It’s very dangerous. And I’m here today because of the support of friends and family, and because of medication and therapy.

If you need help, I’m here to tell you you’re not alone. Fight this shit. Fight it as hard as you can. And change the discussion surrounding mental illness. We need to remove the stigma and push for more affordable, accessible care.

If you like, you can watch a tribute video I made for my sisters below, and you can read the story I wrote about Sara’s death here.

 

 

You can also read my writing here under my pen name Deina Furth.

Art continues to help me and heal me in ways I can’t anticipate. I appreciate your support. ❤

hang-in-there

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Writing for the sake of writing

As I pull together my thoughts for the larger, more emotionally intense post regarding the shitstorm that ended my marriage, I thought I should write something else.  Because I like to write.  Sounds simple when I put it like that, but I’m always frightened that what I have to say won’t be good enough, deep enough, or poignant enough.  But something in me clicked yesterday. So let me tell you a little story.

I’ve been reading a lot lately.  Mostly blogs, as I’ve finished my Christie Golden novels (yes, yes, I know), and I’ve been bookmarking writers whose styles speak to me.  There are so many talented writers out there that I sometimes even feel a bit downtrodden after reading their words, because I find myself thinking if they’re struggling to gain an audience and make money from their writing, what chance do I have?  Sometimes I will read something an author has put together and wonder how I would try to say the same thing, but in my own words.  Invariably, I feel as if I do not measure up.  It is disheartening, to say the least.  And other times I read something and am so blown away by the author’s storytelling skills that I want to crumple up all my papers (figuratively, I guess, since everything I do is digital!) and start anew.

Then yesterday I read Victoriamixon.com and some pieces of the puzzle fell into place for me.  Victoria Mixon is an entirely approachable, down-to-earth, talented editor who has struggled with learning about the publishing industry and the difficulties that come with being an independent editor.  She writes useful anecdotes ranging from the pros and cons of writer’s conferences, to dealing with the inner demons that seem to plague all artists, to exercises you can do to overcome self-doubt and writer’s block.  Many of the people who write to her advice column seem to be very young authors, and she treats them with the same respect as an established, published author.  It really is a positive environment for learning, asking questions, and nurturing your love of the craft of writing.  Something she said to one of these young writers really stuck out to me.  I’ll quote it here (it’s long!):

“Keep writing whatever you feel like writing. Let it be terrible and don’t worry about judging it. Just write it if it feels like being written.
Avoid trying to ’say something.’ Focus on recording tangible details. Flannery O’Connor described writing as recording whatever stimulus you receive through your five senses. Go ahead and record that—in long, excruciating detail. Everything. Unedited. The more stuff you write that you know you’ll never use in a publishable piece, the greater your freedom will grow. You can write anything! Garbage! Tripe! Vomitous spew! You betcha! And all great writing grows out of that freedom.
You’ll never run out of material to describe in your immediate daily experience. You’ll never run out of dialog to record that you and your friends and family say all day long every day. Keep a detailed journal. It counts!
Read books you love. Don’t try to mimic them. Just read them, enjoy them, use as they are meant to be used—for the sheer pleasure of reading. When you don’t feel like writing, don’t. Go out in the world and have adventures. You’ll write about those whenever you’re in the mood.
You’re very young still—you’ll go through a lot of ups & downs as you work your way through life with this craft at your side. So don’t worry about it, just claim it in your own unique, individual, quirky-&-boring, tacky-&-refreshing, cliche-ridden-&-special way. Sometimes more quirky—sometimes more boring. It’s okay! Let it be that part of your life where you get to screw up as badly as you darn well please, and nobody can stop you.
Your skills will improve. By osmosis, if necessary. And then when you’re an old, crusty, opinionated professional like me. . .they will still be there for you.”

Does it sound a little cliche to tell someone to do something simply because they love it?  Yes, of course it does.  To keep trying, even when faced with difficulties or, god forbid, failures?  Yes.   But is she correct?

I think so.

Because when I wrote about overcoming fear and anxiety, about putting myself out there for the world to see and praise and criticize and potentially just ignore, this was a necessary realization to come to.  You keep putting yourself out there and trying again because you love what you do, be it writing, painting, drag racing, or playing football.   It all sounds so simple, but it’s one of the hardest things I’ve made myself do.  I’m terrified of people and interacting with them.  I’m terrified of opinions, or sneering, or judgement.  Even compliments are hard for me to take!  But I’ve come so far in opening myself up to be creative and active again.  And thanks to positive spaces like Victoria’s blog, I stay focused and on track, and I become more positive every week.

Here are some of the other sites I’ve been reading, so I offer my thanks for your inspiration as well:

Apple Cider Mage — A blog about World of Warcraft and feminism, it’s well written and always insightful.  Powerful critiquing and attention to details.

Joanne Wadsworth — Author of a Young Adult paranormal romance series, she offers sound advice and is always friendly and approachable.

Little Lonely Traveler — A travel writer, feminist, and storyteller. I like her stories because not only are they well written and entertaining, but I went to school with her — so the descriptions of places and feelings surrounding the towns in her tales are very recognizable to me.

So, let’s talk more about marketing.

I know that you know by now that I’m a feminist. So that probably explains a lot about why I get so irritated with marketing techniques, and the tendency to paint women with one brushstroke. Quite a few other feminists have spoken out about women and marketing already; one of my favorites is wundergeek over at Go Make Me A Sandwich, a blog which regularly examines marketing tactics in the gaming industry through a feminist lens. Wundergeek’s most recent post got me thinking about many topics, one of which was being a feminist and not always enjoying feminist-friendly things or events.  Another was how I could use this as an example of how varied women’s tastes are.  Allow me to elaborate, starting with a little bit of background about the topic of Wundergeek’s post.

In 2007, Shelly Mazzanoble, a D&D fan and (gasp) WOMAN, wrote a book called “Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress,” which was apparently received pretty well by her target audience. Wizards of the Coast, the publisher of her book, noted her success and subsequently offered her a monthly column, “Conessions of a Full-Time Wizard.” Both the book and the column are meant to familiarize women with the tabletop game Dungeons and Dragons, as well as let them chuckle a bit at the author’s learning experiences as she navigates her way through her own gaming sessions. Wundergeek has read both the book and the columns, and she doesn’t necessarily agree with all the points Mazzanoble presented. She selected examples of the writing that address her annoyance with the way the author portrays female tabletop gamers, and explains why these comments are hurtful to the acceptance of women as competent game players. While I’ve never read Mazzanoble’s column, I have played D&D, and I certainly know what it’s like to be a woman learning the game in a group of experienced players, who just so happen to be male.

It’s important to keep in mind that I only read the quotes that Wundergeek posted, so perhaps the language didn’t hit me as strongly as it did her, when she would probably read about the same topic, written in the same style, month after month. Much like Wondergeek, some of the quotes I found to be highly irritating, such as the whole “I made this character and I think it was very difficult to do, and now I’m gonna have someone explain how to play her because I certainly don’t know how” bit, or the “Hey, I don’t know what else to resort to, so I’m just gonna have my character start crying” habit she seems to have. Others I felt were things that could potentially be annoying to some people, but some of these things sounded exactly like something I’d done in my gaming sessions. Specifically, Ms. Mazzanoble had an irrational fear of looking stupid in front of the group. She had a really difficult time getting into roleplaying, character manipulation (and by this, I mean rolling up a character and deciding how to give her talents or abilities), and then when she gets overwhelmed, she has a tendency to whine. A lot. My dilemma was the fear of looking stupid, of not wanting to make ANY mistakes. I didn’t want to be perceived as some dumb girl who didn’t know what she was doing, and yet, I had no idea what I was doing! Why? Well, because I’d never played before. And because it takes time to learn the rules of a game of that complexity. There is absolutely nothing wrong with needing help while you’re learning, but obviously at some point, you must start to carry your character on your own. Mazzanoble doesn’t do this, as evidenced by Wundergeek’s post, and she never seems to learn her lesson. She just keeps making the same mistakes, or avoids taking on a challenge, and then relies on her old tricks to save her ass.

Wundergeek also takes issue with the constant references to fashion, shopping, chocolate… you get the idea. I do enjoy fashion. Shopping can be fun if I want to go shut my brain off and look at shiny things for a few hours. And chocolate? Well I know some people don’t like chocolate, but I’m definitely not one of them. Does that make me a bad feminist? Of course it doesn’t. Feminism is about ensuring that women have choices in life, not about restricting them to only certain roles. And those roles could be what we normally think of when we consider why feminism is necessary: 50s housewife happily serving her husband, not allowed to work, and must look presentable at all times; on the other hand, we are also not trying to say women can only be the opposite of that, for that is just as limiting, and does no service to women by simply demanding they do something else.  I am by no means saying that this is what Wundergeek was implying by pointing out that she didn’t enjoy these activities.  The ultimate point of Wundergeek’s post was that she did not believe that Shelly Mazzanoble was really all that much like her writing made her out to be. She suspects it’s actually a marketing tactic that attempts to draw women in with the use of humor (so it doesn’t sound too powergamer-y), a lovable ditz (isn’t she cute, though?), and mentioning stereotypical female interests (all we really want to do is play dress-up, anyway! Where’s that cute dress robe I saw earlier?).

The fact that there exist interests that intersect with stereotypical ideas of women’s desires, and there simultaneously exist interests that fall outside of this boundary or are considered non-traditional or alternative hobbies for women, is a great example of how varied women’s tastes actually are.  Yes, most women experience some overlap of interests with most stereotypical marketing schemes’ tactics to garner female attention.  But that doesn’t make it okay for the marketing crews to assume that this is what all women are interested in and will respond to.  In fact, it further enforces the assumption that women are casual about games, or are only playing because their significant other plays, or are unable to learn the complex rules of a game such as D&D, ad infinitum.  And the solution would most definitely not be to make fun of these “stereotypical” women’s hobbies either (remember that droid ad I ranted about?), because a lot of women really do enjoy “girly” things, like finding something they enjoy wearing, or eating something that tastes really good (like chocolate!).  Shunning these activities only makes it seem like women are punished for just liking things that they like, and they then feel pressured to conform to another set of ideals, which are somehow defined as “better” than girly things.  That’s still misogyny, no matter which way you slice it.

So my point here is not to condemn anyone for what they like or dislike.  It’s to stress that, duh, women have different interests and trying so hard to draw their attention with just a few tired old tricks is kind of insulting.   Humor, likable characters, and being able to relate to what is being sold to you are all vital assets in the marketing process.  But they need to be careful to avoid using tropes that reinforce stereotypes, and definitely don’t limit the product to only one kind of personality.   Sure, the intended demographic might be “women ages 15-60” or something, but going for GEE THEY ALL HAVE BOOBS, MAYBE WE SHOULD TRY TO REMIND THEM OF HOW FUN SHOE SHOPPING IS SO THEY’LL WANT TO BUY OUR GAME probably isn’t their best effort.  That can’t be all you have to offer us… right?

On Animals as Property

I’m a vegetarian, and have been since 2006.  I was a vegan for two years, until it became too difficult to maintain (I travel for work frequently — not every place has adequate substitutions for dairy products).  It is a conscious decision for most people to choose to not eat meat (or dairy, or eggs), as it was with me.  This of course isn’t the case for everyone: You could have been raised in a vegetarian home, for example, or, some people grow up with religious guidelines determining what is and what is not appropriate to eat.

A frequent question I hear is, “Why are you a vegetarian?”  The answer isn’t that simple for a lot of vegetarians or vegans to answer.  Some people have mixed emotions about animal welfare; others don’t like the taste or texture of meat — and that doesn’t even touch on the complex rules surrounding religious reasons to exclude animal products from your diet.  Something about the way people ask why leads me to believe that most Americans assume that if you’re a vegetarian, you must be some sort of extremist, or at the very least, an oddball for choosing consciously to omit such an important ingredient in a typical American diet.  Of course this isn’t the case with everyone, but it seems to be a common assumption, so I thought I’d address a few of these points.

For me, it was a choice.  But it wasn’t a choice based on one principal reason.  I studied abroad in Japan, and became very used to a diet that didn’t use much meat.  Seafood was fresh and readily available, but I ate it very intermittently, and I discovered that I enjoyed tofu dishes a lot more anyway.  The ban on imported beef had only recently been lifted and I found myself uninterested in trying to use that in my dishes, not only for the high cost, but also because I hadn’t really eaten meat in awhile and I was avoiding becoming ill from ingesting animal fats (trust me, if you haven’t eaten ANY type of food for awhile, then start up again, your digestive tract rebels).   When I came back to the US, I just chose not to pick up eating meat again.  Of course, as an animal lover, part of me didn’t want to eat meat because I didn’t approve of how the meat industry worked, but that was really only a small part of why I kept on going with vegetarianism.  Simply put, I led a fine life without meat, and had no desire to include it in my diet again.

When telling people I was a vegetarian, a lot of people were curious.  I didn’t mind answering questions, because in America, being a vegetarian isn’t as common as being an omnivore.  I understood that.  But what I didn’t understand was why, after answering questions in what I thought to be a succinct and polite manner, some people began to get hostile towards me.  I never said I was affiliated with PETA (an organization I will never align myself with — if you can treat women like shit, but market yourself as animal rights activists, you have some serious issues), nor did I say people who ate meat offended me in any way.  I never tried to sell my lifestyle or imply that I was a better person because of my choices.  It’s just who I am.  But a lot of people saw me as a threat, and grilled me with questions about the contents of a vegetarian diet — Where did I get my protein? Aren’t vegetarians weak and sickly because animal protein is superior to plant protein? Do I realize helpless animals are killed by the plows and combines that give me my precious plants? What if plants felt pain, would I just gulp down air or something?  Those videos are so old, you know people don’t treat animals like that anymore, don’t you?  The list goes on and on.  Basically, there’s some sort of miscommunication with our media or our perception of vegetarians that makes omnivores feel guarded about their choices, as if what they’re doing is somehow construed as “inhumane” or “cruel”.  So they attack vegetarians even if we don’t have issues with people who eat meat.  Allow me to elaborate on this.  It is possible to support the meat industry, and still not eat meat yourself.

To start, my biggest problem was that although I was educated on a vegetarian diet (I know more about what I put in my body than a lot of non-vegetarians do — I took issue with people asking how I got protein, and if I knew how many calories I was eating when they probably didn’t know themselves!) I didn’t know how to explain animal rights.  I didn’t want to support an industry that deliberately harmed animals, or at least didn’t care if they did harm animals, and yet I know the line has to be drawn somewhere — somehow, something is always going to suffer, because that’s just part of being a living creature.  This didn’t fly with a lot of vegetarians, nor did it fly with a lot of omnivores.  I just didn’t care if some other people ate meat, because that was their choice, and I had made mine.  But there was something else to it…

Dr. Temple Grandin’s Animals Are Not Things explains very well what sort of meager thoughts I had on that issue, and was unable to fully form at that time.  She says it so much better than I could have — maybe because I haven’t studied much neuroscience 🙂 I agree with her wholeheartedly. Essentially, she argues that the more complex brain an organism has, the more it deserves certain protections to its welfare and well-being. For example, a fish may feel afraid, because fear is a primitive reaction that helped propagate a species. But the further you climb up the phylogenetic tree, the more complex an organism becomes, and it begins to experience pain.  You would need to take different measures to ensure a species doesn’t suffer, depending on how complex their brains and nervous systems are.  For example: An animal doesn’t have the concept of being property itself, though it possesses an ability to be cognizant of its own property; i.e., a dog is protective of its family, its bone, or its yard. So it would need to have certain legal protection to ensure that it is happy and thrives. A chimp on the other hand, possesses all these cognitive properties and more: It has a complex social life, networking with other chimps and taking on certain roles depending on where it fits into its group. It would need different legal protection to ensure its happiness and well-being. The fact that animals have these abilities separates them from other “things”, such as inanimate objects or plants. In that sense, they shouldn’t be treated harmfully to become someone’s dinner. But they are also able to nourish many people and other animals, and to lose them altogether in the food chain would be ridiculous, so to say that they should never be used as a food source isn’t an option either.  Of course, our society also tries to ensure that species aren’t eaten into extinction.  In other words: As long as an organism receives protection to guarantee its welfare according to its nervous system’s complexity and ability to process emotions such as fear or pain, animals used as people’s property doesn’t violate their right to a high standard of welfare.

Respecting people and animals alike is important, and so is taking care of yourself in a way you’re comfortable with.  If you choose to eat meat or animal products, try to choose companies that treat animals better.  If you feel compelled to omit such things from your diet, be respectful of those who choose not to.

On the Usage of “Rape” in Video Game Culture

I can’t specifically recall the first time I saw it, but it was probably during battlegrounds in World of Warcraft, back when I was grinding honor for my season 2 pvp set (I was never that great at arenas, being a spriest in early Burning Crusade, partnered with an arcane mage and ret paladin).  I think it was when my team (that is, the Horde! Yes!) were arguing in Alterac Valley over if we should even bother killing Balinda for extra honor points, and I was amused by these comments because it was so easy to kill her quickly and get our honor, then move on.  When I said something like, “It’s a quick and easy fight, it’s easy honor, why not?” Someone responded with, “Yeah, let’s rape her!”

Whoah, whoah, whoah.  Where did I miss the connection between defeating an enemy put there for the sole purpose of being defeated, and raping an enemy?  Oh, I see.  I guess rape means kill.  And apparently it’s completely normal and accepted.  And so it began: I started noticing people using this terminology everywhere.  At first, I thought that perhaps it was a rather twisted victory cry that was only vocalized (or typed?) after defeating female enemies, but I was wrong — it became just as common for people to say “We raped them” when we won a battle as a team (sometimes up to 40 players versus 40 other players, and not one person said something like, “hey, don’t say that”), or sometimes even “we raped him” when a raid of anywhere between 5 and 25 players downed a boss (again, no objections).  This struck me as so odd.  How could I even begin to come up with a reason as to why they’d misuse rape so grossly?  Well, I thought, it’s a group of people.  Perhaps this is something people just say when there’s a bunch of other people around to “shock” them.  Maybe if they’re with friends, or guildmates (a group of people who you regularly team up with to accomplish certain tasks, like dungeons, raids, or player-versus-player combat), whom they probably respect, then they wouldn’t say such things.

But I was wrong again.  People can duel other people in World of Warcraft; that is, do a one-on-one fight with no real consequences (such as dying or losing armor durability) other than having anyone in the area see who won the duel, and then the losing avatar grovels and begs in front of the winning avatar, in a sort of, “Oh, you are superior!” fashion.  Haha, funny.  “I raped you” became just as common as “owned” or “pwned”, which, if you play games, you know these terms have been around for a long time, and are very common in nerdy circles (there are issues, of course, with these words as well; however, that is not the focus of this entry).  It actually succeeded in making me entirely uncomfortable, and, in fact, less willing to participate in player-versus-player combat, because, as a woman, it really unnerved me seeing people use the term “rape” so flippantly; to these people, a very loaded term became nothing more than a joke.  I began to leave all chat channels because the woman-bashing (i.e., “get back in the kitchen”, “I’m gonna rape you”, or “girls suck at video games”) and growing rape culture got to a point of ludicrousness.  One might say, “Oh, just ignore them.  They’re teenage boys trying to piss people off.”  I know.  But the “boys will be boys” excuse just wasn’t flying with me.  Nor should it ever, with anyone.  It’s a get-out-of-jail free card.  That saying allows boys to get away with things that they probably should normally be opposed to, only because they are boys — and I’m pretty confident that they can learn to interact with other human beings in a fairly decent way, right?   Unless that saying dares to imply boys aren’t intelligent enough to learn otherwise?  Yeah, I doubt it.  /snark.

Finally, I wrote a piece for feministing.com on a few things that bothered me when it came to the portrayal of women in video games, and my experiences as a woman who played video games.  Feministing has always intimidated me, because I’m not a woman’s studies major who is incredibly well-versed in everything I write; nor am I someone who can qualify every post as an academic essay, complete with a bibliography.  (Not that I take issue with this, but I felt my post would be too vague and unfocused for a site of that caliber.)  Someone commented regarding my complaint about rape-as-an-analogy-for-defeat, saying, “Well, it’s fantasy. You kill things, but you wouldn’t kill monsters or people in real life.  But that doesn’t mean people get all whiny about you killing people.  Lighten up, it’s just a term… no one would really rape anyone.”

You know what?  I can’t believe people still believe this bullshit.  1 out of 6 women will be sexually assaulted at some point in her life.  Is that funny? Well, I guess the rape-joke train didn’t stop in Hellytown, because it really isn’t funny to me. Oh, that’s bullshit, people say. Women make up those numbers, no one I know would rape anyone… they just want to take you to court and brand you a rapist for life. No. Most sane people wouldn’t do that sort of thing.  Did you know that most women know their assailants?  Yeah, not all rapists are hiding in bushes and smelling of piss.

This summer I was nearly raped by a stranger.  Yes, even though I just said most women know their assailants, I just so happened to fall into that category of woman-who-was-attacked-by-a-guy she-didn’t-know.  I was drinking with a friend of mine, and we were chilling at a hotel, when we ran into a couple of other guys staying there, too.  They were friendly and wanted to drink with us, so we stuck around for awhile.  We were all goofing around and having fun — or so I thought, it seemed.  Suddenly the two guys weren’t into drinking anymore and told us to get out, so we did.  I realized after walking out that I’d forgotten my purse, so I walked back to ask for it.  As I stood outside the door, I was thinking of how silly it was, and I hoped they weren’t irritated with me.  But the door opened, I was grabbed, jerked inside, and on the bed before I could even know what was going on.

“You look like that kind of girl that likes it rough,” one of the guys said.  I looked over at the other guy, who was standing there, grinning like a douchebag.  Mainly, being drunkenly entertained by this display before him, and doing nothing to stop it.  I don’t know what happened, but I got a ton of adrenaline, kicked the guy and pushed him off me, grabbed my purse, and ran outside just in time to see my friend looking in the hallway for me.

That happened in less than a minute.  That quickly, and that unexpectedly.  And this isn’t all that uncommon. I was one of the lucky ones.  The guys disappeared, and no one could find records of them staying at that hotel.  How creepy is that?

A fifteen-year-old girl was gang raped after her school dance this week by several guys.  And lots of others stood around and watched this happen.  For 2 hours.  She was beaten and robbed, and completely dehumanized.

I could go on.  I know women who were raped, I know women who are beaten and brainwashed into submission.  I know what people do to these women, what they say about them: “Oh, if she wasn’t drunk”, or, “Well she was dressed like a slut, so…”, or even “She deserved it, she turned him on, then she changed her mind.”  This is, pure and simple, victim blaming. The victim did nothing wrong; the rapist is the one committing a fucking crime.  Now, I know victim-blaming is rampant outside of feminist circles.  I’ve heard it all before, and yet, I still get incensed every time I hear it or even see it appear on my screen in World of Warcraft, probably spewed out by some completely naive child.  But it still makes me abhorrent of our society’s excuses.

So, tell me, is this still funny?  I mean, really, if this happened to your girlfriend, your sister, your mother, even a friend of yours… is this really funny? Does it deserve to be trivialized?  I feel re-assaulted every time I have to read people dehumanizing women and making jokes about rape, and I’m sure others do, too.  Especially those who didn’t get away before it was too late.

I play games to have fun.  There is enough sexual violence in the real world to go around (there should be none, of course), and there is enough pain and degradation directed at women outside of the internet sphere.  And, hey, let’s not ignore it: there’s more than enough in the internet sphere as well — just read the comments to pretty much any article pertaining to/written by a woman.

Does this have to bleed into my entertainment as well?

Marketing for Women and Girls: Just make it pink!

Justify it however you want.  The studies show, the numbers prove, it just sells.  Marketing people seem to think that women and girls respond en masse to pink displays.   While I know of quite a few little girls who enjoy princesses and sparkly, singing popstars, I also know of quite a few who enjoy doing puzzles, solving mysteries, wielding a fearsome weapon, and beating the crap out of their on-screen opponent. I am just so damn sick of seeing these sad attempts at including the wimminz in what was considered just a few short years ago to be a sort of “boys’ club.”  Take it from just one of the many, many female gamers out there: You’re embarrassing and annoying us.  Allow me to elaborate.

I’ve played games since I figured out what Frogger was, and that I could play it on my family’s Commodore 64.  My sister and I worked feverishly to raise that daunting $70 to put toward our very own Super Nintendo (we weren’t allowed to have a Nintendo system when they were cool; don’t you know you burn out your retinas and turn into a degenerate who can’t read when you play such filth as DuckHunt??), and we played the hell out of that system.  We scoured pawn shops for discontinued games, for new systems (or old, crappy ones, as it were) to add to our gaming console collection, or for quirky posters or other paraphernalia that was distributed with games back in the 80s. (Full dungeon map for Final Fantasy? Oh yes, I think so.)  You get it?  Do I need to go on?  Back when this was considered to be for guys only, my sister and I, without the help of anything pink, sparkly, or itsy-bitsy in size, were drawn to games.  Gender segmentation of video games wasn’t even an idea that had formed in my head.

So, when I was made aware that there was such a thing as a  “Gameboy”, I became perplexed.  Why is it a GameBOY?  What is it about this thing that implies it’s for boys?  For the first time, I actually thought about the fact that nearly all my friends had brothers who owned a gaming console, and most treated it like a prized possession that noooooo one else could touch, particularly their sisters.  So, after more than a few sleepovers, I finally got the guts to ask why no one ever wanted to play games, like I did.  My answer was a little less than satisfying.  I was told simply, “Girls don’t play games.”  I guess this sentiment started early and continued, because for years after that, I was viewed as sort-of “odd” for liking boys’ toys.  Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a poor me pity-party, but it’s necessary to reflect on my experiences to understand that this has been going on a long time.  Marketing used to exclude women and girls from the gaming community all together; as a result, people assumed women weren’t interested video games or technology, and consequently, they also began to assume we knew nothing about it.  But with the rise of the internet and the growing importance of understanding at least the basics of technology, marketers found themselves up to bat for a new challenge: Getting women and girls to “pay attention” to mens’ and boys’ toys, and getting them to use these gadgets independently.

Cue the shitstorm.  I don’t know what was going through marketers’ heads, but I assure you it was more than likely a team of 40-something white guys tossing out ideas: “How do we make them look at this? Oh I know, let’s make it pink!  And CUUUUTE! Women like pink and cute, right?”  I KNOW there are women out there who  like pink things; this is not something I’ve ever denied.  But to assume that women function as one unit and respond simply because something is pink is beyond insulting.  It’s just plain stupid.  Because along with something that’s decked-out in pink, you can be sure to find that the quality probably isn’t as good (more than likely because they threw it out there as an afterthought), and that the suggested uses for it are ridiculous.  Take, for example, Dell’s pathetic attempt at marketing laptops to the laydeez: Della. Within two sad weeks of its launch, Della was gone. Why? An asinine pastel website design, paired with helpful “tips” on how to use a Della (Use it to count calories! How about looking up some healthy recipes?), just plain turned women off to it.  And you know, I’d be willing to let it slide if it were a one-time slip-up that Dell learned an important lesson from, but unfortunately, it happened again.

Oh, look, the women have pink and magenta laptops.  And the one that isn’t pink?  She’s using her webcam to put on her lipstick.  So cute!  The lipstick and computer like, totally match!  Now, don’t get me wrong, I know they weren’t trying to imply that women ONLY use computers for arts and crafts and on-the-go/bus-lipstick-applying (if they learned anything from the Della debacle), but come on.  The guys were all actively taking pictures, organizing their record collections, looking businessy and important, and proudly posing with Google Maps by their (admittedly) awesome cars, you know, doing the things they usually advertise about in order to sell personal computers or laptops — organize your music collection, plan a roadtrip or vacation, edit your photos, take it with you for business trips.  The women were standing there, doing… I’m not sure what, maybe arts and crafts?  Or putting on lipstick.  Do you see computers advertised for that?  Get your own personal laptop so you can replace that tiny, antiquated mirror in your purse!  Get a laptop so you can print out stencils!  Doesn’t quite mesh, does it?  There is the exception of the first girl on her Vespa, but of course… it’s all pink, and I don’t see what that has to do with selling a computer.  With the way she glances up at her helmet, perhaps she used her pink laptop to buy a pink helmet on Ebay to match her pink ride.

But before you get all up-in-arms, saying I’m focusing on stupid things when I could be donating my time to more important things, what I’m writing about here isn’t simply just knocking the pretty pictures and color schemes that they use to appeal to women and girls.  It’s also about the language of marketing directed towards women and girls, namely, in simplistic terms.  And this has a more widespread effect than most people think.

I may be a tad biased as a linguist, but language really is the basis for our formative ideas about a product.  We listen to advertisements describe what a product can do, how it will improve our lives, and how easy it is to use.  Colors, imagery, and music are all integrated with the words to make a 30-second impression that we’re supposed to remember, so we can rush out and buy the merchandise.  The problem arises not only when women and girls don’t see representations of themselves in commercials, but when the language clearly isn’t directed towards them (yes, I know, it’s a gratuitous, ridiculous example, but the idea is still the same), or it’s just plain ridiculous. (Bonus: This site has a whole list of commercials that exemplify what I was discussing earlier about pink, and it’s a hilarious article to boot!) “Play now, my lord”?  Well, I guess that kinda leaves ladies out of it, doesn’t it?  “Imagine Babyz”?  You’ve gotta be kidding me, as if all women just want to play with babies all the time.  At least the DS commercials feature women of varying ages playing different kinds games, and you know what?  That’s pretty accurate.  Women self-identify as gamers these days, and apparently they make up 40% of the gaming market.  There’s a lot of money to be made by appealing to women and girls who play video games, and the point that these marketers seem to be missing is that there are different kinds of games that interest different people.  That is, men and women alike.  Using language that creates an atmosphere of exclusion, or that infantizes women’s gaming interests creates a social stigma that says, “Women don’t play games, and when they do, it’s not the same games that men like.”  These separate, but “equal” gaming strategies aren’t working, and they’re just plain annoying.  Take a hint from the many, many women out there who are fed up with this: We’re people, with a whole spectrum of interests when it comes to games.  Stop assuming we’re going to respond to only pink, or only things specially labeled for us as ladies.  Oh, and please: get on hiring some more women already.

A bit about me

I figured that if I was going to make a blog, and attempt to have any sort of reasonable discussions here (see, this is an assumption that eventually I’ll get readers, har har!) that you might need to know a bit about me, and what I expect from this blog.

First of all, I am indeed a woman.  I’m 25 now, which means I’ve had a bit of life experience, but I’m still terribly inexperienced in other areas.  My point of view is somewhat privileged, as I am a white, middle-class person.  I take a highly feminist stance on most issues, and although I do my best to write and analyze ‘fairly’,  I have to remember to check myself every once in awhile for my privilege and biases.

That being said, I have a little experience with a lot of different subjects that I would like to incorporate into my blog (let’s hear it for all the jack-of-all-trades people out there!).  I have been a creative individual my whole life; I used to draw, write, compose music, design games, do stop-motion films, and as soon as I discovered the internet, I took on designing webpages, writing anime and video game reviews, and doing a webcomic with my sister. (You probably never heard of it, but Shonen Chikara will return someday. Promise.)  I studied languages and foreign cultures, which I discovered intersected with my interest in games very well.  After completing an undergrad degree in 2007, I moved to Washington, D.C. to pursue a Master’s in Language and Communication at Georgetown University.  This was one of the best and worst years of my entire life.

Firstly, I discovered I enjoyed writing about games.  I played World of Warcraft in ANY of the downtime I had from classes, which resulted in me having three level 70 characters (Burning Crusade, yeah!) despite the 13 hours a day I was spending doing school-related things.  I tried to incorporate nerdy issues into my papers, because technology and language, as I’d discovered, were highly intersectional, and they were relatively new and therefore untapped resources for a budding young linguist to bury herself in.

Secondly, I discovered that not only language within the gaming community, but other online communities as well, was beginning to change.  Patterns of discourse veered from the traditional mimicry of spoken language, to shortened forms of words (mostly seen in texting or in chatrooms/messenger programs) and even to syntax variation within certain circles.  The tl;dr of it?  Language was changing and evolving before my very eyes, and it was something I wanted very much to study.

Finally, as a woman who is very interested in gaming, graphics, technology, language, and other nerdy fare, I’ve experienced more than my fair share of sexism.  I want a safe platform to discuss women and girls in video games, and women and girls who play video games.  This is not commensurate with excluding men from discussing these issues, but I would like to say first and foremost that I will not tolerate any trolling, woman-bashing, or basic thread derailing. I am the only judge of what is, or is not considered to be any of the aforementioned taboos, so honestly, I don’t give a shit if you don’t agree with my calls.  Also, I expect that if you have any criticism, you can keep it constructive and not destructive.  I welcome debate, as long as it doesn’t get too heated.

So, this blog will be an exploration.  I want it to be open to non-linguists and linguists alike, and to all genders.  I look forward to sharing with you!