It’s Christmas time and my husband and I are eating Pho. We are having an interesting debate: What level of crisis allows the off-topic discussion of politics on a non-political blog, and how much or how often?
We agreed that one in twenty posts sounded fair for the time being. So this is my ONE, and I will make it count.
I was diagnosed with depression my freshman year in college. I was grieving from the loss of my mother, aunt, and grandmother, who had all passed away when I was in high school. My dog had been hit by a car and my boyfriend and I had broken up a few weeks prior to my first counseling appointment. I was also having family issues and was struggling with the changes of a new school, new friends, and harder classes. I wasn’t sleeping or eating, I was physically ill, and I had lost 30 pounds in less than two months.
Instead of empathizing with me, my therapist told me after maybe two sessions that I needed to re-frame my thinking; “Sometimes things just aren’t as bad as you think they are,” she said. She then gave me a sheet of paper outlining all the different ways a person can think irrationally.
Now, if you have read my blog, you know I am a big fan of optimism and cognitive re-framing. And no offense to the wonderfully effective cognitive behavioral therapy, (or therapists in general, because in my time working in the field I have known far, far more lovely ones than bad ones) but I didn’t take her particular approach very well for my particular situation.
This was my first experience with victim blaming, but it wasn’t my last. I realized that yes, depression can be accompanied by irrational thinking, but it was easier for her to think I was depressed as a result of thinking irrationally than to realize that a bunch of losses in close succession might hurt, and that, more importantly, such unfortunate events could happen to anyone, even her. I must have done something wrong. Otherwise, the world wouldn’t be fair.
Despite that unfortunate speed-bump, I recovered quickly on the basic combination of another counselor and medication. I found new meaning in helping others in need. I thought I had put that part of my life behind me.
That was, until I graduated college and applied for health insurance. I received a piece of paper that said that the insurance company could not accept anyone who had been diagnosed with depression within the past five years. I was confused. To a 23 year old, 19 seemed like a lifetime ago. I was healthy and had been healthy for nearly four years. I had already been dropped from my family’s plan, I was living completely independently, the recession had recently hit and I was lucky to even have a part-time job without benefits. I didn’t have many options.
But more than that, the darkest, most painful part of my life was reduced to a simple risk factor. Despite knowing how insurance worked, when I stared at that piece of paper, it felt like I was being punished for something that happened to me that I had no control over. I was angry. This was wrong. But it was also perfectly normal. And I heard that voice again, saying, “Sometimes things just aren’t as bad as you think they are.”
I went on to work in the mental health field at the time when mental health funding for my state had just been cut in half. This had a wonderful trickle-down effect of impairing not only the public mental health centers, but also local nonprofits who saw less grant money and more desperate clients who had been denied treatment by other centers that could no longer accept them. All those extra people ultimately ended up in the emergency rooms, so the state didn’t save any money, and yet when anyone complained, the general attitude from the state politicians was, “Things aren’t as bad as you think they are.”
There have been many, many things happening in the world lately that I have been very upset about, but the recent healthcare bill in the United States hit a nerve. To be clear: I value empathy and compassion above all else. I used to believe that anything could be talked out. That with the right caring, the right understanding, learning enough about how the world works, learning about the people who think differently than me, finding middle ground, then consensus could be reached. And yeah, I DO value conservative values like building up families, financial stability, spiritual growth, and being proud of my country. And I AM concerned about the thinning of the middle class, the national debt, and healthcare costs for Americans. I DO care very much and I DO want to work with people. After all, it’s my job to learn to work with people and listen to what they are going through.
Lately, the assumptions people make are that I am NOT that type of person. I have been called brainwashed, ignorant, accused of not trying, of being hormonal, irrational, too young to understand, and repeatedly talked over with an eye-roll, all because I draw the line at victim blaming, blatant hatred, admitted elitism, willing closed-mindedness, and misogyny committed with a smile. I WANT to be a person who reaches a consensus. I WANT to be a person who reaches out to learn about someone else’s point of view. I WANT to be diplomatic, kind, and empathetic. I WANT to learn and grow and change my mind and not be partisan or polarized in my views.
And heck, I WANT to have a blog where I talk about how finding life’s magic leads to happiness all day instead of talking about this.
But if I am forced to choose between putting my foot down or being complicit in letting people be stomped down, discriminated against, silenced, blamed for their depression, chronic illness, pregnancy, and treatment resulting from rape, and allowed to die, well, I will choose to be the kind of person who puts my foot down.
And if you are bothered by that, that says a whole lot more about you than it does about me.
Because YES, things ARE as bad as I think they are.