Rejecting The Idea That Social Media Is Pointless

Sometimes, usually right after I post something political on Facebook, people tell me (on fb and IRL) that they don’t talk about politics online. Usually this is followed by either explaining that they are non-confrontational or by telling me that it’s exhausting, people just want to argue for fun, people don’t change, it’s pointless, etc.. Sometimes I feel like they forget that I've already heard this perspective. They talk to me as if I have never experienced the feelings they are describing. These moments when people impart their internet wisdom onto me, oddly enough, add to the difficulty by discouraging my passion, and in many ways snuff out a fire that would otherwise be better off stoked. All puns intended. 

Deny it as we may, Facebook bleeds into the real world. If you don’t believe me, just ask writer Lindy West, who wrote about an encounter with her worst internet troll for Jezebel and retold her story on This American Life.

In West's story, if you can imagine it, her worst internet troll actually apologized and admitted that his ugliness online came from a place of self-hate. Now, I see that this is an idealistic — trust me. This isn’t to say that anyone’s cultural commentary or political post seeks to change the worst of the internet trolls, or that West’s story is the rule. But this exception gives me hope. I’ve seen the world around me change so much over the last 5 years alone because ideas are more accessible as a result of social media. At the risk of sounding like a hipster feminist, when I was in college sitting in Women’s Studies classes I remember feeling so alone in my views. That feeling is so far in the past that I hardly remember what life was like before the F word took flight. And that's just one example of a positive shift that owes it’s existence to social media. 

The fact is, social media is real life, and it does matter. You are all alive behind those computer screens and on the other side of your smartphones. You are all actively participating in the real world around you everyday. A conversation that you have over a cup of coffee at your dining room table is just as real and affecting as a conversation you have on Facebook. Perhaps less tangible, but no less a part of your reality. I urge others to cease their participation in perpetuating the myth that we are not impacted by our social media presence. This myth is dangerous territory — not only does it invalidate our very real feelings, when we do have them in a virtual space, it also allows us to reject responsibility for our actions when we log on. 

For years I echoed the same denials, “people just want to argue, it’s not even the real world, no one changes because of relentless political Facebook posts, etc.” The list of counter-arguments is quite long. But long as this list may be, it is still paper-thin in comparison to the proven benefits of social media. Tell the myth to the grassroots movements that gained much of their ground on social media. Tell it to Black Lives Matter, or to the DREAMers. Tell it to the QPOCs that find one another online in solidarity and safety. Go ahead, tell them their forged alliances and real actions are pointless because people never change… It’s a little harder to make that argument now, isn’t it?

Many think engaging online is a sport for some of us. They simply have us mistaken for trolls, like in the This American Life story above. You see, expending your emotional energies online to try to encourage a more just world isn’t just a silly sport. If only it were as entertaining as y’all think. It’s not. For those of us that put our political selves out there, please respect that we are doing our best to create the positive environments that we desire. Particularly, it's how this brown girl protects herself. Not that it’s my responsibility to explain to my critics my approach to life. Let me do me, you do you. I don’t want toxic people in my life, not even passively while I avoid volatile conversations with them and tiptoe around their hate on Facebook. What kind of life is that? Doesn’t sound very real to me.

Mental Health and the Importance of #TalkingAboutIt

An Interview With Sammy Nickalls
 

Sammy Nickalls

Sammy Nickalls


I first came across Sammy's writing on Hello Giggles, and followed her in Twitter. Recently, I was struck by the change in tone of some of her tweets. She started opening up about her anxiety, just at the same time I was beginning to talk about my own struggles with anxiety and depression. Whenever other people let me into this part of their lives, it's always such a gift; not because I want other people to be struggling, but because it's so easy to assume that we are alone. It's so easy to assume that we are the only people who deal with these feelings, and that everyone else has it all together. I reached out to Sammy to see if I could ask her a few questions about the hashtag she started to raise awareness for mental health, #TalkingAboutIt, and her answers are absolutely lovely. Here is our interview! XO, Rosemary


"No one with mental illness or who struggles with their mental health is alone. When no one talks about it, all you see on social media are curated, hand-picked happy moments, and it’s so easy to feel like you’re the only one in the world who is struggling." —Sammy



Rosemary: Where did you get the idea for #TalkingAboutIt? What was your hope about opening up the conversation about mental health?

Sammy: I’ve always had anxiety, but when I moved into my own place in a new city back in October, I wasn’t doing too great. I work from home, and I thought that moving into my own place would be great for my mental health, but having all that alone time in a new environment turned out to have the opposite effect on me. By the time December rolled around, my anxiety started to get so bad that everything felt terrifying; even the smallest of tasks — like getting out of bed or getting a shower, for example — seemed pointless because there were just so many things I had to do, so why bother doing any of them? It felt like I was paralyzed. 
I was spending a ton of time in bed, feeling absolutely awful…yet I was keeping it a secret from my followers and most of my friends. I acted totally fine whenever I met up with people around the city, though I often was canceling on them. I wasn’t talking about it because I was afraid of being judged for my anxiety.

On December 13th, I saw a friend tweeting about being in bed with a cold. It was a tweet that we’ve all sent — a part joking, part complaining tweet about laying in bed all day sick with a runny nose. I’ve always tried to be active in mental health awareness, but it suddenly occurred to me that keeping quiet was just contributing to the stigma. I resolved to talk about my mental health the same way as my friend was about her cold. If we could all talk about our mental health to the same degree as we do our physical health — sharing, joking, being totally open without fear of being judged — man, what a beautiful world that would be.

Rosemary: Is it something you began to practice first offline or did you start first in online communities?

Sammy: It really started on December 13th, online. I’ve tried to talk to people about my anxiety before, but not to the same degree I have for the past several weeks.


Rosemary: What has the response been like?

Sammy: It was slow to start; mostly my Internet friends used it initially, but it’s been steadily growing at a rate I didn’t expect. It seems to have really resonated with some; there have even been a couple people who created Twitter accounts specifically so they could share about their mental health without having their name attached, which is a major step toward getting people comfortable with expressing their feelings and struggles.

Of course, in my wildest dreams, I’d hope it would encourage people to feel more comfortable talking about their mental health and perhaps help dispel the stigma surrounding mental illness. I’d hope it would create a supportive community that could help those who are struggling with their mental health. There are certainly communities like this online, but many of them are only visible to those who are actively looking for them. I wanted to help make this mainstream, open, welcoming to those who may not have sought out an outlet but desperately needed one. But honestly, I’m incredibly happy with what’s happened in the weeks since it was started — that it’s helped even a few people find an outlet to express how they’re feeling.

Rosemary: How has #TalkingAboutIt affected your own mental health?

Sammy: I’ve been more accepting of my own mental health struggles. Actively talking about my mental health like I would my physical health serves as a gentle reminder that my anxiety isn’t a personality flaw, and it’s not my fault — and that has helped me accept the fact that sometimes, you just need a bit of self care and self love to get yourself up and going again. Silence perpetuates self blame, which perpetuates mental health struggles…it’s a catch-22, and talking about it breaks that cycle.

Rosemary: Do you have a favorite quote, song, or mantra that helps you feel powerful when things get rough?

Sammy: I don’t think I look for something to make me powerful when things get rough, exactly. When my anxiety is particularly bad, I tend to feel numb, listless, like I have no purpose. What gets me out of it isn’t an anthem, or a power-up song, or even an inspirational quote, because I’d need energy for those things to work. I tend to gravitate towards something that helps me unleash my emotions, get in touch with them. So what I do is listen to songs that help me connect with those emotions, that let me cry for a while so that I can let it all out and start anew. My favorite song for that is “Be Here Now” by Ray LaMontagne. But I also like the short quote “It’s OK to not be OK.”

Rosemary: What has been the biggest thing you’ve learned or experience since taking your struggles public?

Sammy: That I’m not alone. That no one with mental illness or who struggles with their mental health is alone. When no one talks about it, all you see on social media are curated, hand-picked happy moments, and it’s so easy to feel like you’re the only one in the world who is struggling. Ever since I started talking about my mental health — that really started in 2014, when I wrote an article about my anxiety that went viral — I’ve had various people contact me telling me that they feel the same way, that they feel a little less alone knowing that others go through it too. 

Rosemary: Everyone deals with things differently, and not all mental health issues are the same. Do you have any general advice for anyone who is just starting to recognize that they need to reach out for help?

Sammy: My biggest piece of advice is to talk to a loved one you trust. I’d like to say seek therapy, because that’s been life-changing for me, but that’s a very big step, and sometimes just sharing your feelings with someone you care about can give you the strength to start on the path of self-care. However, to find local resources, you can use TWLOHA’s amazing database here. Above all, remember that you deserve happiness, and that you should never, ever feel ashamed for pursuing it — in fact, quite the opposite. 
 

New Year's Resolutions Inspired By Things I've Read

BY CAITLYN BURFORD

I have a love-hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions. I hate the self-help model promising “A whole new you!” used to promote gym club memberships and make you feel guilty about eating. I hate the internalized self-loathing that comes with identifying every flaw in every relationship I have and exposing my insecurities and anxieties about where I am at in my career goals, and my vowing to do better next year.

But, every year without a doubt, I make resolutions. I have a whole checklist of to do’s before I even make it to January 2nd. In still keeping with tradition, this year I thought I’d use my New Year’s resolutions to recognize what I’ve learned and how I continue to grow. I want to reflect on the many blogs, articles, books, and posts I’ve read this year and acknowledge the ones that have really stayed with me. These are my 2016 goals.

1) Use the phrases “I’m sorry” and “Thank you” only when I really mean it.

It seems as if everyone from Pantene to Amy Schumer has jumped on the bandwagon to tell women to stop apologizing. Jessica Bennett’s piece in TIME looks at why women frequently apologize for things that don’t need an apology. Bennett writes, “Sorry is simply another way of downplaying our power, of softening what we do, to seem nice.” I do this all the time. I say, “Sorry I’m late,” when I’m neither late, nor sorry. I have this same habit with the phrase “thank you.” I habitually thank people, often specifically men, for doing ordinary, expected, and common things — like helping to do dishes after a meal, pitching in for shared groceries, or showing up to a work meeting I’m running. My move away from throwing out sorry’s and thank you’s left and right isn’t because I am cold and detached. It’s not because I don’t value empathy and gratitude. In fact, it’s the very opposite. It means that both my sense of empathy and of gratitude are authentic and real emotions that I have, and I owe it to others and to myself to use them out of genuine thoughtfulness and intent.

Read Jessica Bennett’s article.

2) Understand that my own environmental negligence is enacting violence on communities of color.

Environmental issues are not colorblind. Climate change does not affect everyone equally. Rather, it is low-income communities, often communities of color, who feel the effects of pollution, toxins, and waste much sooner and more severely than their white counterparts. Rebecca Solnit writes that we must begin speaking about climate change as violence — because that is what it is. When I buy a plastic water bottle, it isn’t a passive oversight: “Oops, I’ll remember to bring a reusable one next time.” It is a direct and active choice of negligence that targets communities of color, as I know full well that the process of plastics, from creation to production to recycling, is housed in spaces that pollute both the neighborhoods and the bodies of their workers in the process. Climate change is violence. This violence is wrapped up in the decisions I make, the products I choose to buy, and the food that I eat. It’s time we get the environmental movement back to where it started, as a movement for the liberation of marginalized people from polluted and toxic living conditions, rather than a whitewashed middle class movement to keep hiking trails aesthetically beautiful for Patagonia-wearing hipsters who all of a sudden love camping (fingers pointed directly at me here).

Check out Rebecca Solnit’s article.

3) Use more vagina emojis.

Bless the designers at Flirtmoji for giving me a way to send sex-positive texts and maybe (just maybe) make women feel a little more confident about their lady parts. Vaginas are floppy and hairy, open and wavy, wrinkled and wet, and really have a lot of colors going on. They do not have to be pink. Or tiny. Or “cute.” Our vaginas are badass and I want a well-rounded emoji pallet to celebrate that.

Check out Flirtmoji’s vaginas.

4) Buy “Prison-Free” products.

I want to pay less attention to buying organic, or buying GMO-free products, or buying anything else certified through some bizarre business making a pretty penny off of greenwashing. It’s not that I feel these labels are unimportant. Rather, I want to pay closer attention to the labor that goes into production rather than the product itself. Like buying prison-free. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about a chemical-free, pesticide-free, organic product for the wellbeing of the planet. But before I ever get there, my first concern should always be the people laboring to produce what I consume. In Kelly Davidson’s article, she exposes how businesses use prison labor, or “insourcing,” to exploit people of color for cheap manufacturing costs. While many corporations do this, Whole Foods stands out. Their organic, healthy, natural cruelty fish is harvested at the hands of slave labor. Buying prison-free should be a prerequisite to purchasing healthy food, and labor conditions should be my first priority as the consumer in this economic model.

Read Kelley Davidson’s article.

5) Incorporate “Stop interrupting me” and “I just said that” into my vocabulary.

The article from Soroya Chemaly takes an in-depth look at speech patterns and our habit of withholding linguistic credibility and space to speak from women. Essentially, she uses scientific studies to show how frequently women are interrupted. Rebecca Solnit’s original essay, “Men Explain Things to Me,” quickly became a part of my feminist canon as I resonated with the idea that in many spaces I do not have a “right to speak” as my ideas or statements are blatantly ignored. The most common instance of this is when people, often (but not exclusively) older men, ask what I do. “I teach at a university.” “Oh, what are you studying?” they respond. “No, I’m not a student there, I teach there.” “Oh, middle school? High School?” they ask again. “No, I teach at the university.” I’m a young woman who doesn’t look like a stereotypical professor. It is clear in these common interactions that I am not being misheard. I’m not being heard at all. The assumption that I do not look smart enough to teach speaks louder than I do. Rather than ignoring these types of conversational patterns, I want to highlight that I am repeating myself. I want to use the phrase, “As I just said,” or “To repeat myself,” or something of the sort to emphasize the type of discursive pattern. Small steps.

Read Rebecca Solnit’s original essay and Soraya Chemaly’s follow up.

6) Respond immediately, vocally, and aggressively to gender-based micro-aggressions. Period.

I’ve listened to people make comments directly to me and indirectly about women in general and 9 times out of 10 I say nothing because I’ve convinced myself it would not be productive. They didn’t mean it. This is not the time or place. I don’t want to embarrass anyone. We aren’t close enough friends for me to be able to call them out. Or worse, I’m overreacting and I’m the laid-back type that isn’t supposed to cause drama. Gretchen Kelly wrote a HuffPost blog referring to this as “mastering the art of de-escalation,” or the tendency for women to ignore offensive or inappropriate comments simply because it is so frequent it has become ingrained into our daily lives. This contributes to the belief many men have that these micro-aggressions, and gender-based violence at large, is much less prevalent than it is partially because they don’t see it as often as many of us do. Now, this is certainly not a call for women everywhere to do the same. They shouldn’t have to. That’s an unfair request and this is absolutely my own approach. My own attempt at being more vocal is to deconstruct the myth that gender-specific micro-aggressions are rare, individual, and occasional, rather than pervasive and constant. I don’t care if that makes me a bitch.

Read Gretchen Kelly’s blog post.

7) Practice learning Spanish every day.

I mean every single damn day. I’ve been casually saying for years that I need to learn Spanish and some days I’ll even listen to Spotify Latino to pretend like I’m putting in effort in some self-righteous half-assed attempt. This is an embarrassing thing white people do. It isn’t cute and it isn’t genuine. Learning Spanish shouldn’t be about making myself more competitive in a job market, or learning how to travel more freely by asking, “Where is the train station?” Learning Spanish should be a given so that I can speak to my neighbors. There are 45 million people living in the US that claim Spanish as their first language. If I hope to work towards racial justice in any capacity with marginalized populations, I should probably focus on my own language limitations.

Inspired by the group INCITE!, their blog, and their recommended readings.

8) Abolish the police.

I don’t know where to begin with this one. This year I have read dozens of accounts of wrongful arrests and extrajudicial executions at the hands of police, seen hundreds of posts about the hundreds of lives lost, cringed at countless disgusting comments about how police officers are just doing their jobs. I have been angry and engaged in conversations. Then I have shut down and stopped talking about police altogether. In these moments I don’t know what to say or where to begin and I feel weighted down by the utter disbelief that this continues to and will continue to happen every single day. The police have created a condition of terror and trauma to people of color in our country. I strongly believe that there is no way for the police system to exist in our country that is not founded on violence and power retained from a systemically racist judicial system. The police force cannot continue exist. The problem is so large, from the courtroom to the street, that I honestly often do not know where to begin and find it easier to ignore than engage. I was given Radley Balko’s book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces for Christmas this year, and though I just started it yesterday, I can confidently recommend it to anyone and everyone.

Check out Radley Balko’s book.

9) Make sure my social media and news outlets are diverse and critical.

All the social media I’m exposed to, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram included, should not just be full of white people. More specifically, they should not be filled with photos of white people in nature. Tanya Golash-Boza writes Why America’s National Parks are So White, an inquiry into the pervasive whiteness of outdoor culture. She looks at the different, intersecting elements of racialized exclusion and claims, “The disparate treatment of black visitors and misconceptions about African-Americans relations with the outdoors is part of the United States’ legacy of racial violence and segregation.” This began a conversation with a friend of how to break down the misconception that only white people enjoy the outdoors. Part of the solution? Alter our Instagram feeds so we don’t just see white people in nature. Follow @Latinooutoors or @RadicalMonarchs for instance. This is only the first step. My Pinterest should be full of messages about queer empowerment, statistics about the prison industrial complex, so on and so forth. Not just wedding gowns and healthy recipes.

Take a look at Tanya Golash-Boza’s article.

And have a happy New Year!

 

Admitting I Had Postpartum Depression Only Made Me Stronger

BY STEPHANIE OLSON

My story didn’t seem very important until I realized that without it, there was only my silence. I see other women acknowledging their experiences publicly, like Hayden Panettiere, and I’ve decided I need to add my voice — to do my part to normalize what so many women go through.

It was not easy for me to recognize at first that I was in the throes of postpartum depression. In fact, I fought it. In the beginning, I was exhausted, like all new mothers. My son grew quickly, from under eight pounds at birth to over twenty-two pounds at six months, so I thought that was part of my exhaustion. Still, the problems came to a head long before his six month mark.

Courtesy: Stephanie Olson

Courtesy: Stephanie Olson

I labored with my son for several hours before getting an epidural, which I had always planned on. I relaxed in the bathtub until my contractions became close enough and painful enough that I decided I needed it. Then, I slept. Hours later, I was still completely numb from the waist down. I only knew I was having contractions thanks to the monitor slipped around my belly. My doctor was busy with another surgery, so we waited for hours, my son crowning the whole time. But, like I said, I felt nothing.


I was convinced something was very wrong, something other than anxiety. Yet blood test after blood test came back normal, as did an MRI and CAT scan. What I didn’t know yet was that postpartum depression was the answer I was searching for.


Finally the doctor arrived and I was given the green light to push — without feeling anything, my son was born, that easy. I felt nothing for the afterbirth or the episiotomy. And I think this is where the guilt started, both because I felt nothing and because I waited hours for the doctor to push. My first delivery had been excruciating even with two epidurals, and here I actually had a pain-free experience. I could only react with guilt.

In the weeks after his birth, it was not simply feeling blue. The feeling was unrecognizable. I felt weak, light-headed; my hands would go numb. I had two episodes where I felt so short of breath and scared about it that I ended up having full-blown panic attacks, which I had no idea could manifest themselves so physically. I couldn’t move my hands or arms or legs, all part of the panic-induced lack of oxygen. I have never felt so out of control of my own body. I was convinced something was very wrong, something other than anxiety. Yet blood test after blood test came back normal, as did both the MRI and CAT scans. What I didn’t know yet was that postpartum depression was the answer I was searching for.

I felt cornered; my family and doctors suggested that my problem might have been mental, rather than physical. I felt like they were calling me crazy, suggesting that it was all in my head, or that perhaps I was a hypochondriac. However, these were my own hang-ups. I didn’t want to admit that I could have postpartum depression because to me, that would have meant failure. Failure at motherhood, failure at being strong enough, failure at pulling my weight. To me, it would have meant that I was pulling everyone down.

I felt I was losing my place in the world, sometimes literally. I could sit on the couch, but not much more. I would get lost, entirely lost, in little details. There was one late afternoon when the sun was hitting the dust on the TV just right, so that the whole surface seemed to glow except for where tiny handprints had cleaned the particles. I must have stared at those spots for several minutes, just completely absorbed. At the time, I thought it was the writer in me. I didn’t realize it was part of the illness.


I had been sick, and I had been fighting an unfair battle. But after admitting I had PPD, after getting the help I needed, I started to feel strong enough. Not invincible, but strong enough.


Although I was engrossed in what I found beautiful, I couldn’t function. I couldn’t engage with my children, I could barely watch them — everything felt as from a distance. It was work, real work, just to be present. I was desperate. I had already tried things like acupuncture, acupressure, and massage. I just wanted to feel better, like me again.

So, in an act that felt like giving in, I agreed to try medication. I thought that at least it would serve as a means of ruling postpartum depression out. The first prescription, Zoloft, ended up being a bad fit, which made me even more resistant. It made me feel like half a person — I was in a fog, senseless, and not at all better. My doctor switched the prescription to a combination of Lexapro and Abilify. Pretty suddenly, I felt like doing things again. Not just tasks, like grocery shopping, washing the dishes, or playing with the kids — all things I couldn’t manage before — but also painting, entering art shows, and writing. I wasn't 100% fixed, but I was mending, and I couldn't deny that. That mattered.

And it mattered, too, that I wasn’t wrong. I had been sick, and I had been fighting an unfair battle. But after admitting I had PPD, after getting the help I needed, I started to feel strong enough. Not invincible, but strong enough.

I still struggle. I had to stop breastfeeding to start the medication, and those two and a half months that I did manage will never feel like enough to me. But I know now that I have to be a mother the best way that I can and that involves compromises, which we all have to make. And taking prescription medication didn’t make me weaker. When we can acknowledge and overcome our fears, when we can meet our minds and our bodies as they are, we can begin to heal ourselves and grow strong.

 

Lumen is Coming Out of Hibernation!

...just in time for winter. 

BY ROSEMARY DONAHUE AND YESENIA PADILLA

ROSEMARY: So, you may have noticed, it’s been pretty quiet on the Lumen blog for some time now. That has not been due to lack of wonderful submissions on your part, we can assure you (seriously, thanks for continuing to send us your work). We’re a small team over here, and we’ve been going through a few transitions of our own.

I recently moved across the country and have been doing a little of that freelance hustle while looking for a full-time gig. Sidenote-slash-shameless promotion, if you know of anything in editing in NYC send it my way! I’ve also been diving deep into some serious self care, because being a human with feelings and a body is hard. I’m starting to work on sorting out some of my lifelong issues with depression and body image, and I think a huge part of that process is letting go of the shame and stigma surrounding those topics. If anyone wants to talk, I’m here. Another part of that process has been taking some time for myself while I’m NOT working, and mostly cuddling up with my dogs and watching a lot of television. Another side note: if anyone wants to talk about The Walking Dead or Master Chef Junior, get at me.

Now, I’m gonna hand it over to Yesenia so she can tell y’all what she’s been up to, and then we’ll circle back and talk about WHAT’S NEXT (!!!) for Lumen!


For those of you who stuck with us, good lookin’ out, you’re the reason why we are back, the reason why we do what we do. For those of you just tuning in, welcome!


YESENIA: Hey Lumies! Like Rosemary said, we’ve both been going through a some personal changes, which caused a *very* temporary shift in priorities while we got sorted.  I had some good changes — I started a new job, moved in with my partner, and got to work on some of my personal creative projects -—and some not-so-good changes (tough family matters, my depression rearing its ugly head). For those of you who stuck with us, good lookin’ out, you’re the reason why we are back, the reason why we do what we do. For those of you just tuning in, welcome! We’re super excited you’ve decided to join us, and we can’t wait to show you what we’ve got in store!

Rosemary, why don’t you tell the people all about that good good Lumen’s got on deck?

ROSEMARY: We are slowly coming out of hibernation (to make more room for the bears!) and we can’t wait to get started. Among other things, we are going to start publishing blogs again, and that’s where you come in. Send us your personal essays, your lists, your recipes, your open letters, your Google search histories, your Twitter drafts...anything, really. Submit here! We are also starting a newsletter soon, so be on the lookout for that.

As far as the lit mag goes, the deadline for Issue 03 of Lumen is December 15, so submit! your! work! As always, we are looking for so many things, and sometimes we are looking for things we don’t even know exist yet. You tell US what we’re looking for. We can’t wait to read it. In the meantime, check out past issues (01 & 02) for inspiration. 

YESENIA: Thank you for reading, thank you for sharing, and thank you for flipping the switch.