Healing

I can’t say yet that I have a Black Dog skin rug, but I am very close to it.  Depression doesn’t stand a chance where love can shine in.

After a week of fear, rejection, and sorrow, the bottom had to drop out.  The terrible thing about having a full clinical depression episode is that it cannot be rushed.  Once it has reached a tipping point where logic and rational thought don’t matter, it has to run its course.  (This assumes that there is no medical intervention.)  The anger drives, the sorrow drives, and the Black Dog navigates.  If it gets its way, it will guide you to ruin, to divorce, to death.

This is not rhetoric or hyperbole.  Suicide is not “pretend death”.  It’s possibly the worst kind, certainly so for the survivors.

The Black Dog fought hard.  With my Shield of Compassion and my Sword of Love (which isn’t nearly as naughty as it sounds), I held my ground.  I answered only with honesty and love, I spoke only from my heart (even when I shared my pain), and I opened myself up to true vulnerability.  The Black Dog bit me, even drew blood, but I was undeterred.

I want my husband more than it wants him.  Of this, I am certain.

The bottom fell out, and it seemed that the end was nearing – and not in a good way.  I called in the cavalry (I waited as long as I could), and they arrived in time.  Husband says that there was no need, he wasn’t going to do anything, but how could I know?  It was still the right answer.  (It is always the right answer.)

The doctors were idiots.  They didn’t even try to help, but at least they kept him overnight.  I spoke to them myself – this is clinical depression, this is serious, he needs some help – but they weren’t interested.

And here is where the ransom was paid:

My husband was left at the hotel without a ride, a phone, or money, wearing only a t-shirt and flip-flops – on the Day It Snowed In Texas.

He walked from the hotel for over 20 miles to our home. That was nearly eight hours in the elements.

Along the way, he met a few people, some of whom helped him with small gear against the cold, some of whom listened to his story.  Through the ice and snow and bitter cold, he walked.  Through the rage and anger and bitterness and sadness, he walked.  Through the shame and fallen pride and humility, he walked.

When the doorbell rang, I almost couldn’t answer it, terrified that it would be the police coming to tell me that he’d managed to finally end it all.  I did, of course, and here is my husband, falling into the door, unable to feel his toes.

In that split second between seeing him standing there and wrestling him inside, every bit of hurt and anger I had was immediately replaced with relief and near giddiness that he was alive – regardless of a missing toe or two.

(He did not, ultimately, lose any actual toes.)

And here is how I know the ransom was paid in full:

During our arguing, we agreed to see a doctor – each of us. He is keeping this appointment, for himself rather than for me.  Yes, this is our accord, and we must do this to stay together, but this is his choice now.  As I treated him for mild hypothermia and frost nip, he did not shrink away or claim to be unworthy of those ministrations; neither did he demand them as a right.  He apologized, and in his eyes, I knew every single thing he was apologizing for.

And I forgave them all without hesitation.

Before you cry foul on my behalf…

There is a distinct difference between a truly malicious abuser and someone who is suffering from clinical depression. Yes, things happened that he was not proud of, but I have done things in the throes of the Black Dog that I am also not proud of.  That is the nature of the Black Dog, to turn you against yourself and to force everyone away by whatever means necessary.

If you do not fight the Black Dog, if you allow it to perpetuate its lies about your worthiness, you can become a true abuser.  There is a core lie that says that we, the chemically depressed, are unlovable, and anyone stupid enough to love us is too stupid for us to love.  It is a vicious cycle that feeds on itself until something more powerful than the lie intervenes.  If nothing gets to us, we can slip past that threshold.

But, if you are willing to own your mistakes, if you are willing to grasp the true knowledge that no mistake can make you unworthy of love, then there is hope.  If you are lucky enough to have a partner who understands the difference between the True You and the Black Dog, you will already have a pathway out of the darkness. It is up to you to walk it, but that can make it a lot easier.

When I feel the Black Dog coming, I remind myself of these things, reading them in a mantra:

  • I am not my illness.
  • I am greater than the sum of my parts.
  • My worth is unchangingly positive; it cannot be decreased by my mistakes nor increased by my success.
  • I am stronger than the Black Dog; if this were not true, it would not have to lie.
  • The Black Dog doesn’t know the truth, and cannot tell it.
  • I embrace that the Black Dog is part of me, it is not the True Me.
  • I am the I, the Self, the Chooser.  I choose to let darkness pass through me.
  • I choose to let the darkness be; it is not my identity, it is only the dark.
  • I choose to be stronger than my illness.
  • I deserve love.  Nothing I do can change that worthiness.
  • However, I do not deserve to be an asshole.  Nothing I feel can justify that attitude.

Feel free to use them for yourself, however you like.

<3

We’d been getting the threats for a while, though they started out quiet.  Little comments, passive-aggressive remarks, and then a minor blow up happened, then another bigger one.  The resolution of that incident was not enough, though.  Even though solutions were attempted (some worked, some didn’t), it was as though we’d made no response at all.

The Black Dog of Depression had returned, and it was not going to be denied again.

I have feared its return ever since he stopped taking antidepressants last year.  In fairness, they helped his mood, but he was tired all the time.  Simple things wore him out, and the doctor just said “exercise more”.  That wasn’t really an option – exercise depleted him even faster.  He ran a 10k (trying to get that “exercise”) and slept for a full two days.  Later, he described it as “not feeling good, just not feeling anything”.  He had been more engaging, though, and passionate.  And then he’d sleep for more than fourteen hours and wake up feeling exhausted.  Instead of finding another doctor, he quit taking them.  He stopped going to therapy, too.

The Black Dog started laying its final traps sometime around the beginning of September, maybe before that around mid-August.  He had a fit and destroyed my art room while I was trying to build it – which was my fault because I tried to point out that he was destroying my art room?  More fights happened, little ones, big ones…  I got him to see a therapist with me – his therapist.  Unfortunately, this guy is worse than awful and refused to call out the Black Dog at all.  Instead, all the problems were a direct result of my ADD, and if I’d just take medication, everything would be fine.

Except we didn’t have insurance at that moment, and medication scares me.  I’ve always handled my issues in other ways, and with remarkable success, as long as I know what they are.

But this was not about medication or not for me: this was exactly the material the Black Dog needed to trigger his big scheme.  The Black Dog told my husband that I didn’t want to get better, that I was just playing along.

Thanksgiving was sheer hell for me.  My husband asked for a turducken, and that sounded like fun, so I started looking for one.  None of them came wheat-free, so I decided to make one.  I looked up recipes, I got everything put together and set up, and while it took literally three days of cooking (and cleaning, and working at my actual real job) to get the meal ready to serve, it was worth it.

No, it wasn’t.  Okay, maybe it was.  Everyone else loved it – his mom and his brothers and the rest of the family – but him?  I didn’t even get a “thank you” or a “that tastes great”.  He went to bed early, leaving me to clean up in addition to all the cooking, ignored me viciously, and then just made shitty comments whenever it was brought up.

I have never felt so dejected and hurt in my life.  Thanksgiving, the day we’re meant to examine our gratitude, and I cried myself to sleep yet again because the man I created this brilliant feast for couldn’t even give me the fucking time of day.  He got up from the bed when I went in there to go to sleep, and then played video games all night, crashing on the couch.

He did that for weeks.

Christmas wasn’t much better, except that the kids were there – his and mine.  The fights were horrific, and I had to stand him down when he tried to leave with the boys.  I’ll take a punch rather than let him put the kids in the car while he’s that angry.  I thought we’d negotiated by the end of that scene some kind of cease fire, some sort of opening statement for peace talks, but it was a ruse.

As soon as the kids were all gone again, the Black Dog came back even harder, snarling, dripping ichor-like saliva, reeking of decay and putrid gangrenous rot.  The work that I’d been doing, the adjustments I’d been making, the things I’d been building were literally impossible goals.  They were designed to create perpetual failure on my part, and not because my work would never be good enough but because my husband would never be allowed to see them.

The fucking beast says that I don’t love him, that I never cared, that I only ever wanted him for material things.  What it tells him is that anyone stupid enough to love him is beyond worthy of respect, is too stupid to love.  The Black Dog knows how to play both sides, and knowing its game does nothing for me.  I can see the lies that it’s telling him, but it’s already undermined his faith in me by ruining the beautiful things, by tainting the little acts of love and passion that we shared.

On New Year’s Eve, the last device was sprung, the last line crossed.  Through the pushing and screaming, he’s looking at me with these eyes that are desperate, begging for relief, begging for anything to save him, tears streaming down his face.  There is so much pain and agony in there, so much tragedy and sorrow, and even though I have the right medicine right here, I can’t get to him, I can’t reach him.  The Black Dog has covered their tracks too well.

It took him.  He’s gone.  I don’t know where he is, but I keep getting “helpful” messages like where to sell the board games or how to finish our D&D campaign.  “You get everything left in the house, it’s all yours.”

I don’t want everything in the house.  I want my husband back. I want my Thanksgiving back, and my Christmas.  I want our co-op video game sessions and our board game nights and our goofy jokes we’d send each other all day.  I want those kisses back, and that touch… oh god, that touch, the only one I’ve ever received that calmed my soul and woke me up all at once.  That touch is home to me, a home I might never see again.

I want a fucking Black Dog skin rug.

I learned quite by accident that the phrase I crave the most – and distrust the most – is “I support you.”

Experience has suggested strongly that when people (partners in particular) say this, they don’t actually mean it.  They’re trying to say that they approve of your actions or position or decision, but that’s not support.  That’s just approval.

So, what?  It’s the same thing, right?

No, please gods, no.  It’s not at all the same thing.  Approval is thinking someone is pretty.  Support is asking them out, building a relationship, getting married, having a family… See what I mean?  It’s the difference between thought and action.

The frustrating thing for someone like myself who relies heavily on both support and approval is that it feels greedy to ask for both.  When you’re already fighting an uphill battle with poor self esteem, asking for action on validation feels… dirty, maybe?  Like an inconvenience?  An imposition?

The further complicating factor is that we’re not often taught as kids what the difference is, and it’s definitely not demonstrated by the adults.  I remember a lot of talk about “supporting each other” when I was growing up, but it equated to one party doing whatever they wanted regardless of consequence because the other person said they “supported it” when in fact they meant they approved of the idea.  What followed was a lot of stress and resentment and anger.

Support has a few forms

The first thing that comes to mind for almost anyone when you say “support” is money, and while that’s not entirely wrong, it short-changes the concept.  Yes, we support each other through application of cash.  I get child support from my ex to pay for our mutual children.  My husband, who makes far more than I do, supports our household by paying the majority of the bills.  This is financial support, and while it’s vital and critical, that’s not the only way to

Emotional support is really what people are thinking of when they really mean “approval”.  This is the cheerleader, the fans waving on the side line.  If it’s the high-quality type, it’ll come with a lot of honest feedback on whatever it is that we’re trying to accomplish.  Blind support without care for what the person is actually accomplishing is really enabling.  Enabling, in this context, means to show approval regardless the result or behavior is healthy, productive, or legitimate.  It’s the “whatever you want, honey” response, and it’s demeaning at best and dangerous at worst.

I think what most people are asking from their partners when they ask for help is practical support.  For someone like me, a writer and artist, this would mean things like watching the kids so that I can go to a conference or meeting.  It would mean putting away the dishes and helping out with the chores so that I can meet a daily word-count goal.  It would mean sitting down and talking about what those goals and milestones would be, and working together to meet them.

Practical support is the Holy Grail for creative types.  It’s the most needed and least understood form, but it’s vital.

DIY has its pros, but mostly cons

Wouldn’t it be super-duper (to our partners) if we could just handle all this stuff on our own?  To be fair, a lot of creatives types do. On the down side, that means that they end up doing double-duty in all things around the house and relationship.  They take care of normal routine stuff in addition to trying to carve out time for their own creative expression.  No small portion of the time, this leads to a condition of “singleness”, either through breaking up or separating emotionally from their partner within the relationship.

Think about this, though:  If we were going to be committed to supporting our expression and creation all on our own, what would be the benefit of a relationship?  Sure, sex is great and all, but that doesn’t get the painting finished.  (Okay, maybe sometimes it does, but that’s a very weird method and supporting art probably isn’t an issue there.)  This statement is not meant to be scary, but I do want to point out the value of what support means to the creative types and what the price might be of not being supportive.

Sure, we can do it on our own, but it costs.  We will arrange our lives around our creative needs, and if you’re not down with that – if you’re not going to make room and actively help – then there’s not going to be room for you, too.  It sucks, but asking a creative person to just kinda not create – or actively interfering with their creation process – is saying that you really don’t care about their needs or wants or desires.  And fuck that.  We have a whole society marginalizing acts of creation, we don’t need it from our personal lives as well.

Say what you mean, mean what you say.

If you “support your partner” in their endeavor, make a plan.  Be specific.  If you merely approve of them doing the thing, say so.  If they come back and actively ask you for specific types of help, know that they’re asking for a bigger commitment from you.  Before you groan and roll your eyes and think about how much you don’t want to take a turn doing dishes or folding laundry, know that that kind of request comes from a place of trust.

That’s the big deal, in the end.  Support is something you give – and receive – with someone you trust to have your back.  It’s making sure your husband gets up on time to run before work because he’s training for a marathon.  That’s not enabling him, that’s actually being supportive.  It is not making sure that the vodka is in the freezer before you leave for work because your boyfriend likes his martinis as soon as he walks in the door at the end of the day – that’s enabling.  It’s paying a little more to get your girlfriend the fancy art supplies for Valentine’s Day instead of chocolates or a piece of jewelry she’ll never wear.  Most importantly, it’s actively thinking to yourself, “What can I do to help my partner meet their goals?”

And to you creative types: You also need to take some responsibility and share your goals and dreams with your partner.  If you don’t, ask yourself what you’re afraid of.  If they reject your ideas altogether (assuming those ideas have merit and/or you want to do them), it might be time to get a new partner.  I’ll wager, though, that if they love you – if they want to learn to build an amazing relationship – they’ll do what they can to help.

 

This in the context of creativity because that’s my bag, baby, but the principles apply to just about anything.  Want to lose weight?  Trying to learn French?  Building an application?  State your needs, be excellent to each other.

This also appeared on the Good Men Project, December 2016.

Throw a proverbial rock somewhere on the internet and you’re going to run across at least one essay trying to tell a non-depressed person what it feels like to have depression.  It’s not just feeling sad all the time or having no energy, it’s a complex emotional state that is defined more by its self-perpetuation than exclusively by what emotions are experienced.  (I know, I know… blasphemy.)  Maybe it sounds callous to say, “Okay, we get it,” but seriously – we do.

Yes, I know that many, many people who suffer from depression would like their loved ones to know that they can’t just “snap out of it”, that it’s not about “adjusting attitude”.  Most people these days are in such a state for whatever reasons that drugs are heavily indicated.  It sucks.  I’ve been there myself, and I know how rough it is.  I really, really do.

But…

There’s a whole other side of the story that seems to get left out.

The Black Dog

The best description of clinical depression that I’ve ever seen is the Black Dog analogy.  Imagine that this emotion is a large shaggy black dog that has a particularly pungent air.  It follows you around, sits on your lap when you’re trying to get close to pretty much anyone else, and actively interferes with life.  It eats your food before you have a chance.  It flounces around at night and keeps you from sleeping.  It sits on you during the day, keeping you from getting up and being productive.  Even if you manage to leave the dog in another room, you can still smell it.  It’s still there.  It’s always affecting you, anytime, day or night, even if sometimes aren’t quite as bad as others.

I make the differentiation between “clinical depression” and “situational depression” deliberately.  Frankly, there are sometimes when, yes, you have every reason in the world to be depressed.  You got fired from a job you loved for reasons you don’t understand.  A very close and dear loved one died.  Your job and living situation sucks balls, and there’s no real clear pathway to making it better.  As the wise man once said, “Before diagnosing yourself with depression, make sure first you are not merely surrounded by assholes.”  That is situational depression.

Clinical depression is when, for all intents and purposes, everything around you is great (or at least not awful), but you just can’t enjoy it.  Maybe it’s a projection from the past coloring this moment, such as with PTSD.  Maybe it’s a chemical imbalance.  Maybe it’s a little bit of both.  The point is that, for whatever reason, you are unable to see anything except the dull grey darkness, occasionally punctuated by fits of anger or guilt or shame.  One friendly moment does not a cure make, and efforts to “snap out of it” are often fruitless.  Nothing that made you happy before works, and everything tastes bland and distant.

It doesn’t just suck for you

The Black Dog sucks to live with as a constant companion, I know it.  You know what else sucks?  Living with someone who lives with a Black Dog, especially when they refuse to acknowledge it.

Imagine hanging out with your friend and having this huge smelly nasty wet beast taking up three-quarters of the couch while you’re trying to have a conversation.  It doesn’t just sit there, no: it fidgets and it whines and it constantly gets between the two of you.  You try to point out to your friend that it’s really hard to talk with this ridiculous dog in the way, but they say, “It’s not a big deal, just ignore it, that’s what I do.”

Ha effin’ ha.  No.  You’re not just ignoring it.  You’re complicit in its game to consume you whole.  It’s isolating you from the people closest to you, and you seem to be letting it.  To my gentle readers: don’t jump down my throat just yet.  I know, some people are awesome about listening to feedback from loved ones and recognizing that maybe they’ve sunk further than they thought.  I’m specifically talking about the scenario where someone is reeking of nasty wet dog fur all the time and they make every excuse to ignore it.

“That’s not wet dog smell, it’s just the trash that wasn’t taken out.”

“I’m not pinned to the couch right now, I just really want to watch this ninth hour of ‘CSI’ reruns, again, in case I missed something.”

“I don’t really want to snuggle right now, I really have my hands full with this do– I mean, I’m not in the mood.”

The absolute worst part is that it’s a talking dog, but it only speaks vague-truths and lies.  It dresses up the slightest detail to be the biggest deal, it ignores critical information, it hijacks entire conversations if they look like they might be productive… and by “productive”, of course I mean “contributing to working through the depression”.  It speaks for the person it’s stalking, and it says really sh*tty things to their loved ones and it whispers back to its person even worse things.  (I named my own Black Dog “Bad Voice” for exactly this reason.)

Let’s say it’s you that has the Black Dog.  Here’s what your loved ones experience:  You no longer take part in anything that requires effort.  Your cycle of insomnia and lethargy completely remove you from any kind of family or social life.  If someone does manage to get you involved in a social event, it takes you so long to recharge from that experience that you’ll miss the next two or three opportunities if you can.  You say really fucking awful things to your S.O.  The dark thoughts in your head that you think are “just thoughts” influence your decisions and set you up to look like a proper asshole.  You beg off when people are supposed to rely on you.  You get really selfish over stupid things.  You ignore the things that were more precious and important to you before.  All of your emotional investments are turned upside down and everything that you ever loved is called into question.  Everything is left for someone else to carry, and you don’t seem to care if things get done or not.

If you’re really, really lucky, your S.O. will be understanding and compassionate, but if you’re actively ignoring the Black Dog, how far do you think that’s going to take you?  How patient can they really be and for how long?  If your S.O. knows you’re depressed, knows about the Black Dog, that buys you time, but it doesn’t buy you forever.

No one wants to be in a relationship with a person that they can’t touch or talk to or be intimate with.  No one wants to choose to sleep with a revolting matted malodorous Black Dog.  Some people do anyway with the faith that it’s really only temporary.

I’m not telling you this to make you feel guilty.  I’m pretty sure you’re already there and probably live there.  I’m telling you this because one of the most common lies that the Black Dog tells is that you don’t matter, that your actions or your presence don’t matter.  You have no impact on anything around you, and if anyone wants you around, it’s for what you give, not what you are.

If you knew how much the Black Dog steals away from the people who love you, would you fight it?

It’s probably never going to go away, but it can be tamed

Again, this is coming straight from personal experience.

Once you have a Black Dog, you’re not going to get rid of it.  I’ve come to think of mine as a “canine of variable size and shade”.  If you focus on getting rid of the Black Dog as the “victory scenario”, you’re setting yourself up for failure.  In fact, it’s probably the Black Dog telling you this, that the only way to be happy again is to get rid of it, but that’s not strictly true.

Imagine now that the Black Dog is actually an important and vital part of your personality, but because it was injured at some point, it spun out of control.  The way through is not to get rid of it but to tame it.  It’s trying to tell you things, and while those things are dangerous and destructive, they can’t resonate with you unless they have a tiny little core of truth.  The trick is to find it and understand what it means outside of the context of the dark words the Black Dog speaks.  Sometimes it’s that your fly really was undone the whole time you were on stage in front a thousand people.  Sometimes it’s just a need to bolster your confidence.

Open your mouth and talk.  Any therapist will tell you that the most important step in any kind of recovery is to actually acknowledge the beast and talk about the feelings.  BUT, you have to remember that they are just feelings.  If they were facts, they would feel totally different.  Black Dog might try to tell you that they’re facts, but Black Dog doesn’t know any facts.  (Black Dog is a liar, remember.)  Talk to a counselor, talk to a lover, talk to a parent, a best friend, anyone.  Preface with, “I don’t need advice, I just need to get this off of my chest.”  If your talking partner is clever, they’ll know that this moment has to be about you – not about them, and not about the Black Dog itself.

Trust your loved ones.  If someone is calling you out on depressive behaviors, pay attention.  Black Dog is an abusive partner, and relationships don’t get abusive all at once; they ease you into it.  Sometimes it takes someone else pointing out what may or may not be okay to trigger recognition from you that, hey, you haven’t bathed in a week and when was the last time you had an actual meal.  The very fact that someone was willing to ask if you’re okay already points that they care about you.  (I promise, it’s not the week-long shower-less funk motivating the question, this time.)

If you don’t think you can trust anyone else, turn to a blank page.  Get the thoughts out of your head and onto the paper to see if they are really worth considering.  Most of the time, once you’ve done that two or three times for about twenty minutes each, you’ll find that you can think of at least one person who would be willing and able to listen, or you’ll at least have a better understanding of your own thought processes.

Not gonna lie, it’s really hard.  The single most difficult thing I have every done was force myself to get up off the couch and make the Black Dog stay behind – and I’ve had multiple natural childbirths.  As I pointed out at the beginning, the very nature of clinical depression is that it is self-perpetuating.  It can come up with thousands of excuses to justify itself, but in the end, they are only just excuses.  The good news is, if you can just break out once, get a little exercise in once, let yourself be cuddled and snuggled, the next time is going to be just a little easier.  It’s still not going to be a cakewalk, but it won’t be as hard as the first time.

And if you still can’t get the dog smell off, fix your nose.  By that, I mean talk to your doctor about medication.  A lot of times, you’ll only need meds for a short period of time so that you can adjust your perspective while you learn better coping mechanisms.  No one on the planet is suffering from a “Prozac deficiency”.

Finally, please remember:  you’re not less of a man/woman/winner by asking for help, you’re more of a human.

gis-surveyHere’s the sad truth about any systemic discrimination:  it’s systemic.  That means that it’s embedded on a cultural level to such a degree that you cannot escape from it, your attitudes are shaped by it, and you are complicit in it unless you are completely aware of yourself and your surroundings.  It’s a tall order, yes, but it’s the vital understanding that will take it down.

I’m going to share a conversation I had on Facebook recently.  It got a little heated, but I think it’s important to see the full scope.  (Warning, it’s a little long.)

It started with this article about how the UN sent a team of investigators to find out how bad American women had it.  They found out that we’ve got it pretty fuckin’ bad.  And then every single male who read that article turned around and said that we, the women, were being too sensitive and that it wasn’t that bad.

I’m completely not kidding.  (Names are redacted, initials remain.  First letter is the gender of the respondent.)

MMC: Completely selective. First of all I’m sure that there are plenty of countries around the world that treat women like absolute shit that will never get mentioned in an article like this because it doesn’t fit the agenda. Secondly, there are millions of men in this country that will stomp a mud hole in someone’s ass for disrespecting women, mistreating them, assaulting them… I believe the assholes are outnumbered. I won’t say that women are treated 100% equally in all areas, but I certainly don’t think women are treated poorly in this country either.

FAW: I wish I could agree with you…  But as far as developed nations go we rank incredibly low. It’s not selective either…  Here in Washington a law was just voted into effect that allows guns to be temporarily removed from people convicted of domestic assault, the severely mentally ill, and it still doesn’t cover everything that ought to be. But it’s a step forward…  In my time in Texas alone I can tell you from experience that women are treated like second class citizens especially when it comes to reproductive rights.  I cannot think of a single woman I know, that hasn’t been assaulted sexually or molested in some way. Most of those assaults go unreported because of fear of personal attack, fear of loss of reputation etc. Even when someone steps forward and accuses their rapist the victims entire life is dissected and she doesn’t receive the support she needs.

And as far as women receiving maternity leave? Please tell me out of developed free nations where do we rank for paid time off for having a child? Tell me do I have to go into a restroom to feed my baby? If not do I experience public criticism or ridicule for feeding my child naturally? These are things that most women experience… Daily.  And here in the states? People still feel comfortable writing articles stating that women’s lives were destroyed by the invention of the washing machine.

Ask your wife if she felt she got enough paid time off to spend with your little girl when she was first born. Ask her about her experiences in her daily life and if she feels like she’s got the same exact rights or if she feels that childcare isn’t ridiculously expensive. I know I was incredibly fortunate to have family, my mother, look after my son when I had to go back to work after he was born. I know I couldn’t have afforded childcare at all and I have friends in that situation.  Ask other women and get a more in depth look at how they are treated by society and by their states as a whole. I think it might surprise you.  While I have no doubt at all that you and many others I know would go after anyone who treated a woman badly, that does not mean those men don’t exist. It also doesn’t mean that there aren’t an abundance of them either. It means that your experience is a blinder for what others experience…

It’s kind of like coming up to Washington from Texas. I was shocked at portion sizes here and the quality of the food. I was shocked at the air quality and water quality as well. And I’m so grateful I moved…  While I lived there I had blinders on to other perspectives because I was living in it and it was what I knew and experienced. Once I left and especially now that I’ve been here for a little while my health in general has improved so dramatically and it’s been environmental and social changes that have shocked me the most.  As an example…  When I started talking to people here they had never heard of an ozone alert day… or fracking. Or that tap water can be so contaminated that it can be set on fire. That simply is so foreign here that it doesn’t happen. It shocked people I spoke with to hear that these things were happening in Texas and in other parts of the country.  That’s basically living with blinders because it’s not part of your experience… but it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. They just weren’t aware of it until they received the information about it.

As a woman my experience growing up was vastly different from men. The majority of women I know had similar if not exactly the same experiences I did as well. And the men in their lives were simply unaware of what they dealt with unless they were told or heard about some off experience and asked. I’m simply asking you to ask the women around you about their experiences and see if your perspective is accurate or if you haven’t had that information to form your opinion.

(FAW goes on to cite sources: Victims of Sexual Violence statistics, Domestic Violence and Firearms, Pew Research)

Now, I’m going to jump around a little because this is a BIG conversation, but bear with me.

FDS: MMC, there is a huge difference between your type of treating women with respect and the overarching systemic denial of rights, services, opportunity, equality, and safety that the article refers to. I think every American woman has experienced this type of fundamental prejudice, and for some, it’s so pervasive that they don’t even realize how much is wrong with it.  I do appreciate that you believe the “good men” outnumber the “assholes”, but good men with bad cultural training can still act like assholes – and do, constantly, everyday. Because it’s so normalized, they don’t even realize how much damage it can do. FAW gave some excellent examples, but don’t think for a moment that the article suffers from sample size error or bias. That shit is real, and it’s going to get worse.

MMC: For every guy out there that mistreats a woman (from verbal abuse all the way up to physical) there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, around that person who don’t. I understand that for women who have been victims that it’s a horrible thing and should never happen, but I feel like there isn’t enough credit given to the progress that we have made. There are many ways that we lag behind other countries, education, race relations, the list.could go on. Things are different by region here too, it’s not all bad all over. In general this is the best country to live in for anyone. It’s not perfect, but no place is.

FDS: But that’s not what that article is about. It’s addressing systemic inequality- lack of pay, no equal treatment, no equal opportunity, lack of access to decent care… individuals may speak to their own behavior, but if you know your daughter or sister or wife is never going to be treated with the same dignity and respect as you from the system that they live in, and your excuse to not speak out against it is that YOU think you treat women well, or you think the majority of men treat women well, you are complicit.

MMC:  I don’t believe that. I believe that my wife and daughter can get equal care and treated with dignity. I think this article is over generalizing things based on a few bad experiences.

FDS: I’m so sorry, but I can tell you from not only many years of personal experience but also from observing peers locally and in many states, your observation is not accurate. This is not a generalization and this is not a limited problem. Here’s an example: I applied for a job several years ago as a web developer. At the time, I’d worked hard, studied hard, and had a great resume. I was given the interview because of some internal policy, but the lady conducting it told me that I likely wouldn’t get the job because the department was a “boys’ club” and even if I did, I’d be looking at about $27K a year. Do a math and you’ll realize that that’s just not sufficient for a single mom with two kids. Fast forward maybe three, four months, and I suggest that same OPEN position to a male friend – same experience, same training – and he walks in at $42K.

This isn’t isolated, and this isn’t extreme. It’s called everything EXCEPT gender discrimination so that people don’t say “hey, that’s discrimination!”, but it’s still there. This is the very definition of privilege, Matthew, that you cannot see a problem exists just because it hasn’t happened to you. That’s not a dig or meant to be mean, but it does mean that you have an opportunity to see a bigger picture.

Your daughter and your wife most likely will NOT get equal care as males would throughout their lives, and I promise that being treated with dignity is also a crapshoot.

And then someone said that global warming was more important and us women were just being a bunch of fuckin’ whiners, and I may have called him a penis-waving meatbag because I decided to drop the pretense and treat him with the same respect with which he was treating me, but without the double-talk.  Here’s the other part:

MST: I just read the first half of this article and I get the impression that these three women were intending to have a negative opinion anyway. First of all, American women have come a long way in getting their rights in this country. Yeah, they had to fight tooth and nail to get all of their rights but how many other countries allow their women to join the military and fight along side men on the battlefield? How many countries other than America, Russia, Australia, and Israel allow women be astronauts and go into space, serve in government positions, or be police officers?? I know women get underpaid in some jobs but America has made tremendous strides in letting women do many things. I think these three women had a bias going in.

FDS: … oh my god, read the rest of the comments here. And, okay, we have the right to vote, but good luck having a vagina and not having to work at least twice as hard as your male counterparts to get almost as far. Unless you have a child, in which case you are forced to make the most impossible choice between family and career, and you’re fucked either way because the man that doesn’t live like household chores might shrink his penis is a rare and precious beast (one might even say mythical).  If you, a male, think these ladies are “being biased”, but we, the females, are suggesting that maybe their report didn’t go far enough because we recognize that level of fuckedness all too well, which of us do you think is going to be the actual authority on that problem?

MMC: Rare and precious beast – mythical even? Plenty of men support their wives, marriage is a partnership after all. I cook, I do dishes, I changed diapers until recently when our little lady stopped wearing them. I mow the lawn, I fix broken stuff, feed animals, and I work two jobs. Maybe you can admit that at least part of the gender equality thing is perception.

FDS: It’s fucking not. Your privileged position might make YOU think so, but the fact that you – a guy – are trying to tell me – a gal – that I’m essentially overreacting to being treated like a second class citizen just because YOU don’t actively treat women like crap is the very foundation of the problem.  Again, the vast majority of women are looking at this report and saying, “finally someone notices we’re getting fucked”, and all the men are like, “eh, it’s not that bad, what’s the big deal.” Does THAT at least tell you something?

MMC: It doesn’t tell me anything. I am not priveleged and take exception to you saying it. Just like “white privelege”, my fucking ass. I worked hard to get where I am today and continue working to stay there. I’ve seen women get promoted in favor of me, many times, and I’ve seen plenty of others have the same opportunity to make the same or better money than their male counterparts and absolutely kill it. Are we perfect as a society? No, but don’t act like women are absolutely beaten down and spat upon in every corner of this country because it’s horse shit.

FDS: Wow, you really REALLY do not understand what privilege is, especially if you’re getting bent about it.

So, once again for the people in the back: Privilege is not having to suffer through a hardship because of your race, color, gender, or creed. It is not an affront against you to notice that you have privilege, but it’s also not a guarantee that you will be successful – you just have a much better probability of it.

Let me put it a different way, and maybe you’ll understand. The chances of you getting beaten and raped by someone you rejected romantically are pretty small. Not impossible, but really fucking small. The chances that your daughter or some other woman you know is going to be sexually and/or physically assaulted by someone they reject is pretty fucking high. You’ll be hard pressed to find any women who haven’t been harassed or raped, and even if it was one guy out of ten that they had to deal with, the damage is there. It’s done. It doesn’t go away.

But it gets better, because the chances of getting any kind of justice for that are slim. If YOU are mugged and raped in an alley, let’s say, and you actually come forward and report this to the police, they’re going to be out there beating the pavement looking for this “sicko”. Us? We get run through a fucking wringer of emotional hell after already being violated, and the chances of a conviction are LESS THAN TEN PERCENT IN MOST CASES. But YOU’RE not getting raped, so it’s not really a big deal, right?  THAT is privilege.

MMC: Okay now you’ve pissed me off. I know exactly what privilege is. Just because I’m a white male does not mean that I don’t have to endure hardships like everybody else. Sure I’m probably not ever going to get raped, or have to make hard decisions about a pregnancy, but my life isn’t all sunshine and fucking rainbows. Fuck you for implying that I’m stupid, or that I don’t give a shit that women get abused.

FDS: But that’s exactly what you said, that because you don’t do it, it can’t be as big a deal as we’re making it. Go back and read it for yourself.  Now, in fairness, I don’t believe you’re a bad man, MMC, but your words DID specifically state that you DON’T understand your privilege. Also, you’re not the only person following this conversation.

Discussions like this are meant to nudge feelings and opinions so that we might stand a chance of making the world a better place. It gets heated, it gets uncomfortable, and that’s good. You are never going to convince me that I’m not discriminated against because I deal with it all the time in so many ways and on so many levels – and that experience is echoed by every woman here.

And going back to privilege for just a moment, again, it’s not a dig at you to point out that you have it. Clearly, you’re not comfortable with it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there or that you can in any way divorce yourself from it. You can, however, use it to level the playing field for your wife, your daughter, your friends in small and crucial ways. Our voices are not heard, especially in the political arena. Yours is. Use it responsibly by helping us be heard instead of using it to tell us that our abuses “aren’t that bad”.

FAW: MMC, the problem here is that you literally are trying to say that women don’t have this issue, and we as women are trying to tell you that yes it’s sadly accurate and it seems that you are denying or dismissing what we’ve been through. You sadly cannot actually know what we go through daily because you are male, and your experience in life will be distinctly different from our own. Do we go through what women in several other countries go through? Not to the extent that they have, obviously, but it also doesn’t mean that the way we are treated here in the United States is ok by any means.

I know you aren’t sexist, I know you aren’t a mysoginist, but regardless of if you aren’t a lot of others are. The fact that you don’t see it doesn’t mean you personally are an asshole or that all men are. You know I don’t feel that way and neither do I surround myself with people who are. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist because you don’t experience it or see it. Just as I will never understand the pressures of being male in our society you cannot understand fully what it is to be female either.  That is genetic…  However, what I’m asking is for you to talk to women around you to understand and to see what their experiences have been. I suspect you will find it is more harsh than you expected.

The Breakdown

Here’s why I wanted to share this:  I truly do not believe that MMC is an actively sexist jackhole.  In fact, I believe that he probably treats his wife and kid pretty well and that he works hard to provide for them.  The fact that he noticed that he “got passed over” for promotions by women and other non-status-quo individuals is telling:  He believed on some level that he should have gotten that promotion and, for whatever reason, didn’t.  He didn’t say, “I got passed over by a more qualified candidate” or “She had five years of seniority” or even “I just wasn’t in a good place right then to take a boost”.  He said he got passed over by a chick.

The nature of a systemic discrimination is that we are passively taught from a young age how to treat women, POCs, LGBTQIs, and anyone not Status Quo. The key word is “passively” because, most of the time, you don’t have a father saying, “Now, son, women are generally whiny bitches who don’t know how good they’ve got it, so make sure to shove them out of the way if they’re interfering with your progress.”  (I say “generally” because, you know, probabilities.)

MMC is a great example of this.

What could he do to advocate for women?  Get on the same type of trains they’re on.  Sign petitions, march in protests, call out his friends when they exhibit shitty behavior… is he going to get shit for it?  Yeah, probably, but every time you piss someone off, you shake up their world. If you do it right and you keep the conversation going instead of bowing out at the first sign of distress, you have a chance to make a difference, make an impression.  Sometimes it starts out really, really small and then snowballs, sometimes it’s an epiphany like a lightning bolt.  Sometimes it’s nothing at all.

But there’s no chance ever of that change happening if we remain complacent.  Signing off on men because they’re collectively a clench of assholes is actually not unreasonable (lots of experiences support that conclusion), but that doesn’t advance the cause.  It doesn’t get us anywhere.

Oh, yeah, and climate destabilization…

If we can’t wrap our brains around something like systemic sexism and start that change, we have even less chance of beating climate destabilization and the raping of the planet.  It’s the same privilege that says, “Why’s this so bad? It wasn’t that hot this year,” and there’s catastrophic flooding everywhere and hurricanes and himmicanes and wild fires and tornadoes… just not in YOUR backyard.

It’s all related, boys and girls.  The same sickness that gave us this systemic discrimination of non-Status Quos also gave us climate destabilization and a wide plethora of other social ills.  It’s all connected.  We can’t sit on our laurels and wring our hands about which of these tangled threads to pull.  We have to grab one and start unraveling it, or else it’ll be time to break out the scissors.