let’s talk about damaging books

Like all thirteen-year-olds, I loved Twilight. I thought Bella and Edward were the be-all-end-all of love stories. I read those books ferociously and argued with anyone who tried to tell me they weren’t the next great American series.

Then I got older.

Aside from the fact that the books are written so poorly a monkey could’ve made them, they’re hurtful to the young girls who read them. And I’m not being sexist (marched for women’s rights and everything in January), it’s just statistics. Young girls picked up those books faster than a new LipSmackers lip gloss. Overwhelmingly, these were young girls going through a difficult and confusing time in their lives, looking for something to escape into and idealize. I know several people who, as they’ve grown, have realized just how much these books messed them up.

The character of Bella. She’s blank. I’ve heard it often said that the reason so many girls loved her character was because she didn’t have one. She was this amorphous blob that any young girl could put her own personality onto Bella and feel understood. Here’s why that’s a problem: you start to think you’re her.

As a twelve-year-old, I was feeling weird and shy, generally of the “look at me and I’ll spontaneously explode” variety. I didn’t think I was particularly pretty or funny, although I had some moments, and I loved to read. I had brown hair, brown eyes, pale skin, you know the drill. Bella not only looked like my physically, but she acted like me. Nervous, uncomfortable with attention, she’s every preteen girl. Not only that, but everyone wants to date her and be her friend. She comes to a new school and in a matter of days has three boys falling over her, and that’s not including Edward or JACOB.

I’m sure Stephanie Meyer didn’t mean for this to happen, but she included Bella’s weight in her description.

The problem here is that when you’re specifically writing to younger girls, you have to be careful what you include. For instance, that horrific mess of a book, Beautiful Disaster, shows a textbook abusive relationship as something to yearn for. Although Meyers does the same thing, she also creates damaging beauty expectations for girls.

For instance, I and at least one other person I know started dieting to reach the weight of 110 pounds—Bella’s weight. Because if we could look like her, people would want to be our friends, too…right? Boys would want to date us, we’d be popular and universally liked. As a preteen, that feels like the most important thing; being accepted. At a time when your limbs feel like rubber and your face looks like an angry over-heated bagel, someone giving the perception that a certain character with very specific body measurements sticks in your head. I would have made myself grow to five foot four, if it were possible. Alas, I’d have to stick with not eating to get the goal Bella weight.

Now, let’s get into that abusive relationship.

It’s played off like he’s just protecting her, and of course he has to! How is she supposed to deal with rogue vampires and werewolves? It calls for extreme measures.

Like removing parts from her car so she can’t see her friend. Or WATCHING HER SLEEP by breaking into her home for months before they’ve even had a real conversation. It’s downright disturbing. It’s the stuff you see in thriller films, where the love interest is secretly a freaking psycho.

But, young me thought this was the epitome of love. That was what I was searching for in everyday life. The impression those books and characters made on me was so strong, it was actually damaging to my development. I was withdrawn and moody because that was how Bella was, and apparently people liked that. I was starving myself to get to what I thought was the perfect weight. I was completely changing my personality to fit what I thought people wanted, getting my cues from Twilight.

I think authors often forget the affect literature can have on the audience, especially the unintended audience. But, at the same time, I’m really not sure how they’re supposed to consider that. At what point does it become censorship, or a limitation of freedom of the press? Where is the line between protecting kids and smothering them? How are they supposed to account for a very young girl taking too much out of a book? And does the blame lay entirely with the author, who simply wrote a story, or does it lay with the culture in general? I’m inclined to lean towards the latter.

self-care for those who suck at it

Having lived with severe depression for about eight years, I can tell you a lot of things about the disease. It’s debilitating, it’s hopeless, yada yada yada. Chances are, you already know what depression makes you feel and do. Or, more accurately, what it doesn’t let you do. There have been times when I’ve gone days without showering, simply because the effort of getting up and standing for ten minutes seemed overwhelming.

I also have a very good friend who frequently has depressive episodes that keep her from eating properly, taking care of herself, and doing well in school. It is from my own experience I am sharing some tips about how to help a friend with depression, or help yourself. Depression makes you feel inhuman, and self-care can actually help to put you in a better mind frame. It won’t fix anything, but it will remind you that you are a living, breathing human who deserves some care.

This stuff seems stupidly simple to people who aren’t going through a mental illness, but it’s often the difference for me between a three-day episode and a two-week one.

  1. Shower

I cannot emphasize enough how much better I feel once I’ve showered. As I’ve already said, my episodes usually leave me without energy to feed myself, much less take care of my body. This is not something I can manage in the middle of an episode, though. It’s something I do towards the end to help pull me out of it. It’s very symbolic, washing away the past, starting new. You also just forget how nice it is to feel like a human being, with clean hair, shaved legs, and the scent of body wash on your skin.

With showering comes a lot of other self-care things, such as moisturizing your skin, maybe using a face mask. I’ve recently started using the L’Oreal Pure Clay masks, and they make me feel like I’m washing away all the shit from my episode. It’s just helpful to me to have a physical representation of my mental state.

Whenever my friend (let’s call her Allison) tells me she’s trying to yank herself out of an episode, I remind her to just go and take a shower. If it doesn’t help her actually feel better, it at least helps her present a solid face to the outside world. It’s bad enough your head doesn’t feel like it works, you don’t need the rest of the world to be asking you questions constantly about it.

  1. Environment

One of the other things I make sure to do when I’m towards the end of an episode and looking to shorten it as much as I can is fix up my environment. As unpleasant as this sounds, my room always ends up with a very stale smell after an episode, mostly because I keep my door and windows closed and rarely leave my room (also, the not-showering thing. So gross). A really easy thing I do for this problem is light some candles. If I can, I open the blinds to let some natural light in. Depression makes you feel like there’s no point to anything, but if you can manage to go through some of the motions, it’s almost like you trick your brain into following suit. Right now, my favorite candle is an older Bath & Bodyworks one from the fall (it’s not in season so it was on SALE. It’s the little things that get you excited). It smells glorious while not being too overwhelming, perfect for fake-airing out my room when windows seem like too much.

If I have any energy towards the end, I pick myself up and just clean up my room a little. It helps focus my brain when nothing else will. In case you don’t know, depression often puts a kind of filter over everything. It’s like when you’re tired and you can’t seem to think straight, except it’s all the time. When I’ve gotten some energy, I just try putting my clothes away, or taking dishes to the kitchen and cleaning them. I’ll throw some pictures of friends on the wall to make my room seem less like that of a mental patient in an asylum. You know, the normal things.

  1. Do something you enjoy in little pieces

For instance, I pick up one of my favorite books and just read a few pages. Reading has always been something of an escape for me, as well as for thousands of other people. There’s something so comforting about being between the pages of Harry Potter, where I know everything will work out in the end. Another favorite is The Night Circus, which I’ve definitely noticed before.

If I’m lucky, I’ll get completely absorbed in the story and be able to almost take myself out of my depression, even from fifteen minutes. It doesn’t last very long, but it’s a welcome relief from the nothingness.

Books have always been able to excite some kind of passion in me, whether it’s the nostalgia of Potter or the newness of other fantasy books.

It goes without saying that these things don’t work for me every time. Depression specifically makes you lose interest in the things you love, or things that normally make you feel better. And, I’ve noticed that the above really only work for me at the tail end of an episode. At the heart of it, depression knocks me on my ass and even reaching for a book is completely impossible.

That said, I try to do anything possible to make sure the episode doesn’t last too long. Luckily, my medication has been able to lessen the severity and length of episodes, but I still need a little help. That’s where this list comes in. It’s just some stuff that reminds me I’m a living person who, often, is able to enjoy things.

Portugal.

The sun is out with a brisk wind and I keep thinking of Portugal. I was there for all of two days while I was abroad and each day was full of sunlight and warmth. It was an amazing feeling. I was travelling from England and I had a few extra days without class Flights to Faro were €9.99. Being something of an opportunist, there was no way I was going to pass that up. I’m so happy I took that trip.

First of all, Faro is not a tourist city. Everyone and everything is local, and no one is trying to cheat you. The city itself isn’t crowded or congested, but there are people going about their everyday lives.

It isn’t on the sea, but there’s a small marina so that you can smell the freshness in the air. It smells like heaven. The sun beats down on you and it feels like summer. It was 65 degrees when I went there, and I soaked it all up. I sat by an old church in the sunlight and wrote in my travel journal.

Faro is so peaceful. There are cars and buses and whatnot, but when you walk even a little further away the place goes silent. All you hear are the birds and rustling winds in the trees. There are mini parks all over, so it’s not hard to feel like you’re not in a city at all. There’s even a park with peacocks roaming around it, as though they were just meant to sit with humans.

The shops aren’t spectacular, but that just adds a little something to the city. Instead of searching for souvenirs, you look around. I don’t want to sound like one of those hippies who doesn’t think we should have cell phones, but it is very relaxing to almost forget that world exists.

I spent a lot of time laying on a bench like a homeless person (or a whale) feeling the sun on my face. Coming from England, I hadn’t gotten a lot of sun for a few months. I appreciated every day that fell on me.

I didn’t have time to do any of the site-seeing—I was there for only one full day. But my hostel had beautiful reed blinds and light coming from all directions. I didn’t get to see the famous Bone Chapel, but I got to explore a new city. My feet were on brand new ground. Everything was beautiful. I miss it. If I could go back to any of the wonderful countries I saw, I’d go back to Portugal.

when I am silent…

Prompt: When I am silent I have thunder inside…

When I am silent it means you are not worth my time. You are not worth articulating my thoughts in a coherent phrase so that you can follow my thought process. Some would say this equals arrogance. I say it equals a screening process.

I offer my opinion when you say something interesting…or incorrect. I can’t help it, I want to put you in the right. It is in my nature to tell you when you’re wrong, and to help you correct it. Because I know what you’re saying, but chances are no one else does. Your clarity is important to me, so I will help you at any cost—especially if you’re nice to me.

I understand. I’m not an easy person to get along with. I know this about myself, and I’m constantly working on it. I know my own failings, and I’m mad about them, too.

But I ask you to look to the light. Look at my good characteristics rather than what I’m lacking. Because it’s so much. But isn’t that so human? I am human. I am living and I am breathing and I am struggling. I’m doing my best. I’m sorry if that doesn’t translate.

the difference.

There’s such a difference between happiness and fulfillment.

What is it? It’s a feeling. Happiness, I think, is very in the moment. Someone has made you feel wonderful and you smile all day. You’re spending time with friends and enjoying their company. A good grade on a test validates all your work for a couple of hours.

Fulfillment is something so much larger. It is the feeling when you go to sleep every night, or when someone asks you about your career/family/etc. and you feel completely satisfied. Fulfillment is your entire life. It isn’t a snapshot like happiness is, it isn’t brief. Fulfillment is found with so much more difficulty and so much more work. It can take decades, half a century, even.

Happiness is fleeting. It will go away at the first bad thing that happens. Fulfillment stays with you though, once you’ve found it. It’s more difficult to obtain, but it’s also more reliable. Feeling fulfilled can bring you happiness, but I don’t think the other way around works.

Fulfillment is a mind state. Happiness is temporary.

listening in.

I’m four glasses of wine in. I don’t really have anything to say today. Except that life is very hard. I’m listening to my roommate get broken up with in the room next to mine, and all I can think of is when I got broken up with over six months ago. And it felt like shit. I’m listening to Jimi Hendrix to drown out the sound of her crying and the sound of him pleading with her to understand. And everything is terrible right now. “All Along the Watchtower” is now etched in my head as a song of tragedy.

The playlist has moved on to Metallica now, and I had to use Word’s spellcheck function to spell the band’s name correctly. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were tons of typos in this. I’m doing the best I can. I’m currently listening to Hazel Hayes’ playlist “In Case of Emergency” playlist on Spotify. The company I’m interviewing for in less than a week creates the database that gives Spotify its information. All I can hear is anger and sadness. I want to hear anything but that, and yet I listen to Metallica. Rather counterproductive, if you ask me. Not that my opinion matters, since I’m the one listening to it.

I just don’t know why people go into things knowing they’ll hurt other people.

Here’s a picture of study abroad to lighten the mood. See if you can guess which one I am:

Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, indoor

 

on people continuing to feel like crap despite being awesome

Here I am at 5:12am drinking obscene amounts of water after a lot of drinking a lot of not-water on a Thursday. There may have been curly fries involved, as well. And I may have sounded just a little like I was dying from how purely delicious they were. No regrets (but actually so many, ow, my stomach).

I’m thinking about the fact that after writing an entire rant on job search difficulties, I’ve managed to set up two phone interviews for next week. It’s like the universe decided to throw me a bone or something. I have since then clutched the bone in my teeth like someone suffering from lockjaw and will be carrying it everywhere in order to maintain some semblance of hope.

Now to the thing I’m actually thinking about: my best friend heard from her first graduate school (she applied to two) and she’d been accepted to her program! Yay! Hence drinking, celebrating, revelry, etc. You’d think that was the tone of the evening, but you would be quite wrong. We spent the night first drinking at her house and commiserating, then at the bar and doing pretty mych the same thing. Partially because we both have moderate to severe depression we both find it a little difficult to “look on the bright side”.

But also partly because she wasn’t excited at all to have gotten her first acceptance. She had just received actual proof that her plans were going to work out, regardless of whether she got into the school she really wants to go to.

At first, I was a little shocked. A definite future? That sounds better than sliced bread to me right now. She could start planning! So I demanded to know why she was being so blase about this. And she told me it was because she didn’t know if she wanted to do the program she’d applied for. She didn’t even know if she wanted to go to grad school at all. She’d just been operating under the assumption that it was her only choice after college for someone in her major.

This made me start thinking. This smart, beautiful, capable girl was sitting in front of me not even acknowledging that fact that she gotten into grad school. She’d moved straight past that accomplishment to something of an existential crisis. I started to feel so pissed at the world that had trained her not to brag about the wins in her life, or feel proud of them. Regardless of whether she decides to go to that school or participate in that particular program, she has been recognized by a rather trusted source for all the work she’s put into undergrad. They’ve looked through her resume, her transcript, her personal statement and said “good job! We’d like to hitch our wagon to yours!”.

So I have something of a list (told you we’d end up with listicles) to remind people that when they succeed at something, they get to feel fucking proud for at least one week before freaking out about everything else.

1) An outside source has validated you.

Congratu-freaking-lations! I know we’re all supposed to derive comfort in our lives from ourselves, self-fulfillment, blah blah blah but it is an amazing feeling when someone else acknowledges you for what you’ve done. My friend has dedicated four years to her major—that’s countless hours of studying, stress, and a lot of money to something she loves—while dealing with a mental illness that basically tells you not to care about anything. She hurtled over that obstacle and was so successful in doing so that she has been accepted by yet another university to do that x10. It’s always nice to have someone notice all the work you’ve put in and reward it. On a related topic—

2) All your work and time and effort has been towards something.

Even if you’re no longer sure that grad school, or a PhD program, or a career path is right for you, please allow yourself to realize that everything you did paid off. Just because you might not take that road does not mean that all the time you spent building it has been worthless.

Those sleepless nights and freezing mornings walking to classes paid off. Your goal might have changed, but dammit, you reached it! I call that a win, especially when your brain has been telling you your hard work is pointless because we all die eventually (apologies for the downer…but also it’s true…).

3) You goddamn did it

John Mulaney has this great comedy special on Netflix where he basically thanks the audience for “doing something”. It is so, so, so much easier to just not do anything. To not do that extra credit, or to not help that professor with research. I think deep down my friend somehow thinks she’s lazy because she likes to nap. Maybe that’s your definition of lazy. If so, throw me down as lazy because dear baby Jesus sometimes the only thing keeping me going is that I get to take a freaking nap later.

But while napping and enjoying yourself (occasionally) you’ve also done something incredible, too! You did a thing! Things are hard, but you did them anyway! Not to mention that very story-specific fact that she had to take the GRE and fill out boring, long applications. It would’ve been so much simpler to just not do those things, but she took the actions she needed for what she wanted. Perhaps what you wanted changed—which, especially at this point of your life, is just fine—you know from experience now that you’re capable of taking the new steps for your new goal. You’ve done it before, you can do it again. Maybe even better.

I’m just really sick of people not feeling like they’ve done anything special just because the world expected them to do it. Graduate school may be the norm for her major, or her career field, but it is not a given. Not everyone has the opportunity to go, or the ability. You’ve done a thing, and that’s awesome. Acknowledge it and be proud. It’s not vain, it’s justified satisfaction.Feel good about it.