Regarding Ferguson: Challenge That Privilege

We pulled into a roadside rest area on our way down to visit my husband’s family. I quickly jumped out of the car, and busied myself with getting rid of any of the garbage we’d already accumulated in the short time we’d been in the car. I exhaled sharply, as the traffic rushed passed us. Prior to stopping, my husband and I had been engaged in a rather intense discussion turned debate about Michael Brown. This sudden decision to pull into this rest stop was a blessing in disguise. If we hadn’t stopped, I’m pretty sure we might have reached full blown argument in about five minutes.

I was angry. Not necessarily at him, though in that moment, I was incredibly frustrated with his stubbornness. I was angry about the things I was reading on Twitter, the articles spanning the internet, the ignorant comments that people were leaving on Facebook statuses of friends, and even on mine. Beyond that, I felt helpless and incredibly awkward. Because, I was so mad about how the events were unraveling, but, and this is a big but, I’m white. Yes, I empathize, and I want to help get the message out, but I’m white. So very white. No matter how much I try, no matter how much I listen, I’ll never, ever fully understand just the full ramifications and impact of an event like Michael Brown. After I hit retweet, I can go back to my life. The same life where I’ll never have to teach my son how to walk down a street so he doesn’t get accosted. I don’t have to worry, and neither do my kids, about being profiled, or being hated for the color of our skin. All I have to do is make sure I raise children that don’t go on to become the ugly side of the internet. Yes, that is a big job, especially in the current climate, but it’s not the same. Not at all.

My privilege was stabbing me in a million different places.

Earlier that day, I’d brought the topic up to my husband in the comfort of our living room as we continued to pack for the trip. He’d said very little at first, a common occurrence when I rant about current events, but I could see the wheels turning in his head. I could see him plotting a defense, and that alone caused me to speak with more conviction, more fervor. I almost didn’t want to stop talking, because I knew that he was going to say something that was going to set me off.

“What’s the point of protesting?” was one of the first things that he uttered.

I explained, trying to keep cool. Trying to remind him that anyone can protest, even a hideous group like Westboro can do so. It’s not about the topic, it’s the very fact that being able to protest is a right. He went on to say that it was premature, all of the protesting, and that the justice system needed to be able to do it’s job.

“You mean the same justice system that allowed the man who molested our daughter to get off without even a slap on his wrist? The same one that blamed me for writing about the vague details of the case? The same one that believed a pathological liar, and decided the fact that he had actually confessed to me meant nothing?”  I challenged, my blood beginning to boil.

His silence was stony. I didn’t have to illustrate further on that subject, because I knew he was just as angry about that as I was and still am.

He didn’t respond to my questions,  “It doesn’t matter. We’d never have something like this happen in Canada.”

I gasped, laughing uncomfortably.  “You aren’t serious?”

“There would be an investigation into this. It might take years, but in the mean time, what’s the point of protesting something that eventually will get figured out?”

“That’s not the point, at all,” I snapped. “Don’t you remember G20 in Toronto? That it took the public becoming outraged in order for them to actually launch an investigation? What about the thousands of aboriginal women that are missing, presumed dead, and no one is actually looking for them, or caring that they are gone? What about-“

He cut me off, “But if a cop shot a person in cold blood, there would be an investigation.”

“You’d think. You don’t believe that corruption exists? That there may be cases where proper justice isn’t served? You don’t think that things get covered up and ignored? Especially when there is no interest from the media or general public?”

“I think you watch too much Scandal.”

I walked away, in tears, determined to distract myself with the rest of the To-Do List I had.

I knew that he couldn’t hear his own privilege oozing out of every pore on his body. I also didn’t blame him for it, either. He had an incredible life and childhood, growing up in a tiny town. One, that is, of course, predominantly white. My high school career was lined with racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and so much more. That’s not even including the abuse I was subjected to at home. We absolutely, the two of us, come from two different walks of life.

As we climbed back in the car later that day, my thoughts were swirling like a whirlpool.

“Can I just say something?”

“Sure,” he nodded, his eyes fixated on the road.

“I don’t want you think think I’m pushing you on this to be an asshole. I’m pushing you on this because I think you are smarter than the things you are saying. I know that it took me a long time to understand the concept of privilege, and it only happened when I had someone challenging my opinions. You’ve done the same for me many times, and I’m so grateful you have.”

“You just have a far more jaded outlook than I do,”

“You are right. I do! Look at my life; I definitely don’t look at things on the bright side. But, this isn’t the first time this has happened.”

“It’s not?”

I shook my head vigorously. “No, it’s not. I don’t know the number off the top of my head, but this week alone there have been multiple incidents involving cops and people of color. Not just men, either.”

“Hmm. Why is it happening?”

“Uncomplicated answer? Racism.”

The silence hung between us for a couple of minutes before I spoke again.

“Just be open to hearing the other side. Privilege isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be when you refuse to acknowledge it, and use it to condemn others who don’t have the same experience as you.” I paused. “Blind faith is a bad thing, no matter what you attach it to.”

* * * * * * * * * *.

Since the events of Ferguson have unfolded, I’ve seen varying degrees of the privilege that my amazing and completely kindhearted husband demonstrated, from many other people. Sometimes it’s blatant, and the person knows that they have it, but don’t care. Sometimes it’s formed in words that scream racism. Sometimes, it’s underhanded and difficult to see.

That’s the thing about having privilege and not understanding how it can warp your perception of the world, or how you can use it to interpret how the world “should” be. It can make you say hurtful things. It can stop you from looking beyond your own perfect white picket fence. It can absolutely make you think that others around you are bitter because they see or live the ugly side of society. It can make you blame victims, and believe that you are justified in doing so.

We all have privilege. Yes, even you.

Challenge yourself to think beyond your own circumstances, to listen to those who have experienced a life you’ll never have. Spread that message, and those stories. Challenge those that are using their privilege as a shield, because one day, they might actually get it.

Just last night, my husband said, ” I was watching the news today at work. Those cops are out of control. What are they even thinking?”

Privilege. Yep, we all have some version of it, but we don’t have to let it guide our opinions, actions or perceptions.

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Image Credit: Flavio Piffer

Because God

The radio played softly in the background, as our car drove across the congested, well traveled highway that would take us home. We’d been down for my husband’s ten year high school reunion, and it doubled up as a nice visit with his family. It’d been a busy but great weekend.

For the early duration of the trip home, my husband and I had been discussing the long list of things we had to get accomplished before his sister’s wedding in three weeks. There was a lull in the conversation when suddenly, a small voice piped up from the backseat.

“Who made the world?”

I whipped my head back to look at my son. “What?”

“Who made the world? Megan says that god did.”

I groaned inwardly, as I raised an eyebrow in the direction of my husband, his expression matched mine. Even though him and I differ in our beliefs, slightly, we agreed that religion wasn’t going to be something that we actively sought out or taught our children.  So far, the plan hasn’t really hit many snags. In all honesty, I was surprised it took this long for the topic to come up. Especially since our public school reads the Lord’s Prayer every morning. Beyond asking what churches are, and a small discussion who god is, we haven’t broached the topic much. There just hasn’t really been a need to.

My mind raced as I tried to figure out how to have this discussion without placing the same religious fervor that atheists are occasionally guilty of themselves.

“Do you remember that show we watched? Cosmos?”

He nodded eagerly.

“The uncomplicated answer is that there was a big explosion, and the earth was created from that.”

“So space created the world?”

“Actually, that’s pretty accurate, love.” For a moment, I paused, ” Why do you ask?”

“Megan told me god created everything, and I told her that’s not true. I told her science did it.”  He seemed proud of himself. Of course, I was, too. Not because he told this girl that science created the world, but that he stood up for himself. Something that he struggles to do every single day.

“Hmm. Some people do believe that god created the world.”

“Can we watch Cosmos again? I want to learn about the earth being built.”

“Yes, of course we can.”

The sun was setting as we continued to weave our way in and out of traffic.  I was bursting with so many words, so many things I wanted to tell him but I stopped myself. My experiences aren’t his experiences, and while I hope as he ages, he’ll learn from the experiences I had growing up in an overzealous religious home, now is absolutely not the time to be sharing them. Beyond that? I don’t want him to feel like we are pressuring him; he deserves to hone his critical thinking skills and come to his own conclusions, even at six years old.

“Mama? Is god real?”

It was as though he was reading my mind and could see that I was bursting to share more with him. How do you answer this without placing a certain amount of expectation on your child to believe as you do? Sure, I would love for him to come to similar conclusions as I have, but I value his need and ability to do that on his own without pressure. I looked at my husband, and immediately had the answer.

“Well, some people believe he is, and that’s okay. Personally? I don’t believe in him at all. But, your dad doesn’t know if god is real or not.  It’s okay to say that you aren’t sure, just like it’s okay to say that you believe he is real, or like me, that you don’t.”

“Do I have to believe he’s real?

“You can believe whatever you want. If you want to believe in god, or any other religion, we will still love and absolutely support you. All your Dad and I want is for your to be a good person and to be kind.”

For a moment, he took his eyes off me and looked out his window.

“I like science. I believe in science. It’s cool.”

“Yeah, science is pretty cool.”

Satisfied with our discussion, we went back to playing with his dinosaurs and his sister’s Frozen dolls.

My husband, as quietly as he could, whispered, “Do you know how much easier that conversation would have been if we said god did it all?”

I chuckled, and said, “Yes, but since when have we ever done anything the easy way?”

thoughtful

Depression Is

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Image Credit: Steven Snodgrass

 

You don’t know depression? I do. I know it well.

Depression is attempting suicide for the first time at fifteen. Forever, you’ll remember the way the sun felt on your skin, a poetic irony,  as you lurched to that overpass. The tears fell hard, continuously, and still no one understood the mania, or the urgency you felt to get to that concrete railing, and just fall.  Make it all go away, you said. Make it all go away, so you could just rest.

Depression is finding yourself locked in a sterile room with a stranger who calls himself a psychiatrist. The same one that your parents called a quack as you waited in the blue hospital gown that only lent to the nakedness you felt. It’s answering questions like, “How often do you feel like this?” or ” Do you have a plan?” or ” Rate your sadness on a scale of 1-10.” It’s crying while those florescent lights shine on you both, humming, only dulling the loud voice in your head that says, “What is wrong with you? You are just a fucking piece of worthless shit.”

It’s being admitted to the hospital, and hearing your own father say over the phone, “We’ll just leave her here. It’ll scare this so called depression out of her. It’s just a phase.”  Two days later, it’s feeling triumphant because you managed to convince everyone you were just fine. Not because you were okay with them thinking you faked it. You just didn’t want to deal with the shame you felt for feeling so ostensibly broken. You didn’t want to be the crazy one, and you believe, maybe, you just aren’t trying hard enough to be happy. You’ll try harder this time.

Depression is prescription pills. Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor, Celexa, Wellbutrin, Ativan, Seroquel, Wellbutrin, Cymbalta, Abilify. They are your saving grace, and weapons of mass destruction.  You are given little tiny pieces of paper filled with words you can’t read, hopefully, the answer to this never ending pain. It’s the same tiny paper you crumple in your hands with disgust at yourself, because you can do this on your own. You are better than the help of pharmaceuticals, you lie. Only the weak need help. Then again, it can be thrusting a prescription in the hand of your husband and begging him to drop everything immediately to fill it for you because you need those pills right now. Your life depends on it.

Depression is having those pills in your room one day, on your nightstand, with a glass of water, then having them confiscated the next, because you tried to overdose. Again. You’ll never trust yourself fully when pills are involved, even as a competent adult. “Why do they trust me with so many of these? Don’t they know the damage I could do?”

It’s seconds, minutes, and hours, earned by sitting in waiting rooms and offices. The psychologist your parents got for you so they could “fix your brain”. The doctors who only occasionally listen,  the ones who don’t care at all. Therapists that you cling to for life. Psychiatrists that say little, only allowing the sound of scribbled notes to fill the space between, before they announce big words. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Post Traumatic Disorder. Bipolar Disorder. It’s racing home to Google those words because you don’t understand them, yet you do. Finally, your companions have actual names. Even if you hate them for existing and demanding to be named.

Depression is being told to talk about all of this, but, shh, don’t talk too loudly. It’s having all the fucking words, but having none at all.  It’s being forced to beg for help, and feeling like a speck of dust for even daring to say the words, “I think I’m depressed.” Because, how dare you not be able to get it together? How dare you waste the Not Depressed Peoples time?

It’s shame, so much fucking shame.

Sometimes, it’s staring at your phone, wondering who you could reach out to, because you know your escape route is fading into the smoke of another major depressive state. When you do dial that number, or write those texts, you hope that the person on the other end can hear everything you aren’t saying. Can they hear the plan you’ve made? Will they see past the deflated, “I’m fine”? Please, let them hear how close you are to that proverbial edge, just a nudge away from jumping. If they don’t hear it, for a brief second, although defeated, you are weirdly proud that you’ve managed to convince another person that you are just fine. You are doing a good job of blending in, just like everyone wants you to.

Depression is the curator of the most complicated lies. But, it has help, sometimes from people in your life. They say things like, “Suicide is selfish and if you do it, your soul will be damned to hell because God hates people who murder themselves” or “Some people just like being sad all the time.” Some will tell you that all the solutions to depression lie a certain religious text, in attending more religious meetings, in just having “faith”. As if those who have religion in their life are exempt from depression. Some will tell you stories about people they supposedly knew that got over it, inferring that you should be able to follow suit. They tell themselves this stuff to be helpful, I think. Because they think they know better, because they have never really been visited by depression. Because it makes them feel better about the whole foreign (to them) idea of depression.

When you do remove your mask, in a moment of trust or perhaps angry frustration, they look at you with disbelief, a hint of smugness. “There’s no way you suffer from depression. What do you have to be sad about?” they demand.  Indignantly, you offer your scars, because apparently, in order to have this disease, you need proof that you fucking earned it. Even then, some of these people still scoff at you, and diminish the reality of your depression, because they just. don’t. get. it.

Depression isn’t a symptom or a result, though it can be. It’s a back alley predator who doesn’t care who the hell you are, where you’ve been or what you could do with your life. It wants to lock you in a room, bind you to a chair and snarl the ugliest insults, staring you straight in the eyes, daring you to fight back. Depression loves making you feel powerless, and useless, unworthy and debilitated. It’s a salesman for death and self-loathing, hocking it’s goods even when you’ve said, “No, I’m not interested.” You really, just aren’t fucking interested at all.  Yet, it always comes back, relentlessly, callously, proudly showcasing the products it’s manufactured just for you. All it wants is for you to buy that product, just once, because that means you’ll be a customer for life, even in death.

Ultimately, that’s all depression wants: Your life.

You should know, for all the things depression is, it is not capable of mercy, compassion,  most especially humanity.

But you are. We all are. Don’t let depression win. Don’t let it take those of us who suffer as gracefully as we can. We do want live, to love. I know you want that for us, even if you don’t understand where we are. We’re well versed in the lies that depression tells us, but sometimes, we just can’t help it. It’s not our fault. It’s really just not our fucking fault.

It’s depression.

 

If you are in crisis and need immediate help, please call 911. 

If you are Canadian, please use these resources via Partners for Mental Health for yourself or someone you love who needs assistance.

In the United States, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

 

Something

The question slammed into the front of my mind as we all sat and chatted. When there was a break in the conversation, a lull of sorts, I asked the two adoptees sitting in front of me,

“What would you do in my situation?” I paused for a second, reframing the question,

“What would you want me to do if I was your birthmother?”

* * * * * * * * * *

The meeting took place in the corner of the hosts quiet wrap around deck, out in the country, far enough away from the noise of the city. The summer breeze rustled through our hair, and gave a reprieve from the stale humidity that we’d been facing in this area over the last week. There we were, two adoptees, three birthmothers, gathered together to talk about the one thing that connected us: adoption.

Each of us shared our stories, tears escaping our eyes, frustration lining our faces as we spoke of the obstacles we’d each come upon: adoptive parents who weren’t supportive of the search, parents who didn’t ask enough questions, lies we were told in the hospital, birth parents who refused contact, hope or the lack of, open adoption, and the greatest barrier of all: time we’d never get back.

All similar, all different.

As I shared my story, I remembered the last time I’d done it like this.

In the air-conditioned room of the local LDSFS agency, surrounded by prospective adoptive parents, all of whom were hanging on my every word, like I was the gatekeeper to finding a baby. That was the last time I’d worked with LDSFS, months before the fantasy world I’d created about my adoption nothingcame crashing down.

I wasn’t met with eager questions like I was in that room. The eyes on me now were filled with compassion, and an ugly understanding of all the words I was speaking. They didn’t want anything from me, and they didn’t look at me like I was a mythical creature. I was just another version of themselves, or of the woman they knew in their own stories.

Carefully, I shared my own story. When I was done, gently, one of the adoptees, commented that when I had shared how I was dealing with the current state of my adoption, she had felt as though it was punch in the gut. As she expressed that she felt like my rejection of any letters or pictures from my son’s adoptive parents would calculate in the mind of my son as a rejection from me, I felt a similar gut punch.

He’ll feel I’m rejecting him because I rejected them. Punch. He’ll fear more rejection. Punch. My rejection of the adoptive parents could be twisted into me not wanting to really know him. Punch.

Feeling a little defensive, I dug into my own wound, and made it a little more gaping so I could explain my actions, maybe helping them to see it wasn’t that simple.

It’s not as easy as allowing them to send pictures. Not after they told me that my voice and opinions in how to handle this adoption didn’t matter. Not after they screamed through emails that this was all in my son’s hands, but contradicted that position by telling me that they would do things on their terms, because they are his parents. Not after they threatened me with the thing I fear most: that he’ll never want to know me.

“It’s about control, power, and insecurity, at this point…I think,” I explained.  “There is no air of regret for any of their actions, and they simply refuse to admit that they could have possibly hurt me. An apology from them to me seems to be like I’m asking them to cut off their limbs.”

I’ve felt justified by my actions for a variety of reasons. I’m hurt, obviously. They are hurt, too. We’re all hurt. But as I finished this sentence, I felt some air remove itself from my lungs. I sounded petty, and insolent. I felt silly.

Instead of focusing on him, we’re focusing on the bullshit between the three of us. We’re all licking our wounds, and compiling lists of the way we’ve been hurt. We’re both, myself included, not even really listening to each other anymore. We are both stamping our feet, throwing a petulant tantrum, demanding that we get our way, instead of realizing just how selfish we’re all being.

I did myself a favor; I heard my own selfishness. I am too angry about the things they refuse to acknowledge they’ve done, that I’ve lost sight of what this adoption is supposed to be about; Him. My son. Our son.  I am, even if I don’t mean to, even if I say it’s to protect myself, rejecting him indirectly. They are without meaning to (I assume) alienating his biological family from his life.

The toxicity between his parents and I have nothing to do with him. We’re the grown ups. We should be better than this, bigger than it all.

And yet.

The conversation veered into other territory, and I silently sighed, relieved, grateful that I could just listen now.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Their message was exactly the same, even if it was delivered differently. Something is better than nothing. Nothing meant rejection, even if it didn’t really mean rejection. Something, even the smallest something, would have meant the world to them as children, even as adults.

He and I, together, we both have nothing right now, but something, I was told, would mean the world to him.

And that alone, would mean everything to me.

BlogHer ’14: Path to Change Agent – In Tweets

When I was choosing between the available paths on Pathfinder Day at BlogHer 2014, I debated between Change Agent and Published Author. I chose, in the end, Change Agent because I felt like my voice is sort of unfocused when it comes to the issues I want to bring awareness to. I wanted to figure how others had used their blogs and social media as platforms to ignite change. I wanted to see if it was something I could do, even when all I have to offer is my story.

The day was run (brilliantly) by Dannielle Owen-Reid from Everyone is Gay, and Rae Lewis-Thorton from Diva Living With Aids. Before they told us their stories, they wanted us to share a snippet of ours, and within moments, I was humbled by the incredible women that sat in the room with me.

 

 

Rae spoke vividly about hiding in the shadows when she was diagnosed with HIV:

 

This was what  told me I’d made the right choice in this session, because #truth.

 

And then we spoke about making money through our advocacy (forgive spelling errors):

 

But, Dannielle points out that not every demographic responds to ads;

 

After a lengthy discussion on monetization, the panelists dropped the mic with these important tidbits that I think many bloggers should think about:

 

Then we discussed how to get our message out there:

 

MochaMomma would later drive this point home during the closing keynote panel, in a different way:

 

Stop, collaborate (with other bloggers) and (get people to) listen:

 

Rae couldn’t stress how important it was for us to be genuine in our advocacy:

 

During the question period, I asked about how they have both dealt with negative comments, trolls, how they’ve let it go, and what wisdom they could impart on us, because sharing our stories is so incredibly personal and sometimes sacred.

 

But then, Rae took the negativity issue to a profoundly new level:

 

The lovely Grace Sandra asked how to respond to those in your real life who expect you to constantly be miserable because you talk about hard stuff:

 

In the afternoon session, we were given 30 minutes to write our stories in a journal. Then we were asked to answer a series of questions related to our stories (if anyone can get their hands on an agenda for this day, I’d love to add these questions). The only one I tweeted about was why my story, personally, is important.

 

 

In an act of respect, we were asked to limit what we shared on social media during this point of the session. Everyone wanted to create an environment that was safe for those of us who chose to share:

 

We spoke of ways to network our advocacy, and how to use social media for the greater good:

 

I’d gone into the session believing that each aspect of my experience has separate and therefore I had to just focus on one piece of it in order to be a proper advocate. This piece of advice hit me straight in the heart, and I feel it accurately sums up the whole point of Path to Change Agent:

 

 

A huge shoutout had to go to Rae and Dannielle. They prepared this panel incredibly well and in the end, I think everyone who attended benefited greatly from their experience and wisdom.

 

Did you attend the Path to Change Agent at BlogHer 2014? Share your tweets in the comments so I can link them in this post, or post the link where you recapped the session. Sharing is caring! I think everyone, even those who aren’t on the path to making change could benefit from the profound wisdom that was shared by both the panelists and those in attendance.