naamah_darling: Spotted hyena teeth. (Teeth)
I'm climbing out from under the rock of another depressive episode. I currently have about a dozen things on my plate, things I have to do, major things, not minor things. Projects. Ponies, book edits, covers, formatting for print. Things that will take days each. And that's on top of stuff like keeping my bathroom from looking like the guest toilet in R'lyeh and not burying myself under disposable dinnerware in my bedroom. It's a neverending cycle, and no matter how I fight, I can't keep up.

"Annnd it's still there. Lovely."
"Untitled" by Olivier Ortelpa on Flickr.

That's one of the worst things about depression -- or, I suppose, any other debilitating condition -- you're not just dealing with your own cycle of broken or not broken, you're dealing with the everyday outside world, too, and its rhythms, imposed on you with no regard for your level of ability to cope with it. It keeps running. It leaves you to catch up.

And that weight of catching up, the mountain that builds up and you suddenly have to climb, is a thing that can easily drag you back down. I'm doing well right now, I think. But the morass of stuff I have to do keeps piling up, higher and higher, faster than my ability to deal with it, even when I'm functional.
I need to take steps to address that, and I'm working as hard as I can at it -- and being humiliated by the fact that sometimes that is not very hard -- but the simple truth is that even though I'm doing better lately, I'm overloaded. Things are good now, but I know that they will get bad again, and I truly don't think I'll have enough time to clear this workload and deal with incoming work before that happens. I will have to do damage control and muddle along as best I can and pray that the people around me, including the people on whom my continued survival depends, are understanding.

Our concept of disability doesn't really take these cycles into account. Just because a sick person can do things sometimes doesn't mean that it's all fine and dandy during those times. Those are often busy, difficult times, when we try to both clear the backlog of shit that needs to get done, and make some progress moving forward. They are times of normal functioning but not normal workload, and very few of us are equipped with support systems that clear all that work away for us so we can move forward, unimpeded.

That's why things like laundry, or vacuuming, or lawn maintenance can pile up for me. And by the time I get to it, it's a much bigger task than it would have been if I'd just been able to take care of it at the outset. The nature of many mental illnesses and other disabilities is that they can not only screw your ability to buckle down and get things done, they can screw up your ability to do just a little here and a little there. One of the signs that I'm doing better is that I'm cleaning up in five-minute spurts a few times a day. That's an improvement. I'm now stuck with all the work of cleaning up after myself, clearing away the mess left over from all the days I couldn't do anything. I stop, when I am depressed or ill, but the world goes on around me. And it's the same for others who have to deal with this shit.

Another frustrating side effect for me is feeling guilty for doing anything fun, anything for myself. Anything that is not productive. Even at my very best, I feel like I don't do enough. Now, I know that's bullshit, that the idea that I have to earn my place is bullshit, but it's an intellectual knowing, not a knowing-in-my-heart knowing. And I know that not being able to work consistently hurts me. It worsens my circumstances. It makes life harder. It makes my odds poorer. And because that scares me, doing things for myself gives me anxiety. Because mostly, all I have the energy to do is low-impact stuff. Stuff that makes me happy when I'm feeling well, but when I'm not, just provides background noise to cancel out the constant depressive roar. So I look like I'm doing bullshit and fucking off, when . . . really . . . that's all I can do. So when I could choose to do something else and I choose to do what makes me feel good instead (because it's finally actually making me feel good instead of just whiling away the time), I feel terrible.

I do my best to navigate the web of obligation, guilt, and survival, but it's hard. I'm having more good days than bad lately, but even on the best of days it's a lot of work. I'm not miserable today, but I have a hell of a stone to roll uphill, and it sucks that it's never going away.

I want to be able to wrap this up in a pretty bow. I want to give an answer, or say something supportive.

All I can say is that for everyone like me, you aren't alone, this is a normal part of the cycle. And to everyone else, this is what we have to deal with, so please try to understand where we're coming from.
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Default)
So this video came across my Tumblr dash, and it triggered a rant.
Basically, the gist is this: a researcher fed volunteers milkshakes. One group got milkshakes that were labeled as low-calorie. The other group got milkshakes labeled as high-calorie. The group given the “high-calorie” milkshakes felt less hungry afterward.

This is an interesting example of the placebo effect, for sure. However, it is now being bandied about as “You can change your metabolism with your miiind!” And, predictably, people are discussing it almost solely in the context of weight-loss dieting. As if it offers hope.

Because I’d like it preserved for posterity, here’s what I said on Tumblr (with a few minor edits):

The fact that this works for one feeding with a single milkshake means nothing. It’s basically a trick to fool your body into feeling fuller, temporarily, but it says nothing about how your body treats hunger over the long term.

See, there are three kinds of hunger.

There’s mechanical hunger, which is your stomach being empty and growling. It says “PUT FOOD IN YOUR STOMACH.”

There’s mouth hunger or aesthetic hunger, which is your need to eat food that satisfies you psychologically. Comfort food, the native foods of your culture, foods whose tastes and textures satisfy you innately. It says “PUT YUMMY THINGS IN YOUR MOUTH!”

And there’s chemical hunger. Chemical hunger is craving … something. That feeling you get when you don’t eat enough fruit for a while, and suddenly you crave citrus. The feeling you get when you are bleeding from your vagina for the tenth day in a row, and would literally murder old ladies for a steak and/or a bucket of bone marrow. The feeling you get when, for no reason you can name, you crave something like almonds or anchovies or really dark chocolate. At its most immediate, it’s the low-blood-sugar shakes and dizziness. At its most insidious, it’s the thing that leads you to eat and eat until you are satisfied. It says “MEET YOUR NUTRITIONAL REQUIREMENTS BECAUSE YOUR CELLS ARE STARVING, YOU NUMBSKULL.”

Reduced ghrelin may not have much effect on mouth hunger, and it absolutely isn’t going to affect chemical hunger. It will affect mechanical hunger, but only for a short time.

As someone who, out of a hateful illness, starved herself for years like nobody else could do it right, I probably know more about actual hunger than most people ever, ever will. I can tell you all kinds of things about it. Things you probably don’t want to know, honestly.

I can tell you right now that I tried all the tricks.

I tried using smaller plates.

I tried drinking loads of water before each meal.

I tried chewing slowly. (SOOOO SLOWLY.)

I tried filling up on really bulky, low-calorie foods.

I tried really small, frequent meals.

I mean, if there was a trick, I tried it. If I’d known about this, I’d have tried this too.

And none of the tricks worked. I was still hungry pretty much every few hours, and the less I ate, the less time it took for me to get hungry. Eventually, I was hungry all the time. Like, I was so hungry I stopped being able to feel mechanical hunger.

No, stop, think about it. My body had become so used to my stomach being empty that it stopped sending me those signals completely. And yet … I was hungry. All the time. Even when I satisfied my mouth hunger, I was hungry. I needed to eat. I can’t even describe what that felt like, except to say that it was overpowering.

When I finally started recovering, I ate whatever I wanted. And for two years, two years, all I wanted to eat was salt, fat, sugar. For several months, I still never felt hungry, but I couldn’t stop eating. I would eat until I felt physically sick, and I still WANTED to eat more. Because I had been starving myself, and that is what starving yourself does.

Because my body knew, it knew, that 700 calories a day was not 2,000 calories a day. It knew it was starving. It thought it was dying.

You cannot fool that. You cannot permanently change your body’s metabolism with tricks. Just because it works once doesn’t mean it will work the nine hundredth time you try it.

So, unless it can trick your body into literally thinking that 100 calories is 300 calories forever and ever, your weight loss tricks are not going to work forever, you will rebound, you will gain back the weight you lose.

Research like this is useful, because knowing how the human body and mind interact is useful.

Research like this in the hands of people who aren’t qualified to draw conclusions from it is not useful. This will no doubt somehow enter the vocabulary of weight-loss “tricks” intended to help desperate and misguided people fool themselves into thinking they are smarter than the literal cells in their body, when they are not. And that is a sad thing.

So for the people saying “If you think of your kale/wheatgrass/quinoa/goat placenta smoothie as really indulgent, you won’t feel hungry afterward!”, you’re wrong. Do it often enough, and you’ll feel hungry constantly.

There’s not a shortcut. I don’t recommend weight-loss dieting to anyone, but if you’re going to pursue it — again, just don’t do this if you still believe all the crap about being thin being a somehow magical state that will insulate you from all kinds of physical and psychological and social ills — you should know that you are working against literally every cell of your body. There’s not a work-around for that. It is a bone-scraping, desperate hunger you will feel every minute of every day, worse and worse the longer you go.

Clever “tricks” like this are sops thrown to you to say “Look, look, it’s easy, look how easy it is! Look how stupid the human body is! Look how much more powerful your brain is! You can totally fool yourself out of being a meat-popsicle that craves fat and starch and salt if you just work at being satisfied with less.”


All they do is make it easier to start, and easier to keep limping along pretending nothing is wrong, when you can feel with every fiber of your being that there is.

Whenever new “science” shows something that implies, from research based on a single event, one single meal or item of food, that there is a faster way to lose weight, or an easier way to not feel hungry, give it the stinkiest of all stink-eyes. Because one meal? One meal more or less is not hunger. Not really. The measure of hunger is what happens once you have depleted your body’s reserves enough for it to start eating itself away … and then you keep going. And going. And going. What you feel then is hunger.

You know what else probably kills your appetite? Videos of surgery. Nobody’s suggesting that we take up watching those before our meals so we don’t feel like eating as much. And if we did? We’d get used to it pretty fast, as the large number of surgeons, nurses, veterinarians, and techs who can still eat will attest.

They get over it because our bodies need food. We need to eat, both physically and psychologically, to be healthy. And that is stronger than pretty much any other urge we have except maybe thirst — I don’t know, I never tried to dehydrate myself to death. Hunger takes longer to kill you. (And yeah, you feel every minute of it.) It is stronger than the urge to lick Ben Barnes. Stronger than the urge to pet kittens. I could stop thinking about those things for hours at a time. I never forgot that I was hungry.

Also, as one final note, there’s a huge error in this research. Food is not neutral, okay? We have such a guilt complex around food these days that if I give a random person a 600-calorie treat, it’s 99% certain that they will feel some guilt. And they will feel less guilt over a 100-calorie treat. And guilt? A surprisingly good appetite-killer. Which is why the diet industry is so huge on guilt and shame. So unless you could find someone who had literally no associations with food/calories/guilt — and these days, even finding tiny children who do not have that is going to be a job of work — your study might be measuring something other than what you think it is.

(And guilt doesn’t work long-term, either. I was still hungry enough after four years of 700 calories a day to eat a whole goddamn box of Pop-Tarts. I felt pretty fucking guilty after the first one. I still ate them all, and every piece of fruit in the house.)

(Also, anyone who expects you to endure that sort of hunger just to access a higher tier of respect in the pecking order is a fucking douchebag and you can safely disregard anything they say as toxic bullshit.)

Ugh. Rant over. I’m going to go eat something bad for me, because I fucking can. The best way not to feel hungry — eat when you want to eat.
naamah_darling: Glass of tawny port on a table branded with a seven-pointed star. (Port Wine and the Morning Star)
Panic attacks suck.

At one point I had them daily, often multiple times, and for hours each time – but that was a long time ago. I’m much better now.
I want to talk for a minute about what that really means. What improvement really looks like. Because it doesn’t look like I thought it would, and I don’t see that talked about as much as I would like to.

So here are four vignettes from the last year or so, all of which I consider victories.



I’m at Planned Parenthood, and I am not holding my shit together. I’m not as triggered by exams as I used to be, so normally this annual bullshit is not a huge issue, but this time I have reason to believe it is going to be a lot worse, involving things that are, like, turbo triggering. Also, I still have a lot of lingering hostility over some bad shit that went down at a Planned Parenthood many years ago, so I don’t feel safe at their clinics. I wasn’t expecting it to be as bad as it is, but it’s so bad this time. I drop the pen three times signing in, my hands are shaking so badly.
Read the rest. . . . )

I want “success” to mean “never has panic attacks.” It’s hard to accept that “success” actually means “better equipped to handle them, and also they happen less often.” Even when I head them off, it’s uncomfortable. They are a thing I have to think about, plan for, and . . . it’s still very hard, even after all this time, for it not to make me feel weak. I hate them.

If success does not mean “never has them”, though, then having them does not mean “FAILURE.” It just means I had a fucking panic attack. It sucked, but I didn’t screw up.

The only part I have control over is the coping with it. Sometimes “coping” means that I can actually shut it down, control the symptoms, until it goes away. Sometimes all “coping” means is that I manage not to throw up. Seriously, sometimes that is the best I can do.

And the times I utterly blow my Sanity check and lose it, totally freak out, those are part of the illness, too. Panic disorders do that. They remove your ability to Cope With Shit. So not being able to do that sometimes is forgivable. It’s not a failure of strength or will or cleverness, it’s a physiological response over which I have considerable but not total control. Initially I had no control, so this is pretty awesome, comparatively.

Being good at dealing with panic attacks doesn’t mean they never happen. It means that I am not usually scared of the panic attack itself while it is happening. I know what is happening, I know what to do about it, and I know that it will 100% for-sure end. It means that I don’t live in fear of having one. It means that they have become a really obnoxious but ordinary event. Yes, it sucks that anyone should have to be used to them, should have them often enough to be good at dealing with them, but I really do think that the fact that I’m in a place where even if they are causing me terrible fear they don’t scare me anymore is an amazing thing.

So if you are dealing with this shit, know that “better” means “better at dealing with them” and not “all better now.” Know that “coping” means “doing your best and trying to learn from every experience, good and bad.”

On the one hand, sorry to bust your bubble, if you were hoping that it would all go away. It might, but I strongly suggest assuming that it will stick around long enough that learning to deal with them will pay off.

On the other, realize that you actually can get better at this. You probably already feel like you have no control over the panic attacks, and to a considerable extent, you probably don’t. But you have control over how you respond. You can learn to deal with them. You acquire tools. Deep breathing, relaxation exercises, rhymes, numbers, imaginary people. Medication is an amazing tool, don’t let anyone tell you it’s “weak” or “cheating” to take that form of help. It won’t be a trip through HappyFunUnicornLand, but you can learn to deal with it, and sometimes you will be able to kick its sorry ass.

Eventually, the thing that used to beat you into the mud will only be able to bring you to your knees. Eventually, you’ll be able to meet it standing. I can’t promise you’ll beat it every time, it might still kick the shit out of you sometimes, but I can promise that with practice you’ll get your feet under you faster, and go on about your business of being awesome. Being you.

I can promise you that.

Originally published at Silver Into Steel.  Comment where you like!

On Gifts

Oct. 18th, 2013 05:46 pm
naamah_darling: Spotted hyena teeth. (Teeth)

Shunning, Shaming, Renaming is a moving piece by Rachel Cohen-Rottenburg about the power of reclaiming your identity while navigating disability and ostracism. I recommend you read it now.

There seems to be a desire on the part of abled people to try to balance the unpleasantness of disability with a belief that it somehow confers gifts equal or exceeding the burden of illness.  There seems to be a tendency to conflate a person's mental illness and their gifts, whatever those are, as though the former caused the latter, as though they were inseparable.

There's also a tendency to say that adversity brings enlightenment – often true – and that therefore adversity is, in itself, a positive thing, even when that takes the form of being severely disabled.  Even when that takes the form of being suicidal.  People want to believe that misfortune bears gifts.  Worse still is when these sentiments are expressed with envy.

I have a big problem with that.

I accomplished this in spite of depression.

The fact that I can bring beauty and goodness out of badness is something beautiful and good about me, not beautiful and good about badness.  It is a skill I developed out of necessity – if I had not, I would get nothing out of it.  If you must fight bears, it's good to learn to use their hides and bones as armor and weapons.  Better still is not having to fight bears.

Now this excellent quote from Rachel's article, which articulates something for me that I have long fought to explain.  Now this quote, which allows me to see the part of the problem that had been hidden in shadow: this assumption that disability comes with valuable prizes at the bottom of the box removes my agency:

When the anger rose, I was determined to turn the language of deficit and disorder and brokenness into the language of blessing. If the “experts” said that people like me were hyperfocused on our obsessions, I said that I was passionate about the things I loved. If they said that we had splinter skills, I said that I had talents. If they said that we had deficits, I spoke of brilliant adaptations.

I reclaimed, and renamed, and rejustified my existence.

And suddenly, I realized that it was all wrong. Because ultimately, this reclamation project wrote me out of its script altogether. I was no longer talking about myself. I was talking about the gifts of Asperger’s.

My analytical mind, my focus, my visual acuity, my way with words, my musical talent, my passion for justice, my honesty, my sensitivity, my gentleness: these had always been my gifts. Not the gifts of Asperger’s. My gifts. But they were no longer mine. All those precious moments of pride and work and love and family that had made up the fabric of my life had been stolen from me and made the fabric of a construct I had never named.

The gifts of Asperger’s. The gifts of an abstraction, of a word that a stranger had created.

My creativity, my sensitivity, my ability to empathize, to articulate complex ideas, my gift with words, these gifts are powerful.  They are without a doubt mingled with my disabilities.  But aren't these my gifts?

They did not come from my illness.  The process of dealing with my illness has taught me powerful lessons which have helped me help other people.  But my illness itself did not do that – I did that.  I'm the one who fought.  I'm the one who carved a path.  My illness did not carve it for me, I did not simply walk effortlessly into understanding.  I had to fight my illness to get it.  And I have to fight my illness to use that understanding to help others.  I have to fight my illness to use the gifts some people say it gives me.  How can these be gifts bestowed by my illness?  My illness is not a gift.

Some people may feel differently about their disabilities and challenges.  If so, I am glad for them.  I think that's really cool.  People are amazing.  Our relationships with ourselves, how we see ourselves, is so variable.  Two people with the same condition can feel completely different about it.  There's a quiet understanding among disabled people that each person gets to define their own experience, they get to define how they relate to their illness.  My experience of bipolar is not going to be the same as another person's.  I relate to my anxiety in a unique way.

For me, my disability is not a positive thing.  It is a dangerous thing that I must fight over and over, lest it consume me.  There are positive aspects to it – the hypomania can be quite wonderful – but those aspects are rare, and do not redeem the negative.

I do not want people taking me out of the equation.  Just as I do not want people assuming that my illness prevents me from being gifted, I do not want people assuming that without my illness I would not have any gifts.  Both assumptions do me no service.

My illness has played and will continue to play a role in the development of my gifts, my skills. Because it is a prime shaper of my day to day life, it shapes my abilities quite profoundly.  It is not, however, all that goes into the making of me.

To say that taking away my illness would make me other than who I am is, in the strictest sense, true.  But to say that taking it away would lessen me, that I do not agree with.

I am lessened by the inability to work due to anxiety or depression.  I am lessened by my inability to spend more time with the people I love because I cannot tolerate leaving the house very often.  Seriously.  those things diminish my life, and I do what I do in spite of them.  To imply that the illness that causes those things is somehow a gift because I am also creative and insightful is cruel: there's plenty of people who can do what I do who aren't crazy.  I somehow doubt they feel that they are missing anything.

Respecting my illness and what it does to me is necessary.  Respecting me and my gifts, apart from my illness, is necessary, too.  Mental illness is part of who I am, but it is not what makes me extraordinary.

I spend a lot of time trying to navigate that line between acknowledging my limits and letting my illness define me.  Muddying things by conflating my gifts with my illness doesn't help clarify anything.

Originally published at Silver Into Steel.  Comment here or there.
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Default)

At least once a week, I want to try to post something that will make people feel less shitty.

Sometimes when friends get to feeling downright shitty, I try to post something supportive and it comes out like “huh huh I’d touch your butt”.

Sometimes, though, I am drugged to the gills and very tired and subsisting on porn and Kool-Aid fumes, and I get downright lyrical and say things I truly mean, but forget to apply to myself.  This, preserved for posterity, is one of those comments.

Ezio Auditore: BAMF
Ezio Auditore: Basically, you are this awesome.
Original AC: Brotherhood Ezio concept art, from the Assassin’s Creed Wiki.

You are necessary.

You are miraculous.

You are wolf’s breath and smoke that was books from the Library of Alexandria and air that has vibrated with dinosaur birthing cries and held aloft steppe eagles as they hunted hare and fox, you are starstuff and skin that has felt firelight and you have drunk water that washed over the backs of elephants, you are the rain borne on the wind from farthest shores, and flavorless fragments of a hungry ratsnake’s skin cast off in the grass of some distant field where cattle graze. All of that, little pieces of the world finding their way into you. Extraordinary things.

Our bodies, our brains, may not be the wondrous vehicles that we wish they were, they may not function with perfect grace, even when we love them. They are frequently sources of pain, fear, and frustration. But you are all of those tiny things, and more, and you are not extraordinary because of those things. They are extraordinary because of you. Because of your mind and heart and vision, and your ability to see things and know things, and weave connections together that others cannot see.

All of these things came together, somehow, to make you, and that makes those things incredible. You possess magic. You elevate all that has gone into the making of you, because you are utterly, painfully unique. And that will not end the mad weasel-dancing of our brains, no, but it gives some beauty to it all, and is a place to rest our thoughts when it seems like all that has gone into the making of us is failure, insufficiency, and dust.

We are things the world has made, as amazing and imperfect as we may be, and we can only ever be as it has made us. We can’t be anything else, only work with what we are. Thankfully, we’re amazing, despite being ill-suited for some, or many, things. Sometimes I feel like a mistake. I have heard people say that god doesn’t make mistakes. I don’t believe in god, but I don’t know if I believe in those sorts of mistakes, either. If we’re mistakes, we’re extraordinary ones. I will agree to “flawed”, even “broken”, but never to “worthless” or “unworthy”. Over the way we are made? No, I don’t accept that. My brain tries to eat me on a regular basis. I often wish I was not what I am. It is frustrating and awful and terribly inconvenient and sometimes utterly embarrassing, but it doesn’t make me lesser than any other person made of saltwater and the sighing of komodo dragons.

I have to remind myself of that so often. But it’s truth. I would say “never feel sorry for being broken sometimes” but that’s not a thing that anyone can just do. I’m awful at it. I think it’s just . . . part of the deal, you know? We will always have those moments. I will just say that in those moments, believe those who love you above yourself, because those who love us can see the sheer unlikely glory of us in a way that we are helplessly blind to, no matter how we try to see.

There’s awful things in the world — murder and poisons and disease and parasitic worms and runts that don’t make it — and bits of those brush off on things that brush off on other things and eventually find our way into us just like the beautiful starlight and dust from luna moth wings do, and some people might argue that it makes being, somehow, partly a lioness a little less impressive . . . but . . . I don’t think that’s true. I think all those little darknesses that come to us just from being in the world are important, too, though the things themselves are often things that should not be, and which benefit no-one. But we’re made, a little bit, from darkness, and that makes the fact that we fight so hard and bloody so many spears in the pursuit of self-preservation so extraordinary.

Part of us is battlefield air, or dust kicked up by lethal volcanic eruptions, or water washed through the bones of the drowned, and yet . . . we still make art, have dreams, love one another, laugh at “that’s what she said” jokes. We have our darknesses, some we make and some we are issued at birth and some that’s accidental entirely, and sometimes I think that the most important work someone broken like me can do is transforming that darkness into something we can use, something we can live with. Not into light, but into something familiar, that holds no more fear.

I am not grateful to the world for handing me darkness and pain, but it’s undeniably taught me things I can now use against it. I am grateful to myself, and to the good parts of the world, for making me strong enough to learn those things, and keep fighting. I am grateful for friends who remind me that people are amazing, and I am therefore amazing, because I am a people.

And you are amazing, too.

(Thanks, Joanna.)

Originally published over at Silver Into Steel.
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Default)
Poverty consumes mental resources, making people worse at everything.

"Put another way, the condition of poverty imposed a mental burden akin to losing 13 IQ points, or comparable to the cognitive difference that’s been observed between chronic alcoholics and normal adults."

Puppies 18
Corgi Puppies! by Naamah Darling on Flickr.
Seriously, the implications of this are upsetting enough to me that I need corgi puppies.
One of these puppies is now a good friend of mine.

This combines into a Voltron-like monstrosity when you factor in the cognitive problems inflicted by chronic pain or debilitating mental illness or any other form of unremitting stress, which are conditions often associated with poverty.

And yet the entire system that is supposed to help people in that situation is set up like one of those Blockhead puzzle games where the pieces do not fit together in any logical way, and we are still supposed to make something normal and perfect out of it.

Originally posted at Silver Into Steel


naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Default)

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