Knee-pocalypse Anniversary: Not Quite Healed

As last summer was winding down, I was extremely excited to get a new cell phone–so I could play Pokemon Go, of course. My old phone couldn’t handle the app, and I felt like I was entirely missing out on all of the fun of walking around my neighborhood catching Pokemon. I was able to play for about a week before I broke my knee. My fiance and I were walking around our neighborhood while I was catching as many Pokemon as I could. I had just caught a Tauros, my favorite, and I couldn’t be happier. As we were heading home, my fiance suggested that we turn a different corner to explore more. This would be my downfall. Quite literally. As I was looking down at my phone, my foot caught the edge of a raised sidewalk and I fell, slamming my knee into the concrete.

When I tell people that I broke my knee, people are usually confused. Some didn’t know that you could do that (you can), while others weren’t sure what it entails. I broke my patella–a.k.a. my knee cap cut horizontally in half. That explanation usually elicits a gasp or a gagging sound. I’m aware of how gross it was without disgusted faces at my story or my impressive scar. Yet I think it’s natural for people to react that way. The scar left from the surgery looks like I fought off space pirates at best and at worst lost a battle with a sentient robot. It’s not pretty.

People tend assume that my injury has completely healed. That I can walk around like I used to before my trip over the sidewalk. Almost a year after the incident my knee looks quite gnarly. On good days it’s mildly stiff and on bad days walking is a struggle. When it’s cold I can feel the iciness in the titanium pins helping my knee fuse back together. Pain is ever-present. I don’t remember what it feels like to not have a constant ache in one of my knees.

When I’m asked how my knee is faring, generally people only want the short and sweet version of how I’m doing. If I give an answer less succinct than “It’s getting better” many don’t know what to do with it. It’s like the details of my injury remind them that recovery isn’t a straight line upwards. My knee is always going to bother me in some fashion, but no one wants to hear that. No one wants to think about an ever-present pain that might not ever go away. Individuals with chronic illnesses have to deal with that all of the time. But we try to explain away pain that devalues the struggle people have to face everyday.

While not as obvious as the scar on my knee, I realized that I, as well as others, have treated my internal scars the same way others treat the idea of constant physical pain. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with Major Depression and a Panic disorder. This was after years and years of struggling inside of my own mind. I had convinced myself that the pain I was feeling was deserved or what I was experiencing wasn’t real. And if it was real it wasn’t valid because it couldn’t be as bad as other people’s pain.

Now, with years of regular therapy and medication, I’m doing much better. I have tools to help me work through rough patches and generally keep me on an even mood level. But it’s not always perfect. The month of June was exceptionally hard for me. Probably one of the hardest months I’ve had in awhile. My mood was out of control, I was quick to tears, and I struggled to get myself out of funks. Frustrating doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Of course I made it harder on myself through the ‘expectations’ I created about my own recovery. I understood that my knee was going to hurt worse some days, but I wasn’t giving my brain the same slack. My mental health has been generally improving over the last couple years, despite a few dips. But I was always able to pick myself back up after a few days. I haven’t had to deal with a ‘drop off’ that last a few weeks in almost three years.

It’s easier for people to think that my depression and anxiety has magically disappeared because I’m a much different person than I was four years ago. I’ll most likely have a serotonin deficiency for the rest of my life. But to the the world I’m ‘better’ now. I didn’t realize how much I’ve internalized this until last month. I’m always ‘supposed’ to be depression and anxiety free. All of those bad days where I cry for no reason are ‘supposed’ to be behind me. Crowds ‘shouldn’t’ freak me out anymore.

Most of my days are good days now, but some of them still really, really suck. There is nothing to make me feel better or snap out of it. I have the tools to maneuver through these days in healthier fashions than I used to, but they still are extremely difficult to manage. Is it frustrating that people can’t (or won’t) see or acknowledge the daily struggle that I face? Of course. It’s even more infuriating when I internalize their thought process.

The pain in my knee is a constant reminder for my struggles with my mental health. I know that my knee is always going to hurt, despite what the outside world thinks. My brain should be no different. I’m always going to struggle with my depression, but that isn’t less valid because people think I’m ‘better’ now.

Recovery isn’t a straight line up, nor is it a horizontal line. It’s a squiggly mess. A tangled ball of sore knees and days full of crying. It’s a constant struggle. But when I make it through another day, it’s a victory.

Representation vs. Inclusion: Finally Belonging to My Fandom

If you know anything about me, you know that I love Doctor Who. Maybe it’s all of my weird collectables. Or you know, that tattoo that’s on my right arm. Whatever tipped you off for my love of all things Whovian, you’d think that I was totally immersed within the show and the fandom. And I would have agreed with you. The show had several queer characters, and I was happy with that. Representation in science fiction television isn’t exactly overflowing. The fact that there was more than one queer character on the show was enough to keep me satisfied.

And then when the 10th season aired in April my whole perspective changed. At the beginning of this season, we were introduced to the Doctor’s new companion Bill. Before the season aired we knew that Bill was gay, but we didn’t know how integral it was going to be to her plot. Within the first moments of the first episode, we were introduced to her sexuality, as well as the impact on the story line.

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The best part about it? The Doctor didn’t say anything about it. Bill was swept away by the Doctor in the TARDIS without care or mention about her sexuality. In the sixth episode, he makes sure that Bill gets a date before they head out on a big and dangerous adventure.

The Doctor is obviously a fictional character, but after the first episode of this season I felt validated in a way that I didn’t realize I needed.

Say Time Lords were real, and one wanted to travel with me, he wouldn’t care that I’m marrying a lady, nor would it make sense to him that other people would care. In a show that has had several queer characters, this was the first time I felt included in the show.

That’s the difference between having representation for it’s own sake versus creating a character that queer people can identify with. Don’t get me wrong, I love Madame Vastra and Jenny, but Vastra is a lizard woman from the dawn of time. It’s representation, but it didn’t make me feel like a part of the Who universe. Bill is an unabashedly queer human, doesn’t hide it, and everyone around her accepts it. When she told male suitor that she’s into girls, he just shrugged and didn’t pursue her any further.

This teaches an important lesson on how queer women should be treated in this instance. We aren’t objects to be won over or converted, and we aren’t secretly waiting for the right man to change our mind. I’m glad this is reflected in the show, and it needs to be reflected in every show with queer characters.

I didn’t realize I how desperately I was craving inclusion in my favorite show until it was served to me on a platter. A beautiful, super queer platter.

Today is Not a Bad Day

Since writing my last blog, I’ve been in a slump. My creativity, along with my mental and emotional health, has waned. There have been days where I felt my depression come on like a sudden wave while I’m sitting at my desk or fighting through traffic. My social media has become a constant bombardment of terrifying political appointments, people being awful, and terrible things happening in the world. Then there are the people sprinkled in that telling me that I should be caring more, how I need to avoid the sweet siren’s call for apathy and calm—that I need to keep fighting against normalization of the events of the past couple of months.

The call to stay strong and vocal is important. It’s extremely difficult for people to maintain their productivity and rage over an extended period of time, and morale boosts are necessary. A younger version of myself would heed these calls, wearing them as armor as I stormed the gates. Now, I’m just tired of emotionally draining myself over and over to fill the well back up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still paying attention to the aftermath of the election. The genocide in Syria. These things still swirl around my mind like an unsolvable puzzle.

My depression and anxiety makes it hard enough for me not to fall into a deep sea of despair every time that I log onto my social media accounts. Even when I can donate, write, or make the calls, I feel like there is so much more I could be doing, and I’m being lazy by not spending every waking moment stressing or doing something. And when the depression kicks in, I feel even guiltier. People have so much more to lose than me; who am I to sit in my car and cry after work? How can I possibly write anything that hasn’t already been said? Or, has been said by more qualified and talented people? Does my writing actually make a difference or do anything?

With careful thought and sage advice from friends I’m reminded that there is beauty in the struggle. There are days where the weight of the world will be too much for me, and I’m extremely lucky to have a support network to help me stand up after a fall. Every day that I’m here is a victory. I might feel like I’m losing a battle, but the war still rages on, and I’m very much still in the fight. The world may seem like it’s crumbling around me, but today is not a bad day if I continue to write. To think. To breathe.

 

Self-Care is My Rebellion

Like many people reading this, the results of the presidential election sucked out almost all of my energy like an orange vampire. I cried. No, more aptly I sobbed off and on for the next two days after. I was devastated and frightened. My anxiety and my depression flared like I hadn’t seen in years. As someone who deals with managing depression and anxiety on a daily basis, I’m tired. So very tired of everything. Tired of being afraid for my well being, my fiance’s well being, my Jewish family’s well being. All of my queer, Muslim, and female friends. How can I stand up for all of them, how can I work to make sure they’re safe and their rights are protected? Today is one of those days where I want to throw in the towel and dive head first into a sea of depression. Giving up is a temptress, always trying to guide me off the edge in times of trouble. How do I fight against the tide, armed at ready to fight the battle that needs to be fought?

Trying to be ‘on’ all of the time isn’t new to me. Neither is getting burnt out. Working with nonprofits, it’s easy to dive in and try to give 200% all of the time. If you aren’t doing something, you feel like you’re wasting time and energy. The guilt of taking a mental day off or not working long hours can be overwhelming. I’ve seen many tweets and posts about how important self-care is in terms of being an activist. The guilt of ‘not doing enough’ 24-7 runs people down. It’s physically impossible to be on for the cause every single moment of every single day.

In my own unproductive Facebook altercation a women lamented how students were getting time off and teachers were bringing in hot cocoa. Like there is something inherently weak about taking a moment to mourn and take care of yourself. That there was something wrong with people like me who voted for Clinton needing a space to mourn, scream, rebel, and wrap themselves up in a blanket.

Sometimes the only thing we can do in a day is remind others that they are important. To post a hotline or give a friend a hug to remind them how important they are. Self care is about rebellion. It’s about survival. In order to rise up against the injustice of the world we need to take care of ourselves. Whether that means a cup of tea before calling a Congressional office or a bath after a rally, it’s vital that we take care of ourselves and each other. That’s why we’re drinking hot cocoa, organizing get-togethers to learn self defense, and to paint our nails. It’s not because we are soft. It’s to repair and upgrade our armor.

It’s okay to take a break from all of the negative noise. It’s okay to gather resources or to ask for help. Taking care of yourself isn’t arbitrary, it’s necessary.

Support / Self Care Resources:

Trans Lifeline:  (877) 565-8860

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  1-800-273-8255

The GLBT National Help Center: 1-888-843-4564

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 or Text “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200

My Own Worst Enemy

I have been subjected to many bullies in my life. I got made fun of in middle school for wanting to wear shorts instead of a skirt, for having a mustache (and for shaving it), and for not kissing boys. Getting teased for having short hair and looking like a boy. For being too weird. For being the wrong kind of weird. While completely awful, these bullies didn’t have anything on my worst bully.

When I was in school my parents used to tell people that they didn’t need to push or prompt me to study or do my homework because I pushed myself harder than my parents ever would. Initially this created a strong work ethic within me; I had goals that I wanted to achieve, and I better reach them and succeed with flying colors.

The problem occurred when this ethic turned into the ugly, toxic bully that still lingers today. My value and worth were graded on an impossible scale; the more I set myself up for failure, the more excuses I had to internally beat myself up. I got a 90 on a math test, but I could have gotten more questions right. That social interaction you had a couple of days ago? Those people are definitely making fun of everything you said. I became awkward because I told myself I was awkward. I told myself I was never smart enough, so I never felt like any of my accomplishments meant anything. I was insatiable.

Bullying myself became a way of life. From grade school to my Masters program nothing was good enough for myself. Write a really great essay? You’re not actually a good writer. Get into college? Yeah, but not the one you really wanted. Graduate with a Masters from a great school? That’s great, but you’re the fourth one in your family to get one, that isn’t that special you know.

My internal bully questioned and berated everything I did and said. That voice was strengthened by my decade-long unchecked depression. You should feel like dirt, because you aren’t good enough for any of what you have. Don’t count on things staying good for long, you know that other shoe is going to drop, and all of this is going to go away. You have a girlfriend that seems to love and care for you- good luck with that. Once she finds out what you’re really like, how you’re a giant loser, she’ll leave; it’s not like you’re worth someone that awesome.

Like any disease my depression took it’s toll and in the spring of 2013 I had myself a mental breakdown. Three years later, I still say it’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I was finally able to look at what I was doing to myself. No one was saying these awful things about me, I internalized the hatred so deeply that it felt natural. Piece by piece I had to pull away the bully that had lived in me for so long. There are still elements left of that bully still inside of me, but I’m much more equipped to stand up for myself and take it down. I was lucky to have a support network that helped pick away those parts, and call me out on my bullying ways. My then girlfriend (now fiance) has been the most important advocate. She sees when I’m about to bully myself and shuts it down.

I’m my own worst enemy but now, I know what I’m up against- and I know I can win.

Engayged

 

While in California my amazing girlfriend (now fiancé) proposed to me – and I said yes! Obviously. This woman has been the best part of my life for the past three and a half years, I couldn’t image what life would be like without her.

Now that I got the gooey stuff out of the way… on to the planning! And opinions. You hear that everyone has an opinion about your wedding, but it doesn’t feel quite real until it smacks you in the face. We’ve been engaged for a month, and if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard ‘well have you thought about’ I would probably have enough to buy me some nice sparkly shoes. I shouldn’t be that mean, people are just excited and they want to help.

What I’ve found interesting so far is how we are navigating around the hetereonormative wedding traditions. There is something truly freeing about not feeling like you have to do this, or have to incorporate things into your wedding. It also kind of sucks? Don’t get me wrong, I love bucking the norm as much as the next queer lady, but I would like at least a road map to start from. Nothing has been clearly defined as gay wedding etiquette and that’s pretty awesome. From food to music to what we want to wear, it’s all up to us.

What’s even more interesting is how friends and family have been managing it. “Are you both wearing dresses? Do you guys do rehearsal dinners? What about cake?” Since neither of us are marrying a dude, people think that we automatically have to be unconventional. We’re bucking the norm because of who we are- I love being unconventional but it’s not something that I need to do. Nothing has to be traditional, unless we want it to.

It feels like we’re free and under a microscope all at the same time. Every time I call a space to look at I’m afraid they won’t even talk to us. Every time I fill out a form where they ask me who the groom is I get mad because I don’t see myself in the bridal industry.

Everything is a reminder that we’re different. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like being different. It’s something that I need to get used to because I know everything isn’t going to change as fast as it should or as fast as I want. Change will come by being our beautiful loving selves who will throw an awesome celebration. It’ll come when people realize how we’re the same, yet extraordinarily different.

My Almost Epiphanies

Everyone has the realization that they’re queer at different ages, but at 20 I had felt like I was pretty slow to my epiphany. Why did it take so long for me to get a full grasp on my sexuality- weren’t there glimmers of truth sprinkled throughout my childhood?  Of course. But what may seem obvious to me and everyone else was completely hidden from me. In the midst of it all I couldn’t see the forest through the gay trees.  It’s much easier looking back at my past and picking out how my queer identity had shaped my life even when I wasn’t aware of it.

My youngest queer memories revolved around television. I remember loving the Pink Ranger on Power Rangers. I just couldn’t get over how pretty she was. I didn’t understand why people watched Bay Watch for David Hasselhoff or the other men on the show. Why fawn over them when you had all of those pretty ladies? My 8 year old self was clueless, still pretending that I much preferred the male pop culture icons of the 90s. The biggest crush of my pre-teen life was Captain Katherine Janeway from Star Trek Voyager. I loved her power and her ability to command a ship. I loved her smile and her coyness; her ability to be vulnerable as an authority figure. I thought I wanted to be her when in reality it was a combination of wanting to be her and be with her. And don’t even get me started on Jeri Ryan as 7 of 9.

When I was 15 I had a sex dream about my female best friend. At that time I did have the thought of ‘Hey Amanda, maybe you like ladies? Do you think you could be bisexual or a lesbian?’ That thought process maybe lasted a month or so and inevitably was pushed to the back of mind for another five years. I was so very close, but I don’t think my teenage mind wanted to deal with the idea of being more different than I already was. I didn’t know any gay people and my Catholic education didn’t exactly give me room to explore gender and sexual identities.

Probably the most obvious gay hindsight was the fact that I was never attracted to boys. But my friends had crushes on boy bands and movie stars so I decided to follow suit. I didn’t know what a crush felt like, so I liked people, thought they were cute, but had no emotional or physical attraction to them. I thought it was normal. I had lived a very sheltered existence and didn’t get my boobs or period until much later than my friends- I had just thought I didn’t hit that part of puberty where I felt sexually attracted to guys. I was drunkenly making out with guys on the feminine side in college and I still wasn’t getting it. Why wasn’t it clicking for me? Am I really that awkward where I can’t romantically interact with men?

I truly had my epiphany as I was leaving my study abroad experience and started the spring semester of my junior year. It took a girl telling me she was bi to finally let my queerness out. I wish I could say the clouds opened up and a giant rainbow light shone down on me. Really, this girl wanted to hold my hand and I didn’t back down from it. That’s all it took. Something unconsciously clicked in my brain and I decided to roll with it. Did years and years of building a wall of suppression cause it to collapse? Did all of my queer experience topple it over in one fowl swoop? I’m honestly not sure what happened. The door swung open and I never went back. I was here and I was queer.

 

Depression Doesn’t Make You an Artist

I read an article a week or so ago about mental health, creativity, and treatment. I’m not going to mention where the article was posted or anything about the article specifically because it is without a doubt one of the worst, disgusting, and harmful pieces of writing I’ve ever seen on the internet. Now you might say Amanda, there is a lot of terrible things on the internet, why is this one more horrible than the rest of it?

The intention of this article is the reason I would put it up there with the worst of the worst. In it the writer claims that it was better for her friend to have committed suicide than be on medication, because she wasn’t able to be her true creative self. I’m going to write that again. Someone thought, wrote down, and posted on the internet that someone killing themselves was better than their friend living a ‘lesser’ medicated life.

I don’t know what’s scarier, the fact that she thought she was being insightful or innovating, or a person struggling might use this as justification to not try therapy or medication. I can only speak for myself and my mental health journey, but I can say with 100% certainty that my writing was absolutely awful before I started a therapy regime supplemented with medication. Insanely terrible. I could barely write in coherent sentences, and if I did manage to write something not awful I had no confidence to let anyone read it. I wasn’t living up to my true self. I wasn’t living up to my creative potential. Honestly, I wasn’t really living.

After I started managing my depression and anxiety I’ve had people tell me that I had changed and my different self was not as good as the ‘old me.’ Apparently I was a better friend and a better person when I constantly grappled with chronic loneliness, anxiety, and depression. My medication and therapy has helped me find who I really was, not a depressed version of myself. And for some reason people have a hard time when people they know with mental health issues struggle toward being their better selves. It probably does look like we’ve changed, but really it’s just a matter of rediscovering who we are without depression or anxiety completely controlling our lives.

Romanticizing mental health problems as a way to being a great artist is dangerous, unhealthy, and extremely untrue. I was an unproductive writer who occasionally wrote sad, terrible poems in a journal I was never going to share. Now I’m writing a book, writing on this blog, and writing for Geeks Out. I’m a much happier and content person, and my writing benefits from that. A person who is struggling to be happy or stay alive isn’t automatically better at their craft. And even if they were for some reason? A person’s life is far more important than their art. A person shouldn’t feel like they need to sacrifice themselves to create something for the world.

Our lives are more important than our art. Our better lives help us create better art. This is what we need to be telling our friends and family. Struggling doesn’t make you a better artist, writer, composer, or anything else.

Our friends’ lives have no less value when they are trying to get better.

My Straight Family

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There are times when I wish that someone in my family was gay. I had a great aunt who was a lesbian, but I only found out about her sexuality until after she had died. And when she was alive I was nowhere near being out to myself let alone anyone else.

 

She is the only person in my family that I know for certain was/is gay. And no one really knows anything about that side of her. All I know that she and her ‘friend’ used to go to Atlantic City for the weekend to gamble. That’s it. That’s all I know about that part of her. It feels like a giant part of my history is missing. What was it like for her growing up? How long did she know she was a lesbian? Who was her ‘friend’? Was she at the funeral? Had she died beforehand? And why does no one in my family know?

Now, I would settle for a gay cousin to side eye when someone refers to my girlfriend as my ‘friend’. (I’m also tired of my aunt calling my girlfriend ‘my friend’). Don’t get me wrong, most of my family is very forward thinking and progressive. But even the most open minded of them walk on eggs shells around me when they talk about anything LGBT related. Especially marriage. I know every family can be annoying when it comes to asking intrusive questions about when their children or nieces or nephews are getting married. They’re straight. Just very straight. If I had a dollar for every time one of my family members asked me who would propose I would probably have a lot of cash for a strip club.  You can almost see the wheels turning in their heads- “There’s no guy in the relationship, so who’s going to get the ring?”

I’m not surprised- all of my family grew up in the same heternormative environment that I did. They never had to question how to do the marriage thing because it has been laid out for them by generations and generations of people. Sure, it has evolved, but there is still a basic formula for when a man and a woman get married. Everyone knows the equation and to solve for x.

I don’t begrudge any of my family for being straight, even if I did it wouldn’t change anything. But it would be nice to have someone on ‘my team’ that I could relate to and commiserate with. Having a male cousin who wanted to go out to a bar to find girls is great (and also hilarious), but it’s not the same. I want to relate to someone in my family on a queer level.

There are times when I feel like my queer identity and family identity are completely separate parts of me. I wish there was a gay Ancestry.com that could help me link together previous generations with my queerness. Even if I feel like an anomaly, I know my gayness didn’t come from a vacuum. But the clues about my gay family history died with my great aunt. Maybe some day I’ll be lucky to find a piece of the puzzle, but for now I have to start from scratch.

I’m queering my family’s story just by living my life openly and happily. And hopefully in the future someone can look back and see their gay roots in their family tree.

 

 

Being Out and Staying Out

When I started coming out seven years ago it was terrifying. How would people react? Would I lose friends and family over it? I obviously survived all of those encounters. The awkwardness and fear felt so strong back then- I’m glad that I have put most of that behind me.

I know its cliché, but I just stopped caring. Obviously having the love and support of friends and family was extremely important, but after that I realized that I didn’t need to have an emotional investment in the insurance guy’s or my dentist’s opinion.

Now, I just want people to assume that I’m hella gay. I get annoyed when people think straight until proven gay. Like, I have an undercut, and wear plaid and beanies… do I need to be making out with my girlfriend all of the time for people to get my queerness?

For being out all of the time isn’t telling one that I’m a lesbian. It doesn’t come up in most day-to-day conversation. Being out is about my state of mind. I used to put on my ‘straight’ mask whenever I had to interact with a new person or go to a new place. That shit is exhausting. I realized that I didn’t need to ‘act’ to make my way through social unknowns. I know that in certain places that I’m probably not going to bring up my girlfriend unprompted, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less out. I’m still going to have my undercut, my plaid, and my girlfriend. The gayness is still being projected, even if I’m not hitting people upside the head with it.

Everyone’s journey is different, but it’s absolutely fantastic when you get to an emotional and physical place where you can just be gay all of time.

It’s absolutely freeing.