Monday, October 21, 2013

If you ain't happy and you know it...

I stumbled across a cheeky post  by Katherine Fritz on Facebook yesterday, and it really resonated with a less cheeky sense of unease that I've been carrying around, and not sure how to articulate.  (Kathryn blogs over at I Am Begging My Mother Not to Read This Blog, if you want to check out her other stuff!).  I love (lovelovelove) the way this post calls out "habits of happy people" posts.  Why?  Because I FUCKING HATE those posts.  They make me want to find the author of the post and punch them in the face.  Hard.  And why, might you ask again?  Because they make me feel like I'm failing.  (you know, again).  Not only am I failing at staying on the top of the constant motion of my single-mother-phd-student-broke-person-anxiety-bomb-at-the-best-of-times life, not only am I failing to get enough good homework done, enough good-enough mothering done, enough paying the bills done - but I am ALSO failing at getting the being happy-enough done.  For not putting enough joy and sunshine and dandelion fluff out into the world.

Think I'm overreacting?  Maybe. I do tend towards that general emotion trend sometimes.  But I'm also very aware that I'm not the only one.  In fact, part of my reason for writing this post, in addition to reading the awesome blog by Fritz, was the status of a friend recently, who said that they were feeling judged and ashamed for 'not being okay.'  There is pressure in our world to achieve this thing called 'happy.'  To be joyful.  To look on the bright side.  To have a glass half full.  To 'create' the world we want to live in.  To spread positivity.  To be 'okay.'

It seems to me, in fact, that the pressure to be happy and zen-like has become a social requirement - something to be pursued with the same zeal as a paycheck in our neo-liberal capitalist society.  The happiness quest sells books - gazillions of them -  like "The Secret" or "The Happiness Project," and most of them tell us the same thing.  If we aren't 'happy,' we're doing something wrong.  If we aren't 'happy,' we have failed in creating our happy realities.  Happiness, spun this way, feels a bit tyrannical.

We, as a culture, are deeply deeply uncomfortable with sadness.  With anxiety. With all kinds of feelings that normal people experience within the course of a day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime.  We ask how people 'are', as a social nicety, but we all know the 'correct' answer to this question is "Fine!" or "Great!" or "super swell! Thanks for asking!"  And, as a person who has experienced bone fide depression and anxiety (by this I mean the debilitating kind, not the flippant, I'm-having-a-big-feeling-and-it-scares-me-kind), and who tends toward the Eeyore at the best of times, I often feel like a big liar answering this question.  I often want to say things like: "I'm actually really anxious and spent most of last night worrying about the oil tanker spill, the state of global politics, my kids, whatever, whathaveyou," or "I'm really sad and I can't concentrate," or something of the like. (Sometimes I want to say "I'm so happy I could pee my pants!" too, but I don't this this should be a social requirement).

Whatever happened to authenticity?

Why are we sooooooooo fucking uncomfortable with sadness?  With not-okayness?

When did happiness become social requirement?

Look around, folks.  This world is hard.  It's really hard.  We are profoundly isolated and disconnected from each other.  The bad bits of the world often seem so insurmountable that they are impossible to fix.  And on a smaller scale and deeper level, we, as people who mean well, often hurt each other deeply.

Sadness makes sense.  Anxiety makes sense.  Frustration makes sense.  Anger makes sense. And sometimes happiness, calm and contentedness make sense too.  Sometimes, all of these things at the same time make sense.  (And as an aside, if we weren't fucking messes some, or even a lot of the time, we wouldn't appreciate those beautiful shiny spots of happy-delightedness nearly as much).

My fear is that the push for happy-happy-okay-ness in our culture will only serve to disconnect us from each other more; create further isolation.  My fear is that we are losing our ability to be emotionally authentic in the quest for soothing our cultural discomfort for sadness and less pleasant emotional states. (My secondary fear is that we miss seeing the privilege inherent in the articles and books we write and read about the quest 'to get happy.' The class and race privilege.  The time privilege. The living-without-oppression privilege.)

Our commodification of 'happiness,' our expectation that everyone around us be 'okay,' doesn't actually lead to more general contentment.  And it definitely won't enhance our ability to create and sustain community.

So I guess this is my way of saying - be how you are.  Be sad.  Be anxious. Weep on the way to work if you need to.  (And ask for support if you need to, too).

Because I think, in the end, that kind of authenticity is some radical shit.  

*** Caveat - this is NOT in any way intended to induce shame for those that say, take meds etc. to deal with continued and debilitating states of unhappiness, a category which yours truly falls into.  Love my meds.  Love 'em.  Love the daily functioning.  Love it.  Some day I might not need them.  Right now, I do and I'm so fucking glad they exist.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sayyyyy Whhhaaaattt?! A New Post?/Blogger Gets Persnickety About Your Body Talk

So there I was. Walking into the change room, in tight spandex-y yoga pants no less, psyching myself up for my very first 90 minute hot yoga class, minding my own business, and then ...


"I've just joined [insert diet company of choice - I refuse to advertise them] with all of my friends because I mean, enough is enough and we've all got to lose weight" says girl considerably thinner than me #1.


"I knnnooowwww. I keep hoping to sweat my fat off!" says girl considerably thinner than me #2.

Their conversation went on in this direction, as I tried in vain to quell the uprising of the body crap that had begun to swirl around me. I notice my hips and my thighs in spandex in a way that I hadn't when I walked in.  My negative body thoughts escalated, and instead of walking into my class feeling centred and gearing up for the challenge ahead of me, I walked in thinking about my body. How it looked to others. How it looks to me. How I wish it were different. Yup.  and Yuck.

This is only one of the many, many such experiences I've had like this in the past little while.  Women LOVE to share their body shit. Their fat-apologisms. Their self-hatin'.  Because somehow, if we say it out loud, we can be forgiven for the sins of our body imperfections (and here I will note, our body fat in particular).

And so womens, wimmins, lady-folks, grrrls, yoga-change-room ladies - I'm calling your asses out.  You need to stop. We ALL need to stop.

Why, you ask?  I'm going to tell you.

Your body 'confessions,' your fat-hating self-talk, your, oh-my-thighs, your oh-the-calories, your public pleas for imperfection-forgiveness or commiseration, or whatever it is you're looking for?  That shit is seriously selfish.

Don't get me wrong.  I fully support the right of women to do what they wish with their bodies.  You want to go on a diet for your own well-considered reasons? Give 'er. You want to change your body? Do what you need to do. I'm happy for you. I really, really, really am.  The thing of it is, I don't want to hear about it in a fat-hating way. I just don't.  Because it feels pushy.  It feels a little bit violent. It gnaws away at my hard-fought and very very tenuous body acceptances. Because it just. feels. gross.

We live in a world where no matter how hard we try, no matter how politicized, informed, and conscious about fat-phobia we become, all of our tetherhooks into that slippery mountain of body kindness and awareness and yes *love*, are so so so conditional.  They shift, they slip, they fall out, we throw them back in and try to start climbing up again.  It's tiring.  It's frustrating. That mountain is fucking steep.  For all of us.

We ALL have body shit, yo.  Because we're women-people and because we live in this world that hates women-people and reduces us in very particular ways to bodies of very particular kinds.  And rarely do we consider the impact of our negative body talk on those around us.  Rarely do we think, huh, if I unload the body shit I'm feeling on this person beside me, or loudly in the middle of a public change room full of naked, vulnerable people, I may well be pulling out one of their tetherhooks (or both!) and sending them down the freaking mountain again. And it's a long fucking way down.

I'm happy to talk to my friends and loved ones about grappling with their own body stuff, or to share.  On the days that I can. On the days when this isn't likely to send my own tenuous grasp on okayness willy-nilly and off-kilter and into a giant tailspin. And on the days these things feel alright to them/

So how - how are we to deal with the incredible prevalence of body-hating talk around us?  I don't know, exactly. I've been as guilty of it as others. And it's so so ingrained in our girl-rhetoric. I'm not saying that we shouldn't be able to ask for support.

I am saying that after thinking about this for the past few weeks, I will try very very hard to never again talk about my own body issues with anyone before first checking with them if they are in an okay space to hear it.  Because I don't want to create body-hating, fat-shaming toxicity into the air around me.  I don't want to throw the amazing and fucking gorgeous women in my life under that bus.  I don't want to leave the strangers in some change room heading into a tough-ass yoga class more anxious about the way their body looks than gathering the internal strength to make it through 90 minutes of yoga in 40-fucking degree heat.

So I guess what I'm asking here, lovelies - is to think- to think before we speak, to think of when we speak, and to think about to whom we speak about our body shit. Because it would be so so so so decadently and beautifully wonderful if the only internalized hate we had to deal with was our own.

We can talk about our fabulous workouts without talking about fat-hate. We can talk about our new amazing recipes without talking about fat hate. We can talk about making diet changes without talking about fat hate.

We really, really, really can.