2018, Life, Rambles

GOLDEN HOUR

Written while sitting outside Starbucks in the sun, surrounded by wealthy mothers with Goyard totes, sipping on a tall cold brew (in a grande cup, for maximum product!) and streaming Kacey Musgraves’ “Golden Hour” off the titular album.

I just got back from a weekend trip to Boston (Chic! Tea!), and it’s the first time that, despite having gone back for weekend trips before) that I stepped actual feet back on my college campus since I graduated almost exactly eleven months ago.

When I went back up in October, I was fresh and wounded from the school year having started (the first one that I was not there for) and so I avoided it on purpose. I was starting a new job, but I was definitely far from settled, and didn’t know what I was going to do with the rest of my year, let alone my whole life. I still don’t, but things are slightly more settled.

This year has been an unintended sabbatical and break for me. After graduating, I had these unformed plans of “Graduate. Move home. Find job. Rinse. Repeat.” I graduated; I moved home; I started applying for jobs. I rinsed, I repeated.

I emailed a local magazine on a whim to do an informational, and ended up with some freelance writing. I got a job doing freelance copy-editing and dipped my toe into a full-adult-human workday. To make up the in-between, I applied for a job at a local Trader Joe’s. I started studying for the GRE and began researching graduate programs. Slowly slowly, I began to fill up my days and the months began to pass. The panicked, failure feeling began to dissipate (not completely, but in small bits).

With the extra time, I dove (well, tepidly stuck my toe in and then dove) back into therapy. There were serious things that I wanted to tackle, things that I had not had the time, mental capacity or vocabulary to tackle before. Before, addressing certain topics would make them real, which would make them impossible to ignore, and would therefore open me up to vulnerabilities. This year was an entire twelve months of vulnerabilities, so I figured there was no time like the present. Why not knock out all of my anxieties and issues in one fell swoop? (It’s not that simple or that clean, but honey let me have this!)

I have not successfully come out on top of any of the issues that I wanted to tackle (if anything, they’ve proved to be more complex and multifaceted than I originally believed) but they no longer feel insurmountable. They no longer feel like cracks in my pavement or deal-breakers. In short, I no longer feel unfixable.

I’ve also incorporated more color into my wardrobe. If you’re thinking, “Whoa! This is a shift from talking about psychiatry!” then you’d be right but you’d also be not in my brain. A lot of how I dressed, dark colors and baggy cuts, was to detract attention away from my body. I wanted to have attention, but I didn’t want my body – or what I considered to be a coterie of problems – to be at the nexus. But over the last few months, as I’ve been opening up about the sources of those issues, I’ve felt myself craving color on a level that I never have before.

I wore a glorious gold hoodie over the weekend, and endured some teasing from my friends about its vivacity. But I didn’t care because it was so sunny and beautiful and eye-catching. I picked up two t-shirts – one pale pink and one pale yellow – from a local thrift store, colors I would never usually gravitate towards. But I’ve felt more confident, and with wearing color, I feel like I’m saying, “You can see me. I’m okay with it.”

I’m hitting a golden hour of sorts. I’ve endured gray moments over the past year, some downright turbulent and stormy, but I can feel myself hitting my stride. Large parts of that are due to being more settled – in life, grad school, and myself. But I think it’s also that I’m, for the first time, allowing myself to be seen – to be opened up in different ways.

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2018, Mental Health

MARIAH CAREY COMES FORWARD WITH BIPOLAR II DISORDER DIAGNOSIS

Header image source: Wikipedia


I’ve come out three times in my life. First as gay, second as depressed, and third as a ride-or-die Kelly Clarkson stan. Strangely, it’s only the last that has caused permanent strife in my family. I expected that; the truth is hard to hear.

On Wednesday, skinny legend Mariah Carey announced that she has been dealing with a diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder. In an interview with People, Carey described that, while she was first diagnosed in 2001, it was only in the last few years that she fully accepted and grappled with treatment.

“Until recently I lived in denial and isolation and in constant fear someone would expose me,” she said to People editor-in-chief Jess Cagle. “It was too heavy a burden to carry and I simply couldn’t do that anymore. I sought and received treatment, I put positive people around me and I got back to doing what I love — writing songs and making music.”

It’s easy to drown this announcement in platitudes and inspirational sayings. It’s easy to say that Mariah is brave. It’s easy to say that this is important. It’s easy to bury this in well-wishes and forget how desperately important this is.

So it needs to be stated regardless: this is fucking important. This is fucking brave. And this is life-saving.

I was fifteen when I started going to therapy. I was nineteen when I went on medication. I remember the first time I went to CVS and picked up my prescription. I carried it back to my apartment, the small paper bag crunched up into my sweaty fist furtively. I eyed the small blue ovals with displeasure, and resented every swallow, every day, until one day I didn’t.

I am, relatively, extremely lucky. I live in a bubble where my mental health does not limit or define me. I have friends who have their own struggles, and I have parents who have advocated for me. It’s easy for me to forget the magnitude of disclosing mental health now that it has become so normalized for me.

But I let myself forget sometimes that I started writing about my depression and anxiety because when I needed it most, there was no literature that I found helpful. There were dry, clinical descriptions, and there were void-swallowing depressing missives. There weren’t people that I could relate to, people who were “normal” and functioned.

And in 2001, I can’t imagine the hostile environment that Mariah was facing when she received her diagnosis. It would have probably been career-ending to come forward, as a woman and as someone with bipolar disorder. She would’ve been labeled disruptive or crazy or entirely unreliable. She would’ve been a national joke.

It’s only the last few years – if that – that I’ve noticed a shift in the conversation surrounding mental health.

If I had had someone like Mariah – or Demi Lovato or Kesha or Dwayne Johnson – when I was fifteen or seventeen or nineteen, I think that I would progressed out of that shame a lot more quickly. I probably wouldn’t have been so reticent to accept help. I didn’t know that you could be successful and also depressed; I didn’t know that this didn’t have to be a life sentence or a limitation.

Despite the strides we’ve made, disclosing mental health issues is still a major risk. There’s a stigma attached to it, stigma that could eliminate job opportunities or personal relationships or credibility. That stigma is reduced when people disclose their own struggles, and represent as people who are functioning, productive and driven. It also opens the conversation to the ways that mental health can contribute to people’s downfalls, when people aren’t functioning or productive or driven. It can open the conversation about the ways that we are failing people who struggle with mental health.

Because there are people like Mariah, who had wealth and time and resources to understand and cope with her diagnosis. There are people like me who have a supportive family and a network of people.

But there are so many people without those resources, without the access to therapy or medication, for whom mental health can be detrimental. This helps them.

“I’m hopeful we can get to a place where the stigma is lifted from people going through anything alone. It can be incredibly isolating,” Mariah told People. “It does not have to define you and I refuse to allow it to define me or control me.”

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Humor, Life, Mental Health, Things Happening RN

Lol – I’m Depressed

It was probably the eighth time that I went to open a Word document to write a blog post, hovered over that blue W and then flicked my finger away that I realized something was probably wrong.

It was probably when waking up left me feeling more tired, the kind of deep, head-wrapped tired that dips your bones in wax.

It was probably when the thought of sending an email filled me with enough anxiety to justify binge-watching the latter half of Real Housewives of New Jersey. (I also just, like, had to do this. Siggy is crazy, y’all).

It was probably when depression curled itself around me like an angora sweater-shawl that I realized something was up. A blend of cashmere and sadness.

Depression is weird because even when you have a “handle” on it, it can still surprise you. I’ve been in therapy on-and-off since I was fifteen; I’ve had ups and downs and I thought that I was pretty solid on my mental health. Even so, I would be surprised to realize that the few “bad days” I was having, where nothing seemed to go right and my thoughts couldn’t be quelled, were small depressive blips.

In lay terms, I often describe those blips as a common cold. It knocks you out of commission for a few days; it makes you a little fuzzier and a little slower; you don’t realize it’s happening until it’s almost over. But, in the same way that a healthy person always seems a little in denial that their body is fallible, I’m always a little naïve that I can fall prey to these blips.

This last time has been more than a blip: a blap, perhaps, or even potentially a bloop. Depression is wild because it completely changes your way of thinking and distracts you from itself. It’s the Cheshire cat of mental health: me not being able to write a coherent blog post, or answer an email suddenly gets attributed to other things – I’m not funny or talented, or I still can’t figure out if “Best, Danny McCarthy” is going to be my email signature. It took a few days/weeks to realize, “Oh, it’s been you beside me all along.”

I live for a romantic comedy, but not one that ends with me and Depression kissing in a gazebo.

This bloop was brought on by a myriad of things, none of which were particularly noteworthy or memorable in and of themselves. I’m applying to grad school and wading through applications. I’m working. I’m trying to find a psychiatrist. I ran into my major high school crush whilst at my day job when I was underslept and overshaven. I’m living in my childhood bedroom. I graduated from college and I’m spiraling.

There’s no real button to this blog post that’s neat or clean. I’m still having a bloop; and I’m doing self-care in the ways that I know how: forcing myself to write, doing pull-ups and listening to a lot of Kelly Clarkson. I think it’s important to write this because I often feel that whilst I’m in the moment of a bloop that I can’t talk about it: better to wait until it’s over and then I can be triumphant and saintly and tough. But that’s not realistic, and that’s not relatable. And as much as I worry that these seem like “Cry for Help” posts or pity parties, I know that they’re not. I’m fine now, and I’ll be fine later. I don’t want to wax poetically about how I “made it through, and you will do.” I know I’ll make it through, and I know you will too, but hon, we’re here for the moment. Might as well lean into that angora and be honest.

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Mental Health, Rambles, Things Happening RN

MENTAL HEALTH IS CHIC, YOU GUYS

In typical fashion, I had a perfect title before I had anything else even written.

I just sent an email to a potential new psychiatrist (in the event it works out and I eventually tell you about this, hi hon!). While I was in school, I utilized our student health services and saw the same psychiatrist on-and-off for about three years. Always check out the resources available to you, especially when you’re at school—I’ve heard some horror stories about SHS, but I’ve always had good experiences.

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Body Health

“CAN YOU SPOT ME?”

I twist around on the bench, pulling the earbuds—playing Lana Del Rey’s “LOVE”—from my ears. “What?”

“Could you spot me?” he asks again. Grey t-shirt, short, brawny, dark wiry hair and bristly stubble.

I blank for a second, and then nod hastily. “Yeah, yeah!” I hop up and follow him to his own bench press. “I’m doing sets of four,” he tells me before he dips underneath the bar. I hover in the negative space between the prongs the bar rests on. His hands reach up, pinkies first, and find their places on the grooved metal.

He hulks the bar out of its resting position and does one rep. His face purples with the effort of raising the bar off his straining chest. On the second one, the bar stays static an inch above his chest. Panicking, I hook my hands underneath the bar and lift it up from his chest. “Let me struggle,” he tells me—an admonishment to my ears but probably nothing to him.

“Oh, okay,” I nervously laugh.

The idea of “spotting” entails a weirdly personal moment. As I spot this guy, my feet are squared below his shoulders, my groin hovering somewhere above and behind his forehead. Essentially, I’m the only one responsible for making sure the barbell doesn’t pin him to the bench. Without me, he would have 150 pounds on top of his chest, making ribs creak and internal organs bruise.

Once, I tried to bench press without a spotter. I made it through twelve reps of a first set, and on the first rep of the second set, my arms gave out and the bar jolted back onto me. Gravity, weight and my own weakness led to me being pinned like a bug under glass. Groaning, I slowly rolled the barbell down the length of my body, flattening my own ribs and vital organs, resting heavily against my legs until it was far enough down for me to sit up and lift it off me. With the memory of my own primal fear—fox in a bear-trap—in the back of my mind, I stood as his spotter.

But by being his spotter, I was engaging in the bizarre intimacy of the gym. With my headphones in, and eyes narrowly locked on my own reflection as I lift weights, the gym is an insular experience. But outside the Panasonic earbuds, everyone complies to the gym code. If you’re taking too long on a machine, someone will come up and ask to “work in” with you. And so you’ll take turns, watching over them as muscles pull and strain and sweat glosses reddening skin.

You might ask someone wordlessly—both of you speaking through various decibels of music—if they’re done working on a certain machine, or done using that weight you’ve been waiting for. They nod and smile, and you slip in and slide an antiseptic wipe across the imitation-leather to remove any residue they might’ve left behind.

When you pull off a mat and plop it down onto the floor, you’re often working it in—Tetris-style—amongst other mats, going horizontal and vertical across the gym floor. You set yourself down amidst a rippling mass of elbows and knees as other people hold minutes-long planks, bob up and down in a series of unending crunches. Everything is constantly encroaching onto each other’s space, bony extremities popping into each other’s bubbles, sweat flying off in a thousand directions.

And beyond all that, there’s the fact that you’re a group of strangers choosing to be in pain in front of each other. You would never willingly choose to embarrass yourself—over and over—in front of people, but you do for these people. They witness you fling weights to the ground and curl over yourself as the last set pulls all remaining energy from your body. They see you sweat like a maniac, darkening the joints of your t-shirt as you cycle endlessly to an episode of The Office.

Once you get past the initial embarrassment of being vulnerable in a public space, the gym becomes an incredibly therapeutic experience. Because everyone there—the muscle jocks jotting down their gains in small notepads, the people who brings laptops and set them up like projection screens on the ellipticals, or the people edging in for the first time—is focused on getting healthy. They’re focused on making themselves better.

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Essay, LGBTQ

MY VOICE IS MY VOICE

A few weeks ago I was hosting my sister and her friends at my apartment. Cram five queens into a three-by-three-foot box, and it’s pretty hectic. But whatever, it was fun and they bought me Patron (the toilet Patron from “ONE-TWO-THREE”!) as a thank-you present. On Saturday, when they were heading out to da club and I was heading to a house party, one of my sister’s friends brought over a friend from the area.

He walked in and my high-school-heart beat a little bit faster. He was just like every frat boy-wannabe I went to high school with (an all-boys Catholic prep school)—non-psycho American Psycho hot face, slicked back long hair, Oxford shirt buttoned tightly over lacrosse muscles, canoe-like leather shoes and blue jeans. Yung Wall Street.

And when I introduced myself to him, it wasn’t me. It was a strong, firm handshake and a voice that was like mine, but several octaves lower and controlled. “Hey, I’m Danny,” he/me said.

It’s a voice I pulled out a lot that weekend as I met my sister and her friends’ straight guy friends. That afternoon, I was downtown and I got out of my car. “What’s on your sweatshirt?” said-shouted a straight guy on line outside the bar I was going to. I looked down. I had pulled on a cross country hoodie from my sophomore year of high school, underneath an olive-green bomber jacket.

I shifted my jacket and showed him. “Fuckboy Prep,” he said (name has been changed, because duh). “Yeah, do you know it?” I asked, my voice hitched in the bottom of my throat, my vowels pitching backward into my esophagus.

It’s difficult to describe the “straight” voice, but it’s like that: instead of projecting forward, the words make a boomerang: out from the bottom of my throat, below my Adam’s apple, jut forward and then careen back into my collarbone.

“No, but I went to Yung Money Prep in Maine,” he said. We nodded at each other. End of conversation.

It’s a voice that I unearthed from the deepest recesses of my early tweenhood. Monotone, soft, deep. A voice I had discarded when I came out at fifteen and, shaky in my gayness, hurtled towards the opposite end of the scale and went full “Agaytha Christie.” What a gay joke. Neither were my actual voice, which is decidedly average and can veer equally into deep monotone and higher-pitched modulation.

It’s something I do when I’m meeting straight guys for the first time. I drag my voice back into low-pitched “sups” and “yo.”

I do it for a few reasons: I want to be taken seriously by another man, and I want to survive.

“Survive” sounds so extra, but let me remind you—I went to an all-boys Catholic high school where I was already harassed enough. Lowering my voice into a monotone was at least one attempt on my end to make myself seem like less of a target.

I have one vivid memory of sitting at a lunch table at fourteen. I was saying something when across the table, a mean hot redhead said to me, in brusque masculine tones,

“Talk like a boy.”

This was before I came out, so I was vibrating with anxiety about being “found out.” I couldn’t respond to him, so I picked up my tray, shakily threw out my trash and hid in the library. In the moment, I was doused in ice-water dread. Later, I would feel a coiled mixture of revulsion and attraction to him. Revulsion that he could embarrass me with four words, and attraction to him and his masculinity.

Because that’s what it comes down. We as queer boys are taught to hate our femininity and strive towards masculine attributes. It might be why gay guys work out so hard at the gym, sculpting Adonis bodies and artfully manicured scruff. Why we put “masc for masc” on our Grindr profiles. We eschew femmes and shame bottoms because we never, ever want to be put in that vulnerable position again.

So instead of living our truth, we shut it off and hate it. We fight against it. We slit the throat of our femininity and let it drop to the floor, a sick survivalist instinct to protect ourselves in a masculine, heteronormative world.

But in that “passing” is a hidden desire uncomfortable to admit: that part of passing for straight is not just out of a survivalist instinct, but undeniable envy.

I would imagine that queer people have thought about it; some of us have the ability to pass as straight in a heteronormative society. To not appear different or othered. It’s a dangerous thing because it’s a temptation to step outside of your marginalized group.

In a day-to-day scenario, it’s easier being straight than it is gay. When I’m walking late at night, with a female friend and we come across a group of straight guys, I put my arm around her, or I move closer. We both tacitly understand that those guys won’t respect a woman not wanting to talk to them, but they will respect a boyfriend because there is the notion of women as property.

And as much as it is a protection against catcalling for her, it provides me with a dangerous taste of heteronormativity. It provides me a glimpse of the luxury, respect and authority that being a straight white male awards you. The ability to express physical affection without wondering if it could get you gay-bashed. The respect given to you by straight men who don’t see you as Othered or predatory or sissy.

In a lot of ways, when I lower my voice, I’m still that skinny little kid who wants to impress straight boys. Look how manly I can be! Hear how low my voice can go!

It’s a muscle-memory reaction, a hit of fight-or-flight adrenaline, and it’s something that complicates me even now. It complicates my relationship to my sexuality because for so long, I have been taught to hate it. And when that didn’t do anything, I moved on to hating myself. And others. And everyone.

It’s easy to forget, six years on, that I have been irreparably damaged by the strain, stress and assault of living in the closet for fifteen years. And it’s easy to forget that that strain and stress does not disappear when you come out. That the reason I dress more plainly and simply now is a way to avoid being labeled as flamboyant. That I keep my hair messy to not seem prissy. That the reason I like mean guys is because in the hidden depths of me, meanness is associated with masculinity, and thus, idolization.

There is damage in having been Othered. There is damage in hating a part of you because society has deemed that part to be malignant.

But there is power in reclaiming that damage. I started wearing nail polish recently. And even that small bit of femininity has eased me a little. Because I am a feminine person in some ways. And in just as many ways, I am also masculine. Everyone is masculine and feminine; labeling or coding one as negative only serves to incur further damage.

My voice rings up high when I’m excited. I talk fast. I use my hands a lot. I’m expressive. These are just descriptors. They’re not bad or good, they just exist. My voice is my voice.

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Politics

THE AMERICAN HEALTH CARE ACT GOES TO VOTE TODAY, FRIDAY MARCH 24

Update 3/25: the American Health Care Act was pulled from the floor and did not go through the voting process. Speaker Ryan has stated that the Affordable Care Act will be the law for the “foreseeable future.” President Trump has since stated that he will wait for the ACA to “explode” and then create a “greater healthcare plan.”

Today, Friday, March 24, 2017, the House of Representatives will vote on the Affordable Care Act replacement bill—the American Health Care Act—with significant changes having been made last night and without the Congressional Budget Office analyzing those changes. Previously the CBO offered projections of, despite a decrease of ~$337 billion in the deficit, roughly 24 million people without coverage by 2026. Even by just repealing the ACA leaves 18 million people uninsured.

The bill underwent multiple changes after receiving severe blowback from all Democrats and several factions of Republicans. GOP moderates felt that the plan was too ill-thought and would leave too many people uninsured. GOP conservatives felt the bill did not go far enough, and dubbed it “Obamacare-Lite.” Those divides postponed the vote, which was supposed to take place yesterday. Ryan and other proponents of the bill did not want to go forward without the votes.

 

The new bill would defund Planned Parenthood. The rationale for this is restriction of abortions. However, Planned Parenthood puts no federal funding towards abortions. They do put federal funding towards reimbursement for services like birth control, contraception, and cancer screenings. Patients use public health programs, like Medicaid and Title X, go to places like Planned Parenthood that take that coverage. They use the programs, Planned Parenthood sends the claim to Medicaid (for example), which reimburses them, and then Medicaid sends the bill to the federal government. Abortions, which account for roughly 3 percent of all PP services, do not get reimbursed.

So when the GOP says that they will defund Planned Parenthood, they are doing it out of spite, because what they’re actually doing is stopping people from being able to use Medicaid for non-abortion services.

Vice President Mike Pence, formerly the Governor of Indiana, recently posted a photo of himself and the President meeting with the Freedom Caucus. The Freedom Caucus is made up of the GOP conservatives who are dragging their feet about the bill.

To get them on the side of voting yes, those in charge of the bill—House Speaker Paul Ryan, VP Pence, and even Trump—have struck a deal with the Freedom Caucus. If the Caucus agrees to the bill, the Essential Health Benefits list will be removed from the bill.

What’s the Essential Health Benefits?

It’s a holdover from the Affordable Care Act. It requires insurances to cover—at the bare minimum—the following 10 items:

  • Emergency Services
  • Hospitalization
  • Ambulatory patient services
  • Maternity and newborn care
  • Mental health and substance use disorder services
  • Prescription drugs
  • Rehabilitative and habilitative services
  • Laboratory services
  • Preventive and wellness services
  • Pediatric services

There has been no analysis on the future consequences on striking off the Essential Health Benefits because the CBO has not been given enough time to conduct research.

Trump has put pressure on the GOP to push this bill through. It would solidify his stance as a deal-maker—something he ran on during the campaign—and would show his control over the rapidly dividing Republican party. He has also threatened that the Republicans will lose their majority if the bill does not pass. That pressure has forced massive overhauls to the bill. House Republicans and Democrats are set to vote on a bill that they haven’t read in full, or had sufficient or significant research on.

But perhaps the scariest part of this whole thing is that photo that VP Pence Tweeted out. Him and the President meeting with the Freedom Caucus. With the strength of the Freedom Caucus, the American Health Care Act is that much closer to being passed.

A circle of wealthy, privileged, heterosexual cisgender white men, deciding the fate of women, minorities, cancer patients, those with mental illness, and the vulnerable. We might not have seen the finished bill, but we have seen enough of the consequences. The AHCA would mostly affect the elderly and sick—premiums would rise due to declining assistance—while the young, healthy and wealthy would see tax benefits. In addition, according to Forbes, over the next decade, the plan outlines an $880 billion tax cut, with $274 billion going directly to the richest 2%.

If the AHCA, the new healthcare plan, only benefits the young, healthy and wealthy, while leaving premiums rising, care decreasing, targeting the elderly and the sick, and ~24 million uninsured—then it’s possible that this isn’t the best plan.

But this is the world we live in—the decision of this small cluster of white men, for whom this healthcare plan will only benefit, will impact the rest of us.

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