Living Outside the Binary.

6359457551161351311052250279_tumblr_nl41dswWYA1stm4rto1_500

There have been an enormous number of changes in my life over the past 3 months.  I haven’t been blogging as much, but I hope to create some new posts about those changes soon.

I’ve been reflecting a great deal recently on how much society wants to squish people into binary boxes and categories.  Either/or.  Society doesn’t promote the shades of grey, the spectrum, the people living at the intersections of multiple gradient scales and who do not fix neatly into categories.

It’s quite difficult at times, being a person who doesn’t identify with many binary categories.   I sometimes feel invisible, different, crazy, or like my identities are not real or valid.  In some situations, I don’t even feel safe or comfortable challenging the binary norms which are coercively placed on me.

In terms of sexual orientation,  I’m non-binary.  I identify as queer, which means I’m not exclusively heterosexual or gay.  I’m open to relationships and dating with people of any gender.  I don’t fit neatly into a box.

In terms of gender identity, I’m non-binary.  I identify as genderqueer, which means I do not feel exclusively like a man or woman, but something else.   A different place on a spectrum, and outside the realm of female or male

In terms of sexuality, I’m non-binary.  I identify as demisexual, which means I’m on the asexual spectrum.  Not entirely interested in sex, but not completely disinterested in it either.

In terms of my health/disability status, I’m non-binary.  I identify as having both physical and mental health disabilities.  But I don’t “look sick” and I am extremely “high functioning” despite the level of symptoms I experience daily.  I’m able to work, but I don’t always have the energy to do all the things.  Some days I feel pretty good and others I feel barely functional.

The reality is, I think a huge number of people identify as non-binary in some ways.  Maybe you haven’t explicitly thought of it this way, but very few people exist solely in all the normative, expected boxes and categories.  No person has just one single identity.  Life happens at the intersections of our identities.

I’ve experienced some level of not being believed or validated for my identities.  I’ve felt not queer enough to fit in with gay people, but not straight enough to exist comfortable in heteronormative spaces.   I feel too feminine to be non-binary.  I feel like I’m “lazy” if my symptoms cause me to struggle on a given day.  I feel like I SHOULD be something very specific and it’s definitely not what I am.

The worst part of it is how I don’t consistently believe and validate myself.  Internalized oppression is something I struggle with constantly.  I tell myself that I’m not “queer enough” or that I don’t “look non-binary enough.”  I tell myself that I’m not functioning well enough to be normal, but I’m way too “able” to identify as disabled.  I put myself down.  I tell myself I don’t belong. I tell myself that folks won’t believe me.  I tell myself that one day I’ll be found out, and that others think I’m a fake or a fraud, or lying to get attention or to gain an advantage.

identity bipolar disorder

Internalized oppression leads me to gaslight myself.  Internalized oppression means I don’t often accept myself.  Some of the worst pressures to fix into the neat clean boxes of normal society comes from my own internal critic!

I don’t believe in binary systems.  I don’t believe the messages of ableism, homophobia, transphobia and patriarchy.   On one level I don’t believe them or believe in them, and yet I put so much pressure on myself to “pass” as “normal” when I don’t even know what normal means.

I don’t actually want to be normal.  I want to be myself.  I want to be accepted as the person I am.   On one hand, I love the fact that I’m diverse and have experiences that can exist on a rainbow spectrum, rather than in black and white boxes.  But at the same time, I feel pressure to confirm, to choose, to fit in, to pick sides.

I’m not going to fit neatly into boxes.  It’s not possible.  I would have to deny so many aspects of myself that I wouldn’t be me.  I would have to compromise my own deeply held truths, just to be fully seen by society as valid.  I reject that option.

Instead, I’m creating communities and groups of friends who do accept me as I am.  People who do see me as valid, just the way I am.  People who aren’t trying to place me into categories that don’t fit, like uncomfortable outgrown clothing.

The spectrum is beautiful.  I like to think this is part of the symbolism behind the rainbow pride flag.  We are all part of a spectrum, like the light spectrum which creates a beautiful rainbow. Without each individual colour, the spectrum would be incomplete and neither the bright light or the rainbow would exist.  Spectrums are all around us and within us.

Embrace the non-binary.  Embrace the intersections.  They are beautiful and valid.

c8f02ebf80e6a6c08677ef0140211656

International Women’s Day

20170308_210723[1].jpg

There was a call today for “a day without women” as a protest against President He Who Shall Not Be Named.  Women were encouraged to stay home from work or to wear red in protest.  It’s also International Women’s Day.

I decided to wear red, but I didn’t stay home from work.  I challenged the patriarchy by going to work today.  Helping women.  It was important for me to go to work today, because I’ve been struggling a LOT the past few weeks. Last week I was tempted to quit my job, and just accept that I’m not “able” enough to pass as normal, not “able” enough to continue working, too sick to keep pushing through.

But I realize that the patriarchy wants nothing more than for me to fail.  My abuser wants me to fail, I think he wants me to crash and burn and commit suicide.

So for me going to work today was an act of defiance and resilience.  It was me overcoming the panic attacks as I got ready, left the house and drove to work.  It was me ignoring the negative self talk which was telling me that everyone hated me and that I should just quit.  It was me saying that I won’t give up, I won’t give the system the satisfaction of seeing me fail.

Failure isn’t an option.  I have to be “well enough” and “able” enough to keep going forward.  I need to do it for my children and for people who are depending on me.  I know I could be replaceable at work, but my kids only have one mother.  So I’ve decided to take better care of myself, to rest and to try to move at a pace that is sustainable and won’t exhaust me to the point of panic and wanting to quit my job.   I’m going to do the best I can, but that best might not be what others are able to do.  Right now, I have to do what I am capable of, what I am able to, and stop judging myself against standards I’m not always able to meet.

So for International Women’s Day, I left the house.  I battled panic attacks but I did not let them stop me.  I tried to focus on my ability rather than my DIS-ability.  I did my best and for today, maybe that was good enough.

Pin featured in photo by Rachael House http://www.rachaelhouse.com

 

Not really accommodating.

red-phone-600x600.png

It’s frustrating trying to explain invisible disabilities to people who don’t understand disability.

It’s even more frustrating when people, places or organizations which claim to specifically accommodate or treat folks living with a specific disability or illness, don’t even remotely accommodate the symptoms of that condition.

I live with chronic, complex PTSD which has remained somewhat unresponsive to treatment.  I consider it a disability because for me, at this time, it appears to be permanent and it impacts my life on a daily basis.  It changes the way I think, act and complete tasks of daily living.  It also changes on a daily basis, which means some days I am quite simply more “able” than other days.

I recently sought alternative treatment at a clinic which claims to specifically treat people with PTSD.   This is their main focus is on helping clients with PTSD that has not responded to psychiatric medicine.

Logically, I thought that this clinic would be expert at accommodating the disability of PTSD.  Makes sense right?

I had a pretty good first experience there.  The doctor and the counselor I met with were helpful.   But the receptionist…not so much.

I had some issues with the treatment that was prescribed.  This was nobody’s fault.  But I needed to make another appointment to change the plan, shortly after the first appointment and sooner than planned.

To someone without PTSD and extreme anxiety this wouldn’t have been a big deal.  Just call, re-book the appointment and move forward.

But for me, it was a nightmare.

I felt like it was my fault.  I’d chosen the wrong plan to begin with.  They were going to think I was crazy for changing my mind.  They weren’t going to believe me about the side effects.  They were going to question me.  I felt embarrassed.  I felt ashamed.  I avoided making the call.  I invented stories in my head about how bad it would be going back. I felt angry that the plan hadn’t worked out.

I avoided calling the secretary and emailed the counselor.   He had told me I could contact him if I  had any issues and had seemed approachable.

Person with PTSD is going to choose to approach the least threatening person.  Person with PTSD (me) is going to choose email rather than speak to a person on the phone if they feel embarrassed.  The phone sometimes seems extremely intimidating to me.  What if I get nervous and say the wrong thing?  What if they say something that upsets me?  With email I can plan what I’m going to say and the response.  There is time to react calmly and clearly.

The secretary called me back.  I missed the call.

Then I avoided calling her back.  Anxiety was making the decision.

She called me again.  I missed the call.

I avoided calling her back.  Anxiety was making the decision.

My kids got sick, I had a stressful week at work, I procrastinated calling her back. I was busy with other things.  But I was also working through the anxiety, getting myself to a place where I felt I could make the call.

She left me three messages and probably about 3 weeks went by.

Today I called her back, expecting to apologize for not returning the call sooner, make an excuse about my kids being sick and then re-book my appointment.

But receptionist was cold and very abrupt.

You waited too long to call me back.  There are no more appointments.

I was confused.  I asked her until when.

Until the new year

I said that was no problem, could she book me in for January.

I don’t have the schedule for January

Um….okay…I was getting really anxious by this point.  I asked her to call me back in January and ended the call.

When I got off the call I was frustrated and angry.  I’d been anxious to return the call because I was afraid of being judged for needing to re-book the appointment in the first place.  I waited because of anxiety.  I waited because I felt stupid and I was judging myself.  The anxiety was related to my PTSD and anxiety is a common symptom of PTSD.  PTSD is the reason I was seeking the treatment in the first place.

I told myself the fear of being judged was irrational and that the clinic staff would understand and assist me in booking an appointment because they were there to help me.  I told myself that they would understand that someone with PTSD might be anxious about making a call and thus might procrastinate.  They might understand that someone could have a few rough weeks and not return a call.  I reassured myself.

I made the call.

But it turns out my anxiety wasn’t misplaced.  I wasn’t able to re-book my appointment.  They were annoyed that I didn’t call back right away.  And I’m now seriously questioning how well that receptionist knows how to accommodate someone living with the disability of PTSD.

It’s not about the fact that there was no appointment until January.  I’m fine with that.  I procrastinated, I wasn’t expecting to see the doctor tomorrow.  But the phone call could have been handled differently:

I’m sorry to hear your kids have been sick and you weren’t able to return my call.  I’m glad I have you on the phone now.  Unfortunately our appointment slots are booked up until after the holiday break, but can I fit you in for the New Year?”

Another option might be

It sounds like getting phone messages and returning calls is difficult for you, and email is easier.  Sometimes people with PTSD find calls difficult.  Don’t worry, we can book your appointments over email as an accommodation.  Let me book you in for January.

This post isn’t about that one receptionist and this one situation.  This post is about not making assumptions about why people behave the way they do. Especially if you work in an organization providing health care services!

It’s also about realizing that accommodation for people with disabilities means more than just building a ramp (though ramps are needed too, I’m not knocking ramps!).  It means realizing that disabilities impact different people in different ways.   Accommodation isn’t always something complicated or expensive.  Sometimes it could be as simple as using email as a way of communicating, or offering choices for methods of booking appointments or receiving information.  Accommodation starts with realizing that not everyone lives life the same way you do.  We all have different abilities and that’s okay.

Reverse Sexism isn’t a Thing.

images

I’m angry, frustrated and upset about some comments that were made to me by a male friend this week.  We’d been disagreeing and at odds recently, and he told me in a string of texts a few things that really stuck with me and were triggering given my current situation.

He accused me of treating him badly because he was a man.

First of all, that’s like accusing me of reverse sexism, which isn’t a thing.  It’s just not.   I was angry at the unreasonableness of the comment.

Then he went on to say that he feels like my court case and my job have changed me (implication was that it wasn’t a change for the better).

I didn’t read everything else in the texts. I deleted them because I wanted to scream and was triggered.

#obvious

Of COURSE my highly prolonged, extremely traumatic, family law case has changed me.  It would be miraculous to the point of ridiculous impossibility for an experience as stressful and difficult as facing my abuser in court, fighting for custody of my kids and being re-traumatized by the legal system over and over, not to impact me.

When I’m struggling, when I’m having a difficult week, it’s even more important for people in my life to be more gentle with me, more understanding and more patient.  Because when I’m dealing with my court case (and thus my ex),  I’m triggered.  I feel vulnerable.  I’m not always as kind as usual. I’m impatient and irritable, and it’s rarely to do with the people who I care about.  Memories from the past and feeling tones from the past are driving me.  I’m more suspicious, less trusting and more wary.  I need space, time and comfort in order to ground myself.  The court case changes me, and I need help from my friends (not their judgment) to get back onto the path to kindness and safety.

My job has changed me too.  It has changed me immensely and completely and wonderfully.  Working in a feminist organization, helping women and learning from women has helped me grow and gain confidence.   Over the years I’ve been working there, I’ve slowly and painstakingly gained back some of the self confidence I had lost during years of abuse, self hatred and isolation.  My job has changed me, as I’ve learned a greater appreciation for my own privilege, and a greater respect and depth of understanding and empathy towards the many faceted situations of others.

Feminism is important to me, because without feminism I might not be alive today.

Does that mean that I hate men?  Of course not!  I hate the patriarchy and white supremacy and heteronormativity and ableism and cis-sexism and sexism and inequality.

And I hate folks who I have to justify this to.

I don’t exist merely as a sexual object for others.  I don’t exist merely to uphold systems of privilege without question.  I don’t exist merely to please others.  Feminism helps me believe that I am worthy of so much more than that.  Feminism empowers me and gives me strength and a path towards a meaningful purpose to my life.

A life that, a few short years ago, I considered meaningless and worth ending.

I wouldn’t change this about myself.  I wouldn’t want to go back in time and not have this job.  I love what I’ve gained from it and I love myself more than I have in years because of the sense of community I’ve gained from feminist allies.  I think that not working, and not being able to work outside the home, was an aspect of the abusive environment within my marriage.  For that reason, I celebrate my new abilities, my ability to work and my ability to have a greater purpose.  I don’t take my ability to work for granted, because I worked hard in recovery to achieve this.

I have changed.   I will keep changing.

And I won’t apologize for it to anyone.